Friday, April 30, 2021

Be Quick to Listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger

 Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger  (James 1:19)

 

I have chosen a word from the “Fruit of the Spirit” as a goal or challenge to work on for the last seven years. So choosing a very important one for 2021, the complete or perfect one for the seventh year is very appropriate. However this year it is a verse from the Bible. My Scripture challenge for 2021 is James 1:19 which is the title.  So what does the Bible say about it? Solomon had a lot to say in Proverbs, a Wisdom book.

 

In conversations, define terms as you both my have different understandings. Be comfortable in silence, and pause before you speak. This makes common sense. But you or me need to get the first and last word, then you are a fool Scripture tells us.

When words are many, sin is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise (Proverbs 10:19). Do you talk too much? Or are your stories too long. I just returned from a wonderful time with my son and grandchildren’s family in Oregon. I told a story about a near-death experience in Alaska from 1966, which was quite exciting including a plane crash. However with three young boys there I think my 20-minute version may have been too long. “A man of knowledge restrains his words, and a man of understanding maintains a calm spirit” (Proverbs 17:27). I was too excited to speak after my son told a similar story.  I am fortunate the boys didn’t leave the table early. 

 

I remember hearing the lesson; “I would have made it shorter if I had more time.” So don’t rush, pause and consider the best way to express yourself.  When spoken to, listen, pause, reflect and let others speak first, you may learn something. You don’t need to be first and have the last word too. 

 

How about the last phrase, “and be slow to anger.”  I am told this is particular a challenge for men as we tend to be task oriented and not happy to not know or be able to handle doing something, even though there are specialists, like plumbers and electricians to call who know much more. When we do it ourselves and succeed, great, if not anger may arise and shed on ourselves and anyone else in earshot. The affected are often close family members, which leaves a trail of pain for all.  Again Proverbs has a lot to say: “A wrathful (hot-tempered) man stirs up strife, but he that is slow to anger avoids strife or avoids/calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:18). Again James has something to say about anger and the tongue of the 278 references in the Bible to “anger.” “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”  (James 1:26). James also says the tongue can sink ships and burn down forests, along with ruining friendships or relationships. I have personally observed this in negotiations and conversations of all kinds. I heard a comedian once say. “Don’t go to bed angry, stay up all night and quarrel.” Funny, but bad advise. So I am going to make this essay shorter as I have had time to study it. 

 

Deep Pool

Deep Pool

Do you ever feel like life was getting too deep to stand or the water was over your head? I think all of us do at some time or other if we will be honest. I know some who would never admit that they need help in anything. I generally have come to recognize denial, arrogance or fear possibly operating in such people.

I must admit with increasing frequency that I recognize that a situation is too much for me. For the first 40 years of my life I just ran or escaped from the difficult trial or temptation. This meant falling into an aberrant response like over exercise or alcohol to numb it. Often as a result I believe that I missed the opportunity to grow in the trial and to receive the blessings or lessons that God wanted me to learn in them. James said, “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 I you may mature and complete lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). I have written previously that this is a tough verse, for who likes trials? No one does, but they are a major thread of life and a theme of the Bible. God is working through us in these trials to develop our patience and strength needed for the journey of life.
I’m sure you have heard people say that God won’t give us more than we can handle. I laugh at this thought sometimes, because I believe that with God’s faithful help that we can overcome. However, most folks don’t trust in God’s ways and timing. They just do it on their own. I did that for years without ever praying for God’s assistance in my circumstances. That’s not what He desires of us. God says, “Pray continuously.” He wants to help us through His Holy Spirit in all things. That is not weakness it is wisdom. But many people still do it on their own strength, which will fail in the long run, or not achieve God’s ultimate blessings.

Many trials are like the “Deep Pool” photo by my cousin Douglas F. Frank, taken with a pinhole camera with an extended exposure. This method gives an almost mystical image. In this photo I imagine a rock crevice filled with mist that may be bottomless. How deep is it? You might ask curiously. I don’t know, but it seems unsafe to approach as we might fall in. A vision of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland comes to mind about wild and uncertain things like, “Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Rabbit holes can be deep and twisting, leading to the “Mad Hatter.” Life is full of curves, turns and troubling circumstances, some of which we cause ourselves, some not.

So God says, “if anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5-6). But don’t doubt, for a double mind is confused and sprayed around like a wave in the wind. It is hard to stand firm and trust in God, unless you have come to know His faithfulness. Since there will be pools deeper than we can stand we need God and other godly relationships to guide and lead the way into and through deeper waters.

The Psalmist prayed for deliverance from being overcome by the enemy, calling out to God in distress saying, “Deep calls to deep, in the roar of the waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me…Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:7, 11).  The Prophet Isaiah also speaking of fear in the face of enemies said to Israel, “Fear not…when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:1,2).


Whatever your deep pool is today, as Corrie ten Boom the Holocaust survivor said, “There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still.”  

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Be Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak and Slow to Anger

 Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger  (James 1:19)

 

I have chosen a word from the “Fruit of the Spirit” as a goal or challenge to work on for the last seven years. So choosing a very important one for 2021, the complete or perfect one for the seventh year is very appropriate. However this year it is a verse from the Bible. My Scripture challenge for 2021 is James 1:19 which is the title.  So what does the Bible say about it? Solomon had a lot to say in Proverbs, a Wisdom book.

 

In conversations, define terms as each of us may have different understandings. Be comfortable in silence, and pause before you speak. This makes common sense. But you or me need to get the first and last word, then you are a fool Scripture tells us.

When words are many, sin is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise (Proverbs 10:19). Do you talk too much? Or are your stories too long. I just returned from a wonderful time with my son and grandchildren’s family in Oregon. I told a story about a near-death experience in Alaska from 1966, which was quite exciting including a plane crash. However with three young boys there I think my 20-minute version may have been too long. “A man of knowledge restrains his words, and a man of understanding maintains a calm spirit” (Proverbs 17:27). I was too excited to speak after my son told a similar story.  I am fortunate the boys didn’t leave the table early. 

 

I remember hearing the lesson; “I would have made it shorter if I had more time.” So don’t rush, pause and consider the best way to express yourself.  When spoken to, listen, pause, reflect and let others speak first, you may learn something. You don’t need to be first and have the last word too. 

 

How about the last phrase, “and be slow to anger.”  I am told this is particularly a challenge for men as we tend to be task oriented and not happy to not know or be able to handle doing something, even though there are specialists, like plumbers and electricians to call who know much more. When we do it ourselves and succeed, great, if not anger may arise and shed on ourselves and anyone else in earshot. The affected are often close family members, which leaves a trail of pain for all.  Again Proverbs has a lot to say: “A wrathful (hot-tempered) man stirs up strife, but he that is slow to anger avoids strife or avoids/calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:18). Again James has something to say about anger and the tongue of the 278 references in the Bible to “anger.” “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”  (James 1:26). James also says the tongue can sink ships and burn down forests, along with ruining friendships or relationships. I have personally observed this in negotiations and conversations of all kinds. I heard a comedian once say. “Don’t go to bed angry, stay up all night and quarrel.” Funny, but bad advise. So I am going to make this essay shorter as I have had time to study it. 

 

Friday, April 23, 2021

"Pay Attention"

Recently my wife and I were shopping in an unfamiliar part of Milwaukee. On the way back as I approached our turn for a highway I saw the sign and turned. My turn happened to be too early and I accidently turned into an unmarked police lot. I immediately knew that I had done so and turned around quickly. However, as we came up to the gate to get back to the highway entrance, an unmarked police vehicle moved in front of us and a policeman rolled down his window and yelled three times at us, “Pay Attention! Pay attention! Pay attention!” I was startled and then also filled with defensive annoyance and a feeling of guilt at the same time.

Now that I have distanced myself from the unpleasant confrontation, I have some other thoughts. I need to recognize that I made a turn 25-feet early. I have done that thousands of times historically, my bad. I also am feeling angry with the COP for the confrontation, finger pointing and shouting at me. This was in my mind entirely unnecessary and caused me to dislike him and perhaps by extension all COPs. Yes, I came to that conclusion. I also recognized that we live in a city with horrible inner city problems of crime, unemployment, drug use, dealing and decay. They are endemic and difficult problems needing concentrated and continued attention. But also we have here and nationally an epidemic of COP killing that is criminal and outrageous, putting all of us at higher risk.   Is there justification for killing a policeman? I state never. Is there justification for a policeman to shoot a person? I say yes. These are not the opposite sides of the same coin. The police are present to protect all of society from criminals and their aberrant behavior.

So, I reconsider the policeman and try to have empathy at his reaction to my turn. Perhaps he was guarding the police lot. Perhaps the many police cars were there for report or a special assault or arrest about to take place. Perhaps he was worried about a random shooter or crazy guy trying to find COPS to kill. I don’t know. Does that make his reaction more justified: perhaps.

Moreover, I have also extended the reactive warning more broadly. I realize that we live in an increasingly dangerous world. All citizens need to be more careful of potential danger from many insurgencies of criminal behavior. We need to pay attention to the increasing pace of immoral behavior and the loss of anchors of civility in our society. Violence has increased dramatically in our society.  The Apostle Peter said, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sister throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings”  (1 Peter 5:8-9). There are many such passages about being alert and of sober mind for the end is near. Yes, being alert or “praying attention” is critical to our safety and even survival in this world.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Balance


Being in balance in life is a place that probably all of us want to find and keep.  It brings steadiness, composure and self-control. Note that self-discipline or control is part of the Fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23, and against it there is no law. On a teeter-totter, or in life there is a place of balance until someone or something knocks you off.  That has probably happened to you? It is very easy for people to get out of balance. I have recently come out of place of imbalance, and now back into more equilibrium. I can proclaim that there is no serenity or tranquility in being out of balance. Nothing seems right or stabile.  Yet God wants us to keep seeking Him to regain stability or balance. He is the only source and the only One always balanced.  The prophet Isaiah said:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?(Isaiah 40:12)

 

God is the only One who can measure accurately. “Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making (Proverbs 16:11).

 

God looks at all people and sees imbalance.  Even though God so loved the world, the psalmist proclaimed:

“Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath” (Psalms 62:19). That’s pretty harsh, but God is the only perfect being that can help each of us be more in balance. 

 

A key to life is that He loves His own, those who have bowed their knee to Him and who have decided to surrender to Jesus and follow His commandments. Those of us humans who have done so can achieve balance from trusting in Jesus Christ and becoming more like Him. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that the old man is passing away and the new has come when we believe in Christ a Savior and Lord. He also said in Romans 12:1-2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is the good and acceptable and perfect.”  This is a life-long process called sanctification as God transforms us to be more balanced like Him. There are no shortcuts or ways except through Christ working in us through the Holy Spirit.

 

So on balance as I am working through God’s Holy Spirit. I am on the right track, but it is up and down like an EKG strip yet moving upward toward Jesus. How about you? Have you turned your life over to The Son of God, Jesus Christ to make and mold you to be more like Him, one hour at a time? The decision is our faith through His grace.  The process is a road less traveled full of rocks by leading up toward God and heaven. And heaven is the only place where we will be balanced forever. Sign up and join the balancing program.

 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Window on The World



What is your view or window on the world? Do you feel as if you are looking out from a cave in the Badlands like this pinhole photo taken by my cousin Douglas F. Frank, a renown landscape artist?  The David of the Old Testament, while on the run from King Saul, had to hide in caves to escape his own demise from a demented King.  Even now, he is hidden in a cave or some other place” (2 Samuel 17:9). Living in a cave can take us back to the Neanderthals and primitive peoples. Caves remind us of bats and darkness.  In his running David had a dark window on the world.

Yet, out of the cave we can also see light and clouds and sky. We can climb out of the cave into the overpoweringly bright sunlight if we want. Or we can continue to stay in the cave to protect ourselves from danger or being found out or from some other fear. I don’t know if you are living in a cave today?  I don’t pretend to understand all   your circumstances.  In fact, as a teenager, I hid from the world and into an imaginary kind of life or cave where I would try to control the problems I was facing. I chose food as a control mechanism and so an anorexia-like eating disorder brought me to a frightening inward spiral of starvation, cave dwelling and eventual collapse. My choice was not a healthy one to run from the world, even though for I while I enjoyed the feeling of thinness while exercising to excess and being numbed by endorphins for peaceful pleasure. My body fell totally apart with stress fractures and metabolic dysfunction. I looked through a fat window of once being chided as an overweight and lazy kid. I tried to abnormally fanaticize a window where I would have a thin view. It took my physical collapse at a professional tennis tournament from which I was carried out by a family friend to realize that I had gone too far.  My window was then covered with lies and fears, indeed rose colored.

We all have our coping mechanisms for dealing with life. My initial efforts had not been successful. So I tried alcohol since it was the family method of choice. Alcoholic families breed more for generations unless someone is willing to break the chain. My escape into wine, although “sophisticated” caused my personality to change, which was called out by my dear wife of 46 years. She had put up with it long enough. I knew that I could not find solace in the bottle, particularly as a Chaplain and AODA counselor. My testimony as a Christian was damaged by drinking, causing me also to have a meltdown with family members with whom I have had lifelong dysfunction. Abstaining with joy is the only way that I can describe it when I realized I must stop. It is wonderful to be able to concentrate completely on whatever the task without that distraction.  One of my sons and also a first cousin has also quit, recognizing the dark draw of a family gene. We, and all of our relations are much better off for it. This window is much clearer now.

Life is hard and suffering and trials are a major theme we cannot escape. James, the brother of Jesus said, “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 mature and complete lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). This is one of the hardest passages in Scripture because we don’t want to hear it. But yes, valleys are a mainstay of life and we should walk through them regularly without fear. What? you might say, I fear the valleys. Well, that is the theme of this essay, fearing the world and its darkness in difficult choices.  And that is seeing through the “Glass darkly” as Paul tells the Corinthians.

I obviously have not covered all the escapes folks have from worldly troubles like work addictions; I just mentioned a couple of my less successful ones. However, let’s now turn to how we do cope with stress, temptations and trials of all kinds. Do we run or hide? That is an inappropriate and usually only a temporary fix. We need wisdom and relationships to stay the course, and where do we find it? “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). God is Wisdom and truth as hundreds of Scriptures tell those who will listen. The above passage on trials is also followed by a verse of knowledge saying, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). He is our answer to all problems and trials in life. He must be our first “go-to” response before and in trouble. We need a Biblical worldview window to look through. God will tell us what and how to do it. He gives a more clear view of everything through a Biblical window.

A strong relationship with God and His word is an essential for succeeding in life. But we need relationships with skin on too. Having close family and friends is necessary. Chose friends carefully as we can’t chose family. Friends with a Biblical worldview are advisable. Also having an accountability brother or sister for women is my strong counsel. I have built such a relationship over the past 10 years. We both seek God and the Bible for guidance and share our struggles with each other in confidential prayer. I have written more about this important kind of relationship in my book, This is The Way, Walk in It (Vol. I). This 2-volume book deals with how to walk in a way that allows you to see through your window more clearly.

Our window on the world also needs to be clean and made of modern triple-pane glass to hold out the icy winters and torrid summers. Our prejudices and fears make the window harder to see through. That means we need to clean it off with hard work or help from a counselor or friends. And once cleaner we need to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Your window should view Christ and His promises for victory over the darkness.  The Psalmist tells us that in His light we see light that pours in through the window like the Bright and Morning Star for those that choose Him. Spring is coming and a fresh warm breeze with it, so open your windows for the beauty of summer and the rest and restoration it can give us.  But remember seasons change and you might need to close it from the coming hailstorm or heat.







Friday, April 9, 2021

Light in The Darkness

The season of darkness is slowly coming into spring and summer light. I like the snow of winter for skiing and ice for skating, but I do not like the darkness of winter. Scripture is replete with the image of God as light and the world as darkness. The hearts of men are described the same way, either light or dark.  However, “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God describes the hearts of men as stone-like and dark or sinful throughout the Old Testament. Even at Christmas time, at least as we celebrate it, the days are short and dark. Isaiah the Prophet speaking of Christ’s birth states, ‘”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 is telling the dark tale of woe for the Israelites under assault by the Assyrians. And yet the Messiah or “Light of the world,” was going to be born to bring “spiritual peace.”  Isaiah even said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).  These are graphic and depressing thoughts of the world 700 years before Christ. But it seems to me, they are also describing our world today in drab Technicolor grey.


This pinhole image entitled “Prairie,” taken by my cousin Douglas F. Frank vividly displays a scene of light piercing through the darkness in the American heartland. Bestselling Author Frank Peretti wrote novels called, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, about the strong reality of evil in the world, symbolized by the darkness. We live in a world battling good and evil, light and dark. Many would say that the darkness is winning. I believe that this is sadly a growing truth. In fact there are ideologies of death that want to conquer and dominate the world for evil.

Our hearts are all in a battle for good and evil as well. The Apostle Paul said, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is ruler of the earth and wants to destroy us one by one. We have a choice in the matter. We can look to the “Light of the World,” Jesus Christ who overcame the world. We must stand firm in the truth and pray in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).


I want to be a light generator that spreads out wherever I go. I view the photo in this essay as if it is a pair of wings of an angel lifting and throwing light into the world. Psalm 34:7 says, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers Him.”  The angel of the Lord is God Himself in this Hymn of praise and delivery from danger and darkness. Become a “light-caster” and overcome the darkness.