Friday, December 29, 2017

Press On

Do you have a number of circumstances of pain when perhaps someone sinned against you or trespassed? The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”  (Matthew 6:12). Other translations say “sin or trespass” against you.  Well, if you are like me there are many such events or circumstances. This is one of the hardest parts of life, but God. It is about forgiveness. One of my favorite pastors said about this, “have a funeral.” Bury it and don’t look back. Don’t build an altar for it as it will be with you and follow you the rest of your life.

So what does Jesus have to say about this, I warn you, His teachings are very hard. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Later in the sermon He says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you…Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?...take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck from your brother’s eye”  (Luke 6:37,41-42). We need to look at ourselves humbly first and deal with our problems. In fact in Matthew 5:24 Jesus says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  Getting reconciled is of higher priority than offering gifts. Having a forgiving spirit and clean conscience is up at the top of God’s list. Yet, His Son had to die for our sins, debts and trespasses to be forgiven, as we trust in Him. We often cannot forgive without the power, mercy and grace of God within us through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. So keep forgiving brothers and sisters. How many times you say? Infinitely God says in Matthew 18:21. He has given us the ministry of reconciliation as 2 Corinthians 5:18,19,20 tells us, it is “reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors.”

Matthew 18 gives us guidance as Christians when we face the trials of reconciliation. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two other along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” This requires persistence and humility as you too might be at fault and need to listen and stay open to God’s conviction in the matter.

Putting these circumstances, conflicts, and relationships behind us is vital to our continuing and finishing strong in our faith lives. The Apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Philippians very wisely.  He is speaking of his own walk saying, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But ONE THING I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining forward toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). He is saying forgive and forget, and move on. In todays vernacular this would be “Let it go” or “Shake it off.”

In Hebrews 12, the writer talks of endurance saying, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2). What is hindering you from moving on or holding you in anger or fear or sadness? With whom are you unreconciled as much as it depends upon you and it is possible to be at peace, as Paul tells us in Romans 12:18? Move on, move forward knowing there will be tough times or people. There are hard things in this race of life. So, “suck it up” and reach forward toward the goal and prize He has for us in heaven.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Come Before Winter

Paul was languishing in prison and knew that this was his end times. He told his understudy Timothy that he had run the race and finished the course, admonishing him to preach the Gospel being watchful and alert for detractors and false teachers. I can imagine Paul, cold in a stone cell with winter approaching, no warm clothes or the scrolls to read, no encouragement. Make every effort to come before winter…for I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Timothy 4:9,13). 

As I walked outdoors into the pre-dawn darkness today, the stars were bright in the sky, the wind was howling adding to the burn of the single digit temperature. Winter was finally here after above average weather for the last month. The ground crackled and crunched as I walked the back trail around the pond out back. The trees creaked as they swayed in the wind, eerily adding to the starkness of the day.

Come before winter is a lonely call for help and companionship. It is a common call this time of year for people alone for the holidays, without visitors in a hospital, frightened by bad news from the doctors. This is the corridor I walk as a hospital chaplain. My role is to bring warmth from the cold and cheer or encouragement in the storm. Sometimes it just doesn’t work as fears and pains are great and go back for decades of abuse or illness.

Life is hard. Sometimes the ice gets thick and can’t be broken, sometimes it’s thin and we fall through. Our cloaks don’t always block the wind. Do we slip into the icy depths or is there a rope or hand reaching out to keep us from falling? Can you hear Jesus saying, don’t fall asleep, stay and pray with me. But they didn’t.

The snows of winter begin to fall, piling up to many feet in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A car could go off the road and not be found. Half-tracks and snow machines are the only viable means of transport. By Christmas the snow is to the roofline and tunnels lead to the front door. It won’t melt until nearly June, drifting upwards to 20 feet, like the waves of Lake Superior crashing, dark and freezing.  David, in pain over his sin with Bathsheba prays for his indiscretions as red as crimson would be purged, washing him whiter than snow. He was finally shaking in fear and repentance without relief.

But God can bring a thawing, a hot cup of grace and mercy from the storm.  Yet, maybe it’s too late like for the Edmund Fitzgerald as the gales of November came early, crushing the giant freighter and sending the crew into the cruel depths off Whitefish Point in Lake Superior.

Even in the darkest hour and transgression, God has come to bring redemption and healing. We just need to confess and repent, and God will forgive and renew us. There is no valley too dark or sea too deep for His hand to reach out and take us up like he did Peter on the water or David from his stained scarlet to carved ivory.

Come in your winter to the only One who can bring you out alive. No life jacket or rope will save you. No attorney or writ can represent you. Only the Christ of Christmas who died on the Cross of Easter and rose and ascended for you can bring you out. Come before winter.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Indescribable Gifts

This morning I awakened to a sense of excitement. It was not that the Republicans had finally passed some sort of tax bill, although that hopefully will be good too. But it was the knowledge that: “Unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

This is the Most Wonderful Gift of all. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Do you know Him in your heart? God gave us His Perfect Gift from heaven since before the beginning of time. Yes, “In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under the law, that they might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). He is the Perfect Gift.

Another incredible truth is, “God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). He is the Deliverer and has called us out of the darkness into His marvelous light of Christmas. Do you know Him who came on Christmas Day? Do you know your calling? Do you know the gifts that He has given irrevocably to you for the edification or teaching and uplifting of His church? Well, these are all discernable through His Holy Spirit given to you to live with and within you. It is the Holy Spirit who counsels each believer. He teaches us all things. He counsels, comforts, illuminates but also convicts. What a gift of wisdom and power to know God’s will and desire for you.

Once we receive this grace gift of God, His Son into our hearts by faith we are on a new course to become living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. We are being transformed and renewed to be able to test and approve what is God’s will- His good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2). Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us, “It is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, but a gift of God, lest no one should boast.”  I hope that this gift of God by your faith has been received?

Then we are given other gifts of God through His Holy Spirit called Spiritual gifts. Each believer is given at least one such gift that are articulated through the New Testament. Starting in Romans 12:6-8 we can read, We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”  I have been given several primary gifts that include serving, encouraging, teaching and mercy. As a healthcare chaplain I serve hospital patients, families and staff to encourage, comfort and bring God’s mercy. Through Scripture I teach God’s loving truths. These gifts freely given by God called charismata are special gifts of grace to meet the needs of the church. They are expressed differently according to our level of faith in every situation, but through the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed…There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a 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 prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines” (1 Corinthians 12:1,4-11). We all would like wisdom and knowledge, but these are special gifts of God’s wisdom only given to certain people He chooses. Healing is also a gift of God through faith. It is one more gift that I believe that God has bestowed upon me. This gift seems to be one of spiritual healing, which Jesus says is more important than physical because our bodies are wasting away, but our spirits are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Peter also speaks of the gifts saying, The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11). He repeats that all have been given the gift of God’s grace in various forms or manifestations to faithfully serve all people in God’s strength without grumbling. God is the object of our praise and thanks in all things.
Paul told Timothy, his protégé, to “fan into flame the gift of God given him.” (2 Timothy 1:6). He told him not to be ashamed, but that, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7-8). There it is, a strong admonition to live and serve and work out our salvation with zeal and self-control given of God. Gentleness and respect are important in the work of an evangelist, which we are all to be too. Let the love of God be evident in you always to the praise and glory of God the great giver of all things. Remember, “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). Amen.

Friday, December 22, 2017


Our country is in a freefall of immorality. Not that I have not been there myself, but God has transformed me in His mercy and love. Yet, He tells us to “Stand.” What does this mean? It means to stay the course, to not be moved by the culture, to trust in God’s word and be guided by Him and His Holy Spirit. Perhaps the guiding verse for this stance is 1 Corinthians 16:13 (NIV) saying, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” This admonition is for all believers in this time when Christian persecution is greater than anytime in our country’s history.

Paul also told the Galatians who seemed to be legalists, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He is speaking of the law that had been overbearing with human demands and rules. Although these laws were meant to be helpful, they could not be kept and just pointed us to our sin. Today we have a society pointing and living in sin saying whatever makes you feel better do it. It is a society that wants to please man not God. It is not this spirit of freedom, but that of righteousness in Christ that we should seek to stand in. Isaiah the prophet told believers, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9). He said this as he was introducing the only One who could keep us standing, “Immanuel, God with us.”  Paul tells the believers to be strong in faith, “for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

In this world there are temptations to make us fall, but God is faithful. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is a wonderful, but I believe conditional promise saying that we must believe and be looking for the way of escape in these circumstances. Don’t test Him, for He has given you free will to do what you want. So what do we do to stand firm?

I believe that Paul’s strong letter to the Ephesian church gives us the answer. He tells them to serve God not men, but this will take more than human courage. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers; against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand fast then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Ephesians 6:10-18). This is a lot of instruction but it is also very clear from where our strength comes. This metaphor is one of action. That is what we must be, men and women of action to survive in this evil world. Paul tells all the churches to stand firmand hold to the teachings we passed on to you (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

I believe that we are not only in the end times, but world troubles tell me that we are on the last lap. Therefore, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield it’s valuable crop and how patient he is in the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient ans stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-8).  Jesus said, “By standing firm you will gain life” (Luke 21:19).  And perhaps the final admonition coming from Peter regarding the devil, “resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9). Yes, we are all part of a fellowship of suffering, a fact that is hard for the world to grasp or frankly have any part in, unless the Lord draws them. So Stand firm.