Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dramatization of a Promise.............................. Parables 014

Spring! Pussy willows, tulips, newborn calves, and gophers popping up all over the fields! It is the time of new beginnings, renewed life. The dead leaves and grass, buried under their rapidly melting shrouds of snow, can hide the vitality for a time, and then the warmth of the sun frees hidden life to wondrous fresh growth.

We who live in climates of clearly defined seasons have the marvelous annual opportunity to witness a dramatic visual display that symbolizes the most important event in history, life coming out of death.

It happened one spring nearly 2000 years ago, halfway around the world. The person whose life had ended was considered to be a troublemaker by some, a threat to the political and religious establishment, with much too much influence on the common man. Those in authority wanted him dead. They couldn’t find any crime to convict him of however, so when his illegal trial was held, he was convicted for telling the truth about himself.

His death sentence was carried out by the government of the day. Their means of execution was uniquely horrible and cruel, incurring death by slow suffocation while suspended from a cross made of wood . . .  a slow death, so slow that the impatient soldiers in charge would often break the legs of the prisoners, sudden shock bringing an end to the process, so they could go home. But they didn’t need to break the legs of this one. He was already dead when they came to him. Evidence reveals that his death was not by suffocation nor by shock, but that his heart literally ruptured and his blood was poured out.

His family and friends had been told that he would rise again, but just like you and me, or anyone who knows about life and death, they did not believe that or seem to understand. They felt no hope. They mourned. But they didn’t have to.

This Jesus Christ, whom they had given up everything to follow, was no ordinary man. Just as His life was not an ordinary life, His death was not an ordinary death. God pronounced that death comes to all who sin, but in His life, this man had never sinned. Therefore, death had no claim on Him. He died for someone else. Furthermore, in His life, He claimed to be the Son of God, and three days after His death, He proved it. He walked out of His tomb.

What does this have to do with us and with spring? Just This: Jesus Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25,26). 

Just as the cold dark of winter cannot destroy plant and animal life, neither can the grave destroy those who put their trust in the One who conquered death. His own resurrection guarantees it. 

And just to make sure that we have ample reminders of this event, and of His promise, He repeats it over and over again: in His Word, in the changed lives of those who believe, and in the marvelous season that we call Spring.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Is Faith Really Blind? .............................. Parables 013

If you were invisible, how would you prove that you existed? Since eyes could not see you, would you make your appeal to ears and shout messages out of nowhere to make your existence known? Or would you appeal to touch and move objects to bump into people, hoping some would realize you were there? Or would you appeal to smell, or taste? Not if you know human nature . . .  “If I can’t see it, I won’t believe it!”

God knows human nature. He knows we want to see to believe so He appeals to our eyes, even though He Himself is a Spirit, and no one has ever seen Him.

His first appeal is through the things that He made. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork . . . ” (Psalm 19:1). And our own bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). Also, “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that we are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). He created us in such a way that we can perceive that He is . . .  by observing ourselves and the beauty and intricacy of all things that He has made.

His second revelation of Himself is through the prophets. These holy men were moved by the Spirit of God to write the words that God wanted them to write, words that help us see that He does exist, and words that describe Him. It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words, but the words that reveal God paint a picture in our hearts that no artist could ever paint. The writers of Scripture describe Him with such clarity that even a random selection of verses leave little doubt to His nature and character.

His third manifestation of Himself is through the One called the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . .  and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” 

God became a man, and he became visible so that we could see Him. Jesus Christ is “the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person.” He declared, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

He also said that if it was too difficult to believe Him because of his words, then believe Him because of the works that He did. These works were not limited to touching blind eyes and making them see; humanity was allowed to experience Deity with more than eyes. Jesus put His fingers in deaf ears and they could hear Him. He touched the tongue of the dumb and they could praise Him. He healed the lepers, whose sensitivity to touch was eaten away by cruel disease, so they could touch Him. He healed the lame, the sick, and the infirm, so they could serve Him. He filled the hungry and multiplied a meager supply to do it. He turned water into wine. And He controlled the wind and sea. By This, people can know that He indeed does exist.

And He knows our problem with believing “without seeing.” His challenge is “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” 

His challenge is accompanied by much evidence that “He is” -- His creation declares it, His Word reveals it, and the person and works of His Son prove it. Faith is not blind. There is much to see.

Friday, August 23, 2013

High School burns ............................. Parables 012

We walked through the halls and visited some of the classrooms Monday night. By Wednesday morning, some of those halls and some of those classrooms were destroyed. The staff, shocked and saddened, are hurting from the loss of many years work. Present and former students reflect on their memories. Some view the charred remains with a large lump in their throat. Others have mixed feelings, and some respond positively, with hope for a new, improved facility.

My youngsters attended Fort Saskatchewan High School such a short time, so when the news came on the radio, my mind soon moved from personal distress to the trauma of loss by fire. I tried to feel what others must be feeling. For example, how would I react if my study burned, and I lost 15 years of written work, as some teachers have this week?

Those who experience loss by fire say that it puts life and possessions somewhat into perspective, at least for a time. Desiring a long-range view, I turned to a passage in 1 Corinthians 3, verses 10-15. This refers to the judgment seat of Christ. There, the fire of God will test the works of Christians, those people with Jesus Christ at the foundation of their lives. This fire determines rewards, however, and is not a fire of judgment. His flame will be used to burn out the useless and vain, and even though the Christians will “be saved, yet so as by fire,” all their works will not survive.

I’ve never personally experienced a fire but reading these verses convinces me that certainly one day I will view some charred ruins. They will be the ashes from the deeds of my life that have had absolutely no eternal value. I can easily identify some of them right now: sin, rebellion, disobedience against God . . .  all highly combustible material. Others are perhaps less obvious, but nonetheless flammable: aimless pursuits, selfish plans, show-off stunts, little and big things that flow out of a motivation to serve and glorify me instead of Christ, my Savior and Lord.

The fire in our high school is tragic. Staff and students have lost some valuable things this week: projects, notes, homework, term papers, records, personal possessions, mementos. However, the pain of those loses, even though it is real and very difficult to bear, cannot be compared to the anguish of looking back over an entire lifetime that has been wasted. Someday, pursuits that God calls “wood, hay, and stubble” will go up in flames, to be lost forever.

When that fire comes, surely we who are Christians can rejoice that our foundation cannot be destroyed. However, because He gave us that foundation, ought we not be building on it? This week’s fire should prompt us to re-evaluate the architecture of our lives. The bricks should be fireproof deeds of righteousness, cemented together by truth and love, making a building of works that cannot be lost. Hard work and sacrifice are involved in the construction process, but the Lord supplies the needs of His workers, including a clear blueprint, all materials, and strength and courage. When the final building inspection comes, the test of His refining fire, may we have much left standing on our foundation, and few ashes to regret.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Death ......................... Parables 011

“Seems as if a lot of people are dying these days . . .” — the statement of a 14-year-old, his mind somewhat numbed by pictures of the wreckage strewn over the Atlantic and then over the wooded hills near Hinton. He was wondering why. 

We wonder too, briefly and then we go about life as usual. There is something in each one of us that blocks thoughts of death. We can imagine ourselves in pain, suffering, or maybe with the loss of some limbs, but since we don’t want to think about that, we usually don’t let our minds wander to even that subject. When the news seems to be filled with tragic death, few people think, “That could have been me.” Few . . .  and not for long. 

Death, especially sudden death, is unimaginable, undesirable, and hardly the favorite dinner-party topic of conversation. We’ll discuss all kinds of other horrible certainties, uncertainties, and other unpleasant things, but that one is so final, so mysterious, and all too inescapable. After all, every society has a death rate of 100%.

The book of Ecclesiastes says that “no man has power over the spirit to retain the spirit, neither hath he power in the day of death.” (8:8) Certainly that is why it is so disdained in conversation, so rejected from our thought life. We cannot control death. Nor can we stop it, or change it. And for some, both on the train and in the shuttle, there isn’t even a moment to anticipate it. One minute there is life, the next . . .

God says something about death that startles me upon first reading. “Blessed are the dead which dieth in the Lord . . . ” (Revelation 14:13). The Bible affirms that anyone who places their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation is in Christ, and that anyone who believes in the Son of God has Christ in Him, and because of that, has eternal life already. This eternal life does not begin after this life is over. It begins the moment a person truly believes. 

“This then is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life, and he who has not the Son of God has not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:11-13).

Maybe there is someone who reads this column that is thinking about death. Thoughts that used to be easily pushed aside somehow no longer stay away. And there is no assurance, only fear, fear of what comes after that, fear of the event itself. Hebrews 2 gives good news: Jesus Christ became a man so that, by the grace of God, he could taste death for every man. Through His death, He destroyed him that had the power of death, and delivers them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Yes, a lot of people are dying these days. Some suddenly, some tragically, some slowly, some painfully, yet some who die physically never really die. In Christ, they are ready to meet that enemy without fear, because He, the One who conquered death, did it so that those who believe merely change their place of residence.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Missing puzzle pieces ...................... Parables 010

Christmas is over, but how many puzzle addicts still have that last piece to put in place before they can box up their holiday project. For many, this annual tradition involves the exchange, purchase, or breaking out of storage one or more jigsaw puzzles, spreading the pieces on a flat surface, and spending hours putting them together. The project may involve several small ones, but puzzle addicts usually go for bigger and more difficult challenges each year . . .  2000 - 3000 pieces, or puzzles with two pictures - one on either side of the pieces, or some other complications. And there are puzzles with pictures of marbles or matches, or any objects that look much alike in shape, size or color, just to make reassembling more intriguing. When the puzzle is finished, such a sense of satisfaction - unless one piece is missing!

That last piece, seemingly insignificant among thousands when the box was first opened and dumped out, becomes the object of a search, and unless it is found, its absence totally ruins the finished project. There are few puzzle addicts who have not experienced the emotional disappointment of just one missing piece.

Over the last few weeks, our church congregation has been involved in some extra prayer activities. One of them included an opportunity for the children to pray. A young man, about eight years old, offered a prayer that went something like this: “Lord, thank you for putting everything together here on earth just like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, so that when we go to heaven to be with You, there will be one big beautiful picture.”

Later, his mother told me that she had been working on a puzzle and told him that God was making a picture too. His young mind caught a vivid impression of something that many adults either fail to see or forget. The Lord truly is putting together something of beauty. He is building His church; calling His people out of sin and out of this world, and into a life of holiness and to bring praise to His name. And as we respond to that call, believing on His Son and becoming part of His “puzzle,” we are responsible for calling others, to live as we ought, and to glorify Him. We are to fit into the right place, becoming part of the whole picture, and we are to seek those pieces that are still missing.

In my Christian life, sometimes I neglect to do the things that I should do, and excuse myself with, “What difference will it make, no one will notice anyway.” Then comes the imagery of a puzzle with a missing piece. My failure could spoil the whole picture. James 4:17 says, “He who knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.”

For some, “puzzle-season” will not come again until next Christmas. There are many other things to do. But for Christians, the putting together of the bigger picture, will all the pieces intact, should be our constant occupation.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Following ................................ Parables 009

“I’ll go ahead of you. Just follow me.”

The destination? ... a certain, sure location. Route? ...unknown. Road conditions? ...rural, icy, unpredictable. Climate? ...large flakes of wet snow. Visibility? ...dark, with fog.

Not the best way to travel a few unfamiliar miles in the country, is it? I’m thankful that the driver ahead didn’t go faster than I could manage. He knew my uncertainty and considered my capabilities. As we traveled, I began to experience a rare comfortableness that would not have been felt had those red tail lights ahead been missing. I knew when to turn, when to speed up, when to ease to the right for oncoming traffic, and when to brake. In fact, I had to remind myself at the stop signs that I still had some responsibility to look each way. After all, I was not being towed. It was so easy to think that my guide would do it all.

Jesus also tells me, “I’m going ahead of you, just follow me.” The destination, eternity with Him, is also certain, even though I don’t know the exact location. And the route is quite unpredictable. Life’s roadway has both hazards and clear travel, rough conditions and smooth. The climate swings from mild to stormy, pleasant to not-so-pleasant. And the visibility? Well, things may never get quite as dark as a moonless January night on a country road in Alberta, but whether they do or not, it doesn’t matter. I have a Light ahead of me.

Psalms 119:105 says: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” 

The Living Word, Jesus Christ, says, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). 

Hebrews 12:2 urges, “Keep looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith . . . ”

He isn’t towing me. He takes my hand and moves ahead, bidding me to follow Him. The certainty of the destination and the ever-present guidance of His light is not there to lull me into a laid-back comfortableness, however. I still have some responsibility. My eyes must be open, my “foot on the gas,” and I’m to keep a firm grip on the wheel, responding to each new direction with obedience. I’m not to let His light out of my sight by moving too slow, or getting caught up in the passing scenery and not paying attention. I’m to watch out for the “pot holes” and avoid them, moving to alternate routes.

We sing a chorus in Sunday school, “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow . . . ” 

Following is not the same as being towed.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Faith gives peace, not control ...........................Parables 008

Last Friday was an interesting day. I dropped my article off at the Record office, came home, and the telephone was ringing as I unlocked the door. A man’s voice said, “Don’t be alarmed . . .  I have your son at the hospital.”

Surprisingly, I was not alarmed. He went on to describe a minor accident at school, painful for our son, but not serious. This incident followed on the heels of the article that I had just given to this newspaper. It appeared with the following title, FAITH IN GOD’S WORD KEEPS OUR KIDS SAFE but that title did not match what I was hoping to convey, making me realize the importance of clarity.

So I will say it again -- faith in God’s Word can keep us from going into a state of panic during the crisis times, when the circumstances of life are unpleasant. However, contrary to what the headline may have suggested, faith does not prevent the unpleasant from happening.

Maybe that is what we would like to believe . . .  something like, “I’ll just trust God and everything will be the way I want it.” The Bible doesn’t guarantee that. In fact, it says we should not be surprised at trials and problems, that they will come . . .  and all of us will have them.

What God’s Word does say is that we can have confidence and even rejoice in those trials because they have a purpose. God is not allowing them out of vindictiveness or indifference, but uses them to develop qualities that make Christians more like His Son. That is not only our goal, but our eternal destiny. (1 John 3:2)

Our faith then, is not a hopeful escape from the realities and pressures of life, but a gift from God to help us meet them head on. In those trials, God supplies the needed strength, wisdom, courage, and even joy to carry us through the trials and out the other side with even greater conviction that our God is entirely sufficient for these things.

I would not want anyone to think, “If I only had more faith in God’s Word this would not have happened to my child.” What pathetic theology that would be to the MacMillans, the Wilgoshs, the McClenaghans, or any other suffering parents. They, and all of us, need to know that faith in God is not a guarantee of a disaster-free life, nor is faith to be measured by the lack of pain that we go through.

Faith is simply the means by which we KNOW that God is not being unkind or indifferent to our sufferings, nor are they dropped on us haphazardly. And Biblical faith is not something we can conjure up, but is a gift to us: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Our responsibility is to read it, and to respond to trials by placing our lives and the lives of those we love, into the Lord’s care, fully trusting that He knows what we do not know, that He sees what we cannot see, and that His peace is available, even in those trials.

Monday, August 5, 2013

No Need to "What if?" .................. Parables 007

A bus full of high school students saw what looked like a human hand lying on the street as they were going to school today.

Another school was closed this afternoon due to a bomb threat.

News headlines tell of schools attacked by snipers, burned down by pranksters, bullet-sprayed by crazies, taught by sexually perverted people, marched on by mad minorities, and crashed into by airplanes.

Who said, “Enjoy school -- it is the best time of your life”?

Moms and dads reading these things are beginning to “what-if?” Some have pulled their children out of school and retreated underground, to spend the rest of their lives “protected” from society in a bomb shelter. Others worry themselves gray. Still others try to shut it out, knowing they have little control.

One of these unusual events touched my life this week. As my son told me about it, this thought ran through my mind, “But we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.”

I wondered, for a brief moment, why that verse from Romans 8 should fit this situation. But later on I realized how practical it was. The “news of the day” had not flustered me in the slightest. That truth protected me from the “what-if’s.”

I send my son to school about 200 days out of a year, and run the risk of a multitude of things that could happen to him. Yet over and over again, this promise from God sets my mind at rest. I know that it applies to me, for I love God and have been called by Him according to His purpose. But it also applies to my son. He loves God also, and has responded to His call. And, according to the Word of God, nothing is going to happen to him that God cannot use in his life, for God’s own good purpose. The very next verse (verse 29) reveals that His purpose is to transform those He calls into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Frankly, I haven’t a clue how God controls the events of life, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and uses them to mold a person into a different person’s image. I do know that he starts from within, and gives the gift of his Son to each of us who have responded to His call. His Son lives within. Then somehow, He takes the outside and reworks it to match the inside. That makes all of life a school -- a school where every situation is a lesson or an exam, and the only way to fail is to refuse to be molded.

We will send our son back to school, confident of Who is in charge of his life, and joyfully see both kinds of school shaping him to mental and spiritual maturity. And we don’t have to “what-if.”

Friday, August 2, 2013

Clean on the Inside...........................Parables 006

“Keep it clean,” says the microwave oven book. “This appliance will not function effectively unless the inside is kept clean. Any unremoved spills will impair timing and effectiveness.”

My microwave sits in full view on the kitchen counter. I’d never want any visible spatters all over the outside. However, the front panel is constructed in such a way that even when the light is on, it is not easy to see the inside. It would be less work to leave the hidden spills, at least for a while. After all, no one can see them. But the instructions were given by those who made and know their oven. They affirm that it will be less effective if it isn’t clean.
“Keep it clean,” says my Bible. Keep your heart clean, that is . . .  “for out of it flow the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Jesus told the disciples that it is not the things that are put into a person that make them unclean, it is what is already there, in the heart: “And out of the heart comes every evil thing” from gossip to murder, from stealing to adultery (Matthew 14). The prophet Jeremiah said that the heart of man is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and who can know it?”

I Samuel 16:7 reveals the answer to that question . . .  “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” God knows our hearts. We can shine and polish the outside appearance of our lives, but what can we do with the inside? 

The things that are there are perhaps open to no one but God, but in the long run, isn’t He the One to whom we must give account?

I polished the outside of my microwave this week, and then peeked inside and saw that it needed some cleaning there too. But my life seems to demand the reverse order in cleaning. The inside needs to be checked first. Like my oven, my timing and effectiveness are soon impaired if the inside, my heart, is not kept clean. If it is, then the outside will be in good order.

The word of God is the standard that we are to measure “clean” by, and we must apply that standard to the inside first. Reading the Bible reveals hidden thoughts and attitudes that soon find expression in words and deeds, if not taken care of with a cleaning. Sometimes we can curb their expression. After all, we don’t want anyone to see our dirt, but I find that I really cannot change my heart. It needs the touch of God. My part is to confess its condition before Him, and He is faithful to do His part. He forgives me on the basis of the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, who died for me, and He cleanses me by the power of the blood shed in that sacrifice, and by the Word, even as I read it.

Every time I look into my microwave oven, I am glad that God has given me a desire to be a conscientious housekeeper, and that my oven is clean and works efficiently. I am glad too that the Lord is a conscientious heart-keeper and that I can entrust the cleansing of my inner life to Him.