Monday, March 30, 2020

Light at The End of The Tunnel


Light at The End of The Tunnel

The above photo taken by my cousin Doug Frank in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is of a relic building memorializing the once booming copper and iron mining industries of the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. Now the ruins are empty and the hopes long gone for miners and their families. I once drove by many of these Roman ruin-like structures along Lake Superior while trying to turn around a dying hospital serving the region. That hospital was nine mostly empty stories and nearly bankrupt like the mines. Body, mind and spirit were dark for many of the inhabitants. As a turnaround crisis hospital consultant I asked like the Covid-19 experts today, is there light at the end of a long tunnel?  There was, as after a two-year battle and sacrifices of many jobs, we succeeded in saving the hospital and even building a new one to serve the area with healthcare and jobs.  

Many are sacrificing today to save lives and jobs lost through the Covid-19 crisis. As believers we trust that God is in charge. “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (John1:3-5).   In 1 John we read that,“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out 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, his Son, purifies us from allsin (illness).”
 He is the Great Physician and Isaiah 53 tells us that by His wounds we are healed. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and He is the living Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit who intercedes for us.

God is good and He will bring good out of this pandemic as well. It took two years in the UP. Hopefully our viral crisis will be healed sooner. “Those who wait on and hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up on wings as eagles. They will run and not grow weary, walk and not feint. 

As a friend of mine said, “So in these troubled times when there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel, let’s all just take a minute to stop and smell the roses.” We need to look to the light, praise God and help one another to know that God is the overcoming light at the end of the tunnel and all around us even now.  Maranatha- Come quickly Jesus. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

"Ministry of The Spirit"

Recently I wrote of the “Ministry of Stoning” after reading of how the Apostle Paul was stoned by the religious Jews for preaching the truth of the Gospel. That’s a pretty harsh treatment even though the participants apparently felt their faith threatened. But a much better ministry as God calls us to our ministries, is the “Ministry of the Spirit.” Again Paul tells the people of Corinth, a very rough lot, about this way.

“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of God because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!...Therefore since we have such hope, we are very bold…Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”  (2Corinthians 3:7-12,17-18).  What an amazing and empowering truth; the Spirit of the Lord is setting us free in ever increasing likeness to Christ. So what should we do? Paul says, “’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.”’ But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2Corinthians 4:6-7).

The ministry of the Spirit is in the hearts of all believers gloriously shining brightly the face of Christ. It is in our weak bodies, described as “jars of clay,” transforming us through His Spirit to reflect Christ’s love in the dark world. This is a “treasure” indeed. There is no other ministry if not empowered through the Holy Spirit. All others are of man with no power or influence for good. Get it? 


Peter tells us of this glorious light in us as well. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light…Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which was against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glory God on the day He visits”  (1Peter 2:9,11).  This is the ministry we all have been given if we trust in God through Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who causes us to do good deeds to the glory of God. It is not to earn or gain anything. It is to reflect His love through each of us. This ministry may take many forms according to the gifts He has given you. These gifts are to be used to edify or teach and build up the church and for others to see this reflection of the living God and be drawn to Him. Live in and be filled by the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Calm

Douglas Frank Photo

Calm

Can you “Keep Calm and Carry on,” in the storms of life? That was the admonition and poster made to help the people of Great Britain calm as the Germans were preparing to attack the island in WWII. Do you become anxious for everything with angst, ranting and grumbling at God? This is the opposite of “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your requests to God and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Calm is a beautiful thing as I stand on the bluff over Lake Michigan looking over the expanse to the horizon over the calm inland ocean.  Psalm 97:1 encourages us, “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad, let the distant shores rejoice.” But the next day the winds are roaring from the northeast and the waves are pounding the shoreline. Life is like that, without warning. 

The disciples were in their boat battling a “ furious storm”that blew up on the Sea of Genessaret. They thought they were going to drown, and Jesus was asleep in the stern. They woke Him saying, ‘”Lord, save us! We’re going to drown! He replied, ‘”You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”’ Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm”(Matthew 8:25-26). They were amazed that even the winds and waves obeyed Him. I hope that you are amazed or understand that everything obeys God. So “Keep Calm and Carry On.” 

So why do we get so distraught when circumstances are not as we would have them? Peace with and of God comes as we pray with thanksgiving about everything and are anxious of nothing. Now that’s hard to do without faith. That’s why Jesus admonished the disciples. In fact without faith it is impossible to please God, but all things are possible through Christ who gives us strength Scripture teaches. So, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” 

We need to obey God, unlike Jonah the Prophet. As we read in his short book, he was disobedient and afraid of God’s goodness and grace in all things. So, the ocean became furious again and the people were afraid. Jonah knew that the storm was his doing and therefore the ship was in the violent sea.  Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm” (Jonah 1:15). It turned out that this demonstration caused the men to fear the Lord, offering sacrifice and vows. 

Jesus said, ‘“Quiet! Be still!”Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:39).He continues to do so even when people get wild and crazy like they did in Charlottesville or Acts 19 when idol making craftsmen’s business was hurting because of the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Ephesus. The city clerk tried to calm the angry Artemis worshippers saying, “Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash” (Acts 19:36). People and especially crowds lose control and chaos can easily ensue. But Jesus and His disciples teach us to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” But we usually don’t listen, and instead just follow our emotions not the truth of the gospel of peace and calm. This is the discipline of self-control that brings calm and the peace of God. 





Monday, March 23, 2020

Songs of Victory


God is in the praises of His people and He is in our song. As David writes in Psalm 40,
"I waited patiently for the Lord; He heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God."
I love that we have a God who sings over us even in times of trouble.
The Lord your God is with you. 
He is mighty to save. 
He will take great delight in you, 
He will quiet you with His love, 
He will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17)

You are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. (Psalm 32:7)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Keep Singing in the Storm

Don't be afraid. I am your Strength and your Song. I am your Power and your Joy.


Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

—Isaiah 12:2-3

Friday, March 20, 2020

Sticks and Stones will Hurt My bones, but Words will Never Hurt Me.

Easy for you to say. Whoever came up with this ancient proverb? I just think it is not true. Oh, yes sticks and stones can hurt you physically, and the healing and costs can be significant. I don’t underestimate this cost. But I probably am not the only one who finds unkind or harsh or “snarky” words from a friend or not can be far more hurtful.

Cutting words on social media are a leading cause of teen suicide and mental illness. Un-thoughtful words at the family Thanksgiving dinner have brought division and years of acrimony and silence. I can still remember my middle school football coach’s saying to me, “You pudgy little rich kid, start running” as he let out a kick at me. By the way, I now believe this some 200-pounds overweight “coach” was insecure and a bully. Or how about my Latin teacher saying, “I could pick up a kid off of Wisconsin Avenue and he would know more Latin than you.” Or my favorite, “you are a dumb as a rock.”  Soon after these “halcyon days” my troubled days with a severe eating disorder began.  I survived and God has used my experience to be a counselor to other adolescents in the pain of growing. Suffice it to say, wars are started over words.  So what does God have to say about this?

“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalms 19:14). This self-admonition is often the preamble to a sermon from a pulpit. It might be a short prayer before opening your mouth in any conversation. I know that I need to employ these words for guidance more often.

James, the brother of Jesus, writes about taming the tongue. “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set afire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil amongst the parts of the body. I corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness Out of the same mouth comes praising and cursing” (James 3:5-9). Pretty scary what the tongue can do.

Frankly speaking, those are tough words about the tongue, but absolutely true. So, what else does Scripture have to say that might be redeeming?  Moses told the Israelites speaking of Scripture, “Fix these words in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19). He went on to tell them to write them on their doorposts or everywhere. Today we might say to put Bible verses on sticky notes stuck to your fridge or mirrors. Don’t forget them for they are, “life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body” (Proverbs 4:22). Yes “all Scripture is God-breathed and suitable for teaching and correcting and rebuking and training in righteousness that we may be prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  God tells us that it is what comes out of the heart that matters. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). God tells us to “Above all else, guard our heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). So if the heart is the wellspring, what should come out?  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). This is one that I personally am convicted and am working. Sometimes I am not gentle; in fact I have chosen the trait of “gentleness” to pursue in 2016. My spiritual mentor suggested such a concentration. Last year I did not do very well on “kindness.” I will keep on pursuing God’s holiness until He takes me home. These traits are reflected in actions and speech. I have written an essay called “The Ministry of Stoning” in which I describe how Christians often treat each other and especially their pastors at times. I often react unkindly to harsh words or someone who lectures me with unkind responses. This might fit with, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The movie Frozen would say “let it go. The pop singer Taylor Swift would say, “Shake it off.”

I think Proverbs has some other good admonitions. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).  When we are hurt by words, “a wounded spirit who can bear” (Proverbs 18:14). Have you ever been wounded by words, of course you have. It is hard not to react. However, healing usually does not come from fighting back, not that you should be a “door mat.” But Solomon would say that timely words could be “Sweetness to the soul and health to the body”  (Proverbs 16:24 RSV). One’s attitude to another person may be affected by a mere whisper. Beliefs and convictions are formed by words, making or destroying. “A scoundrels speech is like a scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife” (Proverbs 16:27b, 28a RSV). So too, a good man will find his words bearing good fruit that finds its way back (Proverbs 12:14). Good words can be the “fountain of life” (10:11) or the “tree of life” (15:4). 

Some would say that words are good but deeds are better. “What good is it, my brothers, to say you have faith but no deeds?...in the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead” (James 2: 14,17). He is saying that the love of Christ should convince or guide us to do good things. It is attributed, perhaps falsely, to St. Francis of Assisi to have said, “preach the gospel and if you must use words.” Do and speak. “The word is near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘“Jesus is Lord,’” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”’ (Romans 10:8-9).

God’s word is powerful and so is our behavior. “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).  James again reminds us to be, “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).


So, I have said a lot. Perhaps one of my favorites is, “A cheerful heart has a continual feast and a happy heart makes the face cheerful. The discerning heart seeks knowledge” (15:13,14).  How about this closer? “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply- and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23).

Monday, March 16, 2020

Perfect Love Castes Out All Fear


You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

2 Timothy 1:7 New King James Version (NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
May the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans15:13).

Friday, March 13, 2020

"The Ministry of Stoning"

I just finished a men’s Bible study on the Book of Acts Chapter 13-14, speaking of the stoning of the Apostle Paul by the Jews for sharing the Gospel of Good News with the gentiles in the synagogue.  We were speaking of the Holy Spirit’s calling Christians into ministry. God does the calling and people do the sending. Our group talked of ministries we serve; ministry meaning serving. The discussion eventually led to how many people in churches feel in-charge of things and empower themselves in it.   One of my favorite pastor/teachers, Chuck Swindoll, spoke of God gifting each of us. However, he spoke of some in the church who seem always to be critical as if having the gift of criticism. Our group today spoke of having “the ministry of stoning.”

What is this human instinct to attack others. It seems that this is at worst in the church, however, certainly politics this season has risen to a new low of criticism. Our nation’s people seem to be following suit in finding fault everywhere and whenever.  I have never heard such acrimony from politicians and so-called “followers.” From reading of our American Revolution period, it seems that King George III was spoken of in taverns with this kind of vituperation. It is written that the King’s indiscriminate taxation, and dislike of “inalienable rights” caused rebellion, riots and revolution. It also seems to be that these kinds of feelings are fomenting in our democracy again now. I must say, “throw out with all the bums” has a certain ring to it. Our government has the lowest ratings in our nation’s history.

Well, back to Christian behavior. It seems that pastors often take a lot of the (c)rap and heat from opinionated parishioners. Some are asked to leave, others leave ministry and some just are numbed into submission, not by God but the ugly churchgoers. I can say this for certainty, for I have been through three such stoning experiences myself. Fortunately, I was not the direct target of most of the riots, but well within range to be hit by the rotten eggs and tomatoes. I witnessed a couple of pastors “defrocked” for unseemly behavior. I also have witnessed many critiqued for preaching a strong biblical sermon. You just can’t please the minions. They will have their own selfish ways.

I personally can be too “thin-skinned.” I take words with sensitivity, but too personally often. God and I are working on this together. He is providing ample opportunities for me to grow more. I can’t say it is a joy and I need to apologize often for my less than Christian response or reactions.


This morning as a couple of us quipped of Paul’s being stoned and un-Christian behavior we talked of as this “Ministry of Stoning.”  We joked of the cartoon Stone Age. I suggested if you could see it in your minds eyes of a scene with a caveman (Christian) raising a large rock above his head with the intention of smashing it on the head of another parishioner or pastor lying at his feet with arms raised for protection. It may get a chuckle but should also get a chill from those who know well of the common nature of this kind of scene. May God grant us and may we submit to His Holy Spirit fruits of “love, joy, peace, patient, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” AMEN

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Cup

Do you have your special coffee cup? I have one at the hospital where I work and at home. My wife makes sure my local cup is cleaned, which doesn’t usually cross my mind. I don’t seem to mind a brown scummy cup until I go to a meeting with it and don’t want others to see my cup.  So I clean it out.

If this unveiling then you may find what Jesus has to say about cups. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).  This is hard teaching from the Lord. What a clear metaphor of life. Our insides are the soul and spirit. It is also our body into which we might be pouring more than coffee, but also body destroying liquids in excess. Ouch, now God is really getting into our stuff. Yes, cleaning up our insides, body, mind and spirit are essential if we choose to be more like Him. Self-indulgence is a sadly human habit that looks like a dirty coffee cup if we care to look at it. In fact, the more we ask the Holy Spirit for help the dirtier our cup becomes. Now I don’t mean here to get over conscious about cleaning the outside of the cup, but be ever-conscious about asking God to help the Holy Spirit for inner cup cleaning. God does say to be self-disciplined and to purify our hearts, but we need the Spirit within us to actually do it. Do not “grieve” the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). 

So how are you doing on cleaning your cup?  Are you asking for free products or easy step processes to get there?  I think that we all do this at times. It is a human tendency to want the easy way to get there. God would call this tendency “slough.” Ouch, yes lazy is another word for it. Change is hard and even painful; it costs a lot. This brings up a biblical story from Matthew 20 about a petition to Jesus from the mother of the son’s of Zebedee.  She and her sons John and James are close friends and Disciples of Christ, even the inner circle. So asking Jesus if the kids can sit on thrones on the right and left of the Lord in heaven may sound like a reasonable request. But Jesus is perhaps amused. He asks, “You don’t know what you are asking. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’” (Matthew 20:22).  He tells her of the cup of bitter sin and death on the cross without telling her the details. He says that they all will drink from it. Yes, all believers will drink from the cup of suffering.  You may say, no not I. Well then perhaps you are not a true believer. But we will all suffer and be persecuted. Jesus said so many times, are you listening and reading the truth about life in the end times?

I love to read Psalm 23, “The Shepherd’s Psalm.”  The encouragement of walking through the valley of the shadow of death with no fear and God’s protective hand is always an uplifting one. Shadows can’t hurt us, even death. So look up church for your redemption draws near.

While you wait as the world continues to spin downward into oblivion in its immorality, let’s take communion. The “Cup of Blessing” is he oft referenced Christians phrase for the cup of Jesus’s blood. I find that ironical. I see many take this cup with joy and assurance. That is good, but is it realistic. You see, the cup is really the cup of wrath that Jesus took on the cross. The sponge of bitter wine vinegar and myrrh was offered twice to help dull the pain. But He did not take it. Today on communion Sundays around the globe we take the bread and the cup, the body and the blood. Different denominations receive it with different meanings from transubstantiation and consubstantiation to symbolism. You may be familiar with these religious words or not. They tell us that Roman Catholics receive the elements are Jesus’s actual flesh and blood. “Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’” (John 6:53).  Perhaps it is this stark reference that causes them to hold to this teaching. It is hard to grasp for many.  For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me”’  (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).  This sacrament or ordinance of the church done “in remembrance of Me” is sacred and very profound. It is at the center of the Catholic Mass, and vital to all Christian worship. But are we truly getting the significance of the bread and wine taken by our Savior at “The Last Supper?” 

Can you drink the cup? Can you submit and obey God’s commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength? In the Gospel of John, Jesus washes the disciples feet, demonstrating the servant heart we must each have for Him. In serving we must be willing to drink the cup or service even unto death. That is what He is saying. Serving one another is easy as long as I get mine you might say. Or you might have just reacted to this thought saying that you can handle it. No, “You can’t handle it,” as Jack Nicholson, said to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men. No we can’t without God’s help. I hear so often that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” You know that this paraphrasing of 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation (trial) has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).   This is a wonderful verse, but it also requires us to be looking to Jesus’s escape or solution first in our trials or temptation. I for one usually find myself not immediately seeking the Lord in these difficult times. I might be afraid or angry or overwhelmed. What better time to go to God? Well, I bet most of you would say it takes you a while to start praying for help? It is just the way most humans react in trial.  Yes, God will be there, but we often miss him. Have you ever been in a tough situation and forgotten to ask the Lord? Have you ever just kept you seat when someone said, “How about another round?” or told a dirty joke, or undressed a woman with their eyes and told you about it?  For me, the answer is sometimes I even enjoy it. But God does not and He is trying to give you and me a way through or out so you can stand up under it. Get it? Don’t just stand there; go for Jesus and His counsel and escape.

The cup will be very bitter and we cannot drink it without the power of the Holy Spirit of God leading us through the “valley.” May He be our “Valley Guide.”