Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Rose-colored glasses ............. Parables 780

February 2003
In the late 1980's, Randall Wise sold his profitable computer-software company to focus on producing and selling colored contact lenses for chickens. He claimed that the birds were happier, ate less, produced more eggs, and stopped fighting when they looked at the world through blood-red lenses.

Eliminating the pecking order, particularly in the crowded conditions of egg-producing hen houses, was supposed to make life easier for chicken farmers, save consumers about 2.5 cents a dozen for eggs, and give Wise a projected 1992 income of $24 million.

However, in 1991, Dr. Nedim C. Buyukmihci, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California offered a report: “The red plastic lenses are at the very least uncomfortable for the chickens . . . also appear to cause corneal ulcers . . . (that) can rupture and lead to blindness. Pain always is a significant component of corneal ulcers or ruptured eyes.”

By 1996, Mary Finelli, senior researcher for the Humane Society of the United States, said, “Today’s intensive confinement systems for chickens are notorious dusty and rank with ammonia and other irritating gasses. To permanently set contact lenses in the eyes of birds who exist for 1 to 2 years under such conditions is grossly inhumane. The problem is that the birds are inhumanely housed. Under natural conditions they live peacefully together in small groups. The only true solution to the abnormal aggression which their mistreatment causes is to provide these sensitive animals with humane living conditions.”

In this case, science beat the entrepreneur. While the stories and his lenses are still advertised on a veterinarian supply site, Wise seems to have left the building.

What does this story have to do with us, or our spiritual lives? One is that the world seems to have its own version of a pecking order. Crowded conditions may provoke it, but it seems part of human nature to be bigger, better, taller, stronger than the person next to us — so we knock them down, just to make sure they know we are. God has a better, albeit more challenging plan: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves . . . your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. . . .”

Furthermore, rose-colored glasses from a human vantage point are just as misleading as the avian version. They keep their wearers from recognizing that selfish competition and one-upmanship are genuine problems. Not only that, these lenses that seem to make people more mellow also produce indifference — too laid back to make a fuss about anything, even when it is important. “That’s just the way it is,” they say, without caring to change it.

Chickens don’t have many options, but we can make choices. We can try rosy lenses — they might work for a little while. Or we can live in spiritual darkness — which may sail us without much fuss to the grave. Or with God’s help, we can really live with our eyes wide open — in this life and for eternity.

This is the final entry in this series. God gave me the privilege and challenge of writing for a weekly newspaper for about seventeen years. I had about ten editors and a wonderful experience. As I posted the entries, God surprised me. First I did not remembering writing most of them — and second that God deeply blessed me, sometimes to tears, as I read the words He gave me more than a decade ago. Because of that, I leave these online hoping that others will experience His blessings also.

My daily devotional thoughts are also published online — daily for several years and at this LINK. They are personal and point to the reality that faith in Jesus Christ is practical and possible to live out in the power of His Spirit.  

Monday, August 6, 2018

Pitiful Priorities? ............. Parables 777

February 2003

Author John Piper says that the greatest hindrance to our experience of knowing and delighting in God is “that we are willing to settle for such pitiful pleasures . . .” and when we do that, “. . . the majesty of God has dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator.”

When I need something to sustain me, do I head for that dried up peach? When I need something to make me happy, do I forget God? What pitiful pleasures do I settle for instead?

Jesus knew the secret of fulfillment. Once when He was tired and thirsty He stopped at a well and asked a woman to give Him a drink. Eventually, He revealed Himself to her as the Messiah she was hoping for. When the disciples arrived, they urged Jesus to eat something, but He told them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”

They were confused. They did not understand that doing the will of God could give far more satisfaction than whatever they thought would do it.

These thoughts lead me to question the place of God in my life. The first of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall have not other gods before me.” Has God become no more than a peach pit?

Who is my God? The second commandment forbids the making of idols or “graven images.” Is idolatry the worship of a carved idol with bulging eyes and a grotesque tongue sticking out of its open mouth? Or worse, a peach pit? What do I settle for instead of God?

How about greatly admired or influential persons? Do I have a matinee idol, a god of the silver screen? Do I idolize a great writer, the god of the publishing business? While not called deities in the usual sense of the word, some do admire these gods to the point of awe, even worship.

A god could be “anything I turn to for peace, strength, or help when in need.” Is my god money? Or other gods in North American culture — cars, sex, music, homes, luxury items, or anything money can buy?

Work can be a god too. This god is the driving force in many a life, taking a central place in schedules and thoughts, leaving little or no space to be occupied with the business of the true God.

How can I obey that first Commandment? Do I quit my work, go to church every day? Do I give away all my possessions and enter a cloistered monastery so nothing distracts me from worship? Do I put all people in a “lower than a worm” category and never admire anyone? Of course I could donate all to the poor, live in a mud hut, disdain all human interaction, go to my own little church every day, and still break the first commandment in my heart!

So how do I delight in God? One man said, “Just because I love my wife with all my heart does not mean I hate everyone else.” Delighting in God is matter of priority.

It is also a matter of choice. Give God first place when options and decisions arise. He is number One. Treat Him accordingly. Having no idols does not mean that I stop living, but that I live for Him.

Piper also says God calls us to come to Him “with empty hands . . . acknowledging that He alone can satisfy the heart’s longing to be happy.” He is right. The only way to discover all God can do is by putting aside idols and pitiful pleasures. Stop relying on me. Start relying on Him. Let God be God.

Friday, August 3, 2018

God’s protection crew ............. Parables 776

January 2003

The Kennedy Space Center boasts the “largest unpaid security staff in the world — 5000 ten to twelve-foot alligators!”

While touring this amazing facility in January, we marveled at the changes in the last five years. Now the entrance security is tighter than any airport. Besides the usual walk-through scanners, every purse and bag is opened and examined. Any sharp objects are taken and not returned. Back packs and luggage are not allowed at all.

Prior to our visit, we stood on the beach and saw the shuttle launch. A few days later, we stood at the launch site. We wondered how terrorists could possibly get in this place. No doubt hidden equipment and cameras scan, laser, and photograph the entire area. While we didn’t see any burly guards with guns, we did see the alligators. Even though the space center is well protected, it cannot protect everyone from everything. The very shuttle we saw launched now lies in pieces, and seven astronauts are dead.

Christian missionaries need security and protection too. A few weeks ago I told of a friend who experienced a terrorist attack on a Christian school in Muree, Pakistan. The missionaries at that school realized that only God’s amazing care kept them and the students from being killed. They wrote a book called “Angels in the Rafters.”

Other missionaries tell of believers who work in dangerous places. One night, a hostile crowd surrounded the home of one man and his family. They feared for their lives, but strangely, the attackers left without harming them. Some time later, one of the would-be attackers was converted to faith in Christ. When asked about that night, he told the missionary that they planned to kill him and his family but were turned back by the sight of hundreds of soldiers standing guard around the house. The missionary had not seen anyone.

The Bible offers a similar story in 2 Kings 6. God’s prophet, Elisha, delivered several warnings to the king of Israel to let him know where the enemy would be camping. This enraged the king of Aram who was at war with Israel. He thought he had a traitor in his army, but one of his officers told him that Elisha was doing this.

The king soon learned that Elisha was in Dothan. He sent a strong force and surrounded the city. The next morning, Elisha’s servant got up and saw the army all around them. He ran to tell his master. Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then he prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”

The Bible says, “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses, and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” God’s angels kept them safe.

However, angels do not always prevent death. When Jesus was about to be taken and crucified, He confirmed that God could have stopped it. As the soldiers arrested Him, one disciple drew a sword and Jesus told him to put it back. “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

A Roman legion consisted of six thousand soldiers. That means Jesus could have summoned more than 72,000 warriors, an army far larger than any group the Jews or the Romans could send. But He didn’t do it, and they didn’t come. Out of love for us, He refused their protection, and allowed Himself to be taken to the cross. He said “no” to protection and security, and instead died for our sins — that we might live forever.

Unlike Jesus, few people can control how long they live, or how they die. For our death, God offers eternal life through faith in His Son. For our life, He offers us the protection of His even more enormous than NASA’s “unpaid security staff.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What is the church? ............. Parables 775

January 2004

“Mom, why do we go to church and Patti doesn’t?” He was about four years old. I explained, “Patti is not a Christian. She is not interested in church.”

Now, years later, I realize that some nonchristian people do go to church — and occasionally, a few Christians, who should be there, lose interest, at least for a little while.

The church is often misunderstood and little wonder. The word can refer to several things. For some, it is the white building on the corner of Fifth and Main, a structure that people enter on Sundays and for weddings and funerals. Church is just a building.

For others, church is an activity. We knew a couple who had “church” in their living room every week. They didn’t like “organized” religion but wanted to have something spiritual in their lives, so they did their own version of “church.”

Still others think of church as just that — organized religion. They see innumerable denominations, structure, hierarchy, ceremony, acceptable rituals and behaviors, and a great deal of rules. This understanding is largely what “church” has become in today’s world, but it is not necessarily the church that Christ is building.

In the New Testament, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What church was He talking about?

The word “church” comes from a Greek word meaning “called out,” an apt name for a group of people Christ calls out from the world into His kingdom, from sin into holiness, from their old life into a new life. However, this is never a singular word; the church is a group of believers.

In the Bible “church” refers to all people called by Christ to follow Him. Scripture uses terms like the “body” and the “bride” of Christ to describe it. We are part of Him, His hands and His feet in this world. We are also joined to Him; we are His beloved. The “church universal” is everyone who believes in Jesus, no matter what denomination they adhere to, or part of the world they live in.

Scripture also refers to church as a local congregation. Believers first met in one another’s homes. A local group might be the church that “meets in Lydia’s house” or “Simon’s house.” There were no white buildings on the corner or any other special buildings, but the church was never more vibrant and effective, no matter where they assembled to pray, share, learn, and worship.

These two meanings still remain today. When the Bible talks about Jesus’ love for the church, it is talking about the people for whom He died. When the Bible talks about “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together,” it is talking about a local church. It does not matter if it meets in the Alliance building, the Baptist building, or the Community building. What does matter is that the building is filled with people who have given their lives to Jesus.

Patti still has not considered Christ and still does not go to church. She is not drawn to Christians. They make her feel uncomfortable and guilty. Church to her appears to be an organization with a bunch of rules, and sadly, some “churches” are just that. The congregation does not have a common faith in Christ, only in their organization. What a turn-off. Yet if she ever decided to follow Jesus, He would lead her into an entirely different experience of church, a place yes, but also a group of people who are united by the Holy Spirit and their love of God, not by form and rules.

Since that child’s question years ago, I’ve realized that becoming a Christian changes a person’s view of church. Until Jesus called me out of my unbelief, I never wanted to go there either.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Understanding the Bible ............. Parables 774

January 2004

At the beginning of this year, I was thinking about a pastor we once had who gave us a Scripture passage each January as our “Verse for the Year.” It seemed a good idea to give one to each of our children. As I prayed for our children and grandchildren, specific verses came to mind for each one. I put the verses on cards and, after explaining why, gave the cards to them.

Our youngest granddaughter, who has not yet considered Christianity, received John 3:16. When she read it, she looked at her older sister and said, “I don’t understand it. Do you understand yours?”

Her sister said she did. The younger one looked puzzled. “Do you understand mine?” When she got an affirmative response, she frowned again. Then her sister, who had accepted Christ some years before, said, “Just keep reading it. One day you will understand it.”

Without realizing it, she gave an incredibly wise response. Sometimes biblical realities can be explained, but with a verse as easy to understand as John 3:16, it seemed obvious that the younger one needed time for the Holy Spirit to open her eyes.

In 1 Corinthians 2, the Apostle Paul explains that God’s wisdom is hidden to the “natural” man. By this he means that God’s words are a mystery to those who do not have the Spirit of God living in them. He says we need to have them “revealed to us by His Spirit.”

I can vouch for that. When I was about thirteen, I decided a “real woman” read the Bible every day, just like my mother did. So I read it, but I didn’t understand any of it. Oh, I knew the meaning of the words, but they held no significance whatsoever. Further, I read it every day for about sixteen years, and still did not understand what it meant.

Finally, everything changed. In one day, one Scripture verse (in another book) jumped out at me. Suddenly I realized that Jesus was God, come in the flesh to die for my sins. At that moment, I believed in Him and gave my life to Him. At that moment, I also began to understand the Bible.

Now I also understand the problem I had not understanding it. For years, I was such a vain, proud person. I did everything right and no one else knew as much as I did. My life was in control and I controlled it. Then, it fell apart. My marriage failed. I was a failure. That perch was knocked out from under me. I could see things now that I could not see before. One thing I saw was that I did not do everything right. I needed help. I also realized I did not know everything. I needed both knowledge and wisdom. I started looking for it, but the book I was reading that day was about to take me in the wrong direction.

God, in His great wisdom and grace, decided to turn me around. He used the one verse of Scripture in that book to open my eyes. When I saw Him and realized what He had done for me, I tossed the book aside and began reading The Book with renewed enthusiasm and an understanding that had not been there before.

I know my granddaughters will be blessed by their verses for this year. While the younger one does not understand her verse, as the older one said, she will get it. Actually, knowing the way God works, that verse will eventually take hold of her!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Spiritual warfare? ............. Parables 773

January 2004

There stands Billy in front of the candy counter. The store owner’s back is turned. Billy looks at the candy. On one shoulder sits an angel telling him to keep his hands in his pocket. On the other shoulder sits a bright red figure with a pitched fork and a contrary argument. If Billy does not touch the candy, who is the real winner in this battle?

Like 99% of the population, I decided last week to get rid of a few pounds. While I can still button up my clothes, they are tighter than they were a month ago. Too much turkey stuffing. Too many chocolates. Even with those safely out of sight, a second helping of anything was still a big temptation. However, I decided that if I say no to the extras, my tongue may lose a “taste sensation” but my body will come out a winner.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian, graphically described similar struggles with other kinds of temptation besides gluttony. He said, “Being a Christian is like having two dogs fighting inside me.”

The battle between what is the good and what is forbidden rages continually. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings uses an epic fantasy to depict it. Even in fiction, this Christian author refuses to minimize the power of darkness to lure persons into wicked thinking and behavior. He also brings out the struggle inside the hearts of his characters.

Yet not all of them struggle. The good guys battle evil, but those who are evil only fight good because it threatens their freedom to choose otherwise. As I read Tolkein’s stories and see the movies, I marvel how he depicts the inner battle of the two dogs. I also marvel that this battle would not be so evident to me had I read the books before I became a Christian.

Becoming a Christian changed the way I think about good and evil. Even though I was not heavy into evil, I was surprised when these changes came. Before, I used “doing good” to serve my own purposes. Before, I rejected temptation only if I could see negative consequences. After giving my life to Christ, suddenly I wanted to do good — without having any reason, yet was (and still am) amazed at how fiercely temptation opposes me.

The Bible makes it clear that when the Holy Spirit lives in a person, that person changes. We become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). It also describes a new conflict. “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want.”

Every Christian experiences this battle. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” He goes on to say that his sinful nature is up to no good, but his inner being, where the Holy Spirit dwells, wages war against that nature. He thanks God that Jesus Christ enables him to win this war!

Watchman Nee would agree. Someone heard him describe his battle with sin and asked, “Which dog wins?” He responded, “The dog I feed the most.”

My experience this past week is almost a pun on Nee’s reply, As I turn away from fancy desserts, rich sauces, and other temptations, my desire for them becomes less intense. Not only is my body beginning to lose weight, but my appetite for overeating has diminished.

For those who fight a battle with temptation, be thankful; it’s one test that gives evidence that you are a Christian. To win the battle, ask the Lord to help you feed the good dog (in my case, it likes lots of veggies!) and starving the forbidden dog. You will see it will shrivel up — and leave you alone.