Friday, May 30, 2014

God's country? .......................... Parables 124

Is Alberta really “God’s country?” After driving through parts of Saskatchewan, I can understand why some farmers might think so, at least this year. Saskatchewan crops are either too short to combine or have already been turned under. Dugouts and sloughs are dry. Dust storms are common. But here, at least from Edmonton to Lloydminster, the grain fields look good.

There is a negative side to abundant rain. Washouts and flooding have ruined farm land and took their mucky toll on homes and other buildings. My husband probably isn’t the only one who couldn’t work several days this month because it rained too much.

Before the rains came, we prayed for rain and it came. Others did the same and it didn’t come. Some are praying for it to stop. While many people never think of God’s sovereignty in the weather, others are angry with His decisions. A thoughtful few may wonder how He decides where to send the rain and when to withhold it.

The Bible says that God sends rain on “both the just and the unjust.” In other words, He does not single out those who are anti-God and hit them with adverse weather. We all have adverse circumstances. Good weather, and answers to pleas for good weather, do not necessarily mean that God is smiling on us. Neither do disastrous climatic conditions indicate His wrath, although they could.

One thing that weather does do is bring out a response. And it is the responses that tell the tale. The “unjust,” those who live in sin and unbelief, do not generally see God sovereignly reigning or raining. They think weather is just weather and all of life is chance. Sometimes, when things don’t go the desired way, the unjust will blame “God,” getting satisfaction from venting their frustration, and justifying it by making the problem the fault of a God they don’t normally pay any attention to.

As for the “just,” without the mercies of God, there wouldn’t be any. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says that there is not a just person on earth. Romans 3 echos with “There is none that is righteous, no, not one!”

So how then can it “rain on the just?” Because the position of being considered “just” in the eyes of God is an imputed thing, something God gives without anyone earning or deserving it. This action of God is called “justification.” It occurs when God takes our sin from us and puts it on Christ. Then He takes the righteousness of Christ and puts it on us, declaring us just.

Not everyone experiences this. Romans 4 says, “Blessed is the man who is without sin, blessed is the man to whom God has imputed righteousness.”

What does this have to do with rain? Well, it is to these who have been justified through faith that God promises to take care of. He will provide all their needs: food to eat, clothes to wear, and faith to respond to whatever the weather with trust in their loving heavenly Father.

The best kind of rain is the reign of God in the human heart. Then, whether we experience floods or drought, we will not shake our fists in the air but give thinks, knowing that he is in control and that he will take care of all our needs.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Select your ending ......................... Parables 123

As the bus jolts along the narrow street, the strap overhead digs into my hand. The shifty-eyed man in front of me reaches into his pocket pulling out a handkerchief. His wallet comes with it. It looks just like the one my dad reported missing. For a moment I wonder what to do. Then I:

a] pull his sleeve, telling him he dropped something   (go to page 10)

b] kick the wallet under the seat, hoping no one notices (go to page 14)

c] turn the other way and forget my suspicions      (go to page 20)

A line of children’s books have fiction stories with several pivotal points or places of decision. Depending on the choices the reader makes, the story continues with variations on the plot and final outcome. The author involves the child in the story by giving him decisions to make yet still has control over what happens, regardless of the reader’s choices.

The outcome of our history (nonfiction!) also corresponds with the choices made, with the Author of life writing the alternate endings. Using a little imagination with just one of His true stores . . .

The original scene goes something like this: Jesus returns to home base after ministry across the lake. The crowds gather. He preaches. Four men bring a paralyzed friend. The crowds are so think they can’t enter the house. They go up to the roof and create an opening. They lower their friend down into the room, right in front of Jesus. He looks at him saying, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The religious skeptics in the crowd begin to think: This is blasphemy. No one can forgive sins but God. Jesus, proving His deity, reads their minds. He says, “Which is easier, to forgive his sins or to heal him?” At that, He turns to the man still lying on his mat, and says, “Rise up and walk.” The man gets up, rolls up his mat, and walks out. The people are astonished. They have never seen anything like this. God is glorified by their praise. (Mark 2:1-12, the scene closes)

Some alternate choices, and their endings . . .

A: Jesus returns to home base after ministry across the lake . . . (continues the same as original scene up until . . . ) Jesus turns to the man still lying on his mat, and says, “Rise up and walk.”

The man looks at Him and says, “I don’t believe you are anyone important.” He dangles his impotent legs, sighs, and lays back on the mat, demanding someone carry him out of the house and back home where he can get some sleep.

“If you refuse to believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24) (scene closes)

B: Jesus returns to home base after ministry across the lake . . . (continues the same as original scene up until . . . ) Jesus turns to the man still lying on his mat, and says, “Your sins are forgiven . . . ”

The man looks up at Him and says, “That is ridiculous. I’m not a sinner. I have nothing to forgive8.” He lies back on his mat and asks his friends to take him out, angry at them for bringing him in the first place.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . . I (Jesus) am . . . the truth, no one comes to the Father but by me.” (1 John 1:8 and John 14:6) (scene closes)

C: Jesus returns to home base after ministry across the lake. The crowds gather. He preaches. Four men bring a paralyzed friend. The crowds are so thick they can’t enter the house. The four are tired. They decide it is not worth the time and effort. They drop the man’s mat on the ground, him with it, and go to the beach for the day.

“And how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14) (scene closes)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Concept of God ........................ Parables 122

When I was five, my mom could do the most amazing things. She could hold a hot hard-boiled egg in her bare hands or knit a sweater. I couldn’t do that. And my father could repair my bridle reins or make a sling shot. I couldn’t do that. I thought those things were impossible.

But I changed. When I was twenty-five, my small children looked on with open mouths when I picked up hot hard-boiled eggs, knit sweaters, made them a sling shot or even mended harness. And now they have changed - they can do things they once thought only dad or mom could do.

What seems so far beyond a child’s mind changes when they have an adult’s perspective. It’s the same in the family of God. When I was a new Christian, a babe in my faith, I read that my Heavenly Father could “do exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or even think . . . ” (Eph. 3:20).

This verse had about the same impact on me as a five-year-old watching dad do the impossible. I thought God would answer my little prayers with big answers, blowing me away with His skill, wisdom, and especially His generosity. I believed He would take my dreams and expand them in glorious technicolor on a giant screen. So I began praying for many things that a typical spoiled child might pray for . . . and God graciously responded - sometimes.

After a while, I realized that He was not the “genie” that I thought; I didn’t pull His strings. There were many things I wanted that He would not let me have. I even thought for a time that God, instead of being able to do more than I could ask, didn’t even care about my requests.

Then I began to grow up. From His Word, I saw that He never changes - but He wanted me to change. He is all-powerful; there is nothing too hard for Him; nothing o no one can stop whatever he determines to do - but there were many things I couldn’t do. Now that I belonged to Him, He could and did stop me, especially when I tried to thwart His purposes in childish rebellion. Like pushing on a mountain, I couldn’t budge Him an inch.

The Bible also says that God knows everything - the number of hairs on my head, my every move, my thoughts and my words before I even say them, and all my needs. The palmist says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me!” I agree, and now I see that his knowledge is part of what it is that enables Him to do abundantly above what I ask or think.

God wasn’t about to reward my selfish view of Him as an indulgent Father. He didn’t say “no” to my grand schemes because He wasn’t able to fulfill them, nor had He changed His style since the bible was written. He can still do whatever He likes. It was just that he knows what I don’t know. So often what I requested was simply not good for me.

I learned that “doing abundantly above all that I ask or think” means more than bigger and better answers to my small prayers. God doesn’t simply add on to my ideas and expand them. Instead, He gives the very best answers. His responses promote inner peace, lasting joy, Christ-likeness, and my greatest eternal good. My childish ideas would not do those things.

I also had to learn that His answers bring Him glory. They are not designed primarily to give me temporary personal pleasure but to reveal His nature and to draw me to Him in praise and worship. My childish ideas may have brought me some glory, but not the Lord.

As I grew, the Lord did not change. Instead, He has altered my perspective and motivation. I will never be able to do what he can do, but my prayers are different from they used to be. Besides, His ideas work “abundantly above all I can ask or think” anyway.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Do mistakes need forgiveness? .................... Parables 121


Whatever our feeling about U.S. involvement in the Middle East, this mind-numbing tragedy stained faces with tears and filled minds with questions, many of which may never be answered. How could it happen? What will be the consequence? What will happen to the men who gave the orders to fire? Are they guilty of an act of aggression?

As I considered this headline, other questions came to mind: If a person makes a terrible error without intent to do wrong, does God still call that a sin? Will “I didn’t mean to . . . ” exonerate a person from guilt before God for their actions?

Jesus told a story about a landowner who had to leave his servants in charge of his property. Some took their responsibility seriously. Others did not. Jesus described their fate: “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not . . . do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few” (Luke 12:47-48).

The servant who willfully did wrong deserved his punishment. But the servant who didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong was also punished, not as severely, but nonetheless punished.

In the book of Acts, Peter explained that those who crucified Jesus were ignorant of what they were doing, “ . . . you killed the Prince of life whom God hath raised from the dead . . . through ignorance you did it . . . ” Yet they needed forgiveness or Jesus, when they nailed Him to the cross, would not have prayed, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do.”

According to Leviticus 5:17-19, ignorance is no excuse. When God’s commands are broken, it is sin: “And if a soul sins and commits any of these things which are forbidden by the commandments of the Lord; though he does not know it, yet he is guilty . . . he has certainly trespassed against the Lord.”

Not all sin is committed in ignorance, but whatever the case, Jesus died so sinners could be forgiven. His salvation is for anyone who will come to Him, in faith, repenting of their sin, and believing in Him.

One more question: Does that mean that once a sinner has been forgiven, there will be no consequences or punishment for sin? That depends. God will not punish His children with eternal judgment; His forgiveness is forever. Romans 8 declares that the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ makes us free from the law of sin and death.

However, if civil law is broken, the lawbreaker can expect to serve his sentence, see Romans 13. Besides that, there is God’s law of cause and effect. If I unintentionally break someone’s arm, God will forgive me, and so might the person, but they still must wear a cast for six weeks.

The U.S. government, as a body, may not bring this matter before God, although individuals probably already have done so. Some may be held accountable legally for what has happened. A great many will suffer the consequences - perhaps all of us, should it set off a full-scale war.

But whatever the U.S. does with this major mistake, we should not forget one thing - we make them too, both big and small. The remedy that restores individual peace of mind and satisfies a sin-hating God is not “I didn’t mean to . . . ” but, “You are right, I am wrong. Please forgive me . . . ” accompanied by faith in the good news that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover any and every sin we commit, intentional or not.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Finding life's direction ...................... Parables 120

Without a compass, it is impossible to maintain a sense of direction in Fort Saskatchewan - not that a person can’t figure it out from time to time. At noon, the sun is directly south, unless of course we are on daylight saving time. Then it is south at 11:00 a.m. At night, the north star at the tail end of the little dipper is approximately north, that is if you can find the north star and if the sky is clear enough to see stars.

Once a person knows the directions, the next trick is maintaining them. I once knew a man that claimed if anyone blindfolded him and spun him around several times, when he stopped spinning he could “dead-reckon” any given direction without removing the blindfold. I would like to test him - take him from my house in Pineview to the Mall downtown, with or without blinders, and see if he knows which way is which . . . or even how to get back home, for that matter!

As my dad says, this city is “cattiwumpus” with the world. It doesn’t’ always line up north and south, east and west. Even right and left are tricky with some of the curved streets. I gave up on exact directions a long time ago. Now I just follow the streets and know (most of the time) that they will take me where I want to go.

But finding the way becomes more complex when I try to direct a newcomer. My instructions must be clear, easy to follow and accurate. Then the other person must trust them (and me) and read them right -- or find out it is possible to wander around lost in Pineview for an hour or more!

Then there is that other journey we take . . . through life. Certainly we need a compass to chart our course. Once we decide where we want to go, the path is seldom straight or clearly marked with signs and signals.

About 17 years ago, I realized that I was lost. I didn’t know for certain where I was going, much less how to get there. My so-called sense of direction proved unreliable. I began searching for something to guide me when Jesus confronted me, challenging me with His claim: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”

Of course I wanted the ultimate destination He spoke of, eternity with God, therefore accepted Him as the Way. However, once I did that, the trials of life still spin me round and round sometimes, or I miss the proper turn and wonder if I am still going the right direction.

To make matters worse, life doesn’t always line up with my expectations. His way sometimes seems a contradiction to my own sense of direction. When that happens, He reminds me how easy it is to become more lost and confused by relying on dead reckoning and driving down roads and taking turns that “seem” right. (Proverbs even says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way is death.”)

He also reminds me that following His Way is much like going downtown. If I follow 99th Avenue, I will eventually reach city center because that is where 99th goes. In life, if I follow Jesus (my way, my truth, and my life), I will reach my eternal destination because that is where Jesus will take me.

I can’t maintain my sense of direction without my Living compass. He is always there, faithful to direct my steps, able to lead me along. He is Himself the Way to follow, the Truth to believe in, and the Life that makes this journey full of hope and certainty.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What if .... ? ...................................Parables 119

Our children like to stretch their imaginations with “what if?” Most of it is playful speculation such as, “What if the sky was green and the grass was blue . . . ?” but “what ifs” can stir up needless worry too. Somewhere in between silly fun and unnecessary anxiety is common sense . . . the kind that thinks ahead and determines steps to take to avoid consequences that otherwise might happen.

“What if . . . ?” is not always an easy question to answer. No one can accurately predict the future. However, the old saying, “History repeats itself” has some merit. Wise people consider cause/effect relationships, examining the evidence of the past.

Edward Gibbon, an English historian did just that. In 1787, he completed a book called The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He came up with the following reasons for the collapse of that mighty nation:

1) Higher and higher taxes and spending of public money for free food and entertainment for the populace;

2) A mad craze for pleasure; with sporting events becoming more exciting and brutal every year;

3) The rapid increase of divorce; undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, the base of human society;

4) Building gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within, the decadence of the people;

5) The decay of religion -- faith fading into mere form -- losing touch with life and becoming impotent to guide the people.

When I read this, I couldn’t help but ask, “What if . . . ?”

1) What if lazy people were not fed unless they worked? What if the fearful trusted the Lord for daily needs? What if the helpless could depend on the prosperous to take care of them? (2 Thess.3:10; Matt.6:33; 2 Cor.8:12-15)

2) What if all people abandoned their search for pleasure in things that don’t last or never fully satisfy? What if they turned to eternal things for eternal joy and lasting contentment? (John 10:10; Phil.4:11)

3) What if all husbands loved their wives as much as themselves? What if fathers carefully brought up their children just as the Lord nurtures His children? What if every wife responded to her husband as the church is to respond to Jesus Christ? (Ephesians 5:18-6:4)

4) What if all people realized that no nation can be strong and healthy physically, morally, and spiritually unless the individuals within that nation are collectively moving toward righteous goals? (Proverbs 14:34)

5) What if “religion” was abandoned, and in its place people sought a living relationship with the Living God? What if all Christians put scriptural principles into practice instead of going through the motions?

Second Chronicles 7:14 is God’s response: “(What) if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways?”.... “then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Society all around is crumbling like the ruins of ancient Rome. “Experts” believe that the answers include higher taxes and greater welfare systems, increased recreation and vicarious outlets for stress and aggression, easily available divorce for failing marriages, open relationships instead of committed families, star-wars and nuclear weapons to protect us, and the abolishing of all religion!

It appears that the wisdom of the day not only rejects the Word of God but has also become so oblivious to its decay and fall that for our ills it prescribes the very things that are destroying us!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Health and the power of love ........................ Parables 118

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy. Without this desire, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical researchers, medical technologists, X-ray technicians, health food stores, the vitamin industry and a host of other professional people and services would have nothing to do!

Another product of the normal desire to be healthy, PREVENTION Magazine, recently contained an article that lists steps toward a healthy heart. Besides exercise, a low-cholesterol diet, etc., they said that researchers have found that the typical type-A person, hard-driving and ambitious, was not as prone to heart problems as was once thought. In fact, some Type-A’s were and some were not.

It was discovered that it’s not the hard work and constant activity that got a type-A into trouble but hostility! Furthermore, it is not merely being irritable that’s so dangerous, but rude, abrasive, cynical, vengeful, manipulative or condescending treatment of others. Evidently, research has found that hostility is deadly.

Another article was entitled, “Think Yourself Healthy.” It said that when a group of students were shown a film designed to inspire feelings of love and caring, an antibody that protects against colds and upper respiratory infections actually increased in their systems. When they were shown a film that evoked feelings of aggression or helplessness, their normal antibody level dropped.

It was also found from these studies (at Harvard) that higher intimacy, deeper friendships, and the state of being “in love” corresponded with higher levels of resistance to infection. People with pets or plants to care for recover from illnesses more quickly. People who receive loving care also recover faster than those who do not.

Amazingly enough, research has finally uncovered some things that our “Manufacturer’s Manual” has been telling us all along. It says: “Be not wise in your own eyes: fear the LORD and depart from evil - it shall be health to your body and nourishment to your bones . . . My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart - for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.” (Proverbs 3)

Do you realize these Biblical words of advice were written more than 2500 years ago? There were no laboratories, no microscopes, no test-cases or control groups. Most of the people, if they thought about it at all, connected disease with evil spirits or fate, not with unsanitary conditions or BEHAVIOR. Life was short and scientific ignorance abounded.

Yet God tells them, and us, to be polite and gentle, kind to others, offering hope and encouragement, treating people as we would want them to treat us. As a result, we will not only please Him, but have a bonus of a fuller, healthier life.

While the Bible is not intended to be a medical journal, when it speaks about things concerning health, it is accurate because the men who wrote it were God-inspired. The Creator knows how we best function. Attitudes of aggression, fear, isolation, apathy, and hate are harmful to bodily performance and can bring breakdown-conditions, illness and even death. These findings today verify the dependability of God’s Word, and only affirm what the saints of old already knew.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Self-righteousness does not fly ...................... Parables 117

Johnny was more than a good pilot. He could fly so low over a potato field that angry farmers could thrust a pitchfork into the underside of the wing of his plane!

However, Johnny knew that student pilots don’t make it in the air force by returning to base with pitchforks sticking out their bottoms. So he dipped and rocked the plane. The pitchfork stuck fast. Desperate, he made low passes brushing the tree tops. It was still there. Finally, after several more attempts, Johnny left the evidence of his skill somewhere in a tree. He was in the clear, so he thought. But student pilots do not go back to base with tree branches wrapped around their landing struts either. Johnny’s flying expertise was his undoing.

S.R.P. is also more than good . . . at living. He looks at himself every morning in the mirror and says, “I thank God I am not like other people. I am as honest as the day is long. I am faithful to my wife. I discipline myself. I generously give to every charity that I can.”

S.R.P. has such a clean record that no one can fault him. He is good to his children, works hard, is a member of the local service club, and has a dog and two cats. He never yells at his neighbor and he smiles at the elderly. What more could anyone want? This guy is a moral ace.

If God were pleased with a nice clean life, S.R.P. would have it made. If freedom from stealing, lying, adultery and murder would do it, no problem; his ticket to heaven would be confirmed and God would meet him at the gate with open arms.

Unfortunately, S.R.P. forgot something. He assumes that the criteria by which he lives is the criteria by which God grants eternal life, but he did not check it out with God. He does not realize that God says, “All your righteousness is like filthy rags”; that a ticket to life forever with Him is not written on goodness, morality, or being Mr. Nice Guy. Just like Paul said of the Jews in Romans 10, S.R.P. is ignorant of God’s righteousness. He is writing his own ticket, not submitting himself to the kind of righteousness that comes from God.

S.R.P. (if you haven’t already guessed) stands for Self-Righteous Person. Proverbs warns that there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is death. Surely, this is the way that seems right -- to do as good as possible -- and God will say, “Come on in.” Not so.

Only perfect righteousness can satisfy a perfect God. Perfect righteousness is found only in the perfect person, Jesus Christ. S.R.P. needs Him. Just like Johnny, a life flown high, low, or upside-down is not enough unless Jesus Christ is at the controls, trusted for His goodness instead of “doing it my way,” relying on our own capacity to do good.

Johnny’s air force career was put on suspension and eventually turned another direction. He didn’t make it as a pilot because he was too good. He thought, with his ability, he didn’t need to follow the rules.

Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” It could happen in this lifetime . . . like it did with Johnny, or it could happen at heaven’s gate . . . when S.R.P. tries to get in with the wrong ticket.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Power of Words ............................ Parables 116

One picture may be worth a thousand words but only cartoonists, artists and photographers grab a camera or a paintbrush more often than a dictionary.

Words communicate our desires, hopes, dreams, wisdom and even our foolishness. Words for bridges across time, miles and silence. Words define, interpret, command, inspire, describe, infuriate, soothe, inform, and confuse. Words change the way we think and act.

Of course I don’t mean the assortment of words arranged alphabetically in a dictionary like the list of ingredients in a cake. Nor do I mean the AE, AAL, NOO, ARAR, TI, XU, PHAT, VAIR, ARUMS, COL, LODED, VELA oddities used by Scrabble players and crossword puzzle addicts.

Before they stir us, words must be properly stirred together, the right words in the right order and proportions. Then they motivate our mind and emotions -- and we buy, sell, trade, weep, laugh, or angrily ball up the paper they are written on and throw the words in a trash can.

And words are definitely the tools of those who motivate change. Hitler moved his nation to war -- with words. Martin Luther King Jr. moved his race to strive for equality -- with words. Even children use words to change the mind of mom or dad, “Buy me a candy bar, pleeeese?” or “I’ll die if I can’t have the car Friday night!”

When used for change, the power of words is not so much in themselves and what they say, but in the teamwork between words and their author. The Word of God is a dynamic example. What He says, in teamwork with His Spirit, makes things happen.

Consider creation. “Then God said . . . ” and it happened. “He spoke and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast.” The same power is used to sustain creation: “He upholds all things by the WORD of His power . . . ”

Scripture says that the WORD of God cannot be silenced, ended, changed, or destroyed. It is indestructible and eternal.

Scripture also says that, “In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with God and the WORD was God . . . ” God and His WORD are the same thing therefore the creative force was not just words but the God who spoke them.

If that were not enough to comprehend, Scripture also says, “The WORD became flesh and dwelt among us.” It . . . or rather He, walked, talked, ate, and slept. He spoke “peace be still” and silenced storms. He whispered “be healed” and restored the sick and afflicted. He shouted “come forth” and men rose out of their coffins and tombs. No wonder the officers sent to arrest Him came back empty-handed with: “Never a man spoke like this man!”

Jesus claimed, “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life.” That explains why His words powerfully convicted and convinced many who heard them. “He spoke these words and many believed . . . ”

More than any other combination of words ever written, God’s WORD has power to change lives, power because it is more than a written down WORD for us to read . . . It is a living WORD - Jesus Christ, who gives life to all who listen and believe.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bound by Law .............................. Parables 115

When dad “lays down the law,” the children know this is one time they must obey. When ancient kings said, “Off with their heads,” the executioner grabbed his axe. These are decrees. Decrees are absolutes, edicts given by someone in authority and obedience is expected without question.

God has made certain decrees. We call most of them the “laws of nature.” For instance, He has decreed the boundaries of the oceans. He has decreed the rain and the force of the winds, the waters and the paths of the storms. He said that there would be a seed time and a harvest as long as the earth shall stand.

God has ordered the moon and stars in their courses. He has set the course of the planets into patterns that will endure as long as God had decreed them to endure. The universe is bound to the powerful rule of God and we can depend upon its laws and movements.

Anything that God decrees is controlled by His sovereign power. It is not subject to the whims of any of His creation. Whatever God has decreed, nothing and no one can change. But oh how we try!

One decree that we especially single out to resist concerns life and death. He says, “The soul that sins, it shall die . . . ” We don’t want to die. We invent and research. We look for the fountain of life and the elixir of youth. We plan a future utopia and devise doctrines of reincarnation. We determine we will control our own destiny but no matter the philosophy we come up with, God has decreed the law of sin and death. Our problem is that we refuse to deal with sin. It is the real issue. “The wages of sin is death . . . ” Death is only sin’s consequences.

God, holy in character and sin-hating in attitude, refuses to look upon sin. Because He is righteous in all that He does, sin has no place in His presence and sinners cannot enter His eternal dwelling place. Should there be an attempt to do so, they would be not only driven back into darkness by His radiant Light, but that light would destroy them.

God also cares for that which He has made, even those who sinfully rebel against Him. It does not please Him to put sinners away from Him. It does not please Him when anyone perishes and is lost forever in eternal death. However, His decree cannot be reversed or altered. His holy nature never changes, therefore His wrath against sin is unavoidable.

This is not a hopeless decree. In His wisdom, God devised a plan whereby His love for man and His decree for justice could both be satisfied. He sent His Son into the world. He says the wages of sin is death, but He adds, “ . . . the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ took God’s wrath for our sin when He died on the cross.

Does that automatically make every sinner safe from the decree of sin and death? Not at all. If we enjoy our sin and walk away from the offer of life, or if we ignore Jesus Christ, or if we think our self-efforts to please God will be sufficient to earn life, the gift will not be ours. It has to be received, not ignored or paid for. That is another of God’s decrees. He says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Just as the laws of nature are certain and dependable, we can be sure that God’s other law, the law of sin and death, will be fulfilled. But so will the law of life. The choice is ours.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Self-control ........................... Parables 114

Have you ever caught a child with his hand in the cookie jar . . . when he has just been told “not before supper?” He knows he’s in trouble. He may even begin his defense before the accusation comes.

Cookie jars tempt kids. It is easy to let the desire for “just one” overrule the fact that a loving mom always has her reasons why she sometimes forbids cookies. But little appetites don’t always understand.

Mom knows it is too close to supper and empty calories would spoil appetites for something more nutritious. She knows how quickly “just one” becomes “just one more” and how badly junior needs to learn self-control. In spite of what junior may think, mom knows best.

I’ve noticed that many people live with the same response to God’s commands as the average child does to mom’s cookie jar rules. God says “no” and just like a child, they protest against His “thou shalt nots.” Or they plead ignorance; or they try to change the rules. Sometimes they would rather bear the consequences of indulgence than go without -- anything but yield to His wisdom. They have never looked beyond the no-no.

Why are some things forbidden by God? Could it be that He cares for us, that He has plans for our good behind His commands? Could it be that finite man is like a child, only thinking of what tastes good, what feels good -- not what is good for him? That being the case, God will seem like a kill-joy, quick to say “no” and quick to condemn. But that is not true.

The Lord affirms His motives in Jeremiah 29: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you . . . thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” He isn’t out to get us.

The problem is that many people are bent on going after things that He knows are not good for us. Yet He is not standing behind a bush with a big stick hoping to catch us so He can swat fingers or lay on a guilt trip. In fact, John 3:17 says that God did not send His Son to condemn the world but that the world could be saved through Him.

Like a child that eats sweets until they are sick, we would ruin our own eternal destiny, and probably our present life, without His intervention. Jesus came to save us from our tendency to disobey -- for our own good. We need His provision for our sinfulness and we need His commands to guide us.

Being warned of danger through His commands shows that we are loved and important to God. He is able to see the possible consequences. He would rather prevent the chaos we inflict on ourselves than have us learn by painful hindsight. So He warns us, yet we often misinterpret His intentions.

His commands also show that we are prone to disobey, to do things that are far more serious than eating a few too many cookies. Every one of us has broken at least one command. However, He didn’t give them and warn us about disobedience so He could punish and reject us -- but so we would see how badly we need His Son. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are set free from the condemnation we would otherwise bring on ourselves.

The temptation to sneak “just one more” may be ignorance of God’s goodness, or it may be rebellion against His wisdom. Whatever the real reasons and no matter the excuses, the forbidden can destroy the appetite for something better -- and further weaken self-control.

It’s just not worth it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Blending in? ....................... Parables 113

The American chameleon never looks out of place. When he is surrounded by green trees, he turns green; on brown earth, he turns brown. This little lizard also enjoys a great degree of safety. His enemies cannot distinguish him from his environment, no matter what it is.

Most people prefer to blend in too, at least socially. We learn early to watch our hostess to see which fork to use first. We call ahead to find out what everyone else is wearing. The ability to adopt to the social norm is a desired skill and it is certainly more comfortable to be a chameleon than a social misfit who attends barbeques in formal evening wear.

An intellectual chameleon plays a less visible game. Imagine the challenge of sitting with several Einsteins discussing nuclear physics -- with an IQ of 73! Here silence might be the only hope of appearing to think as that crowd thinks! For most of us, it is far easier to fit in with the opposite extreme on the intelligence scale.

Emotional chameleons blend well, and there are more of them. They are the crowd in “crowd psychology,” the adoring fans that follow the idols. They respond to the mood generated by a charismatic leader such as Hitler, or to the emotionally-charged music beating from the stage of a rock concert. Emotions are the easier “color” for chameleons to copy.

What about spiritual chameleons? They keep a much lower profile than the groupies who follow popular bands. They effectively mimic “spiritual” jargon. They chat knowledgeably with theologians. They are able to make themselves comfortable in church fellowship . . .  these people are nice so they are nice.

But the spiritual chameleon is also at home with those who reject Christ. He is comfortable talking their language, saying their cuss words, behaving like they do when he is with them because this chameleon wants the best of both worlds. He wants acceptance with no pressure, no accountability. And because pagans and Christians (to our shame) seldom cross each others path, there is little danger of exposure. No one sees anything that doesn’t fit, that doesn’t conform. No one will discover his charade. This chameleon is safe . . .  or so he thinks.

Jesus said that His disciples “are in the world but not of the world.” Anyone who genuinely follows Christ is actually an alien, a citizen of a different kingdom. We live here, but we do not fit. We don’t fit because we have been made new - spiritually alive with the life of Christ. We think differently. We talk differently. We act differently. We are nonconformist . . .  and we better not act like chameleons.

Outward BEHAVIOR is generally a symptom of what is going on inside, but God is not fooled when the two don’t seem to match. He searches hearts and examines minds. A spiritual chameleon can appear righteous for a while, but God looks past his external “color” and judges his motives and intentions. As Jesus said, these things come out of the heart that defile a person. Eventually, any charade will be discovered. (Matthew 15:17-20)

Instead of blending in, Christ commands his people to be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God without fault -- in a corrupted world among whom we shine like stars” (Philippians 2). Paul said “Satan and his ministers transform themselves in apostles of light” so they will blend in, undetected. But it is God who transforms His people, not so we have power to change our “color” and blend into our environment, but so we will be like Jesus Christ and stand in sharp contrast to the corruption around us.