Friday, August 31, 2018

Doxology

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Many of my readers are familiar with this ancient doxology or praise of God. Did you know that there are many doxologies in the Bible? Perhaps the most read or recited one in the Aaronic Prayer in Numbers 6:24, “The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-25)

This blessing from Aaron, the first high priest, seems quite personal in how God watches over us. It was said in preparation for worship. It seems to build in crescendo to a very personal offering of peace to everyone. This peace is brought by the light of the face of God Himself shining upon us. What an incredible image filled with a personal God’s shepherd-like interest in caring for each of us. I am most affected by the image of God’s light. This is a topic of Scripture throughout. John particularly says, “God is light and in Him there is not darkness at all” (I John 1:5). He goes on to say that we are to walk in the light as He is in the light and have fellowship with one another and God cleanses us of all sin through His blood or death. Light is healing and makes all things new visible. It brings life. In the Message paraphrase it speaks of God’s gift to prosper us. Yes, I believe that it is a gift of God, the peace that is beyond all of our understanding.

One other doxology that I find very moving is in Jude 24-25.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling (falling), and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

This doxology praises God for His preserving us until we stand before Him at His throne in heaven.  It says that we will not fall or stumble in a way that will keep us from Him. We may be crushed or persecuted but not destroyed as 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 tells us. Like the soaring language of Isaiah 6, God is lifted up in His glory, dominion, majesty and authority forever. God is in the praises of His people Psalm 22 tells us. That’s why we praise Him, because He first loved us we can love one another with the love He has given to us.

These doxologies are often sung like the psalms, which are hymns. David, “the sweet musician of Israel” sang all of the psalms. Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, sang psalms in the upper room with His disciples. There were the psalms of praise. The “Psalms of Ascent,” psalms 120-134 were sung by pilgrims on the way to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Each formed a doxology-like praise to God.

I have chosen these two doxologies near the beginning of the Old Testament and just before the Revelation or revealing of at the end of the New Testament to speak of a theology of the eternal presence in God. God is always with us, Immanuel. The triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit has always existed and created. He has given us the Word of God, the Bible to tell us what we need to know of Him. This word is made alive or illuminated by the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel of John begins by telling us, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”  It is written that we might better know the God of the universe more intimately. It is why we can sin a new song, because God puts it in our mouths, a song of praise. Perhaps you are hurting today. Try singing a doxology, maybe one that you write.




Friday, August 24, 2018

Overflowing

Is your life overflowing with gratefulness? Why should I with all the problems in life you might say? It is good to contemplate this thought as we turn to Scripture on the topic.

Psalm 23, the “Shepherd’s Psalm” is very familiar to most people.  After the passage of the “valley of the shadow of death,” David turns to God’s setting a table before our enemies and anointing our heads with the oil of life. Then he says, “my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5b). I have often imagined this image of an overflowing cup, like a fountain. It is easy for me to place colored lights around the fountain so it reflects beautifully at night too. Can you imagine a fountain that you know, perhaps Buckingham or Versailles?

Psalm 119:17 says regarding God’s teaching, “may my lips overflow with praise.”  Jesus makes clear that this overflow is a heart issue saying, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  In the gospel of John the source of this overflow is made clear. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38). Now this is an image or personification that I love to imagine and experience as well. Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit flowing from within, as we trust in Him. In fact, the Holy Spirit will be with and within us, as we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

 “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15). This wonderful passage from Paul tells us of the grace and salvation that Jesus brings us that should cause our thanksgiving to overflow. A few chapters before this is a comforting verse that I often speak at the beginning of funerals as people are gathered. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds (overflow) through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:2-5). God is a comforter, through the Holy Spirit that He sends us.

God wants to bring us to the “Promised Land” as He did the Hebrews in the Old Testament. In Numbers 13:27 it is written, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!” However, ten of the twelve spies sent into the land then complained of the giants in the land. Then Caleb, one of the two courageous ones said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30b), speaking of God’s promise to protect and deliver them into the land.


Do we often doubt the promises of God? Do we often doubt ourselves and our ability to do something? We read throughout Scripture that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Again we often hear the Scripture that God won’t give you more than you can handle. This is true and He is faithful. But we must trust in Him, as we cannot do this on our own. If we do, it will be more than we can handle. I mention this because the theme of this epistle is the overflowing power of God and His promises to us. He will take us through the valleys and He will go with us. Our lives will overflow with thanksgiving and praise if we are filled and flowing over with the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. We must trust in Him as Savior and Lord for this promised power to work. Life is not meant to be lived in our own strength. It is meant to be lived in communion with the “Most High God.” Choose to be filled and overflow today. It is the “way, the truth and the Life.” (John 14:6).

Friday, August 17, 2018

200 Funerals

At a Bible study group recently I shared that I had presided at some 200 funerals over the last 15 years. I have come to believe this to been the greatest privilege in my ministry as a healthcare chaplain. Some might think I must be kidding. Yet a funeral or memorial service is a time to learn a lot about people and their legacies as well as to preach messages of comfort but also salvation. In fact this is a time for strong evangelism. People come to funerals from all over the spiritual spectrum.  Most are thinking about life and death, where the person is going and by extension where they are headed. So therein lies the greatest opportunity for evangelism.

Most of my memorials were for people in a continuing care community I served for nearly eight years. It was called Friendship Village and later took on the moniker of Trinity Village. Most of the residents knew the Trinity, but did not having a strong understanding of theology. As the years proceeded the community began to better represent the demographic is served, the African American community. This also brought a stronger Christian ethic encompassing the more demonstrative denominations. It was only in my last couple of years at the village that I began to hear “Amen” and “preach it.”

Perhaps the most memorable service was for a former railroad man who had belonged to a Harley (HOG) gang. Now I didn’t know him in his biker days, but the HOG reps showed up anyway. It was a hot summer day with a 3PM service. A little after noon the bikers started arriving and parking out in front of our chapel building. A party ensued with lots of music and drinking. When the doors opened at about 2:30 there was a stream of black leather clad guys and gals streaming into the chapel. I asked for cigarettes to be extinguished and bottles to be left outside. The group abided by throwing the bottles out on the lawn. Our one dual-purpose security plant operations man looked a little overwhelmed.  Our 80+ aged residents seemed entranced finding the sight of open topped biker-women something straight out of Easy Rider better than the old hymns we sang. Of course none of our men could grow hair like these guys.

The service began and the crowd settled down to sing Amazing Grace. The ancient hymn evoked much emotion- loud, and out of tune. But it was when we got to the eulogies and remembrance that the fun began. Biker after biker wanted to tell how the deceased had fixed their bike or gave them a ticket for the train. The stories brought cheers and applause, something a little unusual for our “old folks” home. Now of course some enjoyed the lively fun, others swooned. So I needed to find the leader of the pack. It was obvious once I found the guy with two girls hanging on him. I asked him to wind it up and wrangle his gang out of chapel. In a couple of minutes he rose and addressed the assembly, thanking me for the opportunity to remember their compatriot. With that he led the motley crew out the door to the waiting bikes. The roar was deafening as the “Milwaukee Steel” rumbled in unison. The salute to their fallen friend brought the ancient audience to their feet for the first time I had seen in chapel in eight years. As they roared away I heard one exclaim, “Now that was a send off.”  Members of the gang came back from time to time to show those interested in their new bikes.

I learned a lot about people from friends and relatives at funerals. It was difficult to hold tributes to three minutes, my unwritten rule. I presided at the service of an 88 year old German and former SS officer. He had become the leader of local German patriot groups. He told me that he had deserted to escape assassination when he turned from the Nazi plans. I will never know the details of his military service. He knew that my father had been severely wounded by a German 88mm artillery round at Monte Casino, Italy in 1944.

I led a funeral service for a woman who had played viola for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. She was not a “believer” but had provided the funding for a dozen grand children to attend college. Their praise and stories of this woman’s love of family was laudable. One of them who had attended Julliard played a stirring violin solo.

I often preach from the 23rd Psalm speaking of the “valley of the shadow of death” and how to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I always quote from the John 11 resurrection and life verse. Moreover, I love to teach from John 14 speaking of the house the Lord has prepared for us who understand that the Lord Jesus is “The way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by Him.”

Occasionally I get asked by a social friend to preside at their parent’s funeral. This is a privilege, and it gives me a privilege to share the gospel.  They also see me in a role other than hospital CEO a position I held for 35 years.

I have been asked by an elderly couple who are close friends to do their funerals. I have already written the draft homily based on a story involving a fishing trip with this friend that I published in my book, This is the Way, Walk in It.


I never know how my homilies and prayers affect the congregation. This is   something I will probably not learn until I meet them in heaven if it is God’s will.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Be Thankful

Do you have trouble being thankful? I do too. Yet, I have come to realize that God is in the praises of His people as Psalm 22:3 tells us. This psalm depicting Christ’s crucifixion is full of darkness of the thoughts of God forsaking us as Jesus said from the cross. But we trust in the One who can deliver and rescue us from the grave or at least troubles now and soon. But why thanks?

 Scripture is full of thanksgiving and praises, even in trouble and trials. Why is that? Why does 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 say, “Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” It almost seems absurd and it is in worldly terms. Here we don’t expect trouble or at least we can run or buy our way out from it. But God wants us to rejoice and give thanks and not to forget to pray, as prayer is our connection to God.

Perhaps one of the hardest verses in the Bible from James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you come into trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” (James1: 2-4).  God is saying to rejoice for He is working in you. He also gives us the exhortation to ask Him for wisdom in the next verse to know what to do and how to do it. God will give this generously if we don’t doubt and are thankful.

The psalms are full of giving thanks to the Lord for He is good and His love endures forever (Psalms 107, 100,136).  How can we give thanks in all things you might ask, for not all things are good? True, not all things are good like cancer and war and trauma of all sorts. But God is good and He is in them with you if you trust in Him. God says in Deuteronomy and Hebrews, “He will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6); “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we might say with confidence,  “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me”  (Hebrews 13:5-6). These are words of encouragement and strengthening during our journeys on earth.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians tells them, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say again, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all for the Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). This is a verse I put to memory years ago. It again tells us to rejoice and give thanks in everything. Why? Because the peace of God will be with you and guard you. This is why much is written about praying the Scriptures, because they do not return void, but accomplish God’s purpose for us or others in it with us.
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Yes, give thanks for Jesu

Friday, August 3, 2018

Stuff Happens

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:13-17).

This morning I was preparing for a trip South to enjoy the surf and sun and find a place for a family reunion. Well, I am writing now because we are not going as my wife came down with the Norovirus. We don’t know what God has in mind. My wife prayed that God would make clear to her if we were supposed to go or not. I still have a “?” next to the trip on my planning list. I can say that my in-laws were just where we were going to go and the traffic was awful and the weather too. So there is a reason not to go. But really I don’t know why the trip was called off other than that my wife was sick. Was it God telling us or giving us an answer to her prayer? And what was or is He saying? Is that how God works?  Well, maybe He does.

God, through the Holy Spirit blocked the Apostle Paul from going to Asia as Acts 16 tells us. Then the Holy Spirit in a vision to Paul told him to go and preach in Macedonia.  He obeyed and made incredible headway for the gospel around the Mediterranean. However, Paul underwent great persecution and suffering for the gospel. He was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked and beaten and jailed regularly. He was hated and sought after for assassination by the religious ones. This is what happened to Jesus as well, until they crucified Him.

I don’t know about you, but I have come to desire to obey the Holy Spirit. I know that the Spirit will not contradict God’s Word, the Bible. God does work through prayer, His word, and other godly people and circumstances His will for us as Henry Blackaby taught in Experiencing God. I have come to learn that when the Holy Spirit nudges you to action, you must do it right away or miss blessings.  Perhaps the most dramatic such occasion for me was in 1999 when my mother was slowly dying of Alzheimer’s and its complications in a locked dementia unit. She had not spoken a word for two years the day the Spirit of God told me to go see her. I was an executive at a large health insurance company and on my way across campus to the President’s office for a meeting.  I was prompted by the Spirit to go see my mother. I told Him that I had a meeting, which of course He already knew. He pressed me and I told my boss that I couldn’t go to the meeting. Fortunately he was a Christian and knew my heart for God.

I entered my mother’s room as she sat on her bed. She did not speak, as usual. So I told her my testimony and that I had received Jesus into my heart and would be going to heaven. She then spoke as clearly as I had ever heard and repeated my story. She asked that if she would accept Christ’s gift that she too would go to heaven and we would be together. I told her yes and we prayed. She received the gift of forgiveness and salvation as we rejoiced in tears and happiness. The nurses knew that she was changed. They asked what had happened and I told the story. My mother died at peace just a couple of days later from complications of pneumonia. I will see her again.

I don’t know how and when the Spirit works, but I do know that in Isaiah 55 we read,  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

He works in ways we cannot see for our good and His glory. We will not always know what and how He is working. In fact we may not learn on this side of heaven. However, we need to obey and submit to His word and prodding when He speaks or guides us.