Monday, July 29, 2019

Encourage

Douglas Frank Photo

Encourage

Many people are discouraged in life, and I can easily understand why. I have been discouraged and even in despair at times.‘“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’”(Joshua 1:9). This is God Himself encouraging Moses predecessor, Joshua. We all get discouraged.

 What is it that God wants us to do at these times? He wants us to encourage others. This is both a gift and a lifestyle. Scripture is full of encouraging words. In fact May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had” (Romans 15:5). Paul, having been in great peril often admonishes and exhorts us to encourage one another, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1Thessalonians 5:11). This teaching occurs over 50 times in the New Testament. In fact it is a spiritual gift for some, including myself. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans that there are many gifts of the Holy Spirit given in grace.  If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. “If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly” (Romans 12:8). In their book by Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender, Encouragement, The Key to Caring, they tell us it is a unique value of Christian fellowship. 

In the Book of Hebrews the writer speaks of the end of times, which I believe is coming quickly saying, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near”(Hebrews 10:25). Different translations use “exhortation” instead. It pushes us to use our mental energies to move up and out of somewhere into someplace higher or better, less dark and more light. It is a revival word and or expression. All of our calling is to minister to needy people with the gifts we have. All Christians are called by the Great Commission to evangelize with the Good News. That is being an encourager. 

Encouraging is a relational thing. It is not just words, it is listening, and being engaged and bringing words or substantive things that will encourage or comfort the disheartened. A well-timed word has power. In fact Proverbs expresses how, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…A soothing word is like a tree of life” (Proverbs 18:21, 15:4).  It is about speaking light-filled words of cheer and warmth on a cold day. Since James admonishes us that the tongue has the power to sink ships we need to be careful with our words. Words aptly spoken can influence people toward or away from godliness. Have you ever been at a track meet urging, cheering and encouraging runners to finish the race strong? Do you just yell, “Quit,” I don’t think so. Perhaps on a hot day you even turn on the hose in your yard to spray on the runners as they pass by. I recall when I was a hospital administrator at a small rural hospital in Tuscola Illinois; we held a race to raise funds for some worthy cause in our Emergency Department. The lead, an attorney no less started the race with 1,000 at 1100 on an August morning heading out on a newly blacktopped road in the cornfields. I don’t know if you have lived in Illinois or Iowa, I have lived in both. Well “the corn is as high as an elephants eye, and it looks like its growing right up through the sky.” This line from Oklahoma is all true. In fact the corn was over 12 feet high and the temperature was well over 100. Tragically we had a death from heat stroke and 12 serious heat related injuries requiring EMS from the Champaign hospitals to rescue and transport. Our little ED was overwhelmed with people as we poured water and ice on fragile bodies. A good friend of mine had cardiac arrest and liver damage from the race. I can still see in my minds eye the leader of the race, who was an Olympian screaming to the spectators to spray cold water on the runners. We were beyond normal encouragement at this point, but calling on God to intervene and save lives. A cup of cold water often will do, but sometimes we need to use special skills to step into a difficult situation. This kind of encouragement requires training. Perhaps that’s why I am an EMS Trainer, Ski Patroller and a Chaplain/Pastor. Encouragement is my primary spiritual gift of the Spirit. 

Well, enough of the dramatic and back to what is encouragement. It is not shallow words that are typical today. “Have a nice day, I’ll pray for you.” Really, will you really pray for them and is that what they need. Perhaps you are ill equipped to help, so go get someone else who can help. Yes life and death are in the power of the tongue. Christians are commanded to encourage on another. 

Here is another story. A friend of mine was hospitalized and unable to cook. They received food by the truckload daily until as my friend said, “I developed an allergy to lasagna.” Sometimes it is not food that we need, but relational intelligence used to provide the encouragement that someone really needs. Fears can keep us from encouraging and fears of another might be what we need to address. We have a problem here Houston. Actually “fear” is at the bottom of many issues requiring encouragement. We fear rejection, pain, and the unknown. For people in fear prayer is important, as the persistent prayers of godly people are powerful. We often hide our fears or disguise with layers of ineffective coping mechanisms. 

In dealing with others' needs, we need to listen. Silent presence is often a real gift. We can’t learn how to help without listening. Honest sharing can develop deeper relationships. It is about the other person not the selfish you. Do not self-protect and do not share too much. Transparency is good, but too much too soon can be a turnoff. Not all people can handle full transparency. We need to reveal ourselves like an onion; one layer at a time as Henri Nouwen gifted priest and encourager said in his book Wounded Healer. 

Conversational techniques are learned. First ask God for help as you go into any situation. Exercise God control over your words. They can be a two-edged sword and yet the Word of God is are only offensive armor to protect against the evil one. Ask how you can help, don’t assume. 

Notice in the quote from Hebrews above that it says, “Do not neglect meeting together.” There is power in community, especially needed today in this environment of hate and division. Our country is on the brink of going in a direction that is against life. There are powers in high places in our country that do not support our constitution or values. Biblical values and principles are core to this country’s founding and must not be denied. Find community for encouragement and strength in this time of the beginning of “birth pangs.” Yes, I believe that the End-of-times has begun. Community with the body of Christ is an essential part of this encouragement strategy that I am describing. ‘“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them’” (Matthew 18:20). Yes, there is more power in corporate prayer. Spend your time with people of the light not the darkness. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). 


Be dependable and available; friends do that. Overwhelmed people need people even if they want to hide when they are afraid or depressed. A good friend is accountable and accessible are well as available to help in times of need. We are God’s hands and feet. This is part of the character of the encourager. 

I have been talking about being there for others as an encourager. Also, remember you too need encouragement. So, have accountability brothers or sisters who are of faith and can lift you up as well. Satan would like nothing more than to take down as encourager. Do not pretend you don’t need help for the journey as well. I have a special friend as an accountability or prayer partner. I also have a Band of Seven, men who meet every week and pray and encourage one another. We have been and continue to share our weaknesses and strengths, our wounds and our triumphs continually with one another. This is an essential part of community. 

Remember that words of encouragement or motivated or prompted by love. Our encouragement is to be aimed at another’s fears. When we do that we reduce or disable the fears. Real encouragement breaks through the shell or layers of self-protection. Real encouragement is willing to go for the pain, uncovering and exposing issues. Yes, this is where the rubber meets the road. It is in the struggling that the healing can come. Real encouragers endure and persevere with others. Real relationships can bring change. God’s Word does not return void, but accomplishes it purpose of watering a soul or spirit (Isaiah 55). This is investing in another. Truth presented can “availeth” much. 

Questioning is a gift of the encourager as well. Jesus asked 100s of questions in the New Testament. Why He did this was to show not only interest but to uncover true feelings and emotions of another. We can’t do much to help another unless we really know what is going on. One of the chaplains I worked with at Froedtert Menomonee Falls is an excellent questioner. He offers questions not to interrogate but to find common ground and open hearts. Ministry searches for opportunities to encourage. We must be open and welcoming willing to hear and receive whatever someone wants to share. Door openers convey acceptance without rejection, with understanding. Advise giving is not our goal unless requested of us. We are not manipulators but encouragers instead. Several principles might be helpful here. Be slow to speak and quick to listen as James 1:19 admonishes. Be gentle with your speech seasoned with grace. Do not be defensive or offensive. Don’t tell anyone how he or she should feel. We cannot should on anyone. Remember non-verbal communications are loud and apparent. Make sure you face a person, not being too close and be direct with your eye contact. Be open and relaxed. Be reflective in speech to help clarify. Open doors with questions that are not interrogating; but rather full of curious exploring. Don’t use Bible verses unless they really are helpful and might arise out of an experience in your own life.  One of our goals will be beyond counseling for encouragement to enlightenment. In other words as Scripture says, “Make the most of all opportunities, full of grace and seasoned with salt” (Colossian 4:6). This is a ministry that is there to help with acceptance and seasoning that preserves, brings life and flavor. Consider how to stimulate one another to love as Hebrews exhorts. Be an Encourager!






Friday, July 26, 2019

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”



Psalm 85 is one of the most beautiful hymns or prayers amongst this most eloquent and intimate of all sacred words. Even though it begins crying to God saying “You showed favor to your land, O Lord. You restored the fortunes of Jacob.” This verse is more than talking about a merciful God. It is talking about “unmerited favor.” This is the phrase used most often when describing God’s grace. No, we don’t deserve His favor. In fact there is nothing we can do to deserve it. It is about atonement for our sins given as the most exquisite and beautiful gift of all time, past and future to mankind. It is the gift of salvation to those who would receive it. In the Old Testament it is abut God turning from His wrath in our obedience. He had been faithful and the Sons of Korah pray again for God’s restoration and the cessation of His anger against them. They are praying for His unfailing love. That is the center of God, His love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). His love is steadfast or unfailing and everlasting. There is not a God of the Old Testament and One of the New Testament, as some believe. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God delights in His salvation as we pray that He will grant us His salvation.

Then the writers listen for God’s response. What a great instruction. We must pray and then listen for God will answer. “He promises peace to His people, His saints” (v.8).  God gives His peace or wholeness and wellbeing to those who seek Him and His merciful peace. But to those who don’t, who live in “folly” there is no peace. I see that in life. I see those who do not know or follow the Lord do not seem to have peace. They seem to seek material and worldly things to find it, but they do not, for it will not.  Verse 9 reminds and promises that His salvation is near. I love the Book of Philippians, particularly, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus(Philippians 4:5-7). God is near and so is His peace for those who trust in Him for their salvation. The Psalmist proclaims that the Lord and His salvation are near those who fear Him and He will bring His glory to their land. What a wonderful promise.

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other”  (v.10).  This is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture. Here God’s love and faithfulness are one. This is why I wrote my book, Great is God’s Faithfulness, based on the Psalms’ promises of God. The image of righteousness or holiness kissing peace gives readers and believers a sense of God’s peace being with us as we seek and live a righteous life through Him and His Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is evidence of His peaceful embrace. This is a perfect partnership, going hand-in-hand. Again in verse11 we read of “(God’s) faithfulness springs forth on earth as His righteousness looks down from heaven.”  God is on His throne and He is looking down metaphorically for He is omnipresent and powerful in and through all things. One commentator, Derek Kidner, writes that God’s Shekinah glory was dwelling amongst His people. This is a graceful picture of atonement, a moving and active one.

God’s glory is always present with us, not just in the “holy of holies.”  This whole psalm is the personification of God’s glory, mercy, righteousness and saving atonement. The words speak of God’s goodness yielding its harvest. The writers are speaking of crops, but it is hard to not look at Jesus’ words, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field”  (Matthew 9:27).  Psalm 85:13 ends saying, “Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.”  This is speaking of God’s covenant engagement with His people. This covenant includes the sending of His Son Jesus to walk with us as “Immanuel” God with us. Unless we find and receive Him and His righteous forgiveness we will not see the glory of the Lord and His harvest in our own lives and that of all others. Seek the Lord while He may be found. My book, This is The Way, Walk in It, based on Isaiah 30:21, tells us how to walk in His way, the “most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).




Monday, July 22, 2019

Big Sky Country

Douglas Frank Photo

Big Sky Country

This morning I read a commentary from Dr. Scott Stoner, a therapist and pastor friend of mine about the lunar landing 50 years ago. The point that I connected to was the photo of the blue and white earth from 240,000 miles out. It put in perspective the miniscule nature of our home in the universe of billions and billions of stars and galaxies. The often myopic and near-sighted view of people including me, particularly in the present uncivil political climate makes this conversation even more important. I love the fact that the American flag was planted on the moon and astronauts danced and then played golf.

It is to Big Sky Country that I need to go when claustrophobia begins to set into my Midwest flat view of life. Oh, I can go to the bluff over Lake Michigan and quote Scripture from Psalm 97 saying, “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad, let the distant shores rejoice.” The endless horizon gives me a calming and humbling perspective. But for me, nothing is better than the Rocky Mountains rising up over the high plains of Montana where my children live. I am small and God is magnificent and grand.

When I get too close to a problem, which is often as a person, I think of the mountains. A mountain climber scales a peak one arduous step at a time while holding onto ropes pinioned with carabiners and pitons. They are very close to the life-threatening action. However, when descending and backing off a couple of miles the image and perspective changes allowing a broader and hopefully more clear view. This concept can be therapeutic for a person stuck in a problem with another or themselves. That doesn’t mean that they need to climb the mountain, however, for me that is the most effective strategy. So off to the mountains I go with a whistle in my step and the cobalt blue sky framing the snowcapped peaks before me. 

Take a hike! You are too close to the issue; back off! I can’t hear you when you are so close and speak so loudly! Well, it is Big Sky Country for me. See you later. 




Friday, July 19, 2019

Surpassing

Did you know that God surpasses all things and knowledge? He brings us help that surpasses where and what we are. Scripture often uses this word to tell us of who He is in our hearts. Starting with Psalm 138:2 we read I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame.”  What a promise of God’s love and faithfulness even surpassing his fame. Isn’t it wonderful to know that God is faithful always?

In Proverbs 8:19 we are told that His fruit surpasses gold and silver or all precious things. What is His fruit, it is grace, mercy, peace, righteousness and compassion towards us for starters. It is the all-surpassing righteousness that by His grace allows us to go to heaven Matthew 5 tells us.

Paul tells the Ephesians in in 3:19 that this love of God in Christ surpasses knowledge and that He wants us to have it. He tells the Philippians that knowing Christ surpasses all greatness. He also tells them that the peace that surpasses all understanding is ours as we bring Him our prayers and petitions with thanksgiving in our hearts.

Psalm 150 admonishes us to praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Therefore Paul can tell the Corinthians that God’s all surpassing glory brings us His surpassing power in jars of clay. This seeming paradox says that in our weakness God’s power is made perfect and that when we are weak or contrite in spirit, He is strong. Paul tells us these things after he has been taken up to the third heaven where he experienced God’s “surpassing revelations.”  Many of these he shared even telling of the all-surpassing beauty of heaven and Jesus on His throne. We have His very great and precious promises, some 7,500 of them in Scripture as Peter reminds us.


These descriptions are of our Messiah and Lord who has come and shown us the way, the truth and the life through Him. We are nothing without Him, even though Proverbs 31:29 rejoices over a woman of noble character. The Epilogue describes a woman with traits like Christ Himself. This woman is described as surpassing all others.  It tells of the woman who fears the Lord as the key. And so it is for all of us. If we fear and follow the Lord and His precepts we too will be like Him and can do anything through Him who gives us strength (Philippians 4:12). However, without Him we can do and are nothing John15: 5 admonishs us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Distractions


Douglas Frank Photo

Distractions

Are you easily distracted? I certainly am. My wife calls it “bunny trails.” We are on one path and then another one appears so we just run down it. Why so easily distracted? Is it the evil one trying to keep us off course? It could be the devil to blame. But I believe it is more likely a fractured mind, or not being single-minded. The mind of Christ is what we are looking for not our own broken and easily led astray or away from our target or goal or plan. He became obedient and humbled Himself even to the point of death in His service to God and mankind. But it is really not our own plan or path we want to follow, but that of God, which is better. It is service for the kingdom. So is there just one thing?

“One
 thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). David chose the right one thing, to seek after that Lord, worshiping and gazing at His beauty in His temple or sanctuary. That is where he could find God. We can find Him in His Word, in prayer, in circumstances and other godly people through His Holy Spirit. It is Jesus and His word we are seeking to guide us, not things of the world to stay undistracted. 

Where did the Apostle Paul fall or rise on the question of distraction? 
 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining 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 3:13-14). It is hard to forget the past and errors or bunny trails that led us down holes in the ground or worse. But like an Olympic athlete Paul pushed onward and upward in his call to win the promised prize of salvation. He concentrated on Jesus the Author and Perfector of his faith. He is the One Person who gives Him wisdom and guidance for the journey of sanctification not distraction. 

I keep a list of goals and plans in my heart, but it is God who directs my steps (Proverbs 16:9). I need to continually ask Him for wisdom (James 1:6) so that it is His will I am following. He will give it too me if I delight in Him alone for, “the desires of my heart”(Psalm 37:4). My desires must be His desires for me. He makes it clears one step at a time, as we need it. Did you read this short essay through, or did you wander off into the desert like the above photo?


Friday, July 12, 2019

Be Filled

Are you filled? No, I didn’t say fed up, I said full. We can be full of lots of things. What comes to mind? Some of you can get your minds out of the pig trough. What I had in mind is, are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Some will say of course and others will say, what does that mean?

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians says, “Do not get drunk with wine which leads to debauchery, but instead be filled with the Spirit”  (Ephesians 5:18). I like the New Living Translation that says that the wine will ruin your life. The filling of the Holy Spirit of God comes when we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. Whatever filled us before, work, wine, women, "wurst" or rutabagas, will change. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that He will send the Holy Spirit of Truth to live with us and be in us as Counselor, guide and stay. He will convict us of the truth and sin.  That is an incredible promise of God. It is God with us “Immanuel,” the Spirit of Christ himself to be with all believers in faith. What must we do to receive Him? We must believe in Him and as John 15 says, abide, live dwell in Him, the Vine of life. Apart from Him we are and can do nothing!

I received the Holy Spirit in a “Superior Road” experience like the then Saul of Tarsus had a “Damascus Road” experience. I needed to be stopped and changed. My life like Saul’s was way off course and headed for disaster, but God chose by His grace to come into my life that I would repent and chose Him over my off course life. At the time I really did not know about the Holy Spirit and His life-changing power and presence was all about. I would need to be discipled or taught by another godly man to understand my new life in Christ. I learned that I had the Holy Spirit within me. I had been made new, the old gone. God has transformed me. Now I have the opportunity to be likeminded. Paul says in Romans 12, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He is telling us not to be conformed any longer to the ways of this world, but to God’s good and perfect will. This way, “the most excellent way” ((1 Corinthians 12:31), is explained fully in Scripture. God has given us His guidebook, equipped with a “Trailguide” and Illustrator/Illuminator, the Holy Spirit. God wants us to know Him and His ways through His Word by Spirit power. This is a transforming journey into truth. We need to be transparent and open to His hospitality offered freely to us who will believe.


This is the new life in the Spirit. It is described as a “river of life” in Revelation 22. It is a full and abundant life as Jesus tells us in John 10:10. It is a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit or, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”  (Galatians 5:22). We are told to live by the Spirit and not grieve or blaspheme the Spirit with our words or lifestyle. We are to become new, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new(2 Corinthians 5:17). It is through the sacrifice and blood of Christ on the cross that we have the opportunity to become new. It is His life and death that transforms us, becoming one with Him as Ephesians 2 explains. This is a new and overflowing life in the Spirit. We are new chosen people and therefore should live a life of praise and thanksgiving for being changed like a butterfly to transcend this world. That is the peace that God gives us to live without anxiety, but peace in His presence because He is always present with us. “In His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  This is the life in the Spirit introduction. I will write about its transformative power in future letters.