Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Preparing for Change ................. Parables 216

(May 9, 1990)

In the past month, my husband’s favorite Bible verse: “A man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps,” again proved itself true.

Our plans included staying put. After moving all over the place and back to Fort Saskatchewan four times, we have become comfortable here, enjoying what we thought was goodbye to packing and relocating. However, my husband was offered a short term assignment a few weeks ago... so after praying for wisdom, we made a major decision. Soon we leave our home and most of its contents to live in furnished accommodations in another province for a couple of years.

Now that everything is coming together, I can tell the story with anticipation, however when the proposal first hit us, it was akin to being hit by a train. We didn’t like it. We didn’t want to go anywhere. I went through all five stages of grief in about two hours. Finally, after choosing to accept the opportunity, we found ourselves able to effectively weigh both the positives and the not-so-positives.

This spells a radical change in lifestyle. Up front, it attacks our comfort zone. My husband will take a position of responsibility that is not unlike his past experience -- but there are some significant differences. The location and the time frame will enable me to fulfill a 15 year dream -- going to Bible College, so I will be studying full-time. However we can come home at least every long weekend, and move back when the project is complete. The challenge of the thing is now exciting.

Major decisions certainly involve emotional upheaval. I can remember a far greater choice I had to make -- when I was confronted with the claims of Christ. Saying yes to Him also implied a change of direction, destination and lifestyle and, up front, all of those were a threat to my comfort zone.

However, after the decision was made, I was able to look more objectively at the positives and even the few not-so-positives. Saying yes to Christ meant I would enjoy freedom from guilt, peace with God, and a multitude of blessings promised to those who put their faith in Him. Certainly the greatest benefit of all was the change regarding my destination. From the point of that decision on, He promised assurance of eternal life with God, rather than separation from Him in everlasting judgment.

That was certainly no small decision either. As one person said, it is not a simple matter to turn your life over to the control of someone else. In fact, I could not have done it unless the Lord had revealed Himself to be loving in His motives, wise in His dealings, and totally reliable in His Sovereign authority. Once He is seen to be all of that, and more, the decision is much easier.

Regarding salvation, He opened my eyes to see Him as righteous in all that He does, so I could choose Christ, and joyfully settle into the new lifestyle He gives, anticipating the end result of that choice. Regarding our decision to relocate, we realize since we put our trust in Christ, He has never led us foolishly or with evil intent. Whatever the future holds, we can trust Him with it. He has proven Himself with our past.

As we put the emotion of the decision behind us and prepare for the changes that will come as a result of our choice, we think of all He has done to help us overcome the fear of the unknown and walk ahead with Him. We know that even should His plans change our plans, the way He wants us to go will be for His glory and our good. He will not fail to give us direction, strength and encouragement, even in moves and changes. Best of all, no matter what else happens, the ultimate outcome, eternity with Him, will remain secure.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Indispensable? ................. Parables 215

(May 2, 1990)

A man once described how foolish it is to think of ourselves as indispensable. He filled a pail with water, stuck in his hand and said, “Notice carefully the hole left in the water after I pull my hand out...”

A few weeks ago, someone told me they doubted they could find a replacement for me regarding a certain responsibility. That felt good, yet at the same time, I remembered the hand in the bucket and the verse of Scripture that says: “...don’t value yourself more highly than you ought... (Romans 12:3). No one is totally indispensable.

However, all of us have a deep desire to be significant, to have value, or have one’s life count for something. Who wants to simply be born, work, eat, sleep, and then die? The challenge is determining what is significant...

Some try making the world’s largest hot dog, or eating the most pie in three minutes, or jumping the highest, or running the fastest. There are world records in just about every category, yet it seems sooner or later each record holder finds himself knocked off the top of the list by another who somehow finds a bigger or better way to do it. Along with the fall from fame comes some loss of that sense of significance.

Others consider significance by the size of their bank account or list of assets. Not ever having a million or two, I don’t know first hand how important mega-bucks make a person feel, but I do know money has a way of never quite being enough... no matter how much is there. If riches make a person feel significant, no doubt the significance never quite seems enough either.

Still others go for it by being available to needy people. A lady once told me her volunteer work made her feel important. Others look for significance in their jobs or their role in the home. Having significance is a legitimate desire -- what are some legitimate ways to fulfill it?

A short Old Testament book tells the story of a Jewish woman, Esther, married to a pagan king who had been duped into passing a law that would result in the slaughter of all the Jews in his kingdom. Anyone who came to him without being summoned was beheaded. The decision lay before Esther; would she risk her life to approach the king on behalf of her people?

Esther’s uncle, an influential Israelite, told her: “If you remain quiet at this time, then deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place; but you and your father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

What Esther did would change the course of history. Sure, God could easily preserve His people in other places outside the realm of that king, but the point is, she saw her moment for significance had come... and in the plan of God, her obedience to His law would seal her worth.

There are long-term results of obeying God, even in seemingly insignificant things. For instance, Daniel refused to eat food forbidden by God’s law and wound up being put in a position to tell the people who held him captive about the promise of God to send a Savior to the world. Generations later, a contingent from that same nation sent wise men to worship the Christ child; they knew he was coming because Daniel obeyed God.

The kind of significance that lasts is not in seeking fame, fortune or possessions for ourselves. When we do that, we find that money has wings, fame is fleeting, and possessions eventually find their way to the dump. Instead, significance is the blessing of God in using our obedience to shape history. It is a significance that may not even be seen in our lifetime but will be written down in His book and rewarded long after the applause of the world fades or moves on to the person who did us one better.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Software and Scripture ................. Parables 214

(April 25, 1990)

Computer buffs soon discover that some software programs can be used in “resident mode.” That means they can be loaded into the RAM (random access memory) ahead of the program primarily used, and accessed whenever needed.

For instance, I have the text of the entire Bible in a program called GodSpeed. After it is loaded (in resident mode), I load my word processing software. As I type this column or other manuscripts, I sometimes want to insert a verse of Scripture. Instead of copying it from my Bible, all I have to do is type in the reference (in abbreviated form, such as joh 3:16 for John 3:16), hit two keys, called the “hot key”, at the same time, and the verse is instantly included in whatever I am writing.

This Bible program is not visible when in resident mode. Nothing on the screen indicates that it is in there, ready to go to work. Nevertheless, those verses are available when I want them.

Psalm 119:11 says “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” God wants us to put His Word into more than our personal computers. It’s our hearts that need it. When it is hidden there, we have instant access to that which will give us victory over the worst enemy we have, the sin that destroys our relationship with God and with others.

The process of putting Scripture in “resident mode” involves learning and relearning what it says, memorizing it, meditating on it, even teaching it to others. However, just filling our brain with the words on a page is not quite enough. As powerful as the Written Word is, for it to really do its job, we also need to obey it. For that, something else must also be in “resident mode.”

Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

This verse is an important “resident mode” aspect in the life of a Christian. Scriptures says only those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ can be called the children of God. It also says without Him, we can’t discern what the Bible means and will soon give up reading it, thus lose the battle with sin.

Having Christ first of all means having life: “He who has the Son has life but He who has not the Son of God has not life but the wrath of God abides on him.” Without Him, all we have is our own temporary existence and God’s wrath on our sin. However, the life of Christ is more than “fire insurance” against the judgment of God. He “gives us His divine nature” so we can have “all we need for life and godliness...” so we can “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3).

Putting the very disposition of Christ in “resident mode” in our heart means we can call on Him and His life will become evident in our life. His love, joy, peace and power are accessible. But even with that marvelous resource, Christians often forget to utilize the “hot key”, a combination of faith and humility. Christ can permeate all that we are and do only as both are activated. Faith simply trusts Him, first as Savior and Lord, and then to be there, as He promises, to meet our every need.

Humility is recognition that without Christ, no matter how adequate we might appear, we don’t have what it takes to please God. We must admit our falling short and our need; we can’t do it ourselves. Then, when both faith and humility work together, Christ comes out of “resident mode” and the power of His life gives us the victory.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blind Spots ................. Parables 213

(April 18, 1990)

Leaving fast traffic at highway speed and changing lanes in the process makes the off-ramps of a California freeway nearly as frightening as the on-ramps. I vividly recall exiting to the right from the always-crowded Ventura. I signaled, looked over my shoulder and began moving into the exit lane. Suddenly I felt compelled to look again. There, just at my rear wheel was a man on a motorcycle, in my blind spot. I shudder to think what would have happened without that second look.

We all have our blind spots. Taking a second look often reveals what we didn’t see the first time, although frequently the blind spot isn’t as simple to get around as the back window frame of a car. Instead it can be personal bias, contrary desires, or prejudice that make us miss something important. In fact, all three played a part in bringing tragedy to some travelers along another road centuries ago. They were moving at much slower speed, but became victims of blind spots just the same.

That “freeway” was the road to Jerusalem. A fellow traveler rode a young colt and the rest of the traffic was made up of people who had come from the city to meet Him, shouting “Hosanna, blessed is the king...” They were ecstatic. Here was the one who would deliver them from the dominion of Rome. But they had a blind spot.

Just before the man on the colt reached the city, He began to weep. Through His tears, He said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will... not leave one stone (of your city) on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Their blindness was soon demonstrated. Within days, that same cheering crowd was demanding “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” They were so determined that He be the king or Messiah who would give them political deliverance, food on their plates and freedom from oppression, that they could not see the obvious. Had they known who He was, they never would have killed Him.

One might wonder how could they miss it? He definitely demonstrated His identity, yet they still couldn’t see. Why not?

Jesus had been asked repeatedly who He was, and at one point He told them He was the Light of the world. When asked again in John 12, His response was, “The light is only with you a little while, walk while you have it, lest darkness comes upon you: for he that walks in darkness doesn’t know where he is going. While you have light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light...” (John 12:34ff)

But the people didn’t respond. They didn’t like what Light revealed.  They simply didn’t want to believe He came to deal with their personal sin and need of a personal Savior. His holy life was beginning to get on their nerves. Blind to who He was, blind to what He was offering them, they decided to destroy Him.

When I couldn’t see the cyclist with the first glance, I had time to look again. Certainly God is patient and gives many opportunities for a second look at Christ. However, there comes an end for those who persist in rejecting what He reveals about Him. The Bible says, “GOD sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie...” (2 Thess.2:10-12).

After Jesus’ rejected invitation in John 12, the rest of verse 36 gives this sad epitaph: “After Jesus spoke these things, He left, and HID HIMSELF FROM THEM.” They didn’t have a chance for a second look around their blind spot... and were forever locked in darkness.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Love of God ................. Parables 212

(April 11, 1990)

I love my kids. I care about their happiness, health and education. I want them to function well in life and achieve meaningful goals. I’ve hurt when they fall down and tried to stop them when they did something life-threatening. Most parents do the same, right? Loving our kids enough to set rules, or even use force to stop them from hurting themselves is not a difficult concept to understand. What puzzles me is why we resist the same kind of love, no, a purer more noble love, from our heavenly Father.

God, like us, cares if His children are happy and healthy. When He came in the person of Jesus Christ, He gave joy, healed the sick and met human needs. He also cares about what we learn, even gave us a “textbook” for life and the Holy Spirit to help us understand and follow it. He wants us to function well, to live meaningful lives. Besides that, He will help us do it, promising to supply all of our needs “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Our parenting pales beside His kindness and His ability to provide.

But as any parent, He is grieved when we do things that hurt ourselves or others. As “children”, we may not think some things are wrong or we may not understand how our actions could ruin our life or someone else’s, but like many a loving father, He foresees consequences that we are too immature or inexperienced to see for ourselves. So when He tells us to “stop it,” surely He has our good in mind.

Hebrews 12 points out how God, like a father who chastens a child he loves, will chasten (“train or discipline”) those HE loves. While the chapter doesn’t specify what kind of chastening or training He uses, our own parenting might be a good example. Imagine a child who wants to play in the middle of a busy street. His father says he cannot. The child asks why. The father may explain or he may say, “Just do as you’re told.” Whatever the case, imagine how unloving a parent would be if that child ran out to play on the street anyway and he or she only commented, “Who cares? let him find out the hard way.”

We would never condemn a parent for putting a gate on the yard to keep his toddler safe inside but when God throws restraints in our path so we won’t hurt ourselves, we chafe and complain. How easily we forget that love doesn’t look the other way when children disobey. Love cares enough to do something about disobedience, knowing it can lead to destruction.

God’s love invites us to share in His holiness rather than live in our ungodliness... not just to satisfy His nature but because it is best for us that we forsake sin and rebellion and follow Him. Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:24: “The LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive...”

Like children, we have to see Him as a wise and loving Father who wants what is best for us, not a kill-joy who is cramping our style. Jeremiah understood. He told God’s people, “Your iniquities have turned away these GOOD things, and your sins have withheld GOOD from you.”

We are so quick to blame God if things go badly, yet He is the loving Father who faithfully warns us regarding the consequences of our BEHAVIOR even though we often ignore Him and get ourselves into trouble.

Does His love end when we persist in rebellion? Some parents disown their children if they go too far but this Parent, while we were busily going too far, loved us so much that He “sent Christ to die for us.” What we do about Christ will determine whether or not God ever says: “ENOUGH!”

Right now, His love is still available. When anyone puts their faith in Jesus Christ, trusting Him for eternal life, they are made members of the family of God, and brought into the joy of knowing that “nothing... shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. His parental love, including the discipline, surely is for our good... always.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Heads up for Parents ................. Parables 211

(April 4, 1990)

The question offered to families used to be “It’s 11 p.m... do you know where your children are?” Someone discovered it was often more appropriate to ask, “It’s 11 p.m... do you know where your parents are?” After reading about some recent “sex communication” seminars, a better question might be: “Parents, do you know who is teaching your children?”

These seminars were conducted in Alberta by... well, no one seems to want to admit who is responsible. According to a couple of people who attended, the promotional material didn’t reveal enough to keep them from signing up; but after they got there, they found themselves getting an “education” they didn’t anticipate or want.

Apparently a desensitizing process was the method of enlightenment used, involving a series of films that started out “innocently” enough but went to the other extreme by the end of the seminar. These films displayed sexual behavior. One person interpreted that the intention seemed to be to numb their minds gradually, so after three days, not one viewer would be shocked or offended by ANY kind of sexual BEHAVIOR, normal or otherwise. This person also said most of the people would have walked out on the third day’s films had they been shown them in the beginning. As it was, only a handful of people refused to watch any of them.

This deceptive instructional method was used in the name of education. The organizers were “not available for comment.” Most of those who were subjected to these films haven’t said much either. However, the impact may come out where we’d least like to see it... the seminars were offered to those responsible for the sex education of our children.

Anyone intrigued by the “sex communication” title could take some advice from the wisdom of Solomon: “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps...” A suspicious mind, especially these days, could be a healthy mind. Taking a harder look before signing on the dotted line might make the difference between prudently “seeing danger and taking refuge” or continuing on “and suffering for it.” (Proverbs 22:3)

Aside from that, the unwillingness by the organizers to even admit who they are, plus the deceptive techniques used, illustrate a Biblical principle regarding people who do not know God. They prefer a cover-up.

Jesus talked about such “cover-ups” after giving the familiar promise of John 3:16 (eternal life for those who believe in the Son of God). He went on to say those who do not believe in Him were “condemned already” because of their unbelief and refusal to come to Him. Why didn’t they come? “...because men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Every one that does evil hates the light, and will not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

Jesus warned about false teachers who look good on the outside by appearing “in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Putting on the guise, “this is education” does not make a wolf into a lamb.

Colossians 2:8 also warns, “See that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy...” Christ is right up front with every thing He does and He instructs godly people to never use deceit of any kind. To do so reveals there is something wrong with either us or the message we have.

Probably the average reader is not going to be attending one of those sex seminars anyway. However, the people who did soon will be passing on the values (or lack of them) picked up from such “education”, to the heads and hearts of the average reader’s children. Obviously, as parents, we should be in the light about what is going on in the dark!

Besides that, if we are Christians, we need to be out there, shining as much light as possible. Those who refuse to come to the light at least will want to get away from where it is -- meaning they will have to peddle their sinful philosophies somewhere else.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Is this dream from God? ................. Parables 210

(March 28, 1990)

A certain poor farmer enthusiastically approached a preacher and told him he would like to serve God. The preacher, testing the farmer’s commitment, asked, “Sir, if you had 100 cows, would you give 50 of them to the Lord?”

The farmer said, “Of course I would. I would gladly give 50 cows.”

The preacher went on, “If you had 50 cows, would you give 25?”

The farmer eagerly nodded. “Yes, sir, I would give 25.”

Then the preacher said, “If you had two cows, would you give one?”

At that point, the farmer backed off. “Now that’s not fair. I only have two cows.”

My dreams start out like that sometimes -- big. They look and sound fantastic, even if I can’t pull them off. I don’t have 100 cows either! But this doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t dream big. We have a big God, One who can do the impossible. He made something out of nothing when He created our world and His power is clearly visible in the winds, the seas and the elements He controls.

We also have seen His work in the spiritual realm. He is able to bring even the most vile to their knees, confessing Christ as Lord. He changes lives. He has, through revival preaching and the power of His Spirit, turned the population of entire cities to righteousness. And He can wipe out whole nations who refuse to acknowledge Him. Surely our God is big enough for our biggest dreams. But is He big enough for the little ones? 

I have to admit, big dreams are fun, far more fun than small ones. Grand plans can be held out at arm’s length where I can admire my own ingenuity... Imagine that -- I dreamed such a scheme. No pain in that... No perspiration either. Maybe that’s why most of us don’t dream little... it may mean work.

Someone once said, “All great plans eventually deteriorate into hard work.” That hits the farmer, and most of us, right where we live. It is easy to be generous with funds that I don’t have, boast great loyalties that are not challenged, and imagine doing marvelous service in realms not open to me. When I do that, I’m forgetting a Biblical principle from Luke 19. The basic idea is: if anyone is faithful in a small thing, he will be given greater responsibility.

We use that idea in rearing our children. If they prove themselves capable of taking care of a tricycle, we get them a two-wheeler, then a ten speed. In the realm of dreams, even the largest of them must begin somewhere. In fact, a dream is sort of like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo had to start with one small brush stroke, then another, and another.

However, sometimes my dreams are just ridiculous. When they are, God often leads me to the example of Israel’s King David: “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother... is my soul within me.” My God knows I often need to come down to earth and dream a little more realistically.

However, some dreams could be ideas from heaven. If so, their size brings fear and trepidation, or even laughter. The elephant is too big to eat, our knife and fork much too puny. Should that be the case, the words of Jesus address the need: “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”

The bottom line for dreamers is this --- check first the heart. Do I need to “wake up,” come off my cloud and get doing what I CAN do? Or is the dream one of those won’t-go-away nudges, a thing that just can’t be put out of mind, even though it seems impossible? If that is what the dream is like, maybe all God is asking is a small beginning.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Just because I cannot see God . . . ................. Parables 209

(March 21, 1990)

At least fourteen cars didn’t make it. Some stopped. Others piled into them. Still others missed the space between the lines. That fog a couple of weekends ago was so unbelievably thick.

Even driving in town required a measure of faith. It looked as if there was nothing left to drive on; the streets all but disappeared. The white “soup” didn’t just cover them, it completely swallowed the pavement and buildings.

I felt the same way about God that Sunday morning. Tired from doing all the usual chores plus hospital visits, plus traveling 500 miles in two days, plus cleaning someone else’s house besides my own, there was no physical energy left for my Bible class. Not only that, God seemed far away. How could I teach about Him if He was not there?

However, on the way to church, I noticed only by going on would we know for sure if the next block still existed, if asphalt would still firmly rise up beneath our tires and if neighbors still lived alongside the boulevards. Each meter we traveled brought another meter into view, until finally we reached our destination. If we had relied only on the visible, surely we would have stayed home. Obviously, not everything we see is “real.” Fog can make streets “disappear” and create a false sense of reality. However, just because we can’t see two hundred yards in front of us didn’t mean there is nothing beyond.

That reminded me of Scripture that encourages Christians to “...walk by faith, not by sight.”  We are to concentrate on eternal things that are invisible and let those govern our actions, rather than let temporary things confuse us, even though they are easier to see. (2 Cor.4:18).

That morning, my fatigue was making the reality of Christ in my life “disappear” and creating a tremendous sense of emptiness. But, as with the fog, God wanted me to go on in faith, not depend on sight or feelings but believe He is always with me -- because He said so, so I determined to move on in obedience. Yet even with God’s promise to be with me and my determination, walking into class was like walking into a fog. I still felt weak and inadequate.

The Lord met that need too. When the apostle Paul had some kind of infirmity that slowed him down, he asked God three times to remove it. God told Him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul said he had learned to glory in his weaknesses because when he was weak, the power of God rested on him, whether he felt like it or not. That verse (2 Corinthians 12:9) was repeated three times in our study material.

After the study time was over, I was still exhausted and didn’t “feel” much different physically, yet each of us recognized the Lord had brought our spirits through the “fog” and into the Son light. His strength is sufficient. Faith can depend on Him.

Not every day with God is foggy. Often the course ahead is clear and His strength, tired or not, is fully felt. But when our vision of Him socks in, that doesn’t mean He’s gone. His promises are just as reliable when we can’t see the end from the beginning, as they are when the sun is shining. We can safely put one foot ahead of the other, trusting He will be there, clearing the pathway ahead of us.

Friday, December 12, 2014

God: Beyond my Imagination ................. Parables 208

(March 14, 1990)

“If believing in God makes you feel good, then for you there is a God. But I don’t feel the need for religion. For me there is no God.”

This is relative thinking. What is real for you is real for you and what is real for me is real for me, no absolutes. But what is the Biblical response to relative thinking?

The Christian to whom this was said answered: “I am talking about a God who exists apart from me and apart from you. I am talking about a God who exists whether we believe in Him or not. If God does not exist objectively, according to true truth, then all my prayers, all my devotion, all my religious fervor cannot bring Him into existence... I have the power to imagine things that are not really there, but I cannot ultimately create such things out of nothing. By the same token, if such a God does in fact exist, then all of your unbelief does not have the power to destroy Him. The God of whom I am speaking does not pass in and out of existence at our whims.” (From One Holy Passion by R. C. Sproul)

The idea that man created God is not a new one. In fact, the creation of gods is one of our oldest activities. Every culture, every tribe and peoples of the world have gods of various sorts. Some are carved images, some are imaginative manlike creatures. Others are grotesque shapes with supposed powers. Yet out of all what man may call “god”, the God of the Bible stands utterly and wholly apart.

No one could imagine a Being like He. For one thing, we in our imperfection can’t relate to His perfect holiness. We cannot understand One who is all powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, holy, a hater of sin, just and yet merciful. Our gods, if we imagine them at all, are extensions of ourselves; but He is totally separate. We may resemble Him (we were made in His image) but He is not like us.

Hebrews 11:6 says that God, who is spirit (without a physical body), is pleased when we believe He exists. He even reveals Himself so we can believe... “The heavens declare the glory of God... there is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.”

Creation gives us no reason not to acknowledge God. The awe felt when we (as well as pagan jungle savages) look at the stars or the colors on the wings of a butterfly or the variety of plants and trees is an awe that ought to be called worship and given to the One who spoke all these into existence. But the intellectual evolutionist attempts to explain away the awe. He claims all this was only chance, that none of these things are anything more than cosmic accidents.

However, God’s revelation of Himself in nature is not His only disclosure. He also appeared in a body, a perfect man, who changes lives and changed history, who cannot be explained away with pat theories and scientific jargon. This man, God in human flesh, burst into our creation, then proved His identity by healing diseases, commanding the wind and the sea, walking on water, turning some of it to wine, dumbfounding the wise and transforming the simple. Then He died and rose from the dead. His tomb is empty. 

What can the relative thinker or the evolutionist say about the historic Jesus? All the world’s theories do not affect Who He is and what He did. He also is a visible rebuke to any of our imagined gods.

Furthermore, the relativist thought Christians make up “God” because He makes them “feel good.” Not so. There are many times His holiness makes me feel awful. I’d never invent a god who convicts me so deeply of my sin and unworthiness. Nor would I invent one upon Whom I am utterly dependent. I’m too independent to do that. Besides, the person of Jesus Christ is beyond even the most radical imagination.

Reject Him, or say YES and put faith in Him, but never dismiss God as revealed in His Son as a mere religious whim. None of us are that creative.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Removing the Masks ................. Parables 207

(March 7, 1990)

Our granddaughter was two when she first saw me wearing a mask. It was part of a costume and covered my face. It wasn’t a frightening mask but she recoiled in horror. The familiar grandmother had disappeared and something she couldn’t understand had taken my place.

An ancient theatrical Greek might use the word “hypokrites” to explain the wearing of a mask. From it comes our negative word, “hypocrite”, generally used to describe someone who pretends to be something different (usually better) than they really are.

In Jesus’ day, there were at several kinds of religious hypocrites. One was the Pharisees who loudly proclaimed they were godly but their hearts were far from God. They wore a mask of their own goodness, covering up their selfish inner intent. Jesus often warned those who were close to Him, “Beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.” (Luke 12:1)

It’s little wonder most of us dislike hypocrisy -- God Himself hates it. He describes those who engage in it as people who have a destructive mouth (Proverbs 11:9), make their rules more important than the needs of people (Luke 13:15), are insensitive to God’s discipline (Job 36:13), show off their “piety” (Matthew 6:2,5,16) and are seemingly discerning about a lot of things but miss the real issues (Matthew 16:3). They also refuse others the privilege of hearing God’s truth (Matthew 23:13), are long on prayers and short on compassion (Matthew 23:14), eager to convert others to their error (Matthew 23:15), and are big on giving money but low on obedience to God, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23).

A hypocrite may look good on the outside but Jesus sees they have extortion and indulgence in their hearts (Matthew 23:25,27). They might give public honor to great men of God but stab them behind their back (Matthew 23:29). Some will even honor God with their lips but their heart is far from Him (Mark 7:6). A few get away with their hypocrisy in that most do not notice anything but their “goodness” (Luke 11:44), however they have nothing to give the hungry and thirsty souls of those who seek God (Isaiah 32:6). Hypocrites can even tell lies without it bothering their conscience (I Timothy 4:2). Quite a list. No wonder Jesus said “Woe to you hypocrites...” Christians are told “the wisdom from above is... WITHOUT HYPOCRISY.” I Peter 2:1,2 tells us to “lay aside all... hypocrisies.” Why? What happens to the hypocrite?

Combining some verses from Job, here is the picture: “The... joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment... for the congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate... so are the paths of all that forget God... for what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he has gained, when God takes away his soul? ... And the hypocrite’s hope shall perish.”

If genuine Christians fall into hypocrisy, God promises to chasten them. His intent is that we watch out for this sin and if it occurs, confess it, repent of it, and be honest with Him, others and ourselves.

Christians who refuse to cooperate with God in this confess/repent cure tend to transfer their guilt by judging others. Again Jesus warns: “You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then you shall see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).

No one should let a hypocrite stand between themselves and God.  If it is an erring Christian, guilty as he may be, that kind of hypocrite is closer to God than the one offended. However, if the unsaved Pharisee-type keeps anyone from God, what a shame -- that makes two people bound for a Christless eternity. Those who shy from God because of hypocrisy lose, either way.

Better still to realize, for whatever reasons, people will wear masks. The only person without any hypocrisy in Him, was the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is the only one that can help any of us take off our masks and allow Him to deal with what is really there.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Choosing reality, choosing Life ................. Parables 206

(February 28, 1990)

This uncontrollable swing of weather from balmy thaw to bitter below zero and back again is hard on the system. My old body doesn’t know what to expect next. It would be nice to promise it a vacation somewhere in the sunny south... such a pleasant thought! But keeping that promise is beyond my present capacity. So body, you just have to take what comes. Ah, but my soul... that is a different matter.

Some people say we don’t have a soul. They usually mean there is no part of us that lives on after our bodies die. I’m not too sure why anyone would deny the existence of their own soul, but fear might have something to do with it.

The Bible talks about people who are so afraid of death that their fear has them in bondage. Death is the great unknown, but besides that, it is not easy getting away from the suspicion there is more after this life, whether more is wanted or not. Thus death - the event, might not be dreaded as much as death - the repercussions. As with a lot of uncomfortable topics, this one, some will just push aside and leave alone.

When it is -40 outside, I can easily turn my mind to anything other than going outside. In fact, I’d rather sit in front of the fireplace and look at a picture book of Hawaii and pretend I’m on Kihei beach. It doesn’t get me there nor does it change the reality of the temperature outside, it’s just easier. Maybe that is why some people prefer to convince themselves “when you’re dead, you’re dead”. That’s easier to handle than a question mark, judgment, condemnation or whatever else might be feared.

Nevertheless, just saying a thing isn’t enough. Just saying it isn’t cold outside doesn’t change the weather. Just saying I’m going to Hawaii, won’t get me there. Just saying I’m going to heaven when I die won’t get me there... nor will just saying there is no life after death make that a reality. We don’t call things into existence. Whatever I vocalize, apart from what God says about it, is mere wishful thinking.

However, He doesn’t want to leave anyone without hope. The Bible offers this: even though the issue of death and life after death are beyond our choice, we can decide where we will spend eternity! “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life...” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Eternal life is a gift for those who choose to believe what God says. He tells us that if we want to spend eternity with Him, we need to believe in and receive His Son, not cling to our own ideas, however pleasant they may seem. God says, “He who has the Son has life...” and choosing to believe in and serve Jesus Christ NOW makes the difference in what happens to our soul LATER.

The Christian hope is not based on denying realities. We acknowledge we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We acknowledge we have a soul. We know we can’t handle the issue of death ourselves. We don’t make rash promises we can’t keep. (Such as, “Oh, you’re such a good guy, after you die, you’ll go to heaven.”)  We admit it is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us...” (Titus 3:5) Such reality may not feed the ego but better that than feeding it a lie and being horribly shocked when reality must eventually be faced.

Our expectation is on the One who has the capacity to keep all His promises, the One who promised “...whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Instead of trying to escape God by denying our soul, we ought to deny any notions of trying to cross over death without Christ. He can change fearful uncertainty into confident expectation. But the choice needs to be made now, while we can choose.

Later, we have to take whatever we get.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Need a spiritual adjustment? ................. Parables 205

(February 21, 1990)

It didn’t fit at all. The arms were too far apart. The seat tilted wrong. The back hit my back in the wrong place. Worse yet, it seemed to aggravate the aches and pains that were still there from sitting in the old one. My husband was disappointed. He felt bad that he’d selected such an inappropriate computer chair for my birthday.

So I took it back. The lady in the store graciously ordered me another and called me a day later. On my way down to try out the new chair, I went to see my chiropractor and had my back adjusted. It was more out of alignment than it had ever been. What an adjustment!

A few minutes later, I arrived at the store, hoping this chair would fit. When I saw it, I remarked it looked just like the old one. “No,” she said, “this one is less expensive. Just sit in it.”

It fit. I was happy, even though I had to come back later for my refund. So I loaded it in the car and took it home. Later, when I returned, I was told there was a mistake -- it was the same chair as before! Obviously it was not the chair that needed adjusting.

The whole episode reminded me of an old cartoon depicting a mother watching her son march with his army division. As the soldiers went by, she proudly announced, “Oh look, everyone is out of step but my Johnny.”

Last week, my back probably wouldn’t have liked any chair. I could have shopped and shopped, got upset with the people who sell or manufacture chairs and never found anything that fit right. This happens in the spiritual realm too. Consider this parallel: “I am in pain and somebody told me to read the Bible, but all it does is make me feel worse. It tells me all my faults and points out everything I do wrong. I don’t like the Christian message... It makes me feel bad about myself. I’m going to shop around....”

Sore back or sore souls, a lot of folks are tired and carrying burdens too large for them. Broken homes, loss of employment and trials of all kinds are loads that can bend anyone over in pain. They may read the words of invitation Jesus gave in Matthew 11 to all who “are weary and heavy laden”, but cannot seem to follow through on the remainder: “Come unto me... take my yoke upon you and learn of me... and you shall find rest for your souls.” For them, there is simply no rest.

God says “Is my hand shortened that it cannot save...?” Is it God’s fault that some find no peace or comfort in the Scriptures? No. He says the problem is, “Your sins have separated you from me...”

His remedy would fit our need -- but we are out of step with God. Or, like my back, our lives first need adjusting. We have to get our sin dealt with before His blessings will fit. After that, Jesus can lift any burden. He promises that “whoever comes to me, I will in no way cast out.” He never pushes us away because our load is too much for Him to bear. In fact, He took our biggest burden on Himself at Calvary. There He willingly bore the punishment we deserved and broke down the barrier that separates us from God’s richest blessings.

When we come to Him first with our sin, we find that He makes us “new creatures” with a new nature, a new way of looking at life and a new capacity to deal with its perplexities. You might say He has “adjusted” us. After that initial adjustment, we will find His Word a comfort to our sore places and His promises a balm to our burdens. Sure, it still pinches whenever we sin, but the fault is not with the Bible.

“The natural man (the person without Christ) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual discerns all things... he has the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2).... Now that’s an adjustment!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Divine anger management ................. Parables 204

(February 14, 1990)

One quarter teaspoon salt dissolved in one cup of boiling water equals a handy, home-made saline solution. But the recipe is too big for my little container so I put one-half a measuring cup of very hot tap water in the microwave, pressed the buttons, and hoped to bring it to a boil and get rid of unwanted bacteria.

Because the container was small and I didn’t know how long it would take, I stood to watch. Suddenly, a large bubble formed in the bottom of the cup, rose to the surface and the resulting explosion blew the door of the microwave open and sprayed water all over the inside of the microwave, down the front of the cupboard and out onto the floor. No harm done just a mess to clean up.

Without a degree in physics, I’m not too sure what went wrong. All I know is that the water didn’t cooperate with the forces to which it was subjected. Sort of like me at times... like when life applies a little heat... and I explode.

There is an anger called “righteous indignation” which most of us never experience. Mine isn’t that kind of anger. I mean the kind that wells up from the inside, burns its way to the top, then blasts out the mouth like a sulphurous volcano. This is the anger that takes doors off at the hinges and spatters itself all over the lives of whoever might be handy. Maybe it should be called rage, or more appropriately, a temper tantrum.

Most of us don’t like having one -- and we certainly don’t enjoy trying to repair the damages. In fact, if we could come up with anger inoculations that prevented this explosive disease, it would be a great boon, not only to our emotional health but to our relationships with just about everyone.

This week I learned from experience how to avoid blasting open my microwave door, but anger is not as easily prevented. Since we seldom have control over those irritating circumstances, the best alternative reality offers is to learn how to control our volcanic eruptions.

Right up front, it helps to know that God can use all those provoking situations for our ultimate good. We just have to see His purpose in the thing. The Word of God helps me to do that -- and what should have happened to my saline solution provides an illustration. It should have been purified.

Job, probably the most “tried” man ever, alluded to another illustration when he said this: “He knows the way that I take: when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” He knew how a goldsmith uses heat to purify this valuable metal. As the heat is turned up, impurities rise to the top where he skims them off. Finally, when he can see his reflection on the surface, he knows the ore is pure.

In the same way, God may see some impurities in us, so He allows whatever “heat” is necessary (He knows what it will take) to bring that dross to the surface. Then, as WE realize it is there and confess our sin, bringing it to Him for His forgiveness and cleansing, He takes it from us.

The “heat” of life tends to bring selfishness and pride to a boil. When that happens, all the those areas where the Lord is not trusted become painfully obvious. In fact, whatever makes me blow up can be a very reliable spiritual barometer. As uncomfortable as they may be, these crucibles of life are part of God’s perfect plan. Through them, it is not His intention to push me to sinful anger but He is looking for His own image. Remembering He is using pressure to bring out the dross and produce greater Christlikeness in me, helps keep the lid on.

Anger still happens. After all, the Lord did say “Be angry and sin not...” but being open to His purifying process can result in fruit-bearing instead of going BANG!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Unexpected Peace ................. Parables 203

(February 7, 1990)

It was 4 a.m. The telephone woke both parents instantly. The father answered, mother wide-awake beside him. It happened to quick for prayers. In fact neither of them remember even a Godward thought, yet before they found out the news wasn’t good, a strange thing happened inside their minds. They were instantly and completely filled with peace, a peace so incredible, it erased all the tension that comes when the phone rings in the night.

The call was from another parent. Their young daughter, best friend of this couple’s daughter, had invited her for a sleep-over. Both were missing. So was his vehicle. The caller’s voice was filled with fear. They were only 13. Neither of them could drive. Where would they go? They had no money. It seemed they had taken no extra clothing. He was in a state of panic. His wife could be heard crying in the background.

The recipients of this alarming news dressed hurriedly. They quickly drove the few blocks to the home of the other parents. They prayed with them first, then calmly began making plans to search the area. Both were concerned but serene. That serenity still didn’t make sense, not even to them, never mind to the parents of the other girl. Why would anyone, given the situation, be so calm?

Jesus made an incredible promise to those who trust in Him, “Peace I give unto you, not as the world gives give I unto you...” The Apostle Paul called it “the peace that passes all understanding.”

This couple were new Christians. God was teaching them all about turning their fears over to Him, about trusting Him with all their heart and that He would give His peace to those who do so. They were learning to turn to Him in need and not rely on their own understanding. But this was something new. His peace was there, without even a thought of asking Him for it.

It makes no sense that such deep peace can be experienced in such a traumatic episode of life. We may want it, but the normal reaction is fear and anxiety. However, our God is greater than our normal reactions. The above situation gives evidence that His ways are far beyond even what we can understand. No psychologist can explain it. No philosopher can decipher peace where there ought to be a storm.

No matter how often we reach out to God, no matter how often He responds to our cries, He must take great delight in meeting needs that we don’t even know we have, or meeting them before they come into our awareness. What joy in discovering Him through a surprise. What grace in His supply of protection and assurance during those times we least expect it. He knows how to build our confidence in Him.

Surely God’s invitation to: “Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you know not,” earns far more response from that father and mother after such a sovereignly bestowed blessing. Without calling, their experience of a great and mighty peace revealed to them the grace and power of God. He could now say to them: “You have seen what I can do in this... trust Me in all things”

The rest of the story? God already knew it. The girls drove only a few blocks, parked the vehicle, locked it, and spent several hours, chilly and frightened, wondering what would happen to them when they returned home. They walked in before breakfast, feeling foolish but nonetheless wiser -- and safe.

To God belongs the glory -- not only for their safety, but when it was threatened, He granted a deep and unexpected peace.