Friday, February 23, 2018

Drop The Rock

I have been writing about dealing with difficult people as God has been working with grace on me about the issue. Recently a favorite pastor/writer wrote about dealing with difficult people reminds him about watching Canadian geese. I thought I had misread, but he was not talking so much about the fertilizer that they leave behind on your lawn as they feed on your grass. He was talking about how they care for one another. They guard their young a lot better than many people do. We have all seen photos of goslings under the wings of protective moms.  They stay mated for life; I don’t need to tell you about our divorce rates that are continuing to rise beyond 50%, even for so-called Christians. They primp and feed the young including the “black swans” in the group.

Well I was convicted a bit more as I read Romans 12:14-21 again.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

One of my last posts was “Don’t Throw That Rock at me.” It spoke of my/your tendency to “dis” people for behavior of which we don’t approve and to find things that make others difficult to share with others. Forgiveness is a major theme of the New Testament. In the Old Testament law, throwing rocks at people for infractions, was common. Grace, through Christ is what we have been given for our sins. We in turn are asked to return the compassionate perspective to others. Like grace, this is a gift of God, not of ourselves, lest anyone should boast as Ephesians 4:8 reminds us. We can’t do it on our own; we need the Holy Spirit within us to do it. No excuses here, it is just true. However, we can start by at least dropping the rocks we are holding. We can stop hating and holding on to our grudges and unforgiveness. Why, because if we don’t the hate will kill us. Hate is on the “Anger Scale” a term I am just coining.  It looks like this:

----------x----------------x-----------------x-------------------x-----------------------x--------x
critical (displeasure) anger (incensed)      infuriated   bitter rage slander malice      

I don’t know exactly how to lay out the slope of anger at told in Ephesians 4:31. I just know that all of it is sinful behavior in thought, word and deed. It did try to make the line look like a barbed-wire fence. God is very clear on the need to forgive and be kind. That does not mean forget, it means drop the rock, which might be a good start for the “Kindness Scale.”

_______x____________x______________x______________x__________________x_________x_________        
drop rock       forgiven          be kind           compassionate           caring  sacrifice


Well, I don’t know how to do this either. I look at the process of grieving as a comparison. It might start with anger, but it moves to acceptance and then moving on. It is a process that is not lateral and moves back and forth. Similarly dropping our rock and moving from murder to sacrifice or being like Christ is perhaps a lifetime process and it is not possible for man without the Holy Spirit. Along the way there is the need for good friends, counselors and conviction of sin, followed by repentance. You see I believe that forgiveness and the continuums I have presented have to do with spiritual maturity and our sanctification or becoming holy and righteous through Jesus Christ and His redeeming life given to us. So realize that this is a long and hard process. But start by dropping the rock and taking up the Rock eternal, God within us.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Burden


A wonderful teacher and writer Max Lucado has a TV series called Traveling Light. It talks of the burdens we carry through life that we cause or from what others might do to us. Whatever, they become heavier over time if we do not unburden ourselves. This process is simple but not always easy however. You see, it usually entails forgiving the person who hurt us, even ourselves and for some, God. Lucado uses Psalm 23 as a Scripture text for his teaching.  It speaks of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet this well known verse says that we will be walking through. It also says that it is the shadow of death, which cannot hurt you. The shadow talks to the fact that Jesus Christ has overcome death on the cross and in so doing has forgiven all of our sins and taken all of our burdens. The verse finishes with saying to fear no evil because the Shepherd’s rod and staff guide, protect and comfort us on our journey, if we trust in the One who did it for us.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Many of you have heard this teaching yet few have caste their burdens upon the Lord.  In 1 Peter 5:6-7 we read, “Humble yourselves, therefore under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety (cares) upon Him because He cares for you.” God is saying, throw it down and I will take it up. Actually He says, “I will lift you up in due time.” In the perfect timing, when the burden has been dropped or the lesson learned, the weight will be gone and/or you will have walked through the lonesome valley to the other side.  Are you sick of traveling burdened? Then as the song Traveling Light, by Sara Groves says, drop it. www.lyrics007.com/Sara%20Groves%20Lyrics/Traveling%20Light

I have been writing a lot on forgiveness and reconciliation as it seems that mankind just wants to hold grudges and be uncivil to one another, forgetting the Greatest Commandment, which is “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). In so doing, we are taking on God’s strength to do something that is really impossible without Him. Those that have unconfessed sins are burdened and not right with God. “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 and will forgive our sins and purify (cleanse us) of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).   This verse is penultimate in understanding our standing with God, we must confess and repent to be forgiven. And if we don’t forgive we are not forgiven. This is pretty commanding instruction. I love a few verses before this that say, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, the Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  Light shows the way and light heals. We need light to see and through it all is revealed; nothing is hidden. He knows it all and wants us to come to Him and drop our burdens down. Carry the load no more. He will take it from you. AMEN

Friday, February 9, 2018

You Will Heap Burning Coals on Their Head

Now there is a dramatic and vivid title statement about being kind and loving to everyone; especially those who persecute you from Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25:21. This is an idiom of unknown origin. One writer suggested it might be like an ancient custom of carrying a pan of hot coals on your head as a sign of contrition.  Perhaps it is just somewhat like the idiom of “He came to me with his hat in his hand.” It is a humiliating experience to have to go with your hat in you hand asking for help when you are down. We are to be kind to one another and this phrase is to show that the purpose of kindness is to bring the conscience of the opposition to do its job. It is our hope that our good conduct might bring about humility and repentance in others.

The whole passage is about caring for an enemy, bringing water or food for them, not evil but good. Paul’s teaching is about loving all people. This is about brotherly love, which is really hard when people are like porcupines. Some people are enigmas, you just can’t figure our how to approach them, they just do not respond. Therefore Paul also said in Romans 12:18, “If it is at all possible, as much as it depends upon you, be at peace with every one.” Get it? There are some people with whom you will never get along. In fact Joyce Meyer, a TV Bible teacher, recently said that there are 10% of people who will never like you no matter what you do or say.

So we do what we can to care for or love others without being hypocritical but “sincere” as Romans 12:9 admonishes us. We are to bless those who persecute us and live in harmony with one another. This is incredibly difficult. In fact, I believe it is impossible without God’s help.  “Being devoted to one another in brotherly love” and “honoring others above ourselves” is just plain un-human. Yes it is. But Paul says, nonetheless, never stop lacking zeal and spiritual fervor while serving the Lord. This means in spite of others, “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer…share and offer hospitality” (Romans 12:12,13).  This action requires Holy Spirit driven power and compassion, the whole fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22.


Now back to the title. Now that I have studied these verses, I see that it does not matter what others do. I know some of you would gladly just dump hot coals on someone’s head, and that would take care of them. It is all about bringing good not evil. The world would do the coal thing; we must bring the cookies and smile. Really, bring the spirit of humility and grace, given by the only One who can, Jesus. AMEN

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Theology of Time


1985.201_w.jpg
Douglas Frank Photograph 


A Theology of Time

What is time to you? Is it something you cannot control or just keeps rolling on? Does it go slow or fast, or does that depend? In the beginning God said,  ‘“Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth” (Genesis 1:14). Signs of sacred times, days and years marked by the stars in the sky. Time was meant to mark part of creation and much more as the Bible speaks of it 888 times. The Creation narrative in Genesis marks out the seven days ending with Sabbath rest. But even in this demarcation Peter said of the coming last days that God is not slow in keeping His promise that He wants that none should perish but all to come to repentance. Therefore His patience will extend for a period of time that we do not know.
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand yearsand a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8). That’s one of those riddle-like God things that is just plain beyond our comprehension. In a scary reminder back in the Genesis 4 & 6 people at that time began to call upon the Lord, but they were also wicked at that time, except for Noah. God spoke throughout the early narrative, “At that time and at the appointed time.” You see to God there is a perfect and appointed time. As Solomon writes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  This passage often quoted at funerals tells us that there is a time for, “being born and for dying; planting and uprooting; killing and healing; tearing down and building up; weeping and laughing; mourning and dancing; gathering and scattering stones; embracing or not; searching and giving up; keeping and throwing away; tearing and mending; being silent and speaking; loving and hating; war and peace…He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8, 11). In other words, God is in control of all time and things, and He said that we should understand this from the beginning to the end because everything that God does endures forever and cannot be changed whether you think so or not.

Life is a tapestry over time weaving a mosaic of patterns for each of us, in or out of God’s will. I must admit that for the first 40 years of my life I lived for myself on my own terms or those given to me by others. It was not God’s time honored guidance that reigned in my life. I became a hospital executive serving as CEO of several. This led to a career as a crisis or turnaround leader. I was sent out to troubled hospitals primarily in the Upper Midwest. These hospitals were typically in duress financially as well as in quality of care. Major downsizings and revamping of all systems were required. This work meant 24/7-time and was very stressful, although sometimes the directions taken were the only ones that would keep the hospital open. Needless to say it was exhausting in every way. Yet I did not have an anchor at the time other than self. However, it was in the dead of a snowy night as I was driving home after several weeks away from family that I came to a crisis; exhausted physically, mentally and morally. It was then in “The fullness of time that God sent His Son,” to interrupt my life. The only radio station in the blizzard was an invitation through Pastor/Teacher Chuck Swindoll to give up my life and control to Him. As I knelt in the snow in my blazing headlights, like Paul on the Damascus Road, I was changed. My time would become His, not my own. My journey of walking in God’s way would bring a loss of career and extensive Christian counseling. But God finally spoke through time saying audibly to me, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). These words would launch a new career into full-time ministry, including six years of seminary, two years of healthcare chaplain training and now many years serving other people in crisis as God had served me in my own, at just the appointed time.

So what do we do? Hebrews 10:12 says, “For it is time to seek the Lord.”  I agree, since God is the “Determiner” of all time and things.  I want to know Him better and frankly speaking, be on His side. Why you might ask? Because, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalms 9:9). Psalms 46:1-2a calls Him a “Refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” As I consider God’s control in my life I want to be like Solomon the writer of Proverbs who said, “My times are in your hands” (Proverbs 31:15). God calls those who believe in Him, “friends.”  Moreover, “a friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).  So what do I do? “Trust in the Lord at all times” (Psalms 62:5). Why would I trust in the Lord this way?  Since the beginning and increasingly today, “the times are evil” (Amos 5:13).  One writer said, “Time is cruel.” The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  Isaiah the Prophet said, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it spring up; do you perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19). He said this 700 years before it would happen, the sending of God’s Son to earth.

Life and time are perilous at times. I have been in several situations in my life requiring God’s interceding at just the right time. He interceded through a classmate of my own father to carry me out of a tennis tournament when I collapsed from a near fatal eating disorder of anorexia. I could not control my out of control life in an alcoholic family, but God.

At the perfect time God healed me from what was a futile illness while on the faculty of the University of Virginia (UVA). I have written about this miraculous even in my book Great is God’s Faithfulness. After several weeks of high fever and freezing joints I was unable to function. The UVA physicians didn’t know that a tick bite had given me three life-threatening illnesses. It was in the middle of the night while my fever soaked through the bedclothes and I could only crawl that I cried out to God through my pain and tears saying, “Praise the Lord O my soul…and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:1-3). As the words reached God, He sent His hot healing power to surge throughout my body bringing complete and instant healing. I could jump out of bed praising God. It turned out that more than 100 patients had died of my illnesses in the year of my trial.

Is God asking you for something that is difficult? I have already written about God’s miraculous healing at UVA, but sometimes we are asked to act even when our own life or position is at stake. I recall my time as Chief Compliance/Ethics Officer for the University of Virginia (UVA). My superior, the Executive Vice President of UVA said, “We are hiring you because you are skilled and you are a Yankee so we won’t worry if we need to kill you.” This was tongue and cheek yet somewhat true because the Civil War was sadly still going on in the South. I needed to challenge practices that were illegal, discriminatory and full of harassment at times. I recall calling on the President of the Medical College for his treatment of females in ways that were no longer acceptable in most of the country. Because we were both strong Christians it went well and we became close friends through the many challenges at UVA. Eventually, after I had led this major effort that changed a myriad of practices I had outlived my usefulness to certain executives, therefore making clear to me the time was right to head back to home in Wisconsin.  I was healed physically from disease and now I needed to remember, there is a time for everything under heaven.

The present time is all we have. We need to live life one day at a time, being in and enjoying every moment. God is returning to rule and reign as well as to judge the earth in the perfect time. Jesus said that, “At the appointed time I will return” (Romans 9:9). The time is short (1 Corinthians 7:29) and the present world is passing away.

So, what do we do in this time? God called us to live a holy life through His grace given us in Christ Jesus before the “beginning of time”  (2 Timothy 1:9). Perhaps you don’t know this One who was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be? A lesson comes from the Book of Esther, portraying the obedient life of a Jewish woman under a proclamation of certain death whose courage brought salvation for all her people before a pagan king. “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). She had the courage to challenge her husband king regarding his proclamation to exterminate all the Jewish people brought about through an evil plot. He relented, even as her life and a multitude of others were on the line. What about you? Are you being called for something unique and special requiring faith and boldness beyond your capabilities?

I have pastored a church after a bloody implosion due to pride and arrogance of a lead pastor that caused division. When I was at the end of my rope from leading, counseling and caring I had suicidal ideations. But God sent His Holy Spirit on Pentecost as I was leading worship as a hot healing strength moving through me. He brought joy and clarity that has filled me since in a miraculous way even tough I still do stupid things.

Speaking of dumb things, last summer I headed to nearby Lake Michigan when in August it had finally warmed enough for swimming. The hurricanes in the South had caused huge waves and rip currents of which I was unaware. Almost immediately after I hit the surf, I was dragged out nearly a quarter mile unable to battle back against the torrent. At the point of near total exhaustion, when I feared of drowning, I cried out, “Help me Jesus!” Immediately a peace that transcended all understanding came over me. I thought this is what drowning feels like. I could no longer swim in the maelstrom when suddenly at just the right time I was thrown onto the rocky beach now many hundreds of yards away. God Himself had transported me, not by my own doing.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:4-6). Other translations say at “Just the right time, the perfect time,” God sent Jesus Christ into His world to live and die and be resurrected for our sins. Praise God that He is returning and as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 declares, He is coming back at just the right time to take us with Him into heaven and out of the tribulation or at least the wrath He will pour out on the earth. In the meantime while waiting for that time, we need to reflect, seek God in His sanctuary, be silent, seek solitude and even simplicity in our lives as Chuck Swindoll wrote in his book, Intimacy With The Almighty.  We only have so much time on earth; Scripture says 70 or 80 years if strong. The Psalms teach us “to number our days (time) aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10,11,12).  This time of our end and God’s return is coming soon and the last verses of the Bible in Revelation say, He who testifies to all these things says it again: “I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon!”
Yes! Come, Master (Lord) Jesus! (Revelation 22:20 The Message).