Friday, February 27, 2015

Listening to the Warnings ................. Parables 241

(October 31, 1990)

A few weeks ago we were driving along the trans-Canada highway when I noticed a few cattle in a barley field. They had somehow breached the fence and escaped their adjacent pasture.

I told my husband and he quickly turned at the next corner and drove about a mile to the nearest farm house. We both knew what a belly full of grain can do to the critter who eats it. As we entered the driveway, a young girl, perhaps in her early teens, was in the yard playing with three very tiny kittens. I wondered if she would care.

As soon as he told her about the cattle, she said, “Those belong to our neighbor.” She said thank you, smiled, and hurried inside to the telephone.

After we left, I wondered about the reaction. It wasn’t even her cows, but if it had been, I’m sure she would have done the same thing: quickly thanked us and remedied the problem. I’m quite certain it didn’t enter her head to say, “It is none of your business” or “That’s your opinion” or “I don’t believe you.” Not only that, the owner of the cows would gladly receive her call, even though he would be concerned about his animals.

We saw the danger, reported it to the person we thought responsible, and she took action. It seems so normal. But it isn’t always the way those in danger react to a warning. As a Christian, I occasionally encounter someone who reacts to the gospel with “My life is none of your business...”

Some think that we are our brother’s keeper only when physical life is threatened or material loss is at stake. If their house is on fire, they want to know, but if their soul is threatened, “look the other way, thank you very much.”

Oddly enough, most of us comply. We don’t tell others what we know.  We have the assurance of eternal life... why care about those who don’t care about themselves? In spite of the expressions of urgency all through the Bible and in spite of Jesus telling us to warn people and be quick to do so, whether it is convenient for us or not, the fact of the matter is that it is inconvenient and easier not to bother.

We might get the response that our message is just our opinion -- but it isn’t. Actually, we used to feel the same response to it, that our way was okay and the Christian message about sin and salvation was just somebody’s opinion. Then God grabbed us by the heart and let us see the reality of what He says.  Our opinion changed... and became the same as His “opinion” -- “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.” We know there is genuine danger; people need to be told or there will be loss.

Of course people are free to make their own decisions. They may choose not to believe what they hear. Their decision won’t change the truth of it -- if the teenager did not believe us, or had we not told her, the cattle would still be in the grain, and maybe even made their grave there.

Occasionally we hear of someone who died because they refused to believe they needed medical help; Jim Henson is one example. His death was so needless. Spiritual death is just like that. There is no reason to suffer the consequences of sin when God so graciously provided a way to escape. No one needs to go into eternity without Christ, separated from Him forever... unless of course they ignore the warnings and make that choice.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What is a Christian? ................. Parables 240

(October 24, 1990)

Christians are people who carry around Bibles and hand out tracts. Christians are kind and generous people. Christians are those people who go to church on Sunday. Christians are no different than anyone else.

What is a Christian anyway? More important, do those who call themselves Christians fit the biblical description?

Here is a simple definition -- A Christian is a forgiven friend of Jesus who follows him. Allow me to clarify...

FORGIVEN: This adjective implies something needs to be forgiven, that is, we have done something that angers God and separates us from Him. The Bible calls it sin and declares all guilty of it. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Sin is one three-letter word that nobody likes to hear or talk about. Probably all of us make excuses about sin. We say things like, “I’m not as bad as some people” or “I really couldn’t help it” or “Everybody makes a mistake now and then.” Sin is usually thought of as the biggies like murder, stealing or adultery, or sin is seen as such a universal problem that there is no cure -- since everyone is guilty, what’s the use of trying?

The Bible defines sin as falling short of the mark, like an arrow that didn’t have quite enough lift and missed the target. Sin is also those actions that break God’s laws. Jesus narrowed it even farther by saying even inner attitudes like hate and lust are sin. To be sure, some people may do more loving deeds or think nobler thoughts than others, but none of us are what God calls for. He says all have “turned to their own way” either by defying Him or simply ignoring His commands. Thus our failures need forgiveness. He says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

FRIEND OF JESUS: Everyone knows what a friend is: someone who stands by you through thick and thin, is loyal, warm-hearted, generous, a person that you can share everything with, someone you trust completely. Jesus said, “You are my friends, if ye do whatever I command you. From now on I do not call you servants; for the servant does not know what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard from Father I have made known to you” (John 15).

Jesus is the friend of every person who genuinely desires His forgiveness and comes to Him asking for it. He is loving and faithful. He even gave His life for us, “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Not only is He the “friend of sinners,” He calls those who obey Him His friends; because of their love, loyalty, and commitment to Him.

FOLLOWS HIM: Look back at the verses from John 15. Notice Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.”

There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians. They may even have prayed a prayer asking God to forgive their sins or asking Christ to come into their hearts. That is the right thing to do, but if there is no change of lifestyle, no obedience to Christ, then such a person is not a Christian. Following Him is vital. He said, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed.”

It is important not to get this backwards. Some people do many good things and hope to become Christians by their behavior. However, as important as doing good is, good deeds do not stand alone. Forgiveness with all its implications is necessary to begin the relationship, and obedience is evidence that the relationship is genuine.

At least the definition is not complicated.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Discarded and Useless? ................. Parables 239

(October 17, 1990)

The old crab apple tree was dead, an eyesore in the back yard. It’s owner remembered years of fruit-bearing as he sadly axed the tree and cut it into firewood for his barbecue pit. While he chopped, an elderly neighbor dropped by. The owner remarked how his tree was rotten to the core and no longer useful. The neighbor looked through the growing pile of wood, selected a few pieces, and asked if he could borrow them. The tree owner nodded and went back to his axe.

A few days later, the neighbor came to the door. In his hand was a small wooden plate and an intricately carved wooden gavel. “Just thought I’d return your ‘useless’ firewood,” he said.

“Rotten and useless” is sometimes a matter of “Sez who?” The peach I refuse to eat may be perfectly acceptable to a pig who isn’t quite as fussy. What I might save for recycling, someone else would toss out. And how about people? Are some really rotten through and through? When it comes to evaluating folks, our estimation might be just a matter of opinion.

There were some definitely rotten characters in the Bible. One was Cain, who murdered his brother Abel — because he was jealous. Another was Judas Iscariot, who sold Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver. We might expect God to put these on the discard pile.

Or how about Jacob? He duped his older brother into trading a bowl of porridge for his birthright, an important status in a Jewish family. Not only that, he dressed up in his brother’s clothes and fooled his father into giving him the blessing that didn’t belong to him. He wrangled and dealed for years and had he lived today, he would have been labeled a no-good cheat.

Then there was a king named Manasseh, who “seduced (the people) to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed... he did wickedly above all that the Amorites did... made Judah sin with his idols... shed innocent blood... till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another... made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed...”

Sounds like four rotten-to-the-core people. Would God discard all four? Surprisingly not; two of them were redeemed. That is, two were forgiven and became righteous, useful citizens.

At first, it appears the other two, who didn’t rate, were tossed aside because their sins were worse. However, when examining Scripture, the degree of sinfulness is not a significant factor to redemption. Instead, it appears God reached out His loving hand to all four, but only two reached back.

Jacob literally wrestled with God, not to get away from Him but with a strong effort to obtain a blessing, something he definitely didn’t deserve. God touched Jacob’s life and changed him from a scheming cheat to a godly man. Manasseh wrestled in a different way. God sent an enemy nation to destroy his reign. As the Assyrian army carried Manasseh off to Babylon bound in chains, he “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto Him.” God heard his prayer and brought him back to reign again. Manasseh took away the idols and restored worship. He was a changed man.

Cain and Judas didn’t fare so well. Neither one sought the Lord with humility or a contrite heart. One “went out from the presence of the Lord” and the other tried to deal with his guilt by destroying himself.

When it comes down to it, most of us evaluate “rotten people” like the man with the axe and the crab apple tree. We too easily see only useless lives, whereas God can see potential and purpose. Not only that, when yielded to Him, uselessness can become something beautiful in His hands.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Learning how to pray ................. Parables 238

(October 10, 1990)

The old fashioned midweek church prayer meeting isn’t a sold-out event these days. People still pray but it seems many are reluctant to get together to do it. Busy life styles, maybe less faith, any number of things could contribute to the empty chairs, but one other thing could have something to do with it: inexperienced pray-ers feeling intimidated by those who obviously have been practicing for years.

I remember how I felt as a new Christian at prayer time. I could pour my heart out to God when alone, but in a group, my tongue tied itself in knots and ALL words escaped me, never mind words that sounded right. I felt like the disciples must have felt the day they heard Jesus praying. (Luke 11)

While not too many of His prayers are recorded in the Bible, we can conclude from those that are, this one was communication par excellence. When He was finished, it is no surprise that one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray...”

Who wouldn’t want to pray like Jesus prayed? Maybe the disciples thought if they could say it like He did, they would be more apt to be heard. Or maybe they believed if they just could memorize those beautiful words, their prayer life would be more dynamic.

But saying the right thing is only part of it. The prayers of Jesus had two other important qualities. First, they were entirely within the will of God. Secondly, they were delivered in complete faith. With those two distinctives, the importance of saying the right words lines up a weak third, if that.

In all graciousness, Jesus did tell the disciples the words to pray: “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

I remember praying those words every day as a school child. All twenty-five of us learned them by rote and I doubt any of us understood what we were saying. I can’t recall myself ever thinking God heard me or that I was saying anything that fit in with His plans. They were only words.

Teaching someone how to say the right words is easy. My grade school teachers did it by repetition. Teaching someone to believe in the God to whom those words are directed is another matter. Jesus used two illustrations to explain what He is like. The first was the persistent request of one who keeps on asking because he knows his friend will come through. The second was about a son who can ask his father for bread and fish with confidence, knowing he won’t get a stone or a scorpion. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand that it makes no sense saying the right words to God if you don’t know what He is like and don’t really believe He will answer.

Praying is not mere ritual nor is it oratory requiring great skill. It is simply talking to God about what is on our hearts, giving Him the honor due Him, expressing praise and thanksgiving, and making requests regarding our needs. Prayer is also the avenue by which God gives us the qualities we need to overcome sin and deal with problems in relationships.

Thank God eloquence isn’t the issue. He is interested in our hearts --and the reasons why we pray (or fail to pray) to Him.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Passing the Tests ................. Parables 237

(October 3, 1990)

God gave me a test today — and I flunked it.

A couple of young fellows are re-roofing our condo unit. They have been there two or three days in the hot sun, their radio blaring country music. Last night I noticed an orange cord through the kitchen window. It appeared to be hanging off the roof.

Today I noticed the cord was plugged into our outside power outlet. Since each unit pays for their own power, I wondered what was going on. The workers were close to the edge so I asked them if they realized their cord was running off my power meter. They were very embarrassed, one climbed down the aluminum extension ladder and he promptly unplugged their radio.

I came inside feeling very smug. As my great aunt would have said, “These whippersnappers will try anything.” Then I sat down at the computer to start a new article — one of these, in which I generally try to match a daily experience with a spiritual truth. Here is the truth that came to mind: “Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you, turn him not away” (Matthew 5:42). My smugness vanished.

The ordinary person is most apt to stick up for their rights, or at least make sure that others are not allowed to get away with taking something that does not belong to them. Few approve of grasping, greedy misers, but most of us think nothing wrong with defending our property and certainly our pocketbooks...

Yet Jesus calls Christians to a radical lifestyle. We are not supposed to conform to the world. For one thing, not only is it true that we didn’t bring anything into this world and we cannot take anything with us when we leave, neither do we have pure ownership of anything. The Bible says HE “owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” not the person whose brand they bear.

Christians are to live under the principle of stewardship. That is, God owns all; we are required to take proper care of that, which, by divine providence, is under our care. My home, my family, my money, even my time, are the property of God for which He holds me accountable. The same is true for everyone else.

Another principle important to Christians, is that God supplies all our needs. If, in the circumstances of life, someone has a need and we have the supply, we can freely give away what we have, knowing God will take care of us. It’s not indiscriminately throwing money around but wise stewardship, exercised in faith. Sounds okay? Well, that’s not all...

The first century Christian lived under Roman rule. By law, a Roman soldier could ask anyone to carry his luggage a mile. Those soldiers were big boys; they could carry their own luggage, but Jesus told believers if they were asked, carry it two miles. He added, if someone wants your coat, give him your sweater too. The idea is don’t be concerned about your rights to the point that you can’t trust God to fill the need if someone else comes and takes what is yours. Jesus’ teaching is slightly more radical than giving a needy person a few dollars now and then.

My argument with the radio was the principle of the thing. A few cents worth of electricity is within our means, but those workers should have at least asked first. But they didn’t. They assumed. And I didn’t like it. And I got a zero on the test.

The Lord is generous though. He gave me a change to re-write. The roofers are still up there. The cord is still dangling over the edge. It wasn’t easy, but I went out and plugged it back in.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Going Home ................. Parables 236

(September 26, 1990)

“Don’t miss the 60th Anniversary reunion...” the folder said. A decade ago, while we were living in the United States, my hometown hosted a reunion celebrating 50 years; we wouldn’t miss the celebration this time. Other people may reach back to their roots now and then but I had not been “home” for 30 years.

Some of the thoughts that ran through my head included a hope that everyone would be wearing name tags. What if no one knew me? Or worse yet, what if I didn’t know anyone... not even my closest school chums?

As I poked through my closet wondering what to wear, I wondered who would attend and what happened to those old friends. In contrast to my own children, I went to school in one place so some of those people had been my friends all twelve of those growing-up years. With so many relocations since then, I’ve lost touch. Getting together again held promise of joy to be sure, but maybe some surprises.

Well, the reunion is past. It was a weekend last July and marvelous in every way. We did have name tags but, for the most part, didn’t need them. We shared school yearbooks and photos of our children, exchanged addresses and remembered the good and bad times with laughter and even a few tears. It was a wonderful celebration and, as far as I was concerned, it could have lasted much longer.

As tremendous as this not-soon-to-be-forgotten event was, it really is only a shadow of another celebration that I also have been invited to attend. It won’t be an anniversary but it will be a reunion... and no one will need name tags. There, we will “know, even as we are known.”

The date is immediately after I leave this life; exact time, of course unknown. The place is heaven, and it is a definite location: Jesus said, “I go to prepare you a place for you... The occasion is the receiving of an inheritance — eternal life with Christ. What a celebration it will be.

In that day, all of God’s people will be together — everyone including the summer Bible school worker who first shared the gospel with me, and the believing pastors of every church. There will be mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, old-timers such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and certainly lots of children, for Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me... for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

We will come from a variety of eras and backgrounds; some will be farmers, some doctors and lawyers. There will be both women and men, rich and poor, baggers and kings, the brainy and the brawny, people from every nation and language.

What to wear is also a decision, but it can, and even must, be made before arrival. You see, there is a dress code; no one can get in without a white robe of righteousness. That will be a problem to those who have refused to believe in Jesus Christ and haven’t surrendered their lives to Him.

The best part of this heavenly reunion is that there are no more second partings, no more good-byes. We won’t have to go back to our jobs and our own homes, separated by miles and miles. We won’t have to wonder any more about the whereabouts of those we love are or what they are doing. We will be able to fellowship with other believers endlessly as we worship our Savior together. In that place, and for that reunion, friends really are friends forever and the greatest celebration of all will never end.

The invitation is still open. Jesus gave it when He died on the cross. He says, “Come unto me... and I will give you life...” and whoever comes, believing and obeying, will also be part of that promised everlasting reunion.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Receiving the unexpected ................. Parables 235

(September 12, 1990)

It was empty. What a rip-off. Someone had taken the eye drops out of the container, put it back on the shelf, and let some poor, unsuspecting customer (me) buy an empty box. I was annoyed and disappointed.

It reminded me of my oldest child’s first temper tantrum. He was hot and bored and his aunt didn’t have any ice cream so she offered him an empty cone. He took one look inside it, threw it and himself on the floor, and let the whole block know he was not very happy.

I didn’t do that. Instead, I went back to the store where they promptly gave me what I wanted. The clerk said it happens all the time; first time for me.

On the way home, I thought about some people who, no matter what they try or buy, wind up with a lot of “empty boxes.” That is, they follow the television commercials or someone’s endorsement and go for new jobs, new cars, blind dates, or business ventures that up front look promising, but for some reason, nothing ever satisfies them. I’m not immune. There have been several products that appeared attractive to begin with yet left me with a sour taste, wishing I hadn’t wasted my time, money, and energy.

Part of the problem is expectations. Think of it; if I thought I was buying an empty box, I wouldn’t have been disappointed. If my child had looked for a nice, light snack, an empty cone would have filled the bill.

This issue of expectations even enters into how people react to God’s Son. In the New Testament, a whole crowd of people turned away from Jesus and stopped following Him simply because He didn’t deliver what they expected.

The scene was Capernaum on the sea of Galilee. Along comes this Man with the uncanny ability to multiply a few loaves of bread into a whole bakery -- enough to feed several thousand tired, hungry people. Can you imagine what a modern food marketing board would do with Him?

It was long before cartels and food chains were invented and there were no advertising and promotion executives in the crowd but as they talked about Moses and manna from heaven, Jesus knew they were thinking along those lines. He would have to set them straight.

His speech began: “... I say to you, Moses didn’t give you that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven; for the bread of God is He which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.”

For a few moments, what He was saying sounded maybe even better than bread. He continued: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

That sounded okay too -- but it wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. Some of them were thinking of their stomach, some their pocketbooks. How could a man who called himself “bread” do either one any good?

As they grumbled and tried to understand what He was talking about, Jesus went on to explain how God sent Him, the Bread of Life, to the world that sinners might be saved... not from mere physical hunger but from spiritual death. And at that point, they may have been intrigued -- but then He added: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”

That did it. They wanted food and profit, not any weird relationship that smacked of cannibalism. Jesus went on to explain, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you are spiritual words, and words of life...” but to no avail... “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”

Only a handful stuck around to find out what true bread really was. Later He asked them if they would leave too but they knew He alone had “the words of eternal life.” Those few were prepared to give up prior expectations and receive what He came to give... not demand what they themselves desired, and what they got was not an empty box.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Look-alikes in God’s Family ................. Parables 234

(September 5, 1990)

During the five weekends of July, we attended four different churches: our own in Fort Saskatchewan, one in Moose Jaw, one in Caronport and one in Minot, North Dakota. The amazing thing about this experience was the family resemblance...

Now I don’t mean a physical resemblance -- even though one of the deacons in North Dakota looked very much like a pastor in West Edmonton, and one of the members of a Sunday school class looked like a lady from a church I used to attend in Medicine Hat.

And I don’t mean how they talked -- even though the Sunday School teacher in Minot, despite his American accent, prayed just like an usher in Fort Saskatchewan, and the ushers in Moose Jaw issued the same friendly greetings as they do in churches all over Alberta.

This family resemblance isn’t something discernible by the ordinary senses. It isn’t a similar manner of dress, nor do they smile the same or move the same... yet so often godly people seem cut from the same cloth.

Perhaps a verse from Acts 4:13 partly deciphers this mystery. It speaks of Peter and John being perceived by the crowd as “uneducated men” yet bold in their presentation of the gospel. Their lives were so contrary to the norm that these who observed them could offer no other explanation but; “...they have been with Jesus.”

Being with Jesus resulted in two things for the disciples: they either betrayed Him as did Judas, or begins to imitate Him, as did the other eleven disciples. Of course imitation is the command to all of God’s people; He saved each one so we could be “conformed to the image of His Son,” thus Christlikeness is not only the responsibility of every Christian, but our destiny. 1 John 3:2 even says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”

So, as we see Jesus more clearly (through faith and reading His Word), we are able to reflect His image, and so it should be. When God created the world and all that is in it, He created male and female in His image. Even though that image was soon marred by sin, Jesus will wash away the “dirt on the mirror,” enabling the reflection to again shine in those who believe in Him and receive Him. Being like Him is God’s intention.

That doesn’t mean we will physically look like Him, nor will our voices sound like Him, although our speech will be in harmony with what He says. It is more a resemblance that radiates from the inner person -- godly attitudes which become motivation for a variety of godly activities and ministries.

These foundational attitudes are found in passages such as the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6,7) and Galatians 5:22,23 where they are described as fruit of the Spirit: humility, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. 1 Corinthians 13 talks about the love of God, perhaps the strongest identifying characteristic of His family members. It is a unique kind of love, one that is displayed in actions of self-sacrifice for the eternal well-being of another, regardless of their response.

Even a quick examination of this love reveals that Christlikeness is impossible for mere mortals. Without Him in our lives, we don’t think like He thinks, nor do we sacrifice ourselves in a godly manner. However, He will change all that for anyone who asks, by making His life available and transforming us from what we are into His own dear children.

So that explains the family resemblance. It might be in varying degrees yet, no matter where I find them, no matter their color, dress, or habits, the children of God “look” like one another because they are reflections of Him.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Personal Maintenance ................. Parables 233

(August 22, 1990)

We have been in Moose Jaw less than two weeks and already I’ve had eight visits from various repair people: plumbers, electricians and a handy man who can fix anything non-mechanical. We’ve had our refrigerator replaced once --the first one (compliments of the management) had all the inside door racks broken off, and now the newer one seems to need a compressor.

After much experience in first-month-at-a-new-address, this is not unusual. Many items need attention and after everything is put in good working order, it will be up to us to keep it that way. Certainly every home needs a maintenance plan. Without constant upkeep, things start falling apart. Funny how I expect my soul to be different...

Spiritually, I can imagine the fix-it list the Lord made when He first took up residence in me. Broken heart, warped thoughts, crooked speech, corroded values, splintered relationships, and various shreds of this and that all through me. What a mess. But He rolled up His sleeves and set to work.

Now, after twenty years, the more He tinkers and fusses with me, the more I realize how badly damaged my life has been. Sin is like that. It doesn’t matter if He pulls us out of the gutter from life-long bad habits or if He grabs us when we are children, the sin nature of a human being is like acid to fine metal; it will ruin us -- unless He makes us new creatures -- then keeps everything in top-notch working order. But I tend to forget my part in the process. I am supposed to call on the Repairman daily.

Someone once quipped: “If I miss time with God for one day, God notices; if I miss two days, I notice... but if I lapse three days, everyone notices.” Just like a house, if we don’t maintain our relationship with God, something starts falling apart.

Jesus compared our responsibility with building a house: “Whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. But every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Notice the key to upkeep: hearing His words AND doing them. It isn’t enough to just hear. That is why some professing Christians can go to church each week, hear the Word of God taught and preached, yet their life is in shambles. When trials come and the foundation is sand, nothing stands.

Hearing alone does not equal spiritual strength -- just as reading a home maintenance guide doesn’t get the plumbing fixed; however, knowledge of God’s Word ought to be like a damage inspection. As in a house, sometimes our lives fall apart because we didn’t know we had weak or rusty spots. God holds us responsible to make sure everything is working according to the Book.

As we allow light from the Lord to examine every nook and cranny of our lives and discern our condition, we will find His Word shows us what needs fixing, and also gives instruction as to our part in the repairs, even outlining what kind of tools will be required. Certainly obedience should be the most well-worn item. If it is, some of the others, like confession and repentance, will not be needed as often.

Our condo will be put in shape and stay that way for several weeks, even if we do no maintenance whatsoever -- but my soul is not quite that stable. Without moment by moment cooperation with my Divine Maintenance Man, disobedience and its partner, deterioration, quickly prevail.

Friday, February 6, 2015

No one is ever really alone ................. Parables 232

(September 19, 1990)

Some people have a great deal of difficulty leaving a blank piece of paper blank. Their urge to make their mark, whether on a napkin or a newly painted wall, is just too powerful to resist. Out comes pen or pocket knife and the void is filled with poems, doodles, sketches, or graffiti.

Others feel ill at ease and self-conscious with complete silence. They have a compulsion to fill it with noise. Talking, turning on the radio or just drumming fingers on the nearest table top becomes a must.

For some, solitude is equally uncomfortable, another blank space that must be filled. Some manage better than others but even loners discover that solitude can last too long. In fact, when confined, few people remain unaffected. Most want noise, activity, other people, something, anything. No wonder solitary is used as a punishment in correctional institutions. 

Solitude isn’t God’s punishment though. In fact, I don’t think He wants us to experience it, or its sidekick, loneliness. Neither word is even in the Bible. When God created the first man, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone...” thus Eve was created to be his companion.  But sometimes there is no one or nothing to fill our solitude. When that happens, we ought not feel completely abandoned. God did say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Of course He won’t; it is impossible for Him to do so. He is everywhere. There is no place we can go to escape Him, so no one is ever really alone.

Maybe that is why it is so difficult to be in solitude. With no noise, no diversions, no one else to communicate with, we are left alone in His company. If we have a true concept of God, being shut up with Him is sure to be a disconcerting experience, one that is bound to result in certain responses. One of those might be resistance...

WRESTLING: Jacob, the Old Testament patriarch, spent all one night alone, wrestling with God. He desired a blessing from Him and God desired submission from Jacob. By morning, both were winners: God gave the blessing and from that time on, Jacob was a changed man. If solitude with God winds up in a wrestling match, we profit if we remember that losing is winning. Submission to Him always results in a blessing.

PRAYER: The only times Jesus was alone, at least that are recorded, are occasions when He sought solitude to pray. When we submit to the Lord, solitude can be an excellent time to talk to the only other Person with us in it -- and of course, a great time to listen to Him.

LEARNING: During the many occasions that the disciples spent alone with Jesus, they learned truths He couldn’t teach them in a larger group. For us, solitude also can be a great time to learn from the Lord in a very direct and personal way; but we must listen, not drown Him out with noises of our own.

RETREAT: In John 6:15, we are told the people decided Jesus would make a great king so tried to force Him into the role. Since it was not God’s will at that time, He took off to the mountains, alone. Sometimes the only way we can escape the pressures of our world is to retreat and get away from the pressure. Besides, being alone with Him will better equip us to deal with it.

SEEING JESUS: Perhaps the greatest profit in being alone is realizing who is there with us. In Luke 9, the disciples were alone with Jesus and He asked them who they thought He was. They responded with, “You are the Christ of God.” They knew His identity because each time they were alone with Him He revealed Himself to them in increasing intimacy until finally they were convinced. From then on, their lives were transformed and they became world-changers. It can happen to anyone who values being face to face with Christ.

Solitude might not be our choice at times, but when it is God’s choice for us, it helps us to remember we are never really alone. He is there to fill the empty space and give beauty and meaning to it. Instead of shutting out His voice by turning on the radio or rushing to the telephone, we can choose aloneness to be a wonder-filled opportunity to talk to the Lord, to hear what He has to say and in the process, become more intimate with Him.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Spiritual Protection ................. Parables 230

(date sometime in fall of 1990)

When he was actively farming, my dad added a “hard hat” to his working clothes. It was the full-brimmed kind, silver in color with numerous scratches and dents. It went well with his tattered overalls, well-worn plaid shirt, wool socks and scuffed work boots. He said the “louder clang” made him more aware of how frequently he whacked his head against a piece of machinery.

My problem is not with my head but my feet. Every time I go barefoot, I stub my toes or drop something on them. I probably do it with shoes too, but don’t notice so much. The bruises help me remember to keep my feet protected.

Back in New Testament days, a Roman foot soldier needed all his clothing too. If he left his sword and shield at home, he quickly discovered how painful the enemy’s arrows can be to an unprotected body.

Seems to me that only a foolish fighter would forget his weapons or his defense but it must have happened because Paul used the armor of a soldier to illustrate a warning to His warriors. Ephesians 6 says: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against... spiritual wickedness in high places.”

The Bible speaks metaphorically of this divine armor:

BELT OF TRUTH - In Bible times, the soldier’s belt bound up flapping garments that might hinder him in battle. Since we battle Satan, the father of lies, it is important to gird ourselves with truth, as well as an inner quality of truthfulness. Anything less and we can lose the battle.

BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS - The Roman foot soldier was wrapped at his most vulnerable part with a tough breastplate. This is also the need of a Christian. We need to be wrapped with righteousness, not only the garment of righteousness which is given to us at salvation, but the current condition of our lives. Any believer caught up in unrighteous activity is already losing.

SHOD WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE - The battlefields were covered with stones that easily put a barefoot warrior out of commission. He needed proper footgear. The Christian does too. Our footwear is peace with God through faith in the gospel and assurance that all is well with our soul. This gives us confidence, even in a crisis and is so important because when anxiety takes over, the dominion of the enemy is not far behind.

SHIELD OF FAITH - This was not the small shield used in hand-to-hand combat but the large one that protected the soldier’s entire body. Christians need a faith that is sufficient for all that the enemy hurls, a shield that is adequate to extinguish his lies with their power to tempt, deceive and discourage. Without it, we are extremely vulnerable.

HELMET OF SALVATION - The soldier’s head needed armor. So does ours, to protect us against false ideas such as: “Look at all those negatives in your life... how can God love you...?” The warrior who knows He belongs to God and knows he is loved, no matter what, is an invincible fighter.

SWORD OF THE SPIRIT - which is the Word of God. How else can one fight a lie but with the truth? However, it is one thing to know it, to be convinced of it, to have it in our hearts, to even live it out... but when the lie comes, none of that will drive it back to hell from where it came; we need the Words of the Living God. Jesus used Scripture when tempted by the devil (see Matthew 4); so must each soldier in His army.

One other thing needs mentioning: strategy. This war is fought by “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching with all perseverance and supplication for all saints...”

Prayer and God’s armor are both our weapon and our protection against our enemy; hard hats or steel toed boots won’t begin to defend us against his lies. We need to be fully dressed in the armor that God provides.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Resting and Waiting ................. Parables 230

(August 29, 1990)

Today, my body feels like it used to after 4-5 hours picking peas; no, more like after a week of forking hay or maybe breaking a horse. Muscles ache; bones ache. If I don’t keep moving, then I can’t move at all.

For all of that, it is a pleasant fatigue -- from hard, honest labor... but I would like a hot bath just the same. Work, effortless for a twenty-year old, becomes arduous after forty – that I have accepted. The Bible says, “the outer man perishes day by day” and today is no exception. However, God also has something to say regarding exhaustion.

Two of my favorite passages of Scripture are extremely comforting at the end of a day’s hard work. One is Matthew 11:28-30: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The context and words indicate Jesus is speaking primarily to the spiritually fatigued, those who have been futile in seeking the favor of God through their own efforts, perhaps a result of adhering to a false religious system. Added to that is a heavy load, possibly the weight of sin and guilt. God’s solution to this kind of weariness is COME: be equally yoked with Jesus, the sin-bearer, who removes the sinner’s load and replaces it with forgiveness and new life. Those who seek this rest will find new energy as they experience peace with God plus a clean conscience.

The other passage is for those who have already come, but find themselves feeling “old” and overworked. It is Isaiah 40:28-31: “Have you not known? have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”

Isaiah didn’t reserve fatigue for the middle years; it knows no age limit. There is no limit to its origin either. One cause might be a futile effort to please God without first checking what He wants. Another is adding unassigned work to God-given responsibilities, winding up with a work load He never intended. But even doing the Lord’s work the Lord’s way doesn’t produce immunity to bone-wearying exhaustion. Jesus became so tired He fell asleep in a fishing boat during a storm.

According to Isaiah, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual burn out also have a practical solution: WAIT on Him, and He will re-new our strength. WAIT is from the Hebrew QAWA, meaning “to look to God in faith, eagerly expecting He will meet the current need.” This doesn’t mean we can pray and never have to sleep again, or read the Bible and never need a restful walk in the garden. What it does mean is expecting God to be our resource for restoration, and trusting Him to not only provide the means but also the opportunity. God created love, beauty, friends, even night time: all sources of renewal. He also gave us His Word and His Spirit; both minister to weary hearts with words of strength and encouragement.

So often we think we need another nap or more and more vacation time, when what we really need is the consistent ability to wait on the Lord. It is learned through spending time with Him on a regular basis, needy or not, in both good times and bad. It is a lifestyle, not an action for crisis only.

There is nothing wrong with being tired and sore from doing whatever the Lord has given us to do, but rest is honorable too – a hot bath or a night’s sleep might sooth aching muscles and restore physical well-being but rest and renewal at the feet of the Lord refreshes the spirit.