Archive for October, 2020

Good News

Posted: October 6, 2020 in Meditations

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” Isaiah 52:7

Christians possess the best message on the planet.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16,17

Our world is a mess and the world knows it. Man’s cruelty churns unabated. Power institutions, economic systems, sacred values: all tremble at the threat of rebellion, spurred by dissatisfaction, a yearning for a better world, heaven on earth. Something is afoot, the world changes. A cacophony of dissonant messages distills to one question, “What is the meaning of life?”

If there is no God and if we must define our own significance, perhaps we take ourselves too seriously. We exist, we die, we cease to exist, nothing changes. Albert Camus said, The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” We cannot find adequate meaning for the ache in our being apart from the divine. The silence tortures us concurrent to to the buffets of life. Chekhov, in his play “The Three Sisters”, says, I think man ought to have faith, or else, his life is empty, empty…. You’ve got to know what you’re living for or else it’s all nonsense and waste.” Henrik Ibsen, the playwright, said, “If you take away the life illusion of the average man, you take away his happiness as well.”

“Most people, if they really learn how to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning can really satisfy. I am not speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages or trips and so on; I am speaking of the best possible ones. There is always something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, that just fades away in the reality. The spouse may be a good spouse, the scenery has been excellent, it has turned out to be a good job, but “It” has evaded us.” C.S. Lewis

Why do we exist? For the Christian, we are created by and for God. We are not ends in ourselves. We do not define ourselves, he defines us. Our sin collectively defines the world’s mess. Our sin individually informs our ache, our dissatisfaction. Our good news offers reconciliation and redemption. It offers hope to meaning and purposed living. Our good news centers in the person, Jesus Christ, the incredible story of God taking on flesh, living and dying that we might be reconciled to the Great God, infinite goodness. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8 Tell your story. Why do you serve the risen Christ? He lives within your heart. Be his instrument. In the end, Christ is all that matters.

Holy Passion

Posted: October 5, 2020 in Uncategorized

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives” Jeremiah 17:5,6

“A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” John Milton

My capacity for evil lurks, never far, always near. I have walked with God imperfectly for half a century. Sin obliterates with the cunning of a snake. It crushed dear friends, destroyed marriages, shattered families, killed faith. I know sin. My own anger burned with murder, my eyes burned with lust, my words spoke death. I am no better than the feral pig that grows tusks and a bristled hide. Apart from God, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“He that has light within his own clear breast may sit in the centre, and enjoy bright day: but he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts benighted walks under the mid-day sun; himself his own dungeon.” John Milton

A hero fell, I cannot adequately communicate the grief, the confusion, the horror I felt yesterday when I read my email. A Pastor betrayed his God, his calling, his church, his community; a betrayal I still cannot grasp. Perhaps I assume dynamic men and women are impervious to the frailties I confront everyday. I never saw his demise coming. The last time I heard this brother preach he brought me to tears, the altars filled with the penitent, elders prayed, the music played. Now I stare at a wasteland of devastated victims and broken saints. I grieve the wickedness of secret sin exposed.

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in the secret place.” Psalm 51:5,6

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God.” Psalm 42:1,2

Don’t resort to haughty spiritual pride. Resist self-serving anger at someone else’s sin. Run from a shallow pious nod to the aggrieved. Sin harbors no respect for man’s goodness. What to do? Where to go? Run hard to the Savior. Recognize the weakness of the flesh. Exchange unruly passions for holy passion. St. Augustine said, ” I plunged into the lovely things you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me: I drew breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me and now I burned for your peace.” A candle of righteousness has been temporarily snuffed. You and I must shine brighter for all to see. God remains faithful and true and we are his instruments of healing and hope.

‘Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:4,5

Pray for my fallen brother, his family, his siblings, his parents. Pray for the victims of his sin and their families. Pray for the young pastors in the ungodly firestorm of this affront, for the elders, for the congregation. Revive us, Lord. Heal us. Make us holy even as you are holy. Holy Spirit, fall upon every one of us to the everlasting glory of our Great God. In Jesus name, amen.

Max And Audrey

Posted: October 3, 2020 in Meditations

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”

Philippians 4:8,9

Max bent over the coffin to kiss his Audrey one last time. The lid closed. I heard a groan, the pained gasp of love separated, it was Max. I wept openly. I couldn’t bear the audible agony of my hero, Max Ephraim. It was tough enough saying goodbye to a woman who loved me like a son. The kindness, the gentleness, the generosity of these two giants in the kingdom of God never dims in my heart. How I loved them, words fail to describe the eternal benefit of their love to me. Their example buttresses my devotion to Christ, how I conduct my life.

Max and Audrey had nine children. I fell for number eight, a vivacious spitfire named Lois, Teddy to her friends. I’m sure the discerning eye of both fell on this invading rooster but I never felt it. It’s hard to describe the siblings. Each one lived bigger than life: brilliant, ebullient, ridiculously accepting. I never received a curt word from anyone except Lois. Isn’t that how it goes? After dating for eighteen months, the dating relationship ended. I’m from Wisconsin, the Ephraims from Illinois. Normally, that ends the story, but normal never described the Ephraims.

I felt the acute pain of love lost—she broke up with me, just the worst on so many levels. But life moves on and so did I. I worked every summer for my Uncle Richard who owned investment properties throughout the state of Wisconsin. I worked a project in Wittenburg when the phone rang, it was Audrey Ephraim. Her sixteen year old son was going through a difficult time. She asked, “If you have work for my son, would you consider taking him on for the summer?” The answer, “Yes, I would love to have James work with us.” James worked hard, a real joy; for me it was a blessing to return a small portion of the love Max and Audrey poured into me. That summer cemented my place in the Ephraim extended family for the rest of their lives.

Audrey never forgot that summer with her son James. Their interest in my life never abated. I remember my last encounter with Max and Audrey over a supper. Audrey hugged me and said, “The boy I wished was my son.” Those words meant everything to me. This godly woman, mother of nine, loved me.

Max, perhaps the most amazing man I ever met, went on to glory a few years later. I drove two hundred miles to pay my respects to a great man. Memories, so many memories swept over me. I remembered a moment at Maranatha Chapel in Evergreen Park. I just finished a lengthy discussion with a remorseful alcoholic man at the altar after church. Everybody but Max had gone home. Max put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Phil, that same man may come to the altar a hundred times and on the hundred and first time, the miracle will happen.” In short, Max taught me, “Never give up on anyone. With God, all things are possible.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. Max and Audrey, your legacy lives on in me. Until my dying breath, I will do my best to pass on the love and wisdom you invested in me.

The Man In The Water

Posted: October 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay one’s life down for one’s friends.”

John 15:13,14

Two days ago Lynn and I pulled into Mattoon, Illinois, a classic rural mid western town, big enough for a Cracker Barrel and a Denny’s, small enough for not much else. Corn fields and I 57 defined its borders. We parked and went into the Honey Bee Diner for breakfast, a great choice for big appetites and friendly people. The town wears the strain of hard times, people are older, the population shrinking. “So this is Mattoon”, I thought.

On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into a bridge spanning the Potomac River. Its wreckage slid into the ice choked water. Only the tail section remained afloat, six survivors clung to jagged edges. Crowds gathered, cameramen videoed, a nation watched a rescue unfold. A helicopter dropped flotation jackets, then a rope ladder. A man grabbed the life jackets and passed them on. He then grabbed the rope and passed it on. The routine repeated itself until all but one person was safe, the selfless man in the water. The helicopter went back to rescue him but he was gone, drowned. That man was Arland D. Williams, age 46, father of two, born and raised in Mattoon, Illinois.

“So the man in the water had his own natural powers. He could not make ice storms, or freeze the water until it froze the blood. But he could hand life over to a stranger, and that is a power of nature too. The man in the water pitted himself against an implacable, impersonal enemy; he fought it with charity; and he held it to a standoff. He was the best we can do.”

New York Times

Arland chose, he acted. The world marveled at his selfless courage. They saw a spark of the divine that everyone craves but few experience. “Love the Lord with all your heart, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30,31 Who is your neighbor? Do you choose to love the men, women, and children in your life sphere? Are you choosing to share life? Are you presenting the message of the gospel that gives life in words and deeds? God chooses ordinary people. God chose you, he chose me; we are the messengers.

“The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”

Ezekiel 22:29,30

Who will stand in the gap? Heavenly opportunities avail themselves everyday. The extraordinary is born out of the ordinary. No one knew the man in the water, yet Arland Williams saved five lives. Today we must choose how to conduct our lives. I choose to serve the Great God and I choose to love my neighbor as myself. In the end, Christ is all that matters.