Monday, June 29, 2015

Gender differences and faith .............. Parables 293

November 12, 1991

University of Pennsylvania researchers issued a news release saying they think men’s brains deteriorate two to three times faster than women’s. This supposedly occurs in the left side of the brain, the location of verbal abilities. They called this deterioration atrophy, the condition that happens to anything unused, such as a motionless broken leg bound in a cast.

Another study gives an more detailed explanation of this. Apparently very early after life begins in boy babies, the male hormone testosterone floods the left side of the brain and shrinks it. At the same time, it damages connective fibers between the two sides of the brain. Because of that, men tend to think laterally – and use one side of their brain at a time while women generally think bilaterally – and use both sides at the same time.

Furthermore, these studies reveal the left side of the brain is used for rational, objective, linear thought patterns whereas the right side registers emotions, subjective thoughts and random thought patterns. For men, this means an ability to think logically without interference from emotions, which is their strength. For women, both sides work at the same time (even though the subjective, emotional side often dominates) and this too is a strength. It is important to realize being different does not imply one is better.

Men are usually quieter and sometimes accused of burying their emotions or not expressing them. My husband gives this reason: it is difficult for a man to think both emotionally and rationally at the same time. (Remember, those damaged connecting fibers?) Since many men know their ability to reason and be logical is their strength, they will deny what seems to them a weakness (emotions) and use the left side of their brain most of the time.

It is not that men cannot feel emotions or be subjective; their hormone did not destroy every connection. Besides, emotions are too powerful to suppress completely and can even overwhelm logic. For instance, men may experience outbursts of anger, uncontrolled lust or jealousy, even though his logic says these things should not be happening.

That is not to say women have no trouble with emotional outbursts that go against logic. Both genders are able to bottle up emotions. Both are able to open up that side of themselves and either blow up or deal with feelings logically. However, emotions are more difficult for men to acknowledge.

Sometimes it would be easier if everyone used their brains the same way. We wouldn’t have so much trouble figuring one another out, or get so frustrated when we don’t see things the same way. But Bob and I realize if we both thought the same, one of us would be unnecessary!

We have found one area of total equality though. It is in the spiritual realm. The Bible says men and women have equal access to God. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The Jews and Greeks had their differences, but faith in Jesus made them one before the throne of God. Slaves didn’t enjoy the same status as those who were not slaves, but faith in Christ made their status before God the same. So it is with men and women; both are equally able to approach God through Christ.

My husband and I don’t think the same whether or not we have the same connective tissue or the same size brain. But we appreciate our distinctions as we grow deeper in experiencing the reality of being equal before God. He helps us to realizing our full potential by setting us free from any intimidation, conflict or competition that comes from being male or female.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Options and discovering the will of God .............. Parables 292

November 5, 1991

Those ice cream places with umpteen dozen flavors fluster me to no end. I’d like a scoop of each; however, that would make me round, so making a selection is the only alternative. “Peaches ‘n Cream” looks good, but so does “Raspberry Delight,” never mind “Lemon Meringue,” or “Milk Chocolate.” Why did they make so many choices?

A book of names is just as perplexing for new parents; or a holiday guide for campers trying to pick a site for next year’s vacation. Dozens of channels perplex TV addicts selecting a viewing favorite. Fat curriculum catalogs frazzle college students trying to pick the most suitable courses. And multitude of products in multitudes of catalogs or multiple stores in multitudes of malls make shoppers dizzy.

The smorgasbord of life can be just as confusing for a person who honestly wants to make choices according to the will of God. Which school do I attend? Which career should I pursue? Who should I marry? Where should I live? What car should I buy? When should I have children? And on it goes. How can we find the will of God anyway? Has He hidden it without giving us any clues to its whereabouts? Or do we throw darts at the assortment?

It is a help to know God’s will has two spheres. The first sphere is His sovereign will. This includes His control over events; history does take the course He has determined. But unless He reveals something through prophecy, we don’t know what these events will be until they happen. Not to worry, we won’t miss His sovereign will; God is powerful and able to do whatever He pleases. His sovereign will is a certainty.

Because of that, our best response to the sovereign aspect of God’s will is acceptance. In other words, we fit ourselves into what happens, trusting that God has our best interest in mind. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Even though it is, for the most part, hidden from us, whatever He has planned He will use for the good of those who belong to Him. We need not fear His sovereign will.

In contrast, the other sphere of God’s will is completely revealed in Scripture. We don’t have to hunt for it or try to figure it out. It involves ethics and morals, choices that are straight-forward: Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Tell the truth. Love others.

Notice this important truth about the MORAL will of God: because we have the freedom to choose, we can “miss” it. To fit into His moral will, we must choose to do (or not do) these actions. In cases where matters are not distinct or it seems we must decide between two good choices rather than one bad and one good one, God calls us to obey in what we know and ask Him for wisdom concerning our options.

But what about those situations where it seems our only option is choosing the lesser of two evils and sin seems unavoidable? Thankfully, God promised this would never happen. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says “... God is faithful and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle but will with the temptation also provide a way of escape...”

In other words, whatever our situation, we never HAVE to choose sin. There is always a choice, even though life would be easier if it was less like 57 varieties and more like the fast food outlet across the street – where the options are limited – to Chocolate or Strawberry!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What about suicide? .............. Parables 291

October 29, 1991

Statistics say one third of 7th grade northern natives have thought of committing suicide. The national average is supposed to be 23%. My kids tell me “everyone” thinks about suicide.

One author says taking your own life is the ultimate “God-playing.” In other words, he thinks there is no greater way to usurp the authority of God over our lives than to determine the time and method of our death.

I can’t count the times I’ve struggled with thinking dying would be better than living. I’ve even thought of ways to accomplish it. Thank God, He supplied some thoughts that convinced me otherwise.

In those suicidal wars of the mind, God helped by reminding me of the source of those ideas, my spiritual enemy who, according to Jesus, “... is a murderer from the beginning... a thief who comes to steal, to kill, to destroy.” This enemy promotes suicide because it suits his purposes.

Another help was a fuller understanding of God’s purposes. Jesus says of Himself, “I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.” Clearly, the suggestion of suicide is against Christ’s purposes and is not part of God’s plan for me.

When I’ve thought about suicide, I was always when under great stress; my problems were overwhelming. God may promise to unravel the mess, but under severe burdens, suicide can seem easier. Thoughts like: “Following God’s way will only make me more miserable,” and “Death would be a release from the pain of trying to live an impossibly restricted life” are no encouragement.

Satan (remember, he seeks to deceive and destroy) told Adam’s wife Eve that God didn’t want the best for her and she believed that lie. Notice, it is the same one he uses on me and on you too. Without firmly knowing the richness of God’s love and forgiveness, this lie will draw us away from God and maybe even into committing suicide.

Suicide involves several lies. Satan wants us to think that death is just the end of life, a wonderful release from our trials, the end of our misery. He wants the truth about death hidden and mysterious so we can be duped into taking both it and life into our own hands. He knows if we understand death and eternity, we just might turn to God, something he does not want anyone to do.

God puts a window in that black and mysterious doorway called death. Through His window, we get glimpses of eternity, not much but enough to discover that death’s door is entered but once. Judgment is next. We also see that for some, eternity is more black and darker than death, a place of “weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.” This side of eternity is Satan’s destination, prepared for him and his demons, out of the presence of God.

Through the window, we also see the other side of eternity, the side where the glory cannot begin to be described, where Jesus Christ shines so brightly the sun and moon are no longer necessary. He calls it heaven.

God’s window makes the issue of suicide plain too. We are never encouraged to take our own life but to put our life in His hands and allow the promise of eternal glory and the power of God’s Spirit to give us endurance for our temporary trials here. God’s rival, the liar and deceiver, knows what we could have if we trust God for living, and for dying, so he covers the window and substitutes his version of both.

Suicide is not an escape from life but robs people of the best that life can be. With God, no problem is unsolvable, no trial more than He can handle. But we have to trust Him and do it His way, not take matters into our own hands and discover we have handed ourselves over to the enemy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Language of Love .............. Parables 290

October 22, 1991

The English language is a puzzle to those with a different heritage. We use “hot” and “cool” to describe the same thing. “Bark” can be a dog’s sound or the covering on a tree and many words that sound the same are spelled differently: rough and ruff, been and bean, profit and prophet.

Another confusing word is “love.” We “love” our kids, our car, our silk pyjamas, strawberry pie, and the latest hit song. This one word covers a multitude of feelings and desires. However, the Greek language is far more precise; it has several words for love. For example:

EROS, the root word of erotic, is the passion a person can feel towards the opposite sex. It can be one-way or two way, and easily becomes lust where one person uses the other person for selfish reasons.

PHILEO is the affection shared between friends. It is wanting the best for the other person, but to keep it alive, both must work at it.

AGAPEO: When the love of God was recognized as none of the above, this new word was coined to describe it. It is a love not governed by feelings nor does it depend on the responses of the loved person. It is an unconditional love, a commitment to do what is righteous toward the other, whether or not they deserve it. It is a love that cannot be faked nor does it exploit.

Knowing these differences is vital to a strong marriage. It is common for a couple to think that warm feelings mean love. Then, when the feelings (eros) fade, so has “love” fade or gone. They are shocked because they never thought this would ever happen to them because their “love” was so strong.

This loss of “love” is cause for many a divorce, yet it does not have to happen. The Greek definitions of love can clarify what is going on. Not only that, careful attention to what the Bible says about love can help couples restore those important feelings and keep their marriage alive.

First of all, the Bible says demonstrating love is equal to obeying God. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” and “...whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him...

These actions of obedience can be done with or without any feelings of affection whatsoever. When God says, “Be kind,” we can behave in a kind way, with the help of His Spirit, even if we feel no affection or passion at all.

Yet God does not call His people to a life of doing right and never feeling like it; that would be terrible. Instead, the One who created us built in us a strange capacity for manufacturing feelings. I first noticed it in our children. When they were small, there were days they didn’t really feel too loving toward their parents. However, if I encouraged them to do some sort of positive action for their dad or me, as soon as they did it, their negative feelings were replaced by affection. It worked every time.

It works between couples too. When the fire of eros grows dim and the affections of phileo grows shaky, then the positive actions of agape will bring back the passion into a marriage relationship.

It works best when both decide they will give of themselves (as required by agape), not hold back until the other person gives. Also, the doing must be with a reliance on God, not out of a sense of “duty.” But because this is the love of God, it will outlast all emotional ups and downs and weather the trials faced in all marriages, even the worst of them.

So, if the language of love has confused you, learn a little Greek. Learn the difference between “I eros you...” and “I agape you...” Then decide to DO the deeds of agape, God’s love. Through it, He wants to heal heartaches and rekindle the fire for couples who think it has gone out.

(A 2015 update: I’ve learned that sometimes these Greek words are used interchangeably in the Bible. The most reliable way to define what they mean is by their context. This does not change the basic truth in the above article. Love can be hormones, but it is supposed to be a commitment to put others first and rely on God to do it!)

Friday, June 19, 2015

True wealth for all who want it .............. Parables 289

October 16, 1991

“Poverty is working a lifetime doing something you don’t like so you can retire and do something you do like... or poverty is having so many clothes, you haven’t a thing to wear. Poverty is eating so well you have to go on a diet... it is having every pill imaginable to cure your body’s ills because you can’t afford to be sick.

“Poverty is being loaded down with toys at birthdays and Christmas and then being bored silly because there is nothing to do. Poverty is having three college degrees and feeling unfulfilled in your job... having two cars, three TV’s and a dishwasher and then roughing it by going camping to get away from it all.

“Poverty is spending money on make-up, deodorants, colognes and designer clothes and still being worried about the image your are projecting...” and on it goes, so says a verse by Waitlye, Mallinnix and McDonald.

In a nutshell, poverty is working hard and longing to buy things we cannot enjoy because we have to work too hard and too long to get them!

First Timothy 6:17 says the Living God “gives us richly all things to enjoy.” So why can’t we find real fulfillment in all these things He gives us? Might it be because we put them above the true riches?

Jesus put His finger on the problem when He said, “That which men highly esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.” Our value system is often based on bigger, better, and more — usually items with a price tag and the cash that will buy those items. Many even think “I’m not like other people: I can be both rich and happy!” In efforts to prove it, they elbow aside God’s value system about money. Notice how unconventional it is...

1] JUST ENOUGH: The writer of Proverbs 30 asked God: “Give me neither poverty nor riches...” He expressed that if he had too much he would deny God, if he was poor he might be tempted to steal and sin against Him.

2] UNRESTRAINED GENEROSITY: Most of us know about the poor widow who trusted God, so much so she put all she had into the offering plate — two pennies. She knew her security was in the Lord, that He would take care of her needs. So she could afford to be generous. Because of the value system she held, Jesus said her offering was more in God’s sight than far larger gifts.

3] CONCERN FOR THE WEALTH OF OTHERS: For our sakes, Jesus was willing to leave the riches of heaven. Giving up what He enjoyed meant that we eventually could enjoy it with Him. It is that kind of heart that God values. (2 Cor. 8:9)

4] RECOGNITION OF TRUE RICHES: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God...” God wants us to know true wealth: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace...” The Apostle Paul prayed, “May your understanding be enlightened; that you may know the hope of His calling... the riches of the glory of His inheritance... the unsearchable [riches] of Christ...”

Not everyone grasps for money. The Bible commends Moses for “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” Moses valued obedience over being the heir of an Egyptian pharaoh even though it meant suffering with the people of God. But most people think money equals happiness. They not only put their hope in that which has wings but in something that will not fill the deepest void in their hearts. Furthermore, all the money in the world cannot buy a right relationship with God.

Whether money is elusive and out of reach, or we have a six-figure bank account, when we recognize Jesus gives joy and fulfillment, wealth loses its hold on us. Life in Christ is far richer. When walking close to Him, our hearts never feel the pinch of poverty for we have riches that truly satisfy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fakes and Phonies .............. Parables 288

October 9, 1991

An Alberta newspaper ran an article about a woman who was arrested and charged with two counts of “pretending to practice witchcraft.” It seems someone complained about her fee schedule and the police took a closer look at her activities.

My question is this: Is it also illegal to practice as a real witch or only illegal to PRETEND to be one?

Actually, there should be laws against anybody pretending to be what they are not. We don’t want fake policemen, fake doctors, or fake car repairmen. We don’t want fake religious leaders or fake religions either.

Come to think of it, maybe we need a law that makes it illegal to pretend to be a Christian. While fake witches might jilt the unsuspecting out of pocket, fake Christianity dupes people out of something far more important.

The Old Testament fake religious leaders certainly didn’t cut it with God. When He gave Jeremiah a 40-year ministry of speaking against them, He said: “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.”

He also said, “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams... who, by their lies and by their recklessness, cause My people to err. I did not send them... therefore they shall not profit these people at all.”

These fake spiritual leaders led the people into idol worship and eventual judgment. Such is the power of a few religious hot-shots who claim to be genuine. They can fool an entire nation.

In the New Testament, Paul said false apostles and deceitful workers would “transform themselves into apostles of Christ.” He said these fakes would “come in by stealth to spy out the liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (2 Cor.11:13, Gal.2:4).

He was talking about phonies who tried to change the gospel of Christ which says salvation is a free gift into a religious system of rules by which a person could supposedly earn the favor of God. They took advantage of human guilt and their fear of judgment and exploited this for personal gain.

The fake witch in the newspaper story was making predictions and taking money from unsuspecting people, action forbidden by civil law. Real witchcraft is forbidden by God, even called an abomination, because real witches are in the business of deceit too. They steer people from the truth about God and about man’s eternal destiny by promising superficial knowledge of the future. People who earnestly want some control of their destinies need to hear the truth — that only God can give anyone that eternal well-being they are seeking.

In the long run, such deceivers haven’t a hope. Satan, the master-fake, is doomed just as are those who follow his ways, including fakes and witches. Revelation 10:10 tells of their fate, “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

That fake witch likely faces a fine and maybe some time in jail. She will change her advertising, lower her rates, and be back in business before very long. However, unless she and others who practice deception determine to follow the truth, a genuine punishment is yet to come.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Waiting with expectation and joy .............. Parables 287

October 2, 1991

Our fourth grandchild was due July 20th. The mother and father were prepared. They had the bedroom painted, tiny clothes bought, diapers folded and stacked, and even a few toys stashed in the closet.

We were really excited too. But because we are not within shouting distance any more, we carried a borrowed cellular phone everywhere - for four weeks. By the 26th, we had to constantly remind ourselves that babies eventually are born... it would happen. This was not an event we would somehow miss because the date came and went.

Some of our friends teased us and said the baby would come the day we forgot the phone. Some of them wanted to get the number and call us, just to watch our blood pressure raise.

Of course we thought about this expected baby most of the time. What would it look like? Would it be a boy or a girl? We prayed for its health and for a safe delivery. Towards the end, we prayed it would turn the right way up (it did) and that our daughter would have strength to deliver (she did) and her husband would have his wits about him as he helped her in the case room (he did). The whole thing was a little like waiting for the Second Coming; we didn’t know the exact time but we were certain it would happen!

We do know that Christ will arrive, even though His return is not limited to nine months. Still, God tells us to “wait for His Son from heaven” with that same attitude of expectancy and joyful desire as we waited for this baby. The biggest difference is that when He comes life’s trials will end and we will go to forever be with the Lord. (Some mothers figure the arrival of a baby is the beginning of life’s trials!)

The Bible reminds us: “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6)

For some, Christ’s second coming will be as an unexpected thief. Those who did not believe it would happen will be shocked and “overtaken.” But it will surely happen. To use another metaphor, it is a certain as labor pains are certain for a woman who is pregnant.

As for those who are “the sons of light” (a term used to describe Christians), that day is to be expected, but as we wait our anticipation should provoke thoughtful, godly living. We should not be inattentive like a sleeping person or blind like one who is darkness. Although we do not know exactly what He looks like, we know our waiting will be rewarded because we already know that He is indeed the Son of God who will take us to spend eternity with Him.

The grandchild we waited for with such anticipation turned out to be a dark-haired, blue-eyed girl, who weighed 8 lbs. 11 oz. and looked so “mature” that her mother says, “She came out well-done.” She is a great delight to us, a fulfilment of our excited expectations.

When Jesus comes, we know that delight will be similar yet multiplied. He will fulfil every desire of our hearts and give delight that will last forever. Our responsibility is to be ready, eager for Him to arrive, even telling others so they can share in the event and not be surprised when the labor pains begin.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Whose Fault Is It? .............. Parables 286

September 25, 1991

Our oldest son used to have a black T-shirt with “SAN ANDREAS EARTHQUAKE COMPANY” written on the front and “IT’S NOT MY FAULT” written on the back. When my husband tells a story about people who refuse to take responsibility for work that are clearly theirs, we think of that shirt. The explanation for not getting the job done is almost always “It’s not my fault.”

Everyone protests, “It’s not my fault...” now and then. And many times it isn’t their fault. However, when it is, the results of refusing to accept responsibility can be just as disastrous as an earthquake.

Consider Adam and Eve when confronted in the garden. God, perhaps with the apple core or fruit pit in His hand says to Adam, “I thought I told you not to eat from that tree...” and Adam comes back with, “The woman You gave me, she gave me the fruit from the tree... it’s not my fault, check out Eve...” (Reread Genesis 3, he actually did say that!)

So God turns to Eve and asks about her disobedience to His command. She says, “The serpent deceived me, so it’s not my fault, check out that snake...”

God doesn’t bother to ask the serpent about his responsibility. He knows this snake is an embodiment of Satan. This critter is far from having any interest in God’s commands and has no intention of taking responsibility for leading Eve into sin. So instead of waiting for the snake’s “It’s not my fault,” the Lord curses him to a lifetime of crawling in the dust.

Then God promises Satan there would be: “enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” a prophecy referring to Jesus Christ who would eventually gain victory over this beguiling deceiver.

After that, God tells the two buck-passers the consequences of their irresponsible behavior. Women would face multiplied sorrow as mothers (all mothers can relate to that) and there would be conflict in marriage relationships (all marrieds can relate to that). The man is told that making a living would be tough because the earth was now cursed as a result of this sin. Adam would battle thorns and thistles from then on “because he heeded the voice of his wife...” Furthermore, spiritual (and eventually, physical) death would come upon them as they are now separated from God and banished from access to the Tree of Life.

Adam was responsible to make right decisions, not be governed by his wife’s wrong suggestion. Eve was responsible to evaluate what even snakes say to her and determine if her decision would fit into God’s will. Yet both of them blamed someone else for their choices.

Being responsible for what we do is not always easy. When someone gives me wrong directions, I want to blame them that I got lost. When someone hurts me, I want to blame them for my angry reaction. If I goof up, I too easily look for a scapegoat, not wanting to bear the burden of my own mistakes. However, my husband says workers who make good impressions on a construction site are those who go to a superior and say, “I did not get the job done properly but am willing to try again... what kind of help can I get?”

Did Adam ever say, “I disobeyed You God... I not only failed to stop my wife from sin but entered into it with her... I am guilty, help me do the right thing”? Or did Eve say, “I made a horrible mistake, I wanted something that You told me I should not have... please forgive me, change my wants...”? We don’t know for sure but the Bible does tell us an amazing thing: when we say, “It is my fault...please help me...” God does a wonderful thing: He forgives our mistakes and removes our guilt, producing freedom and new life. Taking responsibility is worth it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A ‘G’ Summer .............. Parables 285

September 18, 1991

Like an episode of Sesame Street, this past summer was hosted by the letter “G”. My husband and I set Goals for our lives and marriage, even reaching many of them because we experienced God’s Grace at work in our hearts. We became Grandparents again (naturally, it was a Girl). And I took on the challenges of learning Greek and Golf!

Those who know me well won’t be surprised about the Greek; academics are my bag. (G is “gamma” and it looks like a “y”). But seeing me packing a bag of a different sort, with irons, woods and tees in it, is a wonder. My children waver between disbelief and bewilderment. My husband, who always wanted to golf more and now has an excuse, is simply delighted, but he shakes his head and can’t figure this out. Why would his bookworm wife take up golf?

Maybe it was the notion that “multiple goals are fulfilling.” I read that somewhere and have always found it to be true, so I usually have several “irons in my fire” (only in this case, irons in my bag).

Maybe it was my mother’s example. All her life, she has had at least one “new” venture on the go, everything from photography to oil painting, raising quarter horses, quilting and invisible mending. Right now, at 75 years, she is taking organ lessons.

Maybe it is Psalm 37:4, which says: “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” My delight in the Lord has been growing. More and more I realize the wonders of what He has done for me, not only for eternity but bountiful blessings in my life right now. Consequently, as those blessings add more fuel to my delight, according to this psalm, He puts more desires in my heart. Could it be that one of them was to play golf?

What possible godly purpose could be served playing golf? Well, the first time out, Bob told me the biggest frustration about the game was that you could hit the ball well for a while, then, without any apparent reason, your whole game just falls apart. I responded, “Just like life, eh?” So, learning to respond to erratic results on the golf course could be good practice for the larger game.

Another reason is togetherness. We did many things with our children when they were small yet our own time-out was limited. Now the kids are adults and the two of us share few hobbies. This game is an opportunity to help each other develop a good swing and cheer for each other after making a long drive off the tee. Such mutual support carries over into the larger game too.

Thirdly, we are a twosome and golf clubs prefer foursomes. This can be an occasion to take our friends for a fun outing or meet new people. Chatting from one hole to the next or looking together for a ball lost in the rough is a wonderful way to get to know other folks.

Last but not least, golfing is a celebration of life. At least it can be when I lay aside my frustration and any consuming desire to get rid of that persistent hook or slice. God’s gifts of creation, one another’s company, physical exercise, fresh air and sunshine are all ours to enjoy. So seldom do most of us stop and take the time to do just that.

So with Greek and Golf and a new Grandchild, summer 1991 in Moose Jaw has had lots of “G’s. God even added a few more: Green Grass (from abundant rain here too!), Gales (those Saskatchewan winds kept the mosquitoes away) and Get-aways (to Germany and other places). I could go on but bear with me for just a few more.... God has also blessed us with Generous Grace, which makes us feel Great, Glad, even Giggly, and certainly Grateful!

Monday, June 8, 2015

At your Peak? .............. Parables 284

September 11, 1991

All summer one of my friends kept telling me I was “really blossoming.” Far from seeing myself as a rose or even a daisy, I decide to look up the word “blossom,” remembering that even stink weeds can do that.

According to Webster, “blossoming” is a peak period or stage of development. It is when something (usually a flowering plant) comes into the mature state that it was intended to reach. My friend, however, used this metaphor to describe a spiritual peak. Comparing the flowers in my garden with God’s design for my life helped me to praise Him for her observation.

First of all, “blossoming,” whether according to Webster or a biblical definition, is not something I can do myself. If I am indeed at a “peak,” it is the result of God’s abundant grace, grace that is available to everyone. In fact, with God’s grace, spiritual growth and blossoming are an amazing phenomena.

His work of producing “blossoming” people is much like the work of a flower gardener. The gardener clears the soil; God prepares the heart. The gardener plants the seeds; God plants the gospel. The gardener waters with a hose; God uses His Word. In the plant world, the gardener takes a geranium out of the basement and into the light where new shoots displace the old. In the spiritual world, God transplants a sinner out of the realm of darkness into the kingdom of His Son where his old life “passes away” and new life begins. So in both plants and people, when new life sprouts God causes it.

The Master Gardener also uses various methods to nurture His “plants.” He weeds by clearing away sinful thoughts and actions. He prunes by chopping off unfruitful habits. He waters with His Word and provides lots of Son-shine. He also hardens young plants through gentle exposure to trials. (My mother always claimed petunias bloom better if hit with a rake now and then!)

Of course, each “plant” must cooperate with these provisions for growth. Rebellious plants are called weeds and rebellious Christians (I speak from experience) cannot produce blossoms.

Although my new life from God began years ago, my friend is convinced this is my season for prolific blossoming. She points out how God placed me in a fertile place - Bible college - and how He has surrounded me with the strong supporting growth of a vibrant congregation in the church we attend and over 800 encouraging students and teachers. Besides that, He is producing some outstanding blooms at home in the life of my husband. All that growth stimulates my own.

However, as far as comfort goes, life is not “all roses.” Since the best blossoms are produced in a “clean” environment, the Lord has been doing some weeding and pruning, digging into my heart and finding some deep rooted false values I didn’t know I had. Jesus said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Of course His big hoe hurts but He promised “Behold, I will do a new thing...” For me, that new thing meant not only a move into a special environment and tender nourishment but some severe trials to “toughen” my faith along with some painful pruning and deep weeding.

My friend is too kind to say that I’m a “late-bloomer” but thank God that is better than no blooms at all. And I am not always sure if my life will come up roses, or if all those weeds are out, but I do know this: As my face turns towards His Sonshine and my roots go deeper into Him, I am deeply grateful I’ve been transplanted into the garden of the Lord.

Friday, June 5, 2015

It’s okay to be sad .............. Parables 283

September 4, 1991

The American constitution and even television commercials declare we have the “right” to be happy. In fact, the pursuit of happiness occupies a major portion of the typical North American’s life, so much so that when someone is sad, someone else usually insists they “Cheer up.”

Imagine the reaction if a sad person responded to encouragement with: “NO! I have every right to be sad. In fact, being sad is good for me...” Would we put him in a strait jacket?

The truth is, some sorrow has a valuable place in our lives. There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh... (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and sorrow is sometimes appropriate. The Bible says to “... mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15) and Jesus Himself even experienced that kind of sorrow. Certainly anyone who jokes and laughs at a funeral is out of place.

Beyond being an expression of human grief, the Bible says sorrow has spiritual value: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because by it the heart is made better” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). This means a kind of sorrow that feels grief over sin, and thus our attitude toward sinning is changed.

Jesus referred to this heart-changing sorrow when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The Bible explains this “mourning” as a sadness for one’s own sin: “Now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended... Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: ...earnestness, ...eagerness to clear yourselves, ...indignation, ...alarm, ...longing, ...concern, ...readiness to see justice done...” (2 Corinthians 7).

Again, this kind of sorrow is the grief some people feel when they have sinned against God. It is so important to God that He says if we don’t feel that way about our sin, we should make an effort to do so: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom...” (James 4:9).

One reason this kind of sorrow is so important is that grief over sin is the only way to ultimate joy. When Jesus said that mourners will be comforted, He was not talking about ordinary grief over a death in the family (Many who grieve are not comforted) but preaching a sermon about the characteristics of those who will be children of God. He said they will be “poor in spirit,” not having what it takes to please God, mourning over their sin, submissive to Him, and having a hunger and thirst for a godly righteousness which they realize they do not have (Matthew 5,6,7). The Greek word Jesus used for “mourn” signifies the greatest grief imaginable, an utter sense of loss and sorrow because the mourner has realized his utter bankruptcy. He cannot please God... but it is that person who will be comforted, by forgiveness now and a heavenly reward eventually.

What if a person rejects that kind of sorrow? What if they insist they are okay; sin is not an issue to get dejected about; they have a right to be happy and life is here and now only, a party to be lived?

First, nothing happens to their heart. It stays in the same condition as described by Jeremiah: “deceitful and desperately wicked.” Secondly, they never receive the comfort of forgiveness. They will be separated forever from the love God offered through the sacrifice of His Son. Thirdly, a heavenly reward is out of the question. Eternal condemnation is the only other option.

So the next time someone says “Cheer up,” try this: “No, my sorrow is helping me to think about the way I live, change my ways and stop doing all the things that are not good for me...!”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why did the chicken break the law? .............. Parables 282

August 28, 1991

Did you know it was once illegal in Toronto to wear a felt hat in a steam bath? It is also illegal for chickens to cross the road in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and for a man from Pictou to kiss any woman on Sunday, including his wife. In Canada, it is illegal to send a telegram threatening a bird or to enter an airplane while it is in flight.

Silly, pointless laws are probably never enforced; they just make good fillers in a joke book. However, not all laws are silly and most fulfil definite purposes. In our justice system, many laws come directly from Scripture, rooted in the laws of God which were planned by Him with the good of man in mind. Consider Psalm 19:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” Souls who do not know Jesus Christ are separated from God in a state God calls “dead in sin.” God wants life for each one, so through His perfect laws, sinners become aware of their need for revival and aware of what to believe so they can receive new life from God.

“The (laws) of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Proverbs says wisdom begins by fearing the Lord and departing from evil. The wisdom found in the trustworthy laws of God clearly explain what is good and what is evil so even the most naive, uncomplicated person can learn how to follow the former and avoid the latter, and become wise.

“The (laws) of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.” Sometimes we become downcast over the mess in the world and perhaps the chaos in our own life. We may wonder if there is anything anyone can possibly be happy about yet when the despair of life makes our hearts heavy, God promises His law will give joy, even a joy that our trials cannot overwhelm.

“The (laws) of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Darkness is a metaphor for moral and spiritual confusion. Surely we live in a time where both prevail. We need light for our turbulent national situation. We need light for personal dimness of vision. God says light comes from focusing on His radiant laws and turning to Jesus Christ, the Author of both light and life. In Him, we can see clearly and avoid confusion.

“The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.” Some of man’s laws come and go because they become obsolete, no longer serving justice. But God’s laws are always sure and to the point, addressing the need for righteousness no matter the era or culture.

“They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” Some law may be called precious but God’s law is also sweet, even like honey, a pure food, easily digested and pleasant. His laws are bitter only to those who rebel against Him.

“By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” The laws of God remind us that God is concerned about the way we live. Those who break His laws will suffer the consequences but He promises a reward for those who keep them.

Some people think freedom means being able to do as one pleases but clearly love and restraint of selfish desires give a greater freedom to everyone. That is why Jesus summed up the law of God in two laws: “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” If we obeyed this dual law of love, we would be better off for it. Not only that, all other laws would be automatically included... maybe even those silly ones that protect chickens from crossing the road...

Monday, June 1, 2015

False teaching .............. Parables 281

August 21, 1991

An assistant professor of Religious Studies at a major denominational college made the following statement: “Most people who have taken at least a college-level course in religion know that the Christian Gospels are a combination of historical fact and pious imagination.”

In other words, he is saying that the records we have of the life of Christ are partly accurate and partly fiction and anyone who hasn’t been to college has simply not been clued in.

While the college I attend teaches sound doctrine, I’ve realized that not everyone who gives instruction in “religion” teaches what the Bible plainly says. Many do not even treat God’s Word as a reliable document. For example, outside of my evangelical professors, there are theists, poly-theists and neo-orthodox circles. Each is further broken down into smaller sects and isms, each having a twist in their teaching from what the Bible says.

However, most people don’t care. The common philosophy is whatever anyone wants to believe about “religion” is right for them; there is no such thing as objective truth; it should never be a point of contention.

Jesus Christ did not agree. He said, “I am the way, I am the truth... and no one comes to God except through me.” He repeatedly warned about false teachers who deny the objective truth He came to reveal.

The Apostle Peter said it too: “There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up...”

Thus the Bible has been mocked, even by people who teach “religion.” They say it is only a book by ordinary men, a collection of fables and myths that has no bearing on anyone’s life today. They think the disciples just WANTED to believe Jesus rose from the dead or could perform miracles so they made up those Bible stores and combined them with what actually happened.

Oddly enough, those who say these things do just that themselves. They make up their own version of who God is, what He says and what He has done, or each makes up his own gods and then they teach about the god of their own imagination, not the God revealed in the Bible and in the person of Christ.

Even some who accept the Bible as a “religious book,” insist no mere human could do the things Jesus did, therefore concluding the Bible stories must be in error. Others may concede Jesus is divine but cannot believe any writing could remain accurate after being copied and recopied for over 2000 years, so again, the stories about Him cannot be true.

However, the Bible says God is not mocked. Because He is God, He is more than able to do anything man thinks is impossible, such as reveal Himself in a Man or preserve His truth in a book. Besides, He is not unaware of those who deny Him. He plans one day to call to account those who make up their own version of Him. On that day, they will not only be forced to acknowledge their error but will have no choice but to acknowledge Christ: since “every knee will bow and every tongue WILL confess Christ as Lord.”

All need to heed those who recorded God’s Word. They warned of the dangers of dismissing Scripture as the words of mere men. They made it clear that the Bible is not a myth. After all, if they made it up, why not make up something that is not so demanding? Why not a god and a book that never corrects sinners, never rebukes rebellion and does not promise judgment on those who make up their own version?