Wednesday, March 21, 2018

God knows all the details! ............. Parables 718

May 29, 2001

Internet use multiplies daily yet no one really knows how many people actually spend time in cyberspace. Adding together the total number of customers from each service provider turns out to be inaccurate. Apparently some providers include inactive accounts (to make themselves look better?) and government providers are no better with their numbers. Besides that, thousands go online for the first time each day. Any total is out of date as soon as it is compiled.

Regardless of inaccurate numbers, it seems safe to guess that millions of people use the Internet. That boggles my mind. How can anyone think in terms of ‘millions’?

This week I found an article that used ratios to put the world’s population into perspective. It suggested reducing the world to a village of one hundred people. By comparing the number of people who have computers to total population and applying that ratio to the village, they discovered only one person owned a computer. Explained in those terms it seems are globe is not as saturated with technology as we might think.

That same article went on to say that thirty people in the village would be Christians. How amazing that there are more Christians than computer owners (and that one person with the computer could be a Christian too).

As I thought about those numbers, I recalled that the Bible says God put the stars in place and calls them by name. He even knows how many hairs we have on our heads. Obviously, He is far better with big numbers than I am, and even though that kind of detailed knowledge may seem useless, this is not the issue. The point is, God knows and cares about details. As Scripture points out, He feeds each sparrow and notices if one falls to the ground.

The psalmist says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely . . . such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

While that all-knowing quality of God could make us feel like shrinking back in fear under His scrutiny, it should motivate us to trust Him instead. He cares about sparrows — He cares about us.

Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like to listen to the prayers of a million people all at the same time. How can God sort them out, then send appropriate answers, at the right time, to each person? For Him, this is easy. Remember, He knows how many hairs are on our heads. Yet this vast knowledge also includes compassion and understanding. He knows and cares about the things that bother or upset us and understands our needs.

Lord, should I stop trusting You, I would be a fool. Your knowledge far surpasses mine or anyone else I might trust. You know every detail of my life. Even more important, You care about those details. Guide each thought, each word, and each step I take, today and always. Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Living longer than any bug. . . ............. Parables 717

May 22, 2001

One positive thing about Alberta winters is that extreme cold weather kills the bugs, at least most of them. We lived in California three times and have memories of turning on a light in the middle of the night and seeing critters dashing for the cracks. Yuck.

Cockroaches are probably my least favorite insect, even worse than mosquitoes. Did you know that they can live nine days without their heads before they starve to death? I don’t know if they jump around like chickens without their heads, but it wouldn’t surprise me. They are tenacious critters and have persisted on this planet longer than almost all other life forms.

Humans can survive a bit longer without food than cockroaches, up to about forty days, but we can’t do it without our heads. Our survival depends on having major body parts intact with all systems working.

Of course we need food to live. God even tells us to pray for “our daily bread” — but Jesus pointed out that we are spiritual creatures. We need more than food. He said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

If our spirit needs proper food, just as our body does, what is our spirit? And how does the Word of God feed it? Obviously it is invisible — not like hands and feet — and seems more connected to our personality, even our emotions and intelligence. But it goes deeper than those.

Some say the human spirit is our conscience and intuition. It is the part of us that instinctively knows right from wrong and has the capacity for faith and worship. In Scripture, the term ‘spirit’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘soul’ yet they are not exactly the same: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Also, Hebrews 4 says the Word of God divides soul and spirit.

The difference seems to be in function. Our soul is where we make decisions, think and feel emotions. These abilities can enhance or interfere with the work of our spirit. For instance, we are able to worship God in our spirit but our soul may not ‘feel’ like it or ‘decide’ not to. Our spirit may want to trust God but our intellectual ability argues with it.

Soul and spirit both find expression in the visible part of us, our bodies. Our worship may be an internal matter yet it becomes visible in the way we live, at least if the spirit is at work. However, the soul is generally active all the time (thinking, feeling, making decisions) but the Word of God says some people have a ‘dead spirit.’ That is, they are not physically dead but they have turned away from any interest in God or being godly. They do not have any sense of ‘knowing’ truth about God (faith) and are said to be “dead in their sins.”

Unlike a physically dead person, a spiritually dead person can be brought to life. God’s Holy Spirit is able to regenerate them through Christ. The life of Jesus starts new life in them, an ‘aliveness’ that begins in the spirit and then permeates their soul. The way they think and feel about God and spiritual matters is changed.

Those changes impact the whole person. Because they have faith in God and are worshiping Him, they begin thinking in new ways, feeling new emotions, and making decisions that please God. All this leads to new behavior, a changed lifestyle.

No wonder the Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.”

A cockroach may be able to live nine days without its head and may be the longest living bug species but we can have something completely beyond its expectations. Because of Jesus Christ, we can live forever. We start by feeding our spirits on His Word, sharpening our conscience and giving ourselves Someone to trust and worship. As we do, new life begins. . . and it extends from the point of faith right on into eternity!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Public Speaking or Death? ............. Parables 716

May 15, 2001

Sweaty palms, short breaths, knocking knees. For most of us, if we must stand up and talk to a crowd, the thought of dying comes to mind, or at least the wish to be someplace else. No matter how often I do it, forget the butterflies — my stomach feels as if an entire herd of bison is thundering through. I am convinced the statistic is correct — the main fear in North America is not death but public speaking.

Maybe we are so afraid of it because we can imagine ourselves flubbing up in front of a crowd. We can hear the hoots and cat calls and feel ourselves tripping over our own tongues. These images are far more vivid than imagining ourselves dead. Death is an unknown. Oh, we’ve read about people seeing a bright light or feeling themselves float to the ceiling. I suppose we can imagine that, or at least that we have moved somewhere else, yet being dead is a foreign experience.

The Bible agrees that a person does not know much about it. The apostle Paul explained in his New Testament letter to the Corinthians: “As it is written, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Who has departed from this world and came back with an eye-witness account? Who has seen the angels or heard them sing? Who can fathomed a city with streets of gold, glowing in the light of God Himself?

We can read the words and study the biblical descriptions, but we find it more difficult to put ourselves in that entire scenario. Those near-death stories of being with Jesus, of walking toward a bright light and seeing relatives who have died before us are only a taste.

Notice that Paul’s quote ends with “... for those who love him.” What about those who deny God or hate Him? A doctor wrote a book from his experience of being with people who were resuscitated. Some saw that heavenly light but others saw flames and torment. They were terrified as they related those images to him, but without exception, anyone who had them soon forgot what they saw. Perhaps that is the biggest reason most people fear death. While the uncertainty of what waits on the other side is a perplexity, those who reject God and refuse His light do fear another reality, that judgment is coming. Where will they spend eternity?

The above quote from Paul adds another phrase. While we cannot see, hear, or imagine our eternal dwelling place, it concludes with “. . . but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

In other words, our unaided imagination cannot know about death and the afterlife but by revelation from the Holy Spirit, God’s people are not in the dark about their future. We can know where we are going. He gives us an understanding of a heavenly place that is beyond a mere glimpse. We know with certainty that we will be with Jesus. Wherever and whatever else that means, His presence will guarantee perfection.

The Bible ends with a description of our eternal dwelling. It says, “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain . . . nothing impure... nor shameful or deceitful... no more curse . . . no more night.”

Even though that is hard to imagine, the Holy Spirit and the fact that God promises it, gives me a certainty that all this wondrous perfection will be mine. Now I just wish it was that simple when it comes to the delivery of my next speech!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lasting significance is . . . ............. Parables 715

May 8, 2001

An English-speaking writer from Montreal contacted me with an odd request — she could not find quotation marks on her keyboard. She explained that she wanted to submit to English markets that required them. I eventually discovered that she was using a French keyboard. It does not have quotation marks because the French do not use them in their writing. At that point, I realize I’d made an assumption. I thought ordinary quotation marks were a universal punctuation.

How many other ‘ordinary’ things do I assume are universal? I remember one social norm that is commonplace to me but not to everyone. Here, we easily chat with service and retail people but this is not done in all other countries. People from Russia are delighted yet open-mouthed when they first encounter a friendly conversation from a Canadian grocery store clerk.

Despite differences between cultures, universals do exist. These common situations or issues tend to bond or bring people together. For instance, everyone shares joy, sorrow, loneliness and grief. These emotions are experienced by people of all ages and all over the world. Everyone fears dying and everyone wants to be significant. We want to know that our lives matter, or at least that we are noticed or important in some way. This is a universal desire. From Alaska to Zimbabwe, toddlers show off to impress anyone who might be watching. Young people boast to their friends and adults talk about work and their accomplishments. While everyone may not want to be at the top of the heap, no one wants their life to pass without notice.

We generally measure significance by size and quantity, like how much money, power, fame, possessions, popularity do we have? We pick what we think is big enough to impress others and take note of what they have that impresses us. The problem with this measurement is that no matter how much we have or gain, there is always someone else with more. Our race for importance becomes a rat race, and by running it, we find ourselves continually pressured by a sense of defeat.

Is there a significance that lasts? Would lasting importance be ours if we could make an impression on someone who lasts? On the eternal God? Our hearts say ‘yes’ but before jumping to it, we need to know that He is not impressed by size or numbers. He says in Deuteronomy, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you . . . .”

Our quantities do not impress God because His standards are not in the same ballpark. We want to attain and be proud of ourselves but He is pleased by something we tend to avoid: humility and sacrifice. The Bible says, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” It defines the most pleasing sacrifice as “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

To impress God, we must come to Him in humility, seeking His mercy and forgiveness and offering ourselves to Him. Mercy and forgiveness are universal needs too, but only God can satisfy them.

Once we ask for His blessing and begin to give to others instead of take from them or try to impress them, we find that He graciously supplies all our needs, universal or otherwise. He becomes our joy, our peace, our wisdom, our source of strength, even our significance.

Dear Jesus, You promise to live in the hearts of humble people. You say you will “never leave us or forsake us.” You become our ‘forever friend’ so we are never alone again, no matter who walks out of our lives. You are also our significance. You give us work to do that matters, not only in this life but for eternity, but our greatest worth is in the price that You were willing to pay for our forgiveness. Thank You for your mercy and grace, and for eternal life. Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Priorities and abundant life ............. Parables 714

May 1, 2001

Both the business world and personal self-help guides tell us we must evaluate or order our priorities but only in the last few decades has the word ‘priority’ been used in the plural. In the same way ‘unique’ expresses one of a kind, priority is a singular word.

If a person can only have one priority and someone gave us a ‘priority quiz,’ what would be at the top of the list? The boss says your job. The spouse says your family. The halls of learning say your education. The banks say your money. The Jones’ look at your house or car. Most people say ‘me’ putting ‘old number one’ in first place. The Bible consistently exhorts us to put God first. The first of the Ten Commandments says: “I am the Lord your God . . . you shall have no other gods before me.”

I know what another priority might look like. Those who put their work first spend up to twenty hours a day doing, thinking, breathing their job. Those who put their family first turn down anything that conflicts with family responsibilities and commitments.

But what does putting God first look like? Does that mean being in church two times on Sunday and at least twice more during the week? Does it mean putting 90% of your income in the offering plate? Does it mean leaving your home and family to serve God on the mission field? If He is first, do we settle for an old Chevy and Value Village clothes?

Scripture supports some of those ideas but other passages shoot them down. For one thing, God is not interested in ‘religious exercises’ done without love for Him. He berated Old Testament Israel for their empty worship and sacrifices because their hearts were far from Him. The New Testament also warns against a form of religion. Jesus talked about those who piously prayed on street corners or who gave money but did it only “be seen of men.” These religious practices were not pleasing to God.

A better example of what it means to put God first comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount in the New Testament book of Matthew. Near the end of chapter six, He says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .”

The first thing in our lives, our priority, is that we seek, discover and explore the things of God. He wants us to find and practice His goodness (as opposed to our own) all our lives. Jesus adds that “. . . all these things will be added” meaning the food, clothing and other necessities that tend occupy far too much of our focus.

Yes, God also asks that we spend time with His people. He also asks that we be generous regarding the financial needs of others. He may even ask us to become missionaries in some far-flung place, but if the priority is right, we will not be afraid of the conditions that fall under it.

God, I know that many people are afraid of putting You first. They are afraid they will no longer enjoy life or be able to do anything meaningful. What they do not realize is that You are the author of joy and the only one who can bestow true and lasting significance. Help each of us seek You and Your kingdom. Help us discover that when You are our priority, we will have the richest and most significant life possible.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A ‘joint journal’ and intimacy ............. Parables 713

April 24, 2001

For the past few weeks, my husband has been working two days in Calgary, two days at Scotford and one day in Fort McMurray. When he comes home, he catches up on chores and spends time with me and our family. This week we returned late Tuesday night from a short vacation. He left early Wednesday for Calgary, was home tonight for supper, then caught a plane north after dessert. I teased him that I know he’s been home when I check for dirty socks in the hamper.

Obviously, we don’t have much time for deep discussions yet despite that lack of time, we do have things to talk about. I think of important or personal things to say to him but often forget what they were by the time he gets home. He has the same experience. Also, when he arrives he is often very tired from a long day of both working and driving. Yet rather than let our conversations deteriorate to hockey scores and the latest weather report, we decided to do something about it.

An idea came from an article in a writers’ magazine penned by a mother who shared a journal with her daughter. They took turns writing in it, but avoided diary notations. Instead, they recorded their feelings and struggles about being a mom or a growing girl, the conflicts they faced, and even what they liked or didn’t like about one another’s decisions. As the girl grew to womanhood, both she and her mother found themselves able to communicate on a much deeper level than do many other mother-daughter combinations. This unique form of communication created a strong and lasting bond.

Even though I’m the ‘writer’ and he doesn’t think he is, Bob and I thought this would work for us. We selected a lined notebook and call it our “joint journal.” Besides using this journal to express those fleeting thoughts, we are learning to say what is very deep in our hearts. In these “ink chats,” topics often come up that might not otherwise surface.

This communication requires rules. One is that we do not criticize what the other says. We also reject all small talk. Third, this journal is about us, not our kids, the church, the neighbors or anything else. Whoever is in possession of the book writes something before putting it on the other person’s desk.

Right away we noticed an increased sense of intimacy. Intimacy is important. Everyone wants to deeply know someone and be deeply known. For it to happen, there obviously must be communication but intimacy is more than talking. Intimacy also requires personal revelation. But personal revelation does not happen without trust. Who can say anything about themselves or how they feel if they are afraid of being shot down? Everyone wants to be accepted as well as be heard.

The need to be heard, understood and accepted is universal, and while we do the best we can, no one can fully satisfy those needs the same way God can. He knows all about us. In fact, the psalmist says He “perceives my thoughts from afar . . . and before a word is on my tongue, He knows it completely.”

God understands our quirks, foibles and darkest secrets yet He is kind and merciful when others might be harsh or judgmental. He listens and accepts our honest revelations of ourselves, and is “faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No human friend or lover can do that either.

God also makes Himself known. He reveals who He is through the pages of His book and the life of His Son. We see Him in creation and in His people. His willingness to expose who He is and how much He loves us became fully apparent when He allowed His enemies to nail Him to a cross for the sins they (and we) committed.

Someone once told us that if two people draw closer to God they will also draw closer to each other. How true . . . and for some, having a joint journal simply adds icing to the cake.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Busyness, time-management, and God ............. Parables 712

April 17, 2001

My ladies Bible class just finished a series called “Meeting God in Busyness.” The topic seems almost an oxymoron. How can a busy person find time to connect with God? Christians find busyness is one of our greatest tests of commitment to our Lord. Even at the best of times, we are so easily side-tracked from our dependence on Him. When we are busy, we need Him the most but how can a person stop that ticking clock long enough to touch base with God?

Everyone in the class agreed that God belongs in more than just in our most pious moments. We are Christians all the time, not merely when we feel ‘religious’ or are filled with spiritual thoughts. Jesus lives within us, not Sunday morning only but seven days of the week and in all situations. Our task was finding out how to make that reality a practical part of every day.

One thing we talked about is that the word ‘priority’ is singular. So what is the one most important thing in our lives? God? Or our to-do lists? If we say we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, then we must spend quality time with Him. Also, He must be consulted regarding our daily plans and every decision.

The class also noticed that spending time with God at the beginning, before the rush begins, has a positive result. Our worship, Bible study and prayer time produces an inner peace and strength that reduces the pressures of busyness that would otherwise takes us down.

We discussed how stress is not always from our to-do list. Sometimes it is a result of unsettled issues, such as sin, broken relationships, fear or doubt. Since God forgives and cleanses sin, heals interpersonal conflicts, and erases fear and doubt, meeting with Him reduces that stress too. Without the strain of those issues, busyness is less likely to negatively affect our emotions.

Another discovery was that obeying God makes a difference in our fatigue levels. Sometimes we rebel in subtle ways, like saying ‘yes’ to something that God asks us to turn down or deny. Even if it is not a sinful activity, it could be adding one more item to the list which the straw that can break our backs. We need to listen to Him because by refusing to do what God asks, we can wind up doing far more than we wanted, simply as a consequence of not listening to Him. Even if obedience seems like ‘more’ or ‘too much’ up front, the Lord always honors it. Often, our remaining tasks are easier, or seem so, because we know we are following the Lord.

The Bible says, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Being busy is not always a bad thing. When God is in it, our productivity can be a blessing to Him, ourselves and others.

Lord, thank You for the many responsibilities that are in my life. I know that I cannot handle them well or with a song in my heart unless I first go to You for wisdom, strength and the joy that Your Spirit brings. May the tasks I do today be done in Your power and according to Your will. Warn me when I am tempted to step outside of what You want for me. May I not neglect Your clear commands or try to do anything without Your help. Do not allow me to add more to my schedule than You want for me. Instead, help me to do my God-given tasks in such a way that You are pleased and honored. Amen.