Friday, May 28, 2021

River Boulder

River Boulder

Are there many rocks or boulders blocking your way? Are they a hindrance to you? Perhaps you are looking at these rocks or problems the wrong way. Maybe they are stepping stones or places where you can stand firm in the torrents or floods of life.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2 NIV).  He, speaking of God lifting him out of the pit, setting his feet on a rock and a solid place.  This is a major theme of the Bible, that God, the Rock is the firm place to stand, there is no other. The Rock is not just an inanimate object but a living and dynamic force which directs our life or steps as the New International Version (NIV) describes,
“He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps” (Psalm 40:2 NKJV). This verse from a psalm of David declares that for him the rock became the new place of life after the slimy pit or troubles of many kinds. We know from reading Scripture that David had many troubles, some caused by his own sin, some by others. But God was his helper and much more. In fact if we trace the Psalms characterization of God we will see Him to be much more for David and by extension us. The above photo, entitled “River Boulder” was taken by my cousin Douglas F. Frank, a landscape artist.  He created a series of boulder photos that I will utilize as images for a series of essays that I am entitling, “The Rock Essays.” Each will demonstrate different characteristics of God.

This photo of a boulder in the middle of a creek gives a mystical quality to the water image. The use of a pinhole, extended exposure, softens the fast moving stream. I especially appreciate this effect as it causes a pause in the frame, in order to help concentrate on the boulder. It also recalls to me a very important moment in the history of Israel when the rushing waters of the Jordan River blocked their way forward toward the Promised Land.
“So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.  Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground” (Joshua 3:14-17).

This story of faith demonstrates God’s response to our faith. The dramatic stopping of the water can be viewed in the “River Boulder” photo in the mystic pausing of the stream. It appears as if you could walk across the creek like the Israelites did to safety.

 Rivers do not always stop for us. I recall a near catastrophic incident while in the Yukon Territory on “Dead Man’s Creek” in spring runoff. My traveling friend went first and successfully forded the creek. However, my fortunes took me down into the torrent and almost tragic end as I slipped on a rock. God does allow troubles in our lives and wants us to be alert and prepared for the devil prowls around looking for someone to drown in the rapids of life.

God wants us to stand firm on Him, the Rock of our salvation. He wants to save us out of the runoff of life, if we are willing. Sometimes He uses the rapid currents to bring us closer to Him. Sometimes He quiets the waters and makes us to lie down   Psalm 23 of David says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.”  This image of the restoring power of still waters that calm our spirits is a vital one of abundant life. Apart from this refreshment and restoration of our souls we will lose strength and power. We need a foundation that is strong and unchanging like a boulder or Rock to stand upon. Some 29 times in the Psalms alone the writer speaks of God as Rock, the restorer of our spirit and health and much more. God the Rock allows us to stand firm in the storms of life, above the waves or even in them.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Lava Field

Lava Field
Mount St. Helens in Oregon erupted in 1980.  Do you remember the incredible plumes of ash and the region covered with a pall of grey?  My cousin Douglas F. Frank, a landscape photographer took many images of the eruption and its devastation as he lived within eye site of the mountain. I found this photo fascinating because of the starkness of life in the presence of death. The pine tree   roots have been laid bare to the cruel environment. I don’t know if the tree survived the harsh treatment by nature that brought instant and unexpected chaos in an
     otherwise calm day.

Life brings surprises and worse with traumatic accidents, illnesses and trials of diverse kinds. I don’t know how you respond or react to these cataclysmic occurrences in your life? I think unplanned travesties can cause a sense of our own mortality to be experienced. We tend to return to basics or survival tendencies.  We might gain courage, like a fireman and run into the burning house. Or we might hunker down and hide from the flames and dust until it is over, whatever that means.

In the aftermath of 911, our nation paused to consider, cry out, and crowd to TVs or crumble. Some 3,000 were cremated. Some 300 ran into the burning buildings, many not to return. I did not know any of the people who died; but my brother who lived in Summit New Jersey at the time could see the burning buildings from his village to which many neighbors did not return. We each have a different perspective and cannot tell another how to respond.

Hurricane Katrina of 2005 brought devastation to the Gulf region of our country. Photos portrayed almost unbelievable results of nature’s wrath. I traveled with our church’s disaster response team to attend to the bereft. We had trouble meandering through the wreckage of scattered trees, former homes and everything else imaginable. From Slidell outside of New Orleans, we could begin to tare down houses, so perhaps some day the inhabitants could begin to rebuild. Stories of lives ripped apart were profound and life changing for them and us who listened. Brokenness was shared in order to consider consequences and continuance.   Catastrophe brings conversations of life meaning and eternity.

The biblical story of Job tells of a life torn apart in every way by evil with the condoning of an observing God. Lives were destroyed and God watched. What is the meaning of life? Is God sovereign?

God is the Creator of all things. God is good and His love endures forever Scripture tells us clearly. Then why devastating trauma and trials?  I believe that creation and destruction are part of the drama of life. Bad things happen to good people not to punish them, as God is not a respecter of any one, but loves all His creation equally. Since the world was perfectly created, mankind and their desire to control and conquer have subsequently ruined it in many ways. These are not good tendencies, but human evil as opposed to good. God is sovereign and has control over everything, yet He allows good and evil to occur for our good and His glory. He has given us free will to live, as we wish, with consequences. And yes, therefore, the actions of others do affect us as well. Natural disasters happen and can’t be easily stopped.  Murders and violence seem to be increasingly common.

God gives us choice as to how we respond to trouble. We can curse God and die as Job’s wife suggested to her husband, clearly out of grief.  We can look to a higher good out of the bad. It is a battleground as M. Scott Peck, M.D., author of People of The Lie, describes. It is more a mystery to believe that there is good than evil in the world. There is a war between promoting and destroying life. Evil people project it on others in scapegoating because they consider themselves beyond reproach. The evil hate the light and are unsubmitting to anything. They will tend to think it wrong that there is suffering. Our country does not have much of a theology of suffering, except perhaps to escape from it. I don’t know that it can be treated, except by a soul transplant from God.  This change in today’s society is getting more difficult because of our tolerance for all ideas as being equal, except perhaps Christian thought which is no longer much tolerated. There are no truths any longer, so nothing on which to base our careful response if we buy into this destructive and narcissistic philosophy.

Regardless of philosophy, disasters and suffering will continue to occur. In these times, we can consider them as a testing of our faith to develop perseverance and make us mature. Or we can rebel, complain and blame others. Go ahead, blame God, at least then you are directing your angst towards the One who can bring wisdom and change us to a more caring and compassionate world view with His help.  

Friday, May 14, 2021

Closed in

Do you ever feel closed in by the world or choices that you have made? Do you fear that you can’t get out? Well, I think that this is a common fear many humans have.

Maybe you have dreams, or better said, nightmares of being in a narrow canyon like the one in this pinhole photo by my cousin, landscape photographer Douglas F. Frank.  I have bad dreams of not being able to escape from a situation. Usually there is wet concrete and my feet are stuck in it. Or there is this wolf chasing me and I awake just in time.  Enough of that, it’s making me nervous.

We all have imagined or had had very real trials in life where we feel like we are in a boxed or narrow canyon. Sometimes we cause them by our decisions or deciding to procrastinate.  There are consequences to decisions. Sometimes our fear or trial comes from the way we think about it. They are just a major part of human existence. Do we have a confident sense that we can overcome it, or believe that with the help of God and others that we can? Or are we afraid and even angry at the problem and it is bringing negative or dark attitudes of fear and or envy? There is an old Cherokee Indian legend called “Two Wolves” that speaks to this concern.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Good and evil exist and one wants to destroy your life. There is a Satan, or evil one who was thrown out of heaven and vows to kill all humans. This is frightening to most people.  However, there is a solution to this threat.

In the creation of the first humans, Adam and Eve, there were already angels existing. It is written in Scripture that the most beautiful, the archangel Lucifer wanted what God had, supremacy. So he rebelled and was thrown out of heaven, along with one-third of all angels who also rebelled against God. They became dark or evil angels who as spiritual beings roaming the earth like roaring lions, “looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:6).

Some 2000 years ago God sent His Son to earth to live, teach the truth and die for all humans. His death on the cross was voluntary and necessary for the redemption of sin of all peoples as a result of original sin by the first humans.  His death brought the forgiveness of sins for all who would believe that He died for us and receive Him as Savior and Lord.

God in Christ Jesus taught us how to live a life like the good wolf in the legend whose traits were like the fruit of the Spirit, “Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We are told that there is nothing that can against the power of the Holy Spirit living in a believer. We have all sinned and will continue to, except by the power of the transforming Holy Spirit living within us. If we build our faith through the Spirit and our own self-control or discipline we are feeding the good wolf. We are purifying and being purified by God in His righteousness. This cleansing can overcome the negative traits of the evil wolf that are the lies of Satan.

Hardships in life can cause us to doubt, but God uses them to help us persevere and become mature and complete lacking nothing. God will give us the wisdom to do this if we ask without doubt as James 1:2-6 expounds. This process is strengthening us to overcome evil with good as we feed the good wolf.

Friday, May 7, 2021


Have you ever stood facing the Western sky at sunset watching the “Last Light?” Of course you have. This photo taken by landscape artist and my cousin Douglas F. Frank reveals not a lunar landscape, but the “Last Light” over the badlands. Sunset is one of the serendipity moments of the day, and always a surreal surprise. I don’t know about you, but when the sun disappears over the horizon trailing yellows that meld into orange and then to many hues of purple, red and violet, I am in awe. I will often sit on our deck and stare into the de-intensifying, then fading colors, until there is a breathless peace. There is solitude and often silence that accompanies this daily farewell that can bring peace or pain in the darkness that encroaches, leaving faith or fear with it.  Yet in the certain cycle of nature, we can see our God reminding us of time. It announces a period of hopeful rest, when the noise of the day may come to an end, wrapped in the disappearing light. It is a pause created by God for us to leave the labors of the day to replenish for tomorrow.

Then you can wait all night, or sleep returning to gaze at the Eastern sky and the morning sunrise, and its first light.  Isaiah the Prophet reminded Israel of God’s faithful pillar of light at night and pillar of cloud by day in the Exodus, to the Promised Land. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you” (Isaiah 60:1-3a). It is a resplendent hour, when the world is just beginning to stir and we can stand alone to be replenished by the light, as the birds herald the coming day. The Prophet Habakkuk 3:4 reminds us of God’s glory, “His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.”

 I have the privilege of riding my bike to the Lake Michigan bluff to watch the morning light faithfully lift the horizon in the east. My favorite place is at the Concordia University Campus. Here there is a carved stone bench inscribed with the words of Psalm 97:1 saying, “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.” The new day brings energy and freshness; this morning as I write frost. A fellow sojourner to the Lake, Kathy Poull, found this image one summer dawn.

The sunrise finds me in devotional prayer as I seek the glory of the Lord. I come in gratitude for His faithfulness and the new day for guidance.  It is at the foot of the cross that I find my strength for the new day.

There is a poem called The Dash written by Linda Ellis that is read at the end of many things. It poses the question of the use of time between birth or dawn and death, or the sunset. That is always a good question. I say start with prayer and end with prayer, “Pray continuously,” seek the Lord always. In between follow His will.