Friday, September 28, 2018

Loving Your Brother or Sister

My men’s bible study group is in 1-3 John. I have already been encouraged by 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify (cleanse) us of all unrighteousness.” Yet chapter 2 brings a challenge to me. I love the verse that “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”  (1 John 2:8). But then the next verse brings a huge challenge to me. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother (sister) is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness, he does not know where he is going, because darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:9-11). In the next chapter John brings more clarification to this challenge, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in Him. This is how we know what live is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:15-16).

This hatred is speaking to those who have left or divided the church of unity with Jesus as He commanded. In Romans 12:9 Paul further addresses this with saying Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another above ourselves.” John is talking about living in peace and harmony with one another.  Those who love their brother walk in light. But there are tests to walking in the light that start with trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior to begin. Moreover, John continues to say, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue without actions and the truth” (1 John 3:17-18).  Scripture often emphasizes that we need faith and deeds (James 2:18). The love of Christ in us will bring good deeds. Also true faith is in Jesus who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the truth. The beginning of the gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). God is saying through John that Jesus is God and He is the Word of God or the Bible. Therefore if we know the truth we know the Word of God and its truth.

Divisions between brothers and churches have been rampant in our society, most of it in the last 70 years. Today we have more than 3,000 protestant denominations. It is true that all believers could not sit under one roof, but Jesus wanted one denomination, one church. He wants us to love one another and not be separated by interpretations of Scripture. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). John in writing Revelation said, “I warn everyone who hears the words of prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

Today, it seems that churches are changing the Word of God to fit their purposes or a current social trend. This disqualifies you are being in the light and truth and separates you from His promised land. But we are not to hate our brother when they fall away from the truth or do not even know it in the first place. It is hard to love someone who does not believe what you do, and even harder sometimes when they don’t believe what God says. But we are commanded to do so through the anointing of the Holy Spirit within us, as we trust in Jesus, the truth and the lawgiver.


Romans 12:18 says, “If at all possible, as much as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone.”  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dance



Douglas Frank Photo

Dance

Do you dance, or do you say that I can’t dance? Even with The World of Dance and Dancing with The Starsdo you still not want to dance? I think of going to Mayhews Dancing School in seventh grade a the Woman’s Club. It was indeed a puberty squeezing experience. Memories are not good except for the time a friend flushed a cherry bomb down a toilet bringing a new quick step to our dance. Well, the Bible says that we serve a God who dances over us; did you know that? There is also quite a bit of dancing by believers in Scripture, some good and some not.

“Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing” (Exodus 15:20). We never read of the millions of Israelites dancing after being freed from slavery in Egypt, but they did celebrate with dancing around the golden calf of idolatry when Moses was away, sadly with Aaron and Miriam leading. But far more appropriate yet controversial dancing was King David’s when the Arc of the Convenant was returned, “Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might”  (2 Samuel 6:14, 1 Chronicles 15:29). His wife Michael was embarrassed and angry, despising him at such a show. She missed the celebration in heart and soul that David led wholeheartedly for the Lord. A little later in Chapter 18 there was great singing and dancing in the streets when King Saul and David returned from routing the Philistines. But soon this fete also turned south as the women sang of Saul’s killing 1000s and David’s 10,000s. Jealousy rose murderously in Saul against a triumphant David. Humans often just don’t like others getting credit where it is due. This trait is unholy and selfish, not pleasing to God. 

David, the “Sweet Psalmist of Israel,” wrote 40% of the psalms including Psalm 30, a song for the dedication of the temple. Herein he exalts the Lord for lifting all up from the depths bringing healing to the land, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent”  (Psalm 30:11-12). A Psalm of Ascent probably written by Levites exhorts, “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp”(Psalm 149:3). And then again in the final Psalm 150 we read of praises to God, “praise Him with timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe.” Then there is a turn away from dancing to mourning in the Prophet Jeremiah’s Lamentations saying, “Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning” (Lamentations 5:15). Sorrow came in the exile.

Near the end of the Old Testament the Prophet Zephaniah wrote of the coming judgment on the rebellious Israelites. Yet one of my favorite Scripture verses also announced God’s redemption following judgment. 
The Lord your God is in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing (and dancing) 
(Zephaniah 3:17).
The Hebrew word, ‘rejoice,’ means to “spin around under violent emotion.” The phrase “rejoice over you” literally means to “dance, skip, leap, and spin in joy.”God delights in His creation. There is a time for mourning and for dancing as Ecclesiastes 3 beautifully articulates. 

I believe in a God who dances. Mary Ward a 16thcentury religious women wrote:

May the God who dances in creation,
who embraces us with human love,
who shakes our lives like thunder,
bless us and drive us out with power
to fill the world with God’s justice.

Even famous unbeliever Friedrich Nietzsche said, 
If they want me to believe in their god,
they'll have to sing me better songs.....
I could only believe in a god who dances.

I believe that better songs have been written and bring people to signing and dancing in worship around the world daily. I remember the first interpretive dance I watched in response to a sermon on praising God. Many legalists were aghast; others caught the joyous flow. It is the heart that God looks at not the outward appearance. I recall with a chuckle how a number of Bible studies opened my first book, Great is God’s Faithfulness: a Devotional on the Psalms. Everypsalm chapter was prefaced with a graphic landscape photograph taken by my cousin in the rugged Northwest (see above). The groups spent most of their time finding the spiritual significance of the psalm not in my commentary but in the photograph. The water dancing around the rocky seascape spoke volumes. 

So do you dance to the Lord, or are you too conscious of what others will think? I get that, yet don’t want to be the only one dancing to the music. I enjoy attending Pentecostal or African American services where the Spirit leads to physical action. Every morning when it’s not raining or snowing I bike and sing, celebrating and praising the Lord in the dark along the River Road. I may not be able to dance, but I sure can sing and ride joyfully to the Lord. Try getting in step with the Holy Spirit and dance. 



Friday, September 21, 2018

Trust and Honor God

Psalm 105 is a psalm of praise and honor to the God who brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done. Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts” (Psalm 105:1-2). The psalm goes on to list mighty and awesome acts. But He also caused perils to come for rebelliousness and unbelief.

We read in Psalm 105:41, “He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert.” I love this miracle and image of “streams in the desert” (Isaiah 32:2).  This verse is an image the prophet brings of the Kingdom of Righteousness, a refuge from the storm for His people. My favorite devotional book written by L.B. Cowen is called Streams in the Desert. He wrote in the preface a Personal Word:
“In the pathway of faith we come to learn that the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. Both in the physical and spiritual realm, great pressure means great power! Although circumstances may bring us into a place of death, that need not spell disaster-for if we trust in the Lord and wait patiently, that simply provides the occasion for the display of His almighty power. “Remember His marvelous works that He hath done; His wonder, and the judgments of His mouth.” (Psalm 105:5 KJV).

These words are prophetic and true for the believer. As we go back to the verse regarding the water gushing from the rock in the desert, it brings a vision of God’s grace and merciful provision for us in our trials of life. Yet there is much more to it as we read of the event in the Numbers 20:7-13 historical narrative.  Aaron and Moses came to the entrance of the tent of meeting to seek the Lord’s help and God responded saying, “’Take your staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly. Speak to the rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.’”  Here is a miracle in the waiting. So what did Moses do? “So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as He commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community drank…But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron. “Because you did not trust in Me enough to honor Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I gave them.’”

Moses had disobeyed the Lord’s command. Why? We don’t know, but perhaps it was distrust, or overzealousness. It might have been to dramatize the event. Whatever his motivation, it was disobedient and would have major consequences, known to all creation. In fact, Moses did not lead the Israelites across the Jordan. He died and was secretly buried so no one would know where his grave was placed that he might be honored. God is very serious about sin and disobedience. He wants us to trust and obey in all things.

We are a rebellious people like the Israelites. We follow our own plans when God’s are better. God in this case allowed the water to flow so that the people would not perish, but there would be consequences. There always will be consequences for disobedience to His will and word.


I have suffered consequences for my disobedience often. I lost my career for behavior outside of God’s will, even though on a worldly basis I succeeded in a major way. God is interested in our following His way. That is why I have written the book This is The Way, Walk in It. This 2-volume book identifies in essay or sermon how God wants us to walk in His ways all the days of our lives. Honor God and “trust in Him with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:4-5).

Monday, September 17, 2018

Gutters


Gutters
I just put my stepladder back in the shed after clearing out our gutters of the windblown fall refuge from trees above. The rains are coming again tonight. Perhaps it is the edge of Hurricane Florence drifting over the North.  The river is still very high and flooding is again predicted. 

Are your gutters overflowing? I mean more than the gutters on your house or road. The water seems to keep coming and leaves and debris are falling and filling. Are you keeping up or even adding to the overflow? What I mean by this is the messes in your life that overflow into the streets and even your heart and home. Leaves, sticks and seeds from trees blown in the wind cab fall into your mind. Is it left over anger from a confrontation in the kitchen or with co-workers at work? Maybe it is the children who don’t listen? Perhaps it is the overwhelmingly dark and negative talk in our society fueled by political infighting and even foreign interference to bring us all down. On a spiritual level I ask you to look into your heart and see if it is hardening or still the dark and stone hard one that Jeremiah and Ezekiel so graphically exposed. 

Back to the shed and the ladder.  After replacing the stepladder I took off my ragged and torn work pants and ancient long sleeve shirt and mosquito netted hat, sweat socks and boots. You see I was battling the fall infestation of voracious female mosquitoes brought by standing water from our summer storms.  They were looking to suck my blood to feed their billions of eggs. The males don’t do this, they just swarm around as if grumbling and complaining about the world we live in. Is this a picture of our world? I could use other metaphors, but this will do for now as I turn to the biblical simile through the strong admonition from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 6:10-18. 
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
                                    Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. 
             We live in a world growing more and more similar to that of the first Christians who were under continuous persecution by the religious and government authorities. However, now we have the press and the common folk picking up the restrain. So what do we do? We need to put on the full armor of God to protect ourselves. Each piece is defensive except the last, which is the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” We know from Isaiah 55 that the word of God is like the torrential rains that have been falling and it does not return void or empty, but accomplishes its God given desire and purpose. It is the bursting forth in song that God desires for His renown. We will be led forth in joyful peace. 
So when I clean the gutters in preparation for the next storm, I am looking into my heart like David did in Psalm 51 23-24 saying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Scripture tells us in Psalm 66:18, “That if I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”  Solomon, the writer of Proverbs wrote of wisdom and said, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). When we clean out the gutters of our hearts “our righteous path is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter than the day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness, they do not know what makes them stumble” (Proverbs 4:18). 
This is the way, walk in it as Isaiah 30:21 admonishes us. This verse is also the title of my two-volume book delineating how God wants us to accomplish this. We need to hear God’s voice behind us no matter where we go. He is there to guide and protect us if we will just seek and obey His call. 






Friday, September 14, 2018

Despair

We live in a dark world where Satan has sway over circumstances in our lives. I have said often to people that Psalm 23:4 tells us that as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we are to fear no evil for God is with us, His rod and staff comfort us. I say that in the valleys the flowers grow and the rivers flow. The most fertile places are valleys, even in cold Alaska.

My experience as a healthcare chaplain has taught me that life is mostly valleys, it just is. That is not a negative view of life; it is truth. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to “Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15-16).  Joshua, who had been thrown into leadership after Moses death in the wilderness, was just that. He was lost and afraid. But God came to him and admonished him, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead the people to inherit the land…Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your god will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6,9).

This is the situation that many of us face in life, valleys, and challenges seemingly way beyond us and the enemies growing around us. When Life is hard is the title of a dramatic teaching by James MacDonald concerning facing your giants. Ever since the first book of the Bible was written in Job, we have been up against insurmountable odds. In my life when these challenges came, I ran. I headed for greener pastures or self-medicated with a number of fleshly options. We cannot face the challenges of life by ourselves; we need the Lord. As He told Joshua and the writer of Hebrews, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

In the great trials of life James tells us to consider it joy. Why” Because God is making us mature and complete, lacking nothing. But He also suggests that we lack wisdom, so ask Him for it and He will give it generously without finding fault.

We are fearful people. We run or hide from storms or trials. Our fear can escalate to wanting to quit or give in or even check out in despair. God wants us to submit or obey in the trial. God will use the pain for our good and His glory. It seems that it will never end, but all trials are temporary and are allowed by God. They may be training grounds, or even consequences to our own behavior that was outside God’s will. Satan wants to use the pain in trials to cause us to quit, but God uses it to bring us forth as gold. Satan’s goal is torment; God’s is molding us in His image.


I used all the following tools when in despair and deep depression a couple of years ago. I could not see past the darkness until God healed me totally for submitting and obeying until the trial was over.

So what do we do in the storm?
·      Strengthen our prayer life
·      Count your blessings, because the deeper the valley, the higher the blessing, be thankful
·      Increase your time in God’s Word
·      Tell other godly and trusted people to enter into it with you in prayer and counsel
·      Get godly counseling
·      Keep your eye on the prize, eternal, not short term gain
·      Embrace, submit and rest in the trial because His power is being made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
·      Be content for we can do all things through God who strengthens us
·      Be patient as His ways and time is not ours
·      Don’t grumble for God hates it
·      Surrender and be assured you are not going under because God is faithful
·      Keep walking in faith “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).

So these are a few suggestions for when the trials heat up and you are feeling overwhelmed. The Serenity Prayer reminds us that hardship is the pathway to peace and that supreme happiness is never met in this life, but joy is.