Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Work crews and Christian faith ............. Parables 372

June 1, 1993

A young tradesman wonders, “I usually ask God to help me do this and help me do that... but actually, isn’t it the apprentice that’s the helper and not the boss?”

We live in a condominium complex with some units yet unfinished. Construction workers are frequently on the scene. In fact, today someone is hammering next door, perhaps putting in cupboards or installing carpet.

Most of the crews have a foreman and several workers. These tradesmen are responsible to follow the plans so each unit will be satisfactory to its new owner. If they decide otherwise, the work will be in vain and they (or someone else) will have to do it over again.

It happened with one of our closets. Someone drew lines on the sub-floor indicating its location. One of the framers somehow managed to put the bottom 2 x 4 for the wall studs on the wrong side of the line. After we moved in, we discovered the doors kept catching our coat sleeves, so we measured it. Sure enough, the closet was 20" deep instead of 24" so the boss had to tear out and re-do the whole thing.

To give the framer the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was an apprentice who needed help but didn’t think to ask his boss to check his work or help him. He may not have understood the boss would gladly do anything to make sure the work would go ahead as planned.

Christians, who consider the Lord their “boss” sometimes make the same mistake. We fail to ask Him for assistance. Just as many apprentice tradesmen, after a few mistakes, we usually realize we cannot follow His plan without His help. We find ourselves confused about what needs to be done and even after we understand that, we need Him to guide each step of the process.

My friend who wondered which is the helper, God or us, would be wise to take neither extreme. We need God’s help. In fact, Jesus sent “the Helper, the Holy Spirit” because He said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”

At the same time, God has chosen to build His kingdom by using our obedience. We help Him in a sense, as we rely on Him to help us demonstrate His grace and proclaim His truth to the world.

My problems comes when I confuse His plan with my wants. When that happens, I ask God to help me obtain or do things that fit my agenda, things that have nothing to do with His will.

But God is working out His plan, not only for each of His people but for history. I need to follow His direction and do His will so I fit into it. If I insist on asking Him to help me only with my own plans, it is like asking the boss to approve and even help me nail a 2 x 4 into the wrong place. At best, such deviations delay progress and cause inconvenience.

In my experience, God pulls back from my selfish requests. He either leaves me alone to try and fail, or worse yet, succeed, without His help. Later, after the damage is done, I wish I had volunteered my help with His plans instead. As difficult as doing the Lord’s will seems, He is always available and His help is generous and sufficient.

Whenever we mess up, God sometimes provides opportunities to re-do the mess, especially if we determine to understand help Him fulfil His plans. That process includes admitting our own helplessness and calling out “Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me; be my helper!”

Monday, December 28, 2015

The reality of death ............. Parables 371

May 25, 1993

A few weeks ago a young man was shot and killed in an Edmonton restaurant.

Try visualizing the scene. Do you see a movie or television story with shabby café in the rough end of town, narrow, dark alleys and garbage littering the curbside? Do waiters look like gangsters? Are the patrons tough and rough when masked gunmen burst in demanding the cash register contents?

Or do you see a classy uptown establishment with patrons dripping in diamonds and thieves wearing professional black suits with nylons over their faces and non-glare lampblack rubbed on their gun barrels?

The Edmonton restaurant doesn’t fit either picture. Paneled in dark oak with nautical decor, it is neither shabby or outstandingly classy. The waiters are friendly, ordinary people. The food is wonderful. As for patrons, my husband and I had ate dinner there, a few hours before the crime. We are neither tough nor dripping in diamonds.

We don’t know for sure, but the pleasant young man who waited on our table may have been the victim. If so, had we eaten a few hours later we would have experienced the real horror of seeing him die. Being that close (in time) to a murder is somewhat unsettling. It doesn’t seem real. Movie and television scenes keep jumping into mind but none fit the place where we ate that day. We are unnerved that life can end so quickly yet it seems so unreal.

Realism is a big issue in today’s entertainment. Viewers are no longer content with fairy tales or implausible yarns with “happy ever after” endings. These, so some say, are not true to life, not authentic enough. Perhaps this is why there are so many “based on a true story” scripts appearing before our eyes, scripts with twists in the plot and shocking endings.

While credibility is important, I don’t think “reality” in the movies will ever match genuine reality. It can look real but genuine experiences do something inside us that the most vivid portrayal can never do.

For example, houses burn down on Hollywood sets yet none horrify us like watching the Branch Davidian cult headquarters destroyed by fire, live on television. The video of a real jet crashing at a genuine air show does something inside us no staged airplane or automobile disaster ever does. Reality carries a pathos not aroused by even the greatest stage direction.

Perhaps this is why we make up plays and write stories; the endings can be controlled and even if they are unpleasant, the actors are not really dead because they never really lived. None actually set themselves on fire or are cut down by stray bullets. In the movies, the good guys win and the bad guys lose if the script says so.

But real life is not always that fair. Good guys sometimes die young and bad guys grow old, rich, even dirty, picking up whatever they can grab, no matter who it rightfully belongs to. Perverted demigods care nothing for children and burn them. Thieves care nothing for young men who try to hide from their guns.

While we also personally try to control life much like writing scripts or giving stage direction, none can get around the fact life will end someday. God says, “It is appointed unto man once to die....” We cannot control that.

The best we can do is choose our eternal destiny while we are alive and choosing, trusting Christ even if there is a final unexpected twist in the plot. Furthermore, the reality we experience after this one does have a certainty about it: it never ends.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Graduation ............. Parables 370

May 18, 1993
A few weeks ago I did something I have never done before; I wore a black gown and mortar board and crossed a platform to receive a degree. Humanly speaking, I graduated.

This year’s graduating class at Briercrest was large, over 190 students. It felt good to line up and sit among them; to watch happy faces as each received printed rewards for their efforts. For many, several years of study was over. For a few, this was only a step toward reaching their total educational goal.

Even at my age, I see graduation as just one more step. Education never stops. I have been learning all my life, as we all do, because life itself demands we continually add to, adapt, change, and use what we are learning.

Over 100 years ago, John M. Gregory wrote the Seven Laws of Teaching. The principles from this classic are still used in Christian education today. One of them says for learning to take place, the student must be receptive to being taught, attentive and interested in the lesson.

This implies that teachers must be on the ball. Lesson material should be interesting and communicated in terms students can understand. The teacher must demonstrate how it has value and how it can be incorporated into their lives. How much a student profits from a lesson depends a great deal on the ability of the teacher.

Transferring that concept to the larger classroom of life makes it clear that life itself is not the teacher. According to Gregory, the teacher must know the lesson, teach from a full mind and clear understanding, and communicate in such a way suitable to the student’s level. Since life is not an intelligent entity, life cannot be the teacher.

If not, then who does put life’s lessons together? Our parents? Sometimes they do. One parent used some facts of life to teach her children a valuable lesson about money. She allowed them to spend whatever they wanted from their savings at a carnival. While it was difficult to be quiet as their precious and hard-earned savings disappeared, that mother saw her children learn a lesson no mere lecture could teach.

However, parents are limited in manipulating life. Not all of us are skillful in making each child’s circumstances a learning exercise. Only God has the ability to use fully life as a classroom, even take “all things and work them together for our good” (Romans 8:28).

Only God teaches from a position of perfect understanding. He knows what each student thinks, even what we will say “before a word is on our tongue...” (Psalm 139:4). He discerns what we already know and what we need to learn next, even before we ourselves do.

God also has the power to control all elements in the classroom. At times, we wonder why He allows certain circumstances yet He insures even each temptation is not beyond what we can bear. He provides a way out so we do not have to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The mortar board and gown were symbols we humans use to mark one step of learning but God marks our growth in our character. With each lesson, we develop increased perseverance. He says that those who have it are “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

For those reasons, I have confidence in my future education but I also know I’m not there yet. Some of His lessons have made me wonder if I was in the right classroom. Even though all those lessons profit me, but I still need a passing grade on total perseverance, and several other subjects. Only a completely wise and totally gifted Teacher can use life to teach me everything I need to learn.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Faith and Statistics ............. Parables 369

May 11, 1993

After surveying several hundred thousand church-goers, an American seminary discovered some interesting percentages. The question they asked was: At what age did you become a Christian?

Four percent were five years old or younger. Eight percent were 30-39; three percent were 40-49; one percent were 50-59; and under one percent were over 60 years old. The larger groups were ages 13-17 at twenty-three percent, 18-29 at twenty-four percent, and a whooping 34 percent between the ages of 6 to 12 years.

These statistics do not make any distinction between those brought up by Christian parents and those raised without biblical teaching, but according to the age of largest percentage group, some home influence was likely a factor.

The numbers also suggest that parents who decide to “let children make up their minds after they grow up” are missing the best years for biblical instruction. It seems the longer anyone waits before deciding to follow Christ, the more difficult this becomes.

In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote, “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.”

In youth, habits form that persist. Later on, anyone over thirty knows it is difficult, even impossible, to change unwanted or harmful patterns.

In contrast, if our youthful habits are good, the potential of wisdom and blessing from God is increased in old age. Jehoshaphat, an Old Testament leader, demonstrated it. “The Lord was with him because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed. He sought the God of his father... his heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord.”

Secondly, Solomon advises, “Be happy young man while you are young and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.”

Is youth a time for sowing a few wild oats? It almost seems Solomon recommends this, but read his words again. He says be happy and follow your heart but don’t forget everything you do will be evaluated by God. Whatever comes from anxiety of heart (indicating fear, not faith) or the troubles of your bodies (those sinful desires of the flesh that get us in trouble) will be condemned. He points out that the crop harvested from sinful living is meaningless, so why misspend youth and vigor in reckless living?

Solomon concludes his book of wisdom with, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’”

As a person gets older, life is not quite so carefree. Making a living, relationships, even survival, take away the lighthearted optimism of earlier days. It is more difficult to think about God with an attitude of trust if one has not trusted Him from childhood. Becoming a Christian after thirty is about six times less likely — not because God can’t save us older ones, but because hardening of our ways makes it more difficult to turn and go His way.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fishing without bait ............. Parables 368

May 4, 1993

A few weeks ago, the mail delivered a fat fishing catalog featuring the latest variety of angling gear. What an amazing selection! Besides rods and reels, there were underwater lights, power boats with special propellers that either cut through weeds or move them aside, fancy boat seats that fold down for lounging (when the fish are sleeping), sonar fish finders, and polarized eye glasses that enable fishermen to more easily see their prey through murky water. The most brilliant pages highlighted nearly 200 different kinds of fishing flies and over 150 types of lures, each in several colors and sizes.

This catalog reminded me of a Sunday school poster about fishing. Jesus is pictured in a boat with Peter, James and John. They are straining with the weight of a full net of fish. Flipping through pages and pages of bait and gear, I couldn’t help wondering how these disciples would have responded to this catalog. Would they be intrigued with promises about the power of brilliantly colored bait? Would they be eager to try all the latest equipment? Would they reach for their Visa cards and phone the 1-800 number with a big order?

I don’t think so. For one thing, they fished commercially with nets. Lines and lures would be too slow. Not only that, they realized no matter what fishermen do or use, nothing guarantees a catch. Jesus used this fact to teach them another important lesson.

Before He took them fishing, Jesus found Peter and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea. Down the beach, James and John were in a ship with their father, mending their nets. The Lord called all four and made a promise: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

They probably wondered what the Son of a carpenter could know about fishing. They had years of experience in their demanding occupation. They were familiar with the sea, the equipment, and fish-feeding habits. But Jesus compelled them, so they followed Him.

Some time later, after these fishermen had worked all one night without success, this Carpenter told them to take their boats out one more time. Peter was tired but because Jesus gave this unreasonable order, and because he decided to follow Him, he agreed.

They went out into deep water and lowered their nets at Jesus’ direction. The nets began to fill... and fill... and fill... with so many fish they started to break apart. Other men came to help, but their catch “filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.”

Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees in astonishment. Realizing his pride about his own knowledge of fishing and his doubt that Jesus knew anything, he cried, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Jesus replied, “Fear not; from now on you shall catch men.”

All four left their fishing business. Jesus taught them some similarities and some vast differences between landing trout or pike and fishing for men. As evangelists, they must desire God’s eternal best for their “catch”, not a trip to the frying pan. They must help men recognize that the boat, not the water, was the safest place to be.

Jesus also told them they could not use deceptive lures. Their attraction would be their message — the gospel. Because it appeals to the deepest human need, people would be interested, but the lives of the fishermen must be completely open, no deceit, nor scheming, nor bait allowed.

Jesus also promised to lead and guide these men. He showed them that He knew where and when to catch fish, just to prove that human perception is not the same as God’s perception. To fishers of men, it may seem as if no one is interested but God is aware of the hunger in people’s hearts. Rather than just another line of tempting, colorful bait hiding a barbed hook, people hunger for good news from Him.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fear and Prayer ............. Parables 367

April 27, 1993

“If there is a God and He runs everything and knows what is going to happen anyway... what is the point of praying?”

So many times this question is answered with reasons why we ought to pray, like: “God commands it,” or “God wants us to fellowship with Him,” or “God chooses to work through the prayers of His people.” They are good reasons but do they answer the question?

Personally, whenever I wonder if there is any point in praying, I’m not looking for reasons why I should. I know that already. What is really happening is that inside, I am beginning to question if God actually is in control. And if He is, it doesn’t seem that He cares about me.

Jesus’ disciples wondered the same things. On one occasion, He told them to get into a boat because they were “going to the other side” of the sea of Galilee. On their way across, He fell asleep.

Soon a storm whipped across the water. As winds increased, these seasoned fishermen became anxious. Buckets in hand, they no doubt bailed as fast as they could but the wind and the waves continued to rise. Needing all hands on deck, someone lurched to the stern and woke Jesus, demanding, “Master, don’t you care if we perish?” (Mark 4:38).

Jesus stood up. He looked out over the raging water then gave this order, “Peace, be still!” The storm immediately obeyed.

Before they had time to say a word, Jesus turned and also rebuked the twelve. “Why are you so fearful? how is it that you have such little faith?”

After all, Jesus did tell them they would go to the other side, not launch out and die in the sea. Apparently they didn’t believe Him. At least if they did, their faith took a drastic dip when the storm came up and it looked like they wouldn’t make it.

That happens to me too. Even though Jesus promised to take me through life safely, sometimes it turns into a squall and I get scared. Soon I’m wondering if He not only forgot about me but doesn’t care if I go under. Has He fallen asleep?

When I cry out with my “little” faith, Jesus rebukes me as well, not for crying out to Him but for failing to believe that He cares.

Thinking otherwise is a lie that slanders the very character of God. The roots of this kind of unbelief go back to Eve and the serpent (Satan in disguise) in Genesis. When the snake suggested God was not interested in Eve’s good and that He didn’t care about her, she believed his lie and disobeyed God. Later on, the Israelites wandered forty years in the wilderness because they also doubted His goodness.

Believing God loves us and wants to bless us is a fundamental quality of faith. “Anyone who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

When we are certain God loves us and rewards us for seeking Him, prayer is a delight. Yes, He already knows about our problems, trials, loneliness and fears. He, more than any caring friend, simply longs we share these with Him. When we do, He never accuses us or make us feel foolish because we are afraid of life. Instead, He regards our prayers for His help as a demonstration of our faith.

At least the disciples’ little faith was large enough that they went to him with their fears about the blustery problem at hand. For most of us, “little faith” means we don’t go to Him at all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Power of Repentance ............. Parables 366

April 20, 1993

Imprisoned television evangelist Jim Bakker is now saying, “I have been convicted twice...”

A small news item reports Bakker is asking former supporters to forgive him. He claims that a study of the words of Jesus has deeply convicted him of his guilt in teaching false doctrine. He admits that he once believed having money was a sign of God’s favor on a person’s life. He now says, “if that is true, then crooks, pimps and drug lords are blessed of God — and that cannot be.”

Bakker’s downfall produced far larger headlines than did this story. Perhaps that’s because his reputation seems forever scarred by deceit. Few editors want to publicize what seems like another false claim by an exposed has-been.

But what if the change is real? Could it be that the Bible has the power to transform lives, just as God claims?

This lack of publicity concerning Bakker’s confession could indicate society is more interested in bad news than good news. Certainly the sordid stories of Bakker’s sins, complete with photographs, gained attention. However, isn’t it newsworthy that reading the Bible can turn people from lies to honesty? from sin to godliness? This is good news and good news should attract attention too.

Yet some people don’t want to hear about the power of God to make bad people good. It is acceptable to fantasize or talk about a world of wonderfully good people, but in reality, does anyone care to know if God can make us that way?

Notice the Bible knows what we are like. It says, “There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they have all become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one” (Romans 3).

According to God, no one is interested in being holy. He says that whenever we try to be godly, our efforts are a mere “form of godliness” lacking divine power. Even though some “religious” people pretend to be holy and some “good” people try hard, He says none of it holds a patch on the true holiness He wants and will even give to us.

Some might wonder why God would bother giving anything to a religious traitor who preached a false gospel of prosperity and kept wanting more, bigger, and better (to prove God favored him?). When this man became blinded by his lies, tripped over his own error and fell into disgraceful immorality, onlookers even mocked the Christian faith he claimed to have. For months after his trial and conviction, he still insisted he was not in the wrong. Why wouldn’t God simply let a hopeless case like him fade out of the picture?

First and contrary to the way we tend to think, God is interested in hopeless cases. Jesus said He came to call sinners to repentance. Working a change in the likes of a convicted hypocrite is just what He loves to do.

Second, if Bakker really does know God, then God is committed to change him. The Lord does not accept sinners because they are already righteous but because He plans to transform their lives and make them into godly people. He does it all the time. But this good news seldom makes headlines.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Responsibilities and Law Suits ............. Parables 365

April 13, 1993

A week or so ago I used lawsuits against computer companies to illustrate our human tendency to blame problems on others who did not directly cause them. At least one sufferer of repetitive stress injuries took offense. My apologies. These Parables are not intended to belittle people in pain but to point to God who loves us and has tremendous power to bring good from even the worst things that happen to us.

RSI is a serious physical condition and can lead to work loss and even permanent disability. Some are not aware that doing the same task over and over (particularly at work stations that force unsafe posture) can be so damaging. Employers need to provide more information and safer working conditions. Those prone to RSI need to take every precaution possible.

While I could further explore medical and legal ramifications, this column is intended to bring out the biblical perspective on situations like these. For instance, what does God say about employers who ignore worker-safety? And what about the pain felt by those injured? Or the added frustration whenever no one seems to care about their situation?

God’s Word directly addresses these concerns. Surprisingly, He offers warnings, instruction and hope to BOTH sides of the issue.

Exploitation is not a new thing. In New Testament times when the Romans ruled Israel, it was legal for Roman soldiers to force bystanders to carry their equipment up to one mile. They were also known to intimidate and extort money from helpless people.

Soldiers were not the only abusers. Masters beat their slaves, employers overworked and underpaid their servants, and leaders exploited their followers.

Even though God gave many rules regarding these relationships, people didn’t obey them just like they don’t obey Him today. Yet God offered hope to these cruel and heartless people. John the Baptist warned them to repent and Jesus offered forgiveness if they did.

Injured people were also given instruction and hope. First God warned them not to retaliate. Jesus put it this way, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matt. 5:38-41).

God’s people were expected to do their jobs in faith with Christlike attitudes: “Bond servants, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ” (Ephesians 6:5). They were to do this regardless of how they were treated: “...submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.... if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God (1 Peter 2).

This seems unfair but God is more interested that suffering people do not sin by returning evil with evil. Sin will only damage us even more. Instead, He wants us to come to Him with our pain. He suffered far more than we ever will so He knows how we feel. When we reach out to Him, He gives strength to endure and sometimes even lifts the pain or heals the problem. Furthermore, if we cooperate, He promises to use suffering to develop and strengthen our character (1 Peter 5:10).

Exploitation and neglect of others, with its resulting pain, confirms that our world is not the way God intended it to be. Harm comes when people disobey God and sin against one another. Human techniques seem good in that they may constrain the abusive and give temporary consolation to those who are injured. Yet sin is a spiritual problem and whether a person is a perpetrator or a victim of it, the best way to deal with sin’s devastation is through spiritual methods.

According to God, the first step is full surrender to Him.

Friday, December 11, 2015

No Resurrection, no Christianity ............. Parables 364

April 6, 1993

Christianity stands or falls on one issue. Taking a firm stand on this issue landed Paul the Apostle in the middle of a controversy.

About 55-60 years after the birth of Christ, Roman leader Festus, governor of Caesarea, didn’t know what to do with this fiery preacher. Some angry Jews demanded justice concerning their charges against him but they could not prove what they said and Paul, a Roman citizen, refused to be tried in their territory. He insisted he be taken to Rome for the Emperor’s decision.

Festus was confused. He discussed the matter with King Agrippa. “When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.”

Obviously Festus did not believe Paul’s message either, but resurrection was not a new idea. One segment of Jewish religion always taught that people would be raised from the dead. The idea most of them refused to accept concerned Jesus, the man who claimed to be God, the man they had crucified. Other Jews, including Paul, preached that He was alive, that He had risen from the dead.

Why should that shake them up? Why bother with the expense and hassle of bringing legal action against a radical preacher for a message they were sure was untrue? What was the point? If Paul was wrong, after a while no one would listen to him and the issue would fade into the past. If Paul was right, some should have been delighted that resurrection had been proved a reality.

However, the death and resurrection of Jesus was full of implications. This event could not be accepted at face value without considering the significance of all else Jesus said and did. Anyone who rises from the dead and walks the earth again like He did, could not be a mere man. His resurrection demanded they reconsider His claims. Who was He? Why did He die? How does what He said apply to them?

The clip shown at the Academy Awards of Clint Eastwood’s performance in a movie called “Unforgiven”sets up the message of the resurrection. One line, (even though somewhat out of context) explains the reason Jesus died. Apparently some men had been killed. Another younger actor was trying to adjust his emotions to the finality of their death. In desperation, he lifted a bottle to his mouth and said, “Anyway, they deserved it.” To this, Eastwood replied, “We all deserve it.”

That’s it. That’s why the Jews were mad at Paul’s message. Jesus died because we all deserve it. Only Jesus did not deserve to die. His life was spotless before man and God. He willingly went to the cross to satisfy the justice sin demands because He loves us.

This was the claim of Christ, that He was God Himself, filled with love and compassion for people whose sin meant they deserved nothing but death. If this claim was true, nothing less than His death and resurrection would prove it.

Of course those who wanted Jesus to die could not accept Paul’s message. It incriminated them. Better get rid of Paul. Oddly enough, it had not been too many years prior that Paul felt the same way. He also killed Christians. It was not until the risen Christ confronted him personally that he knew the message was true.

The movie “Unforgiven” (which I have not seen) sounds like bad news compared to the amazing hope that Paul’s accusers refused to accept and that Paul himself nearly missed. Thankfully, God had compassion on him and rewrote his story — with a small title change from Eastwood’s film — it now reads “Forgiven.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Reasonableness and repetitive stress............. Parables 363

March 30, 1993

Several hundred members of the American workforce have initiated lawsuits because they have RSI. In fact, some estimate these civil actions will cost computer manufacturers up to $4 billion over the next few years.

RSI stands for repetitive stress injuries. These injuries account for over 50% of occupational illnesses in the United States and many of those who suffer are computer operators. Over-use of their muscles and tendons in fingers, arms, hands, and shoulders has produced permanent physical damage. When we wrote strictly with pens, we had a much milder form of RSI: writers’ cramp.

Interesting that the manufacturers of computer equipment are being blamed for these injuries. Granted, the design of certain hardware, such as keyboards, might create pressure points, and some software is more physically demanding than others, but it seems to me that overuse, not design, is the cause of RSI.

Beyond the questionable logic behind these lawsuits lies another issue. I remember a service station owner telling us about a woman who sued him after he told her he was too busy to work on her car that day. Instead, she would have to wait 2 or 3 days. She was angry and proceeded to take the man to court demanding her personal rights — to the exclusion of common sense. In this case, the judge did not agree with her demand and dismissed the case, reprimanding both lawyers for wasting the court’s time.

It looks as if RSI complainers will get more attention during their day in court. For one thing, there are more of them; for another, they do have a legitimate problem. However, does this make their demands reasonable or even logical?

It seems fair and logical that service station owners have a right to schedule their own work load. On the other hand, it is not always easy to let fairness and logic prevail. There have been occasions when I didn’t want to accept responsibility for my own actions so shifted the focus by accusing some innocent bystander.

Worse yet, I have even blamed God for pain I myself caused, even said something like: “If you had not made the world like this, I would not be hurting right now” or “If You had given me the strength I needed, I wouldn’t be having so much trouble with this temptation...”

The Bible is much more logical. It puts responsibility where it belongs and refuses to allow us to point our fingers at anyone else. James focuses on our tendency to blame God for our failures: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God” for God cannot... tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1).

Hurting ourselves with hard work at a computer may not be sin but the principle is the same. Blaming God or suing the next handiest scapegoat does not help. Even if the courts do order computer companies to pay up, anyone who demands unjust compensation shoots themselves in the foot. Not only are they stuck with an uncured RSI, but in the long run the cost comes back to the customers in higher prices or less service... infringing the rights of other computer operators.

Someone has said that when demands for personal rights escalate there will eventually come a time when no one has any rights at all. The end of this escalation has to begin with four words: “It was my responsibility”.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The importance of fathers ............. Parables 362

March 23, 1993

An ad in a Madrid newspaper said: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father. The next Saturday, 800 boys named Paco were standing outside the door of that newspaper office looking for their fathers.

As a mother, I enjoy the special bond I have with my daughter. We are friends who share ideas and activities that do not interest the male members of our family. While we did not always experience this camaraderie, it is a relationship well worth nourishing and preserving.

As an observer, I also know the special relationship between a father and son. How delicate and important that relationship is to the emotional well-being of both. Deprived of the affection and attention of his father, a son’s identity is challenged. Some men spend their entire lives trying to impress a father who would never say “Son, I am proud of you.” Some spend years fighting with the desperate feeling that dad never loved, wanted, or had any interest in them. To lose or never have a father’s acceptance is devastating.

There is a tremendous spiritual principle behind this parent-child relationship: children (and many adults) tend to think of God as somehow being like their parents, especially like their father. Thus the earthly relationship they have (or don’t have) affects the Heavenly one that is possible with God. Thinking God is like dad causes many people to pull away from Him and want nothing to do with Him. At the very least, this confusion of identity can be frustrating and interfere with having a deep relationship with the Lord.

Both myself and my husband found ourselves in this situation. While we could mentally assent that God is not the same as our dads, it has been a struggle to really believe it down deep where our beliefs affect everything we do.

Since dads are the only models with the title “Father,” those who do know very little about God may not even realize there is a conflict in their perception. This is one reason why people from abusive situations find it difficult, or even impossible, to worship and serve a heavenly Father. How could such a One love them when their own fathers did not?

But even those with the most loving and supportive parents know there is no perfect human father, nor does anyone have a perfect understanding of the perfection of God.

While this concept adds a challenging dimension to the already awesome responsibility of raising children, it does not have to be overwhelming. Fathers (and mothers) cannot be perfect models of God for their children, but we can still teach them what God is like and admit that we fall short. That promotes awareness of the differences so they will not attribute God with our less than perfect characteristics.

The story of the 800 Pacos is touching. It illustrates a deep need of the heart — everyone wants to be loved and in the full favor of their father. Since this is not always the case with earthly fathers, that is why the gospel is such good news. It is God’s advertisement — calling His little ones to come and meet with Him, not at the front door of a newspaper office, but at the foot of the Cross where each one finds forgiveness and acceptance. With Him, it is as the psalmist declared: “If my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”

Friday, December 4, 2015

Using the plumb line ............. Parables 361

March 16, 1993

To ensure walls are straight, a carpenter sometimes uses an odd-looking device called a plumb line. A chalk-coated string is wound from a metal bob and then suspended from the top point of the place that needs a perfectly straight line. As gravity pulls the bob perpendicular, the carpenter snaps the string and the chalk leaves an accurate mark on the wall that serves as a guide for the construction process. Without it, many buildings would be crooked. Thus this gadget is indispensable for keeping structures plumb or square.

Along the same idea, my husband occasionally writes procedures manuals for contracts undertaken by his company. If either the client or the contractors want to refresh their memories on exactly how the work will be done, they refer to such a manual. This set of procedures is important to ensure the project is undertaken with accurate and maximum attention given to each step.

Walls and construction sites are not the only projects that need plumb lines and procedures manuals. So does society — and there are many of them. Unfortunately, many humanly conceived methods and solutions to social problems are not working, or at least not permanently. Just when leaders think the latest treaty will keep the peace or the latest theory will educate the people, another war breaks out somewhere. Just when human rights groups think their latest programs and theories will eliminate violence, there is a rash of serial killings, or someone plants a bomb in a populated area of Ireland, or (closer to home) in the World Trade Center in New York.

Less violent or spectacular but just as deadly are the factors that cause breakdown of families, moral failures of religious and political leaders, and the incredible increase of suicides, abortions and AIDS. No matter how much money is spent or how many well-intentioned people promote new ideas, the statistics seldom decline. What kind of infallible plumb line would prevent social structures and relationships from becoming twisted, warped, askew, and out of plumb?

Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” The psalmist was talking about God’s plumb line from which he gained understanding about what was crooked in his own life and what to do to straighten it. Because he did what it said, he could claim that the commandments of God made him wiser than his enemies and that he had more understanding than all his teachers.

Surveys have been done concerning how many people use the Bible as their guide for everyday life and decision-making. The percentage is not high. Even many who say they believe it admit they seldom read it. Therefore, the guidebook that could be a lamp for each person’s feet and a light for their path is sitting gathering dust on a shelf or in the back corner of a second-hand store.

Note that these verses pertain to the individual, not society. Yet what each individual does has an effect on all of society. For instance, environmentalists say if each person took care of their own trash and recycling, the entire planet would be cleaner. Therefore, the plumb line God offers is also important to all, not just individuals.

Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” Proverbs 14:34 echoes: “Righteousness exalts a nation” then adds “but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Considering how many Bibles are seldom opened much less heeded, do we need to question why there is so little wisdom to cope with the enemies that shred moral fibers and crush spiritual strength from leaders and followers alike? We cannot hope for God’s blessing if we abandon His Plumb line.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Spiritual war and the power of God ............. Parables 360

March 9, 1993

“The last thing I ever expected to happen to my life was to become a refugee,” said the young man we met in Salzburg.

He went on to tell us about his university education and teaching degree and his hopes and dreams for a rich full life but he had to flee his home land. He was now without papers or nationality and his goals seem unreachable.

As many do, he had applied for refugee status in the United States. In the meantime, the Austrian government provided food and a place to live. He had no idea how long that would last. Furthermore, he had no money and could not work. His friends gave him a ride to church each week, a sacrifice on their part because gasoline is over $4.00 a gallon and this fellow lives 60 km out of town.

He also told us how he became a Christian. He met a Christian girl and for a while “confused the love of Christ” with romantic love. Then he recognized that Jesus was the One who loved him so very much and asked Him to forgive his sins. He didn’t tell us why he had to flee his home land but we know that people who become Christians in his country (in the Middle East) are severely persecuted, even killed.

Despite all this, he is not without resources; he is a child of God. He can depend on divine help. As he explained to us how he deeply desires to somehow minister to others, his shining face clouded with the mention of so many obstacles. We tried to encourage him to trust God even though it sometimes seems He does not hear our prayers. We can not always see what God is doing but can be sure He cares and will respond.

The experience of Daniel, an Old Testament prophet, sheds light on one reason prayer sometimes seems futile. Daniel had been praying for three weeks. Finally, an angel appeared to him and said; “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed... since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard and I have come in response to them. “

Then the angel tells of a battle in which he had been resisted during those three weeks when Daniel was praying. Finally another angel came to his aid. Only then was he able to fully respond to Daniel’s prayer.

This is what the Bible calls spiritual warfare. Christians, as well as angels, are included in the struggle and “our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places.”

The Bible also says the weapons of our warfare are not what we might use to fight in a human sense but spiritual — prayer being a primary weapon against all evil forces.

As our friend prays and wonders if God is hearing, we sensed that God has indeed has heard and the answer is on its way even though nothing has happened for several months. God does not ignore His children’s pleas. While He prepares the answer, we need to continue praying. Not only are we engaging in spiritual warfare for one another but we are also developing our “spiritual muscles” as we participate in this wonderful Christian privilege.

We told this young man that we would ask people to pray for him, knowing that God also wants fullness of life for him. While we may never see what will happen in this specific instance, we can be sure that someday a certain young man from the Middle East will be praising God for His flawless response to his prayers.