Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Who is on God’s bandwagon? ............ Parables 150

Two preachers were on their way to a prayer meeting. They encountered a young woman who suddenly turned around and began following them, shouting loudly, “These men are servants of the most High God. They are telling you the way to be saved.”

For many days, she followed them everywhere, shouting her message. Sounds like just the sort of PA system the church needs, doesn’t it! She was right on in her assessment of the men and right on in her assessment of their work. She even pegged God correctly.

But the two preachers were troubled in spirit about this woman and sensed something others missed; she wasn’t really on their bandwagon. It turned out, “she had a spirit by which she predicted the future and earned a great deal of money for her owner’s by fortune-telling.”

Paul, one of the preachers, finally turned around and said to the evil spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her.”

Of course it did and the woman lost her power. Her owners, upset at seeing their hopes of getting rich vanish, managed to have Paul and Silas thrown into jail. Later, God rescued His true servants, but this woman, a walking publicity stunt, was not working for God.

Divination is the “art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge...” It is strictly forbidden by God. It is not that the predictions are always totally false (although they usually are); the issue is their source. Whether a liar, a false prophet, or one possessed by an evil spirit, the diviner is not from God. The way to tell? Watch for bait and a hook.

A recent advertisement for a “Psychic Fair” in Fort Saskatchewan called divination “spellbinding entertainment” baiting with the hook with, “Gaze into the future...what does 1989 hold for you?” This is similar to the line the serpent fed Eve: “Eat...and be like God...know the future!”

The forbidden fruit looked good to Eve, even pleasant. It was right in the catagory of “spellbinding entertainment.” But that fruit quickly resulted in bondage. The hook was set and her deceived heart was thoroughly exploited.

Ever since then, the temptation to be like God entices people. That serpent wants us to take control over our own destiny. However, we can’t accurately see what lies ahead. To our limited vision, “There is a way that seems right to a man but (God says) the end of our way is death.” He wants us to trust Him because ONLY HE truly knows the end from the beginning.

No wonder God said to the people of Israel: “Do not let diviners who are in your midst deceive you... for they prophesy falsely... l have not sent them... For the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort you in vain... You are afflicted because there are no shepherds.” (Jeremiah 29 and Zechariah 10)

The same warning holds true for us today, with one change. There is a Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. He promises to forgive our sins, save us from God’s wrath, give us eternal life, and lead and guide us in this life. He gives His nature, His righteousness, and His mighty power to anyone who believes in Him. He guides His own on a clear path through life.

Crystal balls, tarot cards, psychic readings, dream interpretation, numerology, and the like are bait. Hidden from view (sometimes even to those sitting behind the table in the booth) is a hook. Taking the bait could cost far more than a few dollars of “entertainment” money.

Jesus taught His followers to be fishers of men, but never to use bait, hooks, or deceit. The future He wants us to know is the certainty that we will spend eternity with Him. It is found in the gospel message, not hidden in some cards, or a hunk of glass. This future hope is plainly revealed to all who will trust Him, and plainly taught by those who do. Best of all, it is free!

“Let his who is thirsty come and drink of the water of life freely...”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Will God “get you” for that? ................... Parables 149

Remember the TV show “Maude?” The lead character was loud, bossy, domineering and sometimes funny. Whenever someone crossed her, she almost always retorted, “God’s going to get you for that!

In November, someone stole a tropical bird from an Edmonton pet store. Last week the thief telephoned the store to let them know the bird was safely in a box at the door of the pet shop. He returned it because he was afraid “God would get him” for what he had done.

I’m not well acquainted with many thieves, but what I know about criminals indicates most don’t plan on getting caught nor do they consider before the crime just what the penalty might be. Neither does it occur to them (or to very many other people for that matter) what God might do. This thief seems an exception rather than the rule. No wonder his confession made headlines.

Maybe he was a paranoid fanatic who had watched too many episodes of Maude. I would like to think better. Perhaps a faithful parent taught him something about consequences. Maybe a Christian Sunday school teacher explained how unjust people may go through life without getting caught and even enter the grave unpunished, but there is one more check stop after that one. At least this thief paid heed to his conscience.

Some ‘holier-than-thou’ types might suggest if he was so spiritually minded, why did he take the bird in the first place? While he can’t plead “everyone gives in to temptation now and then” before a court of law, the fact of the matter is that everyone does give into temptation at times.

No one can point a finger in utter innocence at anyone else. Perhaps all of us have taken something that didn’t belong to us at one time or another. The difference between this fellow and a “common” thief is that he let the fear of God motivate a turn-around after his sin was committed.

The fear of God is a rare commodity. Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics claim God is dead or never was, or God doesn’t care. A vast majority simply form their opinion through personal experience without checking what He says about Himself in His Word.

When personal experience becomes the Bible, then if bolts of lightning don’t fall from the sky after every sin is committed, “judgment” is dismissed as an imaginary iron fist that religious people hold over poor souls.

Others argue that God is much too loving to punish anyone, and guilt is simply a human quirk that needs to be ignored. But what does God say about His judgment?

First, Romans 9:22 says God may withhold punishment so we will know that His character includes both anger at sin and great patience with sinners. Some think God is a vindictive tyrant without compassion, while others think He is loving and kind, looking the other way when we disobey Him.

Neither are true. This verse asks, “What if God, choosing to show His wrath and make power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath. . . what if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy?”

Because we tend to ‘make God in our own image,’ our view of God is often more like we are than He is. Our common reaction when offended is instant retaliation. Since God does not take immediate vengeance, we tend to think He just isn’t looking, or caring what happens because “if I were God, my reaction would be instant . . . I’d get him for that!”

But the Bible says God is patient, merciful, and long suffering. Simply put, that means He does not deal with us according to what our sins deserve. He has put His wrath on hold, as it were, waiting for responses to His mercy. “God is not slow in keeping His promise, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

When Maude said, “God is going to get your for that,” she got a laugh. When God said it, He hoped to get repentance and faith — so He can forgive whatever ‘it’ is and give the offender eternal life.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How can ‘bad’ be ‘good’? .................. Parables 148

English teachers, cross-word puzzle buffs, and anyone who takes notice of words is perplexed, even annoyed, at twists in current language usage. “Cool” means anything but “cold” and “fat chance” and “slim chance” both mean the same thing. Even “bad” now means “good!”

Sometimes I hear my family use words that don’t seem to fit their context but when I ask what they mean, I discover they are “right on” and I am “out-of-date.” I’ve also discovered that dictionary publishers have large research staffs dedicated to the study of current word usage, which in turn dictates the meaning that is put into the next dictionary. Word meanings fluctuate according to time and culture. Just a subtle change in how, when, or why any word is said, can begin a trend leading to a new edition of Websters. Keeping current is a challenge.

This constant flux in meanings is not a new phenomena. In fact, it is as old as the Bible. Words used in Scripture must be studied with some of the above criteria in mind. Bible students sometimes interpret scripture with present word usage, failing to research how the word was used when Scripture was written. Little wonder people differ in their interpretation of the Bible!

For example, sometimes ‘bad” means “good” depending on one’s perspective. More precisely, some things we avoid as ‘bad” may be very important for us to experience, yet some things we think of as “good” might not be “good” according to God. Apply that to the or difficulties in life. The New Testament calls them trials. We call them anything from nuisances to calamities, and we certainly don’t rub our hands in happy anticipation when we see trouble coming. But God says we should. In fact, we are to “consider it pure joy” when we have trials, and the person enduring trials is blessed! (See James, chapter 1). According to God’s definition, trials test our faith and develop our character. They are part of a Christians preparation for eternity. Therefore what we call “bad,” God says can be “good,” especially from an eternal perspective.

One thing to note, “considering the trial pure joy” does not mean putting on a smile and tying to pretend pain does not exist. God acknowledges our pain. However, the Lord may not intervene and remove it. Instead, He may opt to leave it there and use it for His eternal purpose. In any case, He makes the outcome “good.” In other words, we don’t so much re-write the dictionary definition of “bad” or “good” as we re-work our responses according to faith.

Christ set the example. The Bible says that He endured His most severe trial by “entrusting Himself to the Father.” He was more concerned with eternal purpose than temporary comfort. If we are going to be joyful in trials, we also must trust the Lord, no matter what happens. He promises to work all things, even the “bad” together for “good” in our lives (Romans 8:28).

Nearly anyone can display joy when they are comfortable, but when life hands us lemons, what we do with them will reveal what we consider “good” or “bad.” An angry, negative, resentful response is the average view of a lemon. It is a sour thing, but if Jesus is there, we can have the same responses to life’s lemons as He did because His power is available to us. He supplies the sweetener and we can make lemonade!

The anticipation that God will bring good from a tough situation can keep our focus on the promised outcome, not on the painful or unpleasant aspect of that situation. Anticipation comes from sure knowledge of who He is, recognition of His mighty power, and total trust in Him. Words and the way they are used will change with the times, but when we read the Word of God, with faith, “bad” really can be “good.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

“New” on the label does not work with hand-me-downs .................... Parables 147

When I was a little girl my mother often took apart a dress that could no longer be worn by its owner and remade it into a garment for me or my sister. Even though we had not worn it before, the title “a new dress” hardly seemed suitable. Our friends and classmates may not have seen the fabric on anyone else, but we knew that our new dress was really an old one.

Later on, my children wore pants made from an uncle’s slacks or a jacket from someone’s cast-off coat. Although they were happy to get these things, they were much happier with something made from scratch with new fabric, Anything else had belonged to someone else and was a make-over.

At the beginning of a new year, most of us feel our lives need a make-over. It is time for resolutions. Old habits need breaking. New habits must begin. Diets, stop smoking schemes, projects, you name it, let’s give it a fresh start.

The few pounds gained over the holidays drop off in January but return in March. Just one indulgence brings back that discarded bad habit worse than ever. The half finished projects are still there, waiting for next year’s resolutions. Fresh starts go stale so quickly.

Perhaps resolutions are something like recycled clothes. So often we just make-do or make-over. In fact, I’ve tried to take myself apart and put myself back together into a slightly different style. While the result may have looked different to an untrained eye, nothing was really new. Even if it fooled someone else, I knew my “new” self was just a recycled cast off. But there is a better way.

First, since resolutions are almost always expected to be discarded, give them a new name: goals. The word has a more permanent sound.

Second, recognize newness of life comes God. Make-overs are only the best we can do. As we trust Him to forgive our sins and failures, He will grant us a new start by giving us His gift of new life. “If any man be in Christ Jesus, old things pass away, and all things become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) What a promise for a new year!

Third, instead of determining goals on our own, remember what God says about making plans: “Woe to the obstinate children... those who carry out plans that are not mine...these are rebellious people... children unwilling to listen to the LORD’S instruction.” (Isaiah 30) Therefore, daily pray and seek God’s will in His word, before setting goals.

Fourth, when sure of what God wants accomplished in the new year, write it down, I keep a small binder on my desk with GOALS written on the outside spine. Each page has a general goal with steps needed toward its accomplishment. Several times a week, I look at these goals and pray about them. I even tell others what they are so someone will hold me accountable. This careful organization especially motivates people who get satisfaction from checking “to-do” items off a list.

Finally, do our part. God will not “zap” our life while we sit in an easy chair. Take action on the”steps” remembering our part is important, but we won’t achieve godly goals without prayer and reliance upon God. It is obedience to His power at work in  us that will see us through. Remember, prayerfully setting goals with continued prayer and appropriate action that is done in His newness of life will produce results.

Wearing make-over clothes isn’t so bad; but I have no desire for a patched-up, made-over lifestyle. God starts from scratch. He gives His people new life with white robes of righteousness when they believe in and receive His Son. He daily energizes that life as we submit to Him, enabling the accomplishment of the plans He puts in our hearts. He is the secret of keeping resolutions all year long!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Loneliness affects people in different ways ................ Parables 146

The little girl sat by herself In the school yard. The other children, grouped in giggles and line-ups at swing and slide, ignored her. She once tried to play with them, even twice, but something was missing. She felt better alone, drawing pictures in the dirt with a stick.

I’ve been in groups and felt like that. Nice people and good conversation, but something that for a long time was without name of definition, called me away to a corner. When I got there, this elusive something seemed partially satisfied but never quite fulfilled.

Most people call this hunger pang of the soul “loneliness.” It is a strange affliction. No one is immune. It strikes first like a bothersome insect, stinging and annoying. It can grip anyone, anywhere, anytime, even during the Christmas holidays, even in a room full of family and friends, even at a banquet table, or in a crowded mall, or by the fireplace when its victim is cuddled with the one they love the most.

Some can shake it off. They grab another fork full of stuffing, or a handful of peanuts, or hug a few loved ones, or even slip into a store, impulsively buying some trinket that catches their eye. For them, loneliness is a little pest easily dealt with, swatted like a mosquito and pushed aside as an ordinary nuisance.

For others, loneliness is more like a ball and chain that clings and clanks and drags, a dead weight that refuses all invitations to leave. Anything from a new suit of clothes, or a new car, a phone call to a friend, a walk with a buddy in the park, or maybe even a trip to Hawaii, or artificial gaiety found in a bottle, nothing really fixes this recurring, haunting kind of empty-inside feeling.

Granted, sometimes loneliness has a cause. Loved ones leave us. Children hurt us. Friends forsake us. But even if they don’t, it still hovers near, maybe just for a perplexing moment, maybe dragging longer and longer until it seems there is no cure.

The famous evangelist, Billy Graham spoke of this kind of aching, longing loneliness. He said it is the heart of man lonely for the One who created Him; it is a deep inner aching for God.

The Psalmist said, “My heart thirsts after Thee...” Another saint of old said that no man’s soul can ever be at rest until it finds its rest in Christ.

One of my friends told me how God arrested her attention by this statement: We were created with a God-shaped void. We foolishly try to fill it with all sorts of things but nothing fits. She told me no matter what she had, or how much, there never seemed to be total satisfaction. Something was missing. Shortly after, she received Jesus Christ she joyfully proclaimed, “He fits those empty spaces!”

The song-writer says, “Hallelujah” I have found him, Whom my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies my longings; through His blood I now am saved.”

Jesus takes away the longing ache of loneliness. But what does it mean to be saved? Can there be enjoyment of His presence, filling the lonely void, without this experience too? Salvation is God’s gift to whoever believes in Jesus Christ, that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead. Salvation is God’ s powerful work to keep sinners safe from eternal destruction.

Salvation is the removal of sin — its penalty and its power. Salvation deals with our sin. Although sin seems unrelated to loneliness, sin is the barrier that prevents God from coming into that aching place in our hearts. Without salvation, without faith in Jesus Christ, our sin keeps the Lord of glory from filling the void. But when He is given our faith and our hearts, He comes into our lives, filling that empty ache with His presence.

Now I know what loneliness really is, and it can never again be a pest or a ball and chain. Instead it is a personal invitation from Him to draw aside, to commune with Him, and to let Him be whatever I need.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chicken pox didn’t stop celebration ...................... Parables 145

She crawled out of bed, all set to get dressed for kindergarten. Her mom hurried her to the bathroom for the morning rituals. Off came the flannel pj’s and out came a gasp of dismay. “Oh no, look at your tummy!”

Freckles are cute. Chicken pox are not, especially during the Christmas season. But at least one little girl was determined that her spots would not ruin this celebration of Jesus’ birthday.

I admire that kind of determination. It’s not easy keeping one’s focus on Christ during this time of the year. Crowds, hectic schedules and commercialism push Him from adult minds and a portly figure in a red suit steals the spotlight for most children.

However, Christmas isn’t the only Christian celebration that is threatened by scene-stealers. Easter competes with a bunny and chocolate eggs. Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, can be marred by people who partake without considering their spiritual condition ( see I Corinthians 11:27-34). And one more Christian celebration, the love feast, can be ruined by “spots.”

Contemporary “love feasts” are the intimate gatherings: Christians getting together just to celebrate that we belong to the family of God. However, both Peter and Jude wrote strong warnings about some who had come into the church under false pretenses and were ruining these occasions. Both writers called these intruders “spots.” These “spots” are deceivers who pretend to be part of the church but have false motives for including themselves. Unfortunately, it takes more than determination to prevent them from ruining Christian fellowship. In fact, the Bible calls for complete “spot removal.”

Here is how these “spots” can stain others (from 2 Peter and Jude): They consistently walk after the flesh, fulfilling sinful desires rather than obeying and encouraging others to do the same. They despise also government, any form of God-ordained civil, family or church authority. Their attitude shows up in condemning, disrespectful speech with no fear or consideration of the Lord who sovereignty controls all systems of authority (and complaining is contagious).

A “spot” will make “sport” of deception. Seemingly unconcerned that lies are the tool of Satan and the hallmark of his cohorts, these deceivers lie lightly or have fun with lies. They play a dangerous game, often leading new or less knowledgeable believers from the truth. Not only that, these infiltrators will beguile unstable people, using their clever deception to snare the unsuspecting, those plagued with doubts, problems or emotional upheavals.

“Spots” are full of empty rhetoric. They appeal to the evil desires in people, promising them liberty but are themselves in bondage to sin and destined to eternal darkness. Other characteristics are covetousness and having “eyes full of adultery,” practices that are seem harmless to others, but no matter what way these “spots” display it, they have forsaken God’s way. They have gone the way of Balaam, a prophet who was not concerned for the glory of God. Instead, he used his position for personal gain.

After studying this list of “spots,” chicken pox is mild stuff. Six days and lots of calamine lotion will take care of it. However, the spots of sin in individual hearts called for a far more drastic measure. The only One who is “without spot or blemish,” the sinless Son of God, had to die. Because He was willing to go to the limit for us, we ought first to check our own lives for blemishes, then make sure those “spots” don’t spoil the celebration of our fellowship with Him and each other.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How is Christmas supposed to be? ............. Parables 144

Children plop globs of silver foil on plastic pine and frown, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be?” Fathers struggle with sputtering strings of colored lights while mothers mutter, “Is this the way it’s supposed to be?”

A stressed out holiday shopper grumbles, “Bah, humbug! This isn’t the way Christmas is supposed to be.”

Everyone has their idea of how Christmas is supposed to be, yet hectic shopping trips still tie knots in places other than on top of red and green packages. Beloved childhood traditions woefully go AWOL, never to be celebrated again. Even gift-buying is polluted; purchasing with all the wrong reasons. And somehow Christmas doesn’t seem quite right.

Is it too late to remove the layers of artificial glitter? Is there a fine golden glow of satisfying reality buried beneath it all? What is Christmas supposed to be anyway?

Luke’s gospel runs the story of the first Christmas (which likely wasn’t December 25), but lo, it was even more crowded in ancient Bethlehem than modern West Edmonton Mall! Noisy thousands were there for a census. It may have been a bit better on the outskirts where the shepherds put their sheep to bed, but for the most part, there goes the calm, quiet Christmas card scene of fond imagination.

Not only that, Mary and Joseph found themselves in a stable for the night. Stables smell; even with mounds of clean, fresh mown hay. No fragrant spruce tree, no warm, glowing lights, no decorations, no soft background music either, nor tantalizing smells of roast turkey and apple cinnamon eggnog. So much for a prototype that appeals to the senses.

The Magi came with gifts, but that was two years later and under duress. The givers furtively left town, avoiding the local governing authorities who later slaughtered hundreds of babies hoping that the Christmas baby would be included in the blood bath. So the first Christmas didn’t even have presents -- instead it looked forward to horrendous mass murder.

But before the commercialized, what-we-have-now Christmas begins to seem more appealing, there was a sequence of events that first Christmas worth an annual rerun. It is from Luke 2, where the shepherds were told the good news - the Christ of God had finally arrived.

Their Christmas began with DISCOVERY: “So it was, when the angel had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (vs.15)

Simple shepherds believed God’s messenger and discovered profound Truth wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. He still waits to be discovered today, no longer a babe but the risen Lord who bids hectic Christmas shoppers and all others weary and heavy laden, “Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest for your souls.”

After the shepherds found Jesus, they SHARED THEIR DISCOVERY: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled.” (17,18)

When they found this unique newborn babe, they could have kept the moment for themselves. Besides, hearing angels? Indeed! God in a manger? Sure! They risked rejection by telling. Some might think they’d had some liquid “cheer.” But these joy-filled shepherds celebrated the first Christmas by taking their good news to everyone.

Thirdly, the shepherds went back to their regular jobs, but they went without a hangover, without complaints that their gifts didn’t fit or that the kids made too much noise over the holidays. Instead, and from then on, they LIVED CHANGED LIVES, “glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen.”

Monday, July 14, 2014

Does suffering bring people closer to God? ................. Parables 143

Laura, in a Little House On The Prairie re-run, was told those who are closer to God are more apt to have their prayers answered. The episode closed with Laura, face aglow, at the foot of a mountain, preparing the arduous task of “getting closer to God.”

While we smile at a child’s literal interpretation, there are adults who believe they can move closer to God by sticking pins in themselves or walking on burning coals or dragging a heavy cross for hundreds of miles. Others think seclusion will do it, retreating to caves, monasteries, bomb shelters or isolated communes. A southern California religious school even moved out into the desert and now advertises itself as being “fifty miles from the nearest sin!”

Label them naive, nutty, or fanatical, yet it is not wrong to want to be close to God. In fact, He commands it. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you...” (James 4:7). But how can man draw near to God?

David, the psalm-writing king of Israel, asked the same question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place?” (Psalm 24)

David answers his own question with, “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” The rest of James 4:7 agrees. It says, “Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded.” But both raise another question, “How can I be clean and pure?”

The answer is again found in David’s psalms. He confessed after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done evil in thy sight . . . create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me . . . . For thou desires not sacrifice else I would give it . . . the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

David recognized two things many of us never think about. One that God is utterly holy, utterly beyond our reach. Two, that unless He in mercy reaches down, there is no mountain high enough, no sacrifice great enough, no retreat far enough to make us clean enough to come close to Him.

David also knew the secret of coming closer. It is not in climbing higher but in bowing lower. Isaiah wrote, “For this is what the high and lofty One says, He who lives forever, whose name is Holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.’” Jesus echoes with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In other words, outward religious activity does not bring us closer to a God who knows what goes on inside our hearts. We need inward changes. James says we need to humble ourselves in submission to God. Humility is never easy. We would rather redefine our sinful condition, or rationalize it, excuse it, cover it, deny it, or even be perversely proud of it, anything but humbly admit we cannot make ourselves fit to draw near to God. Besides, contrite submission to Him means turning away from our own efforts to draw closer and coming to Him in the only way He accepts.

Laura, with the humble faith of a child, may find God at the top of her mountain, but not because she scaled his peak. God meets His people even in the valleys, as long as they come admitting their spiritual poverty. He doesn’t care where we are, but what we are — on the inside, where only He can see. When we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He promised to lift us up — and draw us close to Himself.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Three Kinds of Minds ...................... Parables 142

Sometimes we frustrate our children by complaining one day they are stubborn with a mind of their own and the next day wishing they would think for themselves. “Don’t you even have a mind of your own?”

While our kids may ask, “Make up your mind!” occasionally I get asked, “Are you out of your mind?” While not wanting to be considered a few bricks short, I am beginning to think that would be a good experience. Let me explain.

The Bible. describes three types of minds. One is called NATURAL mind. It is the mind we are born with, so everyone starts out with it. However, I Corinthians, chapter 2, says the natural mind, regardless of age, education, intelligence, or experience, leaves us clueless when it comes to the things of God. They are beyond that mind’s capacity, at least, as it is.

The Christian, according to Scripture, has a different kind of mind. It is given to him, not at physical birth but when he is re-born. (Jesus said all who enter the kingdom, of God experience this re-birth, see John 3) This SPIRITUAL mind is able to discern spiritual truth from the Word of God, but not because of superior intellect or training. Instead, it is a direct result of having received Jesus Christ through faith. When he comes into a person’s life, He brings with Him His wisdom, His righteousness, His holiness, and get this, even His Mind!

The Apostle Paul says, “. . . we have the mind of Christ!” (I Corinthians 2:16), so Christians actually have the capacity to think the thoughts of God. While the people of God are sometimes ridiculed as “having thrown their brains away” our real problem is exactly the opposite. After receiving such a marvelous gift as the mind of Christ, we still have our old human sinful desires and thoughts. When these govern our thinking, Paul calls this a “CARNAL” mind. If we could toss it out and think just with the new mind of Christ, living the Christian life would be far less a struggle!

Throughout Scripture, the people of God realized the problem of the mind. The Psalmist asked for a united, pure mind. The writer of Proverbs exhorts, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding.” The prophet Isaiah declared that whoever kept His mind on God would be kept in perfect peace. Galatians 5 says that the Christian constantly wages battle, the spirit against the flesh, the thoughts of God against the desires of the old sinful way of thinking. We are told to, “have a transformed, renewed mind.” Christians are to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Of course, Jesus had a mind committed to do the will of the Father.

The old mind produces such corruption as evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy slander, arrogance, and folly (see Mark 7). No wonder the Bible constantly warns the believer not to yield to it or its desires. The fact of the matter is, the old mind is deceitful, easily led into sin, choking the life of Christ. However, the new mind honors God.

Most of us do not realize the capacity of a mind at rest in Jesus Christ. Science says the natural man only uses 10% of his cognitive power. God says even that 10% is marred, but through faith in Jesus, He offers a change of mind, a transformation, a totally different way to think. Then, as we yield to the Lord and our minds think His thoughts, our lives begin to match. He produces from within, love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.

Yes, maybe being “out of my mind” is not such a bad idea.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Becoming White as Snow ................... Parables 141

Snow is a marvelous cover-up. November’s drab dresses up in sparkling white. Muddy vacant lots, once eyesores, are beautifully blanketed. Naked black branches are draped in layers of shimmering crystal, outlined against a pearl grey sky.

While not so inspiring, our backyard grass needed one more cut, one more rake, but the snow hid it all; the jobs that didn’t get finished are covered; our lawn looks just as good as the neighbors who were more ambitious.

We have one tree that stubbornly refuses to yield all her leaves to winter. But this morning, the cold wind won a round. The snow was speckled with drab, round gold pieces - spots on an otherwise unblemished blanket. They looked like acne on a teen’s face, or mud splattered on a snow white Cadillac.

Later I thought of Christ who promises to wash hearts whiter than snow. (Isaiah 1:18). We need it, you know. The Bible says Jesus is our snow-white standard, but there is not one life who can match His unblemished purity. How short we fall. Yet the New Testament says we are made spotless by faith in Him. His blood is applied as a cleansing agent for those who believe, powerful to wash away our sin and remove it”as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12).

After that is done, Scripture says He is able to keep us blameless before God and present us faultless on that day when He comes to receive all who believe in Him (1 Corinthians 1:8, Jude 24).

But, James 1:27 warns Christians to keep themselves unspotted from the world. In fact, I found references warning against a “spotted” and “blemished” condition in nearly every book of the Bible. We are not to spatter our new life in Christ with blotches of sin. Yet when it happens, we can be made white again.

The good news is, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from all sin, and if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:7,9). Our part is to admit our sins, confessing them to Him, and come with a heart that is willing to forsake them. He will do the rest.

The snow covered everything. Along came the wind that shook the tree, blotching that pristine perfection with leaves. The snow will return, likely in the night, The next time I look those leaves will be hidden. The mystery of Jesus’ blood goes one step further. Yes, He covers sin, but somehow He cleanses and washes it away, changing and remaking our lives pure and clean.

Such a glorious truth. No need to try and erase that which defiles, even if we could. Instead, we have His saving power to forgive and restore us when we fail. We can take any transgression to Him and leave it there, trusting His eternal power to save us from it completely, just as He promised He would do.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Marking ballots can be frustrating ..................... Parables 140

For those who go the polls this month, placing the mark in the right spot may have been a frustrating experience. Some were unsure of party policies. Some did not know their candidate very well. Some complained that the ballots should include”none of the above” because the choices could be more desirable.

Ever wonder what it would be like if the political leaders cast the ballots? Suppose they decided no one could vote, Only a few would qualify to live in Canada, and all who did had to serve each other’s best interest?

Would the people then become the politicians, giving speeches and promises hoping to serve where they wanted? Suppose one party liked you and the other didn’t, creating much conflict for you? How would Canadians then respond to their leadership?

Did you know that it is something like that in the kingdom of God? His Dominion has no elections, no polling stations, no political campaigns. The majority does not rule. God rules. He alone calls the shots. Some may think the kingdom of God sounds like a dictatorship. However, once examined, even the best of human government pales beside His system. Here are some highlights:

1. There is only one leader or Lord, to whom every person gives allegiance and utter devotion, Jesus Christ. He rules in love, truth and perfect justice.

2. This Leader fully represents the people (He became one of us) yet fully represents absolute authority because He is fully God.

3. He rules sovereignly. Even though He invites His citizens to make their wishes known through prayer, none pull His strings. He grants privileges not rights. Nothing can be demanded, or taken by force, lobbying, or majority vote, yet all the blessings are free. No one goes without. All needs are met, fully and perfectly.

4. All citizens in the kingdom are commanded to live in harmony with each other in spite of the diversity of their views, abilities, personalities or circumstances. Since this is humanly impossible, the Lord gives them His own quality of life (eternal life) and with it, all of His transmutable characteristics, such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. Those who live according to His divine life within are blessed with peace and joy.

5. No one is forced to exercise their God-given abilities, but will face the natural consequences if they don’t. (Similar to running full tilt into a brick wall. He won’t stop you, but if you insist, you will hurt yourself!).

6. Those who disobey are never condemned because Jesus Christ Himself paid the full penalty of all offenses that have or will ever be committed. However, offenders are given attention with a view to correct them, This is because the Lord knows right living benefits His people.

7. This kingdom begins in the hearts of men and is entered by an act of faith, on earth. It is never exited. That is, it is an eternal kingdom. Its residents live here for awhile as ambassadors, then go to their eternal and real place of citizenship to live forever.

8. Not everyone who says”Lord, Lord” will enter this kingdom. Only those who do the will of God can be citizens. (How to do it is clearly stated in John’s gospel, chapter 6, verse 29).

9. The people, once in this kingdom, have no vote because they have placed their faith in the wisdom of the One who governs them. Their only vote is just a simple decision whether or not they will accept His invitation to enter. “Yes” or “No” to the Lordship of Jesus Christ always decides all the issues. In other words, you can’t vote this theocracy in, but you can vote yourself into this theocracy.

The Leader of this state welcomes all who come to Him in faith. Quite a difference from current politics, is it not?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Too many things to do, too little time ............. Parables 139

“I’d like to, but I’m just too busy.”

“Where do you find the time to do so much?”

Life is like a smorgasbord: so many activities to pick from, many that look too good to pass up. My plate fills up so quickly, and time, like my tummy, has a way of getting stuffed before the plate is empty.  It takes careful planning to finish my choices before the end of each day. Even with the best of scheduling, interruptions, health problems, and a host of other things can leave me with a pile of “leftovers.”

Sometimes I chide myself with the fact I have just as many hours as the President of the United States, and look at all he accomplishes. But my husband brings me back to earth with,”You have the same hours, dear, but not the same staff!”

Because we are made in the image of God, and because we function best when living like it, some of the best secrets of time management are found by looking at His use of time. Aside from the fact that He created and controls it, He also stepped into it, in the person of Jesus Christ. We have record of only three years of His life, yet in that three years, He made an impact on the world that no man has made before or since. I’m sure His use of time had something to do with it.

Before anyone protests, “but He is God . . .” He also was fully human, He became tired, thirsty and hungry, just as we do. Not only that, His days only had twenty-four hours - just the same as ours.

A GOOD START: Perhaps the greatest secret of His time-management was that Jesus”rose up before it was yet morning, to pray.” The older I get the less I enjoy the ringing of my alarm clock. However, Jesus knew that the strength received from His heavenly Father would outlast any benefits of extra time snoozing. Isaiah 40 says, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” not”they that sleep as much as possible.”

NO PROCRASTINATION: The Gospel of Mark uses the word “immediately” over and over as it describes Christ in action. He was not a procrastinator. He never made excuses, stalled, or hesitated in uncertainty. He did not put off until tomorrow what could and should be done right now. Time management specialists confirm this principle. Number your priorities and then do them, one after the other.

TRUST THE FATHER WITH INTERRUPTIONS: Jesus also saw interruptions as heaven-sent and was not flustered by them. Instead, He responded as if they were on His list from the beginning. This is where I often falter. My tendency is to let the interruption ruin my attitude and even my day’s work. Realizing God sovereignly controls my life has helped me be more polite to door-to-door sales men and telephone survey-takers.

PURPOSEFUL R AND R: Jesus was not lazy but He did take time to rest.”Jesus, being wearied from His journey, sat by the well” (John 4). Laziness is resting because I don’t want to work. Recreation is resting because if I don’t rest I won’t have the energy to work. Taking time to be refueled is not necessarily selfish indulgence. Jesus even used His resting time to reach out to others.

JOB SELECTION: Jesus did not accept any task outside of His Father’s will. His early morning time alone was not wasted time. When He began His day, He knew where to go, what to do, and what was important for eternity. He kept His focus on the priorities laid down for Him.

What a waste to spend a day (or a whole life) on things that have no eternal value. But for those who belong to Christ, He makes every minute count. After all, unlike the vast assortment of choices there are to fill it, a minute of time leaves no leftovers. Used wisely or wasted, it is gone forever.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Does positive thinking have any power? ....................... Parables 138

Psychocybernetics: This word isn't in most dictionaries but defining each part could produce "the study of neurotic computers"!

Actually, psychocybernetics is a philosophy that was popular in the sixties. Who ever coined the name also developed the theory: Whatever you think yourself to be, that is what you will become.

Applying that, if a salesperson couldn't make sales, he just thinks of himself as sales person of the year... and he becomes just that. If an unpopular girl imagines herself the life of the party, she also becomes what she thinks herself to be. This same philosophy has dozens of other titles, most of them easier to spell.

When I was introduced to psychocybernetics, I noticed the use of Proverbs 23:7 to support it: "... as a man thinks in his heart, so is he."

As a new Christian, I was suddenly filled with doubt about my spiritual conversion. Did God change me? Or did I change myself? And if I did it, would it last?  How would I know for sure if God was real or if it was just my own mind removing my guilt and making me a better person? And what about the experiences of others? Did all Christians shape their lives by some kind of positive thinking?

Anyone who is not familiar with the claims of Jesus Christ would respond, "So What? What difference does it make as long as your life is the way you want it? After all, you are changed. Who cares who did it?"

I cared. I figured if we change ourselves, then Jesus is only a psychological catalyst who just gets us moving in a better direction, not a Savior who forgives sin and comes to dwell right inside us.

However, the Bible told me that just as a leopard cannot change his spots nor an Ethiopian the color of his skin; neither can someone who is accustomed to doing wrong begin to do good (Jeremiah 13:23). Simply put, that means I could not change myself.

The Bible also says no one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless they experience a spiritual new birth through the spirit of God. This does not happen by human decision or by the will of man but is an event entirely in the control of the Lord (John 1:13, 3:5-8).

So much for the principles, I wanted an illustration. I found it in Acts 9, the account of a man who eventually became the apostle Paul. He didn't have any intentions of becoming a Christian - nor did he have one positive thought concerning Christianity. In fact, he was on his way to Damascus with murder in mind. Suddenly he was confronted by Jesus Christ, who had other plans. Subsequently, Paul became a spiritual giant, a change he'd never consciously or subconsciously considered.

I also checked out the verse upon which this philosophy based itself, Proverbs 23:7. I discovered that it was in the context of a warning not to eat with an evil person. It said that he may bid you eat and drink but his heart is not with the actual measure of this man was not what was seen on the outside but "as he thinks in his heart, so is he."

The Lord says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart . . . "

The positive thinker, without guidance from the One who knows our hearts, is in severe danger of deceiving himself. Mental Institutions are full of people who decide they are something or someone else. Every field of  endeavor has "experts" creating havoc because they only think they know everything. I know I could never think myself able to do anything than requires talent I don't have or skill I've not developed.

While it is good to have a positive rather than negative outlook on life, positive thinking has to square with reality and with the Word of God. Just as I could no more become an opera singer by deciding I was one - neither can I be made spiritually and eternally alive by merely thinking it is so. That is a transformation only God can make.

So much for psychocybernetics.