Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Understanding Jesus ................ Parables 333

September 1, 1992

Is the Bible hard to interpret? Or does it simply say what it means? Or does it mean whatever the interpreter wants it to mean? Valid questions.

A few weeks ago, I was with nine others who had been given the name of a person in the Bible and some verses to read. We were told to interpret that person’s main character traits and decide what could be learned from him or her. Our group soon discovered we had very different views on the main characteristics of a woman from the New Testament named Martha.

Most of our information came from two passages, Luke 10:38-42 and John 11. Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus. One day Jesus came to visit them. Apparently both sisters “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word” but this day “Martha was distracted with much serving” so she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

At that, Jesus answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The other passage tells how these sisters reacted to the death of their brother and to Jesus’ apparently deliberate delay in coming to their aid. Martha came out to meet Him with, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus talked to her about the resurrection but she thought He meant something in the distant future, not the miracle He was about to perform. Neither passages reveal Jesus’ or Martha’s tone of voice.

A few in the group thought Martha was a whiner who complained even to the Son of God about her lot in life and that she had little confidence in Him. Others thought she was a conscientious person who seemed to believe in Jesus because she brought her problems to Him. The rest of the group wavered, because up to this point, they had never considered the questions.

What I noticed is that those people in the group who are compassionate, even lenient, towards the misdeeds of other Christians, their children, and sometimes even their own sins, were sympathetic to Martha. They saw her as a hard-working woman who took her responsibilities seriously.

In contrast, those in the group who tend to be quick to judge and hold high standards of performance for their families and themselves came down much harder on Martha. To them, she was self-centered and demanding, a person so caught up in temporary matters that she had her priorities wrong.

The real issue in interpretation is not what we think but what did the author intend to reveal? In this case, Luke gave the Lord’s evaluation of Martha. Personally, I would like it better if He had said, “Martha, you are to be congratulated for selflessly giving up Bible study to make lunch...” but that is not what He said. Jesus gently rebuked her — yet note it was not for making lunch, but for being troubled and anxious about all the work that had to be done. Her sister, Mary, had apparently discovered the secret of remaining calm — choosing to sit at the feet of Jesus, at least for a time. Lunch was important but not worth getting an ulcer over.

Interpreting Scripture is seldom simple. The meaning of some passages will always be debatable because there is not enough information to offer certainty regarding the author intentions. However we can and should be aware of our own prejudices and presuppositions. Considering that, my understanding of Martha has been affected by whether or not I personally value “service” over “sitting at Jesus feet.” Sometimes Jesus’ rebuke has applied to me.

Therefore, a vital consideration when interpreting Scripture is that it may not always agree with and confirm our own particular perspective... instead, it will likely challenge us to change.

Monday, September 28, 2015

How can I learn to be wise? ................ Parables 332

August 25, 1992

“Why do I have to take ___________? It’s a dumb subject and there is no way I’ll ever use it.”

When my children offered such complaints regarding algebra or some other school subject, I sometimes advised them that they could be right — whatever data they learned in that undesirable class may never be of use to them — BUT the ability to reason through problems, even the discipline required to take and finish a difficult or “boring” subject, would be an asset contributing to their maturity. I doubt they were impressed.

Strange how I now have to follow my own advice. While preparing for my final semester at Bible college, I politely listened to the registrar tell me I “needed” two courses, two that I really do not think I will ever use and in a subject that does not interest me in the slightest. However, he convinced me my education was not “well-rounded” without them and said the discipline of taking them would be good for me. I was not impressed.

With so many subjects and disciplines to choose from these days, it is tempting to opt out of the boring or difficult ones. Students with specific career goals are certain which subjects are necessary for future needs. Yet even at that, life makes many demands. Can a person really be certain their educational priorities will be sufficient?

Solomon has been called the wisest of men and wrote many immensely valuable proverbs with insights into life’s important subjects. One prudent piece of advice is that a wise person is first willing to learn: “A wise man will hear and increase learning and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” He adds, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (1:5,9:9).

According to Solomon, all learning is good... but he goes on to say there is a definite priority topic for our concentration: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom...”(9:10). In other words, before anyone can be wise, they need to fear God (fear meaning reverence, not terror).

The Bible says we do not automatically fear God but defy Him (something like algebra only more so) thus we have to learn this fear before we can even start learning how to be wise. It sounds like Solomon would put Fear of God 101 and Godly Wisdom 102 at the top of everyone’s curriculum!

But what is so valuable about wisdom (and learning how to fear God so we can have it)? For one thing, Solomon says it is necessary for solid, enduring homes: “Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established” (24:3).

Second, wisdom is protection against temptation, peer pressure, and immoral people: “When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things... from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words...”

Third, wisdom has more value than wealth or any other material possessions: “For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her” (8:11). This is simply because wisdom brings choices that produce happiness. Solomon says: “Happy is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding” (3:13).

Solomon also warned that “only fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). Not wanting to be a fool, I decided to take those two subjects I do not want to take. At the least, I will be “well-rounded” and who knows, God may use them to “increase learning” and even impart some wisdom — which would not hurt me in the slightest.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Genuine Forgiveness ................ Parables 331

August 18, 1992

Forgiveness is perhaps the most marvelous grace — yet also the most misunderstood. Whenever someone says “I forgive, but I will never forget” or “How can I forgive... it will just happen again” or “No problem, it was nothing,” they have not fully realized the reality of forgiveness.

First, forgiveness does not require to never again recall that you were offended. While the Psalmist pleads “Do not remember the sins of my youth nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me for Your goodness’ sake, O LORD” (Psalms 25:7) and God says “I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25), the Bible makes it clear that God does not simply forget things.

“Remember” can mean call to mind with the intention of acting upon those thoughts in an appropriate way. Since sin against God deserves judgment, the psalmist asks God to “forget” his sins by showing mercy rather than wrath.

Second, biblical forgiveness is not based on whether or not the offender repeats what has been done. If that were the case, God could never forgive any of us. Christians are well aware of how the sins we struggle to never do are the very sins we tend to repeat. If God gave only one or even three chances, we would never experience His forgiveness.

Third, forgiveness is not given lightly, with a glib “no problem.” Sin is serious and forgiveness is costly. The holy nature of God demands sin be punished. He could neither overlook offenses against Him or underrate their seriousness. However, rather than inflict those who sinned, He sent His Son who “became sin for us that we might receive the righteousness of God.” God the Son suffered and died so we could be forgiven.

For us, forgiveness is not easy either. It demands a choice reject thinking about the offenses of the one who has sinned against us, refusing to mull it over in our minds or allow ourselves to indulge in indignation or a spirit of vengeance. While we may not ever forget what was done, we must choose not to remember it with hostility and bitterness.

For us, forgiveness also has little to do with the behavior of the one we forgive and a great deal to do with our inner attitude. The other person may never repent or ask for forgiveness, but we must hold an attitude of forgiveness in our hearts. Whether they are willing to receive it or not is not our responsibility. We have to wrestle with our own pride and sense of self-preservation with accompanying emotional desires to retaliate. It is a hard-fought battle to overcome our own anger for the sake of forgiving. When we do it, the ball is in the offender’s court.

Winning this battle is much easier for those who understand the price that was paid by God for their own forgiveness. He says: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31,32).

God knows we will be hurt, bitter, angry and filled with malice towards others. Life is like that and sinners are like that; we hurt one another and we react to those hurts. The imperative here is not to react with anger but instead put those thoughts away — the equivalent of not “remembering” them — and replace them with kindness and a tenderness towards those who offend. They may not deserve it or even ask for it yet that is how God in Christ has forgiven us. We have not deserved it and many have not even asked for it, yet it is fully available from Him.

No, refusing to hold on to a desire for revenge is not easy, especially if the offender keeps on hurting us, but it is possible by the grace of God and the example set by His Son to fully and completely forgive.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Entertaining Angels and the God who is Here ................ Parables 330

August 11, 1992

Remember the first time you tried backing up a trailer? Remember how it twists every direction but the way you want it to go? So no wonder my biggest fear during last month’s camping trip was parking our large tent trailer in a heavily-treed site that does not have a pull-through approach. My husband always does the engineering in our family. I had no experience with that rig and my confidence level was zilch.

But I was willing to try; my daughter and her two girls were depending on me. So we registered at the camping centre and found our site. I pulled past the narrow, tree-lined opening, put the van in reverse and turned the wheel in what I hoped was the right direction.

Suddenly a stranger appeared at my window. “Would you like me to do that for you?” Without hesitation, I jumped out and watched him park our holiday vehicle. We said thank you and he was gone. We giggled for hours about this “angel.”

The next day, Karen struggled with a small propane barbecue. Neither of us could get it burning. Suddenly another stranger appeared, “Would you like me to do that for you?” He lit it, then was gone. Just like the other man, he appeared out of nowhere and disappeared the same way. We never saw either of them again.

Later on we talked about these strangers who answered our prayers for a safe and enjoyable camping trip. Were they really angels? And we wondered if they also intervened in some unknown way so we did not encounter the bear and her cub that reportedly were in the campsite. Maybe they protected us from other hidden and unknown dangers as well.

Even if our speculations had no foundation, we are sure that the big thing I feared the most (parking that rig) and the little annoyance that Karen struggled with were neither too big or too small for the loving notice of our God. He cares, and whatever and however He managed it, two people were in the right place at the right time to help us. Thank you, Lord.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Even though there have been times when I have felt deserted and alone without a friend, or just plain lonely in a crowd, God has continually reminded me that He is with me. Sometimes He causes a subtle sense of His presence, sometimes a spectacular emotional awareness, but His promise does not include either. Nor does He say He will always supply handy helpers when we struggle or do not know how to carry on. He simply says He is there — what a comforting thought to grab hold of and believe.

Of course the Bible says God is everywhere, but if our concept of God is that He is our heavenly Father (with all its images of personality), it is difficult to understand how He can be everywhere. But if we think of God as an entity like wind or atmosphere, the idea of Him being personally with us has no meaning. This combination of an omnipresent God that personally walks beside us with great care and compassion boggles our minds. And that is the way it should be — God is far more than we can comprehend.

Yet in our inability to fully understand Him, He does make Himself known. Jesus promised to all those who believe in Him that we would experience the reality of God with us — He makes Him known. Furthermore, we often see Him in the lives of others who follow Him, in the joys and the trials of life, and certainly in the people who appear out of nowhere to help us.

Were they really angels? Maybe not. But God used them to make us aware that He cares for us — and aware that He is not limited by snaky trailers, women drivers, and two people who can’t find the right end to light on a gas barbecue!

Monday, September 21, 2015

God-playing and Spare Parts ................ Parables 329

August 4, 1992

Have we lost our ethical and moral minds? One would wonder after reading the summaries of two article placed beside each other in a magazine called Current Thoughts and Trends.

The first article is called FETAL TISSUE: THE NEW CANNIBALISM. It is about a bill under consideration by the American Senate that would force the national health institutes to finance fetal tissue transplants “harvested” from babies killed by induced abortions. The rationale behind such a move is that sufferers from diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s would be saved. The gruesome side of it is this tissue must be fresh — so the fetuses must be removed from the womb while alive, then killed for their valuable parts.

The other article is about a baby named Theresa who was born without a brain and had no hope of living. Her anguished parents decided to request she be declared legally dead so her vital organs could be donated to other babies needing transplants. Their request was declined — on the basis that “it would open the door to regarding the sick as just collections of spare parts.” When Theresa died only 18 days after being born, her organs had deteriorated to the point of being useless for transplants.

One does not have to be Christian or even a believer in God to wonder what is the criteria for establishing who is fair game and what are the rules donating spare parts. According to both these stories, the donor must be healthy not sick, yet must also be doomed to die anyway. This second criteria demands further inspection.

It is not uncommon for an adult to donate their organs for medical purposes when they realize they only have a few months to live. Of course such donors are allowed to die before their organs are removed, even if they are criminals who have received a death sentence for crimes committed.

Sometimes relatives or persons with compatible tissue-type donate kidneys to others whose corresponding organs have failed because their own survival does not depend on having two kidneys, but all other tissue donors are dead when the tissue is removed.

Yet this rule is abandoned for the so-called blob of tissue called a fetus even though this creature is obviously alive or its organs would have no value. Nor is the fetus usually sick. Malformed or otherwise imperfect fetuses are aborted but most abortions are not for that reason. Rather, someone has decided this living mass of tissue must die and there is no choice on the part of the donor. Furthermore, the fetus does not die before its brains and pancreas are removed (without anaesthesia) but after — because it has lost organs it cannot live without.

Contrast the situation of Baby Theresa. Even though she would soon die, her parents wanted to bring meaning to her short existence — life to others because she had lived. Instead “science” would not allow even that.

Something stinks. If unborn human tissue is simply a “blob” (never mind that it is alive and able to pass on life to others), science does not mind devaluing “it” by using the spare parts before killing it — but add two to five months and that same “blob” cannot donate any tissue. It must die along with anyone else it might save.

God gave life purpose: He told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Yet the same God also gave death purpose: He sent His Son to die, a mission that the Son willingly accepted because through His death others would gain life.

In our God-playing it seems we have a few things backwards.

Friday, September 18, 2015

No Pat Answers? ................ Parables 328

July 28, 1992

This morning, with the sun shining brightly through my window, I thanked God that I know Jesus Christ. Without Him, I would hate to think what my life would be like. The trials would be unbearable never mind all the sinful trouble I would get into. He is my Savior, the One who is there for me.

And I know that sounds like sugar, an easy solution, a pat answer to life’s difficulties. For that very reason, it is not easy to write a column like this in 700 words or less. Addressing big issues with Biblical responses in such a short space tends to produce what sounds like pat answers.

I don’t like pat answers myself. My life has been slammed by big issues — horrid events and disappointments that pat answers merely insult, not help or heal. It would be unfair to expect readers to simply accept my bottom line as the cure-all for whatever ails them.

However, with that there are answers. Not simple ones but hard fought and forged answers. From the heat of experience, I knew how to face defeat, struggle with grief, love a prodigal and forgive a betrayer. I know that God can give strength in every kind of weakness. I am also fully aware that He can give joy in unutterable pain and hope when there is no reason to even live. I’ve been weak of body, mind, heart and soul. I have been in pain and without hope — and God has blessed me, and not only me but many others.

So these little parables are not intended to say, “There, there, just trust God and be happy” as if there is nothing to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am one of those stubborn people who only trusts when all my props have been kicked away and I flatly have no other choices. Then, when utterly desperate, I turn to Him and believe.

But is anyone very different? We all struggle with unbelief. We are like the father who brought his tortured, demon-possessed son to Jesus with the cry, “I believe... help my unbelief!” Something inside us wants to trust God but there is this other voice that knows we do not.

We are like the skeptic Nathanael who, when told of Jesus, blurted, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We know if there is a God, He ought to be good yet we look at the Nazareths around us and see little good. How can we believe in Him with so much evidence against it?

And we are like Thomas who declared, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” We must see Jesus, or at least see something, and maybe then we will be certain of Him and believe.

Paradoxically, the more I trust God, the stronger my tendency not to trust. The more I see His goodness, the more I am aware of the evil that is so opposite. The more I see Him with my heart, the less there is to believe with my eyes. Such is the nature of faith — it is the evidence of things unseen, the verification of that which we hope for but cannot touch, taste, smell, or really get our hands on. Faith is a living thing, but not a tangible thing. Yet without faith, no one can see or please God.

If there are any pat answers in life, this must be one of them — GOD IS. Whether or not I can explain Him or make Him real for those who doubt, His existence does not rest on my explanations or anyone’s faith. He is. He exists outside of any attempts to affirm or deny Him, outside of our limited ability to know or understand His ways. Yet He did not stay outside. He stepped into where we live, took on the form of a man, and gave life its necessary answers — not pat answers but real ones that work, answers that make life not only bearable but abundant. Even when doubt persists (and it is persistent) it cannot remove Jesus Christ from existence.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Good Book is in some places a rare book ................ Parables 327

July 21, 1992

In spite of the fact that the Bible is an all-time best-seller, there are over 400 million people in Western Europe that have never touched one. In fact, one of the first countries to print Bibles before the reformation now claims over 25% of its people are involved in the occult. Furthermore, the nation which produced the Bible authorized by King James (which held first place in book sales for over three centuries) has lost much of its influence as a world power through social breakdown and moral decline.

What happened to these nations that once held the Bible in high regard? Do attitudes towards God’s Word have any effect on general prosperity?

Christian historians would like to think so. Those nations founded on Biblical principles seem to enjoy certain blessings and a general prosperity that others do not — for example, contrast the United States with India.

To be fair, population, natural resources and other factors also influence prosperity. It would be more fair to compare Puerto Rico and Haiti. Puerto Rican statistics say about 20% of the population are evangelical Christians. Even though 80% are not, this figure indicates far more Puerto Ricans have a high view of Scripture than do the people of Haiti — where 85-90% are involved in varying degrees of Voodoo and witchcraft. Economically, Puerto Ricans also enjoy 10 times the prosperity of their Haitian neighbors plus a positive relationship with the United States. On the other hand, Haiti has been under economic sanctions because of ungodly government decisions.

Proverbs says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” and “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.” While wicked individuals and ungodly groups often prosper for a time and righteous people may seem poor by the world’s standards, those who honor God are blessed. If in no other way, righteousness itself is a blessing.

When a nation wavers, what can only one, two or even five percent of its population do to prevent or reverse moral and spiritual decline? The small voice of those standing for Biblical values can seem lost in the loud demands of other groups who are sometimes just as small but are somehow given more attention. How can Christians be heard?

Although certain social activities may be helpful, the answer may not necessarily be in petitions, flag-waving and public outcry. If our voices go unheeded, could it be because we lift them in the wrong direction? Should we instead ask ourselves who do we want to hear us? And do governments and social agencies really know what changes are needed? Do they have the ability to make those changes? Or does the real power belongs to God?

The Lord did say to Israel, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and heal their land.” In context, the people had turned from God to follow the idolatrous practices of the nations around them and, as God said would happen, they lost the blessing of living under His favor. This conditional promise told them how to be restored — not by education, politics, or social intervention but by humility, prayer, repentance and obedience.

The Bible is a written revelation, recorded by holy men as they were moved by the Spirit of God. It explains how God works in and with mankind, how people have thought and acted in response to Him and the consequences of their actions. Not merely an ancient book of rules, this book discloses the mind of God. Through it we can know Him and how He sovereignly determines principles that affect our lives as individuals and as nations. We need His wisdom, His guidance and His enablement, not only in countries like India and Haiti but right here in Canada.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Isolated? ................ Parables 326

July 14, 1992

Living in Moose Jaw has been something like living on a deserted island — most news is local to the point we pick up an Alberta newspaper twice a week just to find out what is going on in the rest of the world! However, there is some advantage to deserted-island living — the news from the rest of the world is generally depressing. Who wants to hear about it, much less be involved in it? Isolation seems to be safer.

Not that smaller communities in Saskatchewan are problem-free — the scandal from Martensville attests to that. Local news in our town involves conflicts over funds for the new library, whether or not to build a spa to attract tourists and discussion over the value of the latest provincial legislation and how it will affect the farming community.

There is one benefit to isolated living though — we find it easier to relate to what is happening on the other side of the world in Russia. There, communist leaders choose isolation from capitalistic free-enterprise systems for seventy years and the entire Soviet bloc has lived in a world apart, a deserted island of sorts.

Now as the borders are opening up, the western world has been invited to come in and the results of isolation are becoming evident. For example, the Soviet economic system is almost a fantasy. A recent visitor to Moscow reports purchasing a steak dinner, salad, and all the fixings for himself and a friend for the U.S. equivalent of 40 cents — yet a pair of running shoes costs a Russian six months wages. No farmer can raise a 20 cent steak so government subsidies make up the difference. Also, children can sell cans of pop on street corners and make more money than their parents who have professional careers.

Up front, their deserted-island living may have sounded like a paradise, but it robbed the Soviet citizens of some very real benefits. Refusal to rub ideas with ingenious and resourceful capitalists has resulted in economic chaos, wide-spread hunger, despair and hopelessness. Insulation from what they thought were the undesirables of the world has cost far more than was gained.

Sometimes Christians are accused of hiding from life too, and of having a head-burrowed-in-the-sand mentality. Sometimes it does happen as an attempt to create a deserted place to hide from evil and sorrow.

However appealing the concept, I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when He indicated His people were in the world but not of it. He plainly offers abundant life for those who follow Him and live godly lives, but Paul added that “those who live godly shall suffer persecution.” So even the godly will have problems. The full life Jesus was talking about includes both joy and sorrow, and there is nothing Biblical about hiding from either one.

Drawing the idea out more broadly, all of us are like the nation of Russia or the isolated communities in our country — if we try to protect ourselves from some of the bad we will lose out on some of the good too. And just as Russia slammed the door on free-enterprise only to find they shut out economic freedom and incentive along with it, Christians who opt out of experiencing all of life will miss that abundance Jesus talked about.

For that reason, even in the relative safety of where we live, God does present challenges to get us off our deserted islands. Without some risk, there is no need for faith. Rather than give in and hide, we are called to abundant living, with all of its ups and downs, a radical kind of living that when others observe us, they must immediately conclude that no one could live like that unless God is involved.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Verbs: to be or to do? ................ Parables 325

July 7, 1992

“Use action verbs. Passive verbs drain energy out of your readers. Keep the story moving...”

This is typical stuff stressed at the writers’ conference I attended in Toronto last month. We were repeatedly reminded that passive verbs are no-no’s; active verbs give interest to the story, keep it moving and produce more vivid visual images. One example of passive voice is: The dog was injured by the boy. Put it in active and you have: The boy kicked the dog.

When I went to school, verbs were defined as words that describe both action and state of being. This definition implies that nouns (such as people) could not only DO something but BE something. The definition may still stand, but the emphasis is definitely on the action aspect. Some person has even formed a society in which the members are determined never to use any form of the verb to be. It makes me wonder if being is somehow a no-no and doing is the only possible choice.

I could not help but draw a connection between this literary principle and some theological beliefs. For instance, many people tend to think that the only way anyone can gain favor with God is by doing something. That is, most religious systems stress the same inclination for action in regard to God as writing instructors have in regard to verbs. That the two ideas run parallel suggests humans find doing far easier to get a handle on than being.

The list of deeds acceptable to God differs depending on which group defines the standards. Some would call themselves “Christian” and include baptism, or church membership or tithing (giving 10% of one’s earnings to the “church”). Those not into religious activities include in their lists activities such as be kind to animals and donate to charity. Most would include actions like love one another and take care of the sick, maybe even pay your taxes.

A few frame their activity list in a more negative vein — if you would please God, you must NOT do certain things. Their lists would have a whole raft of don’ts rather than do’s, taking potshots at smoking, drinking, immoral behavior, and a few peripherals such as nail polish, dancing, eye-shadow and chewing tobacco.

Before saying anything else, I want to affirm that God IS interested in what we do. Both the Old and New Testament are crammed full of commands and expected behavior because God does not, in the name of grace, grant us the liberty of doing whatever we please expecting Him to simply excuse it.

However, there is a definite difference in doing and being in the Bible. For one thing, it says we must BE something before we can DO anything that pleases God. That is, before our actions give Him pleasure, our state of being must be changed. Put another way, the old saying, you cannot get blood out of a stone restated in theological terms is: no one can produce right behavior out of a sinful heart.

That is why God can say “All your righteousness is like filthy rags.” He was talking about the deeds that come from unregenerate people. What is needed is a new life that begins on the inside, a life that starts when individuals are forgiven, cleansed of their sin, and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is something we cannot do but must allow God to do, even inviting Him because we realize our inadequacy and sin. That is the being aspect of pleasing God, being new creatures living under a new Master.

This change in our state of being results in having the will and capacity to do right because from the moment we believe, we are able to allow our action verbs to be governed by the One who simply IS.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

One Person we cannot hide from ................ Parables 324

June 30, 1992

 . . . Ninety-eight . . . 99 . . . 100 . . .  coming, ready or not!

The perennial favorite, hide and seek, needs no instruction from generation to generation. It is just one of those things that people do. Babies love to peek-a-boo, children enjoy taking turns hiding and hunting on rainy days in the house or sunny days out in the yard. My husband and I even play hide and seek with a comical ball. It is fun... as long as the seeker can find the hidden person or thing. If the game goes too long without discovery, most players get bored.

I never connected hide and seek with a certain age old story until this week. I was re-reading Genesis chapter three. It is the account of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, suddenly realizing they were naked and then sewing fig leaves together to cover themselves. When they heard the sound of God walking in the garden. they promptly went into the bushes and hid.

These first people were playing the first game of hide and seek. One thing is sure — for them it was not fun and games and they most definitely did not want God to discover them. They had done the one and only thing He told them they could not do and, whatever that means to us, it meant agonizing shame and deep guilt to them. They knew they could not face God.

It is difficult for us to imagine what it would be like to know God and talk with Him face to face without any hindrance. Adam and Eve had enjoyed a good relationship with Him before this happened. Their intimacy had not been marred with sin and held a wonderful closeness that only innocence can know. Because of that, I suspect their sense of disgrace was much deeper than is our sense of shame and loss when we sin.

Anyway, God went looking for them and even though they tried to hide, His eyes missed nothing. He knew what they had done, knew why they were hiding, and knew what they would say when He found them. The count was over, Adam and Eve were caught.

As I read the story, I realized God wasn’t really “IT,” for He did not need to hide His eyes, count to 100, then overturn rocks or sweep away tree branches to find them. Actually, Adam and Eve were “IT.” Because of their disobedience, they had “lost God.” They knew they could no longer enjoy their intimacy with Him (or with each other) and that loss sent them into hiding. In fact, if God had not come searching for them, they might have stayed hidden in the bushes until they died. That is what sin does to people.

For us, the setting is different, as is the number of commands. But the story is the same. We have disobeyed too — not one injunction but a whole raft of them. Because of it, we are estranged from our Maker. The symptoms are much the same too; when we hear what we suspect is the sound of God, we tend to run and hide, not wanting Him or anyone else to see how sinful we really are.

God does promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We need to come out of our hiding places. Then we will find that it is really God who is seeking us so He can reverse the awful consequences of sin and graciously give us eternal life.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A special dunking ................ Parables 323

June 23, 1992

One day last May we took a ten-hour drive to Alberta to watch our oldest son get dunked in a swimming pool. It was not an ordinary dunking.

Standing outside on the lawn in front of the building, he explained to family and friends why he was doing this. He related how his own abilities to wisely govern his life had failed him. He said God called him to commit himself to a relationship with Him, one in which God governed and he obeyed. He believed God had a valid claim on his life and wanted to publicly acknowledge that claim in the manner God commands — so he was baptized.

People understand baptism in various ways. For some it is the entrance requirement into a particular religious system or church denomination. Other consider it a necessary work or action for salvation; no one can go to heaven without it. Yet biblically, it is neither of those.

True, some religious organizations can make it an initiation rite or say baptism is necessary to get to heaven, but the Bible says those who have saving faith already have eternal life — because of it they are automatically members of the family of God. Furthermore, Jesus was baptized and He had no need for either. So why be baptized?

First, Jesus was baptized as a demonstration of His willingness to fully obey the righteous demands of God. Therefore, for Christians, it is a step of obedience because God says that is what we should do: “Repent and be baptized...” By it, we follow Jesus.

Second, baptism involves identifying oneself with Christ. Just as Christ died and was buried for our sins, so those who believe are immersed in a symbolic grave. Then, just as Christ rose from the dead to new life, so the Christian rises out of the water to signify the new life he has already received.

Notice, new life does not come by baptism. Baptism is only a symbol of it. The Bible teaches clearly that new life comes only from Jesus Christ. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5). It does not say he who is “baptized” is given life.

Third, baptism is a renunciation of the world and its influence, a declaration that the new Resident Manager is the Lord. Our son made this plain in his explanation of why he was going to be dunked. He said that his old life was out of control and filled with things that he didn’t want. So he offered it to Christ, was placed in the Kingdom of God, and now renounced the old kingdom and its dominion over him.

Finally, baptism is an affirmation of what God has done. The person participating, in effect, says: God has done an act of grace in my heart. I once rejected Him and was lost, separate from Him and in sin. But now I belong to God and by this act of obedience, I am showing my intention to live in such a way that I will bring Him glory.

Baptism does not insure against making mistakes or sinning again; neither does new life. However, God works to conquer old habits and their power. We have seen that in our son and rejoice in what God has done and is doing in his life.

Friday, September 4, 2015

And where did you come from? ................ Parables 322

June 16, 1992

When our children were in elementary school, one of their playmates had rather unusual mannerisms and speech patterns. We often wondered the source since his accent was not recognizable. It was not French or a Texas drawl. His movements, while not comical or weird, were also distinctive.

His mother usually picked him up when he finished playing at our house, but one day his dad dropped by to take him home. Within moments of answering the doorbell, I understood why this boy talked and moved the way he did — he was a carbon copy, a smaller version, of his father.

I think of that boy nearly every time I hear something to do with the long-standing debate about the origins of man. Of course the debate basically offers two choices. One is that we evolved from primates, which evolved from who knows what, which originally was some sort of cosmic soup. The other is that we were created by a supernatural being — namely God.

Without apology, I believe the second option. Logically, it seems all things require a cause or a designer. Also, the greater and more intricate never seems to come from the less complex. How then could man come from animals?

Furthermore, evolution offers no source for ethics. Where do our ideas of right and wrong come from? Related to ethics is faith — and I think I would need far more of it to believe that “Time + Chance + Energy (where did that come from?) = Humanity,” than I need to believe the Biblical record of creation.

After giving a general account, there is a description of the pattern God used in Genesis 1:26-27: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Since the record does not explain what it means to be made in the image of God, people speculate. Some think since we reason, have a will, and experience emotions... that must be what God is like. Others include creative ability, appreciation for beauty, and the ability to enter into relationships. Whatever it actually does mean, and even though there is not a whole lot of “goodness” in most of us, mankind somehow reflects “God-ness”  —  we resemble our “Father.”

This debate is not settled by opinion though. What happened happened, outside of what any of us choose to believe. However, science has yet to answer why people, with our deep capacity for selfishness and evil, can also have a deep sense of what is good. It points to a “godlikeness” and a higher “goodness” that apes and animals do not share.

Our young friend imaged his dad. We, somehow, image our Father. We do not usually do it with words and actions as he did, but when we do talk and behave in a godly way, there are no explanations other than love and good deeds come from a supreme Love and Author of all that is good.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Death’s Web ................ Parables 321

June 9, 1992

The sunlight catches the silken strands of a spider’s weaving. It was not there last week but sometime during the nights and days since I last looked in my garden, a small brown creature created a beautiful design — beautiful but a trap for the unwary. Once entangled in the web, other insects cannot escape the spider’s sting of death. Their lot is cast.

Spider’s webs are a wonderful metaphor. From the philosophy of Charlotte’s Web, to poems of conversations between spiders and flies, we have a greater perception of certain slices of life.

The Bible, rich in imagery and figures of speech, also uses this metaphor — but only part of it — the relationship to life found in the sting of death. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, Greece. He tells them how vital the truth of Christ’s resurrection is to living the Christian life. For one thing, it removes the threat of dying. Verse 55 of chapter 15 asks the rhetorical question: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades (grave), where is your victory?”

With that, Paul triumphantly proclaims the grave can only claim its victims for a short while — Christ rose from the dead, proving there is life after death — so death has lost its sting.

Death’s sting, at least on this side of dying, is fear. Most of us, most of the time, do not want to die. Fear of death is expressed in many ways, from re-labeling it with euphemisms to spending millions of dollars in life-prolonging research. We fear partly because we like life and do not want it to end, partly because of the process of dying, and certainly because of the uncertainty of what will happen after death. Is there a judgment? Or nothing?

The good news is that God the Son participated in human life — and in death — that “... through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Death is like that spider’s web — - and it catches all of us. Paul explains that “... the sting of death is sin...” Put another way, death is the result of sin and since all sin (Romans 3:23), no one can avoid its web. So sin (falling short of the righteousness of God) strikes the killing blow.

The Bible does not liken Satan to the spider but he could fit that role because he held “the power of death” however, notice that Christ has “destroyed him who had the power of death... the devil.”

When Jesus came, He could have decreed death out of the picture but He did not choose to circumvent dying. Instead, He destroyed its control over us by robbing the spider, the web, and the sting of their power. This He did by surrendering to the web, just as we eventually must, but with one big difference: since death’s sting is sin, that sting could not touch Him — He was sinless so the only way He could die was by willingly allowing our sin to be put on Him (2 Cor.5:21). That was all the spider was waiting for.

But death could not hold Jesus; it had no power over Him personally. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He conquered the web and the sting, broke the dominion of Satan, and walked out of the tomb.

Because of what Jesus did, sin and death cannot hold those who trust Him. The pain of death is overcome — it is the Christian’s transition to heaven, not to be feared. Furthermore, the present pain and sorrow of sin is forgiven, even conquered in Christ — it’s domination is broken. Both still seek to frighten the unwary into bondage and fear of dying, but Christ has put both sin and death under His feet. Death is no longer our biggest enemy.

Perhaps the real enemy now is unwary unbelief.