Friday, November 25, 2016

A Theology of Fly-fishing

The line shot back and looped high, the light of the morning sun glinting off it like a magic gossamer. I was watching my son fly fish the Blackfoot, the wild river central to the book and movie A River Runs Through It. Actor Brad Pitt plays the role of one of two brothers with a stunt double to do the fly-casting. The scene in the movie was meant to be mesmerizing, but this scene was much more. There was the cool morning breeze whispering through the majestic lodgpole pines and glittering sunlight, fluid gold off the water. The sound of rushing whitewater tumbling over the rocks broke the morning silence, even as the Ravens cawed above. I sat on a boulder some 30 feet above him, standing on a rock in the middle of this 60-foot stretch of river.  We had hiked in for 30 minutes up a pine forested mountain trail, ensconced by evergreens singed black by the ravages of a recent forest fire that burned over 100,000 acres. Sometimes nature has stark ways of restoring the wilderness.

His line moved easily forward and back as he let out more leader, searching the water for a rise or sight of a silvery-sided cutthroat trout. The pools reflected the Montana “Big Sky” azure blue seemingly waving with the green of the towering pines. In front of a large boulder some 100 feet upstream there was a splash, a trout feeding. Looking around, the tiny caddis flies were visible, swarming over the stream.  His fly was perfect a deer hair caddis dry #18, barely visible on the end of a 10-foot tapered leader.

The loop grew slowly, widening above his auburn hair covered with his favorite,  well worn camouflaged Duck Commander cap. Now his arms were working more quickly to bring the fly over the pool. The loop stayed aloft, high above the water, now some 80 feet out.  The water rippled again. He was double-hauling the line to gain power and to keep it low so it wouldn’t catch in the branches.

Like a small insect falling from a twig his fly gently dipped to the water at the head of the pool. A small ripple appeared. Again the line drew back and forth, fast moving and releasing. The caddis alighted and the water exploded. The line went taut as he struck quickly back against the eight-foot, four-weight graphite rod with his wrist. The fish rose up as if in ballet on the water, falling back again; then three more times.  He was moving quickly upstream, as if imitating the dancing trout. Now above the pool, rod bent over, double. The sound of the drag zipping out gave notice that the fish was larger and stronger than average. It was quickly moving up stream against the current, trying to find a snag or rock to rub off the fly. He held the rod high above his head to keep the line taut, as any slack and the fish would shake out the fly.

He could now stand in the shallow water across from the fish and place pressure on the rod and line, careful not to break the light leader, while letting the reel slip out line between his fingers, lightly holding the reel. The fish ran out again as he let out line. Then slowly pulling in line, twice more. He could now see the silver sides with vibrant red gill plates and blue spots. It was fall, so the lower jaw was angled up on this 18-inch bull cutthroat.

He wet his hand in the icy water as he pulled the rod back with one hand and slipped the other under the wriggling fish. Reaching down now with his rod hand as the fish lay in his other, he slipped out the barbless hook fly with his fingers. The fish lay still for a few seconds to be able to view, the roguish gills pulsating, and then with a flick of its tail it disappeared into the deep pool to find safe haven.

Our eyes met, flashing with excitement as my son let out a whoop. The winds whispered above through the pines and the sky still reached to heaven above. You see God had created it all and was still there watching and approving.

The next pool was mine, as my line shot and looped, searching for a rise. The sun was now silver on the water and the eagle soared.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Give Thanks in and For All Things

Now there is a hard admonition. How do you give thanks for cancer or loss of a job for example? Those are not good things, are they? No, not necessarily. By that I mean that thanksgiving is an attitude. A favorite preacher friend of mine said, “Gratitude is the attitude that determines the altitude of your life.”  OK, but disease is still not a good thing, right? I agree, but here’s the thing. We give thanks in and for all things because God is in all things. “Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Now there indeed is some of the hardest teaching in Scripture. Rejoicing always, you have got to be kidding. Well, I didn’t write it, God did through the Apostle Paul. These verses contain some whole clothe that I want to exegete or take apart and put back together again.

This Thanksgiving season rejoice or give praises, why? But You are holy,
Enthroned (Inhabit) in the praises of Israel (Psalm 22:3 NKJV).  God hears our prayers and answers our prayers as long as we do not have un-confessed sin in us. Throughout Scripture God is being praised for what He has done, from bringing Israel out of bondage, to healing all of our diseases. Almost every psalm or hymn starts with praising and blessing the Lord. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). There are 24 couplets of this thanksgiving repeated in this psalm alone.  My favorite, Psalm 103 starts with, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who forgives all your iniquities (sins), who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth (desires of your heart) with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”  (Psalm 103:1-5). I am just in awe of that statement of truth. In fact it is these very words, cried out loud from my perilously sick bed that brought miraculous and instant healing from the illness of a deer tick bite. My physicians had already pronounced that I would probably die from it, but praise the Lord, God healed me as a great heat came through my body that night and I was able to jump out of my sweat soaked bed with frozen limbs to dance and rejoice in His love and power. You can read the whole story in my book Great is God’s Faithfulness.

Paul states a similar word about God in Ephesians 5:20 saying, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He has just said to not get drunk on much wine that leads to debauchery, instead “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). It is with our mouth that we praise Him, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God that lives with and within us. You might not feel like praising God, but “don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed on the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). We are shielded by the power of the Holy Spirit to avoid sin and be filled with demonstrations of praise and thanksgiving. He wants us to constantly and comprehensively give thanks confidently to the Lord. God is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called by His name (Romans 8:28).

Giving thanks and praising God in and for all things takes Holy Spirit power. It requires a love for God and others that is agape love. This is love that is only given through the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own. If you try and fail to love and praise, perhaps you are not filled with the Holy Spirit. You may be saved or “born again,” but you are not totally filled with the Spirit. You still have “rocks” in you that block your total filling. You have all the Spirit you are going to get, but you have too much of you in the way. Being purified and cleansed as we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) will give us a life that is overflowing for God. This state where “my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5), is a state of praise and thanksgiving overwhelming us and therefore overflowing that others may see your “good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). You see, no matter what happens in this increasing immoral and godless world, we need to shine like Christ with the fruit of the Spirit.  This fruit starts and continues with thanksgiving and praise in our hearts. This is the inside-out transformation that God makes in us as we praise Him. It is for our good and His glory. Happy Thanksgiving. AMEN

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Winter is coming on the earth around me. Snow swirls between the trees and is now sticking to the hardening ground. Above the Sand Hill Cranes are screaming their eerie cry as if mourning the loss of summer and fall as they begin their descent south to warmer climbs. The leaves have turned from yellows, oranges and reds, blowing brown around the dead flowerbeds. Only the buckthorns’ green leaves hold hard to their thorny branches, bearing black berries for the lingering birds of winter to eat as they decide if they too will fly south. It is Thanksgiving, so we should be praising God from whom all blessings flow. In fact I just recorded a radio show on Riverwest Radio, Just Talking- “Thankfulness.”  We are in for long months of increasing darkness and the colder weather of winter. Dark will be the skies and the trees naked branches reaching upward as if praying for mercy and rebirth. Resurrection is a ways off until the spring.

 Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. —Martin Luther.

Is this a time of “soul sleep” or death? Our bodies may die and our leaves may fall, but our spirits and souls can live forever. Are we reincarnated, as some believe as a grasshopper or rabbit? Or are we to become a human again to relive our first broken lives in greater victory?  I look out on the forest behind our home again. The tree branches are a dark maze of crisscrosses against the winter sky. They appear harsh and unyielding, yet with a certain grace. The cross of Calvary is like that. It stands in stark relief against the darkening skies, naked like our Savior was. But the cross is empty as the angel told the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has rise, just as He said” (Matthew 28:5-6). This is the promise of the resurrection. This is the promise of life everlasting and the transformation through Jesus Christ to be “born again” to new life in Him who lives forever. Yes, we can live forever. We have a choice, unlike the trees and their leaves. We can choose to receive the gift of life in Christ through His death and resurrection or not. The difference is life or death eternal, one in His bright presence in heaven, the other away from His “Light” in the darkness of hell. All must choose for all will die. But some will live again and their leaves will be those of springtime, green and new.

It is a time to contemplate and rest, as we put away our toys of summer. Some take out the same for winter, cross-country skiing or shoe shoeing. Our skis and shoes are ready, our down jackets also against the cold wind. I will ski 18-holes on a nearby course where I played through the rough in summer, losing balls. The ponds in back are still now as if waiting for the touch that transforms. Again, God is demonstrating His power to change the swimming and fishing pond into a hockey rink with the wave of His mighty arm. It can be a slow transition from water to ice. It is in the “twinkling of an eye” from death to life. I don’t take down my once blazing hockey skates; you see my artificial hip says that I will injure myself. Our bodies’ age, but our spirits can soar up with the migrating birds of fall to be changed again in His spring.

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).  This power is at work in us who know the Lord. “The same power that brought Christ back from the dead is operative within those who are Christ’s. The Resurrection is an ongoing thing” (Leon Morris).  This truth from a Bible scholar of the ongoing nature of salvation and the resurrection reminds of the process that will not be perfected until we see God face to face. Not that we will always be horrible sinners, but it is our state until Christ comes to rule and reign or the rapture.

We are not reincarnated, but “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). We are “living sacrifices” or servants of God. We may go through seasons of change, but we do not lose our leaves, they just slowly age. However, as we grow and age in Christ, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2Corinthians 5:17).  Our bodies start aging in our 20s, but our spirits are growing in Christ as we become brand new in Him.

Does my life really show it? Well, yesterday I spoke out of frustration at church, as we were a little late for the prayer with those who would be greeting and serving the congregation and visitors. This was sad timing, yet very revealing and guilt producing. Thank God this Thanksgiving week for the One who says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us of all unrighteousness”  (1John 1:5). Thank you Jesus! He is “purifying” our bodies and changing us to be more like Him from season to season. The “fall” was our autumn season as well as long winter until the spring of resurrection life. Martin Luther grasped this resurrection thought in his comment written above. 

Enjoy the changing seasons thoughtfully. Winter follows fall and spring follows winter. The summer is coming again, and so should our transformation along with it. Look to the “Light” in the darkness and cold. Clothe yourself in God’s word as well as warm clothes. They will not return void, but accomplish their purpose as Isaiah 55 tells us. And so as this winter season comes, be filled with the Holy Spirit and give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.   AMEN

Sunday, November 20, 2016


It is clear that a sacrifice must consist of praise and thanks, or must at least not be without praise and thanks, if it is to please God. And if it is without praise and thanks, He neither wants nor likes it, as indeed He says (Isaiah 1:11): What is your sacrificing to Me? I do not want your offering of incense. We cannot give God anything; for everything is already His, and all we have comes from Him. We can only give Him praise, thanks, and honor.
Martin Luther, from What Luther Says. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 17.

Thanksgiving show on RiverWest Radio 11/19/2016

Friday, November 18, 2016

Good Shepherd

How familiar is the verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).  This “Shepherd’s Psalm” has been written about by many Christian authors. However, there are many other allusions to shepherds in Scripture that add to the theme of our guide and leader in the ways of righteousness for His names sake.

He leads His flock like a shepherd. He gathers his lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart, he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:1). Talk about tender and motherly like. The image that comes to mind here is of a shepherd in long flowing robes with a lamb clutched against his chest in one hand and a staff in the other, walking along a rocky trail headed up toward the pastureland above.

This picture continues in Jeremiah 31:10 and beyond, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.” Since He rescued and redeemed them from the hand of the stronger one, they will stream to the goodness of the Lord and sing to the Lord for He has made them like a well-watered garden.

Ezekiel the prophet continues this theme, “I myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, and in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country” (Ezekiel 31:11-13 NKJV). This speaks of a shepherd who is near to His people, leading and feeding them.

In the New Testament, the Gospel of John brings the shepherd metaphor alive. “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd, and I known my sheep, and am know by my own. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:11,12,13-16). This is the story of the sheep and their shepherd who protects and leads and speaks to them. His sheep know His voice and follow. If we do not we are not His and will be lost. He does not want us to be lost and He will look for us and call us. He gathers us as one flock or church. He wants no denominations. He wants one universal or general catholic church. That means we may worship in different places, but the same God, and Savior and Shepherd, with one voice, creed and Word of God.   In the book of Acts, Paul admonishes his pastors, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit his made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his blood” (Acts 20:28).

And when the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:4). We are to worship and wait on Jesus, the Good Shepherd’s return patiently and prayerfully.

Shepherd of My Heart is a hymn that speaks to the one who holds us close to His heart.

Maker of this heart of mine, you know me very well

You understand my deepest thought, more than I know myself

So when I face the darkness, when I need to find my way

I trust in you, shepherd of my heart

Keeper of this heart of mine, your patience has no end

You've loved back into your arms, time and time again

So if I start to wander, like the lamb that goes astray

I'll trust in you, shepherd of my heart

You're the beacon of my night, you're the sunlight of my days

I can rest within your arms, I can know your loving ways

So let the cold winds blow and let the storm rage all around

I trust in you, shepherd of my heart

Giver of this life of me, you're what I'm living for

For all my deepest gratitude you love me even more

So as I walk through darkness, listening for the Master's call

I'll trust in you shepherd of my heart

You're the beacon of my night, you're the sunlight of my days

I can rest within your arms, I can know your loving ways
So as I walk through valleys listening for my Master's call

So let the cold winds blow and let the storm range all around

I'll trust in you, shepherd of my heart