Friday, January 31, 2014

Working to relax ........................ Parables 074

We have a family quirk. When we go on vacation, or even plan a short time to relax, it is always preceded by a flurry of activity. We try to get our chores caught up and the loose ends of life taken care of so that it is easier to sit down. We have dubbed this “working real hard so we can relax.” And we laugh at ourselves.

There is a verse in the New Testament that says “...labor to enter into rest...” I’d never compared it to our “quirk” before, but looking at the larger picture, this working hard to rest does illustrate the Christian life.

First of all, the Bible is clear - no one is given eternal life because they work for it and therefore earn it: “Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by His mercy He has saved us...” (Titus 3:5)

Instead, the work is a -result- of being changed by Him through faith: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The work a Christian does for their Lord is not to earn an eventual rest in heaven, but instead is part of the package. When Jesus Christ is invited into their lives, along with Him comes an assignment to live in a special way and to do certain work.

This work has the guarantee of the Lord’s enabling strength, grace, and help as we need it, but there is a danger - of becoming tired, discouraged, and fainthearted - then filling up with self-pity and quitting. Galatians 6:9 cautions: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 says: “Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Focusing on the fruit of our labors here and now helps us to keep going, working at what we are given without losing heart. It is like gardening. Weeding and thinning are a pain - but thoughts of the taste of home grown vegetables keeps that hoe moving.

The Christians promised rest comes later: “There is still awaiting a full and complete rest reserved for the true people of God.... therefore let us be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter into that rest...”

God never promised heaven on earth or results without effort. As I see it, our “family quirk” of looking forward to our mini-rests by working hard to be well-prepared for them, may not be such a bad idea after all.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

God and the weather .......................... Parables 073

Was that tornado really God? Some people called it a freak weather system. Several news broadcasters said it showed the tremendous power of “mother nature.” Others, including many insurance companies, called it an act of God. And some have said, “Why is God doing this?”

Was God playing roulette with an unusual weather system? Or standing by, disinterested, as people were tossed about by a capricious wind that had nothing to do with His concerns? Or was He taking vengeance on sinners?
I know that simple answers seldom help those who are hurting but for my own peace of heart, I needed to answer these questions.

First, I have no doubt that God is sovereign and that He does have power over the weather. He created the principles of wind and rain and certainly can change their pattern should He have reason too.

I also know that the Lord never acts haphazardly. The entire Bible records no whimsical action, nothing done without purpose or infinite wisdom. In a situation like July 31, why some lived and others died is obviously beyond what He wants us to know, but He knows. That is one “why” that cannot be answered completely.

And I know that He is not disinterested. He hears the cries of the helpless. He cares. He loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to die for it. His care certainly was demonstrated in that there were so few deaths - compared to the extent of damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles. Many survivors relate miraculous deliveries, narrow escapes and unbelievable protection.

I also know that God demonstrates His love through people. We are made in His image and therefore have the capacity to be moved with compassion to meet needs. That is seen in the response of Edmontonians and others to meet the needs of survivors.

As I thought through some of these questions, I had to acknowledge that, ultimately, God is not obligated to spell out His reasons for what happens to any of us. He is God. But He does reveal Himself in Scripture, and some of the why’s of tragedy may be found in these examples:

  • Affliction tested Job’s faith: Job 1 and 2.
  • Suffering corrected behavior, Job’s and others, and helped them to grow in faith: Job 5:17, 23:10; Proverbs 3:11,12; Hebrews 12:5-13.
  • Solomon said unexpected adversity helped people realize the vanity of trying to figure out their own future: Ecclesiastes 7:14.
  • Adversity comes to those who take pleasure in sin: Daniel 9:11-14; Haggai 1:5-11.
  • God can use trials to produce repentance. Jeremiah 31:18,19.
  • For the believer, trouble develops godly qualities, including patience and faith: Romans 5:3,4; James 1:2,4.
  • Sometimes trials are a method of correcting sin in God’s people: 1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-13
  • Sometimes we are afflicted so we can experience God’s comfort in order to be able to pass that comfort on to someone else: 2 Corinthians 1:4-7.
  • Suffering teaches obedience: Hebrews 5:8.
  • Sometimes pressure brings out Christlike qualities that otherwise would not be seen: 2 Corinthians 4:10,11,17.
  • The “why” of suffering and trial is between God and the individual.
As for the use of this tornado to punish sin, that is not for me to decide. Instead, my mind goes to the story of an Old Testament prophet Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. Elijah was despondent, depressed, unsure of God’s presence and His care. He went to a mountain, and then God passed by... “and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord... but the Lord was not in the wind...”

This was repeated with an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire - again, the Lord was not in the fire.

After those came a still small voice - and finally, Elijah met God.

(This piece was published right after the terrible tornado that hit Edmonton several years ago.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

................ Parables 072

A cute little four-year old I know thinks that an ice cream cone would be a terrific breakfast. With her mother’s persistent teaching, she will someday learn the components of a well-balanced diet, but right now, she is not able to decide what is best for her.

Not that it is easy for adults. Have you ever gone into a cafeteria and wished you could have one of everything? I have - I love food and I love to eat - But sometimes I eat too much or eat what isn’t good for me. Out come the excuses: “everyone does it,” or “it feels good,” or even get defensive with - “no one (not even the bathroom scales) has the right to tell me what to do.”

Since I do not want to be “broader” that I already am, I try, most of the time, to keep my mind on the goal (slimness) and narrow my selection to food that will not widen my proportions.

First century Palestine didn’t have cafeterias that Jesus could use to illustrate truth, but they did have wide and narrow gates. Since most of their cities were walled, gates were needed, usually one wide one and a wide road leading up to it. This was the easiest way to get in.

The “narrow gate” was more like what we might call a turnstile - only one person could enter at a time. These were used at night or during a siege. They were situated off to the side and away from the main road, therefore more difficult to enter.

Jesus Christ said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt.7:13,14 NKJV).

Obviously, He wasn’t talking about food - and eternal life is a far more important goal than slimness; but the excuses to stay on the broad way are surprisingly similar:

1. There are many on the broad way to destruction - nearly “everyone does it.” Why go where few others go? Why not follow the crowd?

2. The narrow way is difficult, implying that the broad way is easy - certainly “it feels good” too. Why not avoid something that is hard? What is the point of choosing something that will be difficult?

3. There is a command to “enter...” No one tells anyone to go the broad way, no one has to. Doesn’t it offer more freedom and a sense of independence? Why give someone else have the “right to tell me what to do?”

But then there is the matter of the goal...

Friday, January 24, 2014

The real thing ..................... Parables 071

Coke Cola advertised for years with... “it's the real thing” - and for good reason; the competition produced imitations. Since then, both Coke and its imitators advertise themselves on television commercials with blindfolded tasters seeking to identify the real thing, or at least try to prove that the imitation is better than the original.

Just as good products are copied, God’s spiritual truth has its imitations too. There are thousands of religions and philosophies - all claiming to have the answers. Recognizing real Christianity does involve more than a taste test...

First, watch out for personal bias, traditions, and aversions. Everyone has had both negative and positive experiences with various religions and philosophies - experiences that can bias minds and make objective evaluation impossible. The roots of family traditions go deep and may also affect our understanding and evaluations. Aversion to the implications of truth (such as discovery of personal error) can also color our evaluation of it.

Objectivity towards truth also means being realistic. Beware of people who tell you that they have solved all the problems of the world, they have all the answers, and if you jump on their band wagon, your life will be perfect. That sounds good but it is not real. In other words, the old saying, “The truth hurts” has some merit. A desire to avoid spiritual discomfort could endanger the search for it. Expect truth to be related to reality - not all of it is going to feel good, at least up front.

Third, test everything by God’s standard. A carpenter holds a plumb line against a wall to see if the wall is straight. He doesn’t rely on his ability to “eye-ball” it. Some first century hearers of the message about Jesus Christ responded by comparing what they heard with the Scriptures “to see if it was true.” It sounded right to them, but they checked it out against what had already proven itself to be true.

Another test is to look at the foundation. Find out who began the system of thought that has caught your attention. What kind of life did that person live? Was he or she godly, honest, sincere? Did that leader practice what he preached? An objective examination of the leader or leaders of any religious group may be more helpful than a study of their teaching. Then compare that person to Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves... you shall know them by their fruits...” (Matthew 7). God says that we can know the real thing by examination of the “fruit” in the lives of those who profess to have it.

Fruit is used in the Bible to depict results. The fruit of people without God is sin. The Spirit of God produces: LOVE - that sacrifices for others; JOY - that bubbles up from within; PEACE - that passes understanding; PATIENT ENDURANCE - in trials; GENTLENESS - even when abused; GOODNESS - to friend and foe alike; FAITH - even when God’s workings seem contrary to our reasoning; MEEKNESS - no matter how we are challenged; and SELF-CONTROL - in spite of strong temptations. God says, “Do not be drunk with wine... but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

Being drunk with wine, one imitation, gives a temporary gaiety that turns into a hangover and can destroy homes and ruin lives. The real thing never does that. Other imitation philosophies promise affection, temporary pleasure, serene retreats, tolerance, and other human conditions that are appealing, but none of these imitations can produce the genuine fruit of the spirit, the real thing.

The makers all kinds of products use this line “Do not be satisfied by anything less - we have the one, the only, the original...” We fill our refrigerators, gas tanks, homes, closets, and so on, with the affordable best. Should we satisfy our spirits with anything less?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Russian roulette ................... Parables 070

Russian roulette is a deadly little game once popular in the movies. Players took turns putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger, gambling that the chamber with the solitary bullet would not have their name on it.

A couple of modern Russian roulette players came to my attention this week. One was a driver who ran the warning ropes, red flags, and stop signs on highway 15 at the detour crossing. Fortunately for him, his number did not come up.

A friend told us of another one, a man made aware of the gospel and who knew that he would be separated from God for eternity if he did not confess his sins and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of his life. But he wanted to “do his own thing” for awhile, so he memorized the sinner’s prayer and practiced saying it with speed. He thought that if he was ever in an accident he would be prepared to quickly get right with the Lord.

One day, he was in a car that was suddenly struck by lightning. Hair standing on end, frightened, yet relatively unhurt, he realized that death does not always give anyone time to get their relationship with God in order. He changed his mind about, quit trying to play games with the Lord and prayed that prayer.

King Saul of Israel played a similar game. He knew what God wanted but made one excuse after another to do his own thing. Finally Samuel, God’s prophet, said to him, “... You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:26). Saul lost.

Jesus told of another roulette player, a rich man who played the game by hoarding his wealth, and deciding to “eat drink and be merry.” God told him, “You fool...this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20). He lost the game too.

James, in the New Testament book he authored, warns about being a boasting roulette player. That is one who makes great plans for his future with no concern for the Lord’s will. He says, “Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

The survival rate for running through stop signs is probably higher than it is for being hit by a bolt of lightning; however, no one survives playing Russian roulette with their soul. Proverbs 29:1 says, “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed -- without remedy.”

If a person listens to God and is prepared for whatever may happen, they are already a winner and disqualified from even playing the game. If they are not prepared - there is no greater loss.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cycling attitudes ..............................Parables 069

Later this month my clan will gather for a family reunion. Four generations and a variety of beliefs and attitudes will be represented.

Of those four generations, a few know Jesus Christ personally, a few are interested, a few couldn’t care less, and a few become hostile if His name comes up in any other context than cursing.

These four attitudes illustrate an observation someone has made... that attitudes toward truth (Jesus said “I am the truth...” John 14:6) go through a cycle: one generation seeks and finds truth, another one will defend it, the third becomes apathetic about it, and the fourth rejects it. The fifth generation feels the void, and the cycle begins to repeat itself.

Certainly this is a general observation and these are overlapping cycles with exceptions in our culture, yet I wonder... where are we - as a nation, and as individuals? Is our society made up of truth-seekers? Are there masses of people seeking the One who claimed to be truth? Or are most people content, just seeking to maintain the status quo?

Or is our population dominated by truth-defenders? Are people who know Jesus Christ in the majority? Are they actively defending the truth that He embodies? Do they proclaim that He is God in human flesh who died for their sin, was buried, and rose again? Or do those who hold the truth run for cover when it is attacked?

Or, are most people in the third generation of the cycle; not caring, ho-hum, falling beyond mere failure to defend the truth into apathetic disinterest? Do most people bypass what is right and what is real and instead make decisions governed by whatever feels good? If lies are recognized, are they evaluated as such? or accepted on the strength of their seeming immediate returns? Or has the standard for truth been lost altogether?

Maybe our society’s norm has become utter rejection of truth. Do most people get uptight and defensive when the topic of truth is raised? Do most people call evil, lies included, good - and good, truth included, evil? Do they attack the person and work of Jesus Christ? Do people prefer their lies and their empty lives rather than face the bright light of who He is?

In Matthew 12:34, Jesus spoke of a generation of vipers that pretended to know the truth but were filled with evil, lies and corruption. They hated truth and crucified Him rather than face what He said about them. Certainly this attitude continues to rule the life of many people today.

But attitudes toward truth do not have to go from bad to worse. Psalm 78 encourages those who know truth to hang on to it and to “make it known to their children: that the generation to come might know ... and arise and declare (this truth) to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments: and might not be as their fathers, (who were) a stubborn and rebellious generation..”

Psalm 24:6 gives added hope for those who have not had prior encouragement from the generation before them. It says, “... there is a generation that seeks Him...” and makes a promise that those who do will “...receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of their salvation.”

Perhaps the cycle is merely the merry-go-round that a lot of people would like to get off but do not know how. Jesus said “If you know the truth, the truth shall set you free.” The answer is found in Him.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Changed lives ......................... Parables 068

School is out but I am thinking about Chemistry. Aside from the time our class nearly blew up the lab, chemistry was generally boring; however, it has become more interesting as years go by. After all, homemakers perform chemical experiments every time they bake a cake.

Farmers are chemists these days too. They mix herbicides and pesticides to the right strength to do the job. In fact, nearly everyone is familiar with mixing ingredients together to produce some new substance that is different from what went into it originally.

A chemical that has no active properties is called inert. An agent is a substance that causes material change. A catalyst is a substance that will change the pace of a chemical reaction but itself is not affected by the change. Now for the chemistry test:

What would you call an agent that changes some other substance, one that has no power to change itself, into something just like it is, yet this first agent is not affected or changed in the experiment? - Give up?

Actually, the question is a bit tricky because it is taking words from chemistry and using them to describe a spiritual phenomenon; however, this spiritual reaction is not invisible or unobservable. When it occurs, it is more obvious than many of the changes involved in laboratory experiments. In fact, if it is not obvious, it did not even happen.

The agent that causes the change is the Lord Jesus Christ. The “substance” that is changed, but has no power to change itself, is the human spirit. (“Just as a leopard cannot change its spots, or an Ethiopian the color of its skin” ... we are not able to change our inner selves. We can whitewash the outside, but the basic nature stays the same.)

When these two, the Son of God and the spirit of man, come together in a living relationship, the first agent, the Lord, stays the same; “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Our union with Him does not affect His sinless, perfect character.

But He affects us... “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17) Those who believe in Him and whose spirits have become united with His Spirit are being changed into His image. (Romans 8:29)

One person changing another is not so unusual. Just think for a minute about the various people that have had an impact on your life; parents, teachers, friends, even enemies. In some way, those people have affected you, molded and shaped your character, passed to you some of their characteristics so that you now think or act in similar ways. The strength of their personality usually determines the degree of their impact.

Now think about Jesus Christ - the strength of who He is - God in human flesh. The Roman soldiers said, “No man ever talked like this man.” Nor did any man ever do the things that Jesus did: heal the sick, raise the dead, live a sinless life, die for all men, rise up from the dead, then ascend to sit at the right hand of God. He called Himself the “I Am”, the self-existing One. If our parents, friends, and other people in our lives, in all their imperfections and changeableness, can impact us, is it any wonder that intimate union with this Man can transform us completely?

In chemistry, change is the evidence of a chemical reaction. In spirituality, change is also the evidence of new life in Christ. Some people profess to belong to Christ but there is no change in them, no evidence that the Son of God has even come near them. Perhaps He has not. Others are “nice” folks, who see no need of change, so it never happens.

Still others, not satisfied, sensing that their lives are not all they should be or could be, desire change. Jesus invites these seekers into His “lab”, where He becomes the key ingredient in transforming their lives.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hypocrisy .................................... Parables 067

As a Christian, I am keenly aware that the most prevalent criticism of the church is directed toward hypocrisy. While it hurts to think that many people have labeled everyone who calls themselves a Christian, sincere or not, as hypocrites; it hurts even more that the label is often appropriate.

Many times I have failed to practice what I preach, to really have my heart in my worship and service to God. Sometimes I do not feel like going to church or giving up my desires to serve the needs of others; and sometimes I find myself playing a role instead of admitting my faults.

At the same time, when I hear the critics, I want to defend us, to say, “You don’t know how difficult it is.” I want the critics to realize that being all that Christ has called us to be is an even higher goal than they have set for us, and our efforts to live His standard involves a continual battle, a battle that we sometimes lose.

But I have to catch myself in that defense. It is not valid. Being honest before God and before others is a basic foundation of our entrance into the family of God and of our walk with the Lord, once we are His. Jesus Christ was not soft on hypocrisy, neither can I be, whether it seeps into my life, or blights the church.

Jesus is sometimes pictured as a meek, loving person yet He scathed the religious people of His day with “Woe unto you, you whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones....” He saw through their “whitewashed” lives into their hearts - and there He saw the lies.

These religious people busily preached to others yet had no intentions of following their own commandments. They gave God lip-service but rebelled against Him in their hearts. They put heavy burdens on others but would not help them carry that load. They did their religious deeds to make a good impression and to have respect and position, but would not serve the needs of the people. They prayed long and pious prayers, yet robbed widows of all their substance. They declared that God’s kingdom was exclusive and hard to enter, giving little hope; yet they themselves did not even enter it. Instead, they looked long and hard for those they could indoctrinate into their system and then made them even worse hypocrites than themselves. (see Matthew 23) And Jesus made it clear, these hypocrites were not part of His family.

Does that mean that everyone who does not practice what they preach is not a Christian? It is possible, but Jesus also warned His disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

He went on to tell them that everything that was not visible now would someday be known, and words spoken in secret would some day be “proclaimed upon the housetops.” He told them not to fear men who could kill them for being honest, but fear God who has the power to cast (liars) into hell.

Jesus warned His followers because He knew that we also would have trouble with being honest, and with fears of “what will people think?”

In my efforts to please people, I have to admit that some of the time I do it because I fear their opinion of me. I want to make a good impression. That is the seeds of hypocrisy - and if I do not remember the words of my Lord and reject His power and His holiness, that seed will grow into a full-blown life of pretense, pretense that most people will see through anyway, never mind God, who searches the heart.

Jesus is the only one who can point his finger at those who pretend to be one thing and are really another without three fingers pointing back at Himself. He had no concern whatsoever what people thought. His sole goal was to do the will of the Father who sent Him. That attitude brought Him to a cross.

Maybe that is why so many who profess to be godly, refuse to live it out. We too easily fear the vulnerability that goes with honesty, and we fear those who say they want our honesty but may sing a different tune should that honesty interfere with their own lies.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Spoiled rotten? .................................... Parables 066

An economy ticket for a half-filled flight in a 747 gave me the rare opportunity to enjoy sitting in “executive class” where even a glass of ice water has a slice of lemon in it. The next leg of my trip put me back in a crowded 727, chuckling about being an “executive” for a couple of hours. Beside me, a woman teased, “Don’t get spoiled. Never allow yourself that.”

The dictionary says that “spoiling” refers to allowing indulgences that impair the character. Children who are given every thing they desire usually become adults marked with an assortment of character traits such as: the inability to say no to anything that offers instant pleasure, with little consideration of any long-term results, and an “I-want-what-I-want-when-I- want-it” attitude.

When I was a child, my parents were told that I would not live past 18 years. I suppose that I was treated somewhat differently than I would have been without that possibility hanging over me. Since no child would think to say “I refuse to allow you to spoil me”... I accepted all favors and gifts.

But I am no longer a child. As my fellow-passenger said, self-indulgence is now my responsibility and it is up to me whether or not I am “spoiled.”

I have learned that Christians have been called to serve God, not their own desires, likes and dislikes. When I became His, I began to realize the folly of insisting on my own way. So much of it had little, if any, good purpose, and actually was harming me. Several years of unchecked self- indulgence was exposed for what it was and I have struggled to commit those things to His lordship.

Besides the actions of indulgence, I’ve found that the inner attitudes that were behind those outward actions also need to be brought under the control of God. Deep “I wants”, if left alone, are harmful and interfere with all relationships and with the joy that God has for me.

But there are also legitimate likes and dislikes, such as sitting in “executive”, feet up, enjoying a slice of lemon. Is that wrong? The answer is not found in the thing enjoyed, putting it on a “condemned” list, and considering myself “spiritual” if I never do that again. The answer is inside me... and I can find out if I’m spoiling myself by asking myself a few questions:
1) Is this harmless thing bringing me closer to the Lord?
2) Will someone else suffer -any- loss whatsoever if I do this?
3) Have I met all my obligations and priorities... am I free to do it?
4) Would someone else be enticed to sin because of my example?
Perhaps some would cry “unfair” and “I can do what I like” ... but I have found that the bottom line is this: Putting myself at the center of my life, with no regard for the Lord, His will for me, or for the well-being of others, is the very essence of sin. And the wages of sin is death. Someone has to pay those wages.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Interpretation 101 ....................... Parables 065

Bumper stickers and Bible verses have something in common: To correctly understand them, you sometimes need to know the mind-set of the person who wrote them, the meaning of the words used, who they are written to, and whatever other background that will clarify their meaning.

For instance, there is the sticker that says something about the person “left with the most toys - wins” Left where? What toys? Wins what? Did a greedy child write this, or a materialistic-minded adult, or someone who was very disillusioned with life?

Bible interpretation is something like that too. One example is a verse in Proverbs that says, “Evil men do not understand justice, but they that seek the Lord understand all things.” If the last part of this verse was lifted off the page, burned in wood, and put on the wall for a plaque, I would be perplexed. I seek the Lord daily, yet there are some things about life that do not make sense. Does that make the Bible wrong when it says that those who seek the Lord can understand all things?

Since God never makes mistakes, the answer must be in the interpretation. I need to know more; such as who did He inspire to write this, who was it written to, and why? What was the intent? What does the rest of the Bible say about this?

First of all, Solomon, a king of Israel, wrote Proverbs 28:5, the above verse. Reading it in context shows that the scope of “understanding all” is perhaps narrowed by the first part of the verse. Since it says that the evil person does not understand justice, it seems more fitting with the rest of the Bible to assume that those who seek the Lord understand “all things about justice.” Nowhere does it say that we will know everything about everything, at least not in this life.

Further reading finds that Solomon was a young man when God appeared to him in a dream with, “Ask what I shall give you.” (I Kings 3) 

Solomon humbly admitted that he was but a child, and did not have a great deal of understanding, so he made this request, “Give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” He wanted to understand justice.

God promised in response, “Because you have asked this thing, and not asked long life for yourself, or riches, or the life of your enemies, but have asked for understanding to discern judgement (or justice); I have done according to your words:, I have given you a wise and understanding heart; so that there was none like you before you, neither shall any arise like you after you. And I have also given you which you did not ask, both riches and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like you all your life. And if you walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and commandments... then I will lengthen thy days.” 

Knowing the writer, his background, and God’s promise to him, helps to make sense of that verse he wrote. A person to whom God had granted such unique understanding of justice could write such a statement. Solomon knew what he was talking about.

Other portions of his writing add meaning, such as Proverbs 3:5,6 where he warns not to rely on our own reasoning but to trust the Lord with all our heart, and follow His ways. Solomon learned from experience that even God’s wisdom has no personal value if it is received but not obeyed. Hence evil people will not have a true understanding of justice because they are not obedient to it.

Bible study is not particularly easy. Because we do rely on our own understanding, we can sometimes get off target. Also, grabbing a verse here and there to put together a theology is spiritually dangerous.

Solomon sets a good example. A humble dependance upon the Lord, and a full acknowledgment of our needy condition are both important attitudes with which to approach the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stressed? ................ Parables 064

Some people hate self-tests. Others like them. Personally, I found “How do you react to stress?” both revealing, and interesting. It was in a recent newspaper, and contained 20 questions with 1 - 4 self-rating scores.

The ratings went something like this:
1 - “never” = “non-productive and lacking stimulation”
2 - “sometimes” = “has a good balance and able to control and handle stress.
3 - “frequently” = “borderline tense”
4 - “always” = “a candidate for heart disease.”
It was revealing because it showed me some areas where my walk with God could improve; interesting because I noticed that each question was related to Biblical principles - principles that, if followed, would make stress much easier to manage.

Here are some samples from the test:

1) Do you try to do as much as possible in the least amount of time? Psalm 90 says “Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” Ephesians 5 says “Be careful how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” The Bible teaches prayerful planning and being active, but not frantic cramming.

2) Do you become impatient with delays or interruptions? James 1 tells us to “consider it pure joy... when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” But we are also told to “press on” and overcome obstacles. The Bible teaches that interruptions and delays are controlled by God, and that He can use them for good in the lives of His people. We need to use them, not let them cause us to sin.

3) Do you always have to win at games to enjoy yourself? James teaches that we are to guard against selfish ambition, yet we are also to do our very best. Because of Christ, we can be “winners” in God’s sight, loved and accepted unconditionally by Him, and given all we need to do all He wants us to do. Therefore winning in games becomes unimportant.

The other 17 questions also relate to scriptural principles.

When a person fails the stress tests of real life, they find themselves irate, irritated, frenzied, worried, confused, unable to make decisions, flighty, and just plain frazzled. This is a violation of the kind of life that God intended. The test makes the point that the body suffers more from a stressed mind and emotions than it does from hard work.

The Bible says this too. In fact, His book was the original manual on the subject. It gives the cause of stress: unbelief and sin; and the one solution that works: Jesus Christ. He came to give inner peace to the stressed person, rest for the soul.

Jesus makes an invitation. “Come unto me you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” He knows that the load of life is hard. He lived here too. He bids the stressed to come to Him, and promises all who come that He will never turn them away.

The first load He removes is the burden of personal sin: “As far as the east is from the west - so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Then He replaces it with a lighter burden: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and lowly in heart.....My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”

Doing HIS will, with His enabling power is far less stressful than doing OUR will without Him.

While not all stress can be eliminated, (we would become mashed potatoes) we need not carry it alone. Jesus can deal with stress at its source. He may take the load away. He may lighten it. He may give stronger “muscles” to carry it. Whatever He does, He will untie the knots and give peace.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What motivates me? ....................... Parables 063

WARNING: The following information is hazardous to the human “comfort zone.” It MAY produce defensiveness, excuses, and/or feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Please read with discretion.
Robert Hyland was born in the 1920's. For the past 20 or more years he has worked from 2:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week. That is a 90 hour work week. He declares that he is not “some kind of nut”, but is very committed to his job, loves it even, and works so hard that he seldom notices the time or even when the sun come up.

John Wesley, born in 1703, died in 1791, founded the Methodist church. He knew ten languages and wrote 400 books - no doubt with a quill pen. He also preached 40,000 sermons and rode 250,000 miles on horseback to do it, averaging 20 miles a day for 40 years. He was grieved in later years because he developed a tendency to sleep past 5:30 a.m.

The apostle Paul traveled throughout the known world for over 30 years, most of it on foot, some by sea. He worked hard, was in prison frequently, flogged severely, and exposed to death again and again. He says in 2 Corinthians 11, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger form my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food. I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches... I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.”

Ever wonder what motivates people to work like that, under those conditions? Is it the rewards received for what they do? Does their work give them pleasure or comfort? Or the money that will buy it? Or is there a desire for power, or fame and popularity, or at least recognition?

Hyland loves what he does. He says the pleasure of it motivates him, yet by his own admission, it is a competitive business world, and those who do not know how to work, will not survive. Beyond that, it is anybody’s guess why he drives himself as he does.

Wesley no doubt had a love for his job too, yet that many miles in a saddle is not always comfortable. Writing one book is hard work - never mind 400. His motives seemed to be for other reasons than the usual rewards.

The apostle Paul made no claim to earthly fortune, or fame, or power. He somehow found time to build tents to finance his travels, was not too popular but in fact frequently persecuted including physical abuse, and he considered himself a weak man, powerless without Christ. The usual things that drive a person to hard work seemed completely absent in his life. So why did he do it?

He explains in Ch.5 “...we know what it is to fear the Lord, (so) we try to persuade men... if we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For -Christ’s love compels us-, because we are convinced that One died for all... that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

He simply did not have a personal motive. He knew that Christ died for his sins, and rose from the dead so that everyone who believed would have eternal life. Therefore, Paul became a servant of Christ, to tell others the same good news that he had been told. He did not care what it cost him. He was motivated by the love of God, love that is willing to make any sacrifice, give up any personal comfort. It is not for money, or self-glory, or power, but for the good of others, that they might live forever.

No further comment. It was as uncomfortable to write as it is to read.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The weather outside is frightful .................... Parables 062

Did you look out Tuesday morning, see what was happening, and reschedule a few things to stay at home? I did. Some schools closed for the day. Some people postponed medical appointments. I was asked if I would cancel an evening ladies meeting. It was tempting. But when I talked to my husband about it, he just said, “Hundreds of people had to go to work today.”

His remark made me remember how easy it is to become accustomed to comfort, and when difficulty arises, alter plans rather than enduring.

A local artist told me that he is very much aware of that tendency. He has learned to discipline himself to paint landscapes in any weather. He said that if he allowed bad weather to keep him from working, soon ANY weather would be bad.

This almost perfect spring weather lulled many of us right into our lawn chairs. Boots and heavy jackets have long been stashed in the back corner of the closet. But along comes a foot of snow, not too uncommon in Alberta, and it suddenly became difficult to do some things that were quite ordinary a few weeks ago. Frankly, I felt like going back to bed for the day.

The book of Proverbs really prodded me out of my lethargy. I remembered verses like “The lazy man will not plow because of winter; therefore he will beg during the harvest and have nothing” (20:4), and “the soul of the lazy person desires and has nothing, but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (13:4)

What does it take to get up and get going, in spite of adverse conditions? Sometimes it is hunger: “The person who labors, labors for himself, for his hungry mouth drives him on.” (16:26) (Good incentive)

Sometimes it is a sense of responsibility for others (27:23-27), or a desire for wealth (10:4), or for honor (10:5). Whatever it is, the Bible calls the diligent “wise” and the sluggard, one who will say “There is a lion outside, I will be slain in the streets,” is called a fool. (22:13)

Granted, there are some people without the ability to safely drive on icy roads. And sometimes there are genuine dangers that should be avoided. But there are times I have avoided work just because I did not want to be uncomfortable.

I wonder how successful that artist would be without his philosophy. And I wonder how much more I would accomplish if I did not allow snow, cold, rain, aching bones, and a vast number of inconveniences to slow me down?

My dad used to tease us when we were on our way somewhere. He would let us go a distance, call us, and when we stopped, he would ask, “How far would you have been if you hadn’t stopped?”

Interesting question, especially on days where it would be easier to crawl back into bed than go on.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I stand corrected ............................. Parables 061

Have you ever discovered that something you thought was right, for maybe most of your life, was in fact wrong?

Last week a friend asked me to do some of his business correspondence with our commuter and printer. After all 45 letters were completed and delivered, he called to tell me that I had to do them over - because I spelled “privilege” wrong. My first response was to grab a dictionary, where I found that “privil-a-ge” was not an alternate spelling.

Worse yet, I have spelled it with an “a” for as long as I can remember. I know, because typing it just now, with an “e”, was very awkward. Since dictionary-reading is not my habit, who knows how long it might have gone undetected had not my friend pointed it out to me.

Mis-spelling a word is not usually fatal. What bothers me is assuming that I was right, for such a long time, and not even giving a thought to whether I really was or not. (There is a verse in Proverbs that says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is the way of death...”) How many other things do I do wrong, more important things, and yet I do not realize it?

Just as the dictionary is our standard for spelling, Jesus Christ is God’s standard for Christian living. Christlikeness is the target that God has for my life, and He works to change me into that likeness. But, sometimes other standards seem right, and I take off in the opposite direction, without even realizing it. Without His “divine dictionary”, I have learned that it doesn’t take much to spell my life wrong.

His standard is revealed in His Word. That Book is “quick and powerful like a two-edged sword, penetrating soul and spirit, able to judge thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It is also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (Heb.4:12, 2 Tim.3:16,17)

Although it shows the right way, and fills my heart with comfort and the joy of knowing the Lord’s cleansing and forgiveness, reading His sword is painful at times. It stabs false thinking, cuts into ungodly speaking, and slashes at selfish behavior. But living is a one-time shot. I can’t run my mistakes back through a commuter, make corrections, and get a reprint. It is far better to suffer the stinging rebuke and correction of God than to find out, too late, that my life was all wrong, even if it seemed right to me. I thank God that spelling error was brought to my attention.

Conforming to the dictionary standard was a good reminder that He expects and encourages high standards in all of my life, and He expects me to use His dictionary to reveal the areas where change is needed. I am also thankful that He provides, through His Word, and through the indwelling presence of His Son, whatever is needed to be all that He desires me to be.