Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Golden Rule anyone? ................................. Parables 112

When my mother was a child, her school reader contained it. Calligraphy versions were hung on the wall or stitched into needlepoint cushions. It was highly regarded as a good philosophy for life. Today, many people don’t even know what the “Golden Rule” says.

(In case you are one of them, it is found in Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”)

What happened to the Golden Rule? Is it too impractical? Or simply unattainable? Is it only for grandmothers? Or religious martyrs? Have all the wall plaques and old readers been stuffed in a closet or sold at garage sales because this philosophy has gone out with the horse and buggy?

Sadly, many people are not even aware of a golden rule or even that there is any other way of life besides looking out for number one. The rule today is more like; “Do unto others before they do it first.”

“Me first” is not a new wave of philosophy. An excessive concern for self has rolled through history like the surf, rising with threatening high tides and receding as they ebb, but always there. Unfortunately, just like the sea shapes the coastline, a self‑centered focus shapes eternal destiny.

The golden rule is really God’s command to love others. But His definition of live is not quite the same as ours... we “love” those who make us feel good but He says love “never seeks its own way.” We look out for ourselves; He says love concerns itself with the well‑being of others. We “love” those who love us; He says “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...” In fact, God’s love is so different than ours that a new Greek word had to be invented for it; “agape”.

It is not that we don’t try to love others, it is just that we fail to love like God does: everyone, unconditionally and sacrificially. It is not in us. We fall short of His glory and we need new life from Him to love as He commands. “Anyone who does not love (agape) remains in death.”

This self sacrificial, Godlike love is possible when a person has in their heart the life of the only perfect lover. When we believe in Jesus Christ, that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, we receive His life and His love. He comes in to push aside our human, me first attitude and replaces it with His agape love.

When approached with this gospel, many people think quickly to the Ten Commandments (another bygone favorite wall hanging) and respond by saying, “But I am okay, I have never murdered anyone!” They fail to realize that God says, “Anyone who hates (fails to love) his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

The Golden Rule is a “nice” verse. It looks good hanging on the wall. But Christ expects His followers to do more than hang what we believe from a hook. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you, and the world will know that you are my disciples... they will know that the Father sent me.”

Jesus Christ did come, He did die, He does give new life; life that supernaturally plucks His people out of the ocean of self‑centeredness that threatens to drown us all, and place us firmly on the Rock. From there we can be a channel of His love, even to those who throw His Golden Rule in a trash can.

Monday, April 28, 2014

There's preaching and then there is preaching .............. Parables 111

A review in a recent Edmonton newspaper praised the performance of a Christian music group, but had little good to say about the solo performer that shared the evening’s program. It said, “His set featured the bugaboos that turn the unconverted off... obvious arrangements, one‑dimensional lyrics... between heavy doses of preaching.”

It seemed that the critic thought preaching is okay if it is subtle, cushioned by “smooth, inventive” music, but obvious, straightforward preaching, unaccompanied by extraordinary talent, was not acceptable.

According to Webster, anyone who preaches is [1] giving a sermon (a religious discourse) or [2] pressuring someone to change in some way ‑ and doing so in “an offensive or tiresome manner”. Many people lump Webster’s definitions and consider any religious speaking offensive or tiresome. Sometimes they are right.

In the Bible, “preach” comes from several Greek words that mean “to herald or proclaim”, or more specifically, “to proclaim the good news concerning Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ’s activities included preaching. Later on, He told His disciples, “what you hear... preach!” After Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended into heaven, those same disciples “ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”

Preaching the gospel, according to Romans 1, is how the “righteousness from God is revealed.” 1 Corinthians 1 says that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

The Apostle Paul agrees that preaching seems foolish to some. He says “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

Those who don’t believe and are without eternal life may ridicule the message and the messengers, but those who know Him know how powerful is that message. It changes both our character and our destiny.

But the Apostle Paul warned Timothy, “Preach the Word... for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead... they will gather... teachers who will say what (they) want to hear.”

Therefore, the hearers are responsibility to respond to the gospel when it is preached, not tune it out or turn it off. But preachers have a responsibility too. Some have slipped away from the truth they once knew. Paul warned a preacher, “Hold firm to the message as it has been taught...”

Then there are some preachers who have corrupted the message: “...who would trouble you and pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7).

Others never knew the message, themselves being corrupt and full of selfish motives: “... there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers... ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not... for the sake of dishonest gain.”

Even good preaching offends, not because it is wrong but because it is right. When Christ is preached, one cannot help but see their own failure to measure up to the standard of God. We are all sinners, fallen short of His glory and deserving the death that Christ died on our behalf. That is the bad news. It hurts our pride.

The good news is that God is merciful. He delights to save sinners, to give us the life of Christ that will change us and set us free from the penalty of sin.

So how can we hear ‑ unless there is a preacher?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fight lies... or surrender ......................... Parables 110

A couple of weeks ago my editor titled this column “Christians Fight the Father of Lies.” When I looked at it, this thought ran through my mind... yes, and everyone else surrenders...

Jesus called Satan “the father of lies and a liar from the beginning.” He instructs His people to know the tactics of this enemy, to resist him, and to use the truth of scripture to do it. He guarantees our ultimate victory but nonetheless, it is a difficult battle, one from which we sometimes retreat.

At one time, in our unbelief, we too waved the white flag of surrender. Ephesians 2 explains how we used to “live according to the lies” perpetrated by this foe. But now he “works in the children of disobedience: and believers are to obediently persevere by resisting him, in faith. The Lord even gives us spiritual armor to defend ourselves against his lies. (Ephesians 6)

This deceiver began his work in the Garden of Eden when he came to Eve, disguised as a serpent. (Satan generally disguises himself.) He said, “Did God really say that you could not eat from every tree in the garden?”

Eve affirmed God’s command and added if they ate it, God told them they would die. The serpent sneered, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He put out the bait; Eve fell for it.

Notice his strategy. he first cast doubt with a question about the fact of God’s commandment. Next he suggested that God lies. Thirdly, he slandered the provision of God, telling Eve she was being short‑changed.

His tactics are still the same. This liar convinces people that the Word of God is to be doubted, that God is not behind the scriptures; they are authored by mere men and have no authority and are not binding. Or he convinces people that the Bible is not true, or that it has somehow been adulterated and is full of contradictions. And if none of those lies work, he is expertly able to convince many that God doesn’t exist at all, so it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks He is like.

If he cannot get those lies believed, then he points an accusing finger at God, that HE is the liar... that sin has no consequences, it is fine for anyone to do whatever they want, believe whatever they want, that truth is relative not absolute ‑ like God.

This liar continually slanders God’s character, making Him some sort of kill‑joy who is not interested in anyone’s well‑being. Or he portrays Him as a sin‑excusing God who looks the other way when people break His laws. The liar convinces people that God does not love anyone or that He is so loving that He will never punish anyone. Or he will cast God as an indifferent, vague creature; a non‑person or only a “force” or a friendly grandfather‑type; or someone with a big club just waiting to hit the unsuspecting with tragedies of all sorts.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, said, “If you know the truth, the truth shall set you free.” The truth is found in the person of Christ and in the gospel, but “if our gospel is hid, it is hid to those who are lost: those whom the god of this world (the liar) has blinded their minds.”

Sadly, when truth is ignored, the only alternative is surrender to lies. Then there is no battle. The enemy wins without so much as a struggle.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Reaping what you sow ..............................Parables 109

A four‑year‑old friend of mine found some seeds in the basement of his home. Since the ground was still frozen outside, he decided to plant them inside. A few weeks later, much to mother’s surprise, there along with her umbrella plant, was a six‑inch tall crop of oats!

Those oats remind me of a simple fact learned as a child on the farm: whatever you plant, that is what will grow. He planted oats; oats grew. I he planted tulips; tulips would grow, or if turnips, turnips.

I bought some garden seeds last week. Even if the package was somehow mislabeled, the seeds that germinate will be faithful to produce the same plant from which they were harvested. Can you imagine the chaos if this was not true! We might hope for carrots and get pansies, or find onions in the rock garden where the daffodils were supposed to be. Thank God that according to the Genesis account of creation, He made the plants so they would “yield fruit after their kind.” It is by His decree ‑ oats produce oats.

The principle carries beyond the garden patch. We see it in our families. Children pester one another... eventually a fight results. Parents warn them... “you will suffer for this...” hoping to prevent their minor wars; even thwart more serious consequences. But even adults find it difficult to learn that it is almost impossible to avoid consequences.

The New Testament puts it like this: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that she he also reap” (Galatians 6).

God created everything to work according to this cause/effect or reap‑what‑you‑sow principle. He says it is deception and even mockery to think that we can somehow get around it.

But we do try to get around what God says. He says we are like that because of the sin‑marred condition of our hearts. We are creatures bent on our own way, therefore we do not do the things God intended us to do.

In other words, since the seed is sinful, the fruit is also sinful. We cannot do perfect or holy deeds because WE are not perfect or holy. No matter how good our deeds may appear to us, God says they fall short of His standard ‑ they grow out of hearts that “have gone astray, each turned to his own way.” Sinful seed produces a crop of sin ‑ and we reap what we sow

God tells the sinner that it is possible to be changed, to be turned around, to go His way. He said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out... I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes...” (Ezekiel 36).

Jesus called it being “born from above.” Paul used the terms “a new creation” or “regeneration.” This new life comes through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need His heart, His nature, before we can produce God‑pleasing righteousness.

Galatians 6 goes on to say, “...for he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

Faith may make a person new, but there are still choices to be made so the crop will be the right kind. We can either sow (do) things according to the flesh, which is the sinful human nature; or sow according to the Spirit of God. When He is in our hearts, we can choose to obey Him and to do things that please Him, things that culminate in everlasting life. Again, the crop will depend on the source of the seed.

The little boy’s mother pulled the oats out of her umbrella plant. Like sin, they were producing unwanted growth. Because she took drastic action, those oats will never produce a crop of oats.

But for those who believe in Christ and live by the Spirit, God is able to produce in them a harvest of spiritual fruit. This is a crop that cannot be pulled out, uprooted, or taken away.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tour of duty and spiritual war ....................................Parables 108

A few minutes watching the TV series, "Tour of Duty" brought to mind a brief stopover at San Diego on a flight to Mexico in 1962. San Diego has a large naval base so the airport was full of sailors and other military personnel. Some were on their way out, some on their way back from the war in Vietnam. It was easy to tell them apart.

The young soldiers going out were about 18 years old, peach‑faced, a few wide‑eyed in cocky anticipation, the rest round‑eyed with fear. They sat waiting for their respective flights, one arm around mom or their girl friend and the other clutching their duffel bag.

Someone told me the normal tour of duty was two years. I looked again at the incoming soldiers. Yes, it was possible ‑ they looked over 30 but were actually still in their early twenties. War had made them older.

The Christian also is at war. The battle is often entered by fresh‑faced babies in Christ, full of new confidence, a few perhaps apprehensive, clutching their Bibles and clinging to the power of God. The battle is not physical but spiritual, against an unseen enemy who would take away the freedom given to them in Christ, if he could.

The apostle Paul said that the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons nor is our enemy flesh and blood. We fight the one Jesus called "the father of lies", Satan himself. Satan is defiant of God, rebelling against Him and determined to destroy the testimony of His people. His demonic army is referred to as "principalities and powers and rulers in heavenly places." These fight with far more cunning than any jungle guerrilla or Vietcong. Often we are engaged and defeated without even recognizing there is a battle. Too often we fight each other, becoming pawns of our enemy instead of striking where our blows will count.

To fight, Paul said that we need to "put on the whole armor of God" and stand firm in that which has been given to us in Christ. Each skirmish develops our ability to first recognize the enemy, and secondly to counter what he tries to do. Just as muscles become stronger with use, we become stronger with each battle and like the soldiers, we mature. However, there is a difference... the Christian's tour of duty lasts a lifetime.

Spiritual warfare is not an enjoyable experience. In fact, some Christians hesitate to even talk about it, especially after taking a loss or two. Everyone else "looks" so trouble‑free. Battle tactics are not normally explored in the average Sunday sermon either. Somehow we wind up feeling like other believers never go through what we go through ‑ thus the enemy successfully divides our army, making individuals easy victims.

Besides feeling alone, these battles can be so intense and so exhausting that there is little energy left to call in reinforcements. We just want to hide in a foxhole at a time when we most need each other.

God says that, "No temptation happens to you except those commonly experienced by all..." We are not fighting a war that others do not experience. All Christians know what it is like. We win some, and we lose a few; it is unfortunate that we get the idea that to even have such experiences somehow makes us inferior or less spiritual.

One thing we can be sure of ‑ we are winners. The battles we fight against the father of lies is won by the Truth written down and the Truth that lives in our hearts.