Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Culture Shock .............. Parables 267

May 15, 1991

Ordering in a restaurant is risky -- if the menu is in a foreign language. Shopping is confusing -- if the price tags are in currency other than dollars. Finding an address is perplexing -- if the streets have unpronounceable names. Culture shock happens, even on vacation!

Culture shock happens in the church too. Even exploring the Christian faith can be frustrating -- if the terminology is bewildering. Anyone who is new might be afraid to ask the meaning of some words that older Christians use all the time. Here are some examples:

LOVE OF GOD: not an emotion but a love that has no conditions or strings attached. It is expressed by sacrificial giving. God loves people because He is love, not because we are loveable. His love is an “everlasting love” that cannot be earned or deserved, only rejected. We reject it when we sin...

SIN: any thought, words, or deeds that violate the laws of God or His holy nature. (Holy means free from sin and without fault.) The Bible says: “There is not a just man upon earth, that does good and sins not (Ecclesiastes 7:20). That is, everyone is guilty...

GUILTY: the condition before God of anyone who sins, regardless of whether or not they know it, or feel bad about it. “For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet offends in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Romans 3:19 says everyone is “guilty before God.”

CONDEMNATION: God’s justice demands that sin be punished. “The wages of sin is death...” (Romans 6:23) God cannot be holy and still allow sin... but He still loves us and wants us to be in a right relationship with Him.

GRACE: The love of God expressed through unconditional kindness towards sinners. It can be rejected or received through faith. Both grace and faith are gifts freely given by God. “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). This faith is in Him and in His Son, Jesus Christ: “...looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith...” (Hebrews 12:2).

FAITH: Trusting, relying on, believing in -- all to the point of acting according to what is believed and trusted. That is, faith is not a static “I know so” thinking but an active “because-I-believe-I-will-obey-God” lifestyle. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). When such faith is placed in Jesus Christ, believing He died for their sins, was buried and rose again from the dead, the sinner discovers he has been redeemed...

REDEMPTION: The activity of buying or redeeming, such as a slave from its master. In the Bible, it means the action of God that sets people free from the power of sin that controls them and their destinies. This purchase was made by God with the blood of His Son. In other words, freedom from sin’s power comes at a high cost. His blood also purchased our justification...

JUSTIFIED: The action whereby God declares a person free from sin before Him. He can pronounce the sinner NOT GUILTY (even though he is guilty) because the penalty has been paid. Then He works to remove the sin so it no longer governs the sinner’s life.

BORN AGAIN: When a person has FAITH in Jesus Christ and is redeemed and justified, they also have been given new life. They are spiritually re-born. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

SAVED: Sinners who receive the life of Christ are rescued from sin’s condemnation. Christ took the punishment we deserved when He died on the cross, setting us free so we can enjoy a forever-friendship with God.

This is only a basic dictionary of “Christenese” but it gives enough to know what is necessary to become a child of God and a citizen of His Kingdom.

Monday, April 27, 2015

In a Crisis? .............. Parables 266

May 8, 1991

Not too long ago, the world experienced a “Middle-East crisis.” A college student friend of mine joked she was trying to make decisions regarding her future and going through “mid-life” crisis... Car accidents, illness, house fires, unexpected bills, marriage problems, upset plans - all tumble into the same category - crisis!

One of my college professors drew the Chinese symbol for crisis on the chalk board just before final exams. He challenged our attitude towards difficult circumstances by explaining the symbol is really a combination of two symbols; one stands for danger, the other for opportunity!

That little bit of oriental wisdom encouraged us. Although most of us believe there is something good in everything or at least God has a good reason for it, we so seldom live that way. Rare is the person who genuinely finds purpose in losing all their possessions in a fire or in losing a child through an accident. We seldom think during the height of the crisis that this tough trial will not last forever, this cancer can be removed, this destruction can be rebuilt, this thorny marriage problem will be solved, or these horribly upset plans can be reworked. All we can think about is the discomfort of the thing and the mountain of obstacles that face us.

In spite of our humanness in connecting a crisis with the danger symbol only, and our tendency to forget to look for any opportunity the crisis might present, God offers many reminders. Some of them include:

James 1:2-4: Christians are told to “consider it pure joy” when various trials come. We can do this “because we know the testing of our faith produces perseverance.” The Bible says perseverance is a mark of maturity in our faith. In other words, without the crisis, we will not grow.

Matthew 5:11,12: Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven...”

In this crisis, God wants us to realize human response to godliness may be unpleasant at times, but His response will be a great reward. Without this kind of crisis, not only are the greater rewards forfeited, but being without the crisis of persecution may indicate we are not living for Him the way we should.

2 Corinthians 12:9: The Apostle Paul had a problem that he called “a thorn in the flesh.” While we don’t know what it was (perhaps a physical infirmity), we do know he asked God three times to take it away. God told him: “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

From that, Paul realized if He wanted to experience the strength of God in his life and his ministry, he had to accept the crisis of his thorn in the flesh and the helplessness and weakness that went along with it.

He understood and accepted the oriental idea of danger/opportunity by responding: “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” No crisis, no grace.

The past six months of my life have been marked by one crisis after another. At times, danger has loomed large and frightening, yet the grace of God has taken each crisis and turned it into marvelous opportunity for personal growth, deeper relationships with those I love and increasing awareness of the power of God to change lives. While I may not have jumped up and down with glee at each new trial, He is teaching me I don’t have to react in fear or fall apart during a crisis. He pulls the mask off disguised danger and reveals tremendous hidden opportunities.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My anger and God’s anger .............. Parables 265

May 1, 1991

It requires a great deal of energy to stay angry and, my family agrees, it’s a good thing I get tired easily!

I used to pat myself on the back for being such an easy person to get along with, to admit my wrongs and make peace, but something happened to make me realize I’m really not that easy-going. I increased my stamina through an exercise program and could shovel 4-6" of snow off the driveway without stopping for a breather or feeling tired when I was finished. But then I also noticed I could stay angry much longer!

Seriously, anger is often a mechanism of self-defense related to hurts, disappointments and thwarted expectations. Anyone who can’t handle a hurt may deal with that pain by getting angry, and the deeper the hurt, the greater the anger and the longer it lasts.

As I learn how to deal with anger by dealing with hurts, I’ve thought about God’s anger and wondered if it is anything like mine. Surely sin makes Him angry and Psalms 7:11 says “...God is angry with the wicked every day.”

Yet that doesn’t mean His anger is like ours. For one thing, I’m sure He doesn’t react to our sin with emotional outburst because we have hurt His feelings. He is not selfishly concerned about what we do to Him. More than likely, He hates sin because of its destructive power to hurt us.

Also, basic to His anger against sin is His nature. He is holy, pure and sinless. His outrage toward sin is something like a cat’s response to water; sin is simply contrary to everything that He is.

His demonstration against anger is not a mere slap on the wrist, either. When Jesus discovered money changers in the temple charging exorbitant prices to Jewish travelers for sacrificial animals, He was outraged. He braided a whip and drove them out, turning over their tables and denouncing them for making His Father’s house into a marketplace.

This tells me something else about His anger. I braided a halter shank once and have a good idea how long it took Jesus to braid a whip. From that, I conclude Jesus’ anger was not a temporary flare-up but a deep indignation that stayed with Him until the whip was finished and the situation was corrected. John 3:36 indicates God’s wrath is even eternal — because it “abides forever” on those who do not believe in His Son.

Serious as it is to have God angry at our sin, the good news of the Bible is that His anger has been appeased.  However, He didn’t calm down because He got tired of being angry. What did happen was that His Son was willing to receive the wrath we deserved. Jesus appeased God’s anger.

The word used is “propitiation.” “God... loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Propitiation is what satisfies anger. It is not retaliation, but the way God vindicated His holy character through the sacrifice of Christ. He put our sins on His Son, making it possible for Him to punish sin and still offer mercy and forgiveness to us.

In that, I’ve discovered the answer to both hurts and anger. It is the same for me as it is for God: I must offer mercy and forgiveness. When I get angry at someone who sins against me, God reminds me to put away wrath and anger, and “be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Other may not deserve forgiveness, and sometimes never ask for it, but Christ died so His Father didn’t have to stay angry... and He died so we don’t have to stay angry either.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hiding your identity? .............. Parables 264

April 24, 1991

“If being an American abroad presents safety concerns for you, consider Passafe passport covers...” entreats a recent ad in the New York Times.

The pitch promoted phoney cardboard covers labeled “Canada,” “Argentina,” or “Guyana.” Supposedly, anyone from south of our border could tuck their passport into a false cover and breeze through transportation terminals without any hassle from anti-American activists.

Cowardly or sensible? Personally, I thought twice about passing judgment on people who are afraid to admit their citizenship. I’m a citizen of heaven and should always be willing to declare it, but sometimes I don’t – for fear that someone might hassle me.

Logically, it seems there should be no problem. God made me His child and an heir of salvation. He rescued me from the penalty of sin, exalted me to sit with Christ in heavenly places and gave me the awesome responsibility of being one of His ambassadors here on earth, a representative for Him to those who are still citizens of the world.

Yet sometimes declaring it is a problem. It’s hard to speak to people who don’t know how to change their citizenship, even though we Christians have an obligation to tell them. Anyone can be a heavenly citizen by admitting their sins and putting their faith in Christ. He offers all the free gift of eternal life and the good news concerning that life is a treasure to be shared, not hidden or covered up in silence.

We sometimes call ourselves “Closet Christians” when we are afraid of ridicule and rejection. We realize some people are not at all interested in hearing the gospel and will ridicule both the message and the messengers. Sometimes they do more than scoff and we back-off, claiming to be “sensitive” when our problem is a strong sense of self-preservation. It is easier to simply not tell anybody than cope with rejection and humiliation.

Jesus offered some encouraging words about the importance of telling people we are Christians: “Whosoever... shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). That is, if we expect Him to put in a good word for us, we need to speak up.

However, eternity is an unseen future. No matter how much we might want God to think well of us, it is difficult to get around our desire to be accepted by others, even more so if rejection has been a big part of our life. We may even think God will surely not be too hard on a shy person who has trouble even saying “hello” or an abused person who is not sure of who they are. After all, doesn’t the way people treat us have a big bearing on our personalities? Not everyone is out-going and confident. Doesn’t God relax the rules a little for bashful and timid people?

Not so. Jesus also said, “But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (vs.33). There is one standard for all: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God hath raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

It is clear that all Christians are required to speak up, not cover up. Understandably, not everyone wants to hear what Christians have to say, however that is not an excuse for denying Him. He was willing to die for our sinfulness; surely we can admit we believe in Him and love Him.

The American government is committed to protect its citizens. Will not God protect those who, openly and without shame, display His passport?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday Shopping .............. Parables 263

April 17, 1991

A North Dakota city sends advertising flyers into southern Saskatchewan hoping to encourage Canadian shoppers. One of those flyers recently featured this catchy headline: SINNER APPROVES SUNDAY OPENING.

The lead line in the story explained: “North Dakota became the final state to repeal its Blue Laws when Gov. George Sinner signed a Sunday-opening bill Wednesday....”

I’m tempted to take potshots at terrible puns however the more important issue is what do we do with our Sundays. At the risk of stepping on some traditions, dare I suggest the word “Sunday” is not in the Bible? Instead, the word “Sabbath” is mentioned many times. It was a day of rest inaugurated by God, first for Himself and then for His people. He created on the first six days, then on the seventh He “ceased from His work and rested.”

Later, He commanded the Israelites: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it you shall not do any work...”

The seventh day was special for Israel. Exodus 31:13 says, “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, my Sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the LORD that makes you holy.” Verse 16 and 17 say, “The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath... throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant... It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever...” When the nation of Israel turned away from God, they were sharply rebuked by the prophets. Nehemiah said; “... Did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? Yet you bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” God took Sabbath-keeping seriously.

However, by the time Jesus came, Sabbath-keeping had become ritual and tradition, characterized by rules and bondage instead of refreshment and rest. The day became more important than the people it was intended to benefit. So Jesus helped people, even on the Sabbath, and that enraged the Jews. After He rose from the dead, the disciples began to meet on the first day of the week, worshiping together and celebrating the resurrection.

Christians don’t always agrees about Sabbath and Sunday. Some feel the Sabbath still must be kept on the seventh day. Others impose Sabbath laws on Sunday. Some see the original law as an analogy that was fulfilled in Christ. (The book of Hebrews explains how the Old Testament Sabbath illustrated a rest that comes when we cease from our own labors to earn merit before God and rest in the salvation provided by Christ. Consequently, failure to enter into that rest has far more serious results than failure to relax on Sunday.)

The Apostle Paul handled the argument this way: “One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

So what about Sunday shopping? Personally, I can sin on Sundays whether the stores are open or not. That isn’t the issue. Christians need to worship God together, so having one day a week to do it is practical, regardless of complex Sabbath theology.

Not only that, worship is a command. Given the fact of our sin nature, open malls, fishing holes, football games, and sunny picnic sites just might add to the temptation to disobey it. While we need to remember, regardless of the temporary “benefits” of skipping worship, we will eventually suffer from that sin (just as we will from any other sin), we also need to remember that Jesus said the Sabbath was made FOR US, not to ruin weekend plans. Liberty to rest and worship goes far beyond any so-called freedom to shop on Sundays.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Seniors in the Classroom? .............. Parables 262

April 3, 1991

Do senior citizens have any valid reasons for attending college? Being with younger students might help someone feel young again, but many campuses would wonder at cane-carrying folks wandering down their halls. After all, why take classes after life-patterns are thoroughly set? And who is going to hire a person of retirement-age-plus even if they have learned a new skill?

Nevertheless, a white-haired, 89 year-old woman signed up for a class this semester at Bible College. She is studying the New Testament book of Acts and has not told me her motivation. (Acts is the historical account of the early church and how its members were scattered throughout the known world to announce the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.) She is a spunky lady. Maybe she has a mission field in mind!

Seriously, even the professors agree it is never foolish to pursue further spiritual education. Notice, I said “spiritual” education. For one thing, after many years of ups and downs in our walk with God, we older students are far more aware of the rationality behind learning and relearning His truth. We not only know how important it is to apply to our lives, but we are fully aware of how application becomes increasingly challenging with age.

At least one of the Old Testament kings started poorly and ended well but many of them did the opposite, starting well and finishing very badly. The biographies of these kings illustrate how vital it is for God’s people to keep on growing. Productive middle years do not have to end at retirement age. The greatest of God’s saints ministered to others until it was physically impossible or until death stopped them.

Also, from an older perspective, the goals for learning change. When I was young, I was interested in absorbing data, regurgitating it in a form that pleased the teacher, and passing exams... in one ear and out the other. That kind of learning does not produce excellence. It does not work with spiritual information either. It is even possible to know a great deal about God and His Word and still live in sin. The goal must be internalizing the material with a view to obedience and a vibrant spiritual life.

Secondly, it would have been nice to have been taught from my mother’s knee so I understand more than I do about Christian living. Yet even being brought up in a Christian home doesn’t guarantee a solid Christian life. I’m learning the difference is not in the timing of the education nor in when one starts to learn, but in the desire to use it to God’s glory.

My 89-year old friend doesn’t need to go back to work to use what she is learning. I rather suspect she is aiming for a more Christlike life because it pleases God, not for any other reason. She also realizes if she does not press on, it is so easy to slide backwards.

Besides having a responsibility to keep on growing in the Lord, older Christians have an obligation to pass on what they have learned. The psalmist said, “O God, You have taught me from my youth; and to this day I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.”

No one at Bible school laughs at us older students. Some are teased about carrying brief cases instead of back packs, but the younger Christians already understand that the grace of God is needed to make it to the grey-haired stage and still have a strong desire to keep on learning about Jesus. They also understand that not everyone finishes well. Here, any example of grace is never considered “too old” but welcomed as “fresh hope.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Suffering and Death .............. Parables 261

April 3, 1991

A few weeks ago, a little Alberta girl died in a car accident while she was singing “Jesus Loves Me.” A family member took comfort in the confidence that she was ushered into the arms of Jesus while she sang.

Apparently that confidence is not shared by the majority. A medical social worker in Saskatchewan says “the belief in death as the gate to a heavenly reward is no longer how people view the end of life.” She says the first concern today is the loss of living, not with “heaven or damnation” and “death is a block to health” not the entrance to eternity.

She went on to explain current trends concerning the care of terminally ill patients. If there is no hope for an improvement in the quality of life, then passive euthanasia (as opposed to active, which is illegal) is an option. That is, it is better to stop life-sustaining treatment than to suffer.

It seems that if this life is all there is, choosing to end it is a contradiction. Not that I’m big on suffering; given a choice, pain will always be far down my list of preferred experiences. But for those who believe life is all there is, living in pain seems more logical than pulling the plug when things get too tough.

The problem is that death is not a universal gateway to heaven. The Bible says it is the “wages of sin,” the final enemy of human beings. What comes after death is the real issue. Jesus Christ says a person either spends eternity with Him or is cast away from Him forever, depending on what they believe about Him. Blunt it may be, but that is what God says about death.

As for suffering, the Bible indicates four causes: first, sin in general causes general suffering for people, whether it is their own sin or that of others. Secondly, some kind of suffering is often the way by which life ends. Thirdly, God will sometimes chasten His sinning children with suffering as He works to correct their destructive behavior. Lastly, He can glorify Himself through either removing the problem or giving supernatural endurance to the sufferer.

Suffering can draw people to God. Deuteronomy 8:3 says God “humbled” His people by allowing them to suffer hunger, then feeding them with manna that they might “know that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Suffering taught them to rely on Him.

The Apostle Paul suffered when he lost personal prestige. Despite his loss, suffering brought him to know Christ and eternal life. Jesus, although innocent Himself, suffered as God used His sacrifice to redeem mankind. Since then, many Christians have suffered as they follow Christ, and God has used their sacrifices to impress upon others the validity of the gospel message and used that suffering to bring many to salvation through faith in His Son.

Scripturally, about the only negative thing I can discover concerning suffering is that it doesn’t feel good. In fact, the Bible teaches if suffering comes our way, there is some reason God has allowed it. We may not always perfectly understand what He is up to but when painful things happen and we feel like “pulling the plug,” God encourages us with verses like 1 Peter 5:10: “The God of all grace, who has called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, will make you perfect, and establish, strengthen, and settle you.”

As we seek His face, we can ask Him to either reduce the pain, eliminate it, or give us strength to endure it. In this way, we learn to trust Him with the pain of living. Then, when the time comes to endure the pain of dying it is even possible that He grant the grace for us to be singing while we travel to the arms of Jesus, not crying or protesting because we have had to suffer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Good from evil .............. Parables 260

(March 27, 1991)

A few years ago the brothers of a young man felt extremely threatened by his leadership abilities so they plotted to kill him. Somehow their plan was bungled but they didn’t realize it; he didn’t die, but did leave the country. In his new location, the ambitious young man soon had a job. He worked hard and achieved a position of responsibility. Then hard luck hit him again. This time his boss’s wife tried to seduce him. Since he was upright and moral, her efforts didn’t succeed, however the scorned seductress was upset and retaliated. She accused him before her husband of attempted rape. Her husband was furious and the young man went to prison.

Confinement didn’t turn our hero sour though. Soon his unique skills were appreciated by a couple of prison mates. Later, one of them was released and was working for a man of prominence who had a special problem. He remembered this young fellow back in prison and told his boss he knew someone who could solve the problem. So our hero was released from prison and given a job offer of considerable significance. He began planning and making investments intended to profit both his new employer and his new country.

In the meantime, severe famine conditions developed in both this country and in his homeland. His family lost everything. Destitute and starving, his brothers decided they needed to relocate if they were going to survive. Oddly enough, they traveled to the same country in which their brother now lived. To make a long story short, he was the person with means and authority who could feed them and meet their financial difficulties.

Of course they were terrified when they realized this benefactor was their brother whom they had betrayed. They were certain he would retaliate. He had every right to -- but he didn’t. In fact, when he told them he would take care of them, he gave them this reason for his actions: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he spoke kindly to them.

In case you have not guessed, the young man was Joseph, the biblical lad who was given a coat of many colors. He was left for dead by his jealous brothers and became a leader in Egypt, prudently storing grain before a famine. As a result, there was enough, not only for Egypt but to feed the huge family of his father, Jacob, who later came searching for food.

As I considered an action someone took against me (that was intended for evil), this story of Joseph came to mind. My situation did not involve a plot to murder me (at least I don’t think it did), but it was like Joseph’s in that the consequences seemed unbearable for me. What about the one who sinned?

The Bible says the results of evil are hardly ever what anyone could call good, especially for those who commit the deeds. If the guilty persons are Christians, there will be chastening (Hebrews 12). If they are not, “the wages of sin is death,” meaning separation from God for eternity. Evil doesn’t pay.

So how does it work for the one sinned against? Do we have to bear the bitter consequences too? Not all the time. Joseph’s story shows that God is bigger than sin and can work behind the scenes to reverse the sinner’s intended results. His brothers wanted Joseph’s destruction, but God worked it for good, both for Joseph and for them!

The supreme example is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He was an innocent victim whose enemies determined to destroy Him — this had to be the greatest sin. Yet out of it, God worked the greatest good... the crime committed became His means of redemption for sinners. Surely such a God can be trusted, even with whatever our enemies might try to do against us.

Friday, April 10, 2015

God Changes Lives .............. Parables 259

(March 20, 1991)

What kind of people go to Bible school? The average person might think only holier-than-thou types, or Bible-thumpers, or the exceptionally religious would be interested in full time Bible study. But how about a group of bikers who ride Harleys and wear leathers? Or those who have spent time in prison?

The Bible college I attend, well-known as a good school and one of the largest in North America, has just that among the 700-plus student body.

Before I tell you about one of them, it is important to know what the Bible says about people with a past who have come to faith in Christ. Not only has God forgiven them, He also has changed their very natures: “...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

New life means new interests. The bikers may still like their bikes, but like all sinners they no longer like their sin. Because of changed hearts, actions begin to change. The Bible puts it this way: “... and such were some of you: but now you are washed, and you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (Notice those verbs are in the past tense.)

Grady (not his real name) is one of those people most would not expect to wind up in Bible college. He used to be a high-roller, financially successful but spending it faster than he earned it. He also had a problem with drugs and alcohol. Somehow he began thinking his wife was an obstacle to what he wanted in life. Obsessed with the idea of getting rid of her, he contracted someone to do it for him. The man said he wouldn’t do it, but gave him the name of someone who would. Grady didn’t know the second person was a policeman.

His wife was safe; he was arrested and sentenced to nine years for conspiracy to murder. He began the prison term and within weeks turned to the Bible. Through the assistance of other Christians and the power of the Spirit of God, he saw his need to be forgiven of his sins. He invited Jesus Christ into his heart and new life began.

Grady says out of all prison “conversions” only about 1% make their life count for God when they get out. The Lord had definite plans that Grady be in that small percentage. Through unusual circumstances, he found himself at Briercrest Bible College, remarried, and in his 4th year of a B.A. program, heading into a Master’s in the fall.

All of that is outstanding but there are more things that show the power of God in a person’s life. Grady came through the last semester under a great deal of stress. A baby was born. Finances were tight. His work load in this last semester was difficult with final courses and an internship, but he came through with a 95.75 % average. Besides that, Grady served this past year as Student Body President!

Every time I see Grady in the halls I think of how Jesus Christ is in the business of putting broken lives back together. Actually, looking in the mirror often gives me the same thoughts. Every one of us has a “past.” How much God loves His children; He not only forgives the past but cleanses our hearts and lives. How wonderful His grace for those whose faith is in Him!

It is not only the Gradys of this world who can have hope and permanent change. Life does not need to stay a mess when we mess it up. The Lord is able to make good things out of whatever raw material we give Him. All He wants is a humble admission of our need before Him and a willingness to give Him our trust and our selves so we will let Him have His way with us.

It may be a frightening concept for some to turn their lives over to a Person they cannot see, yet when we think it through, how could God hurt us? In fact, the Bible asks: “If God is for us, who can be against us? 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?”

The “all things” may not mean money, fame or power but it does mean a fresh start and the inner resources to live a life that pleases God. Take note, with grace and love, He can even make a prisoner into a president!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Liars or Lovers? .............. Parables 258

(March 13, 1991)

“But I trusted you...”

Batted about by broken promises and countless betrayals, trust comes tough at times. People we relied on have let us down, sometimes more times than we can count. Most of us give up, we figure our limit has been reached. But has it? What is the maximum we can trust another person? Will anyone ever be so faithful as to never push us beyond that boundary? Besides, what is the foundation of trust? Is it the other person’s performance? Or some sort of a blind I-hope-he-keeps-his-word-this-time kind of trust?

Biblically, neither are what trust is all about. To understand, we must first understand the nature of man. God created us in His own image, thus people are capable of great good. However, the human race has disobeyed God and turned away from Him. We have all sinned and fallen short of His goal for us. Because of sin within, man is also capable of great evil. As we look at the world around us, we know both are true.

Because of that, the Bible says never to put our trust in people. That is, we are not to expect anyone to be 100% trustworthy, even those who appear to be. If we do, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. All are sinners, remember? So everyone will let us down, at one time or another.

But does that mean we must always be on guard, that no one can be trusted? Not exactly. Notice the words of the psalmist: “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. We can trust God. (Ps.118:8)

When I first became a Christian, I did that, but my trust was based on a thought that God was like my earthly father and would give me what I wanted simply because I wanted it. It was painful to learn God is not like that, yet it felt good to learn He lovingly gives what is best for me. Did knowing His real nature change my trust in Him? Yes it did; trust was deepened.

The parallel is this: we tend to base our trust in others on what we want or expect from them instead of having a proper understanding of their nature. They may deliver and if they do, we tend to say “I trust you.” But if they don’t, we moan, “How can I ever trust you?”

Trusting someone based on their human performance is foolish. Performance is never 100%. We are sinners, remember? No matter how well intentioned anyone might be, his very nature determines that brand of trust will someday be disappointed.

Fortunately, God IS trustworthy because He loves us. He does not break promises, betray us or act out of keeping with our best interests. Those very qualities enable us to trust Him in a deep way (after we get over the idea that He will not spoil us or pamper us). But what do we do with people? How can we trust the untrustworthy? Or do we live our lives as sceptics?

I have been learning something in that regard. Trust is a by-product. The initial issue is love — not sentiment or romance but that deep commitment to care for the current and eternal well-being of another, no matter the personal cost. It is unconditional love, the love God has for us; He loved us so much He sent His Son to die for us while we were sinners. That love has no strings attached... but we can accept it or reject it.

When I accepted it, it became available to me as a resource for living. With His love I can love other people and His love perseveres, even if promises are broken or lies are told.

I don’t like being lied to. Neither does God. I don’t like it when someone says one thing and does another. Neither does God. I also don’t like it when I depend on another and they let me down. But God LOVES us anyway, even when we let Him down! His love is willing to give its all, regardless of the response, even if people walk all over it.

Let’s face it, even if we say “no” to lies, we have to eventually come to grips with the fact that people will lie or hurt us regardless of our decisions. No one is immune from being sinned against. If we are Christians, our responsibility is not to be liars who grieve and offend, but lovers who show the world how God responds to those who foolishly sin against Him.

Will I leave a legacy? .............. Parables 270

June 5, 1991

The ZUM ROTEN BĂ„REN in Freiburg, Germany was constructed in 1311. Its heavy wood beams and thick walls stand firm today. German people have every right to claim their buildings will last several hundred years!

My husband and I stayed in this 680-year-old “Red Bear Inn.” The rooms were redone, no doubt several times, yet it has that antique flair that cannot be imitated with fake beams and modern leaded glass. Plush carpets are new, decorated with an outline design of a bear, but the polished floors are old, old wood, that doesn’t creak. Neither do the thick walls carry sounds.

No one knows the name of the original inn-keeper but there have been thirty-six recorded owners since 1387. Probably none of them thought their inn would last so long. They worked hard to maintain their property while they owned it, and over the years a legacy evolved. Now this quaint old inn still welcomes guests. It is an enduring earthly heritage.

A delightful meal and evening in such an old inn raised the question: Am I doing anything that will last? Sometimes Christians say, “Only one life, it will soon be past... only what’s done for Christ will last.” Does that mean our accomplishments could still be around in several hundred years? Or does it refer to the eternal significance of Christian living?

The Bible does affirm we only have one life. Hebrews 9:27 expresses it in a rather negative way: “ is appointed unto men once to die...”

Scripture also affirms the brevity of life. James says it is like a vapor that appears for a while then vanishes. The Psalmist says it is like a blade of grass that blooms then withers away.

As for enduring value, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians mentions that. He said God will use fire at the judgment seat of Christ to evaluate the deeds of Christians. Some of what we have done will be like wood, hay and stubble - burnable. It will go up in smoke. Other actions will be gold, silver and precious stones; they will pass the test of fire.

According to this then, some things Christians do will be like most North American dwellings; only good for the lifetime of the owner. But other things will endure, even longer than the Red Bear Inn; they will last forever. However, establishing an enduring heavenly heritage is not quite the same as hiring carpenters to remodel a worn-out building or interior decorators to replace old oak with new. We can’t use existing materials at all.

Instead, that which will last for eternity must come out of that which is already eternal. Since our natural lives will some day be over, our natural lives cannot produce eternal legacies. Our deeds, no matter what we do, abide in this world only. We could build an inn, or a dynasty, but even if future generations kept it in good repair, neither ourselves or the inn or the dynasty will last forever.

The Bible says the only thing eternal is the life of God, the self-existing One. Amazingly, this life is available to us through a personal faith in Jesus Christ. When we have His life, Scripture says deeds done at His direction and relying on the power of His life, have eternal impact.

Thus building a heavenly heritage requires extraordinary remodeling and replacing. The old life that perishes must be recognized and seen for what it is, and yielded to God. Then the eternal life of Christ must be received and relied upon, not just as a ticket to heaven but for living in this world. As we depend on Him in every way, God assures us that when our original structures (our bodies) finally give out, there is something left that cannot decay. He has given us an inheritance or legacy that will remain for all eternity.

Monday, April 6, 2015

No one is changed by wearing a label .............. Parables 257

(March 6, 1991)

“In Communist days, Christians were called ‘repenters’... and they were persecuted, so the last thing I wanted to be was a repenter.”

The little pastor from Romania glowed with joy as he described how God changed his mind and his life: he did become one of those repenters.

The change was so definite that even though he witnessed horrible atrocities in his homeland and was even himself a victim, he became a pastor and preached the gospel wherever and whenever he could. Finally, he became such a threat they tried to kill him in a deliberately planned automobile accident. He not only survived, but his life was so committed to Christ that he further amazed his persecutors by continuing to preach.

Eventually, this changed man was used to bring great changes to his homeland. For the first time in many years, carols were sung last year in Romania on Christmas day and Christians are now free to worship Christ without abuse. Surely, “repenters” was an appropriate label for him.

In other parts of the world the Christian is not so easily marked. In fact, the label “Christian” is often slapped on a member of any religious group, whether they follow Christ or not. Some cults use it and at least one military faction in the Middle East calls themselves Christian. Canada used to be called a Christian nation. Some groups call themselves Christian rock stars. I suppose there are people who consider their dog or cat Christian.

The label “Christian” came into use after the New Testament church was organized. Thousands had repented, believed and surrendered their lives to Christ. Soon persecution began and believers were scattered all over the known world including north of Israel, where a church was formed in a city called Antioch. It was from there the Apostle Paul launched out on his missionary journeys and from there the, “disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).

Oddly enough, this is the only place in Scripture where that label is used, likely because historical accounts indicate that CHRISTIANOS, a Roman term, was used in a derogatory way in those days. The writers of the Bible would not use a word that others used to ridicule them. Even “believer” is an uncommon title, used only two times in the Bible.

Jesus and the New Testament writers seemed to prefer “disciple.” It is used over 250 times. It means “a learner or one who follows.” In the gospel story, some “learners” left Jesus and turned back to their own ways. Only a few repented and went on to a genuine change of lifestyle.

Obviously the twelve disciples (except for Judas) had truly turned from their sins and were changed. In Acts 4:13 it was said that the people “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

Peter and John changed. Peter had been a brash, undisciplined, overly self-confident fisherman who denied Christ when the crunch came. He became a bold but humble preacher who proclaimed the gospel in the face of persecution.

Even though the Romanian label was also used with some scorn by those who opposed the Christians, I like “repenters.” It says it all. When a person comes to Christ in faith, this is what happens. They repent: turn, change direction, reject the reign of sin, and place themselves under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is essential; in fact, Jesus even said that unless a person repents, they are excluded from forgiveness and from God’s kingdom.

Repentance is also essential to going on in the Christian life. Jesus taught that if a person does not depart from sin and obey Him, that person is only fooling themselves. The evidence of being one who believes in Him and follows Him is the change in our lives, not in our name tag.

The label “repenter” is more difficult to live up to than “Christian” or even “disciple” because it is a title that describes change. But, as that pastor from Romania illustrates, when a person truly does turn to God, those changes have exciting and far-reaching possibilities.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Our Battle .............. Parables 256

(February 27, 1991)


Pentagon and media alike may not realize it, but this outrageous terminology suggests allied bullets are “nicer” than those dispensed by the other side. What difference does it make to the two soldiers if the bullets were “friendly” or not so friendly? Either way, they are not coming home. A bullet is a bullet.

Even so, that headline saddens us in a different way than those announcing casualties from enemy fire. We may never know if such deaths could have been avoided with some precautions but it seems even more senseless to die at the hands of someone who didn’t mean to shoot you, than dying at the hands of someone who deliberately and wilfully takes aim and fires.

This incident is related to something that happens in the church among those who are genuine Christians, brothers and sisters in the army of God. Yes, we are soldiers, called to fight against wickedness and the forces of evil. Our weapons are prayer and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Our defense is the armor of God. This army does not seem powerful, but with God on our side, we have the superiority. We know Jesus eventually wins.

But what is wrong with us right now? Why has the army of God not conquered the evils in this world and overturned the power of the enemy? Why do we have wars if Jesus came to bring peace? One suggestion comes from the above headline: we go down under “friendly fire.”

Galatians 5:13 says: “Brothers, you have been called into liberty; only do not use liberty for opportunities to serve your old nature, but by love serve one another.”

By the very fact that God had to give this command, we know “friendly fire” is a likelihood. If there was no potential for us to “bite and devour one another” as verse 15 says, God would not have put so many reminders in Scripture about loving and serving each other. In fact, most Christians, if asked and if honest, would say that some of their deepest hurts have come from unthinking words or deeds committed against them by another Christian. I know that mine have.

Someone once said that Christians are the only army that shoots its own wounded, yet it is not always the wounded that receive the fire, it might be the leaders (as in “roast pastor for Sunday dinner”) or the behind-the-scenes servers who don’t publicly blab about what they are doing — so someone complains that they are not doing anything.

Perhaps we hurt each other because we have unrealistic expectations from those who claim to know Christ and give no allowance for failures. Perhaps we take one another for granted and think we will always be “family” we can say and do whatever we like and the relationship will not be destroyed.

Whatever the reasons, Scripture gives examples. Paul wrote a rebuke to the Corinthians because they were taking one another to court. He told them it was better to be wronged than to act so shamefully before a watching world (1 Corinthians 6). He also told them he heard about their “debates, envying, wrath, strife, backbiting, whispering, boastings, turmoil... uncleanness, fornication and lustful behavior” (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). Not a nice list.

Paul also told the Galatians not to desire vain glory, nor provoke or envy one another, while James warned about “bitter envying and strife” because “where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” He warned them that all the “wars and fighting” among them came from inner evil desires that had taken control of their lives.

Obviously, Christians are not immune to deadly fire from one another. Sadly, the difference between that and the “friendly fire” downing serviceman in the Middle East is that our fire is not initially aimed at the enemy... it is actually even targeted toward fellow soldiers. (When we do fight evil the enemy, we cannot use weapons like envy, strife, selfish ambition and backbiting.)

Never forget, our survival depends on following our Commander’s orders. Once we start shooting each other with criticism or take up arms to defend our own cause and opinions rather than the gospel, the battle is immediately lost.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Heart Cleaning .............. Parables 255

(February 20, 1991)

It won’t be long until spring cleaning. Out come mops for dirt and garbage cans for disposables. It feels good to sort out and clean up, even if it takes courage to tackle a long-neglected attic or basement storage room.

One time I volunteered to help a girl clean up her dirty room — without first seeing the room. Never again. It was an hour before the two of us uncovered the floor. The whole project took three days and yielded a truckload of dirty clothes and an enormous pile of trash. Any sense of accomplishment was nearly lost in our exhaustion. Even though the job was necessary, it would have been a lot easier if she had done a little each day, or even once a week, and not allowed the mess to get so out of hand.

For Christians, spiritual cleaning is necessary too. While it is best to keep our hearts continually clean, that is, confess sins daily, sometimes that doesn’t happen. We don’t hear God telling us about the dirty places, or we hear but don’t listen. The dirt begins to pile up in the corners.

But, whatever the sin, and whatever the reasons we refuse to deal with it, even if WE allow a backlog, GOD will not. Because He loves us and determines to deliver us from it, He will expose the covered, unconfessed sin, sometimes quite dramatically, and force us to do something about it.

In other words, sometimes God opens up some closets, spiritually speaking. When He does, the about-to-be-purged Christian discovers some skeletons and maybe even a few rotting corpses. Not a pleasant discovery. In fact, most of us would just as soon close the doors on the putrid mess and “move out” rather than allow Him to clean it up. However, when such a thing happens His grace prevails and there is nothing to do but give the mess to Him and see what He is will do to clean it up.

One note, this may never have happened to you (yet) but watch out for a smug, “I never did anything so bad as that person did” attitude. None of us can boast. I have clutched and concealed collections that didn’t please God and know rot is rot in His sight, whatever the degree of stench it discharges. Even if someone's cluttered closets offend me more than my “less” odious messes, both are equally offensive to the nostrils of God.

Nonetheless, like that girl’s room, the first sight of previously concealed filth, can be overwhelming to someone who lets it pile for a long time. Ten or twenty years of trash seems to need a bomb, not a broom. However, God’s cleaning program isn’t quite like ours. We see a big mess and want to either run away or reluctantly roll up our sleeves, but all He wants is us to get down on our knees with a contrite heart. He will do the cleaning. The promise is found in I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

In severe cases, it takes some while for all to be confessed. The offenders who allow the pile to accumulate agonize over each piece of junk, some of which has been hidden for years and years. But with each admission, the grace of God fulfills the promise. The cleansing happens. The closet begins to sparkle. In fact, sometimes the difference is so incredible it seems that there never had been any junk in there in the first place. All that is left are fading memories of the horror of first opening the door.

Not every closet is the same, but God’s promise covers your closets and mine; those that are nearly bare and those that have purposely been closed and accumulating far too long. From us, He wants honesty only, and the closet door (our hearts and lives) thrown open to His light. From there, He takes the blood of Christ and applies it to whatever garbage has been hidden in storage, washing it away and giving us a new start. What a wonder!

Certainly it takes courage to look at a big mess, either one from the present or one from the past. And it takes courage to pull out each rotten item and lay at His feet... but He is a capable Cleanser. His grace is sufficient to purge our hearts and change our lives. Not only that, He can keep them that way.