Friday, February 28, 2014

Blind? or able to see? .................................. Parables 086

A dad brought home gifts for his two sons from a “rock hound” gathering somewhere in the United States. He had selected what appeared to be two ordinary items in a bin marked “Your choice - $5.00.” The newspaper article didn’t say whether he had an expert eye but it did say that the external appearance of the two rocks was deceiving. They turned out to be worth several thousand dollars each.

The old saying “You cannot judge a book by its cover” has been used to describe everything from human character to actual books. In this case, it was true of a stone. An uncut diamond is another example; its fire and brilliance do not appear to the untrained eye. Unless a person is able to look beyond what is actually visible, they will not see the value that is there.

Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet wrote about the external appearance of a servant of God. In the context, it is clearly a reference to Jesus Christ, who would not be born for several hundred years. Isaiah said, “...He has no form or comeliness (or splendor) and when we see Him, there is no beauty (or physical appearance) that we should desire Him.” (Is.53:2)

Jesus was apparently not what we would call a Hollywood type. His appearance did not attract people to Him. He was an ordinary man, at least in His external features, and because He was so ordinary, some “despised and rejected Him.” Perhaps their value system included that which is pleasing to the eye. Perhaps they were expecting their Savior to come in regal splendor and sparkling brilliance. Whatever they expected, they stumbled over what they saw, and then rejected Him.

Failure to look beyond mere externals for the value of a person is as foolish as a quick examination of a $50,000 rock and deciding to toss it into the $5.00-take-your-pick bin because it looked “ordinary.” Had the owner of those stones looked more closely, he would never have sold them so cheaply. Had the people of Jesus day looked beyond what they saw on the surface, they would have seen the brilliance of sinless perfection, the fire of a holy life. They would have realized that this ordinary man was also extra-ordinary, and they would have received Him. But He didn’t look good, so they tossed Him aside, without a second look.

Some people do that today. They somehow have false expectations about Jesus Christ and think that He will solve all their problems and make their life a bed of roses, but He doesn’t. Some suppose that He only welcomes “religious” people; but that is far from true.

Some see Him as too ordinary, without the power and brilliance they hope for and need. Their understanding of Him may come from paintings of a limp and even sickly form on a cross. Or they see a television and theater “Jesus” - weak, effeminate, dull, or boring, not even an uncut diamond but a plain, ordinary rock.

Some told the disciples, “We want to see Jesus...” but seeing Him with the physical eye did not guarantee that they realized His value. Everyone who saw Him, even His disciples, did not really know what they were seeing. As the Bible says, He certainly was “the stone that the builders rejected.” Just as a jeweler uses a special lens to enable his eyes to discern the value of a precious stone, God has a similar eyepiece for us. We need one because our sin blinds us to the true beauty of the Son of God. His eyepiece is the Word of God opened up by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus enabling us to have a good look at Jesus.

When we see His glory, we see that He shines far brighter than any diamond, His worth surpassing all that has value. Then we are willing to “sell all” and embrace this One as our own precious Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Perfuming a pig? .................... Parables 085

While washing the wood paneled walls that line the stairway to the basement of our home, I felt like I was trying to perfume a pig. The stairs themselves are still the 2 inch boards used by the builder, without benefit of carpet or tile to cover them. A few years ago someone painted them off-white; someone else walked on the paint before it was dry; a few families moved in and out; some put a chip here, a gouge there... those stairs looked pretty shabby. In energy born from frustration, I grabbed a paint brush and give them a quick coat of fresh paint.

The nicks and gouges are the same color now. The wood is still rather beat-up but the paint gives a uniform effect. It will do, for a time, but I still feel vaguely unsatisfied; I did not fix the real problem.

That can happen in other areas of life too. Ever have an argument with someone, mumble “I’m sorry”, but still feel that something was left undone? Also, there is the vague unrest after doing a job at less than our best. It is easy to make an excuse and shrug it off, but it gets added to the clutter of the unfinished, the unsatisfactory, the “I-wish-I-could- do-it-over” stuff in our lives.

The Bible tells Christians to put the past behind, to press on toward the goal of Christlikeness. That sounds great, but we must also settle differences with others, pay our debts, and do our very best. How can we put the past behind without feeling like we are leaving a trail of debris along the way?

1) Keep short accounts with God: When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me never to apply perfume without first taking a bath. The principle carries over into spiritual life. If it is battered and gouged, or spotted and dirty, any efforts to whitewash it will only cover it up, not fix it. So, if the left-overs include unconfessed sin that must be dealt with. Putting on the perfume of goodness is important, but it does not correct the problem of any dirt that might be underneath.

Sin is serious, not to be swept under the carpet or whitewashed with excuses. David acknowledged his sin saying it was “always before me” and asked God “cleanse my heart and restore the joy of my salvation.” He did that because he knew that God “ faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9).

2) Make restitution: The past may include some unresolved relationship problems. God asks us to deal with them too, even if they seem like “old” issues. When I became a Christian the Lord impressed upon me to apologize to someone I had wronged ten years before. It was hard to find the person’s location and write a letter of apology, but the burden of the unfinished was lifted. Jesus said not to bring any gift to the alter of God without dealing with unresolved differences with others. (See Matt. 5:23,24)

3) Put the things we cannot do anything about into the Lord’s hands: No amount of regret, sighing, or unscrambling will change most of the past. If we have confessed any sin to God and done what we can to correct broken relationships with others, then it is time to move on. Moaning “if only” is destructive and time-wasting. When we spend a lot of time wishing we had done differently, that is all we do, wish. And our lives never change now - when we have opportunity to change.

4) Be free to build memories for the future. Tomorrow I want to be able to look back on today with the awareness that I did what the Lord wanted me to do with as much ability has He has given me to do it. If it does not happen that way, then, because of His mercy, I am “not consumed... His compassions fail not. They are new every morning...” making each new day a new beginning without a backlog of the unfinished to spoil it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Predictions ............................ Parables 084

“Top Ten Predictions for 1988"

It won’t be long before headlines like that march across magazine stands and through the racks beside grocery store checkouts. The current stable of soothsayers will be telling the readers their predictions for the coming year and those readers will hang on to every word. Some will maybe even plan their lives around such prophesies for 1988.

I suppose someone goes back to check the track-record of those who filled the same pages the year before. They would need to if they honestly wanted to publish the “top ten”, but I wonder about their evaluation system, if there is one. Would it stack up with the one God used for Old Testament prophets? Or would they even dare try God’s method for determining the “top ten” prophets for 1988?

Out of Deuteronomy 18:20-22 comes this: “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’”... and the response: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

That doesn’t seem too difficult a test. Everyone makes mistakes. One might think that to proclaim something in the name of the LORD or just in your own name and then have it fall through would not be a big deal... but here is the kicker: “... A prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”

That is not your average test. If the prophecy came true, the one who made it was allowed to live. If not, he was stoned to death. Pretty drastic isn’t it? That is why the prophetic books of the Old Testament have such impact. They were written by God’s top men, men who were 100% accurate. They only wrote what God actually did tell them to write.

God has His reasons for insisting on such accuracy. To say something is a message from God will grab a listener’s attention. His Words are not to be taken lightly. What He says is true, accurate, and reliable. When a false prophet claims “God told me...”, thousands of undiscerning people cannot tell the difference between those lies and God’s truth. Worse yet, most of them are as unconcerned about being led astray as the people who write and publish such nonsense are about doing it. It happened in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah and it still happens today.

When I see those magazines, and anything else that is a perversion of genuine prophesy, I am angry and grieved. God has recorded events that are yet to come and these can be trusted as certainties, but He also can be trusted even when we don’t know the future. We are not to put our faith in the words of some self-proclaimed experts. God said to Jeremiah, “The prophets prophesy lies... and my people love it this way... But what will you do in the end?”

What indeed will anyone do? Christians sometimes think that because we are a minority, we are helpless, forgetting that God plus one equals a majority. Instead we often ignore the perversions, retreat into our spired buildings, and hope for the some judgmental fire from heaven.

What a sad commentary on the value systems of the people of God when the greatest measure of integrity we can muster is to look the other way rather than do something positive to counter false prophesies with truth and the good news of the gospel. Jesus Christ, the greatest prophet of all, didn’t come to give us a detailed list of what will happen in 1988 or any other year, but He did come to give us is hope for eternity. We may not know what tomorrow will bring but we ought to know what will happen to us after we die and then tell others so they can have the same assurance.

Personally, I know enough about the future to make me realize how important it is to concentrate on the right now. God has given me plenty to think about, plenty to talk about, and plenty to do - TODAY.

Friday, February 21, 2014

God knows...! ....................... Parables 083

Some friends live on an acreage outside of Fort Saskatchewan. A few weeks ago, a neighbor approached them and offered them another place to live, one that would cost him something to provide, yet would be appealing to this couple. This unusual offer puzzled them so they did not respond right away. Instead they prayed for guidance. About a week later, their landlord came and posted a FOR SALE sign on the property where they were living. Suddenly they had a problem.... but a possible solution was in place before they knew the problem existed.

This illustrates a truth about God: because of His eternal perspective, He can prepare solutions before problems become apparent.

God knew all about our lives before our lives even began. In Psalm 139, David says, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

One of the things that God knew about David’s life and about the life of every person, was that all would sin and fall short of His righteous standard. So God planned the solution for the problem of sin before the problem existed. Acts 2:23, Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1 and many other Scripture passages tell how God predetermined, before the foundation of the world, that His Son would come and die on the cross for the sins of His people. He did this so we, by faith, could be forgiven and receive the righteousness of Christ, thus becoming holy and blameless before Him. Sin did not catch God by surprise.

God also knows the needs of His people even before we are aware of them. Matthew 6 tells Christians to pray, but not to pray as hypocrites or pagans do, who presume God will hear them because they pray over and over. Instead, the Lord says, “Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

God is a God who knows. He knows every time a sparrow falls to the ground; He knows the very number of hairs on our heads (Matthew 10). He knows what is in the darkness, and what is in light (Daniel 2:22). He knows the thoughts of the wise (1 Cor. 3:20) and the thoughts of the foolish (Genesis 6:5).

Jesus Christ, who is “God made flesh”, also knows. He knows our thoughts (Matt.12:25, Mark 2:8, Luke 6:8, John 2:25). He also knows our struggles - because “He was tempted in every way just as we are - yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
He also knows who loves Him, “If any man loves God, the same is known of Him.” 

And He knows who are His: “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’.” Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep...”

The Psalmist said that God’s knowledge is too high, too wonderful for him, beyond his comprehension. That is true, yet the knowledge of God should not cause us to back away in insecurity but to run to Him in trust, glad that He does not hold our ignorance against us.

In fact, the knowledge of God is great comfort to those who know Him. First, we can trust in the completeness of His salvation. His solution for sin is perfect. When we fall short, which we often do, we can know that God knew it before we did it, and that His Son, our Intercessor, has completely bore the guilt and paid the penalty.

We also can trust Him to faithfully lead us through life according to His great knowledge. Sometimes we do not realize our needs, but the more we become aware of them, the more we can rely on His promise to “supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Incarnation ............................. Parables 082

In his book, DEATH OF A GURU (Harvest House publishers), Rabindranath Maharaj said that he believed he would be reincarnated as a cow, therefore he spent hours staring at one, intent on her characteristics, putting all other thoughts out of his mind. He relates what a shock it was when this revered creature finally noticed him, became angry, and charged at him. It was one of several upsetting events that caused him to re-examine his belief in reincarnation and finally abandon it.

Reincarnation is the belief that a soul returns after death to live in another body. Although neither the word or the concept are mentioned in the Bible, Christians use another word that sounds very much like it. The word is “INCARNATION.” Actually, this word is not in Scripture either, at least in this English form. The New Testament was written originally in Greek and the component parts, “in carne”, are in the original text.

Incarnation refers to a unique event regarding the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. He left heaven, came to earth and occupied a human body. This event is unique because it happened only once, to one unique person, who lived in one body, for one lifetime, yet still lives - in that same body, forever.

Jesus Christ was born, fully man, nearly 2000 years ago. The Bible says that His mother was Mary, but His Father was not Joseph, Mary’s husband, but the Spirit of God. John 1:14 says that “God became flesh and lived among us.” Therefore, Jesus was unique, the God-man, and God did this unique thing in order to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Man had originally been created in the image of God (not a physical image because God is spirit, and no man can see Him, but with moral, mental, emotional, and volitional capacity), yet human beings have failed to reflect the likeness of God because of rebellion against Him.

Because He is holy and just, God says those who rebel against Him (sin) must die. But He is also a God of love and mercy so He determined a way to pardon the sinner yet still satisfy His wrath against their sins.

His remedy was to provide a substitute, one who would die for the sins of others, making it possible for sinners to live. This substitute had to be a man to qualify as payment for man’s guilt, yet more than just another sinner with his own debt of sin towards God.

There was only one way to satisfy that criteria: God Himself came in human flesh. He, in a fully human body lived a perfect sinless life even though He was tempted to sin just as we are. Then He died the death that others deserve. But, because He did not deserve to die, He rose from the grave where He had been buried, and later ascended into heaven where He “lives forever to make intercession for us.”

That is the “en carne”, the incarnation.

No one ever has been, nor ever will be, God in the flesh again. The Bible calls Jesus the “ONLY begotten Son.” He is unique.

Furthermore, when Jesus died, it was in the body He had been born and grown to manhood in. When He rose again, it was also in the same body, a glorified body, somehow uniquely changed, yet still bearing the marks of the nails in His hands. It was this body that the disciples saw and touched. They watched Him eat and drink. Then they watched Him ascend and disappear into a cloud with the promise that “this same Jesus will come again” - in the same body. (Acts 1)

His soul did not and will not return in another body. Jesus was not and will not be “re-incarnated”.

The message of the Incarnation gives unique hope to those who believe in Him. God says that as we gaze into His glory, we are transformed, by the power of His Spirit, to be like He is... to be all that God intended us to be, clean from the sin that spoils the image we were created to reflect. Later, when we die, we will be raised to eternal life - in our bodies made incorruptible like His glorified body, fit to live forever with Him.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reincarnation? ............................. Parables 081

Every now and then someone wants to know what the Bible says about reincarnation, an eastern philosophy that seems to be catching on in North America. The dictionary defines it as “the rebirth of a soul into a new human body.”

I asked myself “why would I believe in reincarnation? Some thoughts were: It gives hope for a second chance. If I could come back in another body, maybe I could just put behind me all the mistakes I made in this one. Also, if I could live again, perhaps I could have all the things denied me this time around. Besides, who wants to die?

So, what does the Bible say about reincarnation? Absolutely nothing. The word is not in Scripture. Surprised? Wouldn’t you think that if this was a valid concept, God would have something to say about it? Actually, He does. He reveals truth about the very same issues that reincarnation appeals to, the issues of: life after death, second chances, how to deal
with mistakes, and finding satisfaction and fulfillment.

LIFE AFTER DEATH: Jesus Christ said “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear (the Father’s) voice, and shall come forth...” (John 5:28-29) He goes on to say that those who have done good (satisfied the Father’s standard of righteousness) shall experience the resurrection of life and those that have done evil, the resurrection of damnation. Either way, everyone will live again after they die.

SECOND CHANCES: The Bible is blunt about this one. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement.” Very simple. We only die once. There is not one thing in Scripture that even infers that life is a cycle of souls re-entering other bodies.

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR MISTAKES: While it would be nice to just sweep our mistakes and failures into a casket and freely enter a next life, there is nothing in God’s Word that says it will happen. Instead note He. 9:27 again, we die once... “but after this the judgement.” The next life is not one where we face a new beginning but where we face God.

Again, the Bible doesn’t mince His words and try to soften the blow. If our “mistakes” are sin, they are called sin. Furthermore, the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and everyone has sinned. God loves those He created, but He is also just. Those wages must be paid. The death that comes from sin is not just physical death but spiritual death - separation from God, forever. In other words, everyone dies physically, everyone is resurrected, but not everyone will spend eternity with God.

FINDING SATISFACTION: One would think after all this gloom and doom that it is no wonder people avoid Scripture and turn to the religions of the eastern mystics that are in such utter contradiction to God’s Word.

But the Bible has good news too. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live...” It also says, we are saved from God’s wrath by faith in His Son. That means Jesus + faith = eternal life, with the Lord, forever.

Jesus gives a genuine second chance - not by a vague hope for a future reincarnation but by a very real spiritual birth, IN THIS LIFE. “If any person is in Christ, He has become a new creation, old things are passed away, all things have become new.” Yet He doesn’t sweep our sin under the carpet, when He gives that life. Instead, He bore our sin Himself. He paid its terrible penalty on the cross where He suffered and died.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky philosophy that puts everything off into the hereafter as reincarnation does. It offers fulfillment and hope for this life right now because Jesus also said, “I have come that they might have life, and they might have it more abundantly.” The Lord is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think.”
Even if I could come back in another body, I know I could not do better than He can.

(Next week: The Bible does talk about INCARNATION.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Rejected? ........................... Parables 080

“Nobody’s Child” is a movie portraying the life of a woman who was admitted to a mental institution at 16 and spent most of the following 20 years there.

Her illness? Childhood rejection. Even remote reminders of her past caused her extreme anxiety. Sometimes she became violent in her fear. One incident sent her into two years of silent withdrawal.

Finally, one doctor recognized the emotional need of this woman and began to express loving concern for her as a individual. She encouraged her to turn from her fears and develop some life skills. “Nobody’s Child” responded to that love and eventually moved into her own apartment, earned a college degree, and reached the potential that her doctor saw in her. It was a very dramatic true story.

Of course, not everyone who suffers becomes movie material. Sometimes there is no one that cares about their needs. Sometimes they fail to respond to anyone who does try to help. Whatever the reasons, all stories do no have a happy ending.

But everyone understands rejection. Whether a person is a “different” child in school, abandoned by someone they hoped would love them, or just turned away when there was a desire to participate - rejection hurts.

The Psalmist knew about rejection too. He says “When my father and mother forsake me...” Yet he found there is One who never turns anyone away. “...then the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).

The Lord Himself offers love. Even if there is no one to pick up the pieces, such as the doctor in the movie, God is always there. His love goes far beyond that of the most caring person. In fact, The Lord’s love never gives up.

He says, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). He said this to a nation who resisted Him, who fell into idolatry, and turned their back on Him. But in His love, He continued to draw them, wanting to restore them to a love-relationship with Himself.

His love extends beyond those ancient nations to us. Even though all mankind has “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, “God has demonstrated His love toward us...” He knows we can not and will not seek restoration so He made the first move and “...while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Our sin is an affront to His holiness and separates us from Him, but His Son was willing to pay the full penalty for our sin. The cross is God’s message that says, “There... I love you.”

We need to recognize that our “illness” is sin. We cannot cure it ourselves, or even demand a cure. We do not deserve it. The mercy and grace of God, through the sacrifice of His Son, provides forgiveness and cleansing, the cure we need.
God will not accept into His presence people who are defiled and unholy, so we also need righteousness. This we do not have but because of God’s love, that is also provided in Christ.

Just as the woman in the movie could not make herself well and then go to the doctor, we cannot make our lives acceptable and then go to the Savior. He saves, we do not. And when He does, we are forgiven and transformed, given grace to become all we can be, with hope for a “happy ever after” when this life is over.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Asking in Faith ..................... Parables 079

The kids in the backyard were hungry. Their young host suggested they go inside and tell his mother their problem, so in they went.

She didn’t seem to hear them at first. One of the children from next door wondered if she was angry. Another child wondered if she even cared that they were hungry. One of the older ones thought maybe she might give a cookie to her own child but wouldn’t be too interested in feeding half the neighborhood. Another little one started for the door, certain her silence meant that this was not the time to ask.

Her son looked at his friends and smiled. He turned to his mom for the second time and asked, “Mother, can we have a cookie?” The initial lack of response didn’t bother him; he believed in her generous love. She smiled and reached for the cookie jar.

A Canaanite woman had a daughter who was demon-possessed. (Matthew 15:21-28) She came up to Jesus Christ and told Him her problem. But He didn’t answer her. Soon the disciples came on the scene and told Him to send her away. They said she had been crying after them.

This woman was a not Jewish but a gentile, despised by most Jews, even called “dogs”. Besides that, no self-respecting Jewish man would even speak to a woman publicly. They put women in the same category as Gentiles. But Jesus turned to this woman and explained that He “had been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. In other words, His priority was to bring the gospel to the Jews.

The woman did not give up. Instead she worshiped Jesus, falling on her face before Him. She asked again, “Lord, help me.” She believed in His mercy, and bowed to His Lordship, calling Him Lord three times. Jesus responded, “It is not appropriate to give the bread that belongs to the children to the dogs.”

This sounds like a tremendous rebuff. Dogs! But the Greek word that Jesus used was not the same word for “dog” that the Jews used to curse the Gentiles. Instead, it was a word that means “a little puppy.” He likened her, not to a cur, but to a family pet.

The woman responded, “Even the pups lick the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

At that, Jesus told her she had “great faith” and granted her request.

The Bible says that faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9) and this gift is available through “hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Therefore, having great faith in Jesus is possible to anyone open to receiving it. It should not be any more difficult than trusting the goodness of a mother to give what she has, even to those who might not feel they deserve anything.

Faith belongs to those who do not turn away in discouragement, even if they initially find God’s Word doesn’t really “speak” to them. The discouraging remarks of others also will not affect them. Instead, there will be a persistence to rely on the Lord. Great faith realizes that none have any “rights” before God, but instead makes its appeal on the ground of His mercy, not our worth.

Also, great faith knows that He is Lord of all - and will humbly tell Him so.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get in the wheel barrow ..................... Parables 078

A man pushed a wheel barrow across a wire stretched over Niagara Falls. The crowds cheered his daring stunt. After he came back across the wire, he stopped to talk to his audience and asked them one after another, “Do you believe that I can do that again?”

Most of them said, “Of course... you did it so easily already.”

But when the daredevil asked his next question, “Would you ride in the wheel barrow the next time?” all the “believers” suddenly lost their faith.

Did they even really believe in the first place? Perhaps in a general way. As long as the faith they had did not personally involve them, they were sure that he could do it; but when he asked them to prove that they really believed in him - enough to commit their life to him - no one did.

A great many people, some even professing Christians, have this kind of faith. There is a general belief that Jesus Christ lived, died, rose from the dead, and is able to save people from sin... period.

This is a Sunday-religion; it gives a certain amount of space and time to the external matters, and returns a certain amount of respectability. Any twinge of conscience toward God or concerning sin, and the answer comes easily, “Oh, but I go to church every Sunday” or “Of course I believe in God.” Jesus was followed by many with this “faith”. (See John 6:22-66) They eagerly crowded around Him, enjoying His miracles - especially when they were fed as a result. Eventually Jesus asked for a deeper commitment. He told them they needed to put their trust in Him. He asked them to partake of Him (not just His blessings), and said that He was “the bread of life”; anyone who would “eat this bread” would live forever. At that point, “many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.”

Sad to say, most people these days who dally in Christianity (but never trust their life to Christ) are seldom confronted concerning the depth of their commitment. Many well-meaning Christians are afraid to use spiritual discernment in such cases lest they become guilty of “judging” others.

But Paul warns genuine Christians about this kind of pretense. He says these people may “have a form of godliness” but they “deny the power of God” and are not to be welcomed but shunned (2 Timothy 3:5). Because they walk with only one foot in the wheel barrow, the religious lukewarm often block the sincere efforts of others who want to trust Christ but stumble over such obvious hypocrisy.

Besides that, these who only stand and watch need to realize how important it is to “get in the wheelbarrow.” Jesus Christ is the only One who can take them across this temporary life to everlasting life with the Father on the other side.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Truth now? or embarrassment later? ...................... Parables 077

A mother, in the first frame of the cartoon strip, asked her teenage son to go grocery shopping with her. He immediately noticed that she had split the back seam of her slacks, but he didn’t say a word. The remaining frames showed her bending and moving through the exercise of buying groceries, putting them in the car, and unloading them. He kept noticing her split seam but kept his mouth closed. Finally, when they were home and the task was complete, he told her about her pants.

If you didn’t see the cartoon, you can imagine her reaction. She nearly jumped off the page and shrieked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to embarrass you,” he replied.

A few weeks later, someone said to me, “I sometimes don’t want to read the Bible. I know that I should, but it keeps showing me what is wrong with me. Then again, I guess it is better to know now and be changed than to act like a jerk the rest of my life and then find out.”

We laughed at our human nature and I told her about the cartoon. It wasn’t too difficult to relate to that mother’s feelings. We also would want to be told about a split seam - before we went out in public.

But we also agreed that when it comes to our behavior, or morals, or even our attitudes, most of us really don’t want someone pointing out our wrongs. It can be humbling, wound our ego, or make us feel inadequate. It would seem that ignorance is bliss, at least if knowledge is painful.

The Bible says that Scripture is sharp, like a two-sided sword, and divides our soul and spirit, exposing the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). No wonder reading Scripture can be painful; however, Jesus said something very interesting about truth - He said “If you know the truth, the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

As for the lady in the cartoon, the truth, up front, would have taken her to her closet or the sewing machine and saved her the embarrassment of spending half a day with her pants ripped; but such a minor detail compared to the truth God conveys in His Word. That truth, even though it hurts, sets us free from a far greater embarrassment.

First He says that “there is none righteous, no not one.” No one measures up to His perfect standard of holiness. That wounds our ego.

Secondly, He says that He loves us, “even while we were still sinners...” Imagine doing some great harm but the one that should retaliate forgives and accepts you instead? That is humbling.

Thirdly, He says “Not by works of righteousness which we have done but by His mercy He saves us...” The good things we might do in an effort to earn the favor of God do not even count. We feel inadequate before Him - simply because we are inadequate.

Sin keeps people from knowing and enjoying God. He sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for sin so those who believe will not have to pay it themselves. He offers forgiveness and new life - in order that “...we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”

He wants to hurt us with truth now so we will not be embarrassed and ashamed later... but also gives us the privilege of choosing when to be humbled - now or when we stand before Him.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Coping with copy editing ...................... Parables 076

These articles are written and revised in my basement, edited at the Fort Record in downtown Fort Saskatchewan, and sent by an ingenious machine to Camrose where they are set in the proper print style, shaped to fit the available space, and published as part of the newspaper.

So, when someone told me last week I was getting “rather abrupt” with my writing, I checked the copies of what I had submitted, compared them to the final outcome and was surprised to discover that the last sentence, and sometimes even the last paragraph, of three or four recent articles had been chopped off somewhere along the production process.

Now there is something most people don’t know about journalism. Most news stories are written in an inverted-triangle style. That means that all the essential information is given up front. The details or “padding” is added after it. If the copy people cannot fit a story into a page, they will cut the bottom off it to make it fit. The story, because it has the basics near the beginning, will still make sense.

But I don’t write news stories, nor do I write in a typical inverted- triangle journalism style. So when my endings were cut off, I was tempted to react like anyone would if they had been interrupted and not allowed to finish what they were saying or doing. After all, this was a circumstance beyond my control. Somebody else “did it”, not me. I could respond by getting angry and bitter, or even just throwing my hands in the air and quitting...

But God encourages His people to think differently, to see even little adversities as opportunities to grow. He does promise that “all things work together for good to them that love Him, to them that are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Since I don’t have enough energy to stay angry or bitter, and I’m too ornery to quit, I decided to see how I could grow from this, and use it for my good, even though I did wonder how important those endings were. I felt they pulled the articles together and were necessary. Would someone fail to be comforted, encouraged, challenged, or edified because they fell to the cutting room floor?

Those are things I can never know, but God does, so I had to acknowledge that God is sovereign. Since He knows far more than I, I accepted His decision to allow my work to be cut. He could have prevented it, but He choose not. He also is Lord. He has the right to edit even the most brilliant piece of writing (never mind my attempts) if it has no part in His plan. With thinking like that, I actually found myself thanking Him that it happened, even though I may never know all the reasons.

Secondly, It would have been easy to be angry at the editor, or whoever was responsible. Instead I found out that a new copy-editor did it innocently, to make the piece fit, as good copy editors are supposed to do - and it probably will not happen again. Because I determined that even should someone be “out to get me” (no one was) or have any kind of personal reasons to thwart my written words (no one did), my responsibility was not to react in anger or fear, but to be polite and sincere. In other words, keep my own conscience clear and not offend or burden anyone. It is so easy to toss retaliation around, but this time no one was hurt or upset.

Thirdly, I decided the words were not a waste. They encouraged me when I wrote them, and maybe they were more suited to my needs that day than the people who might read them the following week.

Fourth, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t hurt to continue to learn to communicate with clarity and brevity. We don’t always get an opportunity to “sum up” or deliver a “punch line”.

So often, knowing the sovereignty of God and the goodness behind His intentions rescues me from anger and frustration, making these ordinary issues in life opportunities to remember and worship Him.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Awe that never wears off ........................ Parables 075

“We drove into Seattle in the middle of the night,” a lady related. “We’d never been there before. The traffic was unbelievable, cars going under us and over us and beside us - lights flashing everywhere, signs and confusion. We were so mixed up. But we took out a map - and I just read each street sign as we came to it, following along on the map with my finger. We drove right to where we wanted to be - it was awesome.”

Sometimes I have felt a similar sense of awe with my commuter. The first times that I hit several keys in a peculiar sequence and it did the things computers do - I felt awe... at least until it did it so many times that it was no longer a marvel to me. Now I just take it for granted.

Awe seems to easily wear off. After a time, what once amazed us becomes common-place. My mouth doesn’t drop open when I flip a little plastic switch on the wall and bright light suddenly glows from a glass bulb hanging from the ceiling. Nor do I do bow in awed reverence when a square metal box in my kitchen washes dirty dishes at the push of a button. Maybe I once did, but now I expect them to work. Somehow that initial sense of awe goes away - at least until a bigger and better marvel comes along.

The dictionary describes awe as: “...profound and humbly fearful reverence... submissive and admiring fear...”

The ability to be amazed, to have a sense of awe or marvel at a new or impressive phenomena, is built into us. We display it when we see something new or foreign to our experience. It may be a powerful machine or an authoritative person, or an event that is unexpected and wonderful.

When this ability to feel awe wears off with familiarity, no doubt it is because it was never intended to last - at least when the focus is on people, things or events. Instead, it was given to us as a necessity for worship, that we might focus on God, in awe, marveling at His power and authority.

In fact, Solomon said that the whole duty of man was to stand in awe of God and obey His commands. Surely those who do take time to really look at God will be filled with this awe and “profoundly and humbly” give Him reverence.

The Psalmist says: “Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him: for He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast...” and then goes on to describe the power and majesty of the LORD - things that are truly awesome.

Being amazed at God never becomes common-place because we can never know all there is to know about Him. There is simply so much to His character, so much to His power, that we could spend a lifetime and still be learning, still be in awe.

In my life, when I earnestly seek God, what He reveals of Himself to me through His Word and His Son always produces a response of awe. That awe wore off with things like light switches, or computers, even though I know they will do exactly what I ask (how amazing!) and what they do is rather marvelous.

The awe of knowing God is different. He never becomes ordinary or common-place.