Friday, March 26, 2021

Opposites

My wife used to call me a “pig won’t” based on a children story about a positive and a negative thinking pig. I have written before about my former negative view of life. It does not matter that my family of origin was difficult. No, I have a choice how I feel or speak. In fact I believe that we get into habits, good or bad. See, these are opposites. It seems to me that a lot influences our thought-life, but it is still a choice for us. Missionary Amy Carmichael was a famous Christian writer and poet. She had a negative attitude about many things. But a wise man suggested when speaking a negative to just switch it around to the opposite thought, like hot and cold. When we practice this with our emotions, it may have an uplifting affect on others and us. So I think that this is a great idea, not a bad one. How about you?  Let’s try it anyway.

Unforgiving                            Forgiving
Harsh                                      Gentle
Upset                                      Content
Angry                                      Peaceful
Sad                                          Happy
Dark                                        Light
Impatient                               Patient
Sarcastic                                 Complementary
Loud                                       Quiet
Complaining                          Praising
Wanting                                 Receiving
Closed                                     Open
Calming                                  Agitating
Impossible                             Possible
Crying                                     Laughing

How are you doing? Have you recognized yourself in any of these couplets? Have you thought of a few more for consideration? Perhaps you would like to join the game and add a few under the below Comments.

I don’t think this is easy to change if it is a habit. So, we need to practice and pray about it. It might help to ask a trusted friend to monitor your progress and suggest potential openings to our roadblocks, bringing sunshine to our rain.



Friday, March 19, 2021

The Ark and Arc of the Covenant

In Genesis 9 we read the story of the great flood and God’s desire to start over with the human race. He had endured enough of disobedience and sin. So He commanded Noah to build an ark to house animals with his family to survive a flood over all the earth. Noah, taking an unbelievable 100 years to complete, built the ark to detailed architectural design. Noah was 600 years old when God sent the 40 days and nights of rain to flood the earth and the ark floated until the rain stopped.

We read that God made a covenant to never flood the earth again. He demonstrated this covenant with a rainbow in the sky. Today we remember this covenant that God continued with other patriarchs. Today we have conflated this pact with lepricon stories of a bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I think few people understand God’s faithful covenant with His people to always be we with them and never leave them.

The photo in this essay was taken by my cousin Douglas F. Frank, a renowned landscape photographer. It is a 6-hour pinhole exposure that gives it an almost living and ethereal quality. It is called “The Arc.” This light arc is formed by sunlight moving through the aperture over a long and enduring period, like our lives. Notice the almost lunar landscape background of the Oregon desert.  It recollects from Isaiah’s ancient prophecy; on, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). This light is almost too bright to gaze upon with unprotected eyes. Later in his prophetic work 700 years before Christ he says of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, “After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and be satisfied”  (Isaiah 53:11).  I am again reminded of God’s rainbow covenant light reflected in the skies declared to be everlasting. “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant” (Ezekiel 37:26). This is a covenant of prosperity and peace forever, even though His people would break their promises.

Now comes a new covenant again prophesied by Jeremiah saying, “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant…This covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law s in their minds, and write them on their hearts, I will be their God and they will be my people…because they will know me…By calling this covenant “new,” He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete is aging and will soon disappear” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:8-12). When does it come? It arrives with the incarnation of Jesus Christ as Isaiah again prophesies speaking of the One to be born of virgin who was to be called Immanuel (God with us). “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Most readers are very familiar with this passage recited at Christmas time and referencing the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

So the new covenant was born. He is Christ the Lord. We continue to remember Him who lived, taught and then suffered and died for our sins that we might be forgiven and saved from our sins. In Holy Communion we take the cup saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you, do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:20). This is a covenant or relationship between God and His people beginning in Genesis and faithfully kept by God through the Old Testament times to the promissory Davidic times to the New Testament. But then God in Jesus Christ had to renew it because His people had broken it. The throne of  the Davidic Covenant of an everlasting throne was reestablished in Christ and His atoning sacrifice of blood for His people. It once more was to supersede the broken law to make a new everlasting one in Him. He was the Pascal Lamb and covenantal meal. He was and is the glorious coming King and Messiah, the Son of David forming the important link between Old and New Testament covenants. This fresh covenant will obtain until the Parousia or second coming of the Messiah to rule and reign.


Returning to Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the glory of the Lord, speaking of heaven and the Revealing of Christ says, “And brilliant light surrounded Him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around Him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:27b-28). This vision is repeated in Revelation speaking of the throne in heaven saying, “A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne…then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun; and his legs were like fiery pillars” (Revelation 4:3; 10:1). This is the Shekinah glory of God appearing in our midst. This is the symbol of the fact that, “God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This is the ever-present covenant relationship He has made with us, to bring brilliant and lasting light in the darkness. This is the arc or light in the many colors of a rainbow, signifying God’s faithfulness. Next time it rains and the sun shines look up for God’s covenant of peace and praise Him.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Quench or Grieve the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the power and wisdom of God in us that gives life and knowledge, counsel, comfort and conviction. Without the Holy Spirit we are nothing as John 15:5 tells us. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”  (1 John 5:11-12).  This is John’s testimony about Jesus Christ and His gift to those who will receive. I hope that you have and are filled with the Holy Spirit? We are baptized or given the Spirit once upon our salvation, but we are filled many times. We need to ask for the filling as Ephesians 5:18 states and let Him, the Spirit work. We do this by getting rid of worldly or carnal living and living in the Spirit power not our own. You know that there are many sins, but only one unforgivable sin. The only sin that causes you not to be forgiven is not receiving the Holy Spirit; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29).  I suspect you wondered what “blaspheming” means? The Second Commandment of God is, “Thou shall not take (use) the name of the Lord in vain (blaspheme)” (Exodus 20). What does that mean? It means living in such a way that you blaspheme or reject God and His Holy Spirit, the only unforgiveable sin. And yes, believers can live this way too, but usually this with a hardened heart.  

But as believers we can live in ways that do even more damage by quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed (owned) for the day of redemption.”  God has entrusted us with and made a down payment until the Day of The Lord’s return. Are you resisting or submitting? Or have you rejected the Spirit out of pride or fear or ignorance? Are you living a dark life of sin and carnality? You can do this as a so-called Christian. You can fall back into old or find new ways to “quench” the Spirit of God and lose your filling. Is it in working out to excess or a pornography obsession? Are you distracted by work, alcohol, anything that you are doing on your own? Are you achieving great things at work, pulling off mergers and awesome contract negotiations? You see we don’t do anything on our own; we are not “self-made” people. God is in all and through all by the Holy Spirit, unless we quench Him.

Quenching is putting out the fire or freshness or vitality of the Holy Spirit. It is the opposite of confessing, yielding, embracing and seeking the filling of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will convince us and then convict us of our hardened or un-yielded spirit. You see if we have the Holy Spirit living within us we “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is dynamite power from God; this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us about this light of God in us. He goes on in the passage to tell us how “we carry around in our body” this power that is being revealed and continually being refreshed so that we are not crushed, in despair or abandoned. It required the death of Christ to reveal the life of Christ through His Holy Spirit in us if we believe.

So why would we ever want to put out or dampen this fire from within? Our carnal nature and Satan want us to do it. But God is here for us to rekindle the Spirit again and again.  D.L. Moody called it Secret Power. This is a power I have seen work in me miraculously in healings of body, mind and spirit.  Jim Cymbala, author of Fresh Power, writes that the power seems to have vacated the modern church, given over to human machinations. The church of the Book of Acts was empowered with the fresh and first filling of power falling on the disciples in the upper room. It was this fire that started the revival and each successive one in history. I have coined a phrase of “pasta preaching.” This is a preaching that might give a starchy boost, but no substance, protein or staying power. The Spirit is the wind in our sails, the engine in our cars. Try putting sugar or even ethanol in your tank. It will run for a while and then sputter and quit. Then it needs to be flushed out to be able to start up again. This metaphor of sugar goes for our lives as well. Sugar is a momentary high that will cause heart and brain damage over time. We stuff it in our children to shut them up. But it is toxic to health. The world is poison too.

When Pentecost came they were filled. The Spirit came with power of a violent wind or tongues of fire. That is how He works in us if we will receive and submit to Him. I think of a lightening bolt crashing down from heaven. It destroys, but with it comes electrical power. A single bolt has 500 trillion watts of power, more than the energy in 150 liters of petroleum. Harnessing or harvesting this energy is very difficult. We can do so by submitting and praying to receive it, as “His power is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For Elijah it was standing on a cliff before God when he was not in the wind and fire but in the still small voice. Yes, God’s whisper is stronger than anything man has to offer. That’s why it is easy to miss and easier to quench.


Changing our lifestyle is required to hear and know the Holy Spirit. I believe it is in the silence, solitude, simplicity and surrender of all to God that we find the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In Chuck Swindoll’s Intimacy with The Almighty, he shows us the life of total submission and great simplicity in a frenzied world that is required to find the peace and quiet necessary to hear the Holy Spirit.  It is not in a monk’s removal from society, but in the middle of life’s chaos that He works. It is our driven life that leaves God out in the cold. He will not barge in, except to knock us off the tracks if we are fortunate. Yes, not lucky, but blessed to have God mess with our life in a painful way, the “Most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).  This is a way of love and of suffering. It is in our own and Christ’s suffering that we find the Holy Spirit working. This is not serendipity, which is chance or luck. There are not coincidences in God’s economy; there is only intentionality. We need to seek after God, submit and live the life He directs us to live through His Holy Spirit. As Bible teacher Henry Blackaby wrote in Experiencing God, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s will for us through prayer, His word, other godly people and circumstances. We need to be listening and watching; God is working, don’t quench Him out.  

Friday, March 5, 2021

Surprised by Joy

This is the title of the touching book by renowned Christian author C.S. Lewis about his life, conversion from atheism and later to an American friend who would become his wife while dying of cancer. He describes his feeling of “joy.” This came from the recognition and acceptance that joy is in the person of Jesus Christ. In my own life, one very slow to find any joy, I have come to a place where I can say with Nehemiah, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I have written often of my young life in an alcoholic and unstable home where I did not find joy, but anxiety instead. Everything was “fine-fine-fine.” Not until a Damascus Road-like experience in the depth of an Upper Michigan winter blizzard did the Holy Spirit enter my life and joyfully change me.  Then 42 years old, this conversion was dramatic as I accepted Jesus into my life as Savior and Lord, yet slow in my sanctification or becoming righteous. This process or transformation has continually worked in me to bring a love of Scripture and reveal to me my spiritual gifts from a holy God. Working 16 hours a day, with my wife and two teenage sons taking a back seat, I worked, exercised in excess and drank to find escape and not find joy.

My life began to change more quickly when trying to lead a men’s Bible study. My pastor suggested that perhaps God was calling me to a more serious walk, including   seminary. Indeed, my intense Bethel Seminary or “House of God” experience was illuminating. I was now falling in love with God’s Word and wanted to know it and Him more that I could also share the “good news” with others. There were for the first time connections with other men on a deeper level in Christ. For 40-plus years “how about them Packers” conversations had been my level of connection. Even though that is the typical man’s communications level, it is not pleasing to God or fulfilling.

My depth grew and my recognition of selfishness and brokenness was more and more obvious. I have been changed, and God was cleansing me continually. That is a very good thing. We can do our part, but we must seek and allow God to work, and do surgery on all of our body, mind and spirit. He has been stripping away life-style preferences that were keeping me from being fully submitted. John 15:5 says, “that if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do (or are) nothing.” God is pruning off all branches that do not bear fruit. This process hurts and heals. Did you ever think that joy and suffering could co-exist?

Becoming “sold out” to God usually takes suffering. In my own case several such periods of intense crisis and suffering have been necessary. This intense process has included my own great moral failure while leading hospital turnarounds that brought my confession and conversion leading to intense counseling conversations. During these sessions, God spoke to me audibly saying, ‘“Whether you turn to the right or the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it”’ (Isaiah 30:21). My counselor confirmed that God was speaking, but the exact words that I did not know at the time were directly from Isaiah, an ancient prophet of God to teach me His desired path forward. This crisis brought me a better path, but still without joy.

A tick-born disease that almost took my life while serving on the faculty of the University of Virginia, led to crisis and crying out God’s word. While praying aloud Psalms 103, God brought instantaneous and complete healing to my pain and fever wracked body, mind and spirit again. This led me to turn to recognize God’s true calling on my life, healthcare Chaplaincy. I began this work in earnest with the offering from the CEO of the largest healthcare system in Wisconsin, whom I was serving at the time as a trouble-shooter. This allowed me to move from the “front-office to bedside” as a hospital chaplain. My book, Hospital Parables: “Front-office to Bedside,” delineates stories of this conversion like process again. The journey led me through two years of rigorous Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), while working as a chaplain full-time. The 80-hour per week schedule was frighteningly similar to my former lifestyle and needed to change. I was struggling to find any real joy in this. Unfortunately, my next move was into the fire again.

I was requested to join my church pastoral staff to direct congregational care, hopefully bringing a more joyful path.  This new adventure, however, quickly imploded into a crisis because of the arrogant and abusive behavior of the lead pastor. All clergy except me were fired, leaving me to right the ship.  However, it crushed me while I now led and cared for a traumatized and split congregation. The role of healer, teacher, counselor, preacher, arbitrator was too much for me in a rancorous and divided church.  But then God used it to miraculously heal my deepening depression and create in me a pure indwelling power in His joy in a dramatic healing on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit poured His hot anointing and embrace over me while leading worship as His word about the same infusion was being read from the book of Acts. Real joy and clarity coursed through my body, soul and spirit. I was again miraculously healed. I had stayed the course and He had used me through the pain. I was now free to pursue my calling in a new and grace filled way.

“Consider it pure joy when you come into trials of diverse kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance, which must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). That’s the pattern and process by which God works joy into us if we will stay in or overcome the temptation or trouble. For He overcame the world by humbling Himself and serving even unto the cross. As Paul said to the Philippians, and Jesus admonished His disciples, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  This is how we must live.

I tried to retire at this juncture, but after a few weeks my wife announced that I had “failed retirement.” Although initially angry and confused, this realization has become a blessing. In fact I have since taught on the subject of God’s view of retirement in several settings. God admonishes us never to retire, but to work at serving with all of our mind, heart and spiritual gifts until He calls us home. This does not mean that we don’t rest.

God has now led me to a new more bountiful, yet trying chaplaincy in hospitals. As of this writing I realize that I have been working in hospitals for more than 46 years, albeit dramatically diverse years. I am now working part-time for a major teaching hospital system, where I am seeing patients and families in crisis caused by physical and mental illness, accident or addiction. I have found that my own learning style, which is beyond the usual male visual one, utilizes all senses. I have studied Neuro-linguistic programming, which teaches the use of learning styles and senses to optimize life knowledge development. For me, smell and taste have always been strong learning and memory senses. The gustatory and olfactory perceptive learning are strong along with the visual and auditory. This relatively rare perspective style has given me a gift for helping people access important memories through multi-sensual guided imagery. I utilize this technique to bring peace over fear and calm over anxiety in diverse situations. Just recently I helped a cancer patient who was experiencing extreme pain while about to undergo more invasive procedures that day to access a special and peaceful place in his mind’s eye. This guided imagery took this once active outdoorsman to a bowhunting tree stand deep in ancestral woods. An obvious relaxation came over him to help face the day with new tools. God is using my complex gifts to serve others as I obey. This brings a new sense of joy in the Lord.

Thirteen years ago I had hip replacement surgery, while working as a psychiatric hospital chaplain. A chaplain associate, while visiting me in my six-week convalescence asked, “why don’t you do something useful with your time and write a book for the spiritual care of the patients?” This challenge began a writing career in earnest. I wrote a devotional book based on the psalms to help our hospital ministry. Four years ago I took this loose-leaf resource to a Christian publisher, Caritas, eventually producing my first book. A devotional based on the Psalms, Great is God’s Faithfulness, was published and is now used by my former psychiatric multi-hospital employer for spiritual care groups, as well as in other settings.

 Allowing me to pursue this broader calling that God has given and gifted me as teacher and writer has been wonderful and joyful beyond expectation. Although I have taught at the university level in two settings, I never imagined that God would use this training to call me to teach and write in a new way.  I must admit that I had come to actually detest writing when completing my Master’s thesis in healthcare administration. It had been a painful challenge in every way. However, one bright light in it was my having sought the consultation of a professional writer as editor and guide. Although this cost me dearly, the language professor was engaging and brought me to my first real understanding of critical writing skills. Later I would write pamphlets and books for a nationally renowned healthcare consulting group. Now God is utilizing all this in guiding me to write multi-media Christian books and  blog (www.greatisgodsfaithfulness.com) for teaching and preaching, and reaching the whole world for Christ. The more than 20,000 readers are from around the world with Ukraine, Russian, and Indian readers among the dozens of countries reading and listening. I don’t know who is translating, but God. What a joy.

I began this essay referencing C.S. Lewis on Joy. I will end with his book A Grief Observed, telling the story of his friendship and eventual love story and marriage to Joy Davidman, a then Jewish American. This woman contracted a fatal cancer that took them through a very deep journey of suffering together. He more than anyone I have read writes about joy and suffering coexisting in love. When Joy died, he expressed that, “grief felt like fear.” He described feeling a blanket like sensation like fear, irreversible and irrevocable, irrecoverable and irretrievable, even unimaginable.  He felt forsaken by God. He talked about God hurting, only to heal. Bereavement is an integral part of love, and sorrow is not a state but a process with recurrences. “But by praising I can still, in some degree enjoy her, and in some degree, enjoy Him.” He spoke of the mystical reunion and the fruition of God. Lewis came to a place of God’s love where he could enjoy Him.

I have come to a place through trials and triumph, suffering and surprise to where I can now claim joy. I have left sadness and even happiness in the circumstances of my life. I now know that joy is a person too. Joy is Christ in me, the hope of glory. I am coming with Lewis and Nehemiah and James to a place where I can claim, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).