Friday, January 30, 2015

Evolution? ................. Parables 229

(August 8, 1990)

How does evolution explain a skunk?

The theory says: simple, one-celled organisms developed into complex creatures. Therefore, this defenseless little critter must have “evolved” its complex spray gun; yet in the battle of survival, what kept larger, “more evolved” creatures from killing it? Was It coincidence? Did wolves and coyotes just fail to notice this harmless black and white kitty? How did the skunk survive several eons without odor until its glands could develop this distinctive form of protection...?

I used to believe evolution was a valid theory. I remember arguing with my mother about it. She had all the biblical answers but nothing she could say convinced me. Finally, it was science that ran out of answers.

I was in my early 20's when a scientific statement caught my attention. It was: “energy is neither created or destroyed, only changed to a different form.” I wondered about a particular from of energy -- my life. If that scientific statement was true, then where did my life come from before I had it, and where would it go when I died? Heavy questions, but I only could conclude that, scientifically, my life would never end. I wasn’t sure if it began somewhere else or, if it did, where that might have been, but I knew the energy of my life must go somewhere after my body was done with it.

While trying to find answers to my questions, I read a book about reincarnation. Oddly, there was a verse of Scripture in that book, used out of context to support what I now know is an unbiblical belief. God had a purpose in it being there though. Psalms 119:130 says: “The entrance of thy words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Ever walk out of darkness into a brightly lit room? You can’t see anything but light for quite a while. That is what happened to me. As I read that verse of Scripture with an open and questioning mind, the room seemed filled with the light of what God revealed to me.

The first truth He gave me was not about evolution or about where the energy of my life came from before I was born. I didn’t find out then where life would go after I died either. Instead, God showed me something far more important; He revealed the mystery of the identity of Jesus Christ. I suddenly knew, beyond any doubt, that He is God Almighty who came in human flesh.

I put the book aside and began reading God’s Book. He unfolded truth after truth. I saw my need as a sinner and asked Him to forgive me and come into my life. Only then was the whole question of my eternal destiny settled.

I saw other things in Scripture that amazed me. One was that God knew all about me before I was even born, because He made me. The Psalmist expressed the delight I felt: “I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...” (Psalm 139).

The Bible also showed me something science didn’t know back then, that each creature has it’s own kind of cell structure. A skunk could never have been a snake, they are not made of the same kind of cells. Science now says each creature has skin cells, heart tissue cells, brain cells, all interdependent but none like the other. Such design demands a Designer.

Another thing I learned was, “by faith we understand... that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Christians understand creation by faith. Faith is not a subjective wish that makes something true only in our own mind; it is a gift from God that enables us to see realities that sin otherwise blinds us to... thus I couldn’t accept my mother’s arguments until God dealt with my sin.

I don’t like the smell of a skunk, but I am glad they have their distinctive odor. It reminds me that God wisely planned every feature of every living thing. It also reminds me of His grace; He opened my eyes to spiritual realities – far more than the mystery of how a skunk got its weapon!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Death – the conquered enemy ................. Parables 228

(August 1, 1990)

A coffin holds the attention of mourners. A mother sobs for her dead. A wife is now a widow, children fatherless. Entire families grieve. Death, the final enemy, wins again.

Even aside from the obituaries, death serves as a main ingredient in the news of the day. Violent death, accidental death, death as a result of a battle with disease -- the only joyful accounts are when someone “cheats death” and even then, it is a temporary victory.

Some refuse to think about it, as if neglect will make it go away; but the saddest grief is for those who pretend it will never happen and find themselves face to face with reality -- death has snatched someone they love. Others are so preoccupied with death they spend their entire lives trying to beat it -- with everything from anti-aging cream to youth elixirs, only to find themselves a victim of the prey they could not capture and cage.

We hear of heroes who “bravely face death” and cowards who run from it; but regardless of the attitude, death always wins; well, almost always...

The most exciting thing that ever happened to humanity involves the one person who met death on death’s terms, allowed death to win, and then turned the score and rose a winner, conquering the unconquerable enemy and changing forever the hopes of it’s victims. Jesus Christ defeated the last enemy.

There are many people who don’t believe that. They say He didn’t really die, or He didn’t really rise; His disciples imagined or invented it. Scripture answers, “...if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen: And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain. Yes, and we are false witnesses of God because we have testified that He raised up Christ... For if the dead rise not, then Christ is not raised and if Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also which have died believing in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (I Corinthians 15:14-19).

Unthinking Christians sometimes say, “Well, if we are wrong, at least we have lived well...” Scripture says if we are wrong, we are fools. We have given our lives to follow a lie. The joys of belonging to Christ aside, we have turned our backs on the pleasures of sin, even given up all this world has to offer, and if there is nothing beyond this life, what do we have?

Jesus says this life is fleeting but what we do with it makes a difference – in it, and in the next life: “There is no man that hath left (all) for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting” (Luke 18:29,30).

Spending a life ignoring death ill prepares one for its eventuality. Preoccupation with it also ignores its power; we can’t win the battle. Looking at it as a foe, but a conquered foe gives us hope, yet that hope must be placed in the One who won the victory. We can’t conquer death because we can’t conquer the cause of death (sin); only Jesus did that. Only faith in Him gives us the same victory – over sin and over death.

The Bible triumphantly shouts to the enemy: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin [is] the law. But thanks to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus hated death. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, He felt compassion for the widow of Nain who lost her only Son; He wouldn’t let death claim either one of them. Nor did He enter it joyfully Himself. In Gethsemane His sweat dropped as blood and He cried, “Father, let this pass from me... nevertheless, not as I will but Your will be done...”

And because God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Sweet Smell ................. Parables 227

(July 25, 1990)

What thoughts come with the smell of warm apple pie... the difficulty of losing ten pounds?... Grandma’s house?... Cheddar cheese and melting ice cream?... Or harvest time and a crew of men around the table?

Odors evoke memories. Some publishers even put them in “scratch and sniff” stories to make scenes more alive for young readers. For example, one child’s book I’ve read has berry pie, pepper, chocolate and automobile exhaust fumes hidden in the ink.

Children are not the only ones treated to scented ink. At least one major food chain uses it in their flyers. It is subtle, fades quickly, but reminds potential customers of how good food tastes and hopefully draws them into the store.

The Bible talks about the allure of a sweet scent too. It is not a splash of cologne or aftershave but a heavenly fragrance, the aroma of Christ. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Thanks be to God who... through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life...” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

The origin of this metaphor is found back to the Old Testament where sacrifices for sin were burned on an altar: “And you shall burn the whole ram upon the altar: it is a burnt offering to the LORD: it is a sweet savor, an offering made by fire to the LORD.” Exodus 29:18

Figuratively speaking, the smell of the sacrifice rose to the nostrils of God and gave evidence that a sinner had made the necessary offering, in faith, for the forgiveness his sin. That offering was a shadow of a future offering that would be made by a Savior.

When Jesus came, He became the final and perfect sacrifice. As He died on the cross, His offering rose as a sweet smell to God, setting sinners free from the death penalty. Now, according to the New Testament, those who believe in Christ are bearers of that sweet smell.

Notice that 2 Corinthians 2 says “we are to God the aroma of Christ;” that is, our new life is first for God, for His delight because it gave Him great pleasure to provide it.

Secondly, this aroma “is among those who are being saved... the fragrance of life.” Our Christlikeness is also for the pleasure of those who are Christians. To one another, it is a reminder of the perfect sacrifice of Christ and attracts us to the Savior. It is He who gives each one His sweet fragrance.

Lastly, it is “the smell of death... for those who are perishing.” Perhaps the Bible means that those who do not believe in Christ see His death as defeat. To them, the gospel is nothing but a morbid message. Maybe they think Christians are mere fools, bearing not an attracting odor of life but one that repels. To those who don’t believe, Christians may also be an unwanted reminder of an uncertain eternity.

Just what is this aroma? Is it the niceness of a committed Christian? The loveliness of Jesus? Perhaps; but since this word is used in context with sacrifice, I believe it is the message of the Cross lived out in the lives of those who believe in Him. Because Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, we die to sin, put our past behind us, and live in newness of life. The death of the old nature demonstrated in practical obedience smells good to God, just as our new life in Christ also pleases Him.

I know -- not all Christians smell right. Sometimes that God-given odor can be masked with the stench of sin. But when confess our sins and take a wash in His Word, He restores the sweet aroma, then uses it to bring the memory of Him to the hearts of those around us.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Standing on a slippery slope? ................. Parables 226

(July 18, 1990)

A few people sit around the kitchen table, coffee cups in hand. They discuss morals... and the absence of them. One person shocks the rest with a story about some particularly offensive sinful condition into which another had fallen. Most shake their heads and wonder how anybody could do “that.” One of the group declares, “I would never do that...” Another says, “Me neither.”

Most people don’t plan gross evil as their goal in life, at least not to begin with. I don’t suppose the offender had “that” in mind ten years earlier either. Maybe he once sat having coffee with a group of friends discussing the same issue. Maybe he was just as shocked about it then as they are now. Maybe he even said, “I would never do that...” And just maybe his pride was the first warning of the slide to come. “Pride goes before a fall” the Scripture says. Consider Lot, for instance...

Lot was a relative of the patriarch Abraham. When God called the older man to leave his home and go to the land of promise, Lot went along with him. The New Testament calls Lot a righteous man so we know he too had faith in God (the Biblical prerequisite to being called righteous); very likely his travels with his uncle started out honorably.

As these two men increased in wealth, the area in which they lived became too small for their large herds. Soon their herdsmen started quarreling. Abraham didn’t want that, so he took Lot to a hill that overlooked the whole area and gave him his choice, either the well-watered eastern valley or the land of Canaan to the west.

The valley had the greener grass. Perhaps Lot thought he deserved the best pasture. He didn’t hesitate; he left Abraham and settled in the Jordan Valley, seemingly without any concern that he would be living close to Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities filled with wicked people. 

The next thing we read about Lot, he is living right in Sodom. He is even “seated in the gates” indicating he is involved in leadership. At first that sounds good. After all, maybe this righteous man will influence those evil people for God; but it doesn’t work out that way.

The people of those two cities continue in their sin. Finally, God decides to destroy them but first He tells Abraham. Abraham prayerfully intercedes for Lot and his family, then God sends angels to tell Lot to take his wife, two daughters, and their husbands, and get out immediately.

But they don’t want to go. They like Sodom. Lot’s words don’t carry any weight with them. In fact, neither son-in-law will listen to him. Finally he leaves with the women, but his wife disobeys the angel, turns and looks back at the home she didn’t want to leave, and is destroyed.

The daughters (brought up by a “righteous” man, remember) decide that the family name is doomed. So they come up with a plan to continue the line of Lot; they get their father drunk, commit incest with him and become pregnant. And that is the last we hear about Lot.

Way back in those early days, when Abraham and Lot started out in faith on that great adventure of finding the promised land, I’m sure Lot didn’t have any inclination or plan to become a disrespected citizen of an evil city. I doubt if the thought of incest ever entered his head. But he made a wrong choice, a choice possibly based on greed. From there, it became increasingly easier to make wrong choices until finally he was committing gross sin.

As for us, it is easy to sit in judgment, to look at the messy lives around us and say, “I’d never do that...” Maybe we wouldn’t. Then again, Lot didn’t think his pride would grease the slide either.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not all rewards are bankable ................. Parables 225

(July 11, 1990)

Long, long ago, when children were taught to say please and thank you and polite conversation was normal, a young employee worked overtime to meet a deadline. When the assignment was finished and she was getting ready to leave with a friend, her boss said thank you. The friend muttered, “Thanks doesn’t buy much beer.”

There are still a few people who will stay late on a job without expecting or even wanting overtime pay, but they are almost as rare as a polite please and thank you. Mere appreciation isn’t enough in this materialistic society. The reward has to be tangible and preferably bankable.

I came across a startling verse of Scripture one day that showed me the norm for the Christian worker should be diametrically opposite to the norm of our day. It was written by the Apostle Paul to the immature believers in the church at Corinth. He said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”

I don’t know about most Christians but I find myself often expecting, even taking for granted, that other Christians will not only appreciate me but love me, especially if I spend myself to meet their needs. It isn’t that I serve to earn love but some expression of gratitude is the normal response of a spiritual person, and it usually happens.

However, Paul wasn’t dealing with spiritual persons. He told them in the beginning of his letter that they were carnal, behaving as ordinary men and not saints of God with envy, strife, and divisions among them (3:3). He rebuked them thoroughly and instructed them in godly behavior. At the end of his letter though, he told them he would gladly love and serve them, even if they did not respond as they should. Obviously he wasn’t motivated by any response he hoped to get from them, but what did motivate him?

In his second letter to them, he tells why he could keep on regardless of their reaction: “The love of Christ constrains us...” He could have put it this way: The love of Christ controls us...” It was not a forced restraint but willing submission to the force of the love of God that provided him the necessary motivation to serve others.

But how do you keep on serving people who never show any appreciation? Jesus revealed that to Peter after He rose from the dead and had cooked breakfast for some of the disciples. Taking Peter aside, He asked him if he loved Him. When Peter responded, Jesus said, “If you love me... feed my sheep.”

It is not love for the sheep but love for Jesus that counts. When we love Him, we do what He says. Doing what He says usually involves serving the needs of others. Many times those others are grateful and say so; and many times the Lord will even reward His servants in other ways; but there are occasions when the job is done in love and humility and no one says thanks, or cares, or even seems to notice.

Actually, it is thankless people who really test my relationship with Christ. Am I doing this because I love Him and serve Him? Or am I looking for a pat on the back, my name on a plaque, or at least a mention (with appreciative reverence) from the pulpit next Sunday? Perhaps the truest test of love for Christ is working to help someone who would choke if they had to say thanks, and die on the spot if they had to return the favor, and do that service without a trace of expectation or bitterness.

No, verbal “thanks” doesn’t pay the bills, nor does a servant-spirit keep bread on the table; remuneration is vital to an employee. But if our Master is the Lord and our workplace is with His people, how important to remember that serving Him is a privilege, even a thank-offering, because He gladly spent His life in service to us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Heaven is a destination of choice! ................. Parables 224

(July 4, 1990)

As we discussed travel, a friend told of relatives from Greece journeying to Canada for the first time. After a day or two in Alberta, they wanted to pop over for an afternoon visit with another relative -- in New Brunswick! To convince them HERE was not the same as THERE, my friend had to show them the size of Greece compared to the size of Canada on a world map.

Most of us cannot identify with something outside of our experience. Before my husband became a Christian, he used to say, “Heaven would be boring, just sitting around doing nothing or playing a harp all the time...” He wasn’t putting that destination in his itinerary.

His too-small concept of heaven was a mixture of what life is like here and what is seen in cartoons. He could not imagine anything different. What helped both of us was the map drawn by the Lord in Scripture.

The word heaven occurs over 500 times in the Bible. Some verses mean the sky or space but many of them refer to an actual place Jesus said He would prepare for His people (John 14).

Regardless of all these references, the description is sketchy, apparently because we can’t relate to its wonders. I Corinthians 2:9, for instance, says: “ it is written, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him.”

God reveals this much: Jesus came down from heaven to do the will of His heavenly Father, ascended back to heaven where He now intercedes for His people, and promises to return again from heaven to raise the dead (John 6:38, Acts 1:11, Hebrews 9:24, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16). So heaven is the home of the Father and the Son: holy, perfect, sinless Beings. My problem is that I can’t imagine perfection or a place without sin.

Heaven also is special because of rewards. The Bible doesn’t say exactly what they are except they are eternal, immune from theft, pollution, and corruption, and far better than anything we have here (Matthew 6:20, Hebrews 10:34, 1 Peter 1:4). I can’t imagine that either.

Angels are another extraordinary feature of heaven. These beings, created by God to serve Him, fill heaven with their joy when sinners repent because someday, those sinners, made saints by the grace of God, will join them there. Jesus even declared: “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” Thus heaven will be well populated, a surprise considering Jesus said the way was narrow and only a few would find it, leading to another thing about heaven: there is a way to get there and it is a narrow way, narrow but not impossible. Jesus also said, “I am the way... no one comes to the Father but by me.” He Himself is the route to this wonderful place.

Our part in making travel arrangements for heaven, is humility of attitude and a willingness to change while we are here. Both were described when Jesus said: “Unless you are converted (changed), and become as little children (humble), you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus gives complete travel arrangements for the journey in His Book.

Those of us who have already accepted God’s Way to heaven, delight in the One who guides in our travels. He may not tell us all we would like to know about our destination but we have been given a glimpse, enough that we call HERE our temporary address... and call THERE our permanent home!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Traveling Light? ................. Parables 223

(June 27, 1990)

The date is circled on the calendar; ready or not, the movers are coming to take some of our household goods. The problem is that word some.

What stays? What goes? Do I need this casserole dish? Will I need that pair of shoes? And what will it be like for the packers as I stand there saying, “No, not that, pack this, no, just a minute, leave it and pack that...” Twenty-four previous moves didn’t prepare me for the decisions of this one.

It is easier to just pack all of it, but we can’t. We have to travel light. All of our stuff won’t fit in our condo in Saskatchewan. Besides, our son needs some of it: dishes, bedding, and a can opener, at least. This is the only time being a pack rat has paid off; we have at least two of almost everything! However, the decisions make my head ache. The other day I caught myself hoping for the Second Coming before the end of June. That way I wouldn’t have to pack anything, at least I hope I don’t try to.

I realize a crisis situation can bring out unusual characteristics in people. A friend whose house was threatened by a next-door fire was horrified when the only thing she thought to grab on her way out was her sugar bowl off the middle of the kitchen table, containing a few stray coins collected every laundry day. Later, she wondered about her value system!

The Second Coming may also clarify our priorities. When Jesus talked about the signs of His return, He told His audience, “Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house, neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.” He must have looked ahead to the day when time ticks its last and seen some people frantically stuffing their treasures in a United Van Lines carton as they looked at the evening news and realized The End truly had arrived.  Though they must have heard “you can’t take it with you,” they were trying.

Along with this curious admonition to forget about possessions at a time when it seems no one should think of them, Jesus also said “whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” He obviously knew the human quirk I fight every time I move... I do want to take it all with me; every book, every knickknack.

In a crisis, or even in ordinary days, abandoning ourselves, without luggage, into His care is never easy. Possessions can be a comfort. Perhaps learning to rely more on Him and less on things has been the lesson of our nomadic lifestyle. According to Jesus, it is a lesson for all His children.

The Apostle Paul even had to learn to leave his luggage, but not just possessions -- prestige and achievements too. In fact, when Paul allowed God to do his packing -- and he left behind almost all his material possessions PLUS the esteem of his heritage, education, position and reputation. With that gone, he was still able to say: “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things [but] loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ.”

Paul also encouraged others to take “joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.”

I’m just moving to Moose Jaw. Sorting necessary items from not-so-necessary has to be done. One day, it will be a longer move -- and far easier, without any decisions to make, books to pack, or boxes to sort. Not only that, I can leave behind the baggage of my old, dead, sin nature -- it won’t bother me ever again.

Now that is traveling light!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Gospel Truth ................. Parables 222

(June 20, 1990)

My word processor came with a thesaurus. When I can’t think of the best word to use, I type something close in meaning, press two keys, and a list of synonyms and antonyms of that word comes on the screen. For instance, if I want to describe exactly the way someone walks, I type “walk,” and it gives me these choices: amble, ramble, saunter, stroll, and so on. I can then type back any one of those words and it will list a dozen more. So whether someone trudges or strides, my thesaurus supplies a precise word to describe their gait.

The other day, while editing an article that repeated the word “truth” too many times, I requested some synonyms. One of them was unexpected; along with fact and reality, the word “gospel” appeared. I’m accustomed to using gospel with a different meaning, as a noun. I forgot how often people use it as an adjective, to describe something they consider true or reliable.

When people say, “It’s the gospel truth...,” they use an adjective derived from the Greek noun “evangelion,” meaning “good news or good message.” Our English verb “evangelize” also comes from this noun. How it came into use as an adjective synonymous with truth started with the way it was used in the New Testament. Consider this one example from Ephesians 1:13: “You were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation...” Scripture links the two, not because their definition was the same but because the gospel or good news IS truth and because the gospel is about Someone who claimed to BE truth. Scripturally, it is impossible to separate these two words.

Ever wonder why they called it good news? Visualize the religious situation up until Christ came. God’s people were under the law of sin and death; that is, God gave them a high standard including the Ten Commandments, then declared whoever didn’t reach it would perish.

All fell short of that standard (and still do), but God gave hope. He promised a Savior, then established a sacrificial system to provide atonement for sin until the Savior came. Thus, failure to keep His law could be forgiven through faith in His promise, faith expressed by offering an unblemished lamb on an altar. Yet even that offering did not make anyone godly; He asked for perfect obedience -- no one could deliver.

Sincere, God-fearing hearts must have yearned for some good news. It finally came -- through Jesus Christ. He talked and lived like no one before or after, arousing hatred in the self-righteous but joy to the poor in spirit. To sinners, what He said and what He did was good news.

Jesus didn’t lower God’s standard however; sin never stopped being a serious issue. Rather, His life was good news because He fulfilled all the requirements of the commandments. He was sinless. He also provided an alternate to the law of sin and death by dying for all the sin of all mankind for all time. He took what sinners deserve so those who believe could be fully pardoned. He is the perfect lamb, a sacrifice who can change lives and make sinners holy. He sets people free from sin, from the joyless frustration of an unreachable goal, and from the bondage of religious rules. Jesus also declared, “I AM the truth.” He didn’t just speak truth or live it, He is living, breathing reality.

My thesaurus also listed antonyms for truth such as lie and fiction. Some words that mean the same as they do include: corruption, distortion, misrepresentation, perversion, deception, fable, fantasy, fabrication and falsehood. No wonder Jesus’ words are good news: “If you know the truth, the truth shall set you free.”

Sunday, January 11, 2015

God warns of hidden dangers ............... Parables 221

(June 13, 1990)

My husband once yanked one of our children, who was oblivious to the danger, from the path of a truck. Other tots toy with matches -- fire is “pretty.” Some play in sewer systems - that’s “exciting.” A few teenagers spin the chamber of a loaded gun in a game of roulette - what a “thrill.” A youngster inhales his first snort of cocaine - someone told him it’s “harmless fun.” Danger that is obvious to a parent is not always obvious to a child.

But what if the danger is not obvious, even to an adult? How can we know what is too hot to touch? If we touch it to find out, we may be burned. In such cases, a wise child consults his even wiser heavenly Father. He gives instruction about “poisons” and “fatal toys” of which we may not be aware. For instance, consider this list: “There shall not be found among you any one that... uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a counselor with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer...” (Deuteronomy 18:10).

In case anyone thinks witchcraft is a fairy tale and this warning is out of date and related to superstition, take a look at the occult section in a book store. These days, with the New Age movement advocating activities like channeling and consulting spirit guides to discover the “god within,” this Old Testament passage needs to be reconsidered. What does it say for our time?

First of all, God hates this kind of thing. Verse 12 says: “For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD...” Whatever the human reasons for seeking guidance from spirits, conducting seances, even reading a horoscope, God detests it. No doubt His hatred is based on His knowledge that He alone knows what is best for the creatures He created. Certainly a medium or a witch does not. Some may declare that God is either dead, useless, uncaring, or something other than He has revealed Himself to be, but those who reject Him and follow tarot cards and the like are guilty of a form of idolatry, in this case a particularly dangerous form.

Secondly, it was nations in the land of Canaan that practiced these activities and God said “because of these abominations the LORD thy God drives them (those nations) out from before thee.” These people lost their homes and their land because they were dabbling in fortune-telling and other so-called “harmless” activities. It may or may not have been serious stuff in their minds but it was worthy of judgment in God’s mind.

God went on to tell His people (verse 15) that He would give them One to listen to, a prophet that would tell them all they needed to know. He would be from God and like God. This is a definite reference to the One who later came and proclaimed Himself to be God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus came, He opened the way to the true God; not the god within but the One who would come in, if invited. He also gave those who believe in Him a promise for their future and a faith for right now. God’s people don’t need the vague generalities from a horoscope nor the deception of “spirit guides.” What we do need is the truth of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, with the discernment that only a loving heavenly Father can provide.

“Baby” Christians don’t automatically know which “harmless” fun is really harmless, so we need to watch out for each other, warning and admonishing in love, just as the New Testament says. We also need to pay careful attention to our Parent... who knows the danger and wants to protect us from what might appear to us as “harmless fun.”

Friday, January 9, 2015

Pressing through the tough stuff ................. Parables 220

(June 6, 1990)

Exams are over for university and college students, just coming up for school children. Young people anxiously wonder, “Will I pass?” And then there are those tests where passing is secondary; the poor student just wants to get through the exam!

We don’t need to be in school to experience tough tests: a child is sick for weeks and weeks, unemployment hits and keeps on hitting, the car doesn’t nickle and dime any more, now it’s into fifties and hundreds. At those times, we just want to get through the trial and go on to more enjoyable things.

Most of us do not look forward to those kind of exams. In fact, we do whatever we can to avoid “writing” them. However, God offers His children a certain character trait that makes it possible to not only get through the test, but do so with a passing grade! What we need, aside from good study habits, is PERSEVERANCE.

The word means “to remain under”; that is, “don’t bail out, do what can be done, and even if the nothing seems to work out, hang in there. Continue to obey God and trust Him, no matter what happens.” 

“Remaining under” is not a normal response. Most of us, if we don’t run from a problem, quickly take it to God, begging Him to “fix” it. In fact, in the beginning of my Christian life, I thought if my faith was right, God would bring every trial swiftly to a happy ending and I would not have to endure difficult situations. I thought comfort would surely come, or peace, or a person would be saved or a life would change. I was so sure of God. He would never do me harm, nothing would ever hurt.

Then life dealt some blows. My assurance of being comfortable fell apart. I thought I was losing my “faith”... and I was... and it was a good thing! That kind of “faith” is not faith at all but a kind of mental manipulation putting God in the middle of my desires and trusting He would do what I wanted. I had to learn that while God can “kiss it and make it all better,” He doesn’t always.

Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job didn’t demand happy endings. Neither his faith nor his patient PERSEVERANCE pulled God’s strings. God knew all about his trials and more, and would do the right thing, but not necessarily the most comfortable thing. It takes a long time to learn this.

When tests come, James says to rejoice... each trial will actually produce PERSEVERANCE, the very thing needed to endure that test and whatever other trials may follow. Trials produce PERSEVERANCE by first exposing our genuine desires along with any attitudes and attempts to manipulate God to do what we want. They also show us where our wants conflict with His will. Excessive tests enable us to stop demanding and begin realizing we do not control God by our “faith.” Instead, we learn that God is God. He always does what is right, and He is merely adjusting our concept of right. As that happens, we discover that instead of wanting to run away, we find ourselves ready to hang in there, if for no other reason but to see what He is up to.

Faith that trusts God (no matter what) and endures a situation (no matter what) is a mature faith based on knowing that the pressures of life are important to our spiritual growth. Actually, our pressure-free situation comes later, in heaven. Right now, PERSEVERANCE is far more valuable (and realistic) than our demands for a life without trials.

So as those tests come, we can look beyond the pain to passing the test by a mature, persevering confidence in God. That kind of focus may not always work as a pain killer but it will give us an A+ on the exam.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Coincidences? ................. Parables 219

(May 30, 1990)

For a couple of weeks a friend of mind kept silent about some mistreatment she was receiving from another person whose name happened to be Ms. Fox. My friend told me how God encouraged her through a sermon about “little foxes spoiling the vine...”

Just as I sat down to write this article, I thought, “I should get her permission (to say what I just said) before I begin.” At just that moment, the telephone rang and it was the same friend, calling to chat.

A few months ago, my brother and his wife took a vacation to the U.S. They stopped for a coffee at a service station in the Arizona desert. As they sat down, my sister-in-law’s father (also from Alberta) happened to walk in. Neither of them even knew the other was on vacation, never mind where.

An older lady, whose farm yard had the usual icy build-up all winter, fell and broke her hip -- but on a well-waxed community hall floor where there were literally hundreds of people immediately available to help her. Her husband said if she had slipped in their own driveway, he’d never have been able to get her inside out of the freezing temperatures by himself .

What do you think: coincidence... or providence? People use the term “coincidence” for events that seem to have some connection but appear to happen at the same time without any preliminary planning. Sometimes people call it “luck.” Providence is quite another term. It is less the idea of an accident and more the idea of “someone being in control.” The dictionary says “divine guidance or care,” with “God being the power behind human destiny.”

The sovereign providence of God is not an easy concept. If He can provide a hall full of caring people for a lady who broke her hip, could not He have provided that the fall didn’t happen in the first place? However, if mere chance determines who shows up in a coffee shop, or what preachers say in their sermons, why bother asking God to do anything? Prayer (and life) is meaningless if chance rules the world.

My mind is too small to grasp God’s supreme control, however this illustration helps me: Imagine all people in one giant playground. There is a fence around it and while the fence doesn’t control each and every movement of the children inside, it does contain them within its boundaries.

God does the same. He holds us within His boundaries. Like the children at play, we are free to make choices but not go outside the fence. Yet God is not passive like a fence. He also can involve Himself with our choices. Imagine two children trying to ride the same swing at the same time. He can intervene if it suits His purposes, or leave them to work it out.

In other words, He didn’t toss us into a bingo number cage and start turning the crank to see what falls out. Nor are we like chess pieces that cannot move unless He moves us. He lovingly keeps His eyes on every event and, by faith, “we know He works all things work together for our good . . .” (Romans 8:28), yet we are free within His boundaries.

With that concept, we can enjoy providence -- the marvelous, watchful care and intervention of God in our the lives. Let’s face it, if Someone wasn’t intervening, we’d have blown ourselves off the planet before now.

But what about coincidence? Do we have to fear (or hope) that things just happen? Is luck part of life?

Well, if it is, the Lord God is not surprised by chance. We may not understand everything that happens, but HE does. Because of His providence, when people say, “things have a way of working out...” we can be certain that a loving God is the One doing the working!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Getting ready for the wedding ................. Parables 218

(May 23, 1990)

Could this be possible: a bride who didn’t show up at the altar because she simply forgot she was supposed to be getting married?

We had a wedding in our home a while ago. For weeks before, I’m sure the bride’s mind seldom strayed from that special day. She reviewed the arrangements constantly. She carefully selected her dress. She looked after all the details, going over and over them to make sure nothing was forgotten.

The brides in Bible days were expectant and ready too, but the weddings were much different than our ceremonies. First the couple was betrothed to one another, similar to an engagement period, yet this betrothal was considered the same as marriage. A divorce was necessary to back out of it. After the betrothal period began, the groom went home with his father to prepare a place suitable for his bride. During that time, the bride waited for his return. He could come for her at any time, day or night. There would be a trumpet call but only minutes before; otherwise he arrived without warning at her door, took her to the home he’d prepared, and the marriage was consummated.

If I were a bride in those days, I doubt I would listen for any noise but the sound that trumpet. Surely I would think of nothing else but the arrival of my beloved. Everything would be ready at all times; clothing, linens, whatever else needed to be prepared, but more than that, I would be ready. I cannot imagine a bride forgetting such an event would happen.

In parallel to those wedding customs, Jesus Christ referred to Himself as the Bridegroom and those who believe in Him as His Bride. Obviously the betrothal period has begun but since the Bride is not with the Groom, the marriage ceremony is not finished. First He has to return for His beloved.

Before this Heavenly Groom went to be with His Father, He said to His disciples, “I go away to prepare a place for you, and if I go away, I shall return and receive you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.” He gave instructions that His Bride be ready for His coming and promised a future wedding feast to celebrate the forever-union of Himself with Her.

When the feast occurs, there will be great joy because the Bible foretells she will indeed be ready: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). The next verse, tells how: “she will be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” All who trust in Christ (the Bible also calls them “saints”) are given His righteousness, making them appropriately clothed for their eternal home.

And the Groom will come. He said He would and He has never broken a promise to His Bride. He only tarries because even though she may be ready for Him in one sense, she is not complete. Not everyone has heard the good news about being united with the Lord “through faith for salvation.” And not all who have heard, believe it. He tarries because He is “not willing any should perish but all should come to repentance.” (1 Peter 3:9) All who will be part of His Bride, the Church, have not yet become that.

What shocks me is that I know I am part of those people who make up His Bride and I look forward to sitting down at that great feast with Him, but too often, instead of being a normal bride intent on the arrival of the love of her life, I forget from time to time to listen for His call . . . and I’m not the only one that isn’t entirely ready.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Faith simply says ‘yes’ and then obeys ................. Parables 217

(May 16, 1990)

The Old Testament father of faith, Abraham, rolled up his tent, called to his family to pack their belongings and went “he knew not where.” Can you imagine doing that? Maybe a single person, without a family and able to afford an adventure might easily do it. Or someone who was so fed up with their situation that they could launch out into the unknown, expecting anything to be better. But Abraham wasn’t like that. He had possessions and roots. He lived in a thriving city. Not only that, he was 75 years old.

This elderly, prosperous man moved from his home because, are you ready for this, God told him to go. That’s all. He just did it, no record of any questions asked or explanations given. God said it -- he trusted God so simply obeyed Him. Little wonder Abraham became known as the father of faith.

I know my faith has some growing to do if it will ever match that of the patriarch Abraham. I’m not 75 yet. We are not moving lock, stock and barrel. We at least have the name of a city. But these days, as I read his story in Genesis 12, I find God has blessed me with something of the same trust... at least some of the time!

My husband has already started his out-of-province assignment. The past few weeks I have alternated between a full-of-confidence “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” -- to a moaning “I CAN’T DO THIS.” It is not easy planning a move without knowing even our next address. Every now and then, my ability to trust God with the details takes a nose dive into the dirt. Then He pulls me out and assures me “His eye is on the sparrow...” and on all His children too.

One exciting fact about Abraham’s faith helps keep this radical relocation in perspective for me. Hebrews 11 says this old man was able to “live like a stranger in a foreign country... for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Abraham’s destination was not particularly Bethel or any other location in Canaan. He was headed toward the spectacular metropolis described in the last book of the Bible, the place where the streets are paved with gold and no sun or moon are necessary for the Lord provides its light. Because he knew (by faith) that he was going THERE, where he lived HERE was irrelevant.

What an important thing to know. Before this job confirmation, we were kept up in the air for days; we didn’t know if we would stay here or go. But I don’t have to be up in the air about my eternal destination. God assures me that all who believe in His Son can KNOW what will happen after their physical body quits. His Word was written for that purpose: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).

Whether we go or stay, no matter what happens to this body, Christians can say, along with the writer of Hebrews: “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”

 I will admit the uncertainty regarding our physical residence has been uncomfortable. I feel for anyone without a secure dwelling place... however, there is a worse uncertainty -- that of spending a lifetime not knowing for sure what will happen after it is over. To never be quite sure of a place in heaven, to only have a “hope so” faith, would be the ultimate anxiety.

Through faith in Christ though, anxiety can become confidence that “if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal home in heaven...”  With that assurance, so what if we have to break camp every now and then while we live here?