Monday, June 30, 2014

BFF = Best Friends Forever ......................... Parables 137

“A friend is someone who is kind, loyal, honest, interested in the same things I am, willing to share my problems and able to be with me as much as possible.”

Pretty good definition from a group of preteens, isn’t it? Friendship is valuable. Most of us work making and maintaining good relationships with at least one other person. However, we cannot control them. Someone we know can have all these characteristics but not automatically become our friend, no matter how much we might desire it.

My young friends also know how painful it feels when someone decides, for whatever reasons, to no longer be their friend. They discovered before they even go to school that relationships can be tricky at times.

That same group of children discussed the friendship of God. They decided that He has all the qualities that make a good friend. In fact, they decided that He makes a far better candidate than any of us.

My question is, “is He willing to be our friend?” Maybe He doesn’t want to have anything to do with us. Maybe we think He is aloof, set apart from this world and only wound it up to watch it tick. Maybe we think we have sinned too much, that we are too awful for Him to want as a friend.

The Bible reassures those who doubt by stating, “Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners . . . ” No matter what we have done, He will befriend us. But some people do not consider themselves sinners. Logic tells them they’re good people with the characteristics of a friend, would have far better grounds for a good relationship with God than sinners. But that is not how God looks at it. In fact, Jesus said he did not come for the sake of the good people but for sinners . . . and the Bible says “all have sinned . . . ” (Matthew 9 and Romans 3)

The problem with being friends with God is not that he does not have all the characteristics of a friend, but that we don’t. God “desires truth in the inward parts.” In other words, He wants His friends to be honest. However, it is not easy to admit, even to ourselves, that we sin and are sinners. But if we think carefully, we realize that we violate our own standards, never mind His. Yet it is so easy to defend ourselves, shift the blame, or deny that we ever did anything wrong.

Such lack of honesty before God builds a wall that separates us from the most loyal, loving and accepting Friend we could ever have. But should we dare, the wall can be removed. We could even be called a friend of God and that would put us in the same category as Abraham, Moses and the Apostles.

James 2:23 says, “Abraham believed God, and his face made him righteous, and he was called the friend of God.”

Exodus 33:11 says God spoke to Moses “as a man to his friend.”

Jesus told the Apostles, “from now on I will not call you servants because a servant does not know what his master is doing, but I call you friends because all that my Father has told me, I pass on to you.”

To become members of such an illustrious group requires much of the same things that it does to become the friend of anyone else. It begins with an actual introduction, where each receives the other. Jesus has made the first move with this invitation, “Anyone who comes to me, I will in no way cast him out.”

He is willing to receive us. Our part is to be willing to receive Him. “As many as received Him He gives the right to become the sons of God, and even those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

From that point on, we can spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, learning His interests, growing in loyalty through obedience. He in turn will not only include us in His family but in His plans for this world and all of eternity. He will be kind, loyal, share our problems, heal our hurts, and stay with us forever. We will find Him to be as the writer of Proverbs 18 says, the “friend that sticks closer than a brother.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

Counting the cost .......................... Parables 136

A friendly woman remarked that “people need to be careful what they ask for (even in prayer) because they might get it.” She explained that her daughter wanted an academic change, but lost her favorite teacher in the process. In other words there was a price to pay.

We tell our children that with every privilege there is some responsibility. When we lived in Alaska, our neighbors bought a fishing boat. We thought we might be able to squeeze in some open water fishing too. Then I noticed that for every hour they spent fishing, the boat needed an equal hour of cleaning, repainting, and refurbishing. Owning a boat would take more time than we could spare.

So it is with life. The benefits that looked so good usually have a string attached, leading to a knot, a price tag or no unwanted attachment. Sometimes the string is even tied in a hangman’s news! When we are faced with a decision and it appears as if the outcome is all roses, it is only wise to make sure we can handle the hidden thorns.

Several hundred years ago, the Hebrew people were facing such a decision. They had been slaves in Egypt. Now Moses would lead them to the land promised by God. They could hardly wait to leave. In fact, they could not have been more eager. But barely were they across the Nile when the inconveniences of desert travel begin to violate their comfort zone. They wanted freedom, but they quickly realized freedom has a string attached. They failed to count the cost and wanted to go back.

A few years ago Christ led me out of my bondage to sin. Like the Israelites, I too am on my way to an inheritance promised by God. No one could be happier or be more eager. But I was barely out of my old lifestyle and into the new one some of the inconveniences of the Christian life begin to violate my comfort zone. I complained and said, “this is too hard. I want to go back.” I also failed to count the cost.

Perhaps no one told me that the road to everlasting life sometimes goes sharply uphill. Perhaps they did and I didn’t listen. Perhaps I was so excited about the free gift of eternal life (actually not free --- it cost God a great deal) that I didn’t want to hear about the Christian life being a life of self-sacrifice.

Jesus told his disciples that “no one builds a tower without first sitting down and counting the cost, whether he is sufficient to finish it” (Mark 14).

How foolish to begin and then fall flat, especially into complaining that this life is too difficult. After all, we travel our road with the available power of the Almighty God. Complaints about the cost insult His sufficiency! Yet, if we do not reckon on the uphill stretches in the road before hand, even though they tend to build our faith in him, when they come, it is all too easy to want to quit.

The cost of following Jesus is not merely experiencing the normal hazards of living that everyone experiences. It is the extraordinary discomforts that come when deliberate choices are made to obey God. These are discomforts that could be avoided simply by doing what I want to do. It might be a strenuous extra effort. I missed meal or two, giving up some sleep, doing someone a favor when I would rather be relaxing or doing my own thing. Certainly the sacrifices or an expression of love, just as was the ultimate sacrifice Christ made when He gave up His life for us, but the cross of Calvary was not a picnic. Sacrifice has its downside.

Consider the cost. If anyone wants to follow Jesus, they can expect eternal life as a free gift, but the discipleship required for an obedient, fulfilling Christian walk is not the stuff that comes from a bargain basement. There is a price to pay.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jesus feels our pain .............................. Parables 135

It was a fine fall morning. She went out to move the car from the driveway to make room for garage sale customers. Suddenly the front door flew open and she fell inside, writhing in pain: “The car ran over me!”

We rushed to the hospital. Several x-rays later we were told our daughter was very fortunate. No broken bones, only massive bruises.

Later in the day, as I looked at her pale face and watched her limp, my own leg started to throb, in the same place, above the right knee. Friends chuckle yet tell me they too have felt sympathy pains for those they love. There is nothing wrong with me, I just ache where she aches, but she has all the bruises.

Now, as shock and fatigue subside, I have been thinking how may times I have felt sympathy pains. The same daughter went off a horse in a California desert, scooped up a handful of sand with her arm on the way down, and left it embedded for the emergency nurses to scrape out with a nylon brush. My arm burned too, right in the same spot.

Our oldest lost a ski half way down an icy hill in Alaska and turned one foot around backwards. He was in agony . . . and my leg ached with his.

When I was a teenager, my horse suffered a deep wire cut just above the hoof. You guessed it; my foot hurt too.

This week, when our family looked in the Psalms for comfort, we read: “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him . . . ” Isaiah 63:9 says, “ . . . in their affliction, He was afflicted . . . ”

We were reminded that God not only feels for us, He shares our trials as well. He can do that because He knows just exactly what we go through: He lived in a human body too. “The Word (God) was made flesh and lived among us.”

Jesus was hungry, thirsty, tired, and tempted (but without sin). He knows exactly what pain feels like, exactly what grief and sorrow do to our hearts. Hebrews 4 says Jesus “was touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” Actually, He suffered more than any of us can imagine.

When Jesus left this earth, He did not stop feeling our troubles with us. In Acts 9, a man named Saul was persecuting Christians, throwing them in prison with death sentences. Finally, the risen Christ confronted him with this: “Why are you persecuting ME?”

Because His Spirit lives within those who trust Him, He is still right there when we hurt, sharing our pain, feeling great sympathy and compassion. When we experience the emotional sting of rejection or persecution for His sake, He also feels every taunting word, every whiplash, every assault received, just as if it had been laid on Him personally!

As I watch my daughter limp and my leg throbs in sympathy, I am joyfully reminded that Jesus does it better. Somehow, that makes the loads lighter, the tensions easier, even the aches a little more bearable.

We can lean on Him, whether we suffer from broken hopes or broken hearts, knowing that He knows just how we feel.

Monday, June 23, 2014

This earth is not my home ..................... Parables 134

Our family moved this month, not far, just a few blocks. After 17 relocations in 17 years, we have sometimes been called transients, affectionately of course.

While pulling out roots is never easy and packing boxes is hard work, moving has brought good things to our household. We joke that it is a great way to clean house; each move gathered us closer to each other; being in a variety of places and situations has broadened our view of life and widened our horizons and goals; we have a measure of confidence in our ability to face new things because of sheer practice. In fact, the greatest good has come from the relocations I felt the least positive about, helping me to trust God “with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding” or my feelings. (Proverbs 3:5)

Yes, good things have come from being transients.

Moving is also a test. For instance, we have been tested 17 times concerning our stability. Not too many years ago, my sense of security was soundly rooted in things like the place we lived, our friends and our finances. But guess what . . . all of those have changed many times! And we have had to change with them.

Our Fort Saskatchewan residence has been home three times -- with many memories tucked in the corners, yet, without doubt, a dwelling place does not represent stability. In fact, we’ve changed houses so many times that I dare not try to walk around in the dark.

Neither can friends give a permanent sense of security. Either the relationship changes or one side or the other is transferred to Timbuktu.

As for money, it might rest in our nest right now, but I know it has wings. There is no guarantee that it will stay or fly away. Besides, I have been both poor and well off. Neither give inner stability.

No doubt about it, the things of this world change. A person doesn’t have to move to realize that -- just go through an old photo album! When your children start laughing at their grade one pictures, you know it won’t be long before they’ll look at your childhood shots and ask, “Who is this?”

Perhaps the most profound lesson is the one in these lines from an old song: “This old world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through . . . ”

The Bible says God wants Christians to think like that because we actually do not have “a certain dwelling place” on earth. Our “citizenship is in heaven.” As ambassadors for God, we need to remember that we are here only a short time. Therefore, our hearts and minds should be set on heavenly things.

Whenever I bounce from place to place, going from stress to stress, I’m thankful the Lord never changes. He can be depended upon as my anchor; a rock, a solid foundation. He firmly takes hold of His people and calms our spirits with His love. Underneath are His everlasting arms, always there to sustain. The experience of moving has proved His faithfulness to be with us, to care for us. Surely that gives me peace. I may not understand all His design, but I have learned that He will not lead us where He will not keep us - secure in Him.

Some transients have no security, no peace because they too have no certain dwelling place here on earth. But the people of God are transients with a definite resting place. No matter where we live, whether now or after this life is over, moving will never take us away from our Security -- because He is immovable.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sudden Death ........................ Parables 133

Michel De Montaigne once said, “It is not death that alarms me, but dying.”

My uncle Bob talked like that. He didn’t want to be old, sick, helpless or dependent on nursing care. He got his wish. He died at a wedding dance 30 seconds after sitting down because he felt dizzy.

While the process of dying may have been alarming to Montaigne, it does give others some advance warning. Uncle Bob’s family had none. While he died the way he wanted, they had to cope with the sudden shock of him being alive and well one minute and gone the next.

Now, a few weeks after his funeral, I still feel somewhat helpless to really comfort others who grieve. Feeling compassion doesn’t fix broken hearts; nor does wanting to bring peace make peace come. I ask myself . . . What would Jesus do? How would He comfort others?

As far as Scripture tells, Jesus attended only three funerals. The first was the only son of a widow. The coffin was on its way to the graveyard when He came by. He saw the grief on the face of the mother. With deep compassion for her, He said, “Weep not” and touched the side of the coffin. “Young man, I say unto thee, arise.” The young man sat up and spoke. Jesus delivered him to his mother.

The second funeral was that of Lazarus. He had been sick for a time. His sisters, Mary and Martha, hoped for a healing miracle and sent for Jesus. But He did not come right away. When He finally arrived, Lazarus was already buried. Mary and Martha, upset and mourning, asked Him why He did not come sooner. Jesus replied, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

As the despairing sisters struggled with His response, Jesus went to the tomb. He wept too. Death, the great enemy, was holding the people He loved in bondage to its fear.

Jesus cried, “Take away the stone.” As they rolled away the stone, Jesus prayed then shouted, “Lazarus, come forth.”

He who had been dead four days walked out of his tomb.

The third funeral Jesus went to was His own. He did not resist the soldiers who took Him to a hasty, illegal trial carried out in the night. He did not resist the mockery and spitting. He did not resist the nails that fastened Him to the cross. And when the time came, He did not resist death but entrusted His spirit to His Father.

As He was placed in a tomb, it looked as if the mockers were right; He could not save Himself. But on the mourning of the third day, when mourners came to anoint His body with spices, the tomb was empty. Jesus had risen.

Jesus never attended any real funerals. Instead, He demonstrated His overcoming power and robbed every grave of its so-called victim.

Our comfort when physical death comes is just that. Death is not the end. Jesus gave life right out of death and He still gives new life to dead people: those dead in trespasses and sin, those dead to the things of God and the hope of eternity, and those who physically die trusting Him.

We may weep at grave sides because of our loss, yet Paul said that for him, “to die is gain, to go to be with Christ is far better.” That is the Christian hope, not a “pie-in-the-sky” speculation but a certainty based on the powerful testimony of Christ’s own resurrection power.

He comforts the grieving with His message. Faith in Him guarantees life beyond the grave. When those we love go on ahead, we need not fear or even grieve as others who have no hope. Instead we can rejoice that Jesus has won the victory over death.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Not tempted by the Last Temptation ................ Parables 132

I hate to give “The Last Temptation of Christ” any more publicity but a few people have asked, “How can you judge it unless you go and see it?” That is a valid question. Here is my answer.

1] There are other ways to test something besides testing it personally. Scientists use monkeys and rats before they try their inventions on people. As for the movie, others have given objective descriptions without their personal opinion. Those clearly tell me that the movie does not portray the same Jesus that is in the Bible.

But how do I know if it is the real Jesus without seeing it . . . ”

2] The false does not have to be studied in order to know the true. A friend once told me about a trip to the Franklin Mint in the United States. He described a display of dozens of counterfeit bills. He was amazed at their resemblance to actual currency so he asked the attending specialist, “How on earth do you recognize fake money? You must study this stuff all day?”

The expert laughed. “No,” he replied, “we don’t study it at all. We only study the real stuff. Then, when someone tries to pass counterfeit bills, we recognize them instantly.”

Anyone who belongs to Christ can spot the phoneys a mile from the nearest marquee -- because we know the Real Thing.

But how do I know this is not the real Jesus . . . ?

3] The people who made the movie say that it is fiction. The Bible clearly warns not to add, alter, or subtract from the truth it presents. The makers of this movie put a warning at the bottom of their advertisement saying the “fictional” account of Biblical events may offend some. Webster says fiction is “something invented, not fact.” Simply put, that means they made it up. Therefore, I know without seeing the movie that the truth has been altered. It is a made-up Jesus. The movie-makers said so themselves.

So what is wrong about a fictitious movie about Christ . . . ?

4] God tells me to follow the truth about His Son, not fiction. According to the Word of God, anyone who presents a Jesus other than the one presented in Scripture is doing a wicked thing. David said, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes . . . ” (Psalm 101:3). Christians are to fill their minds with truth, not deliberately look at evil.

But is it okay for non-Christians . . . ?

5] The Bible warns about false presentations of Jesus. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray . . . if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached . . . ”

There are phoney Christs being portrayed or pushing themselves on the unsuspecting all the time. The Genuine Christ is entirely satisfying. Why look elsewhere?

6] Finally, it doesn’t pass the “heart test.” Our son has food allergies. One of the worst is strawberries. The odd part is that he has never eaten or even tasted a strawberry. He refused them from infancy. We used to say to him, “How do you know you don’t like them if you won’t taste them?” But he never would. Then we took him to a specialist who tested his reactions to certain foods. We discovered our son should never try strawberries. He already knew they were not for him, in spite of advice from those who meant well.

Jesus Himself said, “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me . . . ” but I don’t hear His voice urging me to endorse this movie. To do so without His leading would be sin. Those who think it’s okay may mean well, but what does the Shepherd say?

I don’t have to try everything for myself. There are other tests. They show me this movie is a dark blot, not the shining Light I have found in the real Jesus.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Potters and Clay .......................... Parables 131

My neighbor is a potter. She makes items out of clay and fires them in a kiln. She can see even the slightest flaws in the pot and will rework the clay until it is perfect. Otherwise, it will not make it through the heat of the kiln. Pressure reveals it an unfit container or vessel.

God similarly works in the lives of His people. The writers of Scripture even call Him a potter: “Thou art our Father; we are the clay and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

He also will mar the clay and rework it -- descriptive of His discipline necessary to shape and reshape the lives of those who belong to Him. He uses His Word and even ordinary pressures of life to form “vessels of honor, sanctified . . . prepared for doing every good work.”

God especially molds Christian leaders because the work He has in mind is serious work; man’s eternal destiny is at stake. Therefore, becoming a shepherd of God’s people is more than a career choice. It is a call of God to do the most vital thing.

When a young man named Timothy became a preacher, he received instruction from God through a master preacher, Paul. In two letters to him and one to another pastor, Titus, we find out what kind of mean God qualifies for such ministry, men He calls “vessels of honor.”

1] They are men of unfeigned faith. Preachers (or anyone) can’t fool God with pretense. He knows whether they believe Him or not. Without faith, no man can please God, or be in His family, never mind be called into the service of preaching. Some may take the job on their own initiative but if God is not in it, they will be empty vessels, nothing in them to minister spiritual food to the people.

2] They are men of sound doctrine. That means they know the Word of God and adhere to it. Because of that, they recognize and reject the philosophies of men and the perversities of false teachers. They warn their congregations of such but also diligently present truth as God gives it. If a preacher strays from that, God says he is a “vessel unto dishonor” having no eternal effectiveness and even leading others astray.

3] They are men of humility. Paul called himself “chief of sinners.” He knew that without the cleansing power of Jesus Christ, he would be defiled and not suitable for God’s use. Any person who attempts ministry without dealing with their sin is a dirty vessel, unable to serve the pure message of salvation.

4] They are men of prayer. A godly preacher knows his message has power because God is a prayer-answering God. Anyone who tries to preach without prayer is a dry container that cannot satisfy thirsty hearts.

5] They are men of diligent, sober BEHAVIOR who take God seriously. They are able to control their own households. They realize the importance of self-discipline and of setting a fine example. No one really listens to a message from someone who has not first demonstrated its application in his own life. Because of that truth, a love for people, and a longing to minister to them, a godly pastor will practice what he preaches.

Who cannot qualify? Those who reject God’s Word and God’s Son. Those who pervert the Word of God. Those who refuse to admit their sin and come to Him for forgiveness and cleansing. Those who do not call on God but try to do what they do without Him. Those who reject the disciplines of the Christian life and think they can serve God without obedience.

God said to Jeremiah, “My people have been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray . . . ” He said to Timothy, “Take heed to yourself . . . ”

The position of pastor is for responsible, believing, godly men, not “cracked pots” and “leaky vessels.” Those who somehow get the label without being turned on His wheel will never succeed in doing God’s will, no matter how they look to untrained eyes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Every person sins and falls short of God's glory .......................... Parables 130

Closets are simply places to hang clothes, store sports equipment, stash books, and shove those piles of stuff that have no other place but beg hiding when company is coming.

But closets are also hiding places for secrets, a secret past, a secret lifestyle.

At one time, homosexuality was one such secret, fearfully kept hidden. Now as the closet doors are opening and “coming out” is hailed a virtue in some minds, frank admission is increasingly equated with acceptability, not only before society, but before God. After all, doesn’t God accept everyone, in love? Especially if they are honest? Don’t be too sure.

First, the idea of hiding this lifestyle, whether in a closet or under the cover of darkness is not new. Back in Genesis, the gay community of Sodom and Gomorrah were much bolder at night (yet they could not escape God’s eyes because “darkness and light are both alike” to Him, Psalm 139.)

“Coming out of the closet” is not a new idea either. I’ve been told the Roman army, about the time of Christ, openly encouraged the practice of homosexuality among its ranks.

We usually associate hiding with guilt. Jesus confirms the connection by saying that people love darkness because their deeds are evil. He urges all to come to the Light and be willing to have their life exposed -- but He makes it clear that coming out of hiding is not enough. The problem goes far deeper than mere avoidance of discovery.

The book of Romans, the most complete outline of man’s condition and God’s remedy, says this: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all . . . who suppress the truth . . . because what may be known of God . . . has been shown to them . . . (but) they did not glorify Him as God . . . their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like corruptible man (reminds me of a certain movie!)... therefore God gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves . . . the men leaving the natural use . . . and burned in their lust for one another, men with men -- committing what is shameful . . . (so) God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness: sexual immorality, wickedness . . . (and a long list of other sins) . . . who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

Simply put, any who reject what they know about God and His truth are left to follow their own sinful desires. It isn’t that falling into such sin results in God rejecting those sinners, but their immoral lives are evidence that they have already rejected the truth God gave them. Therefore, Romans says, this lifestyle reveals a hardness of heart against the truth of God and in fact, becoming open about sin can really mean, “I don’t care what anyone thinks . . . I am going to do what I want to do.”

When I clean my closets, opening the door is just the first step. It reveals the mess. But unless I go on to straighten it out, it says a mess. Unfortunately, the gay community says they are turning on lights by “coming out of the closet” but all they are doing is letting everyone know what they have previously kept hidden.

Walking in the Light of Christ means more than that. It is repenting or turning from sin, no matter what form it takes, and walking a new way. It is becoming, by faith and the power of God, a new creature that grows in godliness.

While some protest that God loves them (therefore no one has any right to reject them) they are actually rejecting His love. He does not love with a permissiveness that leaves people in an unholy condition. In fact, the love of God is a bright light that exposes the mess with the holy purpose of making it holy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sticks and stones .............................. Parables 129

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

In self defense the children cry, but anyone who has been called names like “fatso,” “horse face,” “stinky” or even worse, knows that chanting that little ditty is only a brave attempt to cover pain.

Name calling binds lives with chains of self-degradation and blinds eyes to true self-worth and potential. Worse yet, name calling almost never stays one-sided. It soon erupts into full-scale verbal wars. When that happens, as any child knows, sticks and stones are not far behind.

The targets are not always children. Name-callers fire attacks at leaders, followers and spouses. Ugly titles are flung at well-meaning people as well as just mean people. Some people even use God’s names in their assaults or worse yet, call God names while they are at it.

When God is involved, name-calling is simply cursing, swearing or blasphemy, yet blasphemy is not mere name-calling. It is actually an attack against God’s holy character, verbal or otherwise. Case in point: “The Last Temptation.”

I haven’t seen this latest effort from Hollywood, nor will I. God commands me to keep my eyes on Jesus, the genuine Jesus, not false portrayals (Hebrews 12), but I believe I have been well informed enough to make an evaluation. Even though some say this is “a deeply religious film,” its own press releases say the film portrays the Son of God in a war of doubt, unable to shut out impure thoughts and temptations.  That is not the Jesus that is presented in Scripture. Perhaps the film makers would argue the definition of purity but their own advertising blurbs are enough for me to give this movie my rating. No stars - it slanders the spotless character of God’s Son.

Christians have reacted differently, but how does God react? I know He won’t recite a chant about sticks and stones or nasty names and their effect. He won’t “get even” - He is not like us - we would return insult for insult. He likely won’t hurl a bolt of lightning dropping the offenders on the spot, although He could. My guess is that He will not defend Himself at all. He doesn’t have to . . . He is God. He is not changed by names, insinuation or misrepresentation. He is who He is.

But I believe God is grieved. We who belong to Him feel His sorrow. While we write letters, picket, protest and pray (certainly we would be under fire if we didn’t take a stand) perhaps some have misinterpreted that inner-felt grief. While we feel sorrow for God, I believe He grieves not for Himself but for those who have misunderstood and misrepresented Him.

What then would He do about this film? Romans 5:8 says that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Those who create a god of their own imagination desperately need God’s mercy while there is still opportunity to avail themselves of it. To repeatedly deny the truth of Christ puts anyone on very shaky ground. He is not a personality to be taken lightly and exploited simply for the sake of box-office appeal. Those responsible for writing and producing “The Last Temptation” are writing their own ticket for judgement, and unless they repent, that ticket is a death certificate.

Inaction by God, at least for now, does not mean He overlooks this latest blasphemy. The Bible makes it clear: anyone who hardens himself against the truth of God is “heaping up wrath until the day of judgement” even if they hide that hardness in religious garb. (Romans 2:5). God’s judgement is “vengeance in flaming fire and punishment with everlasting destruction from His presence.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9)

But the Bible also says that “God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance.” Christ cannot be destroyed, by either nailing Him to a cross or portraying Him other than who He is, but those who do it can destroy their own eternal destiny.

May God have mercy - without it, His Word gives blasphemers no other hope.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Always a Winner ................................. Parables 128

Someone once said that the world is made up of three kinds of people: those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who scratch their heads and say, “what happened?” The recent Gretsky hockey trade seems to dump most of us into one of those three categories!

While leaving analysis of the trade to the sports experts, I had to chuckle as the initial response came in from Los Angeles. The first day, there were only 12 phone calls into the King’s office. Only 12! Is the whole city made up of the third kind of people? But they finally woke up, built the southern California edition of the Wayne Gretsky bandwagon, and jumped on it, also leaping into the category of those who watch things happen.

Living in L.A. a few years helped me to understand their slow response. There are a lot of people down there. Many of them know very little about what is going on in the rest of the world simply because their world alone has much more happening in it than most minds can absorb.

Besides that, the competition for news is stiff. Five car pileups on the freeways hit the traffic reports, not the headlines, and only then because people want to know the quickest route home. So many things are happening that most people don’t care “what happened.”

While LA has a few spectacular event-makers, many of them don’t hold their titles very long. If their records are not soon broken by someone else doing something more spectacular, the disenchanted spectators and apathetic head-scratchers put them out for any number of other reasons.

Because of its population alone, Los Angeles certainly ranks a major center for testing superstars. There the ratings rise and fall, products come and go. Unless someone or something has the durability of John Wayne or Big Macs, LA fans have enough clout to turn thumbs down and out it goes. In other words, even great hockey players need enduring qualities to stay high in the public eye in Los Angeles.

Back in the first century, Jerusalem was the big city where superstars were tested. In those days, all eyes were one certain celebrity and few people were scratching their heads. In fact, the historians say that one Sunday, “the whole city (perhaps several hundred thousand people) went out to meet Him.” What a fan club!

At this point, no one seemed to care that He wasn’t mounted on the usual white horse of a conqueror. He rode high in their eyes for three years without that. They gathered palm branches, waved them, threw their coats for His donkey to walk on. They cheered. They called Him a King.

To those who watched things happen, Jesus was impressive, at least as long as He healed them, fed them, or made them feel good. But the leaders, who made things happen, hated Jesus because He was a pest, a monkey wrench in their system. As soon as He make demands on their “comfort zone” they incited the watchers. One week after their enthusiastic welcome, this same adoring crowd decided that this celebrity would never make a world conquering hero. Suddenly a shouting mob, they demanded, “Crucify him . . . crucify him!” They shook angry fists and spit on him. Later, as He hung on the cross they nailed Him to, they mocked saying, “He came to save others? Let him prove it by saving himself!”

Jesus wasn’t looking for a marquee or a trophy, or to prove Himself a winner to the watchers, nor is He subject to their whims. In fact, He cannot be changed by fickle homage or the abuse hurled at Him. He’s beyond the power or even the indifference of all three kinds of people.

More than a celebrity, Jesus rules the wind and the rain, the sea and the world, and all that He has made. He is the eternal Son of God, unbeatable, indestructible, He is the Death Conqueror. In rising from all that the disenchanted mob could do to Him, He gives undeniable proof that He is the ultimate “event-maker.”

Jesus, no matter how the crowds respond, remains forever a winner.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Can you swim to Hawaii? ......................... Parables 127

I will never forget Donna. I met her when answering an ad in the paper for a drafting table. It turned out that she was selling her furniture to buy food.

I put my arms around her and together with her went through incredible disasters, calamities, and finally some joy. Her trials would fill a book, yet she could always find something that made her smile.

One day I asked her, “Donna, suppose you died and stood before God and He asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?”

Donna responded, “I’m not bad enough to go to hell.”

While wondering just how bad she thought a person had to be to go to hell, I took Donna on a little imaginary trip to the west coast. I asked her to pretend that she and all of the people she knew were lined up along the coastline. Their task was to swim to Hawaii. I asked her, “How far would you get?”

She thought, then said, “About 200 yards.”

I told her that she would do better than I would. I’d drown when the first wave hit. But some good swimmers might make it 20 or 30 miles.

Then I asked, “How many would make it all the way?”

She said, “None. It’s too far.”

When she said that, I read this verse to her, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

I explained to her that God’s standard is perfection. Some people may come closer than others, but no one makes it. It is just too “far.” We cannot do it because of sin.

In fact, “sin” is from a Greek word meaning “to fall short,” like an arrow aimed at a target. That is, when anyone draws back their bowstring and aims at being good enough for heaven, all arrows land on the ground, far short of the bull’s eye.

I told her that God will forgive our failure and accept us jest as we are, but we also need the gift of perfect righteousness — equipping us for heaven — much like a swimmer would need special strength to swim half was across the Pacific or an archer extra power to hit a distant target.

Donna thought that hitting God’s target involved measuring her life by the bad she didn’t have. She wasn’t a thief or a murderer or anything terribly gross, so she must be okay.

But again, His standard is not a negative one made up of what we don’t do. Instead, He has a far more positive goal. He wants us to be like His Son, perfect in every way!

Occasionally someone comes along calling himself a Messiah. Others even claim to be Christ or that all are born with the “Christ-spirit.”

In reading Scripture and looking at humanity, I’ve come to the conclusion that only the hopelessly uninformed or hopelessly deluded could make such claims. Being Christlike involves humbly receiving Christ. We can’t do it.

Donna was glad to hear that God loved her just as she was. She asked His forgiveness for her shortfall and received the life of Christ.

She found out that heaven is not an attainment but a gift — from One who does not lower His expectations because we can’t meet them, but in mercy gives us what we need — Himself!

Donna also found that new Christians are not always able to act and react in a Christlike way. Time and trials provide her opportunities to “aim and shoot” at God’s target.

But He also gave strong assurance that someday, when she sees Him face to face, she will hit the bull’s eye and be ready for eternity. (See 1 John 3)

Donna’s trials have been numerous, but I’m sure if she were here and could read this, she would chuckle and toss out the challenge, “Target practice, anyone?”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Seeds and words ............................. Parables 126

When my dad was actively farming, he had a grain cleaner and dryer in one granary. He used it himself, and often other farmers asked him to dry their seed.

Sometimes he complained because those jobs required extra effort. The bins and drying racks had to be clean; otherwise, the seed would not pass inspection.

As he prepared his #1 seed gain, it also had to pass a germination test. He would use a flat box and plant exactly 100 seeds in it. He kept them moist and in a sunny place. If more than 95% of the seeds grew, the gain was considered excellent for seed. If the germination was poor, that crop was used for cattle feed.

My dad obviously went out to the field to plant his crops. But from the planting on, it grew by itself, matured, and then reopened. There were some lean years when dad barely got his seed back, but most of the time it was a bumper crop.

I watched and learned about seeds. Good seed consistently grew and produced a good harvest. If it was immature, it would not germinate. If it was dirty, weeds would grow up with it and choke it out. If it was too moist, it would rot in storage. It wasn’t useless, but it was not suitable to reproduce itself.

Later, when I became a Christian, I noticed that Jesus talked a lot about seeds. He used them in parables to illustrate spiritual truth. Usually the seed referred to the Word of God. The crop was the righteousness produced in a person’s life when they let the Seed take root in their hearts.

Also, I found out that His Seed (His Word) is pure and clean, free from contaminants. It tests 100% in spite of the various attacks on it and years of effort to change it.

One of Jesus’ most familiar stories is the parable of the sower. He tells of seed scattered by a sower. If it lands on the roadway, it never even starts to grow. If it hits the soil, but the soil is shallow with hard pan under it, the seed springs up only to die because it has no root. If weeds are present, they grow up with the seed and choke it. However, when the seed is planted in good soil, it produces a bumper crop.

Jesus explained the soils are like our hearts. For some, the Word hits hard hearts and nothing happens. For others, they like what they hear, but a little too much “heat” makes them wither. Still others start to grow, but other attractions choke their interest. He said that only a good and honest heart has favorable conditions for a bumper crop. (Luke 8:15)

Jesus doesn’t say how Scripture produces righteousness. It’s just like the grain that is planted in the earth, growing without the farmer knowing how. However, the seed doesn’t get in the soil all by itself. The farmer has to do something — put it there.

God’s righteousness cannot be produce without the pure Seed of God’s Word, but He promises each chapter and verse planted in a receptive heart will “not return void — it will accomplish that which (God) intends. . . .” (Isaiah 55:11)

Grain and garden seeds sometimes disappoint us, but the Word of God never will.

Excuse me. I need to get back to my farming.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tattle tails ................................ Parables 125

One warm evening, when the air was still and sounds carried well, I heard children playing across the street. One called out, “I’m going to tell . . . ” The threat carried with it an unspoken “ . . . if you don’t smarten up and play the way I want you to play.”

We did it when we were kids. Sometimes my brothers used their superior strength unfairly against my sister and me, and won the game. It made us mad; so we told on them. Or we practiced a special sign language and made our secret plans in full view - infuriating them because they didn’t know what we were “saying” to each other; so they told on us. Or sometimes all four of us got into something we shouldn’t have and the first to realize it rationalized that if they did the telling, maybe they would not get the spanking; of course not minding if the other three did.

Siblings are not the only ones who “tell.” Our complaints against those who don’t “play the way we want” takes many forms, from writing to our ombudsman down to our national pastime, gossip.

After hearing the children, I began to wonder, is it ever right to tell? Are there times when some people need to know about the failures of others. What does God think about tattletales?

Several scriptures came to mind. One admonishes against gossip, telling the wives of church leaders to be sober-minded and faithful, not slanderers. The word actually means “to speak evil against.”

Another one, Ephesians 5:11-12, says, “ . . . Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them, for it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” Christians are not even supposed to speak about the sinful things that people do, but go directly to the offenders and challenge them.

A third verse, Ephesians 4:29, says, “Do not let any corrupt communication come out of your mouth but only that which is good . . . to edify the hearers . . .” In other words, if something will not build up the listener in a godly way, don’t say it.

God gives commands, but they are not always easy to follow. For some people “telling” is almost as natural as breathing. One time I was going into a situation where everyone liked to “tell” on everyone else and I was inwardly dreading it. I didn’t want to gossip along with them and offend my conscience and my God, but I knew how easy it was to be caught up in what everyone else was doing. My sister gave me some advice: “Just gossip about yourself.”

After some reflection, I realized she meant I should freely be able to talk about my weaknesses and my shortcomings and not use gossip as an opportunity to put others beneath me. I tried it. Every time someone said something unkind about someone else, cutting them down with slander or criticism, I said something like this: “I have the same problem they do . . . I can’t overcome it at all unless I pray and get the Lord’s help or unless others will help me and pray for me.”

What a wet blanket! The juicy morsels of gossip dried up quicker than a shallow slough in summertime. After a while, the normal yackity-yak of that group gave way to silence. Maybe I spoiled their party, but I had a great time. Since that situation, I’ve not always been able to quench tattling that dramatically; sometimes I’m even guilty of starting it, yet I’ve never forgotten the lesson.

I’ve also learned that if someone genuinely isn’t playing the game right, God lets me realize it so I can either go to the offending person and help them overcome whatever they are doing, or at least pray for them, not run to others (or even accuse them to God) with “I’m going to tell . . .”