Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day

Praise God for the Freedoms we do have in America of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I believe Scripture tells us to “be content in any and all circumstances.”This is the “secret” that the Apostle Paul learned in the middle of troubles pressing hard on him. We can worship freely and praise God for all His benefits from forgiving all our sins and healing all our diseases as He fills us with His love and compassions and satisfies our desires with good things as Psalm 103 tells us. 
The following is a rendering of our National Anthem that brings tears.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE-_9uQDzd0&feature=youtu.be

Friday, June 26, 2020

Wine

“In vino veritas” is a Latin phrase suggesting that people are more likely to say what they really feel under the influence of alcohol. It means, “There is truth in wine.”  Really, perhaps the “The good, the bad and the ugly” a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western is another metaphor for a sweeping generality of brutality and violence on screen encapsulated in the title. But actually, throughout history, wine has played a major role, not just in drunkenness but calming and healing as well.

Wine is the most consumed drink after potable water in the world. It sometimes is the only thing drinkable that is available. It has multiple medicinal purposes as well. Recall the Apostle Paul advising his young protégé Timothy saying, Stop drinking just water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). Actually, the Bible uses wine some 240 times, expressing its purposes, practical, ceremonial and spiritual as well as improperly when leading to drunkenness.  Perhaps the latter reference is most dramatically expressed in Scripture with, Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit”  (Ephesians 5:18). Yes, a life in the Spirit is life and health, but a life in wine generally does not lead down the right path.


My mother was an alcoholic with Alzheimer’s and mental illness. She loved wine of any kind. She traveled the world with my father trying new vintages from the East to the West finding French their favorite. Their were always memories attached to the bottle.

I was once a member of the Confreries des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an ancient societe gastronomique started in France dedicated to promoting better understanding of great wine and food, particularly from the Cote d’Or or Burgundian region of France. Well really it is an exclusive and very expensive Bacchanalian “drinking club” throughout the world. My father was a national Commander Generale and my brother is now a member. I resigned in order to not be hung-over at work running hospitals the next morning. However, I did learn quite a bit of history and it enhanced my interest in such things. My own travel and work in France was even more greatly enjoyed because of great wine and food.  Interestingly, many men in my family were members of German Pudel Club here in the Milwaukee area in the late 1800s and turn of the 20th century. We still have several very ornate drinking goblets and steins to commemorate the era.

But let me return to wine more broadly. When you think of wine you might think France, Italy and the United States. Yes, these countries are major producers and drinkers. But interestingly, per capita, Vatican City is first followed by Andorra and then, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal and Switzerland. The Vatican consumes some 54.78 liters per person with Italy at 42. The U.S. is at about nine liters comparatively. I think one of the big reasons is that we have had good sources of drinking water, particularly the Great Lakes from the beginning.

This essay now returns to Biblical usage of wine. I love the admonition that we must not be filled or controlled by wine or anything else other than the Holy Spirit. But starting with Genesis we read stories of wine leading to drunkenness and begetting of sons and daughters for good and not good purposes. The drunken Noah of Ark fame had to be covered up by his sons in his drunken state. In Genesis 19 we read of Lot’s daughters getting their father drunk so they could lie with him and become pregnant to carry on the family lineage.

In Exodus and Leviticus we read of wine as a sacrificial drink offering to God. Numbers first treats the idea of abstention for purity in a Narzirite. New wine in Deuteronomy is a sign of blessing at harvest for sustaining the people. In Judges we read of Samson who was to abstain as a Nazirite, who got sidetracked by women along the way. Also, the winepress ironically is where Gideon hid from the enemies, when God found him to empower him to become a warrior for God.

I find it fascinating that in 1 Samuel, Elkanah a drunken father himself, found his daughter Hannah, a godly woman in prayer to be drunk on wine. David was sent with wine as a gift for Saul and later Abigail used it as a gift for David to keep him from murdering her bad news husband. Traveling on to Nehemiah we find a leader who was allotted bounties of food and wine, giving it all away to the people who were laboring for the good of Jerusalem. He was a rare leader indeed.

The Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak of wine gladdening the heart or bringing ruin. Yes, wine is a mocker and too much is a brawler.

Moving to the Prophets we find Isaiah speaking of wine in laudatory and degrading terms. Often they spoke of the harvest as a good and redeeming time of restoration and prosperity. But yet abstaining from wine was a command for some. Yes, it was a sacrificial gift as well.

The New Testament again speaks of wine and wineskins likened as to the Holy Spirit. We must use new wineskins when the power of the Spirit will expand them as Matthew writes. Jesus did not drink the putrid wine offers on the cross. But He turned water into wine in John 2 as His first miracle, celebrating abundance and joy represented through His gift of His life and death for us. He saved the best until last. In Acts people made fun of the Spirit-filled disciples thinking them full of wine. In Romans we are reminded not to let wine become a stumbling block to another brother or sister. We already read how in Ephesians Paul commands us not to be filled with wine but the Holy Spirit of God. Titus reminds us not to be addicted to too much wine, a regular theme of Scripture.


Revelation sadly brings us to wine and the winepress of God’s wrath to be poured out in the tribulation on a disobedient human race that will be destroyed for their own folly. He will tread the winepress and the wine and blood will flow. But let’s also pause and remember Christ today as we take the bread and the wine of Communion. The wine is the cup of the blood of New Covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins of all. We are to drink it in remembrance of His life, death and resurrection until He returns. The wine represents His blood poured out for us that we might live as forgiven.  As we drink the cup we celebrate Jesus Christ. In a very minor way, when we lift a glass in a toast of celebration, we are doing the same thing. But it is only His blood in wine that purifies and cleanses us of all unrighteousness. Drink yea, all of it. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Phone Calls

Do you hate phone calls in the middle of the night? Of course you do. But have you reviewed some of the history of the calls you have received? I did and found that although there has been stress, there has also been salvation.

“It’s for you, again,” said one of my fraternity brothers. It was another call at lunchtime from my father, just checking in with me. He called very regularly in my sophomore year in college. Why? I was failing academically, primarily because my priorities were wrong. I had chosen athletics and parties over scholastic achievement. I was getting to class, but not necessarily wholeheartedly. The Dean had counseled me. Many of my classmates had been asked to leave this prestigious, high academic standard school. I was very fortunate to be able to attend, but was not mature enough to know the opportunity I was blowing up.

Dad kept calling and I kept meandering along the sidewalks across campus. I was pretty good as a varsity athlete, even captain of the hockey team. But that isn’t why I was there. This truth evaded me until my junior year when I finally sobered up and headed to class for real. It was a little late in the game, but advancing grade levels made my final GPA worthy for graduate school. I never really gave the persevering love of daily calls from my father as a caring and motivating factor.

Then I remember calling my own son in his freshman year at college. He was wrecking his opportunity just like I had, and I had not even told him of my experience. Like father, like son. He was with the wrong crowd like I had been, drinking and smoking pot and I don’t know what else. “I’m doing OK,” he would say. One day my call was answered after searching him out with a frightening response that he was at the end of his rope and ready to take his own life. I don’t know what had happened, but I remembered the time of great pain he had suffered after very traumatic chest reconstructive surgery. He had hit lows, but not this. I talked him down and sped to the college some two hours north to pick him up and bring him home. My call had been just in time.

The next months would be difficult as we did counseling together and removed all the guns from our house preventively. Unfulfilling jobs lead my son into depression. But connection with a grieving neighbor, dealing with his wife’s death from cancer and a fortuitous phone call brought healing. The call led my son to meet a girl at Elmbrook, the largest evangelical church in Wisconsin. There he found Christ and fellowship with other struggling teens. The sharing and grace brought healing and direction. Within a few months he had chosen to follow his Grandfather into dentistry and his older friend to Montana trout fishing. Both decisions would lead to momentous choices to move to “Big Sky” country with his brother and marriage to Montana girls far from home. My wife still blames our “older friend” for their leaving the nest, West.

For several years we experienced around the clock harassing phone calls from attorneys and collection agencies because of the financial troubles of our younger son in Montana. Bad business decisions had led to multi-business failure and tremendous credit card debt. We had assisted financially through the trials, bringing our phone numbers to the attention of craven and aggressive debt collectors. We would receive “robo” and threatening calls throughout the day, sometimes dozens. I am not sure the intent, other than harassment. Perhaps the offensive, course language was designed to pressure our contribution in solving our son’s troubles. I believe lessons have been learned, but these phone calls has reduced my trust in mankind and their increasingly heathen nature.

Over the last decade, phone calls have been almost the only connection with our older son and wife now living in Oregon with our three grandsons. Thankfully the miraculous technology of “Facetime” has allowed video expression to the adolescent boys voices.

Over the last month our son’s phone calls have been filled with a very frightening drama from Mass General Hospital, where our daughter-in-law has endured brain surgery to remove a massive benign tumor covering her whole brain. Although the surgery went well, subsequent incision and site infections have brought “bring-back” surgery and very stressful consequences. She will survive and heal, but with continued cross- country trips for further invasive procedures and radiation. Our trust is in the Lord and His merciful healing grace.

My career as a hospital chaplain brings phone calls in the middle of the night on a regular basis. I am “on call” for crises in need of spiritual care. These calls come at random and require immediate response. I have to say that as I enter my 70th year, after 46-years serving hospitals, these calls are taking their toll. I just don’t spring back anymore after losing several hours of sleep. It takes a week to be revitalized, given no more midnight phone calls.

I just got off the phone with my Mother-in-law. She calls numerous times a day as her dementia and living alone brings fears and needs she desires us to satisfy. This morning it was the weekly, “take out the garbage” call. Yesterday it was the “do you have any eggs?” followed by when do I take what medications calls. We take these seriously because twice I have responded and found her on the floor leading to hospital ED trips in the middle of the night.


So, how did we live without phones for so long? I guess things just got done a little slower, and perhaps the urgent appropriately took a little lower priority. However, instant communications has also saved lives as it has stressed lives. These are tradeoffs of technological advancement. Call any time; the phone’s always ringing.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Always

Does it trouble you that in the Bible we read about giving thanks, rejoicing and praying always? I find the admonition difficult if not impossible as a goal or lifestyle. How about you? We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2 NIV). There it is, always and continually. How about 1 Thessalonians 5:16 saying, “Be joyful always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances, for it is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  The Message paraphrase says “day and night,” but that too seems hard. I have been doing a lot of thinking about this in this Christmas season, but especially because we have a daughter-in-law who just has had surgery at Mass General to remove a large brain tumor. My prayers have been more than day and night as servants of the Lord in 2 Chronicles 6:20 were commanded, “May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night.”  The psalmists use this phrase often, starting with the first psalm speaking of the blessed man, whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”  We read in Psalm 32:4,For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”   

I do believe that God wants us to be always seeking Him. This is an attitude and heart of prayer like David, “The man after God’s own heart,” that knows that all things are first sifted through the hands of the Lord and as “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). It is the recognition as Jesus also said in John 15:5,  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Where do you think all things derive? God was and still is the Creator. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). You can trust Him to do all things for your good and His glory. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  I don’t know about you, but every time I try to do things on my own, I screw them up. I have come to a place where I trust God to lead me and not my own ideas in all things. That means I try to seek him always before I act or speak. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”  (Proverbs 3:4-6). This is the way I have tried to live ever since God spoke to me audibly saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). The complete verse says that “whether you turn to the left or right you will hear a voice behind you saying, this is the way; walk in it.”   Yes, when God speaks we should listen to Him, not the talking heads of CNN or any politician. They are all frail humans, broken sinners.


Throughout Scripture God admonishes us to follow Him and His commandments always. “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”  (Deuteronomy 5:29). But, they were “stiff-necked” and would not do it. What is it that causes us not to listen to God’s voice? It is pride, the first sin in the Garden and from the fallen angel Lucifer (Satan).  The word “always” occurs 134, and “continually” another 26 times in the Bible. But the word “all” occurs over 4,000 times speaking of God’s sovereignty, power and presence. I am convinced or convicted that it’s vital for me to always follow God. The only way that I can do it is in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I trusted in God in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in me as my Counselor, Convincer, “Convicter,” and Comforter. I just need to listen to Him- always.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Face to Face

The Bible tells us that we cannot live if we look into the face of God. God said to Moses “You cannot see my face, for man may not see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  We read of Elijah covering his face with his cloak in 1 Kings 19:13 to avoid seeing God when he stood before Him on the mountain. He stood and experienced earthquake and fire, but God was in the whisper, the still small voice. There are more than 70 Scripture references about seeing the face of God. I find that they are not only frightening but also awesomely encouraging. After all, our whole purpose on the earth is to enjoy and serve God that we might see Him face to face in heaven.

Many saw God in Jesus Christ on earth, even though most did not believe that He was and is God.  I find the first Bible reference about face to face with God encouraging. In Genesis 32:30, after Jacob has wrestled with a man (God) all night over fear about meeting his own brother Esau, it turns out that he lives even though maimed for life. He realized, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30) that his life and name were changed. He became Israel or “chosen,” no longer “deceiver,” after this intimate encounter. God not only does not want to annihilate us but to love and transform us into someone new through His grace. We read in Exodus 34 the incredible story of Moses spending 40 days in the presence of God where the 10 Commandments were chiseled on a mountaintop. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding with love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). This does not sound dangerous, yet overwhelming for Moses indeed. We are admonished in Proverbs however, that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).  This is not a fear that He will kill you, but that He has unlimited power and sovereignty, full of mercy and grace.

In Numbers we read the iconic Aaronic Blessing, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23). This comforting blessing is full of God’s face shining grace and peace. So what does God want us to do about His face? Perhaps one of the most powerful blessings in Scripture by Solomon in the dedication of the temple gives us another clue. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” 2 Chronicles 7:14). Most dramatically for me was the repeating of this blessing at Stand in The Gap: A Sacred Assembly for Men in Washington, D.C. in October 1997. I led an expedition of some 100 men from our men’s Bible study Faithwalkers to join some 1.3 million other men to pray and seek God’s mercy and for revival for our country. God was present and yet our country has continued to decline morally and spiritually since then.

I love the Psalms and have written about them in my book Great is God’s Faithfulness. They reference, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord” (Psalm 4:6). This plea is for God’s blessing and actual face to shine out of heaven on all of us. In Psalm 27:8 we read, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face! Your face Lord, I will seek.” This psalm is full of metaphoric language describing God as light and waiting upon His mercy. Again in Psalm 31:16 we read, ”Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” In Psalm 105 we are admonished to “seek His face always.” In Psalm 119:135, the psalmist proclaims, “Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.” Clearly the Psalms want for us to know that the shining face of God is healing and full of merciful teaching and love.

Now we move into the New Testament and the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was transfigured before the disciples, “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). I can try to imagine this in my minds eye as a blinding vision that was Christ the Lord being changed to the form He has in heaven. You know there is no need for light in heaven because He is the light.
“Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we will see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  We do not see God clearly now, but we will when we stand or lie prostrate before Him in heaven, if we trust in Him. Interestingly, in 1 Peter 3:12 we read of a God who has had enough of darkness in mankind, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  Yes, God is actively involved in earthly affairs and will take action against the disobedient and evil.

God said as written in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  There it is, the glory of God shining in the hearts of believers. This vision and reality gives us the strength to withstand the trials and pressures that Paul continues to speak of as ever increasing persecution that has and will continue to increase in this dark world. But we carry around in our broken bodies the all-surpassing power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We may be cracked jars, but His power is being made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).


So keep looking into the face of God through prayer, His Word, other godly people and circumstances and know that His face is shining back at you.