Monday, March 31, 2014

My plan or God's? .................... Parables 099

“This week is going to be different. I am going to set some goals and get something done...” 

And from that point on, the whole world seems to go haywire: interruptions, unexpected circumstances, pressures, choices; together they carve out a big chunk from well-laid plans and nothing happens according to what was hoped. What was your week like. Plodding along or never a dull moment? If it was like mine, you might wonder if planning has any value at all!

But the unexpected is not unusual -- it is part of life. We try to get a handle on management of it and sometimes do, but most of the time the unexpected is to be expected. Some thrive on it but many people do not like changes because, unless we can comfortably keep our heads stuck in the sand, change forces us to change. 

One favorite verse concerning circumstances is Romans 8:28: “God works all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose...” 

Those who know this promise cling to it when life turns upside-down yet the thoughtful reader should go on to the next verse which states just exactly what God has in mind when He says that He “works all things for good” in a Christian’s life. Verse 29 says “... for those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son...” 

“All things” are purposed by God for change... change from what we are like to what He is like -- and that is very good! That makes change not merely vital to our Christian experience but it is our destiny. (See I John 3:1-3). 

Once a great sculptor began work on a huge piece of marble, intending to carve a magnificent horse. When asked how he knew what to carve from the piece and what to leave, he said, “That’s easy. I just take off everything that doesn’t look like a horse.” 

And that is just what God is doing in the lives of those who love Him -- carving away everything that is not like Jesus Christ... using, along with His Word, all events of life like a chisel to carve and conform us. he intends to remove chucks of selfishness, pride, and rebellion, breaking them away and leaving the pure beauty of the living Christ for all to see. 

Why does it work? Simply because each trial, each pressure-situation, calls from us a response. Will it be the typical human one of resistance to change, resentment and bitterness? Or will it be in obedience to the One who lives within us and desires to make Himself visible in all we say and do? When I make plans and they are changed by circumstances outside of my control, it is not always easy to remember the purposes God has in “all things.” But when I think about this promise and cooperate with the Master sculptor, the pain of change changes to the excitement of a transformed life. His promise concerning what He will do if I yield to His sculpting tool becomes a far better plan than those of my own making. 

It is not that prayerful planning and time-management are a waste; neither is taking time to attend to interruptions. What is wasteful is failing to yield to the hand of God, the Sovereign Sculptor of my destiny.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Caring for new life ....................... Parables 098

Now and then an abandoned but living baby is discovered on a doorstep, in a public washroom, or sometimes in a garbage can. Given the privilege of birth, it lives - but without the concern of society and the specific assistance of individuals and organizations, it wouldn’t live for long. 

Christians have a similar concern regarding new-born spiritual babies.

Jesus, just before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection, gave a commandment that has become known as the “Great Commission.” Most Christians know it by memory: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19,20) 

It is a “great” commission. This was the way that Christ intended that spiritual reproduction and growth should occur. The process begins with birth: the Word of God is implanted in a receptive heart; and it mysteriously works by the power of the Spirit of God to bring a person to faith and a living union with Jesus Christ... “If any one is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

This spiritual birth is absolutely essential. Jesus told Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God... or enter into it” (John 3:3,5). 

Washed clean from sin and guilt, the believing person is given a place in God’s family as he or she receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. “ all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, 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). 

The excitement in God’s family over a new birth is at least equal to the joy in a loving family after a physical birth; yet in a spiritual birth the new “babe” also enters into the celebration. In fact, he may be the most excited of all... he has come out of darkness into the light of God’s love and truth. He knows that he has been transformed by Christ and now belongs to Him. 

Shortly after spiritual birth, the new Christian experiences hunger for large doses of his “milk”, the Word of God. Most of the time he gets nurtured and brought to maturity through the Scriptures and the shared knowledge and experience of mature believers who have been faithful to the command in the great commission. (II Timothy 2:2) 

But sometimes the baby is abandoned. No one picks him up off the delivery room floor, cleans his eyes out, lovingly wraps him, or gives him regular feedings until he is able to feed himself. Sometimes this babe is picked up by a cult and nurtured by false teaching - resulting in doctrinal distortion, loss of victory over sin - and loss of joy. 

I’ve wondered how the Lord Jesus responds when He sees the abandoned babes? How does He feel when these babes struggle in immaturity? I know how the babes feel. 

The Bible is clear that both birth and nurturing are part of the great commission. New babes in the Lord are not to be abandoned but taught by those who have already reached a measure of maturity.

And it is never too late to begin.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Set free from hypocrisy ..................... Parables 097

Don’t you hate hypocrisy? So do I. Jesus Christ rarely displayed wrath, but when He did, it was against hypocrisy. Obviously, God hates hypocritical pretense too, yet not one of us can say we have never been guilty.

The word comes from the Greek theater. It literally means “to answer toward” which the actors did as they dialoged with one another. After a while they were called “hypocrites” and the word has come to mean anyone who pretends to be something that they are not. 

There are at least three kinds of religious hypocrisy. One was displayed by the Pharisees in the New Testament and continues to show up in the lives of many “religious” people today. These pretend to have a special “in” relationship with God but in fact do not. 

This hypocrisy is not always easy to detect. The Pharisees appeared “clean” on the outside and considered themselves righteous, piously thanking God that they were not like other people. But Jesus, who knew their hearts, said they were full of sin on the inside. They may have appeared to be the “religious elite” of their day but they did not deceive God. Furthermore, they rejected Jesus Christ as “the way, the truth, the life...” the only way to the Father. (John 14:6) 

Jesus warned His followers to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, specifically sinful pride that expresses itself in an “I am better than other people” attitude. So a second type of hypocrisy flows from an attitude of superiority. It involves patting one’s self on the back for what God as done - taking the glory instead - and then playing a game of trying to conceal sin and failure by “putting the best foot forward” somehow thinking this will prove the superiority of the Christian experience. 

Instead of proving the value of being a Christian, such pretense is a major stumbling block to others. Phoniness and trying to hide sinful attitudes and actions convinces no one. All they see is what the hypocrite is trying to hide. 

A third kind of hypocrisy happens often but is not usually thought of as pretense. The Bible says “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, old things have passed away and all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

Sometimes people claim to have new life but deny the expression of it, especially when in the presence of people who may be uninterested or hostile to spiritual matters. Instead, they act as if nothing happened to them. Christians are commanded to act like what we ARE, not like what the world wants us to be. In fact, Romans 12:2 (Phillips version) says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold...” If a person has genuinely been made clean and then returns to old sinful habits, that is just as much an hypocrisy as being full of sin and trying to fake spirituality. 

Hypocrisy is sin. It is sin because it is against the very “trueness” of the One who made us in His image. Because it is sin, hypocrisy also holds people in bondage. Jesus Christ said, “Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” And hypocrisy affects others. Jesus called it leaven or yeast because it tends to promote the same kind of phoney behavior in those exposed to it. 

What is God’s answer for hypocritical pretense? Obviously it is honesty. The “religious” person needs to acknowledge his sham and unbelief as sin, confess that he cannot save himself and turn to Christ. 

The Christian who is overcome with spiritual pride needs to “remember from what God has saved him” and confess his sin, acknowledging that without the grace of God he would have nothing to boast about. He needs to drop the pretense and trust God to be glorified through his honesty. 

The Christian who fears man instead of God needs to confess his unbelief to God, and ask for power to live out his spiritual convictions. 

God offers salvation from the contradiction of hypocrisy and any other sin through faith in His Son. As we honestly admit what is really true of us, He uses that truth to set us free from the bondage of pride, fear, and lies.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Made clean .......................... Parables 096

Occasionally something happens in our household that I hope no one ever finds out about. The first Saturday in January was one of those occasions. 

We had a family meal together just before leaving to spend the holidays in California. At that time we planned a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for January 9, after we returned. On the 9th, our daughter arrived early to help in the kitchen. She wanted to make a green salad so began pulling out ingredients and asked her brother to get down the salad bowls. When he did, out came groans and words like “yuck”... The top bowl was clean...but the four underneath it and the large serving bowl had been put back into the cupboard without first making a trip through the dishwasher. 

We couldn’t decide whether to throw them out or boil them in bleach. The kids were soon laughing because no one had a clue “who did it.” Even the person who did will never know because none of us would have done it deliberately (we are generally a family of “cleanies”) and it had to have happened at that last meal together before Christmas, too long ago to clearly remember. So out came the puns, wisecracks, and accusations. It will become a family memory of sorts, one to bring up when we are reminiscing over a bowl of popcorn (especially if it is served in that salad bowl!) 

After the turkey leftovers were in the frig I began to think about a promise that God made to the people of Israel, a promise that also applies to any who will claim it: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” 

How does God clean up the sin that disgusts Him? Do we have to be recycled, boiled in bleach, or is it possible to be so disgusting that His only option is to toss us on the scrap pile and look for better material? 

 His response to our sin could be described by my rough paraphrase of that verse in Isaiah: “Come now, let’s think this out together, says the Lord: though your sins be as disgusting to me as month-old leftover salad is to you, you can be as appealing and as pleasing to me as turkey dinner with all the trimmings has been to you.” 

The next promise God gave about being clean from sin is in Ezekiel 36: “...then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you... and I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and you shall keep my judgements and do them...” 

The promise was fulfilled in the New Testament. Following a description of sinners, I Corinthians says: “And such WERE some of you but NOW you are washed, but now you are sanctified, but now you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” 

He makes sinners clean! How does He do it? 

The Father said that without the shedding of blood there would be no forgiveness for sin. So the nation of Israel were commanded to trust God and sacrifice unblemished lambs. However that did not change their sinfulness. 

 When Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the cross, the Word of God says His blood was shed not only so those who believe in Him could be forgiven, but so we could be cleansed as well, and our very nature changed. “How much more (than the blood of lambs) shall the blood of Christ... purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” 

Our part is to believe in His provision for cleansing, confess our sins and remain in the light of His Word: “If we confess our sin He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

“If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Sin may be repulsive to God but because of His power to make clean, we can be clean; not cast aside but made precious to Him.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fantasy vs. Reality ...................... Parables 095

Over the holidays I saw a helicopter blow up, a water tower shot full of holes and the water pour out, a great white shark attack a tram car full of people, and a young man change from a 150 pound weakling to a 200 pound muscleman in a puff of smoke. I saw King Kong face to face, experienced an avalanche down a mountain side and was fired at by armored space soldiers. 

 A few days later, I went on a space flight, saw submarines embarking on a tour of the arctic, and climbed up a tree house with rooms and running water... but none of it was real. The helicopter was intact 20 minutes later. So was the water tower. The shark was polyester, King Kong was hydraulically operated, the avalanche an illusion, and so on. The tree even had plastic leaves - if you looked close. 

You guessed it, we were at Universal Studios and Disneyland - where fantasy is made so real that it almost becomes reality. In fact, for most of the thousands that come, it is reality. The people, the hot dogs, Mickey Mouse, the rides, arcades, stores, lights, sights and smoke - how much more real could they be? 

As I sat on a white fibreglass bench in the 2nd floor of the Star Tours building, I thought that in spite of the intricate technology needed to run the machinery, how much easier it is to control fantasy than real life. In Disney’s world, the good guys always win, the equipment rarely breaks down, and the heros live happily ever after. 

But what about the real world? Two nights later we saw some of it. Several cars trying to occupy the same space at the same time left two children without parents. Unexpected low temperatures brought out a voucher program so the “homeless of San Fernando Valley” could find shelter in local motels. A man staggered alone along a deserted street on December 25, his Christmas “cheer” obviously liquid and cheerless. Streets were unpredictably lined with $300,000 homes beside neighborhoods of shacks made from boxes that once warmed refrigerators. Friends showed us their complex burglar alarm system - yet it was not enough... they plan to move to a less crime-riddled neighborhood in February. 

The people who live in this kind of reality need their Disneyland. For most of them fantasy (or a bottle or chemicals) is the only escape they have. And Disneyland is fun... but eventually the lights are turned out, the gates closed, and everyone goes home... to a real world of tribulation. 

I’ve tried fantasy, escaping life by losing myself in a book, or in my imagination, or in the wild wonderful world of amusements. Sometimes I need to “escape” to relax and be refreshed, but all too often I have done it to avoid reality standing before me saying, “What are you going to do about me?” Jesus said to His disciples what is almost an understatement: “In the world you will have tribulation.” That is reality. But then He added, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus faced the worst possible reality. He left the glory of heaven to come to a sin-sick world where He was despised and rejected, spit on and crucified. Yet He conquered all that kind of reality could do to Him and rose from the dead. He is now seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, a far greater reality than the passing problems of this world. 

Yet I live here, for now, and the reality of this life is tough. I don’t mind admitting I am weak and sometimes afraid of it. Nor can I always cope with many ordinary difficulties and obstacles, never mind life’s horrors. However, fantasy doesn’t solve anything. I need the reality of the Lord. I am thankful that He offers His overcoming power to me through faith in Him. 

Because of Him, I can face the not-so-pleasant temporary realities too, even with a joyful heart. And because of Him, we enjoyed our vacation to California, not as an escape but because Jesus was with us supplying all our needs - whether we were on the freeways or riding merry-go-rounds.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Solid Foundation ....................... Parables 094

Approximately 3300 new homes were constructed in the Edmonton and surrounding area this past year. Most of them have a concrete foundation; some may have a preserved wood foundation; but certainly none of them were built on quicksand, mud, or rotten wood! Foundations are too important to use weak or unstable material. If we do, no matter how firm the structure is on top, it will come down when the foundation does... and this is as true for our life as it is for our homes.
What kind of foundation will you be building on this year?

Some people will structure their year upon how little or how much money they have in the bank, economics shaping their priorities and lifestyle. Some will plan around health; the state of their body will decide how they will live and what will be the most important choices.

Others will plan next year around a secular “this-life-is-all-there- is” philosophy; the foundation for “doing things because it feels good” or because it seems to be “easiest” or “the most comfortable” way to live. Most will not think about their relationship with God or how their foundations will affect eternity.

Christians need to be on guard against thinking the same way. God has promised more than just this life, therefore we ought to live accordingly. After all, our foundation does not change with the economy, the weather, or the state of our physical bodies.

Instead we build our lives on an unchanging person. Paul says, in I Corinthians 3, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” He is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” Christ is our foundation for what we believe. What we believe forms the foundation for how we live.

FAITH: At the foundation of everything we do is a supposition, a belief system. We think certain things, therefore we act in certain ways. The foundation for our thinking is Jesus Christ.

First He came “God in human flesh” and lived a sinless life among us performing miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead. Then He went to Calvary and died on the cross for our sin, paying the penalty we should have paid. He was buried, but on the third day rose from the dead and was seen alive by many witnesses. After that, He ascended into heaven and promised to come again and take all those who place their faith in Him to be with Him forever.

For this life, He offers Himself - as our wisdom, strength, and source of all we need. Who He is and what He has done forms a solid foundation for who we are and He is sufficient for all He wants us to do. But Paul also said “take heed how you build...” (1 Corinthians 3)

PRACTICE: Since He is our lasting and sure foundation, any thing we build in our lives must be built on that foundation . He explained it this way: “Abide in me... for without me, you can do nothing...” (John 15:4,5) Jesus also pointed out that abiding requires obedience (John 15:10) And in Matthew 7, He showed how obedience relates to having a solid foundation: “Anyone who hears these sayings of mine and DOES them is like a man who built his house upon a rock...” (Matthew 7)

The storms that come will not destroy that man’s house because of its strong foundation... neither will our lives be destroyed by the trials of life if they are constructed solidly upon obedience to Jesus Christ.

Psalm 11:3 asks “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Obviously, with no sure foundation, we would have no hope. But our foundation, Jesus Christ, is indestructible. Because He is who He is - He is always able to meet our needs, able to give us loving care, and able to direct us with wisdom and clarity. What more could anyone need for stability and strength against whatever may come in this year and beyond?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Taming and Training the Tongue Parables 093

This year the “in” toys are those that talk to you. Advertised as perfect playmates, these toys come equipped with battery-operated tape recorders and tapes that tell stories and jokes, giggle, and fit right in with a child’s fantasy world. 

While the development of a good imagination is normal, I have wondered about the value of these toys and in other amusements such as talking commuter games. Have our children learned how to relate to animation produced through bytes, bits, and microchips at the expense of not learning how to inter-relate, at least in some areas, with other people? 

We all know the struggles involved in interpersonal relationships, especially related to communication. People don’t always say things we expect, appreciate, or understand. That old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not true. Words often do make the difference between the experience of joy or sorrow, peace or strife, and love or hate. Proverbs 18:21 even says that “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Words have a powerful potential for good when used by a person who is able to say the right things at the right time. 

But we can’t program what people say to us and sometimes we can’t control our own speech very well. We want to say the right things but sometimes the opposite happens and we hurt, confuse, or disappoint others. Ephesians 4:29 tells us “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 

We would agree that this is a wonderful goal, yet James 3:8 says, “The tongue no man can tame.” Is not that lack of control the biggest reason communication can be so difficult? How can we use our mouth to build others if we are not able to tame our tongues? 

Paul laid a foundation for the answer when he told the church in Corinth that he did not come to them to impress them with his speaking ability or impress them with anything about himself. He hit a nerve concerning our communication problems - we too often think about ourselves and what will please us.

Paul went on to say, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He set his communication focus on bringing glory to the Lord, again, not to draw attention to himself. Unselfish motivation is only a beginning. We also need to learn what will build up our hearers and meet their needs. We need to know enough about them so we will not inadvertently do them harm with our tongue. 

This is impossible with a me-focus and an expectation that others should always say things that please us. Being a good communicator involves listening, sometimes to things that we don’t particularly like to hear. In other words, it is necessary to practice communication with real people who give honest responses. 

Communication with machines that say what we program into them to say and respond with what we enjoy hearing does not give opportunity to learn communication skills. Instead they promote a world of fantasy. It is in that unreal world that we can easily continue to think that WE never make any mistakes with OUR mouths, it is merely the fault of those who “misunderstand” us... therefore it is not OUR tongues that need taming. 

With that, another important area of life fails to be submitted to the Lordship of the One who made our tongue and who wants to use it to bless others and bring Him glory.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who is this Child? ...................... Parables 092

Christmas is the only birthday party in which most of the guests do not know the person in whose honor the party is given. 

In fact, there is as much argument about who Jesus Christ is today as there was after He arrived in Bethlehem nearly two thousand years ago. Some thought He was a prophet or perhaps a political redeemer. Others denounced Him as a liar and a blasphemer. Still others thought He was a madman. he Himself claimed to be God. They couldn’t all be right. 

The Jews were looking for a promised Messiah who they thought would free them from Roman oppression and establish a Jewish kingdom. So when they saw that Jesus had power to heal diseases and feed multitudes, they welcomed Him. However, His message became clear - He came to deliver them from their sin, not from the Romans. He called for a change in lifestyle and they changed their opinion of Him instead. The very ones who wanted to make Him a king soon were demanding, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” 

The religious leaders considered Him a liar and a blasphemer. He was upsetting their religious system and their authority over the people by continual demonstrations of His claim to be equal with God, who He called His Father. These leaders led the demand that Jesus be put to death. Their control over the people depended on it. 

Some thought He was a crazy man, out of His mind because He wasn’t motivated by fame or personal gain. His own half-brothers reasoned that He was crazy because He did not put His own interests first. Not only that, He said that anyone who “saved his own life would lose it, but those who lost their life for my sake would save it.” Clearly unpopular teaching. Another group responded immediately to His call to follow Him. They were the twelve who later were called the disciples. One of them turned out to be a traitor and the others ran from Him for a time, but they later returned and affirmed their belief that he was who He claimed to be. Who is this Christ, this baby boy born in a manger? 

Was He a deliverer? Yes, but not of a political sort. He came to set mean and women free from sin and its condemnation of death. 

Was He a liar and a blasphemer? Do liars live as this man lived? No man ever called Himself God and backed it up with the evidence that Jesus did. His “blasphemy” consisted of saying that He was God. If He was God, He was not a blasphemer. 

Was He a lunatic? Men who are insane cannot, and do not, forgive and heal sinful people, filling their hearts with peace and joy. 

Was He God in human flesh? At that time, only a handful of men thought so. They were so convinced that they literally “lost their lives for His sake.” Since then, countless others have done the same. The birth of the baby didn’t convince them, nor did His life. If that had been enough, they would not have fled from the cross when Jesus was crucified. 

The evidence that proved the deity of Jesus Christ was the empty tomb - the resurrection. The disciples may have been, for the most part, simple fishermen, but they knew beyond doubt that lunatics, liars, and mere political messiahs do not rise from the dead. There are no other options.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What is Christmas? ......................... Parables 091

A man walked into a department store in mid-December, heard a carol being played over the store’s sound system, and angrily remarked, “These Christians have to bring their religion into everything - even Christmas.”

Those who know that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ may chuckle or feel somewhat saddened that this person seems to have missed the whole point - that without Christ, there would be no Christmas.

Well, that is not entirely true. There was a time when huge celebrations were held in late December, without Christ. Historically, December was a month of pagan festivals, feasts and orgies. Pageants were held to honor idols as winter reached its fullness. The strength of the sun and spring thaw were eagerly anticipated. Then, in the middle of the 4th century, it was decided that December 25 would be the day that the church would celebrate the birth of Christ. It was hoped that this would somehow sanctify the pagan celebrations and tame the wild revelry to a holy occasion. It was a nice thought - but the heathen festivities continued.

So what does that make Christmas? It has become a strange mixture. Some of the things that Christians do to commemorate the birth of Christ unwittingly include customs picked up from heathen festivals. Some are adapted from later practices including trees, cards, and plum pudding. And many of those who are not Christian turn to “spiritual” activities - singing carols and putting up manger scenes.

Does Christmas confuse you? If so, it is no wonder. Our thoughts of what this holiday really means vary as much as the colors, lights and decorations. Part of my celebration comes from some rather dubious tradition, however we joyfully give gifts, send cards and put up a tree anyway. They have no pagan connotations for us.

Personally, I’d like to send up sky rockets and use loud speakers sometimes, just to share the joy I feel about Christmas. God actually became a man and lived among us! He was not born in a manger so we could say “Isn’t He sweet!” or so we could throw a big party, with or without inviting Him. He was born so He could die for our sins and He rose again so we could boldly declare, “Behold, my Lord and my God!” - He was born so we could receive a gift from Him - eternal life.

I have to agree somewhat with the angry man in the department store - not with his anger but that we who believe in Christ DO have to bring what we believe into this holiday - He is so easily pushed out of it - and those of us who have received His gift have great reason to celebrate.

Monday, March 10, 2014

False teachers ............................ Parables 090

Last week a lovely young woman came to my door representing a religious organization. She expressed concern for my eternal well-being and wondered if I was satisfied with my “religion.” I was impressed with her sincerity and her desire to please. She admitted that she did not have all the answers but was sure that if she studied more she would know whatever she needed to know.

This woman and others claim to teach from the Bible, yet I could see many contradictions between what she plainly said and what the Bible plainly teaches. Here are some of them:

THE NATURE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: I was told that people can and must please God. She said that God forgives but I had to do something to become righteous. I was also told that eternal life was a future condition and also attained by doing certain good things. 

The Bible teaches that “there is not one righteous person, no, not one...” and that “there is not one just person that does good and sins not...” It says that “all our righteousness is like filthy rags” and even if we do the best we can, it “falls short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3, Isaiah 64, Ecclesiastes 7) 

It also says God forgives - but not on the basis of what we do. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” Jesus Christ died so we could be forgiven. “It is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy we are saved.” (Titus 3) 

Also, when we believe, God imputes the righteousness of His Son on us. Any good that Christians can do is BECAUSE OF that imputed righteousness, not to earn it. (Romans 4, II Corinthians 5, Ephesians 2) 

I John 5 says that “eternal life is in Jesus Christ” and anyone who “has Christ (that is, receives Him by faith) HAS life.” Eternal life is found in a person, and is a present possession of those who have Christ. 

HOW TO COME TO GOD: I was told that the organization this woman belonged to was God’s only true organization. Without being a member, I would not be able to come to God. However, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14) Acts 4 says “There is salvation in no other name...” 

THE NATURE OF JESUS: This woman told me that Jesus was a created being, not God. (Other false teachers say He only a man, or one of many in whom the “Christ-spirit” lived, or an angel, or one of many lessor gods.) 

The Bible says that Jesus is the eternal “I AM,” the self-existing One. He is God who put on flesh to “pitch His tent” among us for a time. 

He claimed equality with God, not just equality of purpose but equality of nature, or essence. He proved who He was by doing things that only God can do - controlling the elements, healing the sick, raising the dead, and forgiving sin. Yet He did these things in the limitations of human flesh so that He could fully identify with our struggles and our suffering. (John 1, Philippians 2, and throughout scripture) 

This God-Man was put to death for our sins, buried, and by the power of His unchanging life, rose from the dead. After being seen 40 days by over 500 witnesses, He ascended in bodily form into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for those who believe in Him. (I Corinthians 15, Acts 1, Hebrews 7) 

In the day that God will judge mankind, the books will be opened. Only the names of those who have the righteousness of Jesus will appear in the book of life. These will experience “no further condemnation.” (Romans 8) but “those who do not have Christ are condemned already because they do not believe in Him.” (John 3) 

False teachers don’t wear a label that says - “Watch out, I am not telling the truth!” They are sincere. The best test is to measure what they say against the Word of God.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Reasons for crashing ............................... Parables 089

How do you react when you hear of “Christian” leaders caught in activities that are against what most of them preach? Does it make you angry? Disgusted? Do you feel pain and compassion, saying “there but for the grace of God go I”? Or do you wonder if the power of Christ is sufficient to keep a person out of immorality?

Without any intention to pass judgement on any one individual, I’d like to offer some Biblical principles that focus on the issue of immorality discovered in leadership and how it can be responded to and dealt with.

First, we need to watch our own attitudes. God says, “There is not one who does good and sins not.” So everyone sins. But isn’t it easier to point fingers at those who are more obvious about it? We need to remember that man evaluates sin on a scale, but God says “...whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).

Therefore the sins of prominent people, sins that make the headlines, are no greater in the sight of God than those committed in secret by those of us who are never get mentioned in the news. And it is definitely not right to talk about those who have fallen so as to feed a pride in our own “spirituality.” God warns, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Our crash may not be as loud, but it will come, if we nurture pride.

Secondly, sometimes people gain prominence by the strength of their own personalities but are not genuine. They are “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” as the Bible says, but they cannot actually live godly lives. It will only be an “outward appearance”, without the power of God behind it. Eventually that sin of deception will be exposed, sometimes through a public discovery and the person removed from their position of prominence. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: whatever a man sows, he also reaps” (Galatians 6:7).

Thirdly, it is possible for genuine Christians to be overcome, for a time, by ungodly behavior. Galatians 6:1 says if that happens, “... you who are spiritual restore such a person gently, but watch yourself or you also may be tempted.” Successfully rebuking and restoring anyone caught in sin is never easy, especially if the person is a leader. Most of us tend to think that leaders have “arrived”, that they are somehow beyond falling. Therefore it is too easy to neglect prayer for them and easier still to neglect holding them accountable, face to face, should they show signs of slipping.

Fourthly, God provides all anyone needs to battle sin. His provision includes:
a) The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit: Galatians 5:16 says, “Live by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

b) The Word of God which is the Spirit’s weapon - We are to “hide His Word in our heart so we might not sin against Him” (Psalm 119:11)

c) Prayer - the link between our weakness and His power. We are “always to pray lest we enter into temptation.”

d) Spiritual oneness with other believers - Hebrews 10:25 warns us “not to give up meeting together . . . but to encourage one another . . .”

e) Protection - but we must “put on the whole armor of God” so as to resist the “flaming darts of the enemy” who would lead us into sin. 

f) Co-crucifixion with Christ - yet we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.”

Any Christian who does not avail himself or herself of the provisions God gives to battle sin is certain to lose a few rounds.

The body of Christ is like the human body. Each member works interdependently with the others. When one fails, the rest suffer. The health and success of the body is based on the members functioning harmoniously -- by discerning false teaching, praying for each another, building up each other, accountability, and making full use of what God has done for us.

Without obeying those things, we cannot blame God that some come crashing down.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Love sometimes says NO! ..................................... Parables 088

My 4 year old granddaughter told me this week that “all she wants for Christmas” are two toys, advertised on television at a combined cost of nearly $300. She is convinced that these items will satisfy her totally, and is of course oblivious to what their purchase might do to our budget.

Her request reminded us that for the past 30+ years child-rearing has been revolutionized by the theory called permissiveness. Out of this parenting style has come a philosophy that goes something like this: If children are not allowed the things they want to have, their creativity and individuality will be destroyed and they will be hindered in their development. Not only that, they will think that they are not loved. In other words, give them the things they want - or you don’t love them.

Most thinking parents realize that giving a child all they want is not the best for them, nor does it really satisfy the child. In fact, most adults admit that the satisfaction from a new possession lasts only a short time. Then a new hunger develops, fixes itself to another object, and desires it.

But what I believe is the most serious error in the permissive philosophy is this idea that children “deprived” of the things they want are unloved. Obviously, someone has interpreted that ownership or possession of a desired object is somehow equated with love. Using that definition, some parents will even say, “Of course I love my children - I buy them everything they could ever want.”

The children might enjoy that brand of “love”, up to a point, but it doesn’t take long before they realize something is missing. One day they may say, “My parents never really loved me... oh sure, they bought me lots of things, but....”

Biblically, love is giving, but it is not necessarily the giving of things. In fact, God says that when people pray for things to satisfy that desire to possess, He denies their requests... “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

What God wants us to realize is that the having and owning of things no matter the size, shape, or price tag, only distracts us from finding genuine contentment. Instead, He challenges us to “seek first the kingdom of God” and He promises that if we do, He will take care of our needs in the material realm, and teach us how to be content with what He gives.

So how does anyone seek His kingdom? Is it a place? A sphere of rule? Jesus says that it “begins in the heart” but “unless a man is born again he cannot SEE the kingdom....nor can he ENTER it.”

Therefore, if anyone is going to seek God’s kingdom, become recipients of His supply and learn contentment, they first must become a new person through faith in Jesus Christ. This new person, re-created through the power of God, will find that the empty space that things would not satisfy is suddenly filled - Christ has become the possession that satisfies.

Not only that, faith in the wisdom and love of God enables Christians to yield their desires, hopes, and dreams to Him, trusting Him to provide that which will be best for them.

Hearing “no” might bring temporary disappointment, but I would hate to give a little child whatever they wanted if it damaged their childlike ability to trust someone else to take care of their needs... and perhaps later make it more difficult to trust God - who wisely sometimes also says “no”.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Blind eyes can see ....................................... Parables 87

Dot was a mutt of dubious background, white with black spots here and there and a fringe of curly bang hanging over her eyes. She seemed somewhat oblivious to her environment so her owner decided to give her a hair cut. Off came the bangs - and Dot became a new dog. Her eyes almost popped out of her head as she looked around. She could see! The world was a fantastic place, one that she had never perceived before. We laughed at her for days as she walked around with new awareness of an environment that her shaggy mane had prevented her from appreciating.

An eighteen year old girl struggled with things that other people seemed to see but she could not. She strained and squinted but it didn’t really help. Then one day she put on her first pair of glasses. She could see! Like Dot, she looked around with amazed awareness. It was as if her whole world suddenly became real. She knew something had been missing but without some help, never would have found out what it was.

The Bible says that people are spiritually blind because of sin. It is like the curly mane that hung over Dot’s eyes and blocked her vision. Sin prevents people from perceiving the glory of God and seeing the reality of spiritual truth. Sin even makes people blind to the fact that they can not see. In other words, many people don’t know what they are missing.

The Bible also says that even should we be aware of our condition, still our “eye has not seen... the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” Our spiritual vision is far from 20/20. Not only do we need our “blindfold” removed, we need some lenses.

It was because of our sin-blinded condition that God the Father sent God the Son into the world. Jesus said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). Jesus came from God to “take away the sin of the world.” Faith in Him is the response required from us to have the blindfold removed.

But once sin is dealt with, there remains the problem of poor vision. The human eye is not capable of seeing spiritual truth; the human mind is incapable of understanding it.
Again, the Lord is the One who opens the eyes to see and minds to understand.

2 Corinthians 2 says that we cannot see what God has prepared “but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.... that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God... but the natural man (the one without faith in Jesus Christ) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

This does not give the spiritual man reason to boast. On the contrary, anyone who has had the Sin-remover do His work and the “lenses” applied to his spiritual eyes knows that he did nothing to merit such mercy. It is “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” and God who “shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4).

If I could have cut away my own blinders and fixed my own blindness, I would not have done it. The nature of sin is that I didn’t want to see. Dot didn’t come willingly for her haircut, neither. Nor did the 18 year old didn’t think she could afford glasses. But both were glad that someone else gave them the gift of seeing. So am I.