Friday, October 30, 2015

Never Alone ................ Parables 346

December 1, 1992

A man took his elderly father to a psychiatrist. “I’m worried,” he said. “My father still drives a horse-drawn wagon but he is getting confused. His horse’s name is Joe, yet he drives down the road saying, `Come on, Joe! Come on, Steve! Come on, Sam!’”

The doctor asked the older man, “Is your horse named Joe?”

The old man nodded. “Certainly it’s Joe, but if I let him think he is pulling the wagon all by himself, he is apt to quit on me.”

Now that old gentleman was a thinker! Could it be that horses are just like people; we don’t like doing the job alone either? Furthermore, his way of encouraging his horse may have worked better than the techniques that psychiatrist used to encourage people!

Most of use words like “You can do it” or “We are counting on you.” Sometimes they do the trick, but whenever we are pulling a heavy load or doing a difficult job, it really helps to know we are not alone.

According to God, working alone is not good. After He created Adam, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone...” even though Adam was living in paradise! So God made Adam a companion to help him with his tasks.

Women don’t enjoy being left alone either. When Jesus came to dinner, Mary left her sister in the kitchen to visit with Him. Martha, “distracted with serving,” came to Jesus and complained, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” (So Jesus invited Martha to join her sister in the living room with Him.)

Even when Jesus Himself went alone into the wilderness to pray, He did not do that work without companionship. He said, “I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me.”

All people need companionship, but we are so aware we no longer live in paradise. Sin and selfishness put wedges between even the best of friends. Husbands and wives struggle to maintain a sense of oneness. Everyone can feel alone in tough situations. Loneliness is acute when we have something very difficult to do and feel that no one knows or even cares.

Jesus understood that need. The disciples had been His closest companions for three years. When He told them He was going to die, they did not understand. It seemed as if their eyes and minds had thick clouds over them. Shortly before He was betrayed and taken to trial and crucified, He said to them, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone...”

Can you imagine how Jesus felt? It was the most difficult task anyone would ever face, yet none of them stayed. None of them even said, “You are not alone!”

But He knew. This verse concludes with “... and yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Jesus was so convinced of the presence of God that even when every human support was pulled out from under Him, He knew He would not finish His life’s work by Himself.

Paul knew it too. He wrote a letter to another pastor, Timothy, and warned him to watch out for a coppersmith named Alexander who had done him much harm in his resistance to the gospel. Paul added, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” He was alone in the battle for truth.

However, this great Apostle was not angry at those who pulled out on him. He wrote, “May it not be charged against them.” He could pull his load alone because he knew the same encouraging presence that Jesus knew. The next verse says, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.”

I am a lot like that horse called Joe. When I think I am pulling my load all by myself, I get balky and want to quit. It is too hard. However, out of all the promises that God makes, one stands out. It is constant. It is always true. It is something His people can depend on: “He Himself has said, `I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Becoming intelligent ................ Parables 345

November 24, 1992

A pad of notepaper has the following caption across the top: “I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person!”

One psychology textbook says intelligence is very difficult to measure. For one thing, there is little agreement on exactly what it is. Is it the capacity to solve problems? Or remember what you know? Or understand other people? Or be competent performing job-related skills? Or is it the quantity of information you can stuff in your brain? Besides whatever it is, how can intelligence be tested?

To complicate the matter, intelligence can be very selective. People considered autistic may not be able to function well enough to go to school or even be employed, but some of them can compute numbers as quickly and accurately as an electronic calculator or draw detailed pictures of complex subjects from memory. Some “average” people know how to take apart a tractor motor and put it back together. Others are better at learning how to write songs or draw pictures.

Those of us who belong to God sometimes wonder if we are armed with any wits at all regarding spirituality. We find ourselves so delighted to learn even the simplest truths about Him and what He expects of us, and then so quickly forget what we know. Spiritual truth does not come easy because our own habits and strategies for life run contrary to the way God wants us to live. To have spiritual wit, we have to learn how to think His way.

Romans 12:2 speaks about this process: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Simply put, our problem is that the natural human mind, no matter how clever, does not evaluate God’s will as good, acceptable, or perfect. Brain-power, logic, or I.Q. have nothing to do with one’s ability to trust God and even when He is trusted, everyone, wits or not, has to enter into this process of mind-renewal.

God does give Christians a head start in the matter. As the Apostle Paul says, “we have the mind of Christ,” itself an outstanding concept. He also adds, “Christ has been made unto us wisdom...” With Him at the center of our minds so we can think His thoughts means our actions are more apt to be in line with God’s will.

On the other hand, it is so easy to be conformed to this world. That means, among other things, to be centered on one’s self, which is the way most of the world operates; “look out for number one” and considering every event, person or piece of data is in light of how it relates to ourselves. I can go so far as to refuse any new ideas unless I can somehow fit them comfortable with what I have decided is true. Sometimes my worldly mind is even behind “good” deeds, those done mostly for personal satisfaction or recognition. From that, it is not difficult to understand that a mind conformed to the world is far more interested in personal comfort, power, and promotion of their own interests than it is concerned about God or the needs of others.

In contrast, a renewed mind moves away from putting self at the centre of things. Instead, Christ is put there. When He becomes the focus, life begins to take on a much different meaning. Christ-minded people begin to ask: How does God look at these events? How does this person relate to God? How does that data fit into His Word? What does God says is true about me? What can be done to glorify or promote God in this situation?

A renewed mind is not a perfect mind; there is still a struggle with life’s hurts and with decision-making. We tend to panic now and then and go back to patterns of behavior that used to work for us, pre-Christian strategies, if they could be called that, and we learn so slowly that they really do not work at all. We need God’s Spirit and His Word continually reminding us and helping us with how we should think.

So take heart all who wonder if God missed them when He passed out brain power. Those who have the wisdom of God may sometimes feel “unarmed” but with His wisdom, anyone can be a formidable foe in a battle of wits.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Unity in diversity is possible! ................ Parables 344

November 17, 1992

A united Canada — was that what the national referendum was all about? More specifically, did those 50% plus people who voted NO do so from a united opinion?

Unity is not easily defined. In this case it is certainly not unanimity or harmony of thought on the issue. While the final YES or NO decisions may have marked two basic camps, the voters within those camps marked their ballots as they did for a great variety of reasons. For instance, some said NO because they felt too many concessions were made to various groups; some because they felt there were too few concessions.

An interesting display of what can also temporarily unite people was the outcome and final game of baseball’s World Series. Blue Jay fans were united by their joy over the victory and they celebrated together as one big happy family, for at least a few hours. However, one can hardly say it was a genuinely unified group. For one thing, on the very same day, likely half of them voted YES and the other half NO in the referendum.

To go to the other extreme, could we say a group is united when each and every one of them think exactly the same way about everything? One of my relatives belongs to a religious group that claims that kind of unity. He says if one person has a dissenting opinion, he or she is no longer allowed to remain in the group. Most of us generally do not think of unity as something that is legislated and consider such a group not really united but in some sort of dictatorship or maybe a brainwashed condition.

Christians have been accused of being brainwashed too, but what the Bible says about unity shows this is not so. For one thing, we are supposed to “strive for unity” and “dwell together in unity” commandments that go against our sinful bent to squabble. Like the referendum illustrates, unity is not easy to achieve.

However, biblical unity is also not unanimity — at least on every issue. We do not all have to think alike because freedom in Christ makes room for many varying understandings and interpretations. For example, one might vote YES on private schooling and another NO to the same issue. We do not get ousted for disagreeing on issues like that. Instead, our unity runs much deeper in that we are expected and even commanded to be unified over certain basic issues. In those issues, if we do not agree, we cannot be genuinely Christian.

Our unity comes from common beliefs. These are aligned with the world view presented in the Bible. We agree concerning God, Christ, the nature of man and the means of salvation. All Christians believe our salvation is by grace, through faith in Christ. Like baseball fans, we certainly have many occasions to rejoice together in those truths that unite us.

Christian unity not only allows diversity but even depends on it. Each believer has unique experiences and gifts that would be lost to the church if everyone had to think and act alike. It is God’s goal to bring us together to help all live for God in the fullest possible way, using our individual strengths for the good of others, “equipping us...and edifying us... until we all come to the unity of the faith...”

In that practical way, diverse ideas help build our unity, but the principle of Christian unity is not established or even developed by Christians. It is not a matter of what theologians decide or lists of church rules or taking a vote. Real unity is a matter of the heart. We could have no unity if it were not for the Holy Spirit who supplies it. When each Christian listens to and obeys Him, there is oneness among us. When we do not, we are divided.

For that reason, what the church (and Canada) needs to unite us will never be supplied by a vote, a document, nor a baseball team.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Better that the hard drive crashes than my life ................ Parables 343

November 10, 1992

Computer people say it is not a matter of IF it happens but WHEN it happens. For me, it happened Saturday morning — my hard drive crashed. For those who do not know, the hard drive is the part that contains software programs necessary for using the computer, plus any information that has been saved or written on to its disk. A crash means it does not work; the information usually cannot be retrieved. It is gone forever.

My software is not a problem because we still have the original disks. As for my own data, I had a few hundred documents on that hard drive, including five or six manuscripts for Parables, this semester’s school work, letters, some artwork, and so on. Fortunately, most of it was also saved on portable disks called “floppies.” But, because my habits of backing up daily had lapsed, some things were lost, including at least two essays that must be researched and rewritten before their due dates later this month.

After taking the dead drive to a technician who replaced it with a new one, I spent several hours reloading my software programs.

As for the lost work, I felt something like a marathon runner might feel after 25 miles and the finish line in sight when someone’s dog runs out from the sidelines and bites him on the leg. Or maybe like the mother who brings a fresh load of sun-dried laundry in from the clothesline and one of her children spills a big can of tomato soup in it. A whole week of work — gone.

When I told my husband that I did not feel very enthusiastic about redoing the work, he responded with a simple question, “Why were you doing it in the first place?” His question was just what I needed to pull me out of my gloom.

For one thing, it reminded me I had set definite goals before starting Bible College. Prior to this, my educational ambition was only to achieve good grades and satisfy class requirements. Now, since I am aware that the Lord wants me to be more like Him, I decided it was important to do all the work but the goal would be greater spiritual maturity, not good marks.

Bob’s question also reminded me of a place in Scripture that talks about eternal rewards for the work we do in our Christian lives. It says some actions have potential for making an eternal impact; some have no lasting value. God will test them somehow by fire: “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

God does not need a computer to know how we live, but if He somehow choose to record my whole life on a hard disk, then when the crash comes and my life is over, according to this passage, He does not simply toss the disk (as we will likely do with ours). Instead, He recovers what has been built on “the foundation which is Jesus Christ,” those actions done in faith and in the power of the Lord. He also rewards them in some undefined way. In other words, the good data is recoverable.

On the other hand, any of my life that was corrupted by selfishness and rebellion against Him will be burned; it is not fit for eternity. This includes not only the obvious uglies like hate, anger, lies, and so on but even so called “Christian service” that I did for my own glory and not for God. Because He knows everything about our hearts and motives, He justly evaluates what we do.

Looking back on the “loss” of some data now takes a different perspective. All that God has done during the past two years to change me is recorded on my heart and life where it should be — certainly (and thankfully) not on my hard drive!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Self-Abuse & Warranties ................ Parables 342

November 3, 1992

A trouble-shooter for a major implement dealer tells a story about some complaints they received on a new tractor. While this tractor was receiving rave responses from nearly everyone, there were a few farmers from one part of the country who thought it was the worst model on the market. They kept wearing out gear boxes. After replacing the defective parts under warranty, sometimes two or three times for the same farmer, the company decided to send their trouble-shooter to find out what was happening.

This fellow discovered these farmers clearing land, including tree stump removal. They fastened a long chain around each stump, hooked the other end to the tractor, put it in gear, then took off at full speed. Just before the tractor reached the end of the chain and reared into the air, the driver jumped off. If the stump was not yanked free, they repeated the process.

Now any farmer, and a few of us who are not farmers, know that tractors and gear boxes are not made to withstand such treatment. After so much of it, the equipment will break down. The trouble-shooter had to carefully explain that in order to resolve the problem the farmers were having with their tractors. He said he now uses the story when folks come to him with their problems, explaining that we too break down because so many of us abuse our lives like those farmers abused their tractors.

He says people were originally made to live in a perfect environment with a relationship of dependence on God to meet all their needs. Instead, we live in an imperfect world where God is left out of most of our lives, but because we were not designed for such living conditions, we need Him even more than Adam and Eve did in paradise.

We see the wreckage all around: shattered marriages, dysfunctional families, corrupt governments, business failures, crime, and irresponsible behavior; people living independently from their Maker. Even though suggestions and plans for what to do instead-of-God are almost as numerous as the negative situations, only one works: the plan for which we were designed.

According to the story of creation in Genesis, God intended man and women not only to depend on Him but to reflect His image. When humanity determined to act apart from God, sin entered the picture and the image was mangled. Oh, it can still be seen whenever people act in kindness or mercy, but independence and the effects of sin have marred our hearts, minds, choices, and life as it was intended to be.

In love and concern for us, our Manufacturer also offers a warranty regarding our defective parts, ruined by sin. He offers a “new heart” and to put a “new spirit within,” to “take the heart of stone out” and give us a heart that is soft towards Him and towards living as He made us to live.

He warns us “do not be confirmed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That means a change in thinking made possible by receiving His wisdom and “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

As for our choices, so seldom do we consult God and we so easily make selfish decisions but the Bible tells us if we turn to God, He works in us “both to will and to do His good pleasure.”

God remembers that we live best in paradise and says that someday, “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Those who go back to their Manufacturer for replacement hearts, minds and decision-making abilities will undergo a radical transformation, but so will this world someday be radically transformed, “a new heaven and new earth.” In the meantime, we are responsible to stop abusing ourselves and live life the way He intended.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Is it a control thing? ................ Parables 341

October 27, 1992

Ever notice how much easier dreams are than doing? For instance, in making decisions? Compare window shopping to actually going out and buying something. Every time I don’t have money or any intentions of spending what I do have, there are so many nice things in all the store windows. But when it comes to actually buying something, it is much more difficult to find what I want — in the same windows, in the same stores. Maybe it is because the money to be spent now is real money, not the stuff of dreams.

Dream decisions are easier, but so are dream conversations. In my imagination, I can say all the right words to that person I need to apologize to or to the class I want to teach. When it comes time to actually do it, my tongue gets tangled somewhere down around my beating heart and out comes strained stutters and ill-formed sentences.

Dream accomplishments are perhaps the easiest of all. In them, I control all factors including the plot, sub-plot, cast of characters, and every action committed and word said. Doing anything in my imagination is a snap, but when it comes to the real thing, the results are not quite the same.

Because of the gap between dreams and doing, life can be disappointing. Even though some dreamers find that some dreams do come true now and then, most of us know how frustration and failure can so easily shut down our vision. However, if we can bring God into the picture, things just might become very exciting. Think of it. God who sovereignly controls the universe becoming involved in making our dreams come true? Is that possible?

The people I know who have experienced it first had to know for certain that God Himself is not a dream, not a figment of the human imagination. If He is not real, there is no one but ourselves to make those dreams come true. However, Hebrews 11:6 says those who come to God MUST believe that He exists and that He REWARDS all those who seek Him. He is real and He does reward us for believing in Him. Thus, the Bible also describes the reality of living in faith. Genuine faith is not a hope-so, imaginary thing. Those who have it also have tangible peace, real changes in their lives and obvious answers to prayer.

Secondly, because God is able to do anything and make anything happen, and because He loves us and wants the best for us, He invites His children to draw near to Him. He says we can even call Him “daddy” as well as Lord, and invites us to bring our dreams along, explaining to Him the desires of our heart. When Jesus promised abundant life, He wanted us to know we do not have to continue in the narrow confines of “no one ever did that before” or “I can’t.” He wants us to experience a life so remarkable that it can only be explained by faith and by the fact that He is very real.

Obviously, God does not make every dream come true; He knows better. Some of the things we dream about are entirely selfish and destructive, doing little or nothing to glorify God or genuinely benefit us. God knows if all our dreams came true, some would be the nightmare variety.

But to many dreams God gives the nod. One of mine was having opportunity to go to Bible school. For years, it seemed impossible but God moved us to Moose Jaw, within twenty minutes of the largest Christian college in Canada... and here I am, nearly ready to graduate.

So for even the most frustrated dreamers among us, we have a God who says, “I am able to do exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think, according to My riches in Christ Jesus.” Notice He not only listens but is the One who is able to go one step farther  —  above whatever we can ask and above whatever it is we dream about.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Source of Violence ................ Parables 340

October 20, 1992

It is Sunday afternoon and the stores are packed with back-to-school shoppers. Suddenly a young man races through the mall with another fellow in angry pursuit, each yelling loudly at the other. When they pass us, the second is saying to the first, “You are dead meat, man. I will get you... you are dead, for sure.”

Other shoppers are uncomfortable. Some laugh. My husband says someone should call the security guards. Moments later, a dozen youth and two guards move quickly in the same direction as the first two. They all talk at once. We hear one of them say, “He yanked out a knife.” A few minutes after that, we see an R.C.M.P. officer hurrying in the same direction.

No, this was not in Hong Kong or even New York but in a small city in southern British Colombia, in broad daylight, with hundreds of witnesses. We wondered what drove this young person to make such a threat, endangering not only his intended victim but his own freedom. Why do so many people resort to violence when no one really wins anyway?

Sociologists and psychologists have a myriad of answers: inadequate education, deteriorating family values, peer pressure, poverty, television and so on, yet with all their wisdom, young lives continue to slip through the cracks into the streets where the only laws are written by the survivors.

Historically, violence began right after Adam and Eve were put out of Eden. Cain killed his brother Abel in cold blood and violence began to permeate society. The Bible paints the same bloody picture of humanity out to destroy humanity by acts of aggression and brutality as does our daily news; however, the Bible gives a different reason violence exists. According to the Word of God, brutality is evidence of sin in the human heart, and sin is an attitude of rebellion against God.

I can relate. There have been a few expressions of savagery in my life. While I didn’t pull a knife on someone, I have thrown things, including a punch or two. Reflecting on my anger at people, I realize I was actually angry with God at the time; I didn’t like the things He was allowing to happen in my life, so I lashed out in retaliation. Instead of trusting His choices for me and His power to make things right, I was going to force my own way.

The Word of God (and the bitter consequences of my anger) have taught me that God hates violence. Psalms 11:5 says, “The LORD tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”

He also has been known to severely judge violence: “God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; I will destroy them with the earth’” (Gen.6:13). He did just what He said by sending a catastrophic flood that drowned those who were in rebellion against Him. Sometimes God allows brutal people to self-destruct, destroyed by their own ferocity: “The violence of the wicked will destroy them because they refuse to do justice” (Proverbs 21:7).

God offers a model of non-violence though, even for those who have every reason to retaliate. His Son Jesus was innocent of any sin, yet was hated and treated brutally. Instead of breathing out threats, He “entrusted Himself to the Father who judges righteously” and “He did no violence...”

Jesus’ submission to His abusers meant death for Him but through His death, we are offered forgiveness and a new heart, including those who resort to personal retaliation as the only answer to injustice. Jesus gives grace and peace to the angry, protection and hope to the victims.

God promised His people that someday, “Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise” — all because of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

God’s love is not the same as ours ................ Parables 339

October 13, 1992

A letter to the editor of a small publication claimed that homosexuality was not offensive to God. The writer reasoned that God would not “condemn anyone who committed themselves to a loving, life-long relationship.”

To some, this sounds good. After all, the Bible says we are to love one another. First John even says: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” and “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.”

The letter writer even alluded to these verses in her defense of homosexuality. She reasoned that since the parties involved “loved” each other, they could claim God’s abiding presence and that their relationship was of Him. What she did not do was read the rest of 1 John. Why was John making these statements and what kind of arguments was he refuting when he challenged the level of love in his readers?

Attacks against the teachings of the Apostles were common in the first Century. That comes as no surprise since Christ Himself was misunderstood and attacked, even eventually crucified for what He taught. People did not like hearing a message that condemned their previously held ideas about God and how to approach Him. When John wrote his letters, he also had to counter false teaching. Some were saying true spirituality was not in any way related to material things. That is, God was too pure to inhabit a human body thus Christ was not God in the flesh. They also taught that people either did not sin at all ever, or if any did sin, it was only the physical part of them that sinned and their spiritual being remained unstained and pure.

Furthermore, these false teachers at first infiltrated the church but they eventually left. Because they did not agree with the true gospel (that man is sinful and Jesus was the Christ, come in the flesh to die for their sin, and give them His righteousness), they did not care for Christians, even hated them, so did not want to be around them.

First John is a rebuke to both this false teaching and lack of love. John affirms that a true teacher from God can be identified by correct doctrine about Christ, by a moral life that hates sin and does not habitually continue to sin, and by love for other Christians. This love is characterized by self-sacrifice (just as God’s love is sacrificial), by a desire for the other person’s eternal and present well-being, and by a freedom from fear of God’s judgment.

Put in context, this love that demonstrates that a person is “of God” is not referring to the relationship between a man and a woman, never mind same-sex relationships. It is referring to a love for Christians, and even beyond that, a love for righteousness and for the only One who is truly righteous, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not condoning relationships that the Bible elsewhere condemns.

It is sad that people dismiss the Bible as having any authority over their morals. It is not God or the Gospel that is harmed but they themselves. The wages of immorality is grief, guilt, and eventual eternal loss.

It is an even greater grief that some will rewrite God’s definitions of holiness and of godly love so they can use it (or should I say mis-use it) to support immorality. Those who advocate such contradictions bring destruction not only to themselves but to others who are gullible enough or uninformed enough to believe what they say.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Security assured ................ Parables 338

October 6, 1992

“When I was a young boy, my dad gave me a silver dollar. He told me to keep it because if I did, I would never be broke.”

Smart dad. While the value of a dollar has diminished, the fact of having something in one’s pocket during tough times is comforting. There is a story about an orphanage where each child was given a crust of bread at night. None of them ate the crust though. Instead, it went under their pillow where it gave them a sense of security against hunger for the next day.

These small things illustrates how God’s present blessings are tokens of assurance for the future. His spiritual versions of “a silver dollar” ensure we will never be spiritual impoverished. His spiritual “crusts of bread” are deposits to give us assurance about a great coming feast we will share with Him someday in heaven.

While not every promise in the Bible is guaranteed in the life of every believer all the time, here are some universal “tokens” in the Christian experience.

PEACE WITH GOD: Jesus Christ secured our forgiveness to the extent that those who believe in Him for eternal life are “no longer condemned.” While this is a reality that is not visible, it is made real by faith since faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” This peace is a token of what one aspect of eternity will be like — a great and deep peace with our Creator and Judge.

PRESENCE OF GOD: God does not promise that life here will be always rosy and trouble-free, but He does promise to be with those who truth Christ. Even though we sometimes fail to sense His presence, our feelings do not change the reality. When we do sense Him near, we often yearn for the fullness of seeing Him someday face to face. This is a wonderful token of a future blessing.

INDWELLING OF HIS SPIRIT: The presence of God is related to the Third Person in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit who lives within Christians. He enables us to “partake in His divine nature” so we have all that is needed to believe and obey Him. This is so important that the Bible says, “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9).

In Ephesians, the Holy Spirit is also called “the guarantee of our inheritance” until the redemption of our bodies. He has saved us and given us Himself as a “deposit” or down payment which is assurance that the full transaction will be made later on. In the meantime, we are able to enjoy the ministry of the Spirit as He teaches, comforts, assures, enables, and equips us to serve God.

ACCESS TO THE THRONE OF GOD: Jesus, as the High Priest who intercedes for us, also opens our access to God. Sinful creatures cannot approach the Holy One but His blood covers our sin and we can “therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). While God has the wisdom and prerogative to deny our selfish and foolish requests, He still hears what we say and considers our needs. He knows whether we need money, more food, a new job, a friend, to get married, to stay single, or good weather. Every thing that we pray about is heard, evaluated, and answered according to His will and His wisdom — because He loves us and is attentive to us.

EVERLASTING LOVE: No one is able to consistently meet the love-needs of another person, no one except God. His love is unconditional and eternal. He has demonstrated it in sending Christ to die for us.

Paul exclaims, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” These are the tokens — imagine the yet-to-come heavenly inheritance!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Planning a Move? ................ Parables 337

September 29, 1992

Keeping our minds focused on the task at hand is not easy these days. Both my husband and I find our thoughts racing from our responsibilities here in Saskatchewan to our move back to Alberta, then to a possible future location overseas beyond that, then to who knows where, before moving into our final residence — our heavenly home. We realize those anticipated moves require thought, careful planning, and considerable perspiration.

The more immediate future involves paring down and sorting out; we have too much stuff. Besides that chore, we are making preparations to be more mobile in the future by building a condominium in Alberta — mostly by telephone, fax machine and the occasional trip up to make sure all is going as hoped. So we are in the unique position of sending our desires ahead of us, anticipating they will be fulfilled when we arrive!

It is the same with the more distant future — which also involves paring down and sorting out. For instance, what good are 110 volt appliances in a country that uses 220? And what about my beloved library? Air freight on books is expensive! Besides that, we have no idea what we will live in... bigger, smaller or what — horrors — it may not have bookshelves! However, we are sending prayers on ahead, anticipating our needs fulfilled when we arrive.

As with most plans, we do realized these may or may not happen but one certainty is the last move mentioned, that final relocation into our heavenly home. Again, there are some definite similarities. For one thing, we have too much stuff here — not one bit of it will go with us. So we are learning not to hold on to possessions too tightly. Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

So again we sort and toss, trying to decide which earthly treasures are mere heavenly junk and which may be useful in the short span of life to add “property value” to that heavenly inheritance. Can this book be used to teach another about Christ? Can that piece of clothing better serve someone whose closet is not as stuffed? Tossing it all is wasteful. Keeping it all may be faithless hoarding. God, we pray, help us be good stewards.

Jesus’ words constantly remind us that even the here-and-now goals of Christian living do not have much to do with building a new home or the accumulation of things. Material treasures can rot, be moth-eaten, or stolen. Worse yet, whenever we set our minds on them, our energies are not available to think His thoughts and do His will, which is the real treasure. So God, help us to recognize and toss other junk such as sinful behavior, ungodly attitudes, greedy self-serving, pride in what we have and selfish desire for what we do not have and, for the most part, do not need either.

Obviously, for this final move we are not using a telephone or a fax machine but prayer to our “Builder” for His help in all decisions. Keeping the lines open also involve continual consideration of Jesus words in Luke 12: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Since we are actually citizens of a heavenly country (and only ambassadors here), we need to make sure our hearts are not too wrapped up in either this home, the next one, or the next one.

It is also interesting how plans for a new home in Alberta have helped focus our lives here in Saskatchewan... and plans for a move even farther after that put the new home in perspective... but preparing for life in heaven keeps all of life here from getting out of hand. In the meantime, we just keep paring down and tossing junk until the moving van comes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Reasons for Praise ................ Parables 336

September 22, 1992

People who easily praise other people or who easily praise God sometimes make me feel uncomfortable. Are they real? Or am I to proud to give anyone else any glory for what they do, God or human beings?

I notice how much easier it is to be picky and critical. I can easily complain and wish other people (and God) did things more to my liking, even while hiding behind a pious self-evaluation that my “standards are higher” and everyone else is sloughing off. (Dare I admit that I might think that of God?) Why should praise be so important anyway?

After being hard on myself (another way to focus on me instead of God), I checked out some biblical reasons why God should be praised. They fall into three categories: His character is worthy of praise; His deeds are worthy of praise; and praise itself is good for the person who offers it.

The psalmist says: “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You” (Psalms 63:3). Lovingkindness is only one attribute of God. His holiness, power, creativity, goodness, faithfulness, righteousness, sovereignty, wisdom, and mercy are more reasons we should praise Him.

The psalmist also says: “I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works” (Psalms 9:1). God has created all things. He has met the needs of those who seek Him, cared for the humble of heart and protected His people. He has performed miracles, disclosed Himself through His written Word and through the incarnation of His Son. He keeps His promises and is faithful even when we are not. These are more reasons for praise.

Praise is sometimes difficult to offer because we don’t feel like it and circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. In these cases, the Bible rightly calls praise a “sacrifice.” Yet even in the sacrifice, praise benefits us. The Bible says praise brings a sense of His presence and beautifies those who offer it. (The fact that God asks us to do something that will bring Him honor yet uses that obedience to our profit is another reason to praise Him!) God encourages praise because it is so right. Think of it, what could God allow praise for other than Himself? That would be suggesting He could deny His own character and even the fact that He alone is worthy of praise. His nature and deeds are far above anything we are and do. Furthermore, praise takes our eyes off ourselves and our often miserable circumstances and puts them on the Lord. He raises our sights, purifies our goals, and gives us His own incomparable beauty to behold.

The Psalmist says: “Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful” and “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful” (Psalms 33:1, Psalms 147:1). Praise gives us pleasure because we are creating something God calls beautiful; no wonder we experience His joy when we “create” it.

Praise is not only an antidote to human pride but conquers depression and grumbling. When we turn our eyes on God and thoughtfully consider His character as He has revealed Himself, we marvel. While we cannot fully comprehend all that He is, we do know He is majestic and utterly awesome.

When we study what He has done, not the deeds people sometimes credit to Him but the deeds He Himself affirms in His Word as His, we also marvel. Only God could form the heavens and speak the worlds into existence. Only God could give sight to the blind and raise the dead. Only God could deliver us from the sins that so easily entangle us and promise us an eternal home.

When we exercise faith and obediently offer praise, we discover praise is indeed beautiful, simply because it has to be — the One to whom it is directed is the epitome of beauty. So today, let’s just praise the Lord!

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Purpose of Life ................ Parables 335

September 15, 1992

The question comes to me at the oddest moments. Sometimes I am in the grocery store with my cart nearly full. Other times I am at a wedding, or in a classroom. Sometimes I hear it when my husband and I are planning a trip or playing golf. The question has frightened me, even left me baffled, but most of the time it makes me stop and consider the answer, even adjust my life if it seems necessary. The question?  —  Why am I here?

Apparently people in the middle of life are not the only ones who hear the question. Younger people wonder why they exist. Many of them consider only a few options, such as an “eat, drink and be merry” philosophy. Or they defer the question — they are only young once — and try to forget it. Others look for answers through achievements in political or social endeavors and try to become the best in their field or make a name for themselves so they somehow leave a mark on humanity. Yet still the question haunts them.

And it haunts me too, not that I am without an answer nor do I doubt my answer is the best option. For me though, it seems that the question serves more than one purpose. It first challenged me to find meaning for life, now it prods me to base life on what I have discovered.

Becoming convinced of God’s purpose for my life has not been painless or quick. Like Solomon explains in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, it is only after trying almost everything else that I am now convinced that all human answers to this question are dismal at best. Should I live for pleasure, money, popularity, awards, my work or human recognition, I would find none of these settling down in the heart for very long — they are not the best answers.

Of course such aspirations are not without value and I would be lying if I said it does not feel good to have fun, make money, gain friends or reach the top of list now and then. It is just that my life, focused on those things, leaves me feeling empty and the question remains without an answer.

Purpose for living is expressed several ways in the Bible. Solomon gives one: “The conclusion of the whole matter is to fear God and keep His commandments, this is the whole duty of man.” In this case, fear does not mean terror but reverence for God. Because of that awe, we ought to obey Him. Micah explains life’s purpose this way: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” The satisfaction everyone wants from life cannot be found apart doing what God requires. According to Micah, honorable living accompanied by a benevolent attitude towards others and an honest recognition of our position before God is beneficial to us.

Some seem to think if we do what God wants we will not be happy, but God is not against us being happy. In fact, I am convinced that He is not against us being wealthy or popular or successful either. The Psalmist even prays, “May He grant you according to your heart’s desire and fulfil all your purpose” (20:4). Because we tend to put our human wants first, before pleasing God, we miss the fullness of what He wants for us.

Don’t misunderstand; I do not subscribe to a “God wants you rich” theology. God wants us to experience His riches and if worldly wealth will stand in the way of that, He does us a favor if He makes money hard to come by or dissatisfying when we do have it. As our Maker, He knows our true purpose and what will make us truly happy — both are found in Him and in doing what He created us to do.

So now the question serves as a reminder to ask myself often if I still fear God and still obey Him — because that is the reason why I am here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

God knows who I am ................ Parables 334

September 8, 1992

Art was slightly red-faced when he told about a customer who entered his place of business. It was a young man with a red moustache and beard, someone he did not recognize. It was only after asking how he could help him that Art realized it was his own son! The boy had worked in the forestry industry for the summer and returned with unexpected changes to his appearance. Art said, “At least this proves I’m not infallible!”

Most of us cannot imagine being unable to recognize our children but it could happen. Sometimes, if all we ever see them wear is jeans and sneakers, putting on a suit or a grad gown could be enough to do it, or a costume and make-up for a drama play. And if they began acting differently than their usual selves, it would add to the disguise. If they are young, fooling us would be a funny game. Art’s older son maybe wanted to play a trick on dad, but I doubt he would have enjoyed the joke if dad never caught on.

Art later pointed out that God cannot be fooled — He always knows His kids, in spite of the fact that some have been known to wear disguises as if they didn’t want other people to know they are Christians. As for those who pretend to belong to His family but really do not, God also sees through their cover-up.

First, God’s true children sometimes do wear disguises such as when we fall into sin and can get so covered with “mud” we appear on the outside like any other sinner. That disguise may fool other people but God knows what is under the mess. He exhorts us to “put off, concerning our former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” and calls us to “be renewed in the spirit of our mind” and “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words, take off the disguises and demonstrate who we really are.

Another form of cover-up goes on when we fear ridicule or persecution. Again, we pretend we fit in this world, maybe hang around sinners, not completely falling into their behavior but not being particularly godly either. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was one of these. He lived in Sodom and while he did not participate in their sins, neither did he confront what they were doing or get out of their company. Fortunately God knows “those who are His” and sent two angels to drag Lot out before raining fire and brimstone in judgment on those who lived so wickedly in his home town.

Those who observe the outer “costume” or behavior of Christians-in-disguise are justified in calling us imposters and hypocrites. Even though God knows who are His children, He also warns against such hypocrisy and disguises. We must demonstrate what we are, not cover it up.

Of course God considers the worst disguise that of those who pretend to be Christians and are not. Even though He can see right through their pretense, so many people cannot and are therefore deceived and led astray. Outwardly these pretenders say the right words and even do all kinds of religious deeds but inwardly they are “ravenous wolves” who have no care for the family of God. They have selfish motives for feigning godliness.

One day God will strip away all disguises. Those who have battled with sin will find that the “solid foundation of God stands — having this seal: The Lord knows those who are His.” But those who have posed as righteous without depending on the righteousness of Christ will hear Him say, “Depart from me... I never knew you.”

Art knows a change in appearance did not change the identity of his son. In the same way, no matter what kind of false face people might wear, it does not change the inner person. And because God knows who are His, no one who fakes it will be able to wear a disguise forever.