Friday, September 22, 2017

Finding God .......... Parables 644

July 13, 1999

Remember the mystics who climbed a pole and sat there for weeks hoping to find God? Or remember a Christian bumper sticker that proclaimed “I found it” meaning they found God? The stickers did not imply climbing a pole. What did they do to find God?

Some assume God is lost but that cannot be. The problem is that God is spirit. We cannot perceive Him with our physical eyes. We have a blind spot to His reality. Since is God invisible, looking for Him is a perplexity. In the first place, how can anyone know He is real? Could God be a figment of the imagination?

Certainly, the pagans made up gods. For every phenomena they observed and all the forces they could not control, they named a deity. The sun gods controlled the seasons. Fertility gods controlled their crops and childbirth. Other gods controlled the weather or circumstances. Some say the ancient Jews fabricated their idea of one God in the same way. They did not understand lightning storms and mold on their bread so invented a greater power to explain their mysteries.

I am convinced pagan gods are imaginary. I am equally convinced that the God of the Jews is real. Why am I so certain? How did I find God?

One fall afternoon over twenty-five years ago, I sat in my living room with my nose in a book about pagan gods and gods from outer space. I came across a verse from the Bible. As I read it, suddenly the room seemed brighter. At once, I knew God existed. I also knew that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. The book did not say it. No one told me. I simply knew.

I knew too that Jesus died for my sins, was buried but is now alive. I also knew that I needed to surrender my life to Him. From that point on, He began to change me.

Later, I realized that the God of the Jews makes Himself known by “revelation.” We do not find Him but He reaches out to us. He gets our attention by speaking to us: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”

As that verse suggests, God speaks several ways. First, His “word” to the Jewish prophets is recorded in the Bible for people to read. Second, His “word” took on human nature and became a man for people to hear, see and touch. People can find God through His “word.”

I know now that a book about pagan gods did not show me the true God. Rather, He revealed Himself to me through that one verse of Scripture from His Word. As Isaiah 65:1 says, “I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.”

After learning all this, I also know that finding God is not a passive activity. We do not sit waiting for a bolt of light from heaven. Instead, Scripture paradoxically says that we will find God “when we seek Him with our whole heart.”

A “whole heart” implies complete openness, nothing held back, no intention of resisting Him in any way. This is very important for those who search for God. He resists and holds Himself back from the proud but He gives grace and truth to those who humbly yield to Him.

This is because a proud person cannot understand the gospel message. We need to yield. It was after the Apostle Paul fell on His knees before Christ, that the “mystery of salvation by grace was revealed to him” by God. Without humility, God’s revelation seems incomprehensible and even foolish to us. We cannot see the revelation.

Each person may have a different experience of finding God, yet everyone who does find Him knows both the value of humility and of His revelation. We know that unless He had revealed Himself, we would still be in the dark.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The value of law .......... Parables 643

June 8, 1999

Law-abiding citizens have a great deal to think about in Canada. One law passed saying we must use metric measurements, despite boxes full of petitions against it. Others protested the laws that adopted and enforce bilingualism. While not too many folks wanted the Goods and Services Tax, yet another law put it in place and made it part of our lives.

Years ago, a law legalized abortion. More recently, the Supreme Court changed the legal definition of spouse so the law, at least in Ontario, seems to allow same sex “marriages.” At the moment, lawmakers are debating another law that will allow marijuana for medicinal use. In another realm, school boards wonder if mandatory uniforms will reduce violence in Edmonton schools. Law changes how life in Canada is defined.

Making sensible law is a complex matter yet some laws seem more complex than sensible. A local city ordinance says an independent taxi driver cannot choose the color of his car. More serious are gun registration regulations. While ordinary citizens must register their target and hunting rifles, criminals just laugh at this law.

Old Testament Israel lived under the laws given by God. Some were ceremonial, related to their worship practices. Other laws governed civil issues and the relationships of people to each other in their community. Specific punishments were included. Law and keeping the law were as important in old Israel as they are here. Without law, we would be without a compass. Without law-enforcement, anarchy would tear us apart.

However, in some ways, these ancient people were not like Canadians. They were one ethnic group with one language and one religion while Canada tags itself as multicultural. Their laws had one source in that God gave them the Ten Commandments as well as all other law. If anyone took issue, He was their only recourse. In Canada, law is established at many levels and has many levels of appeal.

When Israel refused to involve God in their legislation and law-enforcement, or when they disobeyed His laws, the consequences were sharply different than they are for us. God’s justice was swift even though He could also be petitioned and would give forgiveness and pardon.

God handled law differently than our lawmakers. Although His laws governed the nation, He considered each individual violation. He knew that one person’s sin could directly affect everyone. For example, a man named Achan unlawfully stole heathen idols as spoil from a battle. As a result, the entire army was powerless against their enemies until his sin was admitted and punished.

Do the sins of individuals affect our nation? The Bible says they do. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” God-fearing leaders have power to change the status and reputation of the country they serve but sinful individuals can also pull it down.

Consider how two boys on a shooting spree have put either fear or an imitative admiration in the hearts of our youth. In less a violent way but just as sinful, impurity in the lives of political leaders brings scorn to our nation and others. Just a few people who break God’s laws or the laws of the land bring disgrace to the rest of us.

We need law but confusion sometimes reigns at the legislative level. We need law-making based on something more than the wishes of those lobbyists who make the most noise, but even good law is powerless without shame at its violation. We must be appalled enough to pray for and encourage legislative integrity, rather than merely complaining that our country is not the same as it used to be.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Loving our children? .......... Parables 642

June 1, 1999

The man in the movie abandons his granddaughter by the side of the road. Unknown to him, a neighbor watches and fetches the child, returning her to her mother. Although the man allows his daughter to keep her baby, he mistreats both of them. First the daughter then later the little girl are forced to go to bars and lure men outside so this man can beat and rob them.

This is fiction but real life tells similar stories. What is wrong? The instinct to nurture offspring is strong in most animals and birds. A mother bear will defend her cubs. A kildeer will feign a broken wing to keep predators away from her nest. Seldom in nature are creatures callous to the helplessness of their babies. Why do people turn on their children?

Human beings are not bears, birds or snakes. According to Scripture, we were created in the image of God, both male and female. Being made in His image, we were stamped with a particular predisposition to care deeply for our family, just as God cares for His creation.

My mother used to say that no matter what, your parents always love you. When I was young, I believed her because personal experience told me it was true. Now I realize that both mom and I were naive. Some parents do not love their own children.

Parents mistreat and sometime kill their own flesh and blood. A mother drowns her toddlers or a father abuses them. Regardless of the crime or which parent does it, children are not safe in the very place they should be the most secure — with their parents. While psychologists blame it on a power trip or trapped feelings, taking out frustration on a child is not love.

We tend to say hate is the opposite of love yet the Bible indicates God’s love is less of an emotion than a decision to do right. Hate is simply not doing it or doing the opposite. Besides hurting others, doing wrong is also disobedience to God. It was through the disobedience of the first two people, that sin entered the world.

After Adam and Eve sinned, they did continue to care for their children, but the effects of sin soon began to take their toll. Their oldest son, Cain, murdered his younger brother, Abel.

Within a few generations, the entire human race was so sinful that “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” At that, the Bible says, “The Lord was grieved that He had made man . . . and His heart was filled with pain.”

Child abandonment, neglect and abuse is sin but since God says everyone has been affected by sin, then everyone needs the cure, whether they commit this sin or not. The cure is redemption.

God cures sin through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We cannot cure ourselves but we have a part in it. We must recognize we are sick. We must repent or turn from our sin to God. We must also believe in the Great Physician, Jesus Christ and that through Him, God forgives our sin and will cure us of it.

The last book of the Old Testament shows how redemption specifically applies to child abuse. There, God promised to send a prophet who would “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.” Later, this promise was fulfilled when the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would be this prophet. He became known as John the Baptist.

John called people to turn from their sin toward God and make themselves ready for the coming Redeemer. This Redeemer would forgive them and change their lives. He would turn the hearts of both fathers and mother back to their children.

Social programs educate and urge family members to love each other, but these efforts, even with good intentions, do not do the job that is accomplished through redemption. These programs hope to turn behavior around, but faith in Jesus Christ turns hearts.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Blame it on the Brain? .......... Parables 641

May 26, 1999

In the senior’s lodge where my mother lives, some of the residents become sweeter with age while others turn more sour. At one time, their temperaments may have been polite and uncomplaining but as they grow older, they become rude, grouchy and even mean. Most of the time, dementia is blamed but is that a valid diagnosis?

Edward T. Welch in his book, “Blame It on the Brain?” says it is possible to distinguish between the symptoms of brain disorders (such as dementia) and simple disobedience to the commands of God and conscience.

He makes a strong case. He says it is fact that a person’s spirit cannot be diseased by mental illnesses or problems like aging or brain injuries. While temptations and the ability to function normally are challenged, the inner person can not only still resist these challenges but can also continue to grow spiritually.

Welch explains that the “heart” talked about in the Bible is not a mental or physical organ. It is that inner life spark that can hear and respond to God. He gives Scripture references and many examples to show that disorders of the brain, including Alzheimer’s Disease, Attention Deficit Disorder and mental retardation do not change that ability.

According to this well thought-out and researched book, the morals and attitudes of people do not change as their brain deteriorates or is under stresses of any kind. Rather, the challenges these people face (just like those anyone encounters) bring out what is already in the heart. That is, if a person secretly curses God, a mental problem will expose their secret.

I see the positive side of this in my mother. She became a Christian as a young woman. As her mental deterioration began, she was no longer able to pretend any attitudes she did not have. However, she also learned to bring the sinful emotions and responses to God. This life-time habit continued, even as Alzheimer’s began to steal her memory so she is becoming sweeter as she ages. The Spirit of God is evidently a part of her heart.

The Bible talks about these things in 2 Corinthians 4. The Apostle Paul explains that a Christian has a treasure in a jar of clay. The treasure is Christ; the clay our frail bodies.

God demonstrates His power in us, even in our weaknesses and difficulties. No matter how he was crushed, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down, he did not despair, feel abandoned, nor become destroyed. His spirit remained strong.

Paul also said he carried around in his body both the death of Christ (for his sins) and the life of Christ so the world can see that Jesus is still alive. Then he said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away (referring to our bodies), yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

The inner person or the spirit was not affected by the trials of his life. In fact, that inner life was growing because it was united to the eternal life of Christ. Nothing could change that for Paul, nor can anything change it for those who believe in Christ as he did.

Sometimes Christians suffer disorders related to their brain: head injury, dementia, depression and so on, but God’s promises and power are able to give us all we need to live godly lives. Instead of blaming a bad attitude on a mental condition or chemical imbalance, we can take responsibility for it and then by the power of God be freed from it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

No weeds? .......... Parables 640

July 27, 1999

Dag Hammarskjold, diplomat and former Secretary General of the UN once said, “You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.”

A modern Chinese proverb says the same thing using another analogy: “Forbidden fruit creates many jams.”

In a world of continual change, a few things stand firm. One is the truth that folly will impact our lives — just as untended weeds will ruin our rose garden.

Folly can seem harmless at first. An army officer was out hunting with his friends. While pausing for a rest, he thought he would create some excitement so touched a match to some dry grass. Within minutes the entire area was ablaze, and the men were powerless to stop it. Flames, fanned and driven by a strong wind, raged rapidly across the prairie burning thousands of acres of land, homes, buildings and countless head of livestock. But it seemed so harmless.

Folly can seem to be a quick fix for a problem, such as cheating on exams. Students who do it either fear failure or simply want a shortcut to success. They may get away with this folly for their term finals but in the trials of life, the lessons they borrowed without learning for themselves will be repeated. One way or another, life has a way of showing cheaters that dishonest shortcuts produce painful regrets.

Another folly is called “casual love” or what started out in the 60's as “free” sex. In those days, it seemed harmless and without consequence but today, in the United States in one day, over 25,000 people contract a sexually transmitted disease, or about 10 million a year. One state (Illinois) spends over 800 million dollars dealing with the effects of illicit sex. The entire nation spends billions. So much for “free” sex.

If that is not enough jam from that forbidden fruit, one statistician says that more babies are born in one year in the 90's with birth defects because of sexually transmitted disease than all the babies affected by polio during the epidemic of the 50's.

Another related folly is adultery. Marriages, families and the tender hearts of children are torn apart because someone gave in to their hunger. That folly may keep lawyers employed, but no one can claim these are positive results. Our nation’s strong family norm slowly deteriorates, replaced by one-parent homes struggling to survive.

These jams are not the lot of common people either. Royalty can fall into folly too. One evening, when King David of Israel should have been in the fields with his army, he instead gazed out over his city and saw on a nearby rooftop, a beautiful woman enjoying her evening bath. His desire led to adultery then later to murder, as he arranged for the woman’s husband to be killed in battle. From his position of power, he thought no one would know or find out — but he forgot about God.

God revealed David’s plot to a prophet named Nathan. Nathan confronted the king, and just as the Bible says, his sin “found him out.” As another prophet said, “Woe to the wicked. Disaster is upon them. They will be paid back for what their hands have done.”

No forbidden fruit is exempt from disastrous consequences. Hammarskjold stands with Scripture. Both oppose the foolish idea that we can sow wild oats without harvesting an unwanted crop. As the Chinese affirm, no one can taste, eat or even steal forbidden fruit without getting themselves in a sticky and unpalatable jam.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Who takes the blame? .......... Parables 639

May 11, 1999

After two shootings in as many weeks, most of us are in shock and grieving, not entirely objective. Few actually knew these children or the families that are involved. Most were not there and glad of it, yet everyone has an opinion about who to blame, about whose fault it was.

Parents are almost always first to take the flack. They are either too strict, or too lenient, or not there, or not in touch with their kids, or the child was beaten or deprived. Yet how can we explain a child murderer if that child’s parents were loving, concerned and did their best? As John Kindred’s column (April 27) pointed out, children from good homes sometimes turn out bad.

Also consider God, the perfect parent. He provided an ideal environment (including work and responsibility) for His children, yet Adam and Eve decided to disobey Him. Their choice adversely affected the entire human race yet no one blames God for their failure.

What about education? Were the children with the guns taught how to manage their lives? Their anger? Didn’t these rebellious teens know the harm they could do, the lives they could ruin? Whether they knew or not, or were taught or not, education can hardly be blamed. Statistics show that the nations with the highest standards of education also have the highest crime rates. Also, any parent knows you can teach it but that does not mean they learn it.

Are these shootings the government’s fault? Legislators try. They bring in gun controls, beef up the Young Offenders Act, but it doesn’t seem to work. In fact, most researchers say that gun control or lack of it, does not affect the incidents of violence. I suppose if an angry person with murder in mind cannot obtain a gun, he or she could use a baseball bat or a big rock.

A radio talk show highlighted the responsibility of the media and pointed fingers. They cited statistics about rising crime rates in countries that feature violence in their movies, TV shows and other media. Certainly what we see and hear affects us, otherwise advertisers would not spend billions of dollars for time and space to promote their products. Also, media moguls should be held responsible for any garbage they produce, but, are they responsible for what we do with their garbage? That is like blaming Madison Avenue every time we make a poor purchase.

Certainly violence in the media sells a “product” but only to those who are in the mood to buy it. We do not buy every item we see on television. We do not go to war simply because we see it on film or in a news clip. After seeing and hearing it all, we are still free to make choices.

When we make decisions, no one can coerce or influence us without our consent. How we choose is based on our wants, likes, dislikes, knowledge, perception, the strength of the hype, and a host of other things, nevertheless, we are still free to choose. God granted us that freedom, His laws are designed around it, and He will not violate it Himself. He has the power to make us do what He wants but instead says, “Choose this day whom you will serve . . .”

Has it occurred to anyone that the two boys in Littleton and the other in Taber shot other children because they choose to? Years ago, they were babies with parents who made decisions for them, but as they grew, they began to decide for themselves. They picked what shirts to wear, what color they wanted their rooms, what subjects to take in school. They were bright, intelligent young people, who one day decided to do an evil thing.

Too many people will not accept responsibility for their own choices and their own outbursts. Just think how often people say, “You make me so mad” as if they had no choice. As a result, when someone does anything wrong, they blame everyone else but the person who did it.

God clearly says that those who choose to disobey Him will “eat the fruit of their ways.” Ironically, by choosing that fruit, those three boys (like Adam and Eve before them) ruined many lives too. My deepest sympathy to those who mourn in Colorado and Alberta.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Filling up on Faith? .......... Parables 638

May 4, 1999

A sign outside a church reads, “Running low on faith? Stop in for a fill-up.”

That sign is catchy but somewhat misleading. It makes faith sound like a commodity or like a battery that loses its charge. While a trip to church could restore a person’s faltering faith, faith is not something we can pour into our hearts like we pour gasoline into our cars.

Biblical faith is believing or trusting God. It is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It is trust but also describes an inner knowing. That is, faith is positive that God is real, that He loves me, that He never lies to me, and that He keeps His promises.

Sometimes circumstances talk louder than God and then our faith can falter. We wonder if He still controls our lives or is even interested in what happens to us. Faith can plummet when a loved one dies, our business fails, we lose our job, or our child is hit by a car. Tragedies like these not only test our faith but can sometimes mock it.

A man named Job is an ultimate example of a faith tested by tragedy. He lost his livestock, possessions, servants and family. Finally he lost his health. When his friends came to comfort him, they could not bear his agony very long. Instead of crying with him, they began to accuse him that all his problems must be his own fault.

Like Job’s friends, well-meaning people may suggest if you have enough faith, nothing bad will ever happen to you. You will never be sick or in financial trouble. Your family will be perfect and life will be wonderful. This is a delusion. God never defines strong faith by the quality of our circumstances. Besides Job, we can find a New Testament example in Hebrews 11. Here, people of faith are commended. Because of his faith, Abel offered God an acceptable sacrifice. By the same faith, Noah built an ark to save his family from judgment. By faith, Abraham packed up his family and all his possessions at God’s command and set out for a destination he did not know.

These biblical heroes offer some positive experiences but not all of their experience were positive. Abel had faith, but he was murdered by his brother Cain. Noah had faith but his neighbors ridiculed him for building an ark. Abraham was called the “father of faith” yet he died without ever seeing the land God promised him and his descendants, the land he was headed for.

God measures our faith not by our situation, but by whatever we put it in. If we trust ourselves, He looks beyond the amount of self-confidence we have and sees our strengths and weaknesses. He knows we are not able to do for ourselves what He can do for us. If we trust people, He looks beyond our loyalty and devotion, realizing that almost everyone we know will fail us in one way or another. He knows other people cannot do for us what He can do.

God Himself is the only one worthy of our trust. That is why He encourages us to place our faith in Him. However, it is logical that whenever we take our eyes off His power, wisdom and goodness, or when we forget His promises, our faith will take a nosedive. It is not that God has changed but that we have stopped trusting Him. We could say our faith-tank is empty.

How can we start trusting again? How can we be filled with faith? Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

This means that the only way to refuel our faith tank is through reading and hearing God’s revelation of Himself, given to us in the Bible. As we do that, faith, which is actually a gift from Him, begins to grow.

Further, faith is not like gasoline that is depleted by use. Instead, using faith actually makes it stronger. As we trust God, we discover His worth and trust Him more. A good church can help us make those discoveries by directing us toward God and His Word. Once we know He is true, we can exercise our faith by sharing it with others and by giving it back to Him in worship. If we do that, it will never run low.