Monday, September 29, 2014

Sin lures to death, but sin has been dealt a death-blow ............... Parables 176

(August 2, 1989)

A snake-loving man couldn’t resist buying a boa constrictor, just a little one. He enjoyed the reptile so much, he played with it constantly. Soon he had it trained to wrap itself around his body. The performance of man and snake was so intriguing that people paid to watch. Soon the snake act became the man’s livelihood. The snake grew, as well-fed reptiles do, and one day, during a performance, the snake coiled itself as usual around the man. A terrible scream ended the show as the boa crushed the life out of his trainer.

A lie-loving boy couldn’t resist fooling his mother just a little lie, he reasoned. He enjoyed the deception so much. He played his game constantly. Soon he had trained himself so well that he believed his own lies. He lived in a world of make-believe, losing touch with reality. His mother never understood why her son had to be institutionalized, why he eventually died there, unable to function in the real world.

A pleasure-loving girl couldn’t resist physical gratification. She enjoyed rich food, luxuries, and sensuous delights. She sought worldly pleasures constantly. Soon she found a need for increasing quantities, more thrills. Normal was old hat, bizarre became normal. She would pay any price for some sweet enjoyment. Her bloated body was found at the bottom of a ravine.

James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, wrote,”... each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away, and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin; when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.”

God says sin is the reason people die. While not every death may be the direct result of the victim’s own sin, all death is the result of sin in general. All moral, social, psychological, and even environmental pollution is caused by sin as well. In fact, rebellion to the laws of God makes newspapers fat and life lean.

It’s not unusual for sin to seem “little” or harmless in the beginning. One little lie won’t hurt anyone. Even the second lie to cover the first one seems reasonable. After playing with little lies for a time, their growth is hardly noticed—and lying becomes a lifestyle. And lies crush, if nothing else, the credibility of the person so entangled.

Lies and all other forms of iniquity begin in a small way—with a thought. It saunters into our minds like a stray cat or dog or snake. It ought to be put out, but if we pet it and invite it to stay, it becomes sin. “Even the thought of foolishness is sin.”

This pet, visible only to God, thwarts answers to prayer. The psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.”

But it does more than that. It begins a constricting coil, one that soon becomes as difficult to put down as a beloved pet. And this pet grows. Before long, it expresses itself in words and actions and becomes a lifestyle, one that leads to death, if not directly, indirectly, some day physically, right now spiritually.

Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. James says sin gives birth to death. Whatever metaphor is used, subtle deception and gradual changes occur before we know it, and when we do, we should tell ourselves to smarten up, but nobody does. Our “pet” has grown far too big. We can’t resist its big squeeze.

But there is good news. Because He loves us, our Creator sent His sinless Son to deal a mortal blow to sin and to that old serpent, Satan, the father of lies and the encourager of evil thoughts. Sin and Satan may be powerful but Jesus is far greater. He conquered both. He poured out His blood on the cross that sinners might be cleansed from the pollution in their souls. He died that our sins might be buried with Him. He rose from the dead to give victory over the coils of death. In defeating sin and death, He robbed both them and the serpent of their power.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Faith is a “can do” thing ................. Parables 175

(July 26, 1989)

A friend once remarked, “That fellow will never amount to much -- he’s a CAN’T MAN.”

An apt description of a man who seldom finished what he started, and seldom even started. Sounds just like the “slothful” man in’ Proverbs who excused his inactivity with, “There is a lion outside. I’ll be slain in the streets.”

Quitting comes easy to the lazy. A person whose heart isn’t really in the thing hasn’t much staying power either. Ask any committee. Even the most brilliant ideas sooner or later deteriorate into tedious hard work! So how do you get motivated when passion for a project fizzles and motivation dawdles and dwindles?

DETERMINATION: Some folks keep on keeping on because they’re stubborn. Their goal is set, their jaw is too. Nothing’s going to stop them. They want what they want when they want it. An iron will ensures completion.

NECESSITY: Others keep on because someone depends on them. It might be baby’s cries calling “I’m hungry, I’m wet. I need a hug.” It might be creditors playing their song, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” Whether it’s a job that must be done or food put on the table, survival is a strong motivator.

HABIT: One of my relatives cleans her house every Saturday, top to bottom, inside out, until it sparkles. When her children were small, dirt made the chores necessary. These days the shine is still there on Friday. Nevertheless, she cleans house every Saturday.

VISION: “Maybe no one else can see my goal but I can either smell it, taste it, or picture it in my mind.” With that, all obstacles are taken in stride. The job gets done.

The Word of God often refers to “keeping on.” The Greek word is translated patience, or endurance, or persistence, and is simply the ability to continue doing what God requires under all kinds of opposition, stress, pressure and disadvantage. Such persistence may be fueled by a vision or assisted by determination. A sense of being needed helps too. So does good habits. Yet hotter still burns the fuel of faith.

Faith is, “the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is moving along life’s path with the desires of the heart linked to God. It is knowing that He gives purpose to all that I do.

Faith carries with it the idea of vision. God opens blind eyes and enables “sight” of eternal realities through faith in Jesus Christ. This vision includes assurance. Obeying God will be rewarded - not necessarily in this life but certainly in the next. Such assurance fuels persistence. Faith is determination too. It is knowing that God tells the truth and stubbornly hanging to that truth, even if “every man is a liar.”

Faith even increases through developing the habit of turning to God in trials. He proves Himself to be true once, then again, and again, and again — until trials produce an automatic response for all of life. Faith soon becomes “the only thing to do”.

As well, faith senses being indispensable. While God certainly is not helpless without us, He has purpose for our lives. He is building a kingdom. He will use our obedience as a bricklayer uses mortar to hold walls together. The Bible even calls believers “God’s building.”

Not only that, our obedience adds fireworks to the display of His power. Who else but a mighty God could bring sinful people into submission to Himself? Every time I act in faith, it is a testimony to God’s grace. Far from abstract or useless, faith gives not only life but motivates the faint-hearted, the aged, and even the lazy. Who knows, some may even themselves excited about going out and tackling that lion in the street.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One Vital Option ................... Parables 174

(July 19, 1989)

Every time our family discusses the possibility of trading in a vehicle or buying another one, the word OPTIONS comes up. Most cars come with basic features and offer luxury options. A few come with basic luxuries and about the only options left to choose are colors. Personally, I like a variety of choices. Decision-making may take longer but it is fun putting together the possible combinations, trying to get the most and the best and still be under-budget.

Actually, car buying and life are alike. We want the most and the best without going’ bankrupt in the process! Life’s basics include death, and some humorists add taxes. Another is our incredibly tendency to violate the laws of God.

A few years ago, I looked up every verse in Scripture with the word “sin” in it. I’d had the idea that sin consisted of breaking the Ten Commandments, specifically murder, adultery, lying, and stealing.

Even these were graded, so I thought. At some point, they passed over the line from “sin” to “excusable.” I also thought that since some people didn’t do anything too horribly bad, they would not be considered sinners. And even those who were could do enough good deeds to somehow balance out the bad. I wasn’t worried about my sins. I thought I wasn’t as bad as some people I knew.

Out of that word study, I learned a lot about sin. I learned God has high standards and anything that falls short is called “unrighteousness.”

This short verse, “All unrighteousness is sin,” dashed my ideas about it being graded. No excusable “little white lies” at one end and sinful “big whoppers” at the other. All get one label.

I also discovered this one, “Whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all.” One sin makes a person a sinner, even if the rest of his life seems okay. It’s like an omelet. One rotten egg ruins the whole thing, no matter how fresh the rest! Gone was my idea that little transgressions would be overlooked.

By this time, I was beginning to get the picture. Innocence doesn’t exist. Sin is basic to the human condition. I couldn’t opt out on that one. Romans 3 confirms it, “All have sinned...” and then chapter 6 condemns it, “The wages of sin is death.” I also discovered death means eternal separation from God.

Since the Bible is about heaven and how to get there, all this bad news could make a person wonder if there is any point in trying to make at least a few good choices. Why Proverbs 24:9 says, “Even the thought of foolishness is sin.”

It would appear no matter the level of goodness reached, one bad thought overrules. Not much hope given for all us sinners in these verses about sin. But there was one more. Jesus told His disciples that He would go away but the Holy Spirit would come. One of the Spirit’s functions would be to convict (convince) the world of sin. Then He defined it, “... sin, because they do not believe in Me.”

Eureka! With every other sin there was too much water under the bridge and too many unwise choices already made, but here is the one sin I could do something about! There is an option that changes human destiny.

Instead of choosing to believe in my own resources to deal with sin, I was offered the option of trusting in the death and resurrection of Christ. He took all those choices I’d already made, every sinful thought, word, and deed, to their just end on the cross, leaving me with just one option upon which my eternal destiny hinges: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

I may never own a fully loaded, 4-wheeled anything, but because of Jesus Christ, I can pick eternity with Him. It isn’t a basic, but thank God, that option is available.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mirrored in our children ................. Parables 173

(July 12, 1989)

“Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” a frustrated father commands his rebellious youngster. But in the back of his mind he knows — it doesn’t work quite like that. This parent was seeing himself in his child.

Like it or not, kids are often mirrors, reflecting the way their parents look, talk, walk, and even behave. Appearance may be genetic, but certainly most commands given, most principles taught, directly or indirectly, are a reflection of mom’s and dad’s own character.

An interesting study of the branches of a family tree that grew from one very immoral couple revealed robbers, murderers, and a host of lowlife ancestors, many guilty of a great assortment of crime and immorality. In contrast, a God-fearing couple and their family tree were also studied. Its branches held highly respected bankers, statesmen, doctors, pastors, lawyers, even a vice-president. The mirror works both ways. A good example can be reflected too, not guaranteed 100%, but statistically a possibility.

Sometimes a question comes up relevant to children from “bad” homes. I remember the pleading voice of one who was afraid of becoming just like one parent, a person with a mental illness. Was that child locked into an unchangeable pattern? How could the images, impressions, and principles of life one grows up with be forgotten? How could the probability of following parental example and also becoming mentally ill be set aside?

The good news is that God offers changed lives through the miracle of a new birth. Even though the term “born again” has been exploited, misunderstood and ridiculed, it is still the only way that a person can receive a genuine new life — plus enter the family of God.

Jesus described this birth to a man named Nicodemus in John 3. Even though Nicodemus’ background was a far cry from “bad” and even though he was one of society’s elite — a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and even though he had the best upbringing possible, Jesus told him he needed a new life. He must be born again.

A psychoanalyst will say sin (if it’s acknowledged) is the fault of our parents. Certainly, no parenting is perfect. Or they will say our flaws are the fault of our environment. Certainly, no environment is perfect. But Jesus (who incidentally created both parents and environment) says the problem lies within the human heart. We were born with a sin-nature.

He says we must take personal responsibility for the fact that we sin and fall short of all we were created to be. If we will do that, He will give us a new heart through a new birth.

The new life He gives is His life. He takes up residence in those who invite Him to do so. In that incredible union, we begin to think differently, talk differently and act differently. We have a new role model to pattern ourselves by — and a new Father.

Similar to our earthly parents, this Heavenly Father asks of us those things that reflect His character. He says, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” He commands that we love, be pure, speak truth, practice faithfulness and behave righteously — because He is love, complete pure, truth itself, totally faithful, and completely righteous. Because He lives within, He enables us to live as He commands.

After this spiritual “new birth” occurs, like physical birth, there is a growing process. We learn to leave the sinful habits of the old life behind and move toward being like the One who created us. Mature Christians walk more and more like Christ, talk like Him, and behave like Him. He promises, “we will be just like Him when we see Him as He is.”

That is the glorious hope of the child of God; not to be like dad or mom, however good, or not so good they may be, but to be just like Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Predicting the Future ..................... Parables 172

(July 5, 1989)

Those OLD magazines in the doctor’s office are pure entertainment... or have you noticed?

Have a look at the articles that deal with “coming” events. It seems everyone is a prophet. They already knew who will win the Presidential Election; who will win the Kentucky Derby; which hockey team will trade which player; if the Oilers will make the playoffs; and who they will defeat and by how much. Fascinating reading, especially after the elections, after the races, and after the hockey season is over.

Obviously, 100% accuracy they don’t have. In fact, some of them are so far off, one wonders where they got their assurance. But then again, most nonfiction periodical writers don’t consider their prophecies will be read six months later by someone with a sore stomach or a tooth ache.

In fact, we probably all make such self-assured predictions, based more or less on our personal preferences, but since no one records them for posterity, and unless someone makes a bet on it, we soon forgot how clouded is our crystal ball.

Newspaper, “prophets” fare a little better. Their articles usually wind up recycled or in the fireplace before the actual events disprove their predictions. However some, sports columnists in particular, must have red faces now and then. They are so sure— and so wrong — so often.

Maybe I’m getting cynical but it seems to me that predictions about the future, whether sports, politics or any other news story, are a total waste of time, effort and paper.

Why bother? Maybe some writers can’t wait until the thing is done and over with before commenting on it, or today’s news is old hat (television’s fault) so let’s discuss tomorrow’s?

One thing is for sure, no matter how gifted we are perception-wise, or how observant we are trend-wise, we are not very good at foretelling tomorrow or next week. There are just too many variables.

That is why fulfilled prophecy in Scripture is so astounding. What are the odds that an assortment of men, smattered over a few hundred years, could make predictions about the future and have all of them come true? Someone once said about the same as finding a certain five-dollar bill in a pile of fives three feet deep covering the entire globe. Long odds.

Have a look at these few examples. Zechariah wrote in about 520 B.C., “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you. He is just and having salvation; lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

The event happened about 33 A.D. “... When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took branches of palm trees, and went out to meet Him, and cried out, Hosanna: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel! Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it...” (John 12:12-14).

Here’s another from Isaiah 53:9 about the burial place of the promised Messiah. “And they made His grave with the wicked — but with the rich at His death...”

Several hundred years later, Matthew tells how Jesus was crucified between two thieves (the wicked) and buried in the tomb of a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60).

Every now and then, someone says the Bible is just an ordinary book written by ordinary men. But if evaluated by prophecy alone, TIME, LIFE, McLean’s, and Sports Illustrated are the ordinary books written by ordinary men. No matter how old the waiting room copy, the events predicted in Scripture ALWAYS happen exactly as the prophets of God said they would.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Faith Healer ........................ Parables 171

June 28, 1989

Did you hear about the woman who bit into a hard candy and it cost her thousands of dollars? Pain shot through her ear and then her whole head. She thought it would go away. But it didn’t. The first doctor told her nothing was wrong and put her on tranquilizers. She decided to change her lifestyle, but two sessions of dance exercise jammed her neck and back muscles. Again, doctors informed her nothing was wrong.

Everywhere she went, the diagnosis was the same. Finally, she tried a dental specialist who discovered a misalignment in her jaw. Two years of specialized treatment freed her from nearly ten years of pain.

Frustrating? I guess. We expect much more from modern medicine. Her story made headlines but was probably not uncommon. Here’s another one:

The woman: Jewish. Her age: Unknown. Her symptoms: Twelve years of hemorrhaging. History: Many doctors. Financial resources: Depleted by medical bills.

Her wealth didn’t secure the best medical attention or a cure. Instead, her condition grew steadily worse. To deepen her distress, there was no Medicare, no painkillers, no tranquilizers, or anti-inflammatory medications. She suffered without any kind of chemical relief or medical insurance.

Finally, this woman heard about a faith healer. She decided she had nothing to lose, in spite of two problems complicating her situation. One was that in those days, Jewish men considered women on the same low level as slaves and Gentiles. This Healer was a Jewish man. He might refuse to help her. Secondly, her “female” condition was an embarrassment.

But, after some thought, she decided to find the Healer and just mingle with the large crowd reported to have gathered around him. At first, she may have reasoned He would notice how pale she looked and maybe reach out and touch her. Then she thought if he was really as powerful as people said He was, she could simply touch His robe, without any attention drawn to herself. That would be easier. She decided to do it. She gathered her garments about her frail body, draped her veil across her face, and set off through the streets of Capernaum.

It didn’t take long to find the Healer. The noisy crowd was following Him as He walked with one of the rulers of the synagogue. As they passed by, she slipped into line behind Him, scurrying to catch up. Quickly, as the throng pressed and jostled, she reached forward and touched His robe.

The result is found in Mark 5: 29, “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”

She was ecstatic, eager to go home and begin living again. She turned, pressing against the crowd, struggling to reach the edge of the mass of people. She had no desire to be noticed. But her wish to remain anonymous was not granted. “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’”

The disciples were incredulous. How could He ask such a thing with so many people pushing against Him? But Jesus knew the touch of faith. He persisted. The woman halted, uncertain for a moment. Then she realized that any man who had this kind of healing power could not possibly shame her. She fell at His feet and told Him her story.

Jesus, true to her hope, gently said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

The Greek word translated “well” is not quite the same as our English word. It means both physical and spiritual wellness. So Jesus did far more than heal this woman’s chronic physical condition. He healed her chronic spiritual condition too, and blessed her with complete wholeness.

Ancient and modern medicines both have their drawbacks. Even at their best, spiritual healing is one kind of cure that is beyond them, but it is not beyond Jesus. He still offers wholeness to anyone who will bring his or her need to Him.

Monday, September 15, 2014

One at a time is often the best way ........................... Parables 170

(June 21, 1989)

A friendly woman along my walking route chuckled as she placed one empty milk carton in her curbside garbage container. “I’m really efficient; I take my garbage out one piece at a time.”

Trying to be positive, I encouraged that at least walking back and forth was good exercise.

Halfway down the block I started thinking about other possible benefits of her “one-thing-at-a-time” efficiency. In contrast, some of us tend to tackle too many things at once. For instance, I have one half of a pair of drapes hanging beside my sewing machine, a half finished needlepoint folded in a basket in the living room, a nearly completed afghan in a box beside the family room love seat, the material to make ceramic trivets sitting in the garage . . . need I go on?

I justify myself with the fact I am easily bored. It is more interesting to hop back and forth between several projects, even though nothing ever seems to be finished, than working on one thing for a long time. Even when the drapes are done, I’m apt to start a macramé before the afghan is completed.

My whole life isn’t like that though. Certain activities, like making beds, cooking meals, and washing dirty dishes and laundry, MUST be done from start to finish all at one time. If I don’t, those things multiply entirely out of hand; the household becomes chaotic, and my family threatens to replace me.

But I have to admit, the haphazard method is my preference. It fits in with my temperament and allows me to do what I please, when I please. But it is disastrous for some necessities, including taking out the garbage.

Oh, not the usual kind. Every now and then, God lets me know my life needs some spiritual house cleaning. Yuck. He points to a few bad attitudes, some sinful habits, and some selfish time-wasters that are piling up in the corners. Garbage. Now that I am a Christian, I’d like to gather it up in a big bundle, generalize it with “Lord, You know I’m a sinner . . . ” and get it out all at one time, just as I did at my conversion. But for some reason, it doesn’t work that way now. It seems, to really be rid of each smelly item, it must be taken to Him one piece at a time.

He works the same way we clean up a messy room, starting with one piece of junk. As He picks it out for my examination, I’m responsible to agree with His evaluation and condemnation... it IS junk -- it MUST go. Amazingly, He wants me to give it to Him, but along with it, a confessed description of exactly what the junk is, “Forgive me for doing such and such . . . ”

He promises in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In other words, He chucks the thing in His garbage can. (At that point, I have to make sure I fully repent and don’t pick it up and carry it back in my house. In spite of the smell, I tend to try and hang on to the stuff.)

Another thing about trash, after it’s gone it can leave an “after odor.” In other words, even when I properly confess the thing, my heart sometimes still feels dirty. However, God said He would clean it up. I’m to believe what He says, not assume by my feelings that He didn’t. After all, unbelief and false guilt can be just as foul as whatever I confessed.

Whoever she is, thanks to the neighbor lady. God used her remark to remind me of the inefficiency of making blanket confessions. In this case, “just one piece at a time” IS the best way.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Saying No is a great idea ..................... Parables 169

 (June 4, 1989)

Self-discipline has been on my mind lately but I’m discovering this matter requires more than mere thought. (By the way, if you have a problem in this area, you may not want to read on!) This week I learned that action instead of reflection would have been money in my pocket. Instead, my dentist got it.

One night I dove recklessly into a rather large bowl of popcorn - when my conscience said, “...a small one is enough.” When I was nearly to the bottom, that same conscience whispered, “’re going to chip a tooth.” Again, I didn’t listen. Sure enough, an unpopped kernel did me in. A few dollars later and a little wiser? I hope so.

Self-discipline means, among other things, listening to that inner voice. It may only be common sense talking, yet the exercise of a little common sense never hurt anyone.

That inner voice could also be God’s Holy Spirit. He speaks quietly in my mind too, even about things like eating too much popcorn. Surprised? Well, there aren’t exactly any verses in the Bible that mention popcorn but there are principles that cover inner attitudes and outward behavior.

The verse that got me was this: “All things are lawful unto me, (Paul the apostle writing to some selfish Christians in Corinth) but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

Now of course Paul didn’t mean we could do ANYTHING and say it is lawful. He was talking about anything that is not forbidden by God. While some might think scripture is a whole list of things we can’t do, anyone who reads it will realize after all the “thou shalt nots” are considered, there are a great many activities that are quite all right.

In the context of this verse (1 Corinthians 6:12) Paul was referring to quite ordinary physical appetites: food and drink. He made it clear that it’s okay to eat any food, but be careful that someone else is not offended by what you do. Same with beverages.

We could add all sorts of things to the “lawful list” — anything from bird watching to knitting an afghan, but the point Paul was trying to make is that even the unforbidden is not entirely wide-open to us.

Just as sinful desires and actions can control our lives, so can ordinary, normally not-sinful desires and actions. God’s intention is that we be under His lordship, not governed by our appetites or by anything else.

So what is the big deal about a few extra handfuls of popcorn? Just this: eating, drinking and many other “okay” activities can easily slide over the line, running interference with the Holy Spirit. He is leading me into moderation and greater self-control in ALL areas of my life. I’m supposed to listen, and in this case, save my teeth.

Besides, my on-going ability (or lack of it) to say “no” to indulgence in anything I CAN have, closely parallels my ability to say “no” to the temptations concerning things I OUGHT NOT have. In other words, discipline in the freebies strengthens discipline in the forbidden.

It boils down to this: too much popcorn, an extra slice of pie, that extra piece of chocolate cake that I don’t need does more to my life than chip my teeth or add a few extra calories. Such indulgence quickly translates itself into other undisciplined behavior, such as saying unkind words or holding grudges or being unforgiving towards other people — and they don’t need that either.

So the next time someone offers me a big bowl of popcorn, unless they can be convinced to put a cup or two in a smaller dish, I think I’ll pass.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Being Set Free ......................... Parables 168

(June 7, 1989)

A strange persistent noise drew our son, home alone, away from the computer and into the family room. He thought someone was in the house. He listened a few moments, and then realized a bird had tumbled down the chimney and was inside the wood-burning stove.

After calling some experts on the art of catching and freeing a bird without hurting it, he gingerly opened the stove door. There perched on the grate was an ash-covered sparrow. But it refused to fly out the opening. So he reached in. Eventually it came out -- and the chase was on.

Over the sofa and under the TV. Back and forth and up and down the hall. Finally, he “trapped” it in his bedroom. With the door closed and the window open, surely the bird would go where it obviously wanted to be.

But no, the little creature darted under the dresser and under the bed, everywhere but out the open window. Finally, large bath towel in hand, he crept up and tossed the towel gently over it. Then he carefully scooped it up in his arms, took it outside, and released it.

Can you imagine what might have been going through that bird’s mind? “What is this heartless giant going to do to me? I must not let him near me. Surely he will hurt me. I have to get away from him. I want to be free. If he catches me, he is going to spoil my freedom.”

In ignorance of our son’s intent, the frightened bird was hardly cooperative. Actually, no one can really blame the bird. Our son couldn’t talk sparrow-talk and make his intentions known. No other birds who might understand human kindness dropped by to set its pounding heart at ease. In the bird’s mind, the size and action of the human only conveyed one message -- this huge “thing” is out to get me.

Sometimes a similar reaction occurs when the topic of God comes up, at least in the minds of people who do not understand His intent. Mention His name, church, Jesus Christ, Christianity, or any other spiritual word and they flap all over the place looking for a way out. “Not me,” they say. “I’m going to live my own life and no one is going to ruin all my fun.” To them, God is the ultimate killjoy, the destroyer of freedom. In their minds, submission to Him could not do anything but enslave.

How sad. God says “I know the thoughts I think toward you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” He is not at all a killjoy trying to enslave anyone. Instead, He is a Deliverer, One who will take us out of the prison we have put ourselves in and set us free.

The prison? Not exactly the same as a tumble down a fireplace chimney but a tumble nonetheless. God created man innocent and able to have communion with Him, without fear. However, since that first bite into the forbidden fruit, all have sinned and broken that communion. Sin is simply turning from God and acting independently of Him. The Bible says the wages of sin is death, eternal separation from God, eternal destruction.

Oh, it may not seem like a prison from a human perspective. Even the bird might have thought he was in an interesting “cave,” not a stove where the contents are eventually incinerated. He may have even enjoyed flying around our house and running into the walls. Some humans go through life like that, crashing through and thinking the fast lane is a blast.

But at the end, when life runs down and the markers are called in, the wages must be paid. It’s like grocery shopping. The cart can be piled as high as one likes with whatever one likes, but eventually all must go through the checkout. When we get to that point, it’s too late to put some of the stuff back on the shelves and start over. Just like the bird, we don’t have the capacity to fly back up the chimney.

If our son had talked bird-talk, the bird may have listened and saved itself all that stress. Fortunately for it, its eventual freedom did not depend on its response, or lack of it. However, ours does. God in His Son Jesus Christ came to talk man-to-man in our language and set us free. Are we listening?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Getting out of the pits ................. Parables 167

Do you ever find yourself “in the pits”? You know, it’s related to being down in the dumps, that miserable condition when it seems as if God is gone, no one cares, and everything is going wrong.

Last week some ladies and I talked about getting out of the pits. One of the Psalms says God takes our feet out of the miry clay and sets us on solid ground but we agreed that our feet don’t always cooperate. Sometimes we drag our heels and are not exactly easy to pull from our pits. When I am feeling blue, when it seems everyone in the world has stopped praying, when the pits are so deep there is no light at all in any direction, the things that help me the most are very basic. If I can just grab hold of some simple truth, through it God begins to grab hold of me. Soon He is able to pull me out.

So here is a simple formula for getting out of the pits. It is in the form of an acrostic which makes it easier to remember -- (because when you are down, memory is one of the first things to fail)...

P - stands for PRAISE. Seems so easy, but remember, in the pits God seems absent. It is difficult to praise “nothing.” However, Hebrews 13 says He never really leaves or forsakes me. It is just the -sense- of His presence that can sometimes be lost. Since Psalm 22:3 says the Lord inhabits the praises of His people, praise will restore it. I begin with the alphabet. A is for almighty God; B is for His benevolence; C is that He created me; D, He is my defender; E reminds me He is eternal; F that I can call Him Father; G that He is good; and so on through to Z, He is zealous for me. By then, there is light above the pits.

I - stands for INTERCESSION. That means speaking on behalf of others. When I am in the pits, I am usually so focused on myself and my problems that I forget there is a world of needy people out there, most with far greater needs than mine. Besides, many of them are unable or unwilling to talk to God themselves. However, I can intercede. So I begin simply to tell God about the troubles of those around me. I ask Him to have mercy on them and give them His peace. I ask Him to enable them to see light too, so they will look up to Him and seek His face.

T - stands for two words, THINK AND THANK. There is one thought that guarantees a step up out of the pits. It is this: God has not given me what I deserve or rewarded me according to my sins. If He did that, my lot would be far worse. In fact, I would not draw another breath. Instead, He has shown mercy and offered me the gift of eternal life -- putting the punishment I deserved on His Son. That thought always brings thanks to my heart: thanks for Jesus Christ who died for me so my sins could be forgiven; thanks for His powerful life that conquered sin and death; thanks that Life now resides in me. Because of His life, I also can conquer sin and will one day overcome death and live forever with Him. Thanks opens the window of heaven and lets the Sonshine beam into my pits - a beam upon which I can climb up and out.

S - stands for SING. If all else fails, this one never does. Amazing -- because my voice would sour milk. But God doesn’t seem to mind. He says “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” And when I start to sing, not the usual hit tunes but music based on His Word, joy floods my soul and the pits are far beneath me.

After we ladies talked through the P I T S, we joined hands and actually praised, interceded, and gave thanks. By the time we concluded in song, any discouragement had left. God set our feet back on solid ground.

Next time the blues hit, the pity-party starts, or whatever puts any of us in the pits, God will remind us of this simple formula, I’m sure, and use P I T S to lift us out of the pits!

Friday, September 5, 2014

How deep are your roots? ....................... Parables 166

It doesn’t take much of a horticulturist to realize this spring’s lack of rain tests the depth of a plant’s root system. Our yard is one example. As we become acquainted with its variety of growth we have noticed the deeply watered, and thus deeply rooted, shrubs and perennials are green and growing; not rapidly, but alive nonetheless.

However, there are a few with shallow roots. Before we thought to water them, they already reached out looking for moisture. When it wasn’t readily accessible at the surface, they gave up and are either very sick or quite dead. Some will be replaced. Others will leave a vacant spot for their more vigorous neighbors to fill. My philosophy? Slightly cruel... survival of the fittest! One healthy plant is worth three runts. In other words, my thumb is probably more black than green.

As that thought came, so did this one: God doesn’t have the same philosophy. In His kingdom, everyone who is truly in it — survives. Oh yes, the deeply rooted are more vigorous and growing. Trials and dry times do not stop them, maybe just slow them down. But the shallow rooted are also blessed with the occasional shower — enough to keep them growing and reaching. Their roots may not go down into God very far but God is gracious to send the needed supply when things get tough.

However, as a plant in God’s garden, I am instructed not to be content with just getting by. Psalm 1 talks about a person who meditates on God’s Word and becomes “like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”

Another well-known plant in the Bible, the burning bush out of which God spoke to Moses, offers an illustration too. The said bush burned, but was not consumed, a miraculous occurrence. It seems to me that it was more likely a green, healthy bush — not dried up, shallow-rooted, ready-for-the-fireplace tinder. Like that bush, God desires to use His children to speak for Him. Failure to drink deeply from His well of living Water will dry up our words and leave us ill prepared to proclaim His message. Not only that, He will send trials that seem like fire. Again, unless we are deeply rooted, like that bush, survival will be miraculous indeed. Better to have our roots deeply into His supply, our souls made alive and supple from the life of Christ exercised within, than to frantically reach for a few mercy drops when the temperature rises.

The secret to deep roots is four-fold. Pour over scripture; pray earnestly and often; strive for transparent fellowship with other Christians; and share what God has done with those who need to hear it. The basics. Neglect any one of them and the dry season begins.

When I water my garden this year, it will remind me that Christ offers living water for my spiritual thirst. To meet the heat of the seasons of life, I must often return to His well and stay there, drinking deeply until He satisfies the longings of my heart. Because He promises to be a Spring of Living Water, I can be sure of being a survivor.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Correctly Diagnosed ................. Parables 165

Beset with a mild infection earlier this week, it wasn’t easy to motivate myself out to the grocery store. If the cupboards at home had been well stocked, I would have fared better curled up on the couch with a hot chocolate and a good book. However, I curled my hair instead, daubed some blusher on otherwise pale cheeks, and grabbed the shopping list.

Once out, I felt much better. Soon the groceries were out of the cart and onto the check-stand. As I waited for the shopper ahead of me, the man behind me started a polite conversation. After a couple of sentences, he stopped, looked at me, and said, “You don’t feel very well today, do you?”

Maybe he was a doctor. (He looked like a farmer or a laborer, but what do clothes really tell?) Whatever his occupation, it was unnerving to have my medical condition at least partly diagnosed by a total stranger. Most people are not that observant and even if they do notice such things, seldom is anything said. Besides, for all he knew, I might always look sick. I felt a little comforted by it though. Someone cared.

On the way home, I began to wonder if what I experienced was similar to the experiences of some people in first century Israel. Did they feel unnerved when a stranger called Jesus knew their physical and spiritual condition, even their very thoughts? Were they comforted by the fact someone cared?

“And Jesus knew their thoughts and said...” “But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said...” “But He knew their thoughts...” “And immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, He said unto them, ‘Why reason these things in your hearts?’“

The Samaritan woman at the well said of Him, “Come see a man that told me all things that I ever did: is not this the Christ?” Jesus surely shook this woman...and then changed her life.

The Psalmist said of God, “O LORD, thou has searched me, and know me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.” (Psalm 139) Jesus demonstrated this ability. It is called omniscience.

I had a member of a radical cult read my thoughts one time. I didn’t waste any time getting out of her company. I’m sure her power was not of God. She didn’t have the life credentials to go with it. As for the grocery store seer, there were no nail prints in his hands, even though he seemed to care. Jesus is another matter. Every attribute of God was displayed in His life. He had power over weather, diseases and the elements. He went about doing good, demonstrating kindness and compassion on the helpless and yet wrath and righteous indignation on the hypocrites. The Bible says that He is “the brightness of (God’s) glory and the exact representation of His person...”

Here is a man that can know the unknowable about us, things that we can’t even see for ourselves. He can tell if we are grouchy on the inside, no matter the smiles and facade on the exterior. He can see the tiniest speck of bitterness; can detect the minutest beginnings of faith. And He cares enough about us that He will let us know what He has discovered. If something must be removed, He will remove it. If added, His warehouse is limitless; if soothed, He is balm to our hearts; if challenged, His Word is sharper that a two-edged sword.

Unnerving? Yes, but if anyone gets into my head and analyzes my thoughts, if anyone can take one look at my heart and diagnose my case, I want Jesus Christ to be the One.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Unfulfilled expectations .............. Parables 164

It happens every Christmas. The long box that you thought was a solar calculator turned out to be a purple metallic tie. That big package that looked like a new appliance? A lime green, flowered and gilt-edged vase.

Vacations sometimes fall short of grand hopes too. Our neighbors planned a short holiday to B.C. in their motor home. Two hours from home, everything changed. A truck plowed into the back of their RV and the expected vacation never happened.

Unfulfilled expectations cloud marriages. A new wife thinks Prince Charming will always be charming; and he never expects that first time he sees her hair in rollers. Often reality is far from amusing. Many times the “surprises” are accepted, things are worked out, and life goes on. Sad are the situations where these words, “this isn’t what I wanted...” signal rejection — all because of unfulfilled expectations.

Some of the people in first century Palestine also had high hopes. They looked for a Messiah. Hopefully He would deliver them from the tyranny of Rome.

When Jesus began His ministry, many thought this must be the One who would fulfill their dreams. He healed every sick person who came to Him. He fed them when they were hungry. He preached words of hope and comfort to their barren hearts. Surely Messiah had come, to not only fill their bellies and bless their hurts, but also set them free in their own land. Surely, this One would never allow them a day of sorrow or emptiness again. They jumped on the bandwagon, full of anticipation.

But a day came when Jesus addressed their expectations. He told them: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but (work) for food that endures to eternal life, which the son of Man will give you...”

Sounds as if the free lunch isn’t going to be free after all, but undaunted, they asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” In other words, If the bread has a price tag, let us know what it is.

Jesus replied, “the work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent” Jesus went on to explain to them that He is the bread of life, the one who satisfies the deepest needs of the spirit. All who come to Him will never go hungry, all who the Father gives Him will never be driven away or lost but raised to everlasting life. He said, “I am the bread of life... If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world... The Spirit gives life... the words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life...” (see John, chapter 6).

And then, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.” Incredible! They wanted another kind of bread!

People still seem more concerned with this life’s comforts than what will happen after it is over. If Jesus can make their bed roses, He appeals. If not, He becomes the object of a sort of contemporary sour grapes attitude. If He won’t do what we want Him to do, who needs it?

Didn’t anyone catch what Jesus said he WOULD do? This passage alone promises at least three things: 1) Spiritual satisfaction — the deepest longings of the heart fully met. 2) Eternal life to all who believe. 3) Security, forever. Incredible that the people of that day turned away from such promises seemingly because a full pantry didn’t go along with them. I wonder if the reasons for rejecting Him today are any more logical?