Monday, December 30, 2013

Some battles are better to lose .............. Parables 060

One of our boys, when about 3 years old, became angry at a family friend. He tackled him - only to be picked up and held out at arm’s length, feet dangling and fists flying. His efforts to make an impact were absolutely useless, even comical. It took him quite a few minutes to realize that he was up against something bigger than he could handle. He gave in, deciding “to be friends.”

Sometimes, when reading the morning paper or watching news reports on television, that battle comes to mind. There are so many senseless, God-defying activities in the headlines, but those who live in defiance of the Lord, or who have turned their back on His principles have tackled something bigger than they can handle.

The first verses of Psalm 2 say: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’” Their desire is to get out from under the supposed binding authority of God by open rebellion against what He says. And it often looks as if that has been achieved. But is the battle over? Are their efforts even touching God?

Psalm 2 says “No!” The rest of the verses boldly declare that God will eventually have them as stammering fools. Their efforts are laughable to Him. He has already set His King upon His holy hill... and He WILL proclaim His decrees, and make the nations the inheritance and possession of His King. What chance do the rebellious leaders have? Surely the King that Almighty God sets in place will eventually reign. The circumstances around us may look otherwise, but God is God or He is nothing. He does as He pleases. And His wrath, even slightly exercised, is enough to destroy all of creation. Therefore, His King WILL rule -- and even break the power of those who oppose Him.

Before God, the nations are less than as a 3-year-old against a husky six-footer, less than as a few ants trying to defeat an elephant. What chance do the ants have? None. Unless the mightier one takes pity, the little enemy will not survive. One drop of a foot and the battle is over.

It is the same for those who set themselves against God. There is no contest. It makes little sense to resist Him or take counsel with others to figure out ways to get out from under His Lordship and control. He is far too powerful to be overcome.

Instead, God can be trusted. He can be seen as an ally, a friend, not an enemy. He blesses those who trust Him, those who run to Him as their refuge, dropping their fists and yielding to His mercy, trusting Him to be a friend.

But there is another side to it. God has no reason to want to be friends with us. We are not doing Him a great favor by dropping our animosity against Him. He is the one that has the right to be angry with us. We are the violators, the rebels. He is perfect, holy, and just. He should be filled with wrath and step on every one of us.

Yet He has not. In His sovereignty He has chosen to pour out His wrath for our sin and rebellion, on His Son. For those who obediently accept His provision for salvation, He accepts as friends. Instead of rage and plotting (verse 1), they will “serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

Barn Sour Horses ........................ Parables 059

The first horse I owned was “barn-sour”. No, that is not a bad odor - but a hard-to-cure bad habit. Whenever I went for a ride, that horse waited for the slightest relaxing of the reins. Then he would turn around and head back to the barn. He seemed to think that I had some torture planned for him, and standing in a dark barn would be far better. No matter what I did, that horse had real determination to have his own way.

I am glad God has more patience with me than I did with that horse. You see, the horse and I are

somewhat alike.

First of all, the Lord purchased me (with the blood of his Son) and became my new Master. He took me out of my old way of life... figuratively - out of the dark barn. If He had not done it, I would still be there, because, like that horse, I liked it. There was nothing in me that would leave without someone urging me. “No man can come to (Christ), except the Father... draw him...” (John 6:44) 

Secondly, He grabbed the reins of my life and pointed me towards toward His goal - being changed into the image of His Son. He has no intention that I ever return to “the barn.” 

Sounds great doesn’t it? In fact, it makes little sense to go back, for any reason. That “barn” was really a prison. There is a marvelous freedom in being guided by the Master, and He has promised good for me, not torture. But now and then, like that horse, I turn around, and head right back to that sin from where I came.

If a barn-sour horse could talk, it might have as many excuses as I have come up with for resisting the Lord’s pressure on my reins. Yet in loving persistence, He has, one by one, answered my excuses:
I can’t..... “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” (Phil.4:13)
I have too many areas of need..... “My grace is sufficient, my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Cor.12:9)
I’m afraid of losing my friends..... “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
I won’t know what to do, how to do it..... “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go...” (Psalm 32:8).
Now I understand that my barn-sour streak arises when I take my eyes off the Lord and cease to trust His promises. Then, just like between me and that horse, the conflict begins. I resist God and there is war between my old sinful nature and His Spirit. (See Galatians 5:16,17)

The Apostle Paul also knew the same internal struggles, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do - I do not do, but what I hate I do... I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing..” (Romans 7:15,18,19) 

He goes on to thank God that there is an answer to the turmoil - it is found in Jesus Christ our Lord. In fact, our Almighty God has the power to take hold of ANY life and change the direction of it. He told one of His enemies, “I will put my bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way by which you came.” Since He is able to do that, He is able to turn my life around, in spite of the depth of my doubts and fears.

Furthermore, the Master’s guidance is not harsh or unkind. His care is excellent, His hand is merciful and loving. Whatever tugs at me to turn backwards, He always has an answer for it, one that more than satisfies. To pay attention to Him finds me “beside still waters” and “in green pastures.” 

As long as I owned him, my barn-sour horse never got over his habits... but that might have been the fault of his owner. As for me, how thankful I am that I belong to the One who will never give up on my “training” until I am what He intended me to be.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Understanding Parables ........................ Parables 058

Most of us think of Jesus Christ when we think of parables. He used them so effectively in His ministry. He told stories about lost sheep and lost coins to show God’s concern for lost sinners. He used stories about farming and seeds to illustrate that the Word of God grows when planted in the hearts of people. Parables are simply short anecdotes using illustrations from nature and everyday life to illustrate spiritual truth.

When Jesus spoke in parables, He said that those who did not believe in Him would not fully understand them. I’ve found that to be true. Before putting my faith in Him, His stories were, at best, moral lessons, or generalized truths that I did not know how to apply to my life.

Since then, His parables have become rich in meaning. I see now how verses like I Corinthians 2:14 have great implication. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

The Spirit of God is essential to my comprehension of truth. I know by faith, and by experience, that without the Spirit’s ministry, the parables Jesus told (and even the attempts in this column), will be seen, at best, as moral lessons or general truths. It will be hard to understand what is meant by them. Also, what is understood may not be what is intended.

While clarity in journalism is important, in the realm of parables, I must admit that, while I strive to do so, I cannot always make plain the spiritual truths that God is teaching me. Some will dismiss my parables as foolishness. Others will see them as I once saw the parables that Jesus told... “general truth and good morals”, no more. I know that the limitations of human understanding cannot take any of us beyond that.

Because that is so, and because parables are only illustrations, several things are important to remember: First, God did not intend that we discover all truth from parables. The perfect revelation of truth is the entire Word of God. The Bible opens our eyes to US: our origin, our needs, our purpose, and our destiny. It cuts through our concepts and reasoning and “tells it like it is.”

In it we also find the truth about GOD: There is no other way to know Him. He was first revealed through the “forefathers and prophets, but finally through Jesus Christ...who is the exact representation of His person.” (Hebrews 1:3) The written Word describes God, first as the forefathers saw Him, then the prophets, and finally, as the Son reveals Him.

Secondly, even the parables that Jesus told have limited application. Not every one of them will touch every reader at their point of need. Keep reading!

Thirdly, we have a tendency to filter His stories through the grid of our own reasoning and experience. Because of that, we often misinterpret and misunderstand parables. Therefore, prayer before reading His Word (and before reading anything anyone writes about it), is vital. Asking God to give spiritual understanding and wisdom to make a correct application may open up things that were once confusing or senseless.

Also, it is my desire that whatever I write be true to the Word, helpful to the reader, and a tool of understanding for the Holy Spirit, but without His ministry to me, I am subject to all kinds of fumbling. Include me in your prayers.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Three-Legged Footstools ............................ Parables 057

How do you say ‘no’ to something that you do not want?

Some refuse with a polite, “No, thank you.” Some loudly protest. Others simply ignore the offer, or maybe pretend to not notice that it has been made. Others might say there is no room for it in their life, or declare that it does not appeal to them. ‘No’ can be expressed in many ways.

Someone asked me this week, “How do people reject Jesus Christ?” Is it a polite, “No thanks” or a loud protest? Is it by just ignoring Him, or by ignorance of Him? Saying ‘no’ to Him is also expressed in many ways.

Jesus Christ was rejected by some who accused Him of breaking the Law of God. In one of those instances, He responded, “Judge (me) not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgement.” He was asking that He not be evaluated by appearance only (and therefore rejected), but judged as the Father does, with fair, impartial evaluation.

Scripture affirms that God is fair in His judgement of us. He considers more than just what appears on the outside. He looks at our hearts (I Sam.16:7) and listens to our words (Matt.12:36,37), as well as observing our behavior. It appears that He looks for response in all three areas, like three legs on a footstool. If one is missing, the stool cannot stand up.

In other words, the heart (or mind), the words, and the deeds are supposed to match each other. If they don’t, the person is somehow saying ‘no’ to Christ. The Bible gives examples of people who professed to love the Lord with their mouth, and who did the required “religious duties”, yet God said “Your heart is far from me.” These people were pious pretenders, looking good on the outside, saying the right words, but actually hating God in their hearts. And God condemned their so-called faith. It only had two “legs.”

Another example of inconsistency are those who say they live a good life and think that they believe, yet refuse to publicly profess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of their lives. They are somehow ashamed of Him and His words. He declares that He will also deny them before the Father (Matt. 10:32,33). Again, the mind and life are not really yielded unless the mouth follows suit. Another two-legged response.

Thirdly, James Chapter 2 speaks of some who -say- they have faith but their lives have no works that give evidence to that faith. James says “Faith without works is dead.” Again, there is a “leg” missing.

In John 6, some asked Jesus, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” His response was this, “This is the work of God, that you believe on Him who He hath sent.” Obviously, works without faith is dead too. Ephesians 2:8,9 says that we “are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, that we should do good works...”

Notice the order. 1) God does the work of grace whereby a person becomes a believing person. That work of God changes a persons mind - about Christ, and about sin. 2) Other Scripture affirms that the mouth will say so - when the heart truly believes. 3) Then, as a result of the workmanship of God, we do the deeds that please Him. In fact, the works that God wants are impossible to do unless God has first done a work in a person’s life; unless the other two “legs”, a yielded heart and a yielded mouth, are already in place.

Rejection takes many forms. The mind may refuse to believe what Jesus has said and what He has done. The mouth may also refuse to yield to Him, or be piously used to cover up that inner rejection. A sinful life rejects Christ, but may also do “good deeds” to compensate for a sin-filled heart.

God cannot be fooled. He knows exactly how we say “no” to Him. But our rebellion does not change His attitude toward us. It was even “while we were yet sinful, He sent Christ to die for us ...” That love conquers minds, and mouths, and transforms lives. He can change the “no” to a glorious “yes.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sunday drivers ............................. Parables 056

Springtime seems to bring out that phenomena known as “the Sunday Driver.” My father uses those words to describe drivers who do not appear to know where they are going, or why, or even how to get there. They look at all the roadside “sights” and seem to be oblivious to the rest of the traffic. 

Actually, “Sunday drivers” seldom break any traffic laws. They get the most criticism for bringing out the worst in other drivers! 

The highway of life has its “Sunday drivers” too. Many people live just like they drive their cars. For instance:

NO SET DESTINATION: Some people have no plans and goals for life, no firm convictions about where they are going or why they are even on the road. So they drift through this life, thinking that whatever sights they see along the route are the only purpose for taking the trip.

NO PLAN OF TRAVEL: With no destination in mind, the “Sunday drivers” cannot possibly plan a route. Instead, decisions are made according to things like the bumps in the road, whims or moods, the weather, or the scenery. With no goal, and no plan to reach that goal, choices are made by the “eenie-meany” method, or by whatever looks good at the time.

NO PLAN CONCERNING THE STOPS TO MAKE ALONG THE WAY: “Sunday drivers” often think that whatever comes along is all there is to see or be involved in. Their needs are met in a hit and miss fashion, according to what is the most convenient. They often miss life’s best, either because they do not know it is there, or they do not purposely determine to include it in their plans. 

OBLIVIOUS TO OTHERS: “Sunday drivers” ignore fellow-travelers. They miss the help that the more experienced could give them and are oblivious to others who may need their help.

Is a Sunday Driving kind of life-style wrong? Some of us would do well to be more laid-back, but I think that this attitude is a serious spiritual condition. It describes a person that has no ideas about his own God-given purpose. There is no thought given to an eternal destination, nor how to get there. And since that has not been determined, it is impossible for eternity to have any effect on the way this life is lived.

Jesus said that there are the two possible destinations for us, with two possible roads. He said one is broad, and leads to destruction. The other is narrow, leading to eternal life... but there are few that find the narrow road. (Matt.7:13,14)

He also declared, “I am the way.... no man comes unto the Father but by me.” So, HE is that narrow road, the one that leads to eternal life.

Jesus also gave the guidelines for finding Him... we will find Him when we seek Him with our whole heart. Meandering aimlessly will not do it.

When we do find the road, then Christ urges us to “Love one another as I have loved you.” His love is sacrificial. It stops to help others find the way too. This love is also mutually shared with fellow-travelers as they encourage one another to stay headed in the right direction.

If “Sunday driving” has become a foundation for the rest of life, we can let the cross be the STOP sign. The One who died their changes the route, the destination, the travel plans, and the style of driving.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The devil made me do it? ......................... Parables 055

Remember the Flip Wilson show, where Flip became Geraldine and popularized the phrase, “The devil made me do it...”?

That line was not an original. In fact, it goes back a long, long, way! Of course Eve phrased it slightly different, and she wasn’t trying to be funny. She had disobeyed God, and when He confronted her, she admitted that she had eaten the forbidden fruit, but pointed out that the serpent (no doubt the devil in disguise) had deceived her.

Often the word “devil” conjures up an image of a red creature, with pointed ears and a long tail, poking a pronged fork into some poor victim, forcing him or her to do something that they know they should not do. Then when the deed is done, the “devil” gets the blame, and the victim is supposedly innocent.

The Bible has much to say about the devil, but does not offer him as a scapegoat for our guilt, nor as an easy-to-spot menace in red garb. Instead, he is spoken of as a master of deception, even named “the deceiver” in some passages, who seldom making himself obvious as the above picture depicts. II Corinthians 11:14 says he “disguises himself as an angel of light.”

Actually he is an angel that once served God. However, he determined to “take the place of God”. Because of his prideful ambition, he was cast from heaven, yet remained under the authority of his Creator.

Jesus Christ defeated him at the cross by taking away his only real weapon, death. (Hebrews 2:14,15). He now roams around, “as roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” before his final judgement is executed.

The devil also continues in his ambition to dethrone God by trying to influence people to reject the sovereignty of their Creator, and the Lordship of His Son. His methods consist of telling lies, swaying people into unbelief and sin. Jesus said that “he is a liar, and the father of lies..” (John 8:44) This fallen angel is a master at subtlety, so his lies are certainly not labeled as such. Instead, they seem plausible, especially when they appeal to our selfish wants and even to our legitimate needs. He uses lies to confuse our concept of God, confuse our concept of ourselves, and discredit the Word of God so that we will not believe it (see Genesis 3). This liar also knows how to make evil look good, and good look evil.

Because our actions are based on what we believe, the lies are aimed there, at our belief system. If the devil can control what we believe, then he indirectly controls what we do. Eve’s encounter with the serpent in the garden is one example. She heard the lie, believed it, then acted upon it. Note that her action was direct disobedience to the command of God, and was the beginning of human sin. Every response to this liar, other than resistance, results in sin.

This goes back to the deceiver’s original intention. The Bible says that we become slaves to whatever we obey. If we act according to anything other than the commands of God, “the devil made me do it” becomes far more than a funny line.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Can anyone be perfect? ..................... Parables 054

“That’s impossible!”
“What is?” 

“Being perfect. The Bible even says so. We all fall short of the glory of God. No one is righteous before God, not even one.”

“That’s funny. Jesus said ‘Be perfect, even as my Father in heaven is perfect”.....
What perplexity for a serious follower of Jesus Christ. “Be perfect even though you can’t be” is more than a paradox. It is sheer frustration. Why aim at a bull’s eye that cannot be hit? Yet not aiming, and not hitting it, is disobedience. How can these contradictions be resolved?

The analogy that explains it most adequately, is that of joining the army. The status of a soldier, and the process of learning to do what soldiers do, is much like perfection, at least as God views it.
The person who signs up and takes his oath, is a full-fledged soldier from the moment of his acceptance. The private is no less a soldier than the 4-star general. But the new recruit’s problem is that he doesn’t know how to behave like a soldier. So boot-camp begins, and he learns the skills of soldiering. 

No one enters the army by putting on a uniform and marching around carrying a gun until someone proclaims him a soldier. Soldiers begin by becoming soldiers, and advance by learning how to act like what they already are. Being told, “You are a soldier” seems to motivate their efforts.

People who have been called by God into the spiritual army of believers are very similar. When they believe in Christ and receive Him, they are instantly perfected in Him. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things have passed away. All things have become new.” (II Cor. 5:17) 

Given the fullness of Jesus Christ, a “spiritual private” has all that is needed to be what God requires. A new Christian is no less perfect, in God’s sight, than one who has walked with the Lord for many years. 

Like a solder, the person made perfect in Christ also has to learn how to act like what he is. He has to learn to behave in harmony with what God has put within, turning from old habits, and living as Christ.

Ephesians 2:8,9 say, “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that is a gift from God. It is not of works, lest anyone should boast.” God accepts His “recruits” by grace through faith. No one comes into His army by putting on an outer uniform of piety and by doing good works. They begin by becoming Christians and advance by learning how to act like what they already are.

Ephesians 2:10 goes on to say that “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works...” which, without Him, are impossible. We can only do the perfect works AFTER receiving His perfect nature. 

So the answer to the paradox is that both sides of it are true, yet each must be given proper application.

God’s Word constantly reminds believers that “You are complete in Christ... You are holy... You are perfected in Him...” and these reminders motivate us to act like what we already are. But the Bible also reminds us from where our perfection comes. It is in Him, the One who lives in us, the perfect Son of God.

Friday, December 13, 2013

God-given rights? ...................................... Parables 053

If a theme song were written for the 80's, it would probably be entitled, “I Have My Rights.” So many are singing it.

The word “rights” usually describes the privileges or freedoms granted to individuals by a higher authority. But sometimes the protest “I have my rights”, really means “I want something ... and no one is going to stop me from having it.” 

As early as we can talk, we seem concerned about rights... at least in North America. Affluence, many political and social privileges, perhaps even being “spoiled rotten”, contributes to a fierce sense of ownership towards certain freedoms, possessions, and responsibilities.

Thus we claim “rights” in many areas... the right to be treated equal, or the right to equal wages, or the right to speak, or to select clothes, or music, or hair styles. Some believe we should have the right to abuse our rights, to go outside society’s norm, to be bizarre, to shock or offend others. Most people insist in the right to believe whatever they want to believe, to vote however they want to vote, and to say whatever they want to say. Many look to some higher authority to grant, or at least enforce, those rights.

The Bible sheds some interest on this concept of “rights.” It uses the word “exousia” which means freedom of action, or the right to act. When this word is used to describe God, it means absolute or unrestricted freedom. In other words, God has every right to do what He wants to do. He alone has that power and ability and there is no higher authority.

When “exousia” is used in regard to us, it is a delegated or given freedom. More simply, our rights are not an automatic possession but something that is a granted as a privilege or a gift, by God, or by a God-ordained authority.

A basic God-given right is the freedom of choice. God gave each of us a free will, and even though He has the power to, He will not violate that freedom. He respects this right that He has granted to us.

Very importantly connected to that freedom is another right, the right or privilege of being one of His family. This one is also God-given, but granted according to our freedom of choice. In other words, He doesn’t give it to us apart from our decision to receive it.

God says this: “... to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name (referring to Jesus Christ), He gave -the -right to become children- -of God- - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12,13 NIV)

The choice to believe and receive Christ is ours, but the bestowing of the “right” to be a child of God, is from God. It is not within our ability to become members of His family simply by an act of our own will. God has to grant the privilege. However, this privilege is freely granted to anyone who chooses to believe in His Son and receive Him into their lives.

That theme song, “I Have My Rights”, need not be one of demand and protest. If it is understood as, “He has given me the right...” it can be a song of praise and gratitude to God.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lost? ................................ Parables 052

Have you ever been lost? ... when all sense of direction eluded you, and you did not know how to go from where you were to where you wanted to be? ... and you had no idea where you were at? You kept telling yourself, “Don’t lose your head... you’ll be okay.” But the knots came in the pit of your stomach and panic threatened to overcome all your logic.

Frightening feeling isn’t it? A couple of years ago we made one wrong turn off a freeway in Los Angeles, and we didn’t have any idea what city we were in, or what way to go. Happily, we could stop and ask someone, or look at the street signs and compare them to our map. 

Being lost outdoors in the wilderness on a hunting or hiking trip where there are no people to ask, is even more frightening. After a while the trees and rocks all look the same. Our pounding hearts wonder, “Am I alone in this, or is anyone looking for me?” 

Children often get lost, without even knowing it. They wander away from their parents, oblivious to the separation, and drift to the toy department, after the puppy on the beach, or whatever. Taken up with what grabbed their interest, they are unaware that mom and dad are even looking for them, at least until they are found.

Spiritually, there is the condition of being lost. The Bible says that “We like sheep have all gone astray, everyone has turned to his own way...”

All have wandered from the Father. We were born that way, adrift from His will, not interested in walking with Him, and are therefore excluded from the heavenly home that He desires to share with us for eternity.

Like the physically lost, some may know their condition. Perhaps there is panic inside, and an effort to convince themselves that “I’ll be okay.” Yet deep inside, the questions nag, “Am I alone? Does anyone care?”

Others are not aware that they are lost from God. They are so caught up in the “toy departments” of life that their separation from Him goes unnoticed. Aware or not, God’s Word confirms that the lost cannot, and will not, find their way to Him by themselves.

Thankfully, He is not oblivious to our condition. He knows where we are, even before we know ourselves, and He knows we need His help to get out of the “wilderness.” So He sent Jesus Christ “to seek and to save those who are lost”, and to declare “I am the way... no man comes to the Father but through me.” His Son is the rescuer - as well as the way home.

If you have ever been physically lost, you know what joy you had when you were at last safe. The fears and questions were over, and you relaxed in the comfort of being home.

The spiritually lost are also invited to experience peace and joy - by the Lord of the lost sheep, Jesus Christ, as He reaches out to find us and show us that He is the Way to the Father. Eventually He will lead those who take hold of Him in faith to their heavenly home, where there will be no more questions and no more fears.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Patience ............................... Parables 051

Little children sometimes stamp their feet, pout, and demand, “Give it to me... right now!”

Bigger children are not much different. We moan, “Give me patience, and I need it... right now!” 

All sorts of things test our patience: unexpected changes and no changes, delays and head starts, intricate projects and boring projects, traffic snarls and long drives without any traffic, people who move too slow and people who move too fast. We become impatient with little people and big people, with ourselves, and sometimes with God.

Impatience is often related to weakness in some other area of life. The person who frets at the slowness of traffic may be guilty of poor time management. The mom who rages when her children keep interrupting may not have learned to give them proper attention so they don’t feel threatened by her occupation with other things. The intricate, involved project may be left undone, not because of impatience, but just plain laziness.

A dear woman of God related with a knowing chuckle, “Never pray for patience... the Bible says that God gives patience through tribulation, so if you ask for it, you will get nothing but problems...” She was right.

James 1 says, “the testing of your faith (through trials) produces patience,” so in spite of our thinking that trials make us impatient, we need to see them as having an entirely different purpose.

Through the trials of life, we learn to make choices. Behind any choice is some basic theology about ourselves and about God. If I believe that what I want is more important than whatever it is that is preventing me from having it, I will react with impatience. That choice is self-centered because my thinking focused on my own desires and purposes.

If I believe that God uses all things for good in my life, that He personally cares, that He is involved in what happens to me, that He has purpose in the delays and the difficulties, then I will choose patience. It is easier to endure a trial, waiting to see what its outcome will be if I concentrate on who controls it, and that He has a purpose for it.

Sometimes God’s purpose becomes key to a patient response. If we can learn the will of God for our lives, and co-operating with that will, patience is the result.

Patience it takes time, and trials, but as the saying goes, it is a definite virtue, far easier on ourselves, and everyone else, than fighting life, pouting, stamping our feet, and saying “I want it now!”

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fatalism ................................. Parables 050

This morning there was a letter to the editor of an Edmonton daily paper that expressed the opinion that the current no smoking campaign was just a passing fad, and that all of us are “terminal” anyway. The attitude was fatalistic: “why fight anything that will kill you — death is unavoidable, so don’t bother to do anything about it.” 

My first response was a rather caustic “He probably smokes two packs a day and doesn’t want anyone telling him to stop.” 

Then I wondered if he really had thought through his argument. If it was applied to all aspects of living, then scientists should not look for cures for disease, we should allow our children to play in traffic, wars are not important to avoid, and don’t bother with warm clothing or heating our homes and cars. After all, we are all going to die sometime. It compares to tossing your pay cheque to the wind with an “oh well, it will all be gone by the end of the month anyway!” 

A fatalist does have a certain sense of reality. It is true, every life is terminal. God says “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Hebrews 2:14-15 says that the fear of death brings people into bondage and certainly fear of death could motivate an anti-smoking campaign.

Neither have the complete answer. The frantic efforts of people under pressure against a fear of dying, or a fatalistic resignation to its inevitability do nothing to help us understand it, or prepare for it. 

Whatever we may think about death, God says that it was the power possessed by the enemy, the devil. (Also in Hebrews 2) 

The good news is that little word “was.” The power of death is no longer in enemy hands. It has been broken by One who submitted to it, then conquered it. When Jesus rose from the dead He conquered the ultimate weapon of Satan. Jesus offers the same conquering power to those who believe in Him.

No one need fear death. Neither do any of us need to resign ourselves to its inevitability. The Word of God was written so we “can be certain that we have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) That does not give us license to throw away this life, but we can enjoy it, deeply enjoy it, if we know that is not all there is.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Justice and a pardon offered ........................... Parables 049

The school bus was “speeding” . . . through the school zone!

It was 3:45. Students were still at the crosswalks, on the sidewalks, and walking out of the school.

There wasn’t a police car in sight. All that driver received for his offense was the protest I uttered to my two passengers, a protest that he didn’t even hear. Is This justice?

Justice, according to the dictionary, is the rendering of what is due. It is getting what is deserved, or what is earned. Justice can mean a reward for what is good but we usually think of it as punishment for a crime.

Crimes against God are called sin. The Bible defines these “crimes” in various ways:

  • “Sin is the transgression of the law” 1 John 3:4
  • “All unrighteousness is sin” 1 John 5:17
  • “Whatever is not of faith is sin” Romans 14:23
  • “The thought of foolishness is sin” Proverbs 24:9
  • “He that despises his neighbor sins” Proverbs 14:21
  • “In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking . . . ” Proverbs 10:19
  • “He that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, for him, that is sin” James 4:17
The punishment for sin has also been declared: “The wages of sin is death . . . ” (Romans 6:23) 

This refers not just to physical death, but to spiritual death, which is separation from God forever.
The Bible says that God is perfectly just, but because we are not struck by lightning, or some such thing, when we break His laws, we tend to think that our transgressions don’t really matter to God, that maybe He looks the other way, or doesn’t care.

The cross of Jesus Christ should remind us that our sin matters very much to Him. Sin is such an offense to God that His Son suffered and died for it . . .  that sin had to be punished. God will not be unjust. Someone had to die to pay for it.

I’m sure that if the speeding bus driver had been caught and an innocent person offered to pay his fine or penalty, he would seriously consider the offer. In God’s system of justice, God does just that. The penalty was due and just, but it has been paid in full, by His Son.

Now He offers us pardon and forgiveness as a gift, but He leaves the decision to us. We can reject His offer, or accept it by faith.

Monday, December 2, 2013

God fills the void .................................... Parables 048

The farm lane was longer than most, lined with junior fir trees and iced with snowdrift frosting. It looked untouched, even in the darkness.

“It is easy to see that the children have grown,” we chuckled, “There are no tracks, no forts, no tunnels, no angels in the snow.”

It seems to be a compulsion for youngsters, and even some adults, to make their mark in the expanse of a snow drift. If there is a space of any kind, it is like us to want to fill it; whether it is snow, a blank wall, a sheet of paper, or even silence. Something in us cannot leave a thing void, without putting something there.

That is an evidence of our origin, that we are created in the image of God. While our graffiti is perhaps a perversion, the inner compulsion to fill a space with something, is very much like the One who created us. This characteristic of God is revealed in the opening verses of the Old Testament. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void . . . ” Genesis 1:1-2.

Regardless of the implications of the earth being formless and void, God didn’t leave it that way. He said, “Let there be light . . .  expanse . . .  vegetation . . .  sun . . .  moon . . .  stars . . .  fish . . .  birds . . .  animals . . .  and man made in our image, after our likeness.”
And all these things filled the void.

Each of us, because we are made in the image of God, have the same desire to put something in the places that are void, blank, without anything. We hang pictures on the wall, or doodle on notepads. We fill silence with music, or sometimes just with noise. It is part of who we are to be attracted to the snow drifts, to lie down on our backs, wave our arms and legs, and leave the impression of angels. The posture may not be dignified, but part of the reason that it feels good is that it is an expression of our identity.

Besides the filling of a void at creation, God also created a void when He made our hearts. It is hard to define, a hollow spot that gnaws at us at times. Some mistake it for loneliness, or hunger, or a desire for money, or clothes, or things, but we cannot fill it with any of those. None of them fit, because this is a God-shaped space. Even should we squeeze other things in, the vague unrest goes unsatisfied.

The only One who can fill that void is the One who moved out when sin moved in. But He longs to return, to fill us. Ephesians 3 says, “I pray that . . .  Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . .  and . . .  that you, being rooted and established in love . . .  may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Colossians 2:9 tells us that “in Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” and when we have Christ, we are “complete in Him,” with no void, no blanks.

We change snowdrifts forever by impressing “angels” in them. God changes us forever when He fills our empty spaces with Himself.