Friday, November 24, 2017

Stones

I carry a stone in my pocket to remind me of the Rock I which I stand. Psalms 61 and 62 tells us, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I and He alone is my rock and my salvation.” My first book, Great is God’s Faithfulness starts with these Psalms and on the cover is a photo of a huge rock (Ecola Rock) off the coast of Oregon taken by my cousin. There is a theme of God’s faithfulness in Scripture.  Samuel the prophet warrior planted a monument to God’s faithfulness against the Philistines. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord (certainly) helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12).

In Genesis 28:18-19 Jacob had just had an intimate struggle with God. Jacob was up first thing in the morning. He took the stone he had used for his pillow and stood it up as a memorial pillar and poured oil over it. He christened the place Bethel (God’s House). The name of the town had been Luz until then.”  This verse has particular meaning to me as I was led by God to attend Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. There I met God in many intimate ways through His teaching, worship and relationships. The anointing of oil over the stone speaks of the Holy Spirit bringing special recognition to the stone.

Again Jacob is involved in an illusion to Christ and His resurrection in Genesis 29:1-3. “Jacob set out again on his way to the people of the east. He noticed a well out in an open field with three flocks of sheep bedded down around it. This was the common well from which the flocks were watered. The stone over the mouth of the well was huge. When all the flocks were gathered, the shepherds would roll the stone from the well and water the sheep; then they would return the stone, covering the well.”  Can you imagine the flocks of sheep, a metaphor for the people of God, seeking the water of life that poured from the well when this heavy rock that covered the door was rolled away. Was it like the heavy rock that blocked the door to Jesus’ tomb and was rolled away on Easter morning?

In the Bible altars to the Lord are built of stone and the 10-Commandments were made of stone. Priests wore precious memorial stones on their prayer Ephods (breastplates). The shepherd boy David picked up five smooth stones from the river, one of which slay the giant Goliath.

I have already alluded to the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.  Paul told us that “Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ (Acts 4:8). All buildings crumble without a cornerstone. All lives do too without Jesus as their cornerstone.  In 1 Peter 2:4 the disciple said, “Welcome to the living Stone, the source of life.”  We as believers are to live and move as living stones holy and pleasing to God.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving


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.

Link to my RiverWest Radio show on Thanksgiving and Praise:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Centenarian

Centenarian

My father, Kenneth Loeffler Frank would have been 100 years old today. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Arthur August Frank and Margaret Elsa Loeffler Frank on November 18, 1917. I have written often about his childhood without his father who died tragically by his own had when my father was just nine years old. He was watched over by his mother and an uncle Oscar who enabled his education through Brown University.

When WWII broke out in Europe my father entered the draft and was immediately sent to officers training because of his college education and aptitude for math, something my brother and his son John have now taken to extraordinary heights. After artillery training at Fort Sill in Lawton Oklahoma he was married to Genevieve Alice Horswell of Estherville Iowa in Muskogee Oklahoma by an Episcopal Priest on November 21, 1942, along with his now good friend and fellow officer Richard Dewey to Jen’s sister Joyce. Marriages of Necessity because of the war were then common. 

My father fought with the Wisconsin 32nd Division in Africa against Rommel and then up into the Sicily and then the boot of Italy. It was in Monte Cassino in the winter of 1944 that he was hit and severely wounded by a German 88mm artillery shell. His gunnery Sergeant James MacGillis found him in a crater under an overturned jeep and rescued him through enemy lines to a British field hospital. He would suffer 18 months in hospitals and an equal number of operations because of shrapnel wounds. He earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his sacrifice and bravery for the country he loved. It is by no coincidence that some thirty years later, as an artillery officer in the same 32nd Division that I sat in the now Colonel MacGillis’s office my Brigade Commander. It was a tearful and poignant reunion honoring my father’s service. I have had the opportunity to hear other harrowing stories from now deceased former fellow officers who served with my Dad.

Because of his war disability he was no longer able to participate in athletic activities he had once loved, playing collegiate football at Brown and skiing with the Dartmouth Ski team. Because his father had been a two sport All American at the University of Wisconsin, he also encouraged me to pursue sports, which I did through college, lettering in hockey, soccer and tennis. I served on the National Ski Patrol for 25 years as well thinking of how he would have enjoyed that. My sons also love sports and Chad medalled in the NCAA Golf Championship for Concordia University.

Even though my father was disabled he still was able to teach and take me fishing up north to Dairyman’s Country Club and to Canada. I have many photos of walleyes and ocean fish from Florida. As well, he loved boats and kept one either at our Beach Drive home where storm waves had its way with it, or at a Lake Michigan marina. We fished kings and cohos for years out of Milwaukee or Sheboygan. Duck and pheasant hunting were also favorites wherein he included Rick and I. He hunted from Canada to Arkansas with friends and shared a duck blind on Lake Winnebago with us for years.

My father started working in Milwaukee for the then Red Star Yeast Co. after his rehabilitation. He rose from the manager of the frozen egg department to Executive Vice President and Director over a 38-year career that included world travel and acquisitions of many new companies until Universal Foods Corporation was a Fortune 500 company. Forced into early retirement at 62, my dad and mom traveled to every continent of the world enjoying fine cuisine and wines, which was an avocation of theirs. In between and for all his working life, my father also served on many non-profit boards. He became a Paul Harris Fellow, the highest award of Rotary International during long tenure in leadership. He was also a founding board member of the Performing Arts Center and superintended the merger of Milwaukee Country Day, Milwaukee University School and Milwaukee Downer Seminary into the now prominent University School of Milwaukee. Our family had attended these schools and even the predecessor German Academy for six generations, including my own sons.

His love of advanced education started by the generosity of his Uncle Oscar Loeffler caused him to encourage and pay for my brother Rick’s and my college education, as well as for that of our two sons. We have taken this same gift and generosity to help our three grandsons with a college fund. That doesn’t mean that they won’t have to work also, it is just a foundational tradition of our family.

I spoke of travel that generated my Dad’s purchase of a travel agency in order to be able to access the world’s finest 5-star properties for very reduced cost. Did I mention that he was a smart man? This took them to castles and chateaux in France, including the Clos de Vougeot, part owned by La Confrerie du Chevaliers du Tastevin, a wine and epicurean group of which my father was Grand Senechal.  As a former member, along with my brother, I have learned a lot of world history by following the wine.

My parents bought a home in Ponte Vedra Florida where they spent many relaxing retirement years. We visited when we could. Eventually, my mother became sick with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, exacerbated by alcoholism. Her illness made life for my father nearly impossible at times as he tried to live normally in an abnormal circumstance. My brother and I eventually interceded and caused my mother to be institutionalized, which kicked off a traumatic journey to nine separate facilities until she landed in a locked dementia unit. This was my wife’s and my crazy lot for a number of years.

My dad was a very loyal man and struggled greatly with his dissolving life. He had been loyal to a company for 38 years that in the end discarded him. He even came to believe that his sacrificial volunteer work had been a waste as a result of his life coming down around him. His anger was palpable, exacerbated by long held anger against the Germans for crippling him and murdering millions.

Now his own body continued to fall apart as he needed more orthopedic surgery. He was lonely, but just could not stay in Milwaukee to care for my mother. She was no longer the wife of his youth, but violent and difficult. His own health deteriorated until he became suicidal. We interceded and helped him, including encouraging his desired goal of finding a new life again in Florida. This he did, his health and life outlook being renewed with vigor.

I had mentioned that an Episcopal priest had married my parents, but I am uncertain what kind of a spiritual background Dad had as a child. When I was in kindergarten we went to Sunday school at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Downer Avenue close by to his boyhood home. This lasted a couple of years until my parents social schedule prohibited it is my guess. At any rate, church or religious things were not part of our upbringing. I know that my parents became members of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in River Hills after I had left home for college and marriage.

My mother was deteriorating and my father seemed to be doing much better, except for his joints. I had the opportunity to visit him a couple of times in Florida. We were by then living in their previous home in Mequon, which we purchased from them in 1993. There are still many antiques that they collected. However, even before my father’s death he asked that my brother and I divide up their collections. My parents loved collecting as it gave them projects and it engendered a sense of American history for my father, as he was a Patriot. My brother Rick and I now have many historical Currier and Ives lithograph prints portraying life in America from 1860 through the end of the century. Also historical china representing major or interesting events caught his attention.  We have tried to work around much of the furniture, as it is not comfortable or practical. We sadly know that our children do not want any of it. However, we did give some of Dad’s few remaining old American postage stamps to our oldest grandson Connor. Excitedly, they may be of more than “histerical” value, as my mother would have said.

After one of Dad’s surgeries on his shoulder, I visited him. We had a chance to really find intimacy for perhaps the first time. In this wonderful respite we talked of family, war, anger, Religion and life meaning. Over a couple of bottles of good burgundy we came to some watershed moments. He was able to forgive the Germans thus removing the chains that had so long bound him. He was also more importantly able to come to a place of repentance and confession that led to his desire for a personal faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. We prayed and wept together, hours passing through decades to a bright, renewed and new joyful presence in his life. This was the most important day of my father’s life, as it meant eternal life, whole and healed in the presence of God.

He would undergo another surgery shortly thereafter, a hip replacement. It went well, but complications, including a probable blood clot led to his death while sleeping in March 1994.

His legacy for me is as a man of the “Great Generation” who served unselfishly in everything he encountered. He was dedicated to learning and loyal to family and all peoples he served, whether work, military or service organizations. He had a sense of humor that carried sway with a loyal and long-term group of friends. He loved the outdoors, even though he could not participate to the level he desired. He was generous giving time, talent and treasure in all his relationships. He was trusting, although he told me not to trust stockbrokers or insurance salesmen. Moreover, his trust now is in the only One who is meaningful and eternal, Jesus Christ his Savior and Lord with whom he lives now whole and healed in his eternal light and presence.  Thank you Dad and thank you Jesus for this great man of faith.





Friday, November 17, 2017

Called and Gifted

God has called each believer to be a servant. He has called us to humble ourselves and diligently use our gifts to build up other believers. “We are saved to serve.” In this service we are to use the spiritual gift or gifts He has bestowed upon us. If we don’t use them, they fade and are not developed to edify the church. All believers have a gift.
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge, by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophesy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

We are all members of the same body to serve Him as His hands and feet uniquely. These are grace given at salvation and different from talents that are naturally born in us. These gifts are also not fruit, which is endowed on all believers to live by in increasing measure, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). This fruit should grow as our faith grows, just like similar lists like, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 5:5-7).

You see as believers we should, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievance you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity”  (Colossians 3:12-14). These attributes are bound together by love and also so are all believers therefore bound to one another. Paul goes on in this passage to speak of letting peace rule in your hearts and to be grateful. 

Some things are required of all Christians that He gives us in increasing measure as we grow or are being sanctified or being made more like Christ in righteousness.

Gifts of the Spirit are of speaking and serving and sign gifts or gifts of miracles of healing and speaking in tongues.

In Romans 12, Paul lists more gifts of the Spirit, to include: serving; teaching; encouraging; contributing to needs; leadership; and showing mercy. He tells us to employ these diligently, cheerfully and in increasing measure.

In Ephesians 4 we are reminded of Psalm 68:18 that tells us that when Christ ascended He gave everyone grace and gifts to men. He goes on to says that He gave some to be “Apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body might be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). This is a strong reminder that the gifts are to build up the church. Notice that evangelism is one gift. When Christ ascended, His last command was also to all believers to go and make disciples or believers of all nations. In other words, we are all to evangelize.

So if you are a believer, you have been called to follow Christ and use the gifts that He has given you through His Holy Spirit. Do you know what they are? Some hints include what you enjoy doing and what you are good at doing. God wants us all to grow in wisdom and knowledge of Him who called us. He wants us all to share the “Good News.” But He has given some greater gifts in exhorting, teaching and prophesying or communicating God’s word.  Moreover, he has given some extraordinary gifts to come alongside and lift people up with care and encouragement. We are all to help and lift are own weight, but some are especially gifted to bring Christ’s hospitality of opening themselves up to offer the presence of Christ in meaningful ways to the needy, sick, institutionalized and homeless. To offer gifts of love to strangers is all of our call, but to some even more it is given. This gift of opening up our hearts to invite others in as guests is special. Henri Nouwen calls this being “The Wounded Healer.” We present ourselves humbly to listen, experience and give of ourselves what is given by the Holy Spirit to give. This agape love is not possible except by the power of the Spirit. This is the gift of mercy. This gift requires action to reach out and touch someone. Also, as long as you are doing it, do it with cheerfulness.

A key gift I have not mentioned is discernment. This gift is one of wisdom applied. It allows us to see good from evil in teaching and people. Certainly not all things religious are biblical and true. Many religions have manmade accouterments and traditions. In some churches, God’s glory has departed.

I have been a Christian for about 25 years, having come to faith in a crisis time of my life. As my faith has grown, so has my awareness of God’s spiritual gifts in me and in others. I believe that I have been given the gifts of encouragement, teaching and healing. My calling is as a healthcare chaplain where I have the ministry of listening, encouragement and healing to people in various crises in their lives.  As a frontline caregiver I pray for and minister to patients and their families at all times of their hospitalizations and lives. I am called, as James 5:13-15 says, Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” I attend to the spiritual needs of all who I can. There are occasions when God works through me to bring healing of body, mind and spirit of individuals. God is still in the business of healing. For God the most important is spiritual healings for our bodies are falling apart. Our souls and spirits are eternal. Having faith in God through Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord brings spiritual healing and eternal life in God’s presence, or heaven. Apart from God is darkness forever.  As a chaplain I have the great privilege of helping people find eternal security when they ask or desire it. This healing is the ultimate and permanent, praise God.


So find out and develop your spiritual gifts. Ask a close Christian friend what they think yours may be. Work on and develop these gifts through prayer and trial. The Holy Spirit will show you and guide you as you seek Him.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Theology of Surprise


A Theology of Surprise

On Saturday November 11, 2017, I attended the funeral of my former spiritual mentor. In fact, this gentleman, Richard Cobb, preached at my ordination service. He was a former pastor, ordained in the Assemblies of God. He was once a school principal, counselor and founder of the men’s ministry Faithwalkers, based on 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” It was an honor to be asked by Richard to lead this group of some 18 churches of men when he took an early retirement. Today it continues to unabashedly teach God’s Word of truth. A decade ago now he invited me to join him in leading the once revered Hillpoint Church that was being boarded up, back into flourishing for the Lord so that the ministry he founded, faithwalkers.org, could meet there again.

At the funeral, the current Faithwalkers leader and eulogizer, Greg Bennett, said how in his last days, Richard, who was known as very controlling, said that God was now doing “surprising and unexpected things.” Isn’t that just like God to not be put in a box and to do immeasurable and abundantly more than we could ask or imagine? Yes, that is my God, who created the universe out of nothing, hung the stars in the sky and laid out the earth, skies, seas and all living creatures. What an awesome God, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).

God is superintending the earth and all that is within it for our good and His glory. Let us not make the mistake to underestimate His omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. He is immanant or close by all who call upon His name. He has sent His Holy Spirit, the Counselor, Comforter, Convictor and Guide to be with and live within every believer in His Son, Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. He hears all of our prayers, and intercedes on our behalf. James, Jesus’ brother said, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

The entirety of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible tells the story of our God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who was and is and is to come. He came and created, He continues to progressively create and He will return to make the “New heavens and the new earth.”  No one knows the day or time, not even the Son. But we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” This is the so-called “Rapture” and it will soon come without warning, in the blink of an eye. God does not preannounce His intensions, coming or His wondrous acts. He does what He wants when He wants. But Holy Scripture tells us who He is and what He has and will do, as we trust in Him or not.

To God there are no surprises, but He is a “God of Surprises.” Perhaps His greatest surprise was and is His sending of His Son, Jesus Christ to earth to live and die and show us the way. Who was Jesus?
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”  (Colossians 1:15-20). He is my everything, my center.

God is not surprised by events unfolding, but we are continually in awe at the mysteries of life and God. Yet Jesus said to His disciples, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). They thought that life might be special and pleasurable when they became Christians, but life had become much harder. The world loves material things, wealth, power and control, the opposite of the generous and unselfish life in Christ. So Jesus needed to tell them again, “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you”  (1 John 3:13). Yet in the twinkling of an eye God will soon take His children into paradise away from this sinful world to a heaven full of surprises. Then He will come and bring tribulation and judgment to those who would not bend their knee to the “God of Surprise.”

I for one am at peace with a “God of Surprise,” whose mysterious powers and presence bring peace and problems to His people.  I have been surprised daily at God’s goodness and grace to others and me in our sinful and selfish behavior. God’s surprising patience with His creation is beyond our understanding. We should not be surprised at the unexpected because it is His way. He has unexpectedly healed me six times of near death experiences. We are to simply to, “Walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21b). Surprise!

Richard Cobb Photograph