Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gender differences .......... Parables 679

August 8, 2000

A friend of mine related a touching moment after his grown daughter had left home. She came back to tell him how insecure she felt, then cried on his shoulder. He remarked, “Even after they leave home, you never stop being a parent.”

Some human needs seem to be universal. Who doesn’t want to be significant and needed? Who doesn’t want a sense of security?

Gender differences is a controversial and blurry area but the issue of significance seems more a priority for men while security seems to be a stronger need in the hearts of women.

Some think that men and women are alike from birth and conditioned to behave differently as they grow up. Traditionally, girls were given dolls and boys played with trucks; girls were allowed emotions and boys told not to cry. Others are less concerned with the origin of those differences and more determined to eliminate them. They say men ought to stay at home with the children; women can provide the primary income. Others propose that two men or two women can be the “parents” and eliminate from a couple relationship the other gender entirely.

The Bible account sheds light on these theories. The creation story starts with God noticing that “it is not good for the man to be alone.” He created woman as a suitable mate for him. He said, “a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” God intended a united couple, one man and one woman.

But even with that in place, the differences mess up unity. For one thing, both want to be the boss. (Be honest; you know it’s true!) This is enough conflict in itself, never mind that men and women have different ideas how to do things and often misunderstand each other.

The differences were not supposed to cause problems. God knew men needed a mate suitable for them, to help them where they need help. For instance, women nurture more easily; for many it is second nature. Many men are less interested in relationships and more concerned with their work and earning a living.

However, instead of letting these differences cause conflict, God wanted gender interdependence. In my friends situation, the daughter’s need for security and the father’s need for significance came together. They illustrate, at least for me, that gender differences do not mean that we have to fight over who is the best or who is the most powerful but that we can be what the other person needs.

The Bible says God created us both in His likeness. Even though we are male or female, we are like God by creation. That likeness has been marred by our rebellion against Him, yet God has offered redemption. He promises that those who come to Him for salvation from sin will receive a new nature.

In fact, God has offered us eternal life and, “This life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

With the life of Christ we have the beginning of that restored image and getting along with the opposite gender is made easier. The complexities do not disappear nor the challenges of figuring out the differences, yet the Spirit of Christ produces a unity that is otherwise impossible. This unity is no based on being exactly the same but having the same desires and goals: to live in Christian harmony and together reflect the image of our Creator.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Want to be loved? .......... Parables 678

July 25, 2000

We watch her weave a spell as she makes new friends. They are mesmerized by her stories. Every word she says captivates their attention. Little do they know that most of what she tells them is exaggerated and some are outright lies.

Getting to know this person showed me the power of our human need to be loved. In her case, she was not sure. Her mother had been married twice. She had been a pampered child but now in her teens, she was expected to drop the “cute stuff” and act more grown up. This seemed to make her insecure about her family’s affections. Did a change from being the center of attention to acting more “responsible” mean she was no longer loveable?

Driven by insecurity, this young woman becomes a story teller. She spins yarns that take her listeners out of their ordinary existence and makes her fantasies their fantasies — only they sound true. She may even believe her own lies, but that is unlikely.

We caught her a few times, mostly in the details. She mentioned swimming near a particular kind of shark, a variety we knew does not live in the waters where she swam. She told about meeting famous people, or about knowing skills she does not possess. When we questioned her details, she “adjusted” her story and kept right on spinning.

Our goal was convincing her that we love her, no matter what. After a few days, she relaxed. She also stopped telling stories. She seemed to realize that they were not necessary, at least around us.

Jesus met a woman who felt the same need for love and also looked for it in the wrong places. She’d been married five times and currently lived with someone. She seemed ostracized because she went alone during the noon hour for water when other women went early in the day. Perhaps she feared their condemnation.

When Jesus talked to her, she was amazed. Jews never talked to women or to her kind; she was a Samaritan (half-breed Jew and Gentile). Besides, she had a bad reputation and His was flawless.

Jesus wanted her to know that God loves her but how would He get past years of low self-esteem? Just speaking to her helped, but He also asked questions and persisted when she avoided straight answers. He told her He knew how many times she had been married and yet treated her with respect. She wanted to hear more.

He told her how to get living water, the kind that bubbles up into eternal life. She wanted that too. Amazed at this man and His good news, she dropped her water pot and ran to tell everyone in her village to come and hear Him for themselves.

God does love us. The Bible says “God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

He didn’t wait until we cleaned up our act. In fact, He died for us before we were even born. He knew then that our lives would fall short of His glory. He also knew we would need proof that His love is based on what He is, not on what we are or do. We cannot pretend to be anything other than we are before God because we don’t need to.

Our part is to simply be honest, admit our short comings and fears, acknowledge our sins. His love is experienced by those who trust Him, believing He wants the best for us. We can see it first in the sacrifice made on the cross for our sakes.

Human love is a powerful force yet so often it produces dependance on our feelings or makes us objects for imperfect people who want us to measure up to their expectations. God’s love depends only on God and as long as He is God, that love is firm.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Staying Healthy .......... Parables 677

July 18, 2000

Hard physical work leaves me stiff and sore but after a week of not doing any hard work, I am stiff and sore anyway. My body demands some TLC. I try a warm-up, some light exercises, a walk, and some stretching. It really helps. “Use it or lose it” is definitely true when it comes to flexibility and muscle tone. A body needs exercise.

There are several ways to keep physically fit. We realize the value of a good diet, rest and exercise, but do we know how much our emotions affect our body?

For instance, love produces endorphins and a sense of health, but anger reduces our white blood cell count, making us more susceptible to illness. God may have had more in mind than our spiritual health when He said, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

Other sins affect our body too. First Corinthians says, “He who sins sexually sins against his own body.” Widespread venereal disease and AIDS prove the physical harm caused from disregarding what the Bible says about sexual purity. But any sin can affect our health. Israel’s King David, wrote Psalm 38 as a prayer. He was not specific about his sin but very specific about the harm it caused his body:

“Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin . . . . My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly . . . . My back is filled with searing pain . . . . I am feeble and utterly crushed . . . . My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.”

My body experiences negative changes from guilt also. I am fatigued, sad, unable to concentrate or be creative, and sometimes I get sick.

While not all illness is related to unconfessed sin, the Bible tells us to consider it. James 5 says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

This passage offers a spiritual cause for some illnesses. It also offers a cure. Deal with the sin by confession because it promotes healing.

Confession simply means to agree with God. If He says we have done something wrong or evil and have broken His law, we need to acknowledge that what He says is true and right.

However, verbal confession is not a panacea or a magic formula based on the words we say because God is not a genie we rub with the right words every time we want something. He knows our hearts and the reasoning behind what we do. Our words must come from a genuine sense of guilt and a heartfelt need for forgiveness. He looks for sincerity before He “forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.”

If sin prevents full health, my body may be healed through confession, but it is not made perfect. No matter how well I take care of myself, my body will always have some limitations. Yet I do have hope. Someday “Those who are of the earth will bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”

God promises those who trust in Jesus Christ that they will someday have a body like His resurrected body. Sin and death will no longer have power to drag us into illness. Anger will no longer affect our white count. We will be delivered from it and from every other limitation of living in a sinful world in these imperfect bodies.

In the meantime, eat right, drink lots of water, get good exercise and rest, and trust in the Lord with all your heart; it is good for a body.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Can I really be anything I want to be? .......... Parables 676

July 4, 2000

Many people, myself included, mourn the death of Grant McEwan. While I never met him, the stories about him made him familiar. He was not only well-known but widely admired and respected. Someone wondered about this admiration, and questioned if others thought so highly of this man, why is no one willing to follow his footsteps or imitate his high standards?

We react thinking not everyone can be like him. Besides, we need our heros. Remember our teen idols and switching from one to another? In most cases, such adoration did nothing for the idol (unless it sold products and built their bank account) but it must have done something for us who adored them, like give us an ego boost.

A person I know often mentions many “wonderful, kind” people she knows, but after hearing this many times, it is easy to see that she does not hold up their virtue as much as point out that she knows them. For her, knowing exceptional people somehow boosts her self-esteem.

Part of becoming an exceptional person does include a healthy self-image. Some say anyone can be “anything they want to be” as long as they think they can. Is that right? Can any person become a Grant McEwan?

Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking” said so. I was in my early twenties when my father talked about this book and its concepts. I remember telling him I could think positive all I wanted but it would never make me an opera singer.

Dad had to agree (he likely overheard my squawks from the shower). Some things are beyond some people. Positive thinking cannot overcome certain limitations and being a hero is far more difficult than worshiping one. We can sing along with our favorite music stars but that is not the same as having a hit tune.

Reaching the top of any chart requires personal discipline, hard work, and persistence. “Overnight successes” have behind them a history of untold effort. So would a good self-image and hard work enable an ordinary person to be a man like McEwan? Or did he have a secret others do not know? Maybe he did.

The Bible says that “all good things” come from God. McEwan was a professing Christian. Because of his faith, he had a divine source for the good things in his life.

He also could claim these verses from 2 Peter: “(God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, to that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

God makes His glory and goodness available to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ. Besides salvation from sin and eternal life, Christians have the nature of God added to their own nature. That does not make Christians perfect. Our own nature is still with us (the part that has those evil desires), yet the presence of His nature changes the way we live. With personal discipline, hard work, and persistence, we can live extraordinary lives.

McEwan was one of these. He disciplined himself with simple living and hard work, persisting in the virtues God gave him and went beyond making claims to live out God’s promises. Anyone who aspires to being a man like him can follow his footsteps — if they are willing to take the path that leads first to a Cross and the One who offers Himself to them. Then they can both say and prove it is true: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Monday, December 4, 2017

‘Doing’ does not save.......... Parables 675

June 27, 2000

Well-known evangelist, D. L. Moody was once asked, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?” Moody replied, “I’m sorry, it’s too late.”

Startled, the man asked, “Too late to be saved?”

Moody said, “No. It’s too late to do something.”

Moody did not know this man, had no idea what his life was like or how much of it was left. However, he did know what a person has to do to be saved.

The first question: saved from what? The man obviously knew that Moody was an evangelist, a person who has something to say about God. He may have known that Moody proclaimed the Gospel or “good news.” What he seemed unsure about was the content of that good news — that God forgives sin and grants eternal life to sinners by grace through faith.

Nearly thirty years ago, sin had me in more trouble than I ever expected or wanted. My life was chaotic; everything needed a miracle. I do not recall asking to be saved, but I knew I needed something and cried out to God.

God knew exactly what I needed. He also knew that I was helpless and unable to do anything to get out of my troubles. I needed to be saved, but first I had to hear the good news. He brought it to me in various ways: I read the Bible, and all sorts of other books. I went to church. Finally, I heard it: Jesus is God; He came to earth and put on human flesh so He could die for my sins; then He rose from the dead and offers eternal life to all who believe.

I believed it and when I did, I knew God forgave me and I belonged to Him. I knew that Jesus had come to live in my heart. He gave me eternal life and saved me from sin.

I remember the first time I read about a man who came to Jesus asking the same question as the man who came to Dr. Moody. He was young, wealthy, and in a position of power. If anyone could do anything to gain the favor of God and earn their salvation, this man could.

Jesus asked him about the commandments. The man said he kept them all. Then Jesus said he lacked one thing; he needed to go and sell all he had and follow Him. The man became very sad and walked away. He wanted eternal life but was not willing to pay that price for it.

Before believing the Gospel, I might have assumed this story meant salvation can be had through generous and sacrificial giving. However, I now see that interpretation contradicts other plainer passages. Jesus must have meant something beyond my initial assumption.

Jesus did tell the man to keep the Law but the New Testament clearly says that salvation does not come through keeping the law. Rather, it shows how the Law lays out God’s high standards and no one keeps it. We fall short and we need to be saved from our failure and sin.

This man claimed that he kept all the commandments but Jesus knew otherwise. By asking him to give up all his possessions, He showed the man that he did not keep the first one: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Instead, this man put money ahead of God. No one can earn salvation by giving their possessions away. The point Jesus makes is that rich folks like their money and even if something could be done to be saved, that man was not willing to do it.

Maybe some people are willing. They have a long list of things they “do for God” yet they miss the most important thing — what God has done for them. As the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Our puny efforts to do something for God go beyond being too little and too late; they insult the Giver. His salvation is a gift that we cannot earn, deserve, buy, find by a quest, or obtain by doing anything. As Moody implied, it is already there — waiting for us to receive it.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fight or Flee or...? .......... Parables 674

June 20, 2000

Our neighbor boys discovered a coyote in one of their grain bins. Ignoring any danger, they waved sticks and shouted at the critter who cowering in a corner. Finally the coyote dashed past them, tail between its legs, determined to escape. The boys hooted and called themselves brave.

For humans and animals both, threatening situations produces a response. Adrenalin begins to flow. The mind makes a choice: do we pick up a stick? Or look for the nearest exit?

For the boys, fighting was brandishing since that coyote was more afraid of them then they of it. In other situations, fighting might mean actual combat. However, it often takes another form. If we chose to stick around, we might resist with noise, anger, anxiety and determination.

This week, I fought using all four. I talked a lot. I got mad. I worried and chewed on my situation trying to figure out what to do about it. I determined how to win. But nothing worked. All I got out of it was a headache, a sore neck, and fatigue. Fighting is hard work. In my case, the hard work would have been worth it had I won, but I wound up fighting a foe bigger than myself. It didn’t start that way but my battle was against God.

No wonder I was worn out. Someone told me that beating your head against the wall uses 150 calories an hour. Imagine the calorie burn from fighting the Almighty. I should have lost weight as well as sleep and peace of mind.

From this experience, I realized some realities. First, it is true that the person losing the argument is the one who does the most talking. The more I slipped into second place, the more I tried verbal defense, but it didn’t work.

Second, it is not wrong to be angry but it is wrong to let anger motivate sin. Someone lied about me and lied to me. I was hot. God gets angry at lies (He is Truth so He can do that) and since He lives in me, some of that anger may have been His. What I did wrong was call down fire on the other person. I judged him, accused him, and if I could have reached his neck, I might have rattled his teeth. Not a godly response to lies. Besides exhaustion, this added fuel to the situation.

Anxiety didn’t help either. I worried myself stiff over this. How would other people react to these lies? Would they believe them? Would the lies hurt others? What could I do to stop this person? How should I defend myself? I plotted (not hard for a writer) but the ending eluded me. Determination might do it for some people, but without a cool head, a reasonable solution, and any energy, my resolve was rapidly shriveling. Besides, God reminded me of a few things.

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” My dad often told me there is a reason we have two ears and one mouth, and that no one can listen and talk at the same time. To really hear God and His solution, I had to shut up.

“In your anger, do not sin: do not let the sun go down while your are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Anger may be justified but it needs to be resolved quickly, not nursed. By persisting in it, I pushed God aside and let my enemy confuse the issue with more lies.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

My tension started to dissolve when I began to thank God for allowing this to happen, and for His promise to use it for good in my life. As my determination to fix things or get even faded, it was replaced by prayer for the one who upset me. At that, I was presented with another of God’s mysteries; I could think about the incident yet not feel upset. I do not understand how that works but it sure beats having a headache.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Our deepest needs .......... Parables 673

June 6, 2000

Ramona (not her real name) started drinking as a young adult. She wanted to be an important person and thought she was not. This plus other challenges overwhelmed her. Alcohol provided an escape — for a little while.

She married late. Her husband was not the easiest man to live with and she felt it was her fault. Her drinking continued. They had two children who were her constant delight, but as they grew, being a wife and mother became less fulfilling. She wanted to be more important, to be wealthy and included in an upper income social group. She tried to buy her way up but her expensive taste and extravagant spending put a strain on the family budget and her marriage. Both fell apart.

Ramona was forced to find a part time job. It was barely adequate. Her increasing need to belong and to impress people demanded more money. Finally, she figured out a way to “borrow” it from her employer. She was caught, prosecuted, and convicted. Most people think that the Bible says money is the root of all evil, but the actual quote is: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” In Ramona’s case, that love destroyed her health, and her marriage and family.

Also, that love of money had a root of its own. Ramona needed to feel accepted and significant. She mistakenly thought both these needs could be satisfied by other people and when they were not, the second mistake was trying to use money to gain the recognition she craved.

Money is not the only thing we latch on to as the answer to these two human needs. Some think being attractive will do it. Leaf through any women’s magazine and look at the advertising. Nearly all of it appeals to a desire to be beautiful. That should make us more important.

Another ticket to acceptance and significance is achievement. It will buy applause, awards, a raise in pay, an increase in status, even a page in Who’s Who. This works at least for some people. But then we hear stories from athletes or the wealthy telling how their fame and fortune brings only fleeting blessings.

Despite the stories, Ramona felt money would fix her problem. Others would say all they need is a better body, a higher score, a more prestigious job, something more or better — and that would be enough to make to give them that sense of acceptance and significance they are looking for; however, God says not. He says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.”

What looks like it will work is not what will work. Not everyone will wind up in jail like Ramona, but pursuing money, beauty, fame, or any temporary status can only provide a temporary sense of significance. Wouldn’t we rather have something permanent?

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” While He was talking about food and clothing, the principle applies to far more. God is eager to give us all we need. We block Him from doing it by our futile search to find it everywhere else but in Him. Only God loved us “while we were still sinners” and only God gave us significance by sending His Son to die in our place. We do not have to work for, or do anything, to gain that kind of divine acceptance and status. Both come from His love and from the price tag He placed on our lives.

Whatever might happen to our finances, fame or face, how God feels about us and what He has done for us will never change. It is in Christ that we can find that lasting sense of being loved and valued. He invites us to turn away from the folly of seeking it elsewhere and know the freedom of finding it in Him.