Monday, March 30, 2015

The Right Way .............. Parables 254

(February 13, 1991)

The Book of Lists #2 says that a firefly is not a fly, it’s a beetle; a silkworm is not a worm, it’s a caterpillar; an English horn is not English and not a horn, it’s an alto oboe from France; a guinea pig is not from Guinea and is not a pig, it’s from South America and it’s a rodent; and a banana tree is not a tree, it’s a herb. Things are not what they seem!

We don’t need a book of lists to know that. Some days I feel 92 but I’m not (yet). The sunshine outside looks warm and inviting, but the thermometer says it is -40 degrees. The ice on the lake is clear and looks safe, but it is only an inch thick. Our eyes can fool us. So can our hearts.

God says we need to watch out for what seems to be. He says: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.”

Deception can destroy a person physically, mentally, emotionally, morally and spiritually. What seems right can lead into poor health or even death, confuse the mind and render rational thought impossible, play on the emotions causing tremendous confusion, or drag an unthinking person into moral and spiritual bankruptcy.

Some biblical examples of deception:

- A desire to be like God triggered two people made in His image into doing what He said would destroy them... the forbidden fruit only looked good.
- Confidence in the power of retaliation (it seemed right) led Moses to kill a man rather than rely on God to vindicate His people.
- Lies by the Gibeonites duped the Israelites into making friends with a nation that actually intended their destruction.
- Lust deceived a king into thinking it was okay to take another man’s wife and kill her husband (it felt good).
Murder, adultery or any other sins seem wrong to those not caught in the deception, yet to those who are deceived, they actually seem right, even up until the victim is destroyed or hopelessly scarred by the consequences. Is there no way out for someone caught by lies?

Thank God, there is a way that is right; a way that leads to life not death; a way that can be found, even by those who are most deceived. That way is Jesus Christ. He even called Himself “the way.”

But first, how does a deceived person even begin to know whether or not they are deceived? Or how can they even want to know? For them, the true way, God’s way, will not “seem” right.

The Bible says that on their own, people are spiritually blind. All follow with what seems right to them and haven’t a hope of discovering anything different — unless the Spirit of God moves in to convince us otherwise. In John 16:8 Jesus told the disciples that when He was resurrected and gone to heaven, He would send the Holy Spirit, and “when he is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment...” Without the Spirit, “There is no one that understands, there is no one that seeks after God” (Romans 3:11). Everyone continues down the path that “seems right.”

When the Spirit came, His task of opening human understanding to the things of God and showing people that God is righteous, hates sin, and will judge it, has turned millions from a deceptive life. Those who respond to Him and call out to God for mercy discover that mercy has already been extended: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

So faith in the One who called Himself “The Way” is the only way out of that other way that only seems to be the right way!

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Perfect Place .............. Parables 253

(February 6, 1991)

When I was a child, I remember hearing some rather negative remarks about the province of Saskatchewan. The first trip through left little memory. The next time, all I can recall were three-inch grasshoppers darkening the sky and plastering themselves on the grill of my car. Nevertheless, when we decided to move here, I decided to be positive about living in Saskatchewan.

It always helps to balance the negative by looking for good. Here, the flat, barren prairies are offset by immense clear skies. Trees are scarce, but the landscape is painted in unforgettable, soul-restoring pastel colors.

Someone asked about those Saskatchewan drivers...? To be sure, there are a few who forget there is more traffic on the highway than the country roads they usually travel, yet we adjust by slowing down ourselves. Actually, that is a bit easier than going back to Alberta for a weekend and finding it necessary to re-adjust to high speeds! Another smaller adjustment regards the lack of daylight saving time in Saskatchewan. We learned to rationalize: one more hour of sunshine would only keep us up too late.

On a more personal vein, we sometimes encounter ideas different from our own. For instance, Moose Jaw once had a bylaw that told people they had to walk up one side of the street only, and down the other. At that, we simply chuckle along with the rest of Moose Jaw citizens who are glad it didn’t last.

After 25 moves, we have learned that no place is perfect. California has a great climate but it also boasts a horrendous crime rate. Alaska is unmatched for beauty but the cost of living in the north is exorbitant. Illinois is full of friendly people but the unfriendly folk in some parts of Chicago are downright dangerous. And even though Saskatchewan is not perfect, imagine our misery if we spent all our days in Moose Jaw wanting to be back in Alberta, or California, or some other imperfect place!

I know I am an idealist with a longing for perfection. It could be a deep yearning in the human soul to return to Eden where life was wonderful, the climate perfect, humans were innocent from sin, and full, pure fellowship with God was possible. That would be wonderful. We try to turn our clocks back (if farmers don’t vote against it) but even then, time marches on regardless of what the clock says.

No, perfection is not for this life. However, the Christian does have hope in a perfect place. Jesus, just before He left the imperfection here, said “...I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Of course He was talking about heaven. There He will “wipe away our tears and there will be no more pain.” He says that we cannot imagine what it will be like, so His Word paints rich pictures of streets paved with transparent gold and walls and gates made of precious jewels.

Some days the world seems particularly ugly and repulsive so heaven sounds especially appealing. But it also is our hope when all goes reasonably well. For that reason, Christians feel any location in this world is not quite right, we are in a foreign place, no matter what. We haven’t seen our real home yet, but we cannot, even should not, be too comfortable here.

Moose Jaw is okay, so is Simi Valley or Calgary, Bolingbrook or Kenai, Calgary or Medicine Hat, or any other place, but none of them compare with the prospects of being with Jesus Christ in the place that He is presently preparing. I’m convinced that none of us will have to try and balance negatives with positives there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Worst Fear .............. Parables 252

(January 30, 1991)

“Our worst fears came true Wednesday...” began the news story.

The outbreak of war in the Middle East seems to be the “worst fear” of at least one journalist and perhaps many other people. Wars are continually being fought, why is this one war causing the “worst fear”?

Part of the reason for such fear is the attitude of Saddam Hussein. He apparently has no concern for human life, not even that of his own people never mind those who have combined forces to put him out of Kuwait. He has been compared to Hitler and himself says he will fight to the death.

Others are afraid because the war involves the superpowers. If Canada and the United States are fighting, are we not open to retaliation from fringe groups and Iraqi terrorists? Are airports, department stores, even the streets safe for us? War has not just invaded our living rooms via television, some fear that it will suddenly come into our back yards.

And what about the weaponry? The United States has clearly demonstrated the incredible power of their high tech equipment. Bombs have not only been accurately dropped, but cunningly directed through the doors of buildings to explode inside. The Iraqi missiles also put terror into hearts, at least the hearts of many Israelis. During one raid, some even died from heart attacks, not actual injuries.

Some are afraid because the war could be extended over a long time and distance, involving more soldiers and unimaginable casualties. No longer is it a movie that involves actors and ketchup but real people with families that love them and don’t want to lose them. Along with that is a fear that our own loved ones are at direct risk. Many have family members in the services, perhaps even at the front. Some fear conscription is a possibility. Who would want their young sons to be drafted and sent into battle?

Those fears are heightened because most of our generation has not seen war, at least directly. The conflicts in Korea, Viet Nam, even Iran/Iraq were far-away because WE were not involved. Now we are. We don’t know how to think about war, so fear governs.

Perhaps another reason this war is feared as the “worst” fear relates to Biblical prophecy. Even many who never read the Bible are aware of a final battle where nations gather together against the people of Israel. Then the Lord God intervenes in judgment, bringing the world to a horrible end and establishing a new heavens and a new earth. The place of this battle will be a valley called Armageddon, about 60 kilometers northeast of Tel Aviv.

Some determine not to fear Armageddon, dismissing it as myth. Christians wonder. Is the stage being set? Are these the last days of this age before our Lord will return? If so, should we be afraid?

The Bible says many things about war and about a final war, but none of them give my heart the assurance that comes from passages that speak of the power of God. The enemies may be great, the weapons may be awesome, but none compare to the power of God. Psalms 46:8,9 say: “Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations He has made in the earth. He makes wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaks the bow, and cuts the spear in sunder; He burns the chariot in the fire.”

Iraq and allies alike are no match for God. The kings of the earth may set themselves against Him but Psalm 2 says He laughs at them. He is the one that controls the destiny of the nations, not the one with the most guns and the biggest or most accurate bombs.

While today’s Israelites are wondering if the prophecies in Jeremiah 50 and 51 are what God has planned for modern Iraq (historic Babylon), God’s first concern is to give all men and women inner peace, the kind that endures threats and shelling alike. Psalms 46:10 invites each one of us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” Anyone who has that knowledge through faith in Jesus Christ, can be confident amid fear, for in His time, He “will be exalted among the heathen, He will be exalted in the earth.”

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fake Pleasure ....................... Parables 251

(January 23, 1991)

We got a card in the mail the other day that looked like an invoice. It said: “We have your order on reserve, ready to be mailed to you...” The product: “our version of a Rolex watch.” The bottom line... $39.95.

It nearly fooled me. At first I thought my husband decided an imitation would satisfy his desire for that pricey timepiece so he ordered one. Then I looked a little closer. The ink and style of writing were not right. The card was a sales gimmick. I pitched it in the garbage.

Imitation name-brands are usually less expensive. Besides, they look good to the casual observer, adding a touch of status without financial pain. The only problem is that imitations usually don’t last as long as the real thing. A Rolex starts in the hundreds... there is a reason that imitation was $39.95. It may have kept time for a while but somewhere, somehow, its true character would reveal itself.

There is a far more serious imitation being widely advertised and widely purchased. The only difference between it and a cheap watch is that anyone who buys it doesn’t know they have an imitation. They are convinced that what they have is the real thing. I’m talking about imitation pleasure.

Before you say, “pleasure is pleasure,” consider a verse that talks about the faith of Moses. It says he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; and choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.

Moses had been raised in a palace. He probably would be the next ruler in Egypt. He had wealth and education. He had all anyone could hope for in life. However, God made a claim on his life. He then had a choice to make: serve God or stay where he was. Saying no would be a sin; preferring anything other than serving God would be a sin. No matter how good the good life in the palace seemed, if Moses picked it, he would be picking sin. Instead, he choose to serve God and leave behind “the pleasures of sin.”

It is important to recognize that sin does include pleasure. When I think of someone killing a child or robbing a bank, I don’t think of the thrill they might get out of it; I think of the horror and the guilt. Yet there are sins that have enticed me with a promise of pleasure and when I gave in, I found that they delivered... there sometimes is pleasure in doing the wrong thing.

But the pleasure of sin is like other imitations. Up front, it seems the easier, less expensive route. Sometimes it offers status or at least a notch in one’s belt or a sense of personal achievement. It does the job, at least for a time... one version of the Bible translates it as “a short while.”

I’ve heard that some sins offer very intense pleasure. However, in spite of the intensity, there is no lasting satisfaction. Sin’s victim is duped into thinking if they could just get a little more, it would be enough. Slowly (or sometimes very quickly), they are addicted and they cannot stop. It is precisely here that imitation pleasure can be detected... it is never enough. There is no lasting satisfaction. The sinner is hooked.

By the grace of God, it is possible to escape that kind of addiction. Hope can be found in this truth: The imitation may seem great and offer what seems good for a short time, but God offers a pleasure that cannot even be compared with the real thing. It is the lasting joy of righteous living, a joy that Jesus told the disciples was “meat to eat that you know nothing of..”

It requires faith to forsake the imitation, but once the real thing is experienced, imitations can’t touch it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

He glorified God ................. Parables 250

(January 16, 1991)

He had not been on earth very long. He was a relatively obscure figure in His day, a public figure for only three years. Granted, He did mighty miracles in that time, but He became close friends with only a few men and women. It wasn’t long before He was despised and ridiculed. His friends all deserted Him and He was put to death for something He didn’t do.

Just before His death, Jesus Christ, God the Son, prayed to God the Father, “I have glorified You on earth: I have finished the work You gave me to do.” How we would react if a modern-day preacher faced the same fate Jesus did with those same words? At least with raised eyebrows!

So what did He do that glorified His Father? Born to a virgin? Doing miracles and healing diseases? Being sinless? Revealing to us what God is like? Demonstrating holiness, mercy, truth and grace? Walking on water? Calming storms? Changing water to wine? Showing compassion for sinners? Being angry with the self-righteous? Offering forgiveness to those who believed? Condemning those who rejected Him?

Certainly all that glorifies God in the minds of some, but when He did those things some accused Him of being in cahoots with Satan, even that He was Satan himself. Not everyone saw the glory of God through Jesus Christ.

Many people have a fixed concept of God. He is either loving and kind, indifferent, or rules from heaven with an iron club. What most don’t know is that He came to earth as a man and died for those who hate Him -- so their sins could be forgiven.

This is significant. Because the Lord’s wrath against sin is so great, all sinners should be cast from His presence. But in love and mercy, He opened the way for sinners to approach Himself. He did it by coming to us, identifying with us in every way, except sinning. Then He took on Himself the horrible penalty of our sin: death and separation from the Father.

When He said, “I have finished the work...” He knew what was going to happen and could speak as if it were already done. As His last breath was drawn, He shouted from the cross, “It is finished” and then, as in no other of His actions, the Son glorified the Father.

Humanly, it seems dying to glorify God is rather a waste and a disgrace. To the person who sees no sin in themselves, who sees no need for God to save them, Jesus was a fool. To them, He didn’t glorify God at all. Yet Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”

Calvary was not a mistake. It was the crowning touch. There the glory of God was fully made known. His great heart loves us so much that He would suffer Himself rather than condemn us to an eternity apart from Him. We would know nothing of that greatness unless He demonstrated it the way He did.

It was by the grace of God Jesus tasted death for every man. Think of that. Grace is undeserved blessing from God. The death of Christ was a blessing. He had the honor of being worthy to bear the sins of man. Only a perfect man could do it and since there is no such creature, God Himself become that man.

What Jesus did may be a mere blip in the history books. It may be a shame and a disgrace to the casual observer. Even those who believe in Him get caught up in the affairs of this life and pause not nearly often enough to reflect on the significance of the sacrifice of Christ. Through His life, but more so through His death, He reveals to us the incredible glory of God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What do I NEED to know? ................. Parables 249

(January 9, 1991)

It isn’t easy writing a column for January 2 in the middle of December. Who knows what will be happening in three weeks? Plans, hopes, dreams or worries may or may not come to pass. Certainly, the Bible affirms it: “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.”

In spite of that, God does give some “knowns” to grab hold in our struggles with uncertainties. Call them blueprints, goals, or even anchors, but without something more solid than our own wants and hopes, blueprinting the year ahead is a waste of effort.

KNOWING WHAT I AM WITHOUT GOD: Paul said “I know that in me dwells no good thing...” This is not comfortable knowledge but necessary. We cannot know God or receive His forgiveness for our sins until we know and fully acknowledge our deep need of Him.

KNOWING HE HAS POWER TO FORGIVE SINS: God provided salvation from the penalty, power and presence of sin. Rather than be destroyed because of our guilt, in Christ, we can know forgiveness (Luke 5:24). No one knows any other way to deal with the guilt of sin!

KNOWING THE TRUE GOD AND JESUS CHRIST: Through faith in His Son, it is possible to intimately know God and have eternal life (John 17:3). Many people think they believe but how can we be sure that we actually do know Him?

OBEDIENCE TO HIM IS EVIDENCE OF KNOWING HIM: 1 John 2:3 says “Here is how we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” The forgiven friends of Jesus Christ are those who, from the heart, obey what He says.

KNOWING LIBERATING TRUTH: Obedience gives even further assurance; Jesus said those who obey Him (rather than sin) will know that what He says is truth (John 7:17). Furthermore, those who know truth are set free from sin’s bondage (John 8:32). As we more deeply know truth, we more deeply realize what we would be doing, thinking and saying without Christ, thus we know any goodness that is present is there because Jesus is there. (see 2 Corinthians 13:5)

KNOWING THE MYSTERIES OF HIS KINGDOM: Jesus promised all this valuable knowing to His disciples. God’s insight into His world keeps me from losing my mind, direction, and confidence in this one (Matthew 13:11).

KNOWING AFFLICTIONS ARE APPOINTED FOR ME: One of His mysteries is that He does not shield his children from all trials. Then, when unexpected troubles come, instead of blaming God or being angry at Him, I can expect to find His wisdom teaching me lessons through it (2 Thessalonians 3:3,4).

God is not out to get me because “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” His love works through blessings and disasters, using both for the good of those who love Him. That keeps me glad that I know Him.

KNOWING GOD HEARS AND ANSWERS PRAYER: John 9:31 says we know He will not hear sinners, but He will hear those who worship and obey Him. I John 5 says we can know He will do whatever we ask, if it is according to His will.

KNOWING WHAT I DO FOR HIM WILL BE REWARDED: There may not be a lot of thank you’s or praises in this life, but God’s Word promises rewards so I know my labor is not in vain in the Lord. I also know...

HE WILL RETURN UNEXPECTEDLY: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Thessalonians 5:2). Until that great event happens, I am convinced of one more certainty:

ETERNAL LIFE: 2 Corinthians 5:1 proclaims we know that when our earthly bodies are destroyed, we will have a heavenly body from God, eternal in the heavens. In fact, I John was written to all believers for this purpose, so they “may know they have eternal life.” I am sure of my destiny.

When Paul wrote Timothy, he had been ridiculed for his faith, however, he was “...not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

Me too, not because of what I have done, but because He said so.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The most precious gift ................. Parables 248

(December 26, 1990)

A truck driver, speeding along a city interstate, spotted a large, floppy cardboard box in the middle of his lane. Knowing his truck would not be damaged by an empty box that had likely blown unto the roadway, he almost didn’t swerve. However, on a hunch, he changed lanes at the last minute. As the box appeared in his rear-view mirror, he was horrified to see a small child crawl out of it.

Right after Christmas, there are boxes everywhere. Unless some gift was accidentally left inside, the containers are discarded or recycled with little loss. The real treasures have been left under the tree, on the dining room table, in the family room, in a closet, or wherever people put their gifts. The boxes have little value.

Nevertheless, I used to save boxes, just in case they were needed to mail or store something. They filled up space in the garage and became a nuisance. I was teased about my pile of boxes and my only defense was that at least I didn’t keep the box and throw away the contents!

But who would do that? According to Jesus, people do it all the time. Concerning what people keep and what people throw away, He said this: “What profit is it to anyone to preserve his box with its wrappings and throw away his most precious gift? Do people realize what they are exchanging for this gift?” (Matthew 16:26, my paraphrase).

Jesus was contrasting the gift of eternal life with the wrappings -- namely temporary physical life. He made it quite clear that anyone who considers the wrappings more important than the gift, is ignorant of what is truly valuable. The preceding verse puts it this way: “Whoever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

Self-preservation is a pretty strong instinct. (What on earth was that child doing out in traffic?) We carefully guard our life and hang on to it, wanting as much control as possible. However, Jesus says we need to reconsider and relinquish the priority and preservation we zealously hold on this life. In other words, if we want eternal life, this life, and control of this life, has to be surrendered to Him.

 The Apostle Paul tossed the box and kept the gift. He did it because He believed the promises of God. He confidently declared: (again, my paraphrase) “We know that if the houses we live in are destroyed, we have a place to live from God, a home not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

Jesus didn’t advocate neglecting our physical needs. However, much of the money, time and effort people spend on trying to preserve the box is not only vain, it is foolish. Why grasp hold of and pamper something that cannot be kept in the long run, and thoughtlessly toss away something that, if kept, can never, ever be lost?

When we trust our life to Christ, God promises someday to give us an eternal “container,” a new body that is incorruptible, one that experiences no pain or sorrow. Paul was so sure of that reality, at the end of his life he was eager to leave behind the body he lived in. God had given him a glimpse of paradise. He also knew his “box” had served its purpose.

Tossing out the extra cartons and wrapping paper at the end of this year is a good time to ask ourselves: Have I received the real gift, the one that will last forever? Or am I throwing out what Jesus wants to give me and keeping something that one day I will certainly lose?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ready for Christmas? ................. Parables 247

(December 19, 1990)

Hardly any snow, busy schedule filled with term paper due dates and final exams, now all of a sudden it is Christmas. We only had a couple of weekends to prepare, and I don’t think anyone will get any cards this year. It just doesn’t seem like the holidays should happen right away. Why did I think Christmas would wait until I was ready for it?

So, other people are caught off guard too. Some won’t have much of a celebration, like the soldiers in the Middle East. Some families will be entangled in crisis situations and others will not care at all about Christmas, either indifference or a different holiday to celebrate.

In fact, there were a lot of people caught off guard that first Christmas too. While the date is debatable, the occasion is not; a child WAS born in a manger and His birth WAS announced several hundred years before it happened. Still, not everyone was ready.

Almost no one. Mary had to be ready. There is something about being pregnant that allows no procrastination. When a baby decides to be born, who can stop it? Joseph would have preferred this all happen at home. Who wants to take his pregnant wife on a donkey ride when she is nine months along? But they had been summoned to Bethlehem for a census... so Jesus could be born there, just as had been prophesied hundreds of years before.

When they arrived, the no one had room for company. They were not ready for Jesus. But there was a spare room of sorts. A stable, smelly as it likely was, made a better delivery room than out in the streets. The owner of the stable didn’t celebrate the birth though. As far as we know, he didn’t even know it happened.

There were some shepherds that were not ready either. We can tell by their fear. When the angels came to announce “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men,” these fellows nearly had heart attacks from fright. They handled the news well though. They hurried to Bethlehem to see what was going on. Out of all the unprepared people, they handled the event better than most of us do... “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them” (Luke 2:20).

The Magi were ready. They knew the prophecies, they prepared gifts fit for a king, wrapped them, and as soon as they saw the star, headed out to find the Christ child. Even though it took them a while to get there and they missed the main event, it was better late than never.

Herod was not ready though, at least not to celebrate. He was threatened by the Magi’s announcement that they were seeking the One to be born “king of the Jews” so he cowardly murdered all the children two years old and under in hopes of getting rid of this “king” that might take over his throne.

Getting back to right now, I guess I am more ready than I thought. Jesus entered my life with peace and good will in the early seventies, so whether His actual birth date is December 25 or not, I can glorify and praise God for all that I have heard and seen of Him since then. I didn’t know the prophecies as a young Christian, yet now, as I read them, I’m still amazed at the accuracy of their fulfilment.

 As for gifts, the Bible doesn’t say He wants our gold, frankincense or myrrh. Instead, He offers us His gift: Himself, and with that, forgiveness and eternal life. Are we ready for that? If so, He wants one gift in return, with no wrappings. It is the submission of our lives -- the most important giving we could ever do, at Christmas or any other time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When I lose, I win ................. Parables 246

(December 12, 1990)

If you were an army general and won a major victory, how would you let the whole world know? A Roman conqueror of the first century paraded both captives and loot through his home town on the way to headquarters. Even the odor of conquest hung in the air; everyone knew about his achievement.

Sometimes people call Christians “losers.” When the Apostle Paul uses the picture of a Roman conqueror to describe us, it even sounds like he meant we are losers: “Now thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ, and through us, spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him” (2 Cor.2:14). He pictured the warrior = Christ, leading His captives = those who lost the battle.

As a matter of fact, at one time it seemed to me the battle was myself fighting against God. I resisted His claim to my soul. However, He didn’t give in and finally I did lose the fight to Christ, and became submissive to His Lordship over me. However, that didn’t make me a loser.

There was another war going on, one that I couldn’t see. It was Jesus nose to nose with the evil one. Along with everyone else, I was the spoils of war for which they fought. Certainly, Christ won when He died for our sins and rose from the dead. Out of the battle, souls were redeemed from the grasp of the enemy. Jesus took lives as a prize, lives that Satan would have twisted and perverted for his purposes, and claimed them as His own.

Every Christian belongs to the spoils of Christ’s victory but we are not mere trophies. One version translates part of that verse: “God causes me to triumph in Christ.” Because I am in Him, I also wound up as a winner with Him. Even more, because I am in Him, I’m guaranteed the same parade route and destination He has. His heaven is my home because it is His home. “Thanks be to God...” seems an understatement for this remarkable truth.

Another verse asks, If God is for me... who can be against me? It implies that since I am on the side that has already defeated every foe, who could possibly defeat me? Does that sound like a loser?

Any thought of somehow being deprived, or that being held captive means I will go without, is answered by: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with Him also freely give us all things?” Again, does that sound like a loser?

Any accusation, any false guilt is also taken care of... “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies.” No one can stand on the sidelines and condemn me. Jesus paid for my sin when He fought to win me, so, “Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yes and is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, and who also makes intercession for us.” He takes care of my sin; even it cannot defeat me.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Nothing can! No one can take us out of the victory parade!

Everything the enemy now tries to do is like a taunting noise from the crowds, a jeering from the sidelines. I am in the procession and he has lost. His threats cannot get me back into the soiree. There is no chance of a rematch. When Jesus won, so did all who would yield to Him.

Today, whatever life dishes out, nothing can change the fact that I am in the procession. As Jesus and I go through the streets of life, some of them will be narrow; some will go through slum areas; some will have not applauding onlookers but jeering bystanders. Some will be uphill with rocks and jagged footing. Some will be paved with blood.

But the procession never changes. He leads it and will take the entire train of captives through life and eventually to His home -- where all of us “losers” will be with Him, forever.

Monday, March 9, 2015

One seed produces much fruit ................. Parables 245

(December 5, 1990)

Wheat fields lay bare, their golden yield in the bin. Each grain of seed sown produced dozens more and if the markets were good, farmers would get rich returns on their investment.

All seed is like that. One produces many. It is the law of planting and harvest, a law that farmers and gardeners take for granted.

Notice though, the seed grain had to be sacrificed for the crop. Without being put into the ground, and in a sense, dying, there would be no yield. One seed can produce many, but it has to be destroyed before the life in it is released. This is the risk of planting. If it doesn’t germinate, valuable seed grain will merely go to waste.

Jesus lived among those who depended on good crops for survival. The staff of life came from grain, and the crops depended on the fertility of single seeds, just as crops do today. Jesus used that simple concept to illustrate a fundamental spiritual truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone: but if it dies, it will produce much fruit” (John 12:24) The next verse explains the implication: “He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”

Jesus was talking about the major priority of life: our choice of who controls it, and thus how we live it. The Bible says that there are basically two ways: one is “righteous” and the other is “wicked.” We define these lifestyles differently than God defines them. For example, Isaiah 9:6 says that we are “like sheep who have gone astray, each to his own way.” By God’s definition, anything that is simply going our own way, rather than His, He calls “wicked.”

It is the nature of everyone to do their own thing, to govern their own life. Some self-directed actions may even appear very good, some can be very vile. Either way, in God’s sight, whether the fruit is benevolent or gross, it is still our “own way.” Thus He says even our “works of righteousness are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). To Him, “wicked” or “unrighteous” is anything we do in our own way, apart from faith in Him.

When Jesus said, “He that loves his life shall lose it,” He was talking about loving personal control of our own life and considering it the most precious thing. If a person considers “going his own way” more important than eternal life, then, according to Jesus, his life will be lost, eternally.

However, He also said those who hate their life, and are willing to forsake the control of their own life (because they see the direction it is taking them), and are willing to “die” to that life, are those who gain eternal life.

Jesus even says that those who yield control to Him will find their lives here and now full of deeds that have eternal value. He calls those deeds “eternal fruit” and “righteousness.”

In other words, putting one’s faith in Christ means everlasting life in heaven with Him... plus significance of all that is done in His name while here on earth. Scripture says that only His life in us can produce “gold, silver, and precious stones” while going our own way will result “wood, hay and stubble,” things will burn in fire on the day of judgment, and be lost forever.

Look out at the fields. Some of them have lain barren all year, some have produced a bumper crop. What about our lives? Are they barren and unwilling to give control to Christ? Or are they producing lasting fruit... because the seed was willingly sacrificed?

Friday, March 6, 2015

God blesses and comforts ................. Parables 244

(November 28, 1990)

After some coaxing to get her to talk at all, one of the residents at a local senior citizen’s home pointed at the ceiling and told me she wanted to go home. She nodded that she knew Christ, she nodded that she had known Him for a long time. She also nodded that life was just too hard for her.

No, she didn’t want any Scripture read, but she didn’t seem angry because she was still here and not able to cope, just desperate. She did let me hug her, only briefly. Then she began quietly asking over and over, “God, take me home.” I felt sorry for her, and I didn’t really understand.

Three short days later, I felt the same hopeless despair.

A bomb dropped into my life so totally unexpected that I didn’t even see it coming. Pieces went flying everywhere. The first day, in His marvelous grace, God just picked me up and carried me, a type of shock perhaps, but no question it was supernatural. I felt absolutely no pain, even a strange kind of joy. But the next day, the pieces started to land and sorrow set in like I have never known. Like that little lady in the home, all I could say to God is that I wanted to go home.

Along with feeling such despair, God’s Spirit in my conscience, and in hers, wouldn’t let us do the wrong thing to speed up the process. Suicide is not an option for God’s child, even though it was considered. Nor could I do anything else to remove the pain; in fact, every option I could think of was sinful. The bomb couldn’t be thrown back to where it came, nor could I run away. All I could do was allow the Lord to cradle me, helpless, in His love.

But it wasn’t long before He gave me hope. The Spirit of almighty God, who loves me and gave His Son to die for me, cupped His gentle hand around my ear, and whispered: “Hang in there, dear child, WE are going to win, WE are going to win!” His comfort rang true, I just couldn’t see how.

I remembered the book of Job, where another child of God experienced great despair. He lost everything he had, much more than I. Not only that, his friends accused him that he must have sinned a great sin to deserve such chastening. Poor Job insisted he was not being chastening yet knew no reason for his suffering. He didn’t know about the contest in heaven. Satan had challenged God: Would the faith that God gives keep a man trusting God... even if all blessings were removed?

Yes, it could. Job passed the test. He hung on to his faith in God. He even said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job continued to throw himself on the mercy of God and was even able to pray that God forgive his critical friends. In the end, all was restored to him.

God wasn’t obligated to restore Job’s losses. Hebrews 11 tells of many times the saints are tested and die rather than fail the test, yet the Bible gives at least one spiritual certainty: God promises to use EVERYTHING that happens to those who love Him for our good... to make us more like His Son (see Romans 8:28,29). That means I can be a winner, no matter how much damage the bombs inflict, no matter what the reason they are dropped.

On that note, the pieces began to come together. You see God didn’t allow that bomb so I would be destroyed. That was Satan’s idea. Bombs do not get dropped on God’s children without purpose. In fact, the bomb actually didn’t blow me apart... it is serving to put my life together... in the shape God wants, with cement that will hold it firm, making me far stronger.

God is teaching me a wonderful reality; no matter the size of the weapons of my enemies, I am more than a conqueror because He loves me, and because He has the power to make blessings out of bombs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nettling and New Life ................. Parables 243

(November 21, 1990)

Ever heard of nettling? My sociology professor tells of this practice discovered by a young doctor making his first house call where a baby was about to be born. Apparently the doctor was quite apprehensive so when he arrived and found a midwife on the scene, he decided to let her do her thing and he would watch, and hopefully learn something.

Imagine his bewilderment when the midwife rolled a piece of paper into a cone and stuck it into the laboring patient’s nostril. Imagine his concern when she poured ground pepper into the cone. What happened isn’t too difficult to picture... at the appropriate moment, the midwife blew into the cone, sending pepper up into the sinuses of the expectant mother, she let out a colossal sneeze, and baby shot out like a cannonball and had to actually be caught before it flew off the end of the bed!

That folk lore is called nettling.

Amusing or not, birth is the most necessary part of being alive. No one can remain in the womb forever. Living depends on being born.

Jesus talked about eternal life using the imagery of birth. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

The term “born again” has been picked up by the media and everyone else who wants to signify something new, and is over-used so much that it has almost become meaningless. However, it is still a biblical concept that carries just as much importance now as it did then. Jesus went on to say that no one can “enter the kingdom of God” without being reborn.

This new birth is the result of a conception of sorts. The Holy Spirit at work in a receptive heart equals new life. The Spirit’s work includes: convincing that person of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment... sin because they do not believe in Christ; righteousness because the only One who was sinless no longer walks before them as an example of what they should be; and judgment because Satan (who tells us lies about these things) has been judged — and they will too if they do not respond.

The person’s heart is receptive only if they agree with the Holy Spirit’s evaluation of their condition and agree that their only way out of condemnation before God is through faith in His Son... not just believing the facts about Jesus but believing with such wholeheartedness that they eagerly turn from sin and spend the rest of their physical life living for Christ.

To be sure, new life in the spiritual realm begins with babyhood and continues to maturity just as physical life does, but it is a process that cannot be stopped, (stunted maybe); full-growth is the promise of God to everyone who becomes His child. He feeds and nourishes us by the “milk” found in His Word; the “meat” of obeying what it says; and through the work of the Spirit as He changes us to be more like Jesus. He also uses other, more mature Christians gifted for that purpose until someday “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)

Nettling might be one human effort that works to bring forth babies but God says no human effort can result in a spiritual birth. John 1:12 and 13 say: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, BUT OF GOD.”

We cannot will ourselves to spiritual life, but we can respond to Him — and it will happen.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Permutations and Prophecy ................. Parables 242

(November 14, 1990)

Remember permutations and combinations in high school mathematics? I don’t know what they call it now but it was the mathematical science of calculating the odds or the probability of something happening. For example, if you had three beans, and one was black, the odds of picking the black one out of the hat was a simple calculation.

Anything more complex than one chance in three was always beyond my comprehension. If the teacher started using numbers like 120 times 10 to the 22 power, I was lost. I knew the probability factor was a long shot but couldn’t grasp the numbers or their magnitude.

This week someone brought this science to my level. It was an explanation of probability regarding the Old Testament predictions (or prophecies) made about the coming Messiah. There are more, but this calculation was made on the basis of only 300.

It went like this: suppose you had enough American silver dollars to cover the state of Texas three feet deep. Not having been to Texas, I looked at a map and realized it is gigantic compared to the states we have driven through. That is a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money. Anyway, take one of the coins and paint it red. Bury that coin anywhere in the pile. Then, blindfold a volunteer, take him anywhere in that pile of money, turn him around a few times and tell him he gets one pick. The chances of him picking the red coin are the same as the likelihood of one man fitting those 300 very specific descriptions of a coming Messiah.

There isn’t room for all 300 prophecies here but look at a few:

Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Fulfilled at the birth of Christ, see Matthew 1:18.

Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.” Fulfilled at His entry into Jerusalem, John 12:13,14.

Zechariah 11:12 “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.” Fulfilled when betrayed by Judas, Matthew 26:15.

Psalms 22:18 “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” Fulfilled when Jesus was crucified, Mark 15:24.

Each of these passages referred to someone who would come. The Jews interpreted them as Messianic prophecies, to be fulfilled in a Deliverer sent from God. When Jesus came, He fulfilled not only the above four but each one related to His first coming.

What do we get out of this? For one thing, that the exact science of permutations and combinations illustrates that the Bible couldn’t have been written by mere mortals without some sort of divine revelation. How could they know a Deliverer would even come, never mind how each of the variety of authors would and could agree on many of the details of His birth, life, death, and resurrection? Most of them didn’t even live during the same era, never mind know each other.

Secondly, it shows the power of God to not only know ahead but to control history. Had Judas been paid only 29 pieces of silver, or 31, the Bible would be flawed. Yet not one detail has been proven wrong, despite all the challenges against Scripture.

From this, we can be assured that the same God who brought all of this together can also be trusted with other things, for instance... our lives.