Monday, November 30, 2015

I am not invincible! ............. Parables 359

March 2, 1993

The “high point” of our vacation was Mount Hafelekarspitze in the Alps! I am terrified of heights — so what was I doing 2334 meters, or nearly 8000 feet, up? Well, my husband wanted me to go. He’s a skier, we were in Austria and who could visit Innsbruck, home of the Winter Olympics, without checking out the slopes?

I argued. Most average ski slopes contradict my desire for stability. Some of those runs are far from average. The sign said they angled at 70o. So much for the idea that those wild ski films are done with the camera tilted. There even were people defying the warnings about alpine risks and actually skiing down them! Besides, the cable car was far above the tree tops and the ski lodge at the top looked like it was much too close to the edge.

This was one of those situations when any acrophobic like me gives some thought to why people would want to defy gravity and put themselves in danger. Even Bob admitted one slip and a skier would not stop rolling for hundreds of feet. Perhaps they do it because they are somehow convinced of being invincible, or maybe they cannot imagine our own death?

Whatever the reasons, the reality about our lives is not invincibility. We all know that Hebrews 9:27 is true: every one of us is “destined to die once.” Yet to me, risk-taking is a serious business. For one thing, destiny (some call it fate) does not mean it is safe to take foolish chances. No one knows for sure when their time is up so why push it? Besides, taking risks may not mean we will die but it could result in a painful and crippling injury. That, I can imagine.

Maybe the notion of being invincible actually disguises a fear of dying; a reluctance to face the issue. We knew a man who would take risks but refused to use the word death. When his parents were killed in an automobile accident, he never talked about it at all.

Hebrews 9:27 applies to that fear too. The entire verse says “Man is destined to die once, and after that faces judgment.” Perhaps risk-taking, defying death, fear of dying and a desire to be invincible, are all somehow connected to a stubborn hope that judgment can be bypassed, that it does not apply to me, that it will not really happen.

No wonder the Bible says the fear of death holds us in bondage, even robs us of the enjoyment of living. It was that thought that coaxed me up Mount Hafelekarspitze. I decided whether or not God choose this as my time to die, I did not need to fear death because Jesus died for me on another mountain nearly 2000 years ago. Furthermore, He conquered death three days later and invited all to participate in that same overcoming power.

This is simply power to beat odds, odds that seem unbeatable: billions to 1. Yet anyone can conquer death by receiving His gift of eternal life through forgiveness and justification by faith. That means God looks at us just as if we have never sinned, and in His eyes we are clean as the snow on alpine peaks.

Because of Jesus, the view at the top was awesome. We gazed at miles of valleys below and over 400 other mountain tops. He not only created all of it but, through faith, gave us a deep sense of His power to overcome fear (even acrophobia) and replace it with appreciation and worship.

No wonder the psalmist says of God, “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.”

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tell people how to have peace with God ............. Parables 358

February 23, 1953

Uncle Edward sat on the edge of his hospital bed and with trembling voice said, “I would like to, but I don’t know how.”

He had just told me he had been thinking about spiritual things during his illness. We talked about God for a few minutes then I asked if he had made his peace with His Creator. He made this response: “I would like to, but I don’t know how.”

Edward had been raised by a Christian mother and had gone to church and Sunday school as a child. Now, as an old man, his words amazed me. I had assumed people with that kind of spiritual background would know how to get right with God, forgetting that I too heard the gospel as a child but when I grew up, I did not remember it. In fact, I didn’t think I there was any antagonism between me and God that required making peace with Him until He used events in my life to bring me to that understanding.

Edward was at that place also. For me, it was relationship failure; for him it was advancing age. He realized he didn’t have much life left. Besides that, he was sick and scared and finding peace with God became important. Looking back, I am sure I couldn’t have explained “how” to him had he not been interested.

That is one of the mysteries of the gospel. The apostle Paul said that spiritual truth is discernable and attractive to those who are spiritually minded. The man or woman who has no use for or no interest in knowing God will not discover how. Paul even said that the gospel is “foolishness to them that perish, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

The gospel is very simple: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” He offers forgiveness of sin and eternal life to all who come to Him admitting their need.

Most people resist this simple message and argue about the identity of Christ and the historical accuracy of the Bible. They say there is no God, or the Bible is wrong, or Jesus Christ did not exist, or the disciples were deceived, or Jesus was only a great teacher, or He didn’t really die, or He didn’t really rise from the dead. While it is impossible to “prove it” to a sceptic, humble people who can admit they are sinful and need supernatural forgiveness, will hear the gospel as good news and can understand and believe that Christ is the Son of God who died for them.

Perhaps the real issue is sin, something many people do not consider seriously enough or even acknowledge. There is a book called “Whatever Became of Sin?” which is a good question. Sin is serious. It is the only thing that separates people from God. Sin is so grave a matter in the mind of God that He clothed Himself in human flesh to take the punishment we deserve. By saying we are not sinners or that sin does not matter, or even that we can do good and make up for it, we mock the wisdom of God who determined His death was necessary for our forgiveness.

Edward had no argument about any of the Biblical facts. He bowed his head and humbly asked Jesus to forgive his sins and make him a child of God. Afterwards, he experienced no dramatic recovery or reversal of the aging process, yet there was a new sparkle in his eye and frequent expressions of gratefulness. When he died, he died at peace — with himself and with his God.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is prayer the only thing that I can do? ............. Parables 357

February 16, 1953

“All we can do is pray for you.”

Anyone who has a praying relationship with God knows that prayer is a powerful force. For that reason, these words are meant to encourage needy people. However, sometimes those who hear them become angry or upset. Since prayer is supposed to “move mountains,” why would anyone react negatively when another person offers to pray for them?

One reason might be related to the nature of their need. Usually when someone asks for help they think the person who hears the request can personally do something to relieve their problem. For instance, when I have a cut finger and go to a doctor, I do not expect him or her tell me, “Well, all I can do is pray for you.” Doctors might pray but they should treat injuries too.

For some, expressing needs can be difficult, perhaps even sound like begging. If financial reversals drained every cent I had and I became very distraught because there was no food in my house, I might go to another Christian in tears. I would certainly want them to pray that God would take care of me, but I would not turn down a tangible demonstration of care, such as tears of sympathy, a big hug, or an invitation to supper.

The Bible does say, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17) If my comforter had the means and did not offer to share with me even though they prayed, I might feel they did not really care.

Another reason people spurn offers of prayer is that some do not believe their difficulties are “that bad.” For them, prayer is reserved for totally desperate situations, as if God is too busy to be bothered with minor problems. When someone suggests prayer, their first response is to minimize the situation, forgetting that God is big enough to be interested in every detail of our lives.

Finally, most negative responses to prayer come from a vague feeling that prayer does not work; God will never hear anyway because an unknown something blocks communication with Him.

While that unknown could be simple unbelief, it is usually compounded by a personal resistance towards God’s will. Psalm 66:18 says if we nurture sin in our heart, He will not hear our prayers.

That means anyone who loves their sin shuts the door on God. Of course they will not want to pray either. With no desire for forgiveness or fellowship with Him, they get upset when others even offer to pray on their behalf.

Yet God instructs people to pray. The needy person who gets angry when prayer is offered needs to examine his heart. What is preventing reliance on God? Is turning away from Him worth it?

The person whose offer to pray was rejected must to pray anyway, perhaps later when alone with God, because “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

Yet prayer is seldom “all we can do.” God often meets needs through those who do the praying. So when we say, “I love you and will pray for you,” it is also important to look for ways to become part of the answer.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Perfect Love ............. Parables 356

February 9, 1953

Someone tells the story of a young boy who, for some reason, did not have any friends at school, perhaps he was handicapped. In any case, when Valentines’ day rolled around, he insisted on making and giving valentines to his classmates. His mother was concerned for his feelings because she thought he may not receive any in return.

On Valentine’s Day, the little fellow went to school with his package of cards. That afternoon, she watched him come up the front sidewalk, head down, muttering to himself. As he came closer, she could hear him say, “Not one, not even one...”

It seems her fears had been realized. As she prepared to console him, she was startled when he looked up at her, face radiant, and said, “Not one, I didn’t miss one, everyone got a card.”

Perhaps love is the most misunderstood human capacity. Most of us realize that physical attraction is most commonly mistaken for love, but we can also confuse love with admiration or hero-worship. Furthermore, deep desires for financial or emotional security can obscure our thinking to the point we are convinced we “love” someone that seems to be able to meet those needs. Loneliness, pity, fear or other emotions can also cloud our judgment. We can even think we love someone who is either unusually kind or helpful toward us or appears to need and appreciate us.

With some of these misconceptions in mind, it appears this thing we call love usually depends a great deal on what the other person does or is. If they somehow meet a need we have or make us feel good, or are attractive and arouse our desires, we call it “love.” Very few understand love as that little boy.

The Bible tells us that God loves us perfectly. When our lives are comfortable and nothing is happening out of our control, we may believe it. Yet whenever a senseless “act of God” happens, the normal human response is grave doubts concerning His love. As in human relationships, we gauge how much God loves by how comfortable or how delighted He allows us to feel.

Many times our response toward Him is the same. That is, we love Him when He is good to us, but find our passion for God cools again when life is not as we hoped or expected. A well-known Christian singer tells of visiting a country where the people were not well off. She was amazed how these people praised God yet “they had nothing.” She finally realized that they loved God for who He is, not for what He did for them.

As I think about that, it seems that perfect love is like that and it goes both ways. That is, we are to love Him “with all our heart and soul and mind and strength,” not just for the comforts He gives us but for who He is – our God who is totally worthy of all our adoration. We are able to do that only as we realize that “He first loved us” and demonstrated it by sending His Son to die for us.

God’s love for us certainly does not depend on what we do for Him. He is complete in Himself and needs nothing from us. He simply loves us for who we are – people that He created, people that He desires will spend eternity with Him. It is a love illustrated by a little boy with a stack of valentines – a love that reaches out to all and whose greatest desire is that not one misses out, not even one.

Friday, November 20, 2015

God invites all to His river of life ............. Parables 355

February 2, 1953

Three generations of unsuspecting people drank from it, swam in it, gave it to their animals and children, sprayed it on their plants, and said it always tasted good, but now are being told the Techa River is the most polluted river in the world.

Over 40 years ago, atomic waste was jettisoned into this body of water in Russia. For the past several years, residents downstream have experienced cancer, anaemia, stillborn babies, paralysis and numerous other problems related to continual exposure to radiation. Apparently the cause of these and other horrors is an ignorant and tragic mistake made years ago by a few nuclear scientists.

One article about the Techa includes “river of death” in its title. But a river is not supposed to bring death. It is no wonder the survivors, who drank and used its water without realizing there was anything wrong with it, feel betrayed and devastated. My own outrage is difficult to describe. This is so sad particularly because there is nothing to be done. Once exposed, radiation damage to the human system is irreversible.

It is bad enough when we foolishly do things that are obviously harmful and others get hurt in the process, but these people were completely unaware of their danger. We might well ask how could God allow this? It seems these people didn’t have a hope. Yet that is only partly true. Hope is not limited to this life and hope is never beyond those who still live and breathe and can make decisions. Hope is always available.

This week, we will be returning from eastern Europe. Writing in advance of the trip, we have not been able to include the former Soviet Union in our itinerary, but if we could, I would go to Techa’s banks and tell these suffering people about another river: the river of life, a river described in the first verses of Revelation 22.

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

We cannot imagine water so clear, water that tastes of life itself, eternal life, life that heals and cleanses and refreshes. No river on earth can compare with it. It is perfect, totally unpolluted, completely without defilement.

Life, since the first sin in Eden, has been marked by tragedies of many kinds, most of which can be directly connected to human sin and error. We are guilty of ruining our own environment, whether through mistakes made in ignorance or deliberate defiance. Environmentalists and others wonder if it is too late to turn things around.

The sad truth is that the book of Revelation also talks about judgments on sin that include defiled oceans and rivers, “a third of the sea became blood; and a third of the living creatures in the sea died.... a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water because it was made bitter” and “the rivers and springs of water became blood...”

At the end of these terrible prophecies, the river of life is described and the invitation is made to all who want to escape the sorrows of this world: “The Spirit and the bride (the church) say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”

Anyone can be refreshed and restored for all eternity by this river, even those who drink the polluted water of the Techa.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Language changes — but God’s Word is still the same! ............. Parables 354

January 26, 1993

“Oure Fadir that art in heuenes, halwid be thi name; thi kyngdom comme to; be thi wille done as in heuen and in earth; gif to vs this day oure breed oure other substaunce; and forgeve to vs oure dettis, as we forgeve to oure dettours; and leed vs nat in to temptacioun, but delyuere vs fro yuel. Amen.”

No, my fingers are not on the wrong keys. That is the Lord’s Prayer as it reads in English, about A.D. 1350. Three hundred and fifty years earlier, it looked like this: “Faeder ure thu the eart on heofonum; si thin name gahalgod...”

Today, most of us know it as “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...” In another 300 to 700 years, who knows what it will sound like, at least in English.

Languages change over time. They also change from place to place. Consider the confusion an American gas jockey might feel if an Englishman drove up and asked him to fill the tank with petrol, check under the bonnet, clean the windscreen and check the spare in the boot!

These days, the primary issue concerning words and their meanings centers around sexist and racist terms. Newspapers and other publications have lists of taboos. For example, most do not permit the use of pronouns that stereotype male or female roles. There are also Bibles with inclusive language, including at least one that refers to God as “our mother.”

This raises a question--can we be sure how the Lord’s Prayer or any portion of Scripture should read in English? After all, the original copies of the documents that make up the Bible were lost a long time ago. The answer is that there are thousands many copies of those originals still in existence, thousands in fact. Translators use them to determine what the originals said. Each Bible version is an attempt to translate these Greek and Hebrew documents into the language of the day.

In 1611, that language was similar to what we see in the King James Version. This translation has been in use for such a long time that many people think it is the only reliable one. Some are suspicious of newer versions and even say we don’t need modern English Bibles.

Interestingly enough, that was one of the criticisms against the King James version when it was first translated. Many people wanted to stick with their older translations. However, King James of England did not like the marginal notes in some of them and suggested a new translation, in the language of the day, with minimal notes in the margins. He wanted a version every person could read.

Translators are still trying to keep the language of the Bible clear and current. Most of them try to be as true to the Greek and Hebrew as possible. Some are what might be called dynamic translations: they retain the sense of the meaning but are not word-for-word renderings. The goal, in most cases, is to help people better understand the Word of God.

When I first read a “modern” translation, I was fearful that it might not be very accurate but after a semester of learning how the manuscripts have been used and translated, I have a strong confidence in most of our Bible versions. Some translations may not be as good as others, but whether I open up the King James Version or Good News for Modern Man, accurate scholarship insures dependability.

Even more assuring is the fact that the Spirit of God uses His Word to reveal Christ and to demonstrate how He meets our spiritual need. How important that we not only can read it in our own vernacular, but that we do read it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A place where all should be welcomed ............. Parables 353

January 19, 1993


Is this merely a sign on Johnny’s backyard tree house? Or one we might find on the back door of the meeting place for an exclusive organization? Perhaps, but unfortunately some people think it is also the sign on the front door of every church. Consequently they think they are not welcome inside the door.

What is the church anyway? Only a building? Another exclusive club? A place reserved for religious zealots? A social organization for humanitarians that like to feed the hungry and give clothes to the poor? Or some sort of secret society that makes its members do strange things?

Most people hold one or more definitions like these, at least some time in their life. I used to think church was something you “did on Sunday,” a ritual like school on Monday to Friday and movies on Saturday nights. It took me some time before I thought of church as a place people went to find out about God and worship Him.

However, not every “church” helps people find about God, at least God as He reveals Himself in the Bible and in Christ. For that reason, the church of my youth and young adulthood didn’t do much for me. I could not have offered worship based on true knowledge but attended Sunday services simply because it was the thing to do.

It was not until my life turned upside down that my reasons for going to church changed. I wanted to know God and wanted His help to set it right again. I did not always like what I heard but persisted until the truth of who He is and what He has done became clear to me. Only then did I begin to understand what “church” is all about.

Church is not just a building, even though we call the building “the church”. It is not just an event either, even though we say we enjoyed “going to church”. And it most certainly is not a game; we cannot “play church” and be honest with ourselves, others and God.

Rather, church (specifically the Christian church) is a collection of people who love God and have faith in Jesus Christ. His church is a living body, a vibrant community of folks who admit they are sinful and know they cannot earn eternal life but have received it as a gift from God. They meet together to worship Him as Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of their lives, and to be instructed in their understanding of God. When functioning as God intended, members of His church lovingly encourage each another to forsake sin and serve God and one another.

While this list of “church” activities may seem unfamiliar, it is not bizarre. A genuinely biblical church is never anything like a secret society where its members do weird things.

Neither is the church exclusive. While the body is made up of those who believe, anyone who wants to learn about God can attend church gatherings. Even if a person does not believe, what better place to find out what believing means?

Is every group that calls itself a “church” like what I just described? Sadly not. Some talk about God but have departed from the Bible and historical Christian beliefs. Others operate more like social clubs than centers of worship. A few call themselves a church yet worship Satan. For these reasons, if anyone really wants to find out what “church” is supposed to be they need to look beyond all the signs and labels and put their foot inside the door.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The benefits of being injured ............. Parables 352

January 12, 1993

While January snows pile up outside and winter winds chill the bones and make noses red and skin chapped, I was planning to send this column from a beach far south--where my nose would be getting red from the sun and the only white stuff in sight would be sand and the tops of ocean waves.

But it didn’t happen. Two days before Christmas, I stepped down from a box and felt the back of my leg explode as if someone hit it with a sledge hammer. The doctor called it a ruptured calf muscle and the physiotherapist said he was good but not quite good enough to get me walking the beach by the second week of January. In fact, he thought it may take two months to fully heal.

So our Christmas celebrations were definitely different this year. One son decorated the tree. The other one put away groceries and scolded me every time I moved. My husband did all his regular chores and mine too, including cleaning the house and helping me get from bed to bath to kitchen to living room, etc. My mother baked apple pies and made breakfast. Our daughter brought cookies and good humor. Her mother-in-law fed us turkey and all the trimmings. I was able to wrap gifts (even one for me) and made jokes about having a “two-C Christmas” (crutches and codeine).

But in a way, this helplessness has been a gift. I have noticed an increase in my compassion for hurting people. News stories about car accidents and injured children tug at my heart in a new way. I can more easily identify with their pain and frustration of trying to move a limb that refuses to respond because it takes all my concentration to move my toes toward my nose, as the therapist says I must. I know what it feels like to have muscles that simply will not do their work.

I can also feel the hope of those mentioned in the Bible stories that came to Jesus because they were lame. How each one must have rejoiced when they realized Isaiah’s prophecy, made six hundred years before, was now coming true. He foretold a time when “the lame would leap like a deer and the mute tongue would shout for joy.” Even though Isaiah’s prophecy will not be completely fulfilled until heaven, Jesus, during His time on earth, certainly gave many people a taste of what to expect in eternity. All who go there will know the fullness of complete health, every limb will work as it should. There will be no more sorrow or pain.

Yet the best gift right now is seeing my family, as Job said, being “feet to the lame” (29:15). They have taken over my responsibilities with great gusto (but refuse to let me to feel sorry for myself). I can relate to the Apostle Paul when he expressed his joy over the ministry of the Philippians to him. He said that he was not “looking for a gift, but looking for what may be credited to (their) account.” In other words, he rejoiced to see them demonstrating Christian virtues.

Seeing my family rallying together is a blessing. Almost all of them have said something like: “God has a purpose in this” or “There is a good reason that you can’t go on holidays right now.” It delights me that not one seems to perceive that they themselves have demonstrated some of God’s reason and purpose for my injury. Through them, I have seen and appreciated His compassion and loving kindness in a new way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Woe to those who call good evil and evil good............. Parables 351

January 5, 1993

Apparently there is a very unusual super-sniffer in Mexico who can detect illegal drugs even in passing cars. So far, he is directly responsible for 113 arrests. Authorities say he is never wrong!

This super-sniffer is a German Shepherd crossbreed. Obviously he is a threat to the profitable life style of illegal drug dealers. They have offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who will kill him.

We have heard that “crime pays” but putting a police dog on a HIT LIST gives a new twist to it. Imagine criminals putting up Wanted-Dead or Alive posters for the good guys; criminals paying criminals to put away law-enforcers. Such cooperation is what we normally expect from the good guys, not the crooks.

Speaking of the good guys, there is a contradictory twist in that camp too. More and more law-makers and law enforcers make news headlines for moving closer to the other side. These days, it is difficult to be certain who is on what side of the law.

Confusing good and bad is not a new thing. The ancient nation of Israel, even though they possessed the Law of God which was intended to help them govern their lives, became confused about good and bad. God said of them, “My people are foolish, They have not known Me. They are silly children, And they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jeremiah 4:22).

In their early days as a nation, the Israelites were governed by kings like David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart” and his son Solomon, who asked God, “Give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil.” Both recognized their inability to judge and govern without God’s help.

Later on, during Jeremiah’s life time, both kings and citizens had turned from God to worship idols. In doing so, they earned the labels “foolish” and “silly children.”

One reason the Israelites were unable to do good was simply because they no longer knew what good meant. In departing from God, who is the source of goodness and all ethical standards, they also turned their backs on the very principles which would have guided them. Furthermore, they placed themselves in danger of divine judgment. God said to them, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil...”

The Word of God calls everyone, including Israel, to a true understanding of goodness, a goodness that can only be found in Him. Jesus said, “There is none good but God...”

Jesus offers hope to those who rely on Him and guidance for personal and national goodness. What a difference it would make if people would live by such commands as, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good... do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12).

Most people still long for goodness, yet we need to remember where it is found. If any person or nation abandons God and turns away from His Word, they can expect the only consequence possible--moral deterioration. Without God, evil prevails.

Unfortunately, those drug dealers may find and kill that super-sniffer dog, yet the Bible makes it clear that they (and anyone else who calls good evil and evil good) will eventually have to explain their lives to the Ultimate Judge. He has every right to try, convict, and condemn them--and He will do it according to His definition of good and evil.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Challenged by Resolutions ................ Parables 350

December 29, 1992

Right about now, many folks are thinking about making resolutions. While we are inspired by the freshness of beginning a new year, some of us wonder if resolutions are important, considering that most of our good intentions will wither and fade before Valentine’s Day.

Is it foolish to add: “I resolve to keep my resolutions” or can something else rescue those January 1 commitments, at least until school starts or Halloween is over?

Simply evaluating possible reasons for previous failures might help. Were they too difficult or unrealistic? Did circumstances change unexpectedly? Did responsibilities increase? Or was it memory-lag?

No matter the pattern of failure, success can come by putting a corresponding twist in the resolution. For example, if goals seem sizeable or time-consuming, break them down into smaller chunks. In the last 30 months, I read over 60 books and completed 33 college courses. Looking back, it seems impossible, never mind how I felt about the size of the task at the beginning. Yet by dividing each course into daily assignments and each book into daily pages-to-read, I was able to reach my objectives.

Changes in circumstances may thwart goals too, so set some that do not depend on circumstances. Personal growth falls into this category. Resolve to become a better listener or to form a habit of expressing appreciation to family members, bank tellers, and sales clerks.

Nearly everyone has a problem with squeezed schedules and many are tempted to resolve to simply say “no” more often. We dislike it when we are making progress on one project and someone interrupts our agenda. Some very busy people tell me the best way to handle interruptions is by actually adding time for them in your schedule!

Another difficulty with resolutions is remembering what they are. The only way to overcome this is by keeping goals visible. My husband carries a DayTimer everywhere he goes. I also use one, along with post-it notes and occasionally make colorful wall charts. My husband and I compare and talk about our plans together and try to hold each other accountable, not only to remember our goals but to actually accomplish them.

Anyone who never bothers setting goals has no problem with reaching them, yet long-term goals are important. Setting them is even biblical. For example, Paul’s long-term goal was Christlikeness. He “pressed on toward the mark” by maintaining close fellowship with Christ. He considered each circumstance, even each interruption, as an opportunity to respond as Christ would and thus further realize his goal. Paul encourages us to follow his example because he followed the example of Jesus Christ.

Both Paul and Christ based their goals on the will of God and, because they were successful in accomplishing them, this is the most important strategy toward keeping resolutions. When we desire to do His will, we can depend on His help. He is able to “make us complete in every good work to DO His will, working in us what is well pleasing in His sight” (Hebrews 13:21).

I’m convinced this is the only way anyone can truly fulfil their goals so instead of aiming toward what I can do for myself in 1993, I am aiming toward what I can do to please God in 1993.

Happy New Year!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Rites of Passage ................ Parables 349

December 22, 1992

Every culture around the world indicates life changes with activities called rites of passage. For instance, while some cultures simply rub the newborn with salt, we celebrate childbirth with gift giving and baby showers. We also send our children out on that important first day of school and mark the end of their formal education, again with gifts and ceremonies. We have initiation rites for new positions of employment and retirement parties, and more gifts, at their end. The last passage is marked the same way throughout the world — by funerals.

Christmas calls to remembrance one particular rite of passage, a celebration of one moment in history when the Son of God left a solid, secure home at the request of His Father and entered this world in the same way we did, as a helpless baby. Babies are dismayed by birth; the womb is warm, dark, safe and comfortable but the world is cold, very bright, dangerous and discomfiting. For Jesus, there was an added shock; before developing in a human body in Mary’s womb, He had lived in heaven.

Even though we know very little about heaven, we can be certain it is a perfect place to live where no one ever feels alienated. There, the Son of God and reigned over all creation and shared the glory of His Father, but this earth did not greet Him with angelic worship or welcome the brightness of His presence. Instead, just prior to His birth, His earthly parents were compelled to go to Bethlehem only to find when they arrived there were NO VACANCY signs all over town. The only space left for Jesus to be born was a stable and He, who had been accustomed to heaven’s incense of prayer and praise, was introduced to the world amid the smells of manure and the noises of bleating sheep. Some celebration!

Besides no room in the inns of Bethlehem, there were no formal birth announcements, no cards to family and friends from a proud new mom and dad, and no baby shower. His Father did send a host of angels with a singing announcement, but it was heard only by a few simple shepherds. Some wise men eventually arrived bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh, beautiful yet not particularly useful gifts for a young toddler.

From birth on, Jesus’ rites of passage were never quite normal. When He was thirty years old, He was baptized and ordained into ministry but in the first rite, a voice came from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” and after the second one, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast 40 days and be tempted by the devil.

Later, as He began to minister to people, Jesus was dismayed even more by sin and death’s power to destroy lives. Shortly after weeping at a friend’s funeral, He faced the full reality of that power Himself when the sin of the world, sin He did not commit, was placed on Him. After He paid its awful price, He Himself experienced that last solemn ritual.

But wait, there were two more rites. One came after three days when He rose from the dead. The next occurred a few days later after He told His disciples to go and tell the world what happened and said goodbye; before their eyes, He ascended into heaven.

As we remember this Babe who endured the shock of birth and celebrate it by giving one another gifts, remember He also tasted the horror of death — so He could celebrate by giving us the gift of life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My 27th Move ................ Parables 348

December 15, 1992

We have a few more than usual parcels to unwrap this Christmas, maybe over a hundred extra, but they are not all gifts!

No, we did not win a lottery nor do we have a wealthy relative; the parcels are moving cartons. For me, this is relocation number 27, but I am looking forward to it because we are returning home to Alberta.

Some people wonder, “You must have this matter of moving down pat by now?” Well, we can pack up and unpack fairly quickly. It does not take long to get things put away and life back to a normal routine. But lifting boxes and putting things where they belong is not the tough part of moving; it is the mental and emotional adjustment. In fact, researchers say one move requires a normal recovery time of about two years. Multiply that by 27 and it means I’m not old enough to know what it means to be “adjusted!”

Actually, some new orientation is fun, like making new friends and finding new sights to see. This time, we move into a brand new home (built by phone and fax!) and are going to be much closer to our family. All these pluses ease the pain of leaving wonderful friends and familiar conveniences here in Saskatchewan. They will also help us through frustrations like weeks of trying to remember where I put the scissors, stationery, and sugar canister. I’m sure I’ve spent half my life filing!

Just for fun, I did a word search on my computer to see how many times the word “move” is in the Bible. Even though the nation of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, their society was a lot less mobile than ours. I found only a few passages that referred to moving in the sense of packing up and going somewhere else to live.

Most of our moves have been connected to my husband’s work — but there is no specific mention in the Bible of moving for that reason. In two cases, people moved because their enemies forced a relocation. In another situation, a Bible family moved because God called them to a new location.

I can relate to some of those but the verse I liked the best was this promise: “I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; nor shall the sons of wickedness oppress them any more, as previously...” (2 Samuel 7:10).

Hope of a final destination helps in adjusting to a mobile lifestyle right now. It also helps to accept it without complaining. God has given my husband wonderful skills and opportunities to use them in his work, and his work requires that we move now and then. Besides, each new location has great benefits; we keep meeting the most incredible people and have made some wonderful friends.

The best of those “move” verses didn’t have to do with moving a household, however it did offer encouragement for the upsets of writing final exams, moving from two houses (one here, one in Fort Saskatchewan) into one house, celebrating Christmas, and still remaining enthusiastic and sane. It says, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

While we celebrate the gift of God’s Son, we also celebrate that He has made all 27 moves a growing, purposeful experience.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 2, 2015

No Link? Really? ................ Parables 347

December 8, 1992

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission now concludes there is “a link” between violence portrayed on television and violence in society but it is “not necessarily one of cause and effect.”

Interesting. What do advertisers think about the relationship between their commercials and the effect it has on consumers? Are sales merely a link? Or do commercials have a definite cause/effect relationship to consumer buying habits?

Profit studies and statistics say commercials definitely effect buyers. If they didn’t, why would any company pay media advertising fees? A half-minute spot on a show such as Murphy Brown costs over $300,000 — that is over $10,000 a second! Those kinds of rates are an indication of profits; people do respond to commercials.

But the CRTC is right in not being too hasty to attribute cause and effect. There is always more than one factor involved in issues like human behavior. Psychologists debate whether nature and genetics are the greater influence or is it environment and the way people are nurtured that cause them to live as they do? Many would agree that both factors play a part.

The Bible supports the both nature and nurture theory, but not quite the same way as would psychologists. Jesus, while not commenting on the effects of television violence, did say where violence begins: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

While we were made in the image of God and do have potential to do tremendous good, Jesus is pointing out that sin has marred that image and gives us the capacity for tremendous evil. It is this propensity for sin that causes sinful thoughts, and we all have them.

As for the nurture side of things, God holds us accountable for how we raise our children, how we govern our lives, and how we deal with our sin. We need to recognize that when evil thoughts are given any priority at all, they easily lead to sinful actions. Nurture means we need to avoid whatever feeds that human tendency to sin.

Certainly such factors as our conscience and social pressures constrain evil too. Otherwise we could never live in a sinful world without personally participating in all its sin. Yet if our conscious is dulled by viewing a dozen murders a night on television (tests prove that it is dulled) and television programming begins to exalt violent people, the effects of conscience and social pressure are reduced. That kind of nurture makes it much more difficult to keep sinful thoughts from turning into sinful actions.

The psalmist did not have a television set but he knew this principle long before psychologists tested it. He said, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not cling to me.” Instead, he determined, “My eyes are ever toward the LORD, For He shall pluck my feet out of the net.”

Scripture says “Where there is no vision the people perish” not “no television.” The violence depicted is not profitable for enjoying life as God intended, a life of goodness and peace. We can lobby for better programming yet in lieu of that possibility, the best initiative to take may be in finding our entertainment elsewhere and simply shutting it off.