Monday, August 31, 2015

God is hunting treasure ................ Parables 320

June 2, 1992

Have you ever searched for treasure? Not necessarily treasure like a chest full of jewels depicted in pirate movies but something of value, perhaps a prize? Or a rare article that would bring you wealth or unusual reward?

There is an interesting idea about searching in the Bible. Psalm 139 says the Lord searches us and knows us. In other verses we are told that He searches every heart and knows what is inside. Is He just snooping, or is He looking for something in particular? If so, what? Is it possible that He is on a treasure hunt? And if so, what could Almighty God possibly find in us that He would consider valuable, a treasure?

Scripture seems to indicate this search is a diligent, careful probing. The same words are used in other contexts to describe investigation of legal cases, or the diligent search made in mining or exploration, or the work done to examine a particular subject, or the probing someone might do to unlock the secrets of a person’s feelings or character.

Can you imagine Sherlock Holmes investigating a room for the tiniest clue? Or a miner using his axe on every stone in a mine shaft as he seeks valuable minerals or gems? Try to envision an explorer searching out all the landmarks of an unexplored country, or a student researching a term paper. Or visualize a psychiatrist probing a patient’s responses. All of these examples give an idea of the manner in which God searches hearts.

However, God seems to have a different motive for His investigations. For one thing, the Bible gives no indication He searches hearts because He is ignorant of what we do or think and thus must discover what we try to hide. He already knows all things. Nor is hoping to find a rare IQ. Human wisdom, while important to us, rates very little in the eyes of God (1 Corinthians 1 and 2). Furthermore, the Bible does not say we are uniquely unknowable and God searches in order to get to know us. It is not the mysteriousness of our character that prevents a personal relationship with God, but rather our sin. Because of that, I doubt His favorite activity involves dissecting human mind patterns. For many, that is like sifting garbage.

So what exactly is God doing by searching hearts? What is He looking for? Luke 18:8 supplies the answer in another question. Jesus, speaking in the third-person about His second appearance, asks; When He (meaning Himself) comes, will He find faith on the earth?

With that, Jesus reveals that God is looking for faith, a believing response to His revelation of Himself through His Son and His Word. He seeks even the slightest inclination to abandon sin and believe in Him. He asks: “Is it possible that I will find any faith?”

Left on our own, the Bible says He would not. According to Romans 3, we have all gone our own way, no one seeks God, no one believes. Yet God, because He loves us, is not satisfied to leave us in this bankrupt condition. He longs to find the treasure, even determines He will find it.

Because that is so, and because we lack faith (as well as anything else we need to please God), He knows the only way He will find this treasure is if He puts it there Himself. That is why He gives us faith as it says in Ephesians 2:8,9: “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God...” What a gracious act of God — He looks for faith, finds none, and rather than give up because we come up empty, He grants it as a gift!

Not that we have no part in this treasure hunt: Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” We must involve ourselves with the Bible. The faith necessary to believe it accompanies that involvement — as we are willing to say YES, both to the words we read and the faith God wants to give to us.

When that happens — when God gives and we receive through His Word — we can be sure that when Jesus returns (and even before that) His search will be not be a wasted effort; He will find the faith He is looking for.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bread of Life ................ Parables 319

May 26, 1992

Those bread making machines amaze me. Today’s high-tech baker simply measures in flour, water, yeast, shortening, sugar and whatever else is desired in the final product, presses a button and walks away. A paddle revolves and the dough is kneaded. A timer turns it on after the dough rises and the built-in oven bakes it to perfection. The same timer can also be set to delay the process so baker and family can wake up in the morning to the mouth-watering aroma of fresh baked bread.

Bread has been called the staff of life. For most people, a week or even a day does not go by without toast or a sandwich. We dip bread in eggs and fry it for breakfast, eat croutons in salads, and even bake bread pudding with milk and raisins for dessert. Whatever form it takes, buns or pita, crackers or croutons, bread is indeed nourishment for many.

Interesting then that Jesus said “Man cannot live by bread alone...” (He said it to Satan in Matthew 4:4, quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, when being tempted to turn stones into bread.) While the physical dimension of life needs bread and other physical nourishment, Jesus clearly meant life is not measured entirely by the physical. He was talking about a life that goes beyond that, a life that does not depend on wheat and yeast to sustain it.

However, people who hear Jesus talk about this kind of life are often more interested in bread and in physical life. One biblical incident tells of a miraculous meal where Jesus did something even better than a high-tech bread machine could. He took a few loaves and multiplied them to feed a large crowd.

After that miracle, He told the people who gathered around that they needed to work for food that endures rather than be concerned with food that spoils. With that, He declared Himself the Bread of Life and told them they must partake of Him to live forever. But many grumbled and turned away. As Jesus pointed out, instead of being eager to receive eternal life from Him, they wanted only the physical benefits: in this case, free bread.

As already said, Jesus’ claim to being the Bread of Life was not a claim to supply physical nourishment, even though that is what His hearers wanted. For them, the idea of having someone make life easy was a good idea. They would take His offer on those terms but not on His terms.

Yet His terms include far more than such a narrow view. Eternal life, while difficult to envision, has obvious advantages over physical life. For one thing, it does not require hard work (or even pushing a button) to produce or earn. It is free, a gift from the Living God. Jesus made it clear that all who come to Him in faith will receive His eternal life.

Furthermore, all who rely on Him receive sustaining nourishment, a spiritual satisfaction that even the best sandwich cannot match. Jesus is the main course, as it were, that makes other “fulfillment” look like snacks in comparison. He invites all to come to Him, first to derive eternal life, and then to receive needed strength and nourishment to grow and maintain spiritual health and energy.

One caution as it relates to this process: hunger for God is not satisfied by quick snacks. A superficial reading of His Word and a quick “God bless today” prayer amounts to only a few crumbs on our plates. He will feed our deepest needs and give us energy to face the challenges of life — if we will spend quantity and quality time with Him.

Those ovens that makes quick, easy bread would be just fine for the physical side of life — I would not mind having one — but for spiritual hunger and sustenance, only Living Bread immensely satisfies.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Grannie Disease ................ Parables 318

May 19, 1992

During a recent visit, our oldest son noticed I kept forgetting to do something and quipped “I get that too —  it’s called granny-disease.”

I should have swatted him. Most women want to forget birthdays only, and never become old enough to be forgetful! However, I did console myself with this thought: I am in good company — God forgets things too.

Directly related to God’s forgetfulness is one aspect of our own ability to forget. My husband and I marvel how the memory of confessed, forgiven sin fades. Our recall of things done in the past, things we were so ashamed of, has faded to the point where neither of us can remember details, even if we try. Yet there was a time we thought we would never forget.

Recently, God graciously delivered a friend of mine from a life of violent sin and demonic oppression that once dominated everything she did. What amazes her is that now she can scarcely remember even the most recent images from her past. She is particularly overjoyed that plaguing mental images are completely gone — as if she did not even experience them.

I know that some people are able to push painful or ugly memories out of their minds with busyness and noise, but their forgetfulness is repression, a deliberate effort. It is not the same as what God does with a Christian’s memory of sin.

To understand it, we need to first know what God Himself does with our sin. The Psalmist explains that “the LORD is merciful and gracious and slow to anger... while He does hate sin, He does not stay angry for ever...” even though He has every right to remain angry with us.

God offers forgiveness for at least two reasons. First, He can forgive because of the gospel. The death of His Son satisfied His righteous wrath against sin. We deserved the penalty but He loved us so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty our sin deserved. Those who acknowledge their sin and need for forgiveness and believe in Christ as their sin-bearer, are pardoned. Their offenses are removed from them, nailed to His cross and God says, “Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more (Hebrews 10:17).

Second, His own nature demands forgiveness. Because He is holy, He cannot hold grudges. He says: “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins.” That is why we can pray as the psalmist did: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD” (Psalms 25:7).

The marvel is God not only forgives our confessed sin but also removes it. He promises: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 103 goes on to say “He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities... as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Christians experience the reality of freedom from guilt. As we confess daily and as each sin is cleansed, its guilt is taken away. Then, as we learn to live more and more under the control of the Holy Spirit, we more and more think like He thinks — and the more we think like He thinks, the more we are able to simply forget our sins — as He does.

None of us like it when we can’t remember the names of our good neighbors or where we put the car keys, but when it comes to forgetting cancelled sin, I do welcome having granny-disease.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sin is like soil erosion ................ Parables 317

May 12, 1992

My mom’s favorite rhetorical question is: “How could anyone do such a thing?”

The recent riots in Los Angeles and other major cities have no doubt brought the same question to many minds. How could anyone beat an uninvolved bystander to death? Or shoot a child? Or break into a business and walk away with whatever they want?

About a week before the riots began, I heard someone talk about erosion, not in reference to the topsoil blowing around Saskatchewan but regarding the erosion of the human will. This concept answers the question: How can people be so illogically sinful?

Basically, the average person thinks twice about violating social and moral norms. Most of us are not interested in committing any kind of gross offense or act of violence, either in mob conditions or more private situations. We are constrained by moral or religious convictions, fear of consequences, love of others, any number of things.

However, the temptation to evil seldom comes at us in the beginning with something gross. It usually starts with something small, a tiny temptation, something that seems fairly harmless. We know it is not right but since there seems to be no immediate reason why not to do it, or it seems no one is looking or caring, we tend to compromise our convictions.

The first one, because it is so easy to slide into, is probably the most difficult to resist. The next temptation, the next opportunity to compromise, is easier to give in to, not because it seems even more appealing but because once we have yielded our wills, an erosion process has begun.

Our will is like the humus in prairie top soil. It serves as a protection. But when it is gone, it doesn’t take much wind to further deplete the land. Improved agricultural practices offered hope that the dust bowls of the Thirties would never be repeated, yet confidence this would not happen again tends to relax diligence.

It is the same with our will. When the surface resolve to say no to temptation is relaxed, the winds of compromise begin to deplete the soul. One capitulation after another soon leaves nothing to resist the final furious blast — and the person whose will has been eroded finds himself doing something that prior to his gradual slide he would never have consented to do.

But topsoil is not without hope. Once it is totally depleted it is in a stage called old age, but “such processes as erosion, flooding, dust storms, and volcanic eruptions expose or provide new, unweathered parent material to begin a new soil life cycle” (Grollier Electronic Publishing, Inc.)

Neither are souls without hope. Those who participated in the violence in Los Angeles, and others who have slid into gross sin, can acknowledge their depleted lives, ask God for forgiveness and begin anew — with His transforming help.

Better yet, both for soil and souls, is to avoid such erosion in the first place. A farmer needs to daily check the condition of his land. Leaders of major cities need to daily check the condition of their citizens. Each of us need to daily check the condition of our souls. Are we taking care of the little things? Or compromising here and there?

God promises, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The best way out is not at the end when so much damage has been done, or even in the middle when we are often too weak in our resolve to say no, but right at the beginning — while we can still stand against the winds of temptation.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Environmentalism ................ Parables 316

May 5, 1992

Fort Saskatchewan’s air sometimes falls short of mountain fresh, but as nauseating as some of those chemical fumes are, many people who live in large cities would rather have our “air” than theirs.

For instance, a recent environmental report says canaries live only three minutes in downtown Mexico City. In the few weeks since that report, respiratory illness has gone up 70 percent. During the first week of April, fuel-burning industry was ordered to cut production by 50 percent and students have been forbidden to exercise outdoors.

Most of us are well aware of the narrow boundaries of an ecological balance. We know how important it is to preserve those boundaries because our lives depend on very basic items threatened by their removal. We need air to breathe, food and water to survive. Although industrial progress has its benefits, personal and industrial irresponsibility and taking these precious God-given resources for granted has had destructive results.

The environmentalists are not the only ones that admonish us to take care of our world. Scripture is replete with principles regarding responsible behavior. When people follow these principles (whether they know Scripture or not), many people enjoy the benefits. When people disobey God, knowingly or unknowingly, we find ourselves suffering in many areas, such as air so thick children cannot play outside and birds cannot sing.

Job 12:10 says, “the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” is in God’s hands. Acts 17:28 echoes with, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being...”

Surely God is the Giver and Sustainer of life. He created an environment highly suitable for us to live in, one with just the right balance of oxygen and other gases in the atmosphere and an ample supply of food and fresh water. But we have senselessly polluted the air and water.

Not only that, we have allowed greed and selfishness to govern the production and distribution of food. Just this week, one nation decided to withhold resources from a part of its peoples. Some claim political reasons or religious persecution, but certainly this was not done out of the kindness of someone’s heart nor a concern to be good managers of all that God provided.

The Apostle Paul reminded the Romans how some people refuse to acknowledge God and never thank Him. He said these become futile in their thinking yet assume they are wise, then go from there to more obvious sins until God turns His back on them. He says they will not escape the judgment of God and asks, “Do you not realize how good God has been to you?”

He might ask this generation the same question. The goodness of God is still evident in the forests that remain, in the rare fresh breezes and occasional still sparkling mountain streams. But does that goodness have any effect in drawing us toward God? Does it cause thankfulness and responsible living? Does it make us think twice about the way we manage what He gave us?

Paul adds, “...don’t you know that the goodness of God ought to lead you to repentance?” Apparently these people didn’t, because he adds, “Because of your hard, unrepentant hearts, you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of... the righteous judgment of God...”

Many of the passages in the book of Revelation describe the judgment of God. Lest we think He simply hurls bolts of lightning on unrepentant sinners, some of those passages seem to describe a polluted world that can no longer support life, a judgment expressed through creation — it turns on those who have ruined it — and destroys them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Overcoming Phobias ................ Parables 315

April 28, 1992

Contrary to the claims of the Tough and Determined, everyone has fears. They may be unusual, such as thalassophobia: fear of the sea; climacophobia: fear of stairs; optophobia: fear of closing one’s eyes; or logizomechanophobia: fear of computers!

Others fears are more common, such as claustrophobia: fear of being locked in; achluphobia: fear of the dark; and androphobia: fear of man. Closely related to the last one is the number one fear in North America: fear of public speaking (which also has several long names ending in phobia).

At the root of being afraid to speak in public is a fear of what people will think if I make a mistake. Will they reject me? Laugh at me? Talk about me in a demeaning way behind my back? We are afraid of people but when called upon to get up and talk before a crowd our concerns center more on getting rid of sweaty palms, dry mouth, and a stomach full of butterflies.

Experienced speakers say that no matter how many times they speak, there are always some symptoms of anxiety. However, progress can be made. As a speaker learns to concentrate less on himself and more on the audience, those jitters are markedly decreased. Since kings fit into the category of experienced lecturers, peeking into a king’s journal might give further insight into dealing with this major fear of public speaking.

The shepherd-king of Israel had reason to fear man — both before and after taking the throne. Saul, the former king was constantly trying to kill him. Leaders of other nations threatened his kingdom. His own son betrayed him and tried to take his God-given position of leadership. When David wrote in his journal (the Psalms), he did not have public speaking in mind but the fear of man occupied his emotions. Dealing with it is getting at the root of the other fear.

As we might expect, David hoped in God for his confidence. He said: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though a host should camp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident... (note where he places his confidence) ...for in the time of trouble (the LORD) shall hide me... in the secret of His tabernacle; He shall set me up upon a rock.”

David knew that no matter what his enemies tried to do to him, God was in control. Furthermore, even if the worst should happen, his hope was in the fact that he could retreat into the safety of his relationship with God. God loved him. God accepted him. God never, ever ridiculed him. In that Rock he could find stability for fearful emotions and security against all threats.

To have that kind of confidence, David (and you and I) need an intimate relationship with God. It will not do to merely know in our heads that He is sovereign and that He loves and accepts us. These truths have to be deeply ingrained into our hearts to the point that when dangers, darkness, public speaking, or other experiences threaten, terror will not fill our minds and tense our muscles. Instead, we will immediately think of God and trust Him.

Fear’s causes, whether spiders, trains, travel or burglars, are never as awesome or as powerful as God. He controls all that comes at us and even though some of it will test us (to see where we really place our confidence), it borders on idolatry to let anything we fear control our lives — instead of Him.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Keys to Satisfaction ................ Parables 314

April 21, 1992 

Anyone old enough to remember the good old days may recall the prices we once paid at the grocery store. For instance, prime rib roast: 79 cents/lb., peanut butter: 99 cents/48-ounce jar, and coffee: 69 cents/lb.

Transportation and television was good in the good old days too. A 1967 Oldsmobile 88 hardtop sold for $3774 (the tag for one of that vintage and in good condition could be higher now), a front-end alignment was $7 and gasoline was 45 cents a gallon or 10 cents per liter. We watched Bonanza, Red Skeleton, Front Page Challenge, and the Lucy Show. “Good” takes on even more meaning when these oldies are compared to most of today’s programming.

Progress says we can’t go back. Maybe we don’t want to — wages have gone up a bunch since then too. In fact, the average salary has increased far more than grocery and automobile prices, enough to make one wonder why it is so difficult to make ends meet, much more difficult than the good old days.

Historically, the Hebrews had some good old days too. They came out of slavery in Egypt by means of the Exodus led by Moses, entered and possessed the promised land under the leadership of Joshua, and grew to a prosperous nation under King David and his son, Solomon. God had promised to bless them if they obeyed Him, and they did — so He did.

However, the good times came to an end. The generation after Solomon built idols and fought over the land. The nation divided and the blessings dwindled. God told them if they did not obey they would be cursed and cursed they were. Their prosperity changed to famine, disease, and invasion by enemies. Assyria invaded the northern kingdom and Babylon the south. The Hebrew people wound up exiled in a foreign land.

But God didn’t forget them. After many years they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. However, life was never the same. The people had not regained the prosperity promised them. The prophet Haggai described what was happening: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

He goes on to say their problem was that they had neglected their spiritual lives. The temple should have been rebuilt and they had not done that. Because of their neglect, God said to them, “I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.”

We are not the nation Israel and our drought (so far) is mostly economic. But many work hard only to have their wages go into a bag of holes. Their money is gone before the month is over even though costs have not escalated nearly as much as the size of pay cheques. For those who do have enough money for basic needs, most are far from being content. Could it be that our problem in Canada is the same as it was in ancient Israel?

Instead of crying out for a return to the good old days, instead of pressuring our government to force economic progress, instead of vain hopes of ever making wants and wages match, maybe as a nation we need to give some attention to our spiritual condition.

God does say if we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” He will take care of the necessities of life. If necessities are not satisfying, maybe we are seeking our satisfaction in that which can never satisfy.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Who is Jesus? ................ Parables 313

April 14, 1992

Graffiti, found on a university wall says:

Jesus said unto them: “Who do you say that I am?”
And they replied, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships.”
And Jesus said: “What?”
This bit of wit is not intended to imply Jesus is unable to understand verbal gobbledegook. The point is, many “educated” people in their efforts to be profound often miss the simplicity of who He is.

Jesus really did ask this important question to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Today’s average man-in-the-street responds by saying He was only a man, maybe a great teacher or prophet, but still only a man. With that, they are forced to conclude that the Bible is not historically reliable (even though it is the most well-documented book in all history) because it says He is far more than a mere man.

Others say Jesus was a kook, some sort of religious nut. However, if that is true, we base our calendar, major holidays, and a large portion of our legal and ethical system on the life and sayings of a religious nut?

Others say Jesus was a liar, a grand fraud who claimed to be God in the flesh. According to them, He was simply not telling the truth. But if that is true, many of His followers have given their lives for a lie rather than admit they had been fooled.

I can’t buy that. Anyone who is convinced they saw a man alive after He had been crucified and put in a tomb has far more reason to die for their belief than a person clinging to some lies in a “hope-so” kind of way. After all, if Jesus offers eternal life to all those who trust Him, and if He rose from the dead Himself, why not die for that belief? Death merely ushers you into eternal life! Besides, the disciples lived with Him for over three years. Not one of them ever called Him a liar.

So who is Jesus? Only a man? Does a mere man walk on water, calm storms with a word, heal the sick, raise the dead, and start a movement that lasts 2000 plus years in spite of organized efforts to stop it? I cannot think of anyone else that has done what Jesus has done.

Was He a kook? A fool? Do fools live like He did? They may get themselves in trouble for their claims (Jesus did), but they do not gain the respect of anyone who honestly examines their life. Jesus lived to serve others, loved the unlovely, called hypocrites to account, and never broke one Old Testament law. Fools do not fit His description.

Liars don’t live like He lived either, even clever liars. Besides, there is no motive for falsehood. He gained absolutely nothing positive or personally beneficial by saying what He did about Himself. Instead, it made the religious leaders of His day so angry that they killed Him.

Jesus Himself said that those who saw Him saw the Father. John wrote that He was the “Word who existed in the beginning with God” and in fact “was God” (John 1:1). The writer of Hebrews said, “He is ...the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being...” Paul said, “He was very nature God, (yet) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped... (Philippians 2:6). Instead, He became one of us.

The Bible says Jesus was born as a baby, grew up in a home with human parents, learned how to obey them as His Heavenly Father commanded, and when the time was right, He died for us. In other words, God pulled on humanity so He might deliver us from our sins by paying the penalty for them Himself... something no mere man, no fool, no liar would or could ever do.

Only God could act as our substitute or proxy because only God had no payment of His own to make. Furthermore, only God could rise from the dead and offer us forgiveness and eternal life. He may have done these things inside the skin of a man, a very real and fully human man, yet He could be none other than who He claimed to be. All other possibilities are easily eliminated.

God, being God, is not limited to what we can understand. We may not be able to grasp the mechanics of how God could become a man, but understanding the incarnation is not our responsibility — believing it is.

Jesus still asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Think or do? Or think and do? ................ Parables 112

April 7, 1992

Two women were discussing the textbooks for a particular college course. One said one of the books was “too philosophical.” The other woman agreed with her, then added the other book was “far more practical.”

As they talked, it was evident they did not like the first book as much as the second. It forced them to think about ideas and theories. The second book was about action to take in certain situations. It was easier to read and the answers to the problems discussed were in the back of the book.

These women were talking about a course in Counseling, but this same contrast between philosophical and practical frequently is used to describe other books, other courses, even those who teach the courses.

What bothers me is that the two approaches, no matter the topic to which they are applied, are usually kept separate — as if thinking and doing have no relationship to each other. In other words, the philosophical approach is not considered practical and even if the information is useful, no one bothers to make it so. Instead, students are given theories that sound like untested opinions and assumptions that may or may not work in the “real world.”

On the other hand, the practical approach involves a lot less thinking, at least for the students. The teacher (or author) has dissected the problems, struggled through the solutions, then presents just those, sometimes without revealing any of the theory behind his work. All that is left for the student to do is apply the same solutions to the same problems — very practical.

Of course the philosophical or thinking part is important in any field of endeavor. No matter the discipline: art, music, engineering, teaching, counseling, raising kids, or training dogs, there is some theory that must be worked out. No one can act in a correct manner without they themselves, or someone else, thoroughly considering the issues.

The difference between the two approaches is whether the student is going to learn how to think for themselves — and thus be able to identify and solve problems that are not in the textbook — or whether that student is equipped with some good answers just in case he or she happens to run into the exact same problems described by the instruction book.

I’m glad the Bible is a good balance between philosophical and practical. Even at that, some respond to it with, “Don’t give me all that theology — I just want to hear something practical.” They seem to want a quick-fix, no lectures, and certainly not any doctrinal arguments. On the other hand, others immerse themselves in theology and the theoretical without ever seeking God for specific solutions to take action regarding specific problems. The balance is knowing the philosophy in His Word — then being able to apply it to the unique situations of our lives. The process of thinking is not contrary to spirituality. In fact one author said that most of the problems in the world would never happen if the people involved gave 30 minutes of concentrated thought to the consequences of their actions — a statement both philosophical and highly practical. Taking action is not contrary to spirituality either. The life of Jesus Christ exemplifies both.

The Apostle Paul also put both together when he wrote Timothy telling him to stick to “sound doctrine” so he could live righteously. Then he added, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for doctrine, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Whoever picked those textbooks first mentioned knew some philosophical effort is necessary for practical action. Christian living involves both: thinking and doing.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Creating Unity ................ Parables 311

March 31, 1992

A Moose Jaw journalist recently noted that two-dollar wheat prices have bridged the generation gap between old and young farmers. Now they are all in the same boat and have something to talk about.

There are certain situations in life that tend to do just that — bring people together. One of them is a mutual problem, in this case the struggle to survive in a profession threatened by European grain subsidies, something neither young or old can do anything about.

Other situations that brings people together are happy events and sad events: weddings, births, graduations and funerals, recovery and illness, sunshine and tornadoes. National celebrations can do it too: Christmas, Easter, even Canada Day.

As humans, we tend to need something to push us into harmony. Fighting is easier, especially if the other person is different in some way than we are, a threat to us. Older people get pushed out by up-and-coming youth; young people feel intimidated by the confidence of the experienced. Men feel put-down by women; women feel put-down by men. Children are ostracized by each other on the playgrounds and in the classroom. Conflict is so common. Unity does not happen as easily.

In spite of how we can argue and drive wedges through the heart of our relationships, God intended people relate to one another harmoniously. He desires unity, a we are in this together attitude that shows itself in the way we treat one another.

However, while outside events can serve as a catalyst, the unity God has in mind is not one forced by externals. Rather, because we are made in His image, He wants us to reflect the unity He Himself experiences in His own nature. He is a God of various attributes and distinctive qualities (just as we are a variety of people) yet He is in complete harmony with Himself, all the time, no matter what is happening in His world. Furthermore, His unity is as much a part of His nature as our propensity to fight and disagree is a part of ours.

The Bible has a lot to say about that kind of unity: it is commanded; Jesus prayed that we would have it and He even provided it — but it certainly does not happen without our resistance. Doesn’t resistance seem strange, given the pleasure and security we enjoy when we have peace with other people?

Perhaps we do not fight unity directly but indirectly. Remember, it is a unity that does not depend on externals. Instead, it depends on the internal reality of His Spirit in control of our lives. It is that control that we fight, just as we resist attempts by anyone or anything else to control us.

The possibility of this unity is not the only appeal for non-resistance to God but it is a valid appeal. Without His unity, Paul says, “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?”

If Christians depend on externals for agreement, then we are acting like everyone else and simply denying the power of God to bring unity. When that happens, then calamities like $2 wheat prices are the only forces that can bring us together.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Good news for those willing to take the blame ................ Parables 310

March 24, 1992

Months ago a humorous article from the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel caught my eye. In it, Ray Recchi makes long comments about the state of the nation and the main reason for it. He concludes that “a lot of Americans are just plain stupid . . . .”

Recchi supports his charge with statistics and offers pertinent questions about the foolish things that people do and say — but the label “stupid” makes me mad. If most people who read the article are like me, they immediately assumed it was about a whole lot of other people, not them.

Counselors call this transference or some other long word that simply mean blame-shifting. We all do it. It is a defense mechanism. I use it too. Whenever someone’s accusations are hitting too close to home, if I can find someone else it fits better, then the pressure is off me. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t let me get away with it.

God’s Word certainly doesn’t gloss over our humanness. People shifted the blame and pointed fingers just as much then as we do now. Jesus had to command us not to judge others. It is so easy to accuse someone else of having a “splinter in their eye” when we have a log in our own (Matthew 7). However, Recchi’s article has another Scriptural parallel. When God told Israel the reason for the mess they were in, He basically said, “a lot of my people are just plain sinful.” Of course, true to human nature, they basically said, “Who? Me?” They were not prepared to accept the label either.

Again, we haven’t changed much. We resent being called sinners and will adamantly deny sin is present in our lives. We will rationalize and even re-define it so we can escape the label. Unfortunately, both Recchi and God can back up their label with statistical proof.

From one end of the Bible to the other, there is record of the sinful deeds that all people commit. Adam and Eve disobeyed the only command God gave them. Cain murdered his brother out of jealousy. Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. David committed adultery and murdered the woman’s husband. Solomon, wise as he was, multiplied for himself gold, horses, and wives and fell to idol worship at the end of his life. The kings of Israel built shrines for pagan deities. The people of God killed the prophets He sent and crucified His Son. The early church also struggled with sin in its midst. The apostle Paul wrote that everyone can see the glory of God in creation and are aware there is a God that deserves our worship — yet many are not thankful and turn from Him to make and worship idols.

Jesus jumped with both feet on the hypocritical religious leaders of His day. He called them “whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful outwardly but inside are full of dead bones and all uncleanness.”

Certainly, from pagan to priest, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The sin might be overt things like murder, adultery, stealing and lying or more hidden things like cursing God in our heart and doing our own thing, independent of His will. Refusing to thank God for His abundant care is just as much as sin as lust, hate and jealousy.

Our problem is admitting it. We hate the label, pin it on someone else who seems worse, rather than accept what the evidence suggests. We don’t want to consider the consequences: “the wages of sin is death . . . .”

Ricchi’s article failed to offer a solution for stupidity, however the Bible does offer a remedy for sin. When we are willing to admit our need, we can understand, want, and accept the solution, “. . . the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Eternal value is what counts ................ Parables 309

March 17, 1992

SHOE is not my all-time favorite cartoon but I did like the one where he says, “That’s the thing about working for a newspaper, everything you write is garbage a day later . . . ” Then, as his editor tosses his latest copy over his shoulder, Shoe remarks, “. . . and sometimes earlier than that.”

It reminded me of a man whose big ambition in life was to do the artwork for a cover of Fortune magazine. He worked hard and finally achieved his goal but not too long afterward — while still high-headed with the glory — he was walking down a busy street and a garbage truck passed. It was piled with, you guessed it, copies of Fortune — with his illustration on the cover.

The rather short life of most of our accomplishments is not fate’s idea of a cruel joke. Rather, the Bible suggests it’s God’s reminder that what we do for our own glory has no eternal value. The limelight may feel good and so does the achievement of goals, but the glory is short-lived.

Two Scripture passages brought this home to my heart. One is in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seem by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” He adds that we are not to be like the religious hypocrites who do that because “. . . they have received their reward in full.”

Jesus is teaching that human praise and glory here and now is fine, but that is all it is — the praise of people, here and now. If I do what I do for an earthly reward, that’s all I get. There is no reward from God.

1 Corinthians 3 broadens the concept. It talks about building our work on a foundation of faith in Christ. It says, “If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day (of judgment) will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire; and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved . . . .”

We illustrated this a few years ago with a class of teens. I had them write in pencil on a small piece of paper some area of their life (either an outright sin or something else) that they knew was worthless to God. Next, on pieces of metal using permanent markers, they wrote some quality they could see in the person sitting on their right that was definitely from God. When they were finished, we put both paper and metal into a large aluminum pan, read these verses and tossed in a burning match and tested both with fire.

When God does the evaluation however, there will be a difference between His assessment of good or worthless, and ours. He sees us not according to human evaluation, but through the foundation of Christ. Without Jesus, and faith in Jesus, all is worthless before God, no matter how good it seems to us. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah said, “All our righteousness is like filthy rags . . . .”

But notice those verses from Corinthians again — it is not the quality of what we do that saves us because that only determines our heavenly rewards. What really counts is that foundation of faith in Christ. Should we foolishly build on it with worthless activity (wood, hay, and stubble) we will lose our rewards and suffer loss . . . but the rest of the verse says after the worthless is gone, we “will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

This concept radically changes the value of praise, getting awards, and even the goals of life. By God’s grace, even SHOE’s humor could line a bird cage next week but still have eternal significance for its author.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Putting a good name before wealth ................ Parables 308

March 10, 1992

A certain Irishman, whose name I could not find, came up with a get-rich-quick scheme back in the depression days. A man with vision, he predicted that large corporations would soon be expanding from North America to Europe, companies that sold everything from automobiles to soda pop. Motivated by that inner conviction, he quietly traveled to every country and registered all the well-known trademarks in his own name.

His investment paid off. When incoming companies tried to register their famous trademarks, they discovered the names already owned by this man. Of course he was quite happy to sell his rights to them. In the course of a few short years, this Irishman made seven million dollars — all perfectly legal.

Before you rush off to the third world to try the same trick, it won’t work now. The International Trademark Convention has been established to protect major companies from losing rights to their famous names. However, for one time, one man used trade names to gain great personal wealth.

The Irishman wasn’t the first person to realize names have value. Solomon, who wrote the book of Proverbs, said, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches . . . ”

Of course he was not talking about commercial trademarks. Solomon meant the reputation that comes to a person with sound character. It is recognized by the response people make when they hear that person’s name. There are no disparaging remarks, no expressions of distrust, no abusive or slanderous comments. When a person (or even an organization) has a good name, people respect it because they respect the person (or people) behind it.

Obviously a good name is earned. Being born to an upstanding family might help for a while but eventually a person is known for what they themselves are, not for what their father or mother did. So it is not like the inheritance a person receives when someone dies nor is it like a treasure someone can stumble across. Rather a good name is more like wages — it has to be earned by effort. An exemplary life is not automatic and should any stain ever mar a person’s good name, a double-effort is required to restore it.

Solomon also adds that a good name is a matter of choice. While the story about the Irishman did not include information about his reputation, according to Solomon, if he had a choice between his good name and the $7 million — and he picked the money, he made a foolish choice.

Two other proverbs explain Solomon’s reasoning. One says “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot . . . ” In other words, those with a good name are remembered with blessing, just as already mentioned. I think I would rather have people think of me and raise a toast, than remember me with disgust and distaste.

Solomon also says, “He who walks with integrity walks securely but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” Choosing perverted behavior will, of course, earn a bad reputation. But more than that, the person who chooses that route will not be able to hide his deeds. He will also will feel insecure because eventually the wrong done will be known and he will have to bear the humiliation of detection. Again, living with a clear conscience and no fear of being “found out” is far better than looking over one’s shoulder in fear.

Sometimes it seems few people care about having pride in their name. They may want the blessing of others, popularity, and a sense of security but somehow fail to connect the fact that these things are a product of personal choice and like anything else of great value, must be earned.

We may not be able to buy trade names to make millions, but when money competes with a good name, an honorable reputation is the wiser choice.