Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Addictions and mind games? ............. Parables 745

February 26, 2002

Our friend, a doctor, says he loves working with people who have addictions because “treating them is a game.” He explains that an addict will eventually agree to treatment, but only because he secretly thinks he can get out of it. This doctor likes to “out-manipulate” addicts and “put them in a position of giving up their will.”

Does this treatment succeed? Perhaps some people are freed from addictions, but I’m not sure anyone actually gives up their will. God gave us freedom to make choices and unless physically forced or chemically induced, our will is too strong to easily take from us. Perhaps some would say this doctor is doing a bit of “god-playing” with his treatment. He backs the addict into a corner leaving only one clear option. The patient sees he must choose cooperation and abandon his addiction. Or is “god-playing” an appropriate term? Does God work like that?

In the New Testament book of Romans, the Apostle Paul talks about some who commit gross kinds of sin. He explains in chapter one how “God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts” and “to a depraved mind.” He explains how consequences are a “due penalty for their perversion.”

In other words, if a person wants to persist in doing wrong, God will not necessarily interfere. In fact, He might pull back all help and let that person become totally addicted to their sin. This is one opportunity He gives us to change our minds about doing things His way. He lets us find out that our way does not work.

Why would God do let anyone become addicted? The passage gives some answers. First, letting people go into deep sin is a revelation of His wrath. If people reject God and the dangers of sin and “suppresses the truth by their wickedness,” God reveals the results of their rejection: they become slaves to the very thing they wanted the freedom to do.

A second reason is that God makes Himself known to everyone through creation. The passage says, “ . . . what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

It goes on to explain that some, “although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Rejection of God’s revelation brings blindness to spiritual truth. In that darkness, people succumb to habits and substances that become their gods. These sins bind them like slaves.

How does God release people from that bondage? In this case, those who are enslaved by an addiction can start loosening their chains by acknowledging God as Creator. As they do, they must also admit that He has a claim on their lives.

Another thing an addict can do is be thankful, not only for life and its good things but also for their problems. Even though they used an addiction to escape from them, these problems can be a driving force in a better direction — to God instead of to their habit.

God does not play mind-games. We cannot accuse Him of manipulation. He knows how to pull desperate people out of the clutches of an addiction. The human side is to recognize and admit helplessness, even admit being out of control and not wanting to stop. Then can call to God for help. God’s part is not backing people into a corner — we get there ourselves. Instead, He hears our cry for help and gladly works in us — making us to not only want His will but also setting us free so we can do it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A hiding place ............. Parables 744

February 12, 2002

Little Beth likes to hide from her mother. She crawls under a bed or behind the clothes in a closet and almost holds her breath when she hears her mother looking for her. This cute behavior is not so cute when the family is shopping. Beth finds a rack of clothes or a counter and crawls in to hide. Her parents become frantic. No matter how much they call or what they say, Beth sits quietly until they discover her hiding place.

When my children were small, they often ran ahead of me. No matter how I called, they kept going, but when I turned and began walking the other direction, they panicked. Instead of continuing to tease me, they became fearful. They thought I was leaving them so turned around and ran as fast as they could to catch up to me.

Supposedly, we are born with only two fears: falling and loud noises. If it were not for children like Beth, we could add the fear of abandonment. Nevertheless, this fear might not be innate, but most of us pick it up fairly soon.

Actually, fearing that people will abandon us has a positive potential. For one thing, it motivates us to build close relationships. We do not want to be left alone. Our nature as human beings tends toward gregariousness. We may learn to fear people and fear being hurt, but we still want to draw close to others. Even Beth loves the care and attention her parents give her.

Adam and Eve enjoyed a close relationship with each other too. The Bible says they were “naked and not ashamed.” They had nothing to fear so they never hid anything from each other. They also had a close, fearless relationship with God, but that was before sin entered the picture. After that, they were afraid of God. Genesis tells how it happened and how they tried to hide from Him.

The rest of Scripture shows how we have playing that same game since Eden. On one hand, we want to bring ourselves, our problems and our sins to the only One who truly accepts us as we are. On the other hand, we do not want His help us with our problems nor do we want to admit we have sin and need forgiveness, so we hide from God.

The hiding places are imaginative. Some people decide God does not exist, making Him easy to avoid; for them, He is not real. Like children, they shut their eyes and think that makes them invisible and God too. Others hide by saying God does not care, so they can dismiss their sin, or rename it. They are free to do whatever they wish. If He is not concerned, why should they care?

People hide behind masks too. Pretend I am strong; I don’t need help. Pretend I am righteous; I don’t need grace. Pretend I never make mistakes; I don’t need forgiveness. Or pretend I am religious . . .

All religious systems have rules and keeping them supposedly pleases God. Hiding in a religion makes us appear to be close to God and if we can pick a religion with rules compatible to our comfort zone, we can hide from God and yet not appear to be hiding.

The gospel unmasks and uncovers our hiding places, even the religious ones. It says no one is saved by good deeds, rule-keeping, or being “saintly” because God is not impressed. He sees the heart and His standard is Christ. Do we dare measure ourselves against Jesus?

None of what we do either brings us into a relationship with Him or hides us from Him. As the psalmist says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”

Instead of hiding from Him, God invites us to hide in Him. Lord, my favorite chorus combines two verses from Your Word: “You are my hiding place, You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance, whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You . . .”

Like a loving parent, He never stops longing for us to stop running away and come to Him. Regardless of whatever we fear or want to cover up, we can hide ourselves in His love.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Responding to bad news ............. Parables 743

February 5, 2002

We lost touch for the past few years so an old friend’s letter came as a welcome surprise. However, her news is not good. The letter read like the experiences of Job, a biblical patriarch who lost his family, possessions and health. My friend has lost her health to the point she cannot enjoy her possessions, and sadly, her family has been in one mess after another.

What can I say to my friend? I thought of the three friends who came to comfort Job. At first, they were so overcome by his situation that they could not say anything. I feel like that. But I need to reply and no matter what I say, I want to avoid the next thing Job’s friends did; they began telling him that he must have done something wrong to deserve this. They reasoned that God never punishes the righteous.

Maybe these accusations were an attempt to sort out their own theology. Maybe they were trying to relieve their sense of helplessness. But whatever their reasons, Job knew that his friends were wrong. He was not disobeying God when these tragedies struck. Job didn’t claim to be sinless, but he knew that when God chastens anyone for a particular sin, that person knows what it is. When God puts us under His thumb, we are not left in the dark. We realize we deserve at least a good slap or some other consequences.

After a series of speeches between his friends and himself, Job finally lashes out at them but to no avail. They insist that he must have done something to deserve what happened to him.

Finally, God speaks. He rebukes Job for forgetting how great God is, but never explains why he was tested. Instead, God commends his integrity and that Job “spoke rightly.” In other words, the devastating events were not a result of any particular disobedience. Bad things happen to good people.

Back to my friend. She does not know God. He has been left out of her life by her choice. Some people might tell her if she turned to God those bad things would not have happened to her. I cannot tell her that. I know the story of Job. Furthermore, I don’t want to be a “Job’s comforter.”

Also, I cannot promise her that if she turns to God now, He will fix it. God does not promise us a walk in the roses or any other kind of garden. Life cannot, and will not, be perfect. If she were upset, I could hug her but I cannot send her to God with a blank cheque.

So what benefit is there to being a Christian? Job believed in God and got smucked. My friend does not believe and she got smucked too. This is a huge question but perhaps the answer lies in the fact that we assume too much.

We assume uncomfortable is bad and comfortable equals good. A careful reading of Scripture shows that sometimes, in the mind of God, “good” is bad and “bad” is good. Besides, God can use any situation to transform our lives and make us more like Jesus, no matter how we might label it. His reasons are holy and good, even if we cannot figure them out.

However, there are benefits to being a Christian. Believers are never alone. We are often awed by God’s power. He may remove us from trouble or take trouble away from us but more often, He takes us through it. He teaches us to respond in faith rather than with anger, despair or hopelessness.

Since my friend reported her circumstances much like a news story, I don’t know if she is bitter or overwhelmed. I don’t know if she is trusting God or has her fist in His face. Before I assume and open my mouth, I better remember Job’s foolish friends and find out.

Lord, You say, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Help me be a benefit to my friend. Give me right words to say to her, and keep me from assuming anything. Amen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

No fears? ............. Parables 742

January 29, 2002

“I’m not afraid of anything,” boasted the redhead. She planted her hands on her hips and defied all comers.

It was only a television movie, but this line is repeated many times everyday by children on the playground, teens trying to impress their peers, and adults who are certain they can conquer whatever comes at them. But everyone is afraid of at least two things. We are born with a fear of falling and of loud noises. All other fears are acquired.

Is fear bad? Not always. We tell our children to look both ways before crossing the street. We want them to be afraid of getting hit by a car. We run if we see a charging wild animal and would hide if a gunman appeared. We are afraid of walking on thin ice or touching a hot stove.

Those fears are normal, even wise, but pushed to excess, fear can be debilitating. In the movie “Secret Garden,” a child’s care givers feared he would become ill and die so they kept him in bed all the time. Their fear almost ruined his life.

Real wild animals can be dangerous but only if they are real. Proverbs 26:13 tells us, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets.’” Fear (real or feigned) keeps a lazy person from going about his business. A friend tells me she cannot go on bridges or even escalators. She is terrified of heights and falling. Taking a normal fear to this extreme prevents normal living.

This kind of enslaving fear started in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve began life there they “were both naked, and they felt no shame.” They walked in open communion with God and each other. After they disobeyed God’s one command and ate forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they hid from God. When God called to them, Adam replied, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Their disobedience produced shame. The man and woman no longer felt comfortable with God nor could they focus on Him and His care for them. They tried to solve their shame by covering themselves but it did not work. They became “slaves to sin,” unable to free themselves without the help of God. Their guilt also produced fear.

Other situations produce fear too. My mother-in-law is terrified of spiders. A neighbor is constantly afraid she will be robbed. A friend fears a terrorist attack. The list is long but, as with Adam and Eve, those who are overcome by fear have lost their focus on God and on His power to love and protect them. Whenever we commune with the Lord and maintain our awareness of His love and power, we cannot at the same time live in fear.

Those who have faith in Him also enjoy the security of His care. That does not mean problems disappear but faith does banish our fear. As the psalmist says, we cry out to God and “He delivers us from all our fears” (Psalm 34:4).

The Bible also says, “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.”

Fear can protect us but when we allow it to rule our lives, we become its prisoner. Thank God that He can give us His perfect peace and set us free from the enslaving power of fear.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Be careful what you ask for! ............. Parables 741

 January 15, 2002

During a television interview, Billy Graham’s daughter Ann was asked how God could let the September 11th terrorist attacks happen.

She responded, “I believe that God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, get out of our government and get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe that He calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand that He leave us alone?”

While this rightly points at the guilt of those who reject God, does God protect and bless only those who invite Him into their lives?

In one sense, no. He blesses everyone. The Bible says God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” One does not have to invite God into their lives to enjoy many of His blessings. They are simply part of our life. That being said, those who welcome God do enjoy special blessings. However, they are not what most people would guess or expect.

The confusion lies with His promises. In contradiction to some television preachers, God does NOT promise financial overflows, total health and well-being, or a life free of pain and trouble. Let’s not forget that Christians also died in those terrorist attacks. However, God does promise major blessings to His people. For instance, He promises His presence. He says, “I will never leave you or forsake you” and “I am with you always.”

He also offers the fruit of His Holy Spirit to those who live obediently in His presence. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”

A third blessing is deep fellowship with others who know Him: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” God living in me is able to commune with God living in other believers. The unity of that communion bridges all ages, races, cultures and denominations. When we enjoy fellowship, it is as if we have “always known” each other.

Another huge blessing is answered prayer. While God may say “no” or “wait,” He also says “yes” and does it in ways that we have no doubt He heard our requests. Imagine the sovereign God of the universe listens to our cries for help!

By far the greatest blessing is the assurance of eternal life. “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has given 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.”

This is not the life that can be snuffed out by terrorists. It is a life that begins here with God through a simple invitation, then gives us what we need to go through whatever sorrow, pain or suffering this life might dish out. It then takes us beyond the grave and on into eternity to spend forever with Him.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What about clones? ............. Parables 740

December 25, 2001

Scientists now claim to have cloned a ‘human being.’ This is not as impressive as it first sounds. Their clone was not an exact duplicate of the cell donor as was “Dolly” the famous cloned sheep from Scotland. The best they could do was a human ‘embryo.’

An embryo is “an unborn or unhatched offspring in the process of development, especially an unborn human in the first eight weeks from conception.” If this clone was “developing,” it did not get very far — only six cells. In other words, it did not survive to the point of being visible.

These scientific gurus also fell short of their stated purpose for cloning. They hoped to produce stem cells but this tiny, six-celled mass did not have stem cell capacity within it. It could not form itself into various other cells required in a human being, such as brain, hair, muscle, etc. Without that ability, who knows what it might have become?

One wonders how this six-celled creation could be called a ‘human’ embryo. Many people will not tag ‘human’ on a eight-week old fetus even though it has fingers, toes and a heartbeat. They say an unborn child is not human — only a “blob of tissue.”

Creating a human from another human might become possible but even if science accomplishes this so-called feat, God will always stand far above our efforts. In the first place, He created a man from the dust of the ground. After breathing life into that man, He later put him to sleep and from his rib created a woman. Now that is an accomplishment!

Those who consider this story a myth have to dismiss God entirely or at least say He hasn’t any power. They are left with the theory that people evolved over millions of years from apes, and apes came from a lesser life, and lesser life evolved from a single cell that accidently appeared as atoms clashed in some primordial soup.

Granted, maybe faith in God is more difficult because if we believe in Him, we must also believe and acknowledge that we are no longer the perfect creatures that He initially created. Since pride is part of the reason we are no longer perfect, we struggle with that part of faith.

No problem for God. He knew we could not do it alone so He did something even more amazing than the creation of Adam and Eve; He Himself became a human so He could save us.

Until recent computer and film technology, I could not offer anything that compares to the Incarnation. God in human flesh? How can that be? Yet I “saw” a leopard become a person through the magic of morphing. Through the eyes of technology, one became the other.

In the case of God, He did not lose His own identity by morphing into a human being; He remained fully God. And the person that God became was nothing less than fully human, yet He was also fully God. Through the eyes of faith, we see Jesus “who being the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of God’s person. . . and by Himself purged our sins.”

The man, Jesus Christ, was totally human. He breathed, became hungry, thirsty, and tired, and ate, drank, and rested. He had emotions; He cried and laughed. He was intelligent and understood human needs. He had a will for He decided to obey His Father rather than yield to Satan’s temptations.

The man, Jesus Christ, was totally God also. He could see into the human heart and declare a person’s motivations. He was powerful — “even the wind and the sea obeyed Him.” He was also sinless, something true of deity only.

By taking on flesh, God did something unique. No one can duplicate His feat. We might be able to ‘create’ flesh but it would not be anything like Jesus Christ. Instead, the result will be more sinful people, just like ourselves. Why add more rebels to a world already filled with them?

Even stem cell research makes no sense. No matter what science comes up with to cure disease and prolong life, without a changed heart, living longer only adds more time for sin. Our real need is not duplication in triplicate but the salvation God offers us through the death and life of Jesus Christ, His remarkable clone.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Stuffed with too much stuff? ............. Parables 739

December 11, 2001

Norman Douglas says “You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.”

Take a look. Most of the ads in today’s media are for cars, alcoholic beverages, computer equipment, beauty products, clothes, household furniture, sports equipment, restaurants, life insurance, food and entertainment.

Translation? The ideals of our nation are those things that spell comfort, security, and the good life. Besides, marketing experts know how to appeal to our senses. If something tastes good, sounds good, looks good and feels good, it is a sure sale. Add the possibility of making an impression on the neighbors and consumers will line up and buy two.

Not that comfort or the good life is wrong. Our culture is well off and we should be thankful for what we have. However, our motivations are out of control. Instead of function or practicality, we opt for the biggest, the fastest, and the most expensive because these things will supposedly make us more popular, more powerful, more impressive.

More “stuff” does make some people happy, at least some of the time. I can remember my youthful desire for a big house. After moving twenty-eight times, I have a big house — but the desire is long gone. Besides, I no longer have my youthful energy to clean it!

Growing older makes a person realize that satisfaction with “stuff” soon flies away. The cosmetics work for a little while, but external beauty will not last. Clothes look good for a season but they soon wear out or go out of fashion.

Impressive achievements fare a little better yet soon someone else is in the limelight, just as a fancy car rapidly becomes last year’s model along with computers and other gizmos. No matter how up-to-date we are, the calendar keeps flipping to the next day, week, month, and year, leaving us wheezing in its dust.

Jesus knew we would have problems with “stuff” so offered this warning: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . . for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The first of the Ten Commandments says it too—God wants first place in our hearts. He deserves it. He created us and He is greater than anything else; all the fame, fortune, or “stuff” that we could possibly accumulate. Besides that, He knows that we become like those things we worship. Imagine what will happen to us if we fix our hearts on “stuff” instead of Him.

This year, as every year, our family members make out a wish list for Christmas, mostly to help one another know what to put under the tree. I had three things on my list. One was a new Bible, the other two were smaller items. My son said, “There must be something else you want, something you’ve seen on TV or a new gadget?”

I scratched my head and finally came up with a couple more things but at the same time wondered if I’m finally listening to my own “sermons.” I am content. I don’t want more stuff.

Of course, I’m also thankful for the good life, the security we enjoy, and my “stuff” but I realize there is enough of it for six people. How can I make out a wish list when I really need to give away much of what I already have?

For many of us, we must honestly admit we have enough treasures to satisfy us for a long time. Right now, the one thing we need the most, regardless of how much “stuff” we have or want, is to more deeply know the heart of God and more actively live to please Him. Just imagine the change that would make in both our ideals and our advertising!