Friday, August 29, 2014

Why God? .................. Parables 163

A man slashes the throats of three little girls, killing two of them. Where is God?

Middle East soldiers retaliate against their enemies; children are slain in the crossfire.

Where is God? A drunken driver sways to the wrong side of the road; two young people die. Where is God?

This question hangs over our morning newspaper, the evening TV news, and certainly in the hearts of those personally affected, and who remain after the news of their tragedy is replaced by someone else's horror story.

Is it legitimate to ask, “God, if you are a God of love, why do You allow the innocent to suffer? Couldn’t You do something? Why, God?”

Job is the typical Bible example. This godly man suffered every loss imaginable: his health, wealth and children. His friends turned against him. So did his wife.

But God lets us see the spiritual warfare behind the scenes. Satan challenged God saying that Job would never trust Him if He hadn’t blessed him with health, wealth, etc. The faith of God is stronger than suffering. Job stood firm and was rewarded.

Not everyone has that kind of faith. Neither is suffering always a test for it. What is going on when bad things happen to seemingly innocent people?

First, Scripture shows the origin of “bad.” It says sin is at the root of murders, wars and inconsideration of others. It is sin that brings the young to an early grave. It might not be their own, but it is somebody’s sin.

Romans 5 says that sin entered the world through one man and now all people are tainted with it, bent to ignore God and go their own way. Psalm 82:1-5 affirms that because people hurt other people, the world has been thrown off course. Further evidence of sin permeating the human condition is that many people turn around and blame God for the state of things.

Someone might suggest that God should get rid of all sinners — surely that would take care of the evil in the world. However, Romans 3 says there are “none good, none that seek after God, none that do right. All have sinned.” If God dealt with evil that way, the planet would be quickly without inhabitants.

Another suggestion is that God intervene with the actions of man and stop innocents from being harmed. Interesting idea. If carried through, that would mean that there would never by any consequences from evil. In other words, if a man decided he didn’t like the way someone looks and proceeded to re-arrange that person’s face, God would have to erase the pain and heal the bruises and broken bones. He would also have to change the victim’s heart so he would not retaliate. And while He is at it, why not just change the heart of the first man before all this even happens? Then there would be no evil and no consequences to worry about.

In that little illustration lies the solution that God HAS offered to us. He WILL fix sinful hearts. The only catch — He doesn’t zap it on anyone, and each person can be responsible for only his or her own sin.

The first man, the one who doesn’t like the looks of the other, has to decide that he wants to be changed and wants to turn from taking matters into his own hands. He has to desire God’s will, for himself. It is the same for the second man. He has to want to keep peace, want to leave revenge with God, and want a new heart.

“No way,” you say? Without God’s intervention, that is exactly it. There is no way anyone desires to “turn the other cheek” or turn from ruling his or her own life. Without God putting a desire for righteousness in the human heart, sin and the chaos it causes, would be far greater than it is, far more horrifying.

God has “done something” about the root of suffering. He didn’t turn His back on the world. The world, for the most part, has turned its back on God and spurned His offer of forgiveness and new life. If anyone is to blame when the innocent suffer, it surely isn’t God.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Persistence ...................... Parables 162

Did you hear about the blundering bank robber? He wrote his message on a withdraw slip, signed it Bank Robber, and gave it to a teller. The teller (get this) could not read his writing. She thought his name was Bank Robert and tried to find an account by that name. By the time another bank employee deciphered the scrawl, the robber had second thoughts and fled.

His next stop was a convenience store. He told the clerk he was armed and to clean out the till. The clerk conferred with another employee and decided to call the manager to see if they should do it. Blundering Bank Robber split again, this time taking a few groceries with him.

Fifteen minutes later, he entered another bank. (This guy gets an A for persistence!) He handed a carefully written note to a teller and finally achieved his goal, escaping with an undisclosed amount of money.

The story reminded me of a dog we once owned. Every time she tried to chase a cat, the cat just sat and looked at her, even yawned. The dog was a soft-mouthed retriever who instinctively would not bite into a living creature — thus cats never took her seriously.

While the goal of the dog and the bank robber is not particularly virtuous, there are lessons to be learned from these stories, especially for those who follow Jesus Christ, tell others the gospel and are puzzled if no one takes their message seriously.

IMPROVE OUR APPROACH - If we are blundering continually, perhaps we need to check our style. We might just need instruction. So find someone who knows more and learn. While we are at it, make sure there is not ‘something about our life that doesn’t match the good news that we want to share. Should there be, clean it up. We don’t want this response: “I’d like to believe you but what you are speaks louder than what you say.”

MAKE IT CLEAR - Whatever we say needs to be plainly said, especially the good news about Jesus Christ. While clarity isn’t all that is needed, a mixed up or muddied gospel presentation will turn most people away, perhaps to some philosophy that makes better sense.

PERSIST - Most of us give up too easily. It might help to recall our own experience with God. Didn’t He persist, in spite of our initial failures to grasp the truth? And aren’t we glad that He didn’t give up?

PUT SOME BITE INTO IT - Too often we present Christianity as “a way” and our message as only one choice among many. Jesus didn’t do that. He claimed to be “the way” and said “No man can come to the Father but by Me.” He also said that the alternative for rejecting Him and the gospel was condemnation and that those who refused Him would “die in their sins.”

Even when Christians get their act together, people may still say no. That is their decision. But far better they say “no” to a clear message than “no” to a foggy, fumbling presentation given by someone whose life is in utter contradiction to it and who blocks the image of Christ that ought to be reflected.

My dog never could chase cats. She eventually gave up. But Bank Robber finally achieved his goal. He kept at it. We need to keep at it too (but not robbing banks).

There are people who yearn for assurance of spending eternity with God, hear the message, and yet cannot seem to grasp what we say. Sometimes people- fail to take us seriously. That should be incentive for change - a stimulus to take a look at ourselves and deal with our shortcomings. Then we can go on with renewed conviction that this message we have is indeed life changing — and worth consistent and persistent telling and retelling!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Only one way to God? .................. Parables 161

"How can you say that Jesus Christ is the only way to God? What about those remote tribes in Africa or South America? Generations of them have never been farther than their own community, never so much as seen a missionary let alone heard about religion. How can you expect me to go along with a faith that ignores most of the world’s population?”

The question implies a strong conviction that God would be utterly unfair if He played favorites. I agree. So does God. Acts 10:34-35 says, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.”

In other words, God is not a god for a few — but for all colors of skin, all cultures and all nations. He not only “sees all men” but “His ears are open to their cries.”

While He selected one nation through whom Christ was born, He says His choice was not based on any merit that nation might have had, but because He loved them. (Deuteronomy 7:6-9)

Furthermore, the prophet Isaiah said God’s arm is not too short that it cannot save. He can reach into even the most remote area; distance, dense jungles, or lack of exposure to “religion” is not a problem to Him. After all, He created the earth and all that is in it, the trees and the most pagan of peoples. He made their minds, hearts, and souls. Literacy levels and poverty lines pose no barriers to Him.

If God’s outstretched arm fails to touch the pagan heart, or any heart for that matter, it is not physical barriers that stand in the way. Isaiah again says, “Your sins have hidden His face from you… He will not hear.”

Romans 1 makes it clear. God created man to know Him. Everything that we need to understand that God exists is clearly seen in all He has made, but there are those who refuse to acknowledge or worship Him. Instead, they build idols in the image of animals and birds, all kinds of creatures instead of the Creator. And when people do that, God allows them to descend into the darkness and ignorance of their choice.

Not all of the “heathen” turn to idol worship. Some realize that even a gold statue could not create the stars. Thus some cry out to the true God, and God, in His infinite grace and mercy, will not refuse to hear any. But we are not saved simply because we cried out. Salvation is of God. It is He who first reaches out, and He who provided atonement for sin.

Christians did not invent the idea that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. He did. We have examined His life, read His words, and concluded He is neither a liar nor a lunatic, but is God made flesh, and who died on a cross, rose from the dead, and offers eternal life to all who come to Him. Anyone who can do that much, can surely also save an illiterate, unilluminated native from the deepest jungle — or even a well-educated, enlightened socialite. The problem is not with God but with us.

No matter where we come from, no matter our lifestyle or “religious” opportunities, the qualifications for receiving eternal life are the same.

First, one must be a sinner, Second, one must hate his sin because it offends the One who created Him. Third, one must cry out to God who hears such a cry, whether from the depths of the jungles or from any city. It is His delight to save; He is not willing that any should perish.

God holds all men accountable for what they do know, not for what they could not hear. The naked native sees the testimony of the glory of God in the skies and in the trees. Should he decide to carve a statue and worship it, how can God be blamed?

Perhaps the question we should be more concerned with is this: Are idol-worshiping pagans any different from those who have heard that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” but have rejected Him and are following their own way?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Stopping feuds before they start? ................................. Parables 160

Here is a riddle. If I kicked a sleeping dog out of my way and the dog jumped up and bit me, who is responsible for the injury?

I asked my granddaughter. She said, “You bugged the dog.” I asked a friend. She laughed, tongue-in-cheek, “Oh, the dog, of course.”

It is plainly irrational to expect even the gentlest of pets to control themselves under any provocation. If I raised my boot, no animal would meekly apologize, “I’m sorry. I’m sleeping in an inconvenient spot and got in the way of your foot.”

Suppose I mistreat not a sleeping canine but my neighbor. I might not kick him, but my dog (if I had one) might get into his garbage and spread it all over his lawn. Then he might retaliate and shovel said garbage over the fence for me to clean up. And I might call the police, and he might sue me, and the feud is on.

Feuds start so easy but how does one stop them? Or how do we counsel others who bring us their feud stories, especially if they are not willing to be responsible for their part in the fracas?

A man in the middle of such a feud came to Jesus. Obviously, his brother had taken what this man felt belonged to him because he said, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

It is so easy to take sides. “How unfair of your brother...” or maybe “What did YOU do to him?” But Jesus wouldn’t take sides. He responded, “Who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Then He turned to the crowd and said, “Beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Strange answer? Not really. Jesus hit at the heart of the bickering. Human greed and covetousness can divide even brothers. Both were guilty, but Jesus refused to assume the position of deciding which was at greater fault. That would only fuel the feud. Instead, His answer to the crowd pointed to inner motives. He was saying if personal sin is in the heart, watch out. But there is an alternative.

The dog’s response is not my problem. My responsibility is finding a better way to get its attention than booting it. And if I do use my foot in impatience, that and my lack of kindness need to be dealt with. Certainly, this applies to relationships with people too.

Should that same imaginary dog rummage through the neighbor’s garbage, it’s my responsibility. A quick trip next door with my rake and shovel would pacify my angry neighbor. If he beat me to it, the same rake and shovel still needs application, even if I’m not excited about the change of location. Keeping better tabs on my dog would avoid future problems, and an apology will stop the impending feud. There are better ways to settle issues than with retaliation or going to God and asking Him to get even for me.

What about my neighbor’s responsibility? I can’t find a chapter and verse for him! Jesus tells me to love my neighbor — not demand that my neighbor loves me. And He refuses to take any sides in battles that result from my sin and self-centeredness. If I provoke my enemy (or even my friends) to anger, He expects me to make it right—even if the dog woke up with a yawn or the neighbor cleaned up the mess without saying anything. Their grace would not excuse my cruelty or negligence!

Silly riddles? Silly issues? Little spats never amount to anything? Last week’s news: a man was convicted of killing another man in a dispute that began when one tossed and hit the other with a jellybean.

I don’t think either one of them bothered to consult Jesus.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A credible teacher .................. Parables 159

“What do I paint?” asks every budding artist. The pros say, “Use your eyes, what is around you? Paint what you know.”

“What do I write about?” asks the beginning storyteller. The published author replies, “What are your experiences? Write what you know.”

Art school and writers conferences both stress the same thing — do what you know. If a prairie artist tries to paint Paris street scenes, or if a city author pens poetry of cornfields, neither will have credibility. Other prairie people may not be able to spot an imaginary Arc de Triomphe, other city folk may not know their corn, but bring in someone from Paris or Kansas, and what one considers to be a masterpiece, the other exposes as a poor imitation.

Christian teachers fall into the same category. I recently prepared a Sunday School lesson on the topic of loving the unlovely. God brought to my mind a person I find difficult to tolerate, let alone love. As I thought on the lesson and how I could motivate my students to show love to the unlovable people in their life, the Holy Spirit asked me, “How are YOU going to show love to this person? Be authentic, Elsie.”

Paul set the example when he wrote to the quarreling Corinthians. They were doing a lot of talking about their spirituality but looked down on one another. He said to them, “I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending Timothy... who... will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)

Paul may not have been an artist or a writer of fiction, but he did what he knew. God gave his deep insights and he taught them to others, but he did more than simply pass on his insight. He said, “I have applied these things to myself...for your benefit, so that you may learn from us”

The key to effective teaching is teach what you know — and know it because you have first applied it and proven it in your own life. Such a high standard, no wonder the Bible also says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers.” (James 3:1)

God so guards this principle that Christian teachers and preachers in the midst of preparing a lesson or sermon, often find themselves put to the test on the very truths they intend to teach. I’ve sometimes braced myself against that testing but now I see it as necessary. Should I tell others spiritual truth but am not living it myself, I will be spotted as a poor imitation, lacking authenticity and having negative effect on my students. Obviously it is better to be quiet than pretend to be an expert.

So, do I skip the lesson on loving because I have sometimes failed to obey it myself? Not so. ALL of God’s truth must be taught. The answer is not skipping the lesson, or faking it, but admitting my failure as a sin of omission (see James 4:17), then making a trip to “Paris or Kansas,” whatever the case may be, and experiencing the reality of that lesson. Make my teaching and my life match.

So my students heard my confession. They also saw me make a commitment to change my attitude. I can’t love perfectly but God supplies: “His love is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:5)

Paul’s example is humbling. Authenticity in painting or poetry might matter a great deal to some, but delivering God’s truth with credibility must have top priority with His teachers.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bridge over trouble waters ................. Parables 158

Stephen stretched his six-foot frame across the swirling waters of the hot pool. Head on one end, toes on the other, he reminded me of a bridge: “a bridge over troubled waters!”

Typical of an always-penniless sixteen year old, he quipped in response, “Yea, a toll bridge!”

Some declare “life is a beach.” Sometimes I wish it were more like a hot pool — the troubled waters buffet out the tensions instead of creating them! In fact, it would be fantastic to have wall switches like those that they do at the pool, so we could turn OFF the turbulence now and then. Somehow, I can quite easily manage turning ON the trouble switches.

Years ago, some friends had a wall plaque that said, “JESUS IS OUR BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS.” I liked it. Any means to rise above turbulent circumstances appeals to me. Since then, I’ve realized this nifty saying doesn’t mean what I thought it did. I often feel as if I’m swimming the rapids with no way out provided. However, Jesus is still my bridge.

But bridges can be tricky. Remember the Second Narrows? The troubled water didn’t hurt anyone, but when the wind hit, whoever trusted that bridge never made it to the other side. And even safe bridges can be irritating. You know the kind with side rails just at eye level so you can’t see anything. Drawbridges can be distressing too. Like it or not, the bigger water traffic is more important than you are. Those swinging rope bridges give me the most problem. They are like a carnival ride. I’m so scared while I’m on them that I miss the fun I’m supposed to be having.

What kind of a bridge is Jesus? Will He give us a ride like that ill-fated Second Narrows Bridge? Will He guard our vision so much that we can’t see or enjoy the surroundings? Will He suddenly drop His attention from me and give it to some more important traffic? Will my journey with Him be a “five-ticket” ride? Or will He, like Stephen, be more like a toll bridge?

Jesus called Himself “the way” to the Father. He bridges the gap between our sin and God’s holiness. He said His way is narrow, but not twisting, like that ill-fated bridge of similar name. No winds of adversity can twist or destroy Him. His narrow way is better described as turn-style; only one at a time can pass through and enter the life He offers. There is no room for excess baggage. In other words, we don’t go across as a member of a group nor can we take a suitcase of good intentions in one hand and a case of religious or social good deeds in the other. We have to cross alone and just as we are.

This Bridge also promises “abundant life,” meaning among other things that we will not only be able to see what is happening as we go, we will see it more clearly than we ever thought possible. In fact, the view from the Bridge is fabulous!

Jesus is not a drawbridge either. He not only guarantees safe travel and a sure destination but continuous, individual attention. Nothing is more important to Him than giving His people all the loving care we need.

And the greatest of all, Jesus is not a toll bridge. He takes us from our sin to the eternal shore without money or price. He paid the toll when He died in our place. “The wages of sin is death but the GIFT of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6:23) No coin boxes, no payments. Eternal life is a gift. Setting foot on this Bridge means no toll. When we receive His gift of life, He takes only our sin in exchange. Then He buries it — as deep as the bottom of the sea. We may still have to learn how to “swim,” but it will be with His strength and with the sure hope of reaching the other side.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Resisting Temptation .................................. Parables 157

Refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, lapel buttons, and some T-shirts fascinate me. I tailgate the car ahead or stop in mid-stride at store displays to read their short, often humorous, sayings. Granted, some are crude and tasteless, but many are amusing.

One of the latest to catch my attention was a lapel button adorning the jacket of fellow supermarket shopper. “Lead me not into temptation... I can find it all by myself!”

Isn’t it the truth! Temptation abounds. It coaxes out of every corner and just when we think we’ve avoided it, we run smack into it. Sad but true, temptation comes from within and without.

Retreating to a monastery, being deaf or blind, or even avoiding questionable activities does not guarantee freedom from temptation. It is as common as sand.

But is temptation wrong? Is it wrong if we think a mean thought, glance at a lewd poster, or are lured by the forbidden? What does the Bible say about temptation?

When Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested (Matthew 4) the Bible says,”... the tempter came to Him.”

When the Apostle Paul was concerned about some new Christians, he said, “I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you ...”

Obviously, there is one called the tempter. Scripture identifies him as the devil or Satan. Jesus said of him, “He is a liar and the father of lies.”

In other words, while we may stumble into dangerous territory, he gives the suggestions to act. His suggestions are always contrary to truth. He is skilled at making good look bad and evil look good.

Because of his skill, recognizing temptation is basic to resisting it. Not all temptation is presented as clearly as when I want to lose 10 pounds and find myself drooling in front of a bakery window.

Paul said that Christians have an understanding of how the temper works (2 Corinthians 2:11) and have the ultimate victory over him through Christ, but that does not stop his subtle enticement. Knowing God’s truth will help us recognize the tempter’s lies.

But we can’t blame everything on the tempter. Every person, although created in the image of God and capable of great good, is also in a sin-marred condition and capable of great evil.

James 1:14 is careful to point out that “every man is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” There is enough evil desire within us to drag us away into all kinds of activity forbidden by God. The lapel button is right: we can find it all by ourselves.

God does not condemn temptation. Jesus was tempted. In fact, Hebrews says He was tempted in every way we are — only He didn’t sin. So temptation itself is not a sin.

James 1:15 goes on to say, “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

There is a difference between temptation and sin. A tempting thought flying through our minds is not a sin. Inviting it to stay, is. The real issue is not that we are tempted but what we do about it. Do we think an evil thought, recognize it for what it is and discard it? Or do we play with it for a while in our minds, consenting to it and eventually allowing it to control our words and actions?

The power to resist temptation depends on the motivating factors in our lives. If we have strong reasons for saying no, we may very well be able to do it without God’s help. Yet even the thought, to do it without God, is another temptation. It is a subtle rejection of His power and grace. Yes, temptation is very sneaky.

God promises we will never be tempted beyond our capacity. He will provide a way of escape or a way to resist any temptation. We can rely on His power to lead us out, even if we got into it — all by ourselves.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Issues in the light of Christ ................ Parables 156


Just by reading these headlines, can anyone know if these news stories happened here? Or in Europe? Or Australia? Did they happen this year? Last year? Twenty years ago? Or 1000 years ago?

Today we call equal rights, abortion, teen pregnancy, incest, poverty and union disputes “issues,” but they are hardly “current” affairs.

For example, in first century Ephesus workers responsible for silver statues of an idol named Diana united and staged a riot. Christian teaching was putting a crimp in their sales and they demanded government intervention.

From Cain and Abel to the latest stabbing in Edmonton, murder has always been an issue. From Noah’s day to right now, people think evil thoughts and do evil deeds. From Sodom and Gomorrah to today’s closets, homosexuality is still an issue. All that changes are names and places.

How does a Christian deal with issues? Jump on the bandwagon? Or hide in a hole and pray a lot? Jesus once said something about an issue and His remarks are food for thought and action.

The scene was a home in Bethany. Mary, a woman who had spent many hours learning at the feet of Jesus, broke a container of very expensive ointment and anointed Jesus feet, wiping them with her hair. Judas and the other disciples voiced their indignation. They thought the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor. They sounded very pious. But Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you…”

Isn’t it true? In spite of rapid advances in many other areas, poverty hasn’t disappeared. And because the lineups for handouts never end, maybe can we just look the other way? Read on...

Jesus added, “...and you should do good for them when you have the opportunity...”

We can’t look the other way. The identifying characteristic of a Christian is a heart for the helpless — and Jesus set the standard with His own life. He reached out hands of compassion to every person in need, and was concerned with every issue.

But, Jesus wasn’t finished. He said, “The poor will always be with you, and you should do good for them when you have the opportunity, but I will not always be with you...” (Mark 14:6-8)

He went on to explain that Mary was anointing His body for burial. Just weeks before the cross, only one woman understood that Jesus came to die — for her sin and for the sin of the whole world. Of all who followed Him, Mary recognized the true priority. She realized Jesus would soon be unavailable and she put Him first.

Yes, the needy are to be helped. Yes, the downtrodden are to be picked up. Yes, injustice is to be made right. Yes, the issues do need to be addressed. But, Jesus is the main issue. Before any issue is this issue; Jesus said, “I will not always be with you...”

What will we do about Jesus Christ? Do we realize the significance of His death? Do we realize that, unlike all those issues, our lives will not be forever here? Do we understand that our lives will not be forever spent with God either — unless we settle that one issue?

Mary’s priority was Jesus. Maybe she would someday give her wealth to needy people. Maybe she would attach herself to a group that speaks out against all sorts of injustice. But the priority, the root of all the issues, is the need of the human heart to be reconciled to God. He offers forgiveness for sin, peace, freedom from guilt, and the power of the Holy Spirit to begin a new fife. We need His life and His power before we can make real changes in the issues always around us.

One final thought: If putting Jesus first became every person’s priority, on a worldwide scale, if commitment and obedience to Him was the main issue in every life, what would happen to all those other issues?

Monday, August 11, 2014

God paints the picture .......................... Parables 155

“Would you teach me how to paint?”

Yes, I would teach her how to paint. It would be fun. Besides, if she thought I had talent worthy of passing on, how could I let her down? Flattered by the question, I put my heart and soul into it.

A few others joined my hopeful student and we began the lessons around the kitchen table. But it wasn’t long before I realized painting itself was much easier than teaching someone else how to paint.

For one thing, I began in the middle. Whenever I took art lessons, the instructor always started with exercises: spheres and boxes, color-mixing charts and basic principles of perspective and composition. I thought it was boring and not necessary. So, I started my students with actual paintings. Learn to do by doing was my motto.

They were so eager. In fact, they couldn’t wait until Thursday nights. They started new masterpieces at home and brought the latest canvas to class —for me to “fix.”

It was then that I realized my error. Most of those works of art needed radical surgery more than a daub here and a change of color there. Even if the drawing was correct, the composition was all wrong, or the colors muddied from improper mixing. Sometimes the perspective on farm buildings was so off, it was difficult to tell silos from chicken coops. Many times, I stifled my initial reaction, “Toss them out and start over!”

Actually, life is a canvas and all of us are artists. As we pick our colors, we hope the picture will be lovely, but a slip of the brush and what would have been a masterpiece falls far short.

At that point, do we want just a quick touch up? A daub here and some texture there? Toss a bit of rose-color into a strained relationship. Put a bright sun over top that gigantic personality flaw. Maybe a blob of cadmium yellow will brighten things up. But it doesn’t work.

Jesus, using a different metaphor, said, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wine skins.

If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wine skins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new skins.” (Matthew 9:16-17)

The religious people in Jesus day painted their lives with fancy external rules but forgot one important basic; many may look on the outside and applaud the bright colors, but God looks on the heart.

While He wants right application externally, He’s first interested in basic composition and a correct perspective on the inside for “out of the heart flows all the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Don’t be content with daubs of superficial righteousness. A splash of color here and there could not fix their problem, nor can it fix ours. Although we are created in the image of God, we are in a sin-marred condition. The painting is ruined. The canvas needs total restoration.

The Master Painter invites, “Come, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, I will wash you white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Then He takes His powerful brush and begins applying the basics: the life of His Son within, a hunger for the “milk” of His Word, and the promise of answered payer. Upon the solid foundation, He layers truth; line upon line, transforming the canvas, renewing the way we think talk and act, working all things together for our good, until the image of His Son can be seen on our soul, until the portrait is perfect.

What happens if we refuse the basics and want only the surface paint? He demands new skins for new wine. Without His work on the inside, what we do on the surface won’t make the picture perfect.

How we fair on that final adjudication depends on our present willingness to turn canvas, composition, brushes and colors over to Him.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Trash or Treasure? ........................ Parables 154

Last week, Simon my editor told me he’d had a lousy morning. He’d been tracing a special vintage motorcycle, one he wanted to restore. As the trail narrowed, anticipation grew. I could see his vision of what a little love and a lot of elbow grease could do with that particular bike. But when he finally found the most recent owner, he received the bad news; the bike had been taken to the dump over a year ago.

Can you identify? He must have felt just as we would if a precious possession had been dropped off a cliff. He could see it disappearing out of his grasp and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

I felt Simon’s disappointment with him. Besides, there’s a unique joy in restoring something back to new condition. And instead of adding to the pollution in the environment, restorers make meaningful contributions.

Later in the day, I thought about this throwaway generation that we live in. While some would feel repulsion at the thought, a few trips to the local trash bin has furnished a home for some who otherwise may never get beyond using cardboard boxes.

Cars, appliances, clothes, you name it, are not always worthless before they are treated that way. But affluence and easy-come, easy go makes the mounds of throwaways higher and higher.

Unfortunately, human lives sometimes are tossed aside too. Sometimes that life is an unwanted baby, or it could be a mentally or physically handicapped person. It might be a “fallen women” or a man who fell into the gutter somewhere and can’t get out.

Unfortunately, the human trash heap includes anyone that other people feel have no value, no purpose, or no potential. They are the ones that many of us tend to put on our “avoid this creature” list.

I wonder how God feels about lives that are tossed in the garbage. Does He feel their rejection? Of course He does. He has been rejected. Does He think about them the same way society often does? Not at all!

The good news is that God is in the restoration business. He sent Jesus Christ to “seek and to save that which was lost” … or tossed. That includes those whom no one else wants or will have anything to do with. In Jesus’ day, it was the prostitutes, the publicans (“traitorous” Jewish tax collectors working for Rome) and an assorted group of people simply called “sinners.”

Jesus said He came to seek these rejects, and when He ‘‘found” them, He loved them. The Bible says He was ‘‘the friend of sinners,” yet He did more than eat and drink with them. His saving power restored any who placed their faith in Him. They were given peace, joy, and the sure hope of eternal life, as well as a useful and purposeful life here on earth for God.

Ephesians 2:10 says that those who trust in Christ are “His workmanship, created in Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

When Simon finds an old motorcycle, he carefully cleans and restores each piece, remaking parts if necessary. Then he puts the whole bike back together with infinite care. The engine is tuned to purr-fection, the leather polished, and the paint bright and shiny. No one would even know that this sleek machine was once a cast-off, even if it came from a trash heap.

Jesus says. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are gone, the new has come” ...that (sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, those guilty of greed, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers) is “what some of you were, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

In other words, unlike Simon’s latest disappointment, the human trash heap does not have to be the end. The Lord can do the job beautifully, no matter who has tossed us aside, and no matter what condition He finds us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Freedom from abuse ............................. Parables 153

A young, very pregnant girl sits sobbing in a chilly courtroom. Her boyfriend is charged with assault. She is afraid she will lose him to a prison cell. His only possible defense is that the judge will have mercy. She fears for her future. What will happen to her? What will happen to her baby, and to their other small child? How will she ever manage alone?
A tragedy? Yes, but the worst is yet to come. The boyfriend’s victim was this very girl.

Not an uncommon situation. Two lonely, perhaps downtrodden, people are attracted to one another. They meet one another’s needs for a time, but somehow the relationship becomes lop-sided.

One has a more dominant personality or it stronger in some way. The other, afraid of not being needed or wanted, chooses to remain under that dominance rather than face life without someone, anyone. Sadly, she became the giver, he only takes.

For such victims, the fear of rejection and being alone is greater than the fear of abuse, ridicule and repeated injury. Some will endure whatever they are dealt just to belong to someone, to have some sense of security. This girl, and countless like her, is held in emotional bondage.

The situation can be reversed too. Men hold no monopoly on dominance and abuse; women are not always the weaker ones. Whatever the case, God never intended human relationships to be lop-sided. It seems breaking free and becoming independent would be the only way out, but such a yoke is difficult to break. Rarely can the insecure person stand alone. Without help, they don’t have the resources.

There are no pat answers — but there is an answer. It does not lie in seeking independence but in finding a new and gentle master, one who gives instead of takes, one who frees instead of binds.

The only Master I know of that gives freedom is the One who said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free... I am the truth!”

Yes, Jesus Christ was speaking of freedom from the bondage of unbelief and sin, but in that freedom, there is also a transfer of dependency — from whatever bondage that holds us to the One who promises genuine freedom.

When a weak and insecure person attaches themselves to someone stronger, the strong one may take exploit their weakness, but Jesus never’ does that. He not only takes care of all our needs, He loves us unconditionally, accepts us fully and protects us with His strength. He promises abundant, fruitful lives and even makes us partners with Him in His work. We are needed but not exploited.

He graciously supplies all — so we can do whatever He asks us to do! (See Corinthians 9:8) With Christ as the supply, we can even give. Takers can take all they want and we never run out — His supply is inexhaustible.

Sounds too good to be true? If I didn’t know that it was true in my own life, I would think so, but Jesus has never failed me. There are times when pressures are more than I can bear, when people make demands that are beyond my patience and my capacity. But He gives strength and renewed strength. His patience is available that I might choose it rather than cave in.

Jesus invites those who struggle, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you (instead of the one you are carrying) and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden it light.”

The Bible encourages any who suffer to “Ask for wisdom” — God gives it to all who ask in faith. Surely, we need His wisdom to find our way through any difficulty, including that of a lop-sides relationship.

Life may not hold extreme trials or crippling bondage right now, but God is available in good times. Anyone who desires His freedom and peace can find it through a personal relationship with the Prince of Peace. “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.”

Monday, August 4, 2014

Protection in Storms ............................. Parables 152

Being snowed in for a day or two wasn’t all that bad! While I didn’t go about my chores humming “let it snow, let it snow,” nor do I make light of the struggles for those who had to be out in it, this latest storm is filed as a pleasant paragraph in my book of memories. The weather outside was frightful but being inside did become delightful.

It didn’t start out that way. What housebound mother could jump for joy when one of her children drives off to Edmonton in the kind of conditions we has last week? How would anyone feel when their street becomes a giant trap that catches firm in its grasp anything with wheels?

And any imagination at all about what “could happen” to a loved one caught in the storm is enough to give a person ulcers. To top it off, that wind made us aware of the thin places in our insulation.

But we decided not to grumble, worry, or imagine. Instead, we accepted this weather as our lot in life and tried looking for something to appreciate. Finding it didn’t take long.

First off, the wind plastered our house white with snow. It stuck because of the ledges on the horizontal siding. Behold, new insulation! Without touching the thermostat, the house became warmer, drafts and cold spots were gone. Even the windy side defied the -30 conditions.

Our commuting daughter was invited to stay in Edmonton for as long as necessary by a co-worker who lived nearby. She said some of the streets she traveled were “like a huge run, so we leaned back and went faster!”

Our street trapped a few, but everyone got out and pushed. Over introductions, my husband told one neighbor that he would rather have met him on the front lawn over a glass of lemonade; however, the answering chuckle made a memory! Even snowdrifts seem a little smaller when you can laugh about them.

Instead of imagining disasters, we turned our “worry energy” into playtime with our home-bound five-year-old. As we concocted a bear mask out of a paper plate, I thought how nice it would be to hibernate, and how this storm afforded the opportunity, at least on a small scale. We were secure from the elements, glad to be alive.

The hymn writer says, “Jesus is a rock in a weary land, a shelter in the time of storm.” It comes from Isaiah 24:4, “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat.”

These figures of speech could mean actual weather storms and sometimes parching heat, but more often we feel the blasts from trials of many kinds. Yet our Lord is a perfect refuge, no matter the danger. The Bible says He will protect us in time of trouble, be our stronghold from any enemies, a hiding place from the conspiracies of man, and a comfort against spiteful accusations. He promises safety from confusion and a place to go when the pressures threaten.

As my house snuggled into the drifts, I thought how glad I am that my Lord holds me just as safe. The storms can rage and be just as real a threat as -40 degrees with double the wind chill, but He protects His people; underneath are His everlasting arms.

The storm also was a reminder that the key to contentment during the blast of trials is acceptance; recognize that the thing is under the control of a loving and sovereign God. He promises He will never test us beyond what we are able — but will, with the testing, provide a way of escape so we can bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Very often His way of escape is not running from the trial but snuggling closer to Him; allowing His power to protect and comfort. His people can find safety in Him because there is no wind strong enough to shake us free from His love, no temperatures cold enough to put out the warmth of His care. With that kind of “insulation”, we can face into the wind — with confidence!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Abortion video is too graphic .................................. Parables 151

I saw a video last month that will likely never make it as a TV documentary. It showed an actual abortion, so graphic that I couldn’t look at all of it.

Its point? That tiny human being, in the beginning stages of development, is violently destroyed during this now common procedure. At the end of the film, a former abortionist said, “There is no rightful place for violence in a world of reason.”

After my emotions stopped rocking, this comment, with its two assumptions, seemed a total contradiction. With “rightful,” he agreed with Scripture that there is definite right and wrong. The rights and wrongs of the Bible can be found in dozens of commandments God gave to Moses, the Ten “thou shalt not’s” of Exodus 20 being the most familiar.

Later, Jesus gathered all the commands together into two: “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Therefore, according to Jesus, right and wrong are determined by love, not rules. But Biblical love is not mere emotion. Jesus described a “neighbor” as someone violently mistreated and left helpless to die, and love as a personal sacrifice. He illustrated with the story of the “good Samaritan” who was willing to take time and effort to help the helpless.

My problem lies in the assumption that we live in a world of reason. Reason is “the power to think in an orderly and rational way, to be logical.” Has no one notice? Reason has a tough time choosing to act in sacrificial love. Logic can’t seem to sort out right from wrong. Mankind can’t seem to agree which is which.

When Hitler made his decisions, he found it logical to kill whoever opposed his plans. When Gandhi made the decisions, he thought it rational not to kill even a bug. When man draws the guidelines, there are none.

Logic may reason, “If I take time to show the kinds of love Jesus talked about, it will disrupt my schedule and, at the least, be inconvenient.” In the case above, rational thinking has been known to determine that career, reputation, or personal goals take preeminence over a three-inch fetus and its desperate parents.

While Doctor Whoever made a point, his appeal to reason failed to consider that people, who may not see any other options, will push love out of the way to make room for violence anyway, regardless of how illogical it is.

The premise is wrong. We don’t live in a world of reason at all. We live in a world corrupted by sin and selfish lovelessness. No one is innocent.

Answers? Pro-choice says leave it up to the women. Pro-life says save the child. The medical profession is divided. Women’s groups do not agree. The educators say we need more information. Two women on the film said if they had been told what was really going to happen to them and their unborn, they never would have consented to abortion.

What about God? He offers more than a list of “thou shalt not’s” that we cannot keep anyway; He offers love that changes lives. And who doesn’t need that?

Our world of “reason” also needs Christians who will clean up their own act and reach out in God’s love to the innocents in the womb, to the desperate in their crisis, to the mistreated all around us. The Bible says God’s love has been shed abroad in the hearts of His people by the Holy Spirit. (See Romans 5)

We have it, Christians. We needs to obey love’s motivation and notice the helpless, do what we can to care for them sacrificially and without expectation of personal gain, like Jesus did for us.

Will the violence of abortion ever become just as repulsive to the desperate as it ought to be to the complacent? Logic says not likely, but love says there is hope.