Friday, October 31, 2014

My Hiding Place ...................... Parables 190

November 8, 1989

“Ready or not, here I come!” And she found me hiding beside the woodshed. Now it was my turn. I had to count to 40, “Slowly, Grandma.” Face pressed against a tree trunk, I heard her scurry for a good hiding place. Then, among the golden leaves and nooks and crannies of our yard, I went hunting for my little hidden jewel.

Who hasn’t played hide and seek in one form or another? Everything from “peek-a-boo” to scavenger hunts captivates child and adult alike. But sometimes we hide things and can’t find them again. When I was much younger, I used a seldom-read book as a place to stash spare one and five dollar bills. Years later, and often when I really needed some money, I’d find the long forgotten treasure.

My husband puts his extra cash in the bank; however, he does have some special hiding places somewhere in the house. In early December of each year, he uses one of them to tuck away a Christmas card for me. This has created a funny family tradition because he always forgets which hiding place he used. The closest to December 25th I’ve ever received my card is about the middle of February.

Just after my game of hide-and-seek with my granddaughter, I read this verse in Psalm 83: “They (God’s enemies) have taken crafty counsel against Thy people, and consulted against Thy hidden ones.”

The phrase, “Thy hidden ones” captivated me, so out came the Hebrew dictionary. “Hidden” meant the same then as now: to conceal something with a definite purpose, for protection or because of its value.

Psalm 27:5 explains that God hides His people when trouble comes: “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me...” and Psalm 31:20 describes the hiding place: “Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man: Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.”

God puts His children where they are safe because He considers us His precious jewels (Malachi 3:27), and calls us His peculiar treasure (Psalm 135). We are valuable to Him and our worth is determined by the price He was willing to pay for us. That price was the life of God’s only begotten Son, spent on a cross to buy us out of the clutches of sin and death and hide us in the safety of His presence. In God’s eyes, His “hidden” ones are treasures indeed.

So how does one go about being safely “hidden” by God? First of all, we need to recognize our lost condition, our separation from a holy God by our sin. God says He cannot put us in a place of spiritual safety until that sin is dealt with.

Secondly, we need to believe that Jesus, the Son of God, came to “seek and to save those who are lost” and that He did it by taking on Himself the punishment we deserved. His death was the result of God’s wrath on our sin, not just sin in general but our own personal sin.

We also need to know that since He was without sin Himself, death could not hold Him. Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin and death for us, securing for us an eternal “home-free”.

Lastly, we need to personally commit ourselves to Him, submitting to His Lordship asking for and freely receiving His forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.

When we accept Christ into our lives, we put ourselves under His sovereign authority -- and into His sovereign protection, safe inside His hiding place, safe from God’s enemies, safe from sin, and safe from eternal condemnation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Root of Pollution .......................... Parables 189

November 1, 1989

These brisk fall mornings are wonderfully invigorating walking weather. Head up, chest out, deep breaths of fresh air, the warm sun shining on my face -- a great way to start the day!

But there is a problem. Something ruins the cool air and hides the sun. Looking straight ahead is often difficult, my stride broken; sometimes I come home with a sore throat and dirty shoes.

But I can’t do anything about it. At least that’s my first thought. After all, what would people think if some stranger turned on a hose and rinsed off their sidewalk? How would folks like it if I picked up the newspapers and scooped up the dog-do from their front boulevard? And what would the companies whose processes spew brown stuff into the air think if I walked in their workplace and pushed their stop button? Getting involved, at least at that level, might get me in trouble.

However, the more widespread pollution becomes, the more inadequate individuals feel to control it. Some will say it’s a problem of big business. If the mega-corporations don’t do their part, what good will it do to put my trash in a colored box? It’s just a drop in the bucket. Even if I keep my personal space clean, sooner or later industry or just the litterbugs all about will close in and mess it up anyway. So why bother?

On the other hand, I could jump on the conservation bandwagon and fervently preach green products and recycling. I could go door to door and give out trash bags and lectures. I could organize and lobby and demonstrate. I could write letters to local and federal legislators. It might help — a little. In fact, I am committed to doing my part.

However, from examining my own heart, I know that behind every act of pollution is a self-centered thought. It expresses itself in excuses, laziness or a demand for personal rights. “It’s too far to the nearest trash can.” “No one else is picking up and cleaning up.” “This is my yard -- I can let trash accumulate in it if I want to.”

The whole problem with self-centeredness is that the Bible calls it sin. This inner disposition asserts, “I will do what I want, regardless of who it effects or what God says” and it is capable of far more harm than leaving candy bars in public places.

God told mankind to take dominion of the earth, not exploit it and leave it in ruins. The word ‘dominion’ means to rule — and the Bible is filled with examples and commands of what God intended regarding ruling.

But back to the root problem, if we want our planet cleaned up, wouldn’t it make sense to deal with sin first, then its fruit, one of which is pollution? It would, but it’s not that easy.

Jesus Christ came to offer forgiveness for sin, power to say no to it, and a sure hope of some day being rid of it, but in spite of all He did, we still are not promised heaven on earth. For one thing, not everyone responds to the offer Christ made. They don’t want Him.

As for those who do, we soon find we don’t change as quickly and completely as we would like to. What folly to think we can get our neighbors to clean up on the outside when we know the problem starts on the inside — and also know how horrendous that battle can be.

God will hold us accountable as individuals and nations for what we do in response to His commands, and although pollution is a dirty word not found in Scripture, its roots are there, along with God’s provision. In the meantime, Romans 8 says that all of creation groans along with His people, waiting for the complete redemption He has promised. Someday there will be complete delivery from the corruption of sin and entrance into eternal life where there is “nothing that defiles” both inside and out.

In the meantime, this old planet still could use a good spring-cleaning.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What happens when you take chances ............................. Parables 188

October 25, 1989

A few years ago, Atlantic City in the United States legalized certain gambling facilities. In came game tables, slot machines and a variety of games of chance. Since that time, according to a radio news report, the crime rate has risen to the highest of any city in that state. Of course, the police force has more than doubled.

From the crimes committed, it would appear that the casinos, or at least the big money associated with games of chance, attract more than card sharks and gambling addicts. It’s also obvious that not everyone makes money at the tables. The welfare rolls have grown rapidly. Social services, using tax dollars, take care of those who came to win and found out it didn’t happen that way.

A few other interesting notes about Atlantic City, again according to my source: thirty-three million people visit this fairly good-sized city every year but (are you ready for this?) there are no car washes, no theaters, and only one grocery store. (Can you imagine that in smaller Fort Saskatchewan?) While those figures may be hard to believe, even if you cut them to half the visitors and twice the services, they still would be appalling statistics. No wonder the population has dropped 20%. The line-ups for a carton of milk would send most of us looking for another place to live!

What happened to Atlantic City?

Certainly some will blame their situation on factors other than the gaming tables but there are certain moral and spiritual laws that govern the life of a city or a nation just as certain physical laws govern plants and animal life. Anyone who violates the laws of nature finds that one of the most basic of them is entirely true: “You reap what you sow” In other words, plant oats, you get oats. Plant tulips and tulips come up. Don’t water the roses and they will die. Green thumb or not, we know there is little we can do to change how nature works.

However, somehow the human race seems easily deluded into thinking we can do whatever we like in other realms and it will not affect us or anyone else. Someone in Atlantic City thought casinos would boost the economy and prosper the city. But the Maker of the human race tells us the same law about reaping and sowing applies to the way we live too. We might try to rationalize it away or set up so called safeguards to prevent consequences, but it holds true... go against the law of God and there will be consequences. The book of Proverbs says it like it is: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (14:34)

I don’t know how many righteous people lived in Atlantic City ten years ago. Maybe they were the 20% that moved out. But I do know that it doesn’t take the wisdom of Solomon to see what gambling has done to the neighborhood.

By the way, the word gambling is not in the Bible, but all through Scripture, we are commanded to “trust in the Lord with all our heart.” He promises to take care of those who put their confidence in Christ, not in the flip of a deck of cards, or the spin of a wheel or the toss of some dice.

Closely connected to gambling is the hope of great riches, but Jesus said no one can serve two masters. We must serve God -- not a game of chance, or the money we hope to gain. The Bible says it is God who causes us to prosper. Gambling easily robs people of not only whatever extra God may have profited them but the casinos often leave broken and destitute people -- who usually turn to social assistance for help.

The city fathers in Atlantic City didn’t seem to realize if a person plants a spud, they’ll get a spud. The consequences may vary from their city to a smaller community, but without righteousness to exalt them, the only thing that is lifted up is the bank accounts of the high rollers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Perfect Man ................... Parables 187

October 18, 1989

The perfect man! He’s the hero on a favorite TV show. He never says anything wrong. He never does anything wrong. He’s clever, witty, good looking, quick thinking, hard working and drives a nice car. What more could a gal want?

But he’s not real. He is the product of a script and a director. He does what he is told and says only the lines given to him. He has a cosmetician who paints over his facial flaws, technicians who solve his mechanical problems and a staff of writers that get him out of every possible mess or problem he could encounter. A perfect man? Not likely.

While some gals dream on, imagining a “perfect 10”, most have to admit it’s impossible to find one. But it would be nice. No relationship problems, only perfect bliss.

Well, before the bubble breaks, there actually is a perfect man. He doesn’t quite fit all the criteria listed above though. He never owned a car. And there are no reliable photos or posters displaying his appearance so we don’t even know what He looks like. He probably worked hard at his trade (carpentry) but there is no record of that either. What we do know is that everything he ever said or ever did totally pleased God.

For some that don’t know the standard of God, that may not seem like a significant accomplishment. Yet God’s rating system goes much higher than our perfect 10. For instance, God says even unloving thoughts are sin, never mind unkind words and thoughtless actions. Let’s be honest, even TV heroes are not given that kind of character.

Lies, evil thoughts, unjust anger against another, selfishness, hate, jealousy -- all mar our hope for perfection. Furthermore, everyone, from a pagan in Africa to the godliest saint in the church, is guilty of something. But not this man. It is said of Him that “even though He was tempted in all points as we are, He was without sin.” That makes Him the only perfect man. Of course, I’m talking about Jesus Christ.

This started out alluding to love -- how did religion come into it? Well, I’m still talking about love. This perfect man offers perfect love too. Here are only a few characteristics of His love: First, it’s unconditional. That means that no matter what we do, He still loves us. His love is not earned or deserved; He loves because it’s His nature to love.

Secondly, His love is enduring, it lasts forever; not like human love, which has limits. His love is kind, patient and never keeps records of our mistakes. He rejoices when we do well, is saddened when we fail, but never gives up on us no matter how many times we let Him down. He holds no grudges and never reminds us of our mistakes once we acknowledge them to Him. In fact, He continually forgives them all.

We might fling “You just don’t understand” at most human lovers but not Him. He came to earth and went through whatever we go through so He knows how we feel. He even feels our pain with us. Whatever our ideas, problems, or concerns, we can take them to Him and He’ll never laugh at us, put us down, or make us feel rejected, inferior or worthless.

And His love is not mere words. That is, He doesn’t just say, “I love you” and then do nothing to prove it. He laid down His life for those He loves. And He did it without rose-colored glasses. He knew that many would turn around and mock Him for it, but He did it anyway. What more proof could anyone offer?

Those who have embraced the gift of His love enjoy His patience with our imperfections, but even more, we enjoy Him. He takes us into an intimacy of relationship where He fully shares Himself. No other man, TV heroes or otherwise, have His inexhaustible resources to draw from, His perfection of character.

Yes, there is a perfect man, only one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is hell for real? ................ Parables 186

October 11, 1989

Many folks don’t believe in a place called HELL. Some insist the only hell is this life and death is an escape from it. Others think hell is not a real place but a state of mind. And some claim that hell is where they would like to wind up because they think that’s where all their friends will be and they expect one big eternal party.

Those who claim that hell is non-existent often base their belief on a conviction that hell is not taught in the Bible, that it is simply a scare tactic used by unscrupulous preachers. But fire and brimstone does have scriptural basis despite how it might be insensitively preached. Isaiah speaks of “everlasting burnings” and a place where “their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched...”

John the Baptist said that Christ would, “gather his wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And Jesus Himself spoke many times of “everlasting fire” and “eternal punishment.”

The Apostle Paul described hell this way: “...the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)

If hell were this life and death an escape from it, God would not have said, “The wages of sin is death...” or that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Thus death, according to the Word of God, is not the end but entrance into an eternal existence in either of two places. Jesus affirmed an actual location when He said “... to a PLACE God has prepared for the devil and his angels.” And He described hell’s alternative when He told His disciples, “I go to prepare a PLACE for you... in My Fathers’ house there are many rooms... (John 14).

Is hell one big party? Doesn’t sound like it so far. Note that it is a place where the unrepentant will be separated from God and His Son forever. That means if the sense of God’s presence is not in hell, then all the things that describe Him will not be there either. For instance, Jesus is the light of the world and His glory will illuminate heaven. Hell will be dark. Jesus is truth. Hell will be filled with lies. Jesus is love. Hell will be unimaginable hate. Jesus is merciful and kind. There is no compassion in hell.

Jesus Christ is called the solid rock, a firm foundation. There will be nothing firm to stand on in hell, perhaps even a sense of continual unstableness, even falling. Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life. There will be eternal, unsatisfied hunger in hell. Christ is our peace. Hell will have no quiet, no tranquility, and no peace.

Those who enjoy their sin think hell might be a place to enjoy it forever, but even sin becomes boring, tedious. Perhaps hell includes not being able to stop sinning, like riding a merry-go-round that at first is fun but the blasted thing won’t stop and you can’t get off. I can’t imagine eternal pleasure in that.

No, we haven’t been given coordinates for hell’s location, nor is there an address or a thorough description. Words like “lake of fire” might be figures of speech. But descriptions like “everlasting destruction” are good enough for me. I don’t have any desire for even a brief visit.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thankful in trials .............. Parables 185

October 4, 1989

Last week I heard a blind woman say that God is teaching her to be thankful for her struggle with blindness. After that shocking statement, she pointed out that most people can thank God for the good things but few really understand His wise purpose for their trials.

And we all have them. There are trials with raising children, trials with the ups and downs of making a living, trials of learning new skills. We have ordinary trials and extraordinary trials. And although they may be part of life, do I really have to thank God for them?

James, a writer of one small book in the New Testament, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote this even more shocking statement: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of various kinds...”

So, not only does God want us to be thankful for trials, as my friend said, He wants us to be joyful! But is it the struggle with a trial that gives joy? Or something the trial will produce?

In the realm of nature, trials and struggles play a vital role in survival. For instance, if someone takes pity with the struggles of a hatching chick and helps it break through the eggshell, the chick will die. It works the same way for an emerging butterfly. Apparently, the struggle is important. Without it, there is not sufficient strength developed to go on with living.

However, which of us enjoy struggles? When trouble comes, most of us first think of ways we can get rid of the problem. We pray that God will fix it so we have no struggle. When fixing seems out of the question, then and only then will we ask for help to get through it. Could it be that we have missed the point of struggling?

James goes on to tell us we can rejoice when trials come because we “know the testing of our faith develops perseverance... so we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1). By that, He means struggles provide opportunity to gain strength for whatever trials and problems lie ahead. In other words, like the butterfly or the little chick, our struggles strengthen us for the rest of life.

For example, our family has moved over 20 times. After all that, do changes devastate us? Not as they once did. I’ve had severe illnesses and surgery a few times. Does a cold or the flu now throw me into reverse? Not like as it used to. My husband has worked on construction projects permeated by violence. Handguns even came to work in lunch pails. Does an angry employee now send him running for cover? Not likely.

Each of us can look back over our lives and see trials that, at the time, were horrible but they actually prepared us for facing the next trial without horror. We gained wisdom and insight that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. That is part of what James means.

But faith is really the issue. And faith cannot grow as a result of trials if we blame God for our problems or ignore His out-stretched hand. But if in our troubles, we reach out to Him, through faith in Christ, it will result in the happy discovery that God bigger than our problems.

Not only that, He can use any trial as a plus for our life, not a minus. Romans 8:28 promises, “... He is able to work all things together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Verse 29 describes that “good” as being conformed to the image of His Son. God is so set on that shaping process that He even uses negatives as positives.

It’s not that the Lord couldn’t cut through the confines of our tough situations so we have no struggling. Sometimes He does. But there are occasions when He seems to turn a blind eye to our problems. He just doesn’t fix them. When that happens, beware of thinking He doesn’t care, that He is heartlessly refusing to help us. Instead, remember the little chicks and the butterflies.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We can so easily ruin paradise ...................... Parables 184

September 27, 1989

A recent miniseries dramatized the downfall of President Marcos in the Philippines. Running parallel to actual news stories, this television presentation documented some shameful aspects of human nature. Even after their fanatical hunger for power and wealth was exposed by the media, both Marcos and his wife clenched their teeth, shook their fists and claimed the media was lying. Toward the end, repeated requests by the American government finally convinced them that they had indeed lost the election and must leave the country to prevent a bloody civil war.

Marcos and his wife had set their mind on a goal and even though their intention may have been honorable to begin with, greed soon destroyed their perspective. They put their own desires ahead of human lives and in spite of the overwhelming pressures against them, they refused to change. They clung to the assumption they were right and everyone else was wrong. This insistence on being right reminded me of what Solomon wrote: “There is a way that seems right to a man...”

For Marcos, his way to wealth and power seemed right, but he and countless other tyrants expose the fatal error of the popular philosophy of relativism. It is the idea that each of us ought to be free to do whatever seems right in our own eyes. But think about it... relativism justifies murder, robbery, extortion, adultery and all kinds of criminal and destructive actions. Can anyone rely on “what seems right.” Or will our motivations corrupt our judgment and lead to a bitter end?

At the opposite end of Marcos’ ambition, there is another way that seems right to most people... “You can earn or deserve God’s favor in order to get to heaven.” Seems pure and logical, doesn’t it? After all, God is good and He will honor our sincere efforts to please Him.

But do you know... God never says that our goodness will purchase a place in His heaven. This is a way that seems right only to MAN... just as Marcos’ way seemed right only to him.

Having misconceptions about what is right is obviously not a trivial matter. In Marcos case, hundreds lost their lives. Even worse, under the delusion of, “I must be good to get to heaven”, millions are losing their souls. Please note the end of Solomon’s proverb: “There is a way that seems right to a man... but the end of that way is death.”

Heaven is a real place where we can spend eternity with God (if that is not true, then Jesus Christ is a liar). Thus, the criteria necessary for getting there has to be God’s criteria, not ours. In other words, what seems right to us ought to be checked out, not assumed. What does God say about the qualifications for heaven? Does He say it’s possible to be “good enough” all by ourselves? Does He list how many good things a person must do before the pearly gates will swing wide open for them?

Not at all. God’s qualifier for heaven is faith, not works; grace not human goodness. Both grace and faith drastically change a person, even making possible a goodness that will please God, yet even that does not change His entrance requirements. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In spite of open preaching of the gospel, in spite of realizing in our hearts that we fail in every way to be all that a holy God requires, many still cling to “the way that seems right.” What does it take to shake a man or woman loose from such ideas so tenaciously held?

Marcos crumbled, fell, and now lives in exile, a broken and defeated man, perhaps without fully recognizing the futility of the way to wealth and power that seemed right to him.

Praise God, that is not what happens to anyone who recognizes the futility of trying to earn our way to heaven, the way that seems right. When we turn from it, to Christ, we are not banished but exalted, not broken but made whole, not defeated but given victory. Jesus Christ is the way — and His way leads not to a bitter end, but to  everlasting life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why does God allow poverty? ................. Parables 183

September 20, 1989

Some people say, “I would die before I’d ever go on social assistance.” Others respond, “Oh yea? Without it, I would have died.”

The have’s and the have-nots. Fat and lean. The rich and the poor. Whatever we call them, every society houses both ends of their own particular economic spectrum. Here, the poor seldom go hungry or homeless. In India or Africa, our poor might seem rich in comparison to their levels of poverty.

Some people ask why does God allow poverty? Others may wonder why He allows riches. Unknown to both, God has a social assistance program apart from whatever economic bracket we might be in. Furthermore, His supply of physical or material goods is merely a fringe benefit, icing on the “cake”.

Before we get to the “cake” though, it must be understood that according to Jesus, both rich and poor can put their focus on material wealth and lose sight of the “cake.” In one instance, a man concerned about an unfair division of inheritance approached Jesus. After refusing to act as a judge in his case, the Lord said, “...Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Then He told this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops? ...I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul... eat, drink, and be merry.’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God...”

Jesus address the poor person in the same sermon: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven... for where your treasure is there your heart will be also... no one can serve two masters... you cannot serve God and money... therefore, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on... look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ...your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things...”

Jesus then tells how to get the “cake” and qualify for God’s social assistance program. It is not by filling out forms or being out of work for six weeks. It is this: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you...” (Matthew 6)

Was He joking? How can a search for the realm of God’s rule fill anyone’s stomach? How can seeking His righteousness (which is not the same as our own brand) put clothes on anyone’s back?

David knew the answer long before Jesus made the promise, “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.” (Psalm 37:25)

Simply put, God takes care of His children. He makes sure they have enough to eat and wear. And that is the fringe benefit. The initial gift is new life through spiritual birth, not only entering into His family and receiving eternal life, but entering also into the greatest social assistance program ever.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Let Jesus untie the knots ........................ Parables 182

September 13, 1989
Have you seen the latest T-shirt slogan? “STRESS - When your gut says “NO” and your mouth says “I’LL BE HAPPY TO!”

I can relate to that. In fact, I’d like to talk to whoever suggested “when you want something done, ask a busy person.” I’m a busy person and had to learn the hard way that “NO” is a tremendous stress-reliever.

One of the things that helped me was is a little self-analysis. Why do I say “I’ll be happy to” when the request is the last thing that would make me happy? Oh, but I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, do I? Or the job won’t get done if I don’t do it. And certainly, I want to be well thought of. Or this: It will be worth it... Horse feathers!

Another person suggested it would be interesting to study the life of Jesus Christ from the point of view of the pressures He was under. Perhaps THE STRESS-LIFE OF THE SON OF GOD would be a good title for a book. Personally, I see Him as a model for elimination of stress, at least this kind. But how did He do it?

Well, we could say that He knew whether or not saying NO would hurt anyone’s feelings. After all, He knew the thoughts of those He encountered. But I don’t think His insight into other’s needs was key.

We could say He had great capacity to do any and all jobs so it never occurred to Him to say NO; that it didn’t matter if He was loaded to the hilt with responsibilities. But I don’t think that was it either.

We could also say that He was not a people-pleaser, that His self-esteem did not depend on what others thought of Him. This idea may at least hit a little closer to the heart of His ability to meet pressure.

The real key is that Jesus had only one purpose in life: to please God. He didn’t let even personal desires, however pure they may have been, sway His commitment. For Him, nothing would be worth the stress of displeasing His Father. He said it Himself in several ways and on several occasions...

“I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me.” (John 8:42)

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.” (John 6:38)

“I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:30)

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:38)

Doing the will of the Father certainly didn’t guarantee a discomfort-free life for Jesus. He was mocked, misunderstood, sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane, and was eventually murdered. However Hebrews 12 says, “...that for the joy set before Him He endured the cross and despised the shame.” In other words, there is grace for that kind of stress.

Jesus, however, did not have to endure that first kind of stress mentioned, the one that we bring on ourselves by saying YES when inner convictions say NO. Jesus didn’t live that way. Instead, He followed the leading of the Spirit, making sure of God’s will by spending time alone with Him in prayer. He didn’t allow anyone else to govern His actions, only His Father.

So I’d like one T-shirt, please, as a reminder; but with a slight amendment: “STRESS - When God’s Word says NO and my mouth says WHY NOT!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Gaining God’s ears .................... Parables 181

September 6, 1989

“VOYAGER is so distant that by the time its radio signal reaches Earth it will be reduced to the strength of only one 10-quadrillionth of a watt. That is 20 billion times weaker than the power used to operate a digital wristwatch.” (Edmonton Journal, August 13, 1989)

Not only has man created a satellite capable of going across our solar system and sending out signals, but also we have receivers here on earth able to detect those unimaginably weak signals and translate them into photographs and other information. This is even more marvelous when the pollution of our airwaves is considered. Shortwave radio, radar, television, AM, FM, telephone, electricity, lightning, sound waves, crowd the atmosphere. What hope for a tiny whisper from outer space? Yet we have “ears” that hear it.

The creative capacity of the human species amazes even us, and so it should. Yet whatever power we have to create is but a reflection of the far greater power of the One in whose image we have been created.

For instance, suppose for a minute what the “ears” of God must be like. With a human population of several billion, and conditions of need in every corner of the world, the prayers that go up to Him must number in the millions every moment of every day. Some will be shouted. Some will be whispered. Some will be from groups praying the same requests together. Some will come from alone and lonely souls. Some will be given in anger. Some pleading. Some will be exceptional in their articulation, others expressed by a simple thought.

Sad to say, in spite of the amazing power of God revealed in what He created, many people think, “Prayer is a wasted effort, God doesn’t hear.”

Some gods don’t hear. Psalm 115 describes idols invented by the hands of men, “...they have ears, but they hear not...” Amazingly, those who fashion idols will talk to them in full confidence that they are heard, yet refuse to bring their needs, fears, concerns, and hopes to the One who created the materials that make up those dumb objects.

The Psalm writer, David, knew that the God he worshipped was not deaf. He said, “Blessed be the LORD, because He hath heard the voice of my supplications... The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry.” (Psalm 28:6 and 34:15)

Notice that he said God hears the cry of the “righteous.” Because of their faith in God and in His promise to send a Savior, God’s people Israel of the Old Testament were called righteous, even though they did not always act like it. It is not surprising that God warned them He wouldn’t listen to their prayers if they disobeyed Him. However, He promised this to those who walked with Him, “... before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Psalm 66:18 and Isaiah 65:24)

The promise that God would hear His people is repeated in the New Testament. This time it is given to those who trust in Christ, the Savior God sent. (1 Peter 3:12) But along with it are the same warnings: disobedience blocks answers. It is not that God cannot hear but He will not respond with a YES when we willfully ignore His commands.

Self-centered requests are not heard either. James 4:3, for example, says we have not, because we ask with wrong motives.

Prayer is the marvelous privilege of the child of God. Through prayer we not only see requests become reality, but we also learn His will, discover the difference between mere wants and true needs, become purified in our motives for asking, and deepen our capacity to stand in trials.

Keeping our life clean and our sin confessed, gives us the great privilege of communication with the Creator of the very universe into which we are sending spacecraft. We have His promise that He hears every word, even every thought, sent up from those whose hearts and lives are righteous before Him. So the signals we send, regardless of their frequency, modulation, pitch, or even their strength, get through. And His answers make keeping those communication lines open worth the effort.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Turning from bad habits . . . ........................... Parables 180

August 30, 1989

My mother was thirteen years old when she tried her first cigarette. She was forty-something when she smoked her last. Now, in her seventies, she confesses she was years fighting the desire to start again.

It wasn’t easy for her to quit, as any smoker will testify. Any habit is difficult to break, especially one that seems to give a measure of calm to the nerves or comfort to the body.

When mom decided to quit, she analyzed her habit. When did she crave a smoke the most? She decided it was right after meals and before she did the dishes. (A stack of dirty dishes from a farm family of six, plus whoever else may have been there, might send anyone into a bad habit!)

Now some who enjoy doing dishes might head right to the sink and forget things like cigarettes, but mom felt a need of a break right about then. However, she decided the only way to beat the craving was not to forsake her short time of relaxation and get at the dishes, but sit down anyway and do something else with her hands. So instead of picking up a white cylinder of nicotine, she took out some longer cylinders -- knitting needles and crochet hooks.

Over a dozen crocheted table clothes, uncountable sweaters, afghans and the like mark her success at breaking the habit and give visible evidence that her lungs have been cleared. She is to be commended.

Actually, mom’s idea originated in the Bible. Some call it the principle of replacement -- putting off an undesirable habit, trait, or characteristic by putting on something else. The New Testament first deals with something very basic that we need to get rid of -- our sinful nature.

Mom may have been able to go to a craft store and pick up a replacement for her problem, but picking up a new nature isn’t that easy. Stores don’t sell them. Self-help books and seminars try, but they don’t do anything more than dress up the old one. Resolutions or turning over a new leaf or trying harder may make some changes, however we cannot change who and what we are all by ourselves. Back to the Manufacturer we must go. The One who created us in the first place can restore us to the condition He originally intended. He does it through what the Bible calls regeneration, that is, the bestowal of new life, the life of His Son, into those who place their faith in Him.

The Apostle Paul referred to it this way, “Those who are in Christ Jesus are new creations; old things have passed away, all things are become new.” The life of Christ replaces the old nature, thus a Christian has a new nature, but is not automatically without sin. The old nature is still able to draw believers into sin. Part of the problem are those enslaving habits that may have formed before regeneration took place. This is where the replacement principle again comes in. Paul wrote, “Now put off the old nature which is corrupt... and put on the new nature which is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

He goes on to give some examples: “Don’t lie -- speak the truth. Don’t steal -- work so you have something to give to others in need. Don’t speak foul words -- say words that minister grace to your hearers. Put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice -- and be kind to others, tenderhearted, forgiving even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” (See Ephesians 4)

The key is concentration on the new. Trying not to do the old habit gets us nowhere but frustrated. Begin with asking God for new life, then take up the challenge of being truthful, hard working, generous, gracious, kind, tender, forgiving -- and we won’t have time for the other things!

The results? Paul calls it “an eternal weight of glory” and an “inheritance that is incorruptible and will never fade away.” Sounds even better than table clothes and sweaters!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Choosing joy? ................. Parables 179

August 23, 1989

There’s this unread book sitting on my shelf. Every time I look at it, the title bugs me... “HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE.”

I happen to be one of those pessimistic people who see the black side of things far more easily than the light side. I’ve also found out (the hard way) that when I think about black things, I can expect matching emotions -- and they are very difficult to turn off.

This trait has some good to it. I easily spot sin -- unfortunately, that includes my own. Thinking about my sin makes me sad and it’s not easy to cast off the gloom. So for me, getting from sad to happy doesn’t happen by merely deciding, “I’ll be happy now.”

Ah, but notice -- since the root of those emotions is my thoughts, then the choice to be happy has to begin at that root level. Ignore the root, and it will keep on producing its fruit. Instead, make some thought choices; replace gloomy ones with a happier kind.

In fact, replacement is only way to change what we think about. No one can really shut off their mind (even if some appear never to use it). Try this experiment: spend 30 seconds NOT thinking about the color red... now don’t think about red. Can’t do it, can you? Now try putting something in its place: think about bananas for 30 seconds...

In similar fashion, changing thoughts from gloomy topics to more pleasant ones is a possibility. When our emotions respond to those thoughts, our spirits will be lifted. Thus, happiness is a choice.

Seems simple. But there is something else to consider -- the timing. When sad thoughts enter our head, is it always best to push them out right away? How important is it to be happy all the time? Is that really the best state to be in? Or does sorrow, especially sorrow over sin, play an important part in our well-being?

Some perpetually cheery people may make the more serious-minded feel envious, even guilty, about not being that way, yet God has something to say on the value of both joy and sorrow. While He is the giver of joy, and even commands us to be joyful, He also says: “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”

In God’s mind, the heart condition is foundational. If the inner attitude is not right, He cannot give us the fullness of His joy. According to His word, we HAVE to think certain sad thoughts -- at least until sorrow does its work in bettering our inner attitudes.

Proverbs 15:13 says “... by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” We seem to come equipped with a strong spirit, an inner attitude of personal determination to stick up for our rights and do things our own way. It is only through thinking about sad things, such as our mistakes, that such willful determination is brought into an attitude God can bless.

Isaiah 66:2 explains, “... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit...” Jesus followed with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

The Jews somehow thought that only the rich and only the strong-willed were blessed by God. But God slaps that down. He looks to the needs of the poor -- but even more important, He looks to the needs of those who are humble and willing to admit their spiritual poverty. And when we realize the degree of that poverty, it is a sad thought indeed.

So true happiness grows from happy thoughts, and true happy thoughts become ours when we allow sad thoughts to bring us to our knees before a holy God, one who will have mercy on the poor in spirit. Sorrow may be uncomfortable, but the right kind leads to joy forever.

One caution: when godly sorrow strikes, don’t wallow in it. Confess any sins, accept His forgiveness, and refocus on thoughts of God’s love and mercy. If we don’t, sorrow will continue. That’s like shutting the windows of heaven after God opens them. What a foolish choice.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Why all the “rules”? ...................... Parables 178

August 16, 1989

It was only a cardboard airplane, but with few other toys to play with, the little fellow that I was taking care of was quite glad to have it. We put it on the end of a string and I showed him how to “fly” it. Since it was not a Fisher-Price model but came from the side of a cereal box, I added this warning, “This is not a strong airplane. If you crash it into the walls or the floor, it will not fly very well anymore. Then you will not have an airplane to play with.”

It was my intention that he happily play with it for as long as he wished, so my “commandment” was to preserve his pleasure not destroy it.

You guessed it. He crashed it. And no sooner was the airplane laid to rest than he was whining that he had nothing to play with. Instant object lesson. When you don’t follow the rules, you ruin your fun.

A few days later I came across these verses in Deuteronomy 11, part of God’s commandments to His people: “I set before you a blessing and a curse; a blessing if you obey... and a curse if you will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way...”

Curse? What does it mean that God will curse His people? Out came my Hebrew dictionary. (The Old Testament was originally written in the Hebrew language.) I discovered that there are several words for “curse”. The one used in this verse is “qlala” (phonetic spelling). It means “the absence (or reversal) of a blessed or rightful state, and lowering to a lesser state.”

In other words, God had a blessing in store for His people. It could be experienced through obedience to His commands. Therefore, every time they disobeyed a command, they forfeited some blessing that He intended. Not only that, they often experienced the opposite -- a reversed blessing, a curse.

The child with the airplane illustrates this kind of “curse”. God says, “My commandments are for your good,” but when His people disregarded what He said, they ruined their own fun.

Before I knew Christ, I thought that obeying God would be confining, no fun at all; and surely people who did, didn’t know what they were missing. Now I know better. I was the one that didn’t know what I was missing -- the blessing of God in my life.

That doesn’t mean that breaking the rules has no pleasure. Hebrews 11 says, “Moses, by faith, forsook the pleasures of sin for a season...” Sin can be fun... for a while. But I’ve learned that the joy of the Lord grows into a finer ecstasy than forbidden behavior can ever produce -- if we are willing to obey, and wait for it.

Yes, it may take a while for the blessing to appear. It was said of Moses that he endured suffering with God’s people BEFORE he received the reward God had promised him. In the meantime, he had to trust the Lord with all his heart, be patient, and remain obedient.

Trust, patience, and obedience are easier when we remember God created us with far greater goals for our life than we could ever set; deeper joys than we could ever imagine. “I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

In our impatience for “are we having fun yet”, it’s so easy to jump over the line and lower ourselves to less than what we could have had. Even more tragic, at the same time, we can be deceived into thinking we are getting more, because of the thrill of the moment. How we need to know the love of God so we can obey Him and wait in faith for Him to give us the rewards He promises.

Crashing the plane may have offered a momentary thrill, yet in the end, even the child realized it wasn’t worth it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A most wonderful yarn ........................ Parables 177

(August 9, 1989)

“Grandma, what’s that?”

“It’s a “what’s it.”

“What’s a what’s it?”

Five strands of colored yarn knotted at one end and pinned to my shirt prompted this conversation. I wore my “what’s it” so I could explain God’s good news to my five-year-old grandson. He’d never heard it before. As we discussed profound truth in simple terms, I realized it is easy amid the complications of adult life, to forget that the gospel is really so very simple. The colored yarn tells the story:

GOLD: stands for streets of gold in heaven. Of course, heaven is where God lives, and everything is perfect there because God is perfect. (See Revelation 21:21) But, of all the perfect things that might be in heaven, there is at least one thing that God will not allow there...

BLACK: represents sin. Sin is a word for all the bad in us that comes out in mean thoughts, ugly words, and things we do. Everyone sins. I do. You do. Everyone. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Bible says that sin will keep us from knowing and loving God and from going to heaven when we die. (See 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 and Revelation 22:15 and 21:8)

RED: stands for blood. God said that sinners must be punished but He loved us so much that He sent His Son, who never sinned, to die for our sins. When Jesus claimed to be God’s Son, it made some men angry so they nailed Him to a wooden cross. Then He died, shedding His blood for us. He was buried in a cave. But Jesus didn’t stay there. After three days, He rose from the dead. He has power to conquer death.

Several days later, while His friends watched, He rose up from the earth and went to be with His heavenly Father. He said He would someday return, and take all who believe in Him back to heaven. (John 1:12 and 14:1-3)

WHITE: Sinners need to be made clean from their sin before they can go to heaven with Jesus. He shed His blood so we could be washed “whiter than snow” and made fit to be with God. When we put our trust in Him and ask Him to forgive our sin, He promises to come and live in our hearts (not the organ that pumps blood but the real person). Then our hearts are washed clean in God’s sight.

GREEN: After we become cleansed from sin, God wants us to grow, not taller or fatter but “gooder” -- more like Jesus. We read our Bible, pray, and do what God asks us to do. As we do our part, He keeps on changing us and helps us have victory over sin. That means that even though temptation will come, Jesus will give us the strength we need to say “no” to it, and “yes” to what is right.

This little five-year-old admitted right away that he did bad things. He also said, “It is hard to be good but so easy to be bad.” Isn’t it true? The downward trend of morality gives testimony to his words of wisdom. But in spite of numerous theories and programs to turn things around, the answer lies in the “what’s it” story.

Changed individuals bring changes to their society. When God gets a hold of a man, a woman, or even a child, no matter what their particular vices have been, He is able to radically transform them. When the fearful become trusting, liars tell the truth, and unbelieving take heed to the Word of God, God uses them as salt and light in rottenness and darkness.

I know, I know... the “what’s it” story is too simple, too childlike. But remember, Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”