Friday, May 29, 2015

A new kind of ‘shrink’ .............. Parables 280

August 14, 1991

“Computer Counseling” has arrived. Now a staff of trained psychologists can be replaced by terminals and floppy disks. The patient just sits in front of a computer and punches in his thoughts. Out comes a programmed response based on the input, telling him what he needs to know.

This latest electronic development supposedly not only saves money but makes it easier for patients to bare their souls. They don’t have to go through the struggle of telling their innermost secrets to another person nor take time developing a trust relationship. The computer never betrays their confidences, it just stores it on plastic and kicks out information, with the assumption that relevant information is all a hurting person needs.

I can relate to the ease of using machines. For one thing, “talking” to a machine has a big advantage: I can edit and revise before printing my statements. Face-to-face conversation doesn’t allow that option.

But retreating from people to my PC is neither healthy or biblical. God is involved in our lives and wants us to be involved in each others lives. His Word has more to say about human relationships than almost every other topic. Here are a few examples:

“...have peace one with another.”
“ one another; as I have loved you...”
“...prefer one another.”
“ of the same mind towards one another.”
“...follow after the things that build up one another.”
“...receive one another, as Christ also received us...”
“...have the same care one for another.”
“ love serve one another.”
“ patient with one another...”
“...submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
“...Lie not one to another...”
“...teach and admonish one another...”
“...comfort one another with these words.”
“...exhort one another daily...”
“...let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.”
“...Speak not evil one of another...”
“...Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another...”
“ hospitality one to another without grudging.”
“ subject one to another...
“ kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.”

Just a glance at the list reveals that God’s plan for relationships involves some hard work at the ordinary level, not just the Counseling level. It involves time, money and effort. However the rewards are rich: hurting people are loved, encouraged, healed. In fact, the “one another” treatment prescribed by God would put counselors out of work much faster than computers could.

Besides, God’s way never goes obsolete like a computer program. It is eternal. The catch is that it requires people with eternal life within -- a life that flows from their hearts, demonstrated in care for others. It is not a natural concern but a supernatural loving obedience.

Maybe that is why we have had to resort to computer Counseling; there just isn’t enough folks that have that kind of inner resource. Without the “wonderful Counselor” within, all anyone can do is rely on is themselves and perhaps their library of plastic, encoded data.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bias? .............. Parables 279

August 7, 1991

The Canadian Radio and Television Commission has been considering an amendment restricting “abusive comments” made on the basis of sexual orientation. Apparently some media people have made snide remarks offensive to the gay community and their complaints have made an impact. One response to this proposal suggested that anyone reading the Bible on a Sunday morning broadcast could be prosecuted under this restriction.

In contrast, a Canadian Christian organization says it complains to the CRTC regularly about anti-Christian comments on the air, but nothing is done. It seems that Christians do not have the same clout. After all, evangelicals make up less than 10% of the Canadian population and certainly are not making nearly as much noise about what we want as are other groups. We have become a “silent minority” that does not matter, a “radical fringe” group that can’t seem to roar loud enough to be heard.

With everyone demanding their “rights,” Christians might do well to remember what Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you...” (John 15:18-20).

If we live as we ought to live, can we expect an equal voice? God says if we sin, we can expect Him to chasten us, but if we live godly lives, we can EXPECT some abuse and persecution. Being ignored by the CRTC should not be a shocking surprise.

Beyond that, after two thousand years of persecution, Christians have demonstrated that our faith can endure abuse. In fact, the CRTC might think we are tougher than any other minority, that we need no assistance from them to defend ourselves. Actually, if they think that, maybe they have something.

Scripture abounds with God’s promises to protect His people from those who deal unjustly with them. He tells Christians not to be anxious about the things others do, that He Himself will eventually deal with them.

However, Christians must keep their lives right before God. He says if we have a good conscience, others may speak evil of us, but our purity should cause them to become ashamed of making their false accusations. Even if they do not, it is better we suffer for doing good than doing wrong (1 Peter 3).

This CRTC decision does not affect me directly, yet I have prayed about the matter and mailed my protest to the Director. If the amendment goes through, radio preachers will have to make a different kind of decision. They will have to consider the time Peter and the other apostles were told not to talk about Jesus Christ. Their response? “We must obey God rather than men!” We who are Christians need to determine from Scripture our position regarding both media content and how to speak up against unbiblical lifestyles. More importantly, we need to act upon what we determine. Our action may be persistent prayer; it may be personal involvement. Whatever it is, when we are denied the right to make God’s Word known, we need to be concerned.

Someone has said that for evil to prevail, all good men have to do is nothing. If our voice is not heard, if we don’t act while we have the freedom to do so, the day could soon come that it will be a crime to be a Christian.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Smartening-up Pills? .............. Parables 278

July 31, 1991

One of the latest efforts from scientific technology is a pill that supposedly increases memory. This drug may even eliminate those embarrassing moments when you cannot remember your best friend’s name or your spouse’s birthday. The report did claim that those who take this pill will become more intelligent. They connect the ability to recall with a person’s level of genius. Maybe the pill-makers equate poor memory with stupidity because those memory lapses make us feel so ignorant.

In any case, the story sounded like the one about the traveling salesman who sold the farmer some “Smartening-up” pills. It seems the farmer paid his $10, opened the bottle, and exclaimed, “These are nothing but rabbit pellets,” whereupon the salesman said, “See, you are smarter already.”

Seriously, we have marvelous capacities to both remember and forget. My problem is tending to do the one when I should do the other. For instance, if someone teaches me something useful, I have to work hard to remember it, but any bad impressions picked up along the way stick with me too easily.

God sets an example for us. He forgets the negative. If we confess our sins, He says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12). However, He remembers the godly deeds His people do and promises to reward them. To help us to do good, He suggests WE remember a few positives as well:

REMEMBER HIS WORKS AND HIS WORD: “Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth (1 Chronicles 16:12). If we remember what He has done, it will help us live right.

REMEMBER HIS PROMISES: According to 2 Peter 1:4, “He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” If we remember what He says, it will help us live right.

REMEMBER HIS COMMANDMENTS: The people of Israel were told to tie them on their foreheads so they would not forget them. His commands relate to life while disobedience leads to death, another good reason to remember His Word.

REMEMBER WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US: Christians were once slaves to sin but He has delivered us. Rather than become spiritually barren, we must remember we have been cleansed from our old sins (2 Peter 1:9). We also must remember that He was raised from the dead (2 Timothy 2:8) and promises us eternal life with Him. That gives us hope and also motivates right living.

REMEMBER TO KEEP RELATIONSHIPS RIGHT: God will not accept our worship if we have hurt someone and don’t clear it up. Matthew 5:23,24 says: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there... first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” This certainly is a vital part of living right.

REMEMBER OTHER PEOPLE: We are to remember the poor, remember to pray for all, and remember that we are accountable to those who are in authority over us. (See Galatians 2:10, 2 Timothy 1:3, and Hebrews 13:7,17)

Remembering even this short list is not easy. The Apostle Peter says in two places that the reason he wrote his second book was to remind his readers of things they would forget. Because we tend to forget so much and so easily, God encourages us to continually read what He has to say. He promises if we do, and do not forget it but follow it, we will be able to live right.

Now if someone would just come up with a pill that made obedience to God easier...

Friday, May 22, 2015

God’s Sense of Humor .............. Parables 277

July 24, 1991

So it takes more energy to frown than smile. So laughing burns 3 ½ calories. So happy people are healthy people. But when I am sad, I need more than a promise of energy, health and weight-loss to get me laughing again.

Actually, I want very much to be a full wit instead of only half a one. I TRY to remember jokes and funny stories. I’ve also invested in a few favorite cartoon books -- that usually produce a chuckle. Old movies and even CBC radio can be side-splitting and I have been known for the occasional practical joke. Life in an empty nest even holds its ribs in hysterics from time to time (as my even-more-serious-than-me husband comes up with some unexpected shenanigan). But with all that, I still feel I am far too serious. I would like to have a fuller sense of humor.

Actually God has one. Consider the giraffe’s looks, the skunk’s perfume and the antics of some of the more peculiar insects. They make us laugh and so they should; our Maker encourages us to have merry heart. He says it is like good medicine (Prov.17:22).

God Himself even laughs, but not at the same things we find amusing. He contemplates the wicked who plot against His people and “...laughs at him: for He sees that his day is coming” (Psalms 37:13).

While we normally don’t laugh in the face of those who mistreat us and might even consider it rude, laughing can be an attitude of heart that keeps us from falling into their false value systems. For instance, if the rich and famous on television or the bigger house up on easy street causes us to wonder if we missed out on the good life, Psalms 52:6 says: “The righteous shall see and fear, and laugh at those who trust in riches...”

Along the same vein, we can laugh in the face of trials. Job 5:22 says “At destruction and famine you shall laugh: neither shall you be afraid of the beasts of the earth.”

This was spoken to a man being chastened by the Lord (of all things), but the Bible affirms God only chastens His children. Put that all together... and what more reason to laugh? Even in trials, I am under the care of my heavenly Father -- who laughs at those who tries to destroy His children!

Another reason for laughter is forgiveness of sins, even though sin itself is certainly not a funny issue. It separates us from God and will send us to eternal damnation. Yet the person who mourns over displeasing God and who longs to be righteous is given the promise of eventual laughter: “Blessed are you that hunger now: for you shall be filled. Blessed are you that weep now: for you shall laugh” Luke 6:21).

The idea is that true sorrow over sin leads to repentance, and repentance leads to faith in Jesus Christ and faith in Jesus Christ leads to forgiveness of sin and righteousness... and that leads to laughter!

Those who love God often find themselves laughing over what He does. He promised Sarah and Abraham a son but both entered old age and that promise seemed an impossibility. However, Sarah gave birth at ninety years! No wonder she said, “God has made me laugh...”

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh...” Surely God’s people should find time for both sadness and laughter. We can easily be burdened over the sin and sorrows that plague our planet, and while it is right to weep and mourn over sin, we should never forget that God laughs. He knows Christ has secured complete victory over all that hurts and destroys. In the end, He will wipe away our tears and usher us into a heaven that is, I am certain, filled with holy laughter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spirituality’s Dark Side .............. Parables 276

July 17, 1991

According to one study, 70% of all crimes committed by teens under 17 are motivated by occult involvement. Without verifying those figures, the fact that any teens are involved in the occult is distressing. What is this mysterious fraternity and why is it so fascinating?

Webster defines OCCULT as: “to hide... not revealed or secret” and “matters involving the action or influence of supernatural agencies or some secret knowledge of them.” In this case, supernatural refers to “an order of existence beyond the visible... spirits or devils.”

Some folks consider the dark side of the spirit world pure imagination but those in the occult will testify differently as will people who know their Bible and its Author. That God created spiritual beings, both obedient and disobedient, is well documented. In the New Testament alone, there are 112 references to “devil” or “devils”, 36 references to Satan, 7 to Beelzebub and 4 to “the prince of this world” (names of Satan), 12 to evil spirits, principalities and powers, 2 to the “tempter” and 4 calling Satan an “enemy.”

Scripture does not intend however to give glory to the evil side of the invisible realm. Satan is merely a created being, an angel that decided he would “be like God” and set himself in rebellion against God. According to the Bible, he has great power to deceive and destroy but he is not invincible.

Nevertheless, it is the power of Satan that fascinates some people. In his realm are extraordinary phenomena that dazzle those who do not know these phenomena are mere imitations. Occult power entices, but not to give life or meaning to life; the real power belongs to God.

Jesus, when speaking to some Jews who professed to believe in Him, described Satan. He said, “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it...”

THE AUTHOR OF LUST: Lust (not just sexual but for many things) is a strong desire that grows stronger when it is fed and pampered but it is never satisfied. The person who lives to feed their lusts always feels empty and unfulfilled, a victim of the false promises made by an evil enemy.

A MURDERER: But Hebrews 2:14,15 tell how God the Son became a human being so He could participate in death. Then, through death, He destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil. The sacrifice of Christ delivers those who have been in bondage because of their fear of death. In other words, Jesus came to give eternal life and defeated this rebel Satan, taking the power of death away from him.

A LIAR AND DECEIVER: Revelation 12:9 says: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” According to another verse, he actively seeks those he can devour, leading them astray from faith in Christ and deliverance from eternal death.

His deception is so strong that the Bible says he seems transformed into an “angel of light” and his angels (demons) appear as “ministers of righteousness”. That is, up front he seems like truth from God and offers shortcuts to the deepest desires of our hearts... but it is deception.

Why does occult activity lead to crime? With such a leader behind it, it cannot lead to anything else. Lust, murder, lies, deception are at the root of criminal activity.

The antidote to the occult is personal knowledge of the true God through His Son. He represents love not lust, life not death, and truth not lies.

Monday, May 18, 2015

No Ball and Chain .............. Parables 275

July 10, 1991

A young man in Moose Jaw wears an electronic ball and chain. Instead of going to prison at roughly $70 a day, he is under a sort of house arrest that uses a computerized monitor to keep track of him using a black bracelet on his leg that allows him to go to work and come back home. if he goes out of the house at any other time than working hours without special permission, it shows up on a monitor and he will be sent to a real jail.

This gizmo costs about $2 a day. According to the probation officer who monitors this prisoner, such a money-saver is for “well-screened clients only” and it really doesn’t offer much freedom. After all, the prisoner can’t go shopping, or out for a hamburger, or participate in any ordinary after-work activities. The prisoner says he is not proud of his situation and he did not want to be identified. He will be so “confined” for several months.

Sometimes I wish God would put one of those things on me, not so much to keep my location in check but to monitor my actions and my tongue! It would be nice if every time I did or said the wrong thing, an electronic beeper went off and sent me straight to my knees to confess my sin and get right with God -- and with whoever else I offended. It might be a bit hard on my pride and my shins but sometimes I wonder if the lessons would be more quickly learned than with the present system?

Actually, how can I say that! God knows best. He didn’t give me a beeper, but He did give me (and all Christians) the Holy Spirit. His purpose is to convince of sin and unbelief, and to assure Christians that they have been given the righteousness of Christ. He reminds us that the condemnation or judgment we deserved has been put on His Son. The Spirit was also given to teach us, remind us of what we know, and give us the strength to obey God. Quite superior to an electronic beeper!

But Christians are not robots operated by this internal third Person of the Godhead. We have to do our part, including at least these three things:

KNOW THE WORD: The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak apart from Biblical principles. Jesus said of Him, “...He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak at His own initiative but whatever He hears, He will speak... He shall glorify me for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it to you.” Not every idea we get is from God so it is important to be able to distinguish the Spirit’s voice from the cravings of our own desires or the ravings of an evil entity. Sometimes both can be incredibly subtle. No alarm may sound and that still, small voice is so easy to ignore.

LISTEN: My husband recently reminded me how gently the Spirit speaks, without roars or yells or blaring alarms. Instead, He whispers and nudges. He may keep on nudging if we don’t respond quickly, but because it is possible to “quench the Spirit”, our refusal to listen may result in a blunder into sin, only to learn our lesson the hard way. Learning to listen is easier if we obey the first time we hear His voice.

TALK BACK: Not as in sass but as in prayer. Talking with God, accompanied by listening, develops a sensitivity to Him. Too often I reserve prayer for crisis times yet my relationship with any other friend would never survive if we only talked to each other every time something went haywire. Just as I know my husband’s voice on the telephone because we talk long and often, I am learning the voice of God’s Spirit through frequent conversation. God’s provision of what Jesus called “another Comforter” is perfect. A beeper would be cumbersome, impersonal, and truly a ball and chain, whereas the Spirit came to set us free from the bondage of sin and to be our guide throughout life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Will the world end? .............. Parables 274

July 3, 1991

Doomsday prophets aside, not too many people like to think about the end of the world. Most either fearfully project it beyond the foreseeable future or think it will never happen. A few souls are concerned. My neighbor is one of them. To her, the future seems insecure and without hope.

I just finished a study on some currently held views pertaining to Bible prophecies about “the last days.” Opinions abound, involving whether events described in Scripture are symbolic or actual and, if they are actual, what will be their sequence? Since there are no exact dates given for these events, we didn’t discuss “when” but did consider all the opinions.

Despite what the Bible says to the contrary, even some theologians maintain the world will never end. That is, they think the church will have an increasing influence for good, every person living will become a Christian, then Christ will return and all will enter an eternal state. Others are certain the world conditions will deteriorate but Christ will eventually return, separate the good from the bad, put the bad in hell, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Others think the church will be taken out of an increasingly evil world and wickedness will fully prevail for seven years. Then Christ will return from heaven, implement a theocracy and reign for a thousand years with His people. (These time spans have biblical support.) After that, all whose names are written in the book of life will join the Lord in eternity and the dead will be resurrected, judged and separated from God forever.

One thing my study revealed: anyone can find one or two Bible verses to support their personal opinion. No wonder there are so many opinions. It is like blind men describing an elephant: one thought it was like a tree -- he felt a leg; another was sure it was like a rope -- he had hold of the tail; another said no, it was like a large leaf -- he felt an ear; and so on.

Also, my study revealed that ALL of Scripture must be compared and considered to develop a reasonable view of any teaching, including what God says will happen in the future. We can’t just lift any verse off a page and think we have the last word on the issue. For instance, not every verse in the Bible is quoting God; some are a record of the words of sinful people!

Each verse must be studied in its context, considering who said it and why it was said. The Bible is actually its own best interpreter. If passages are carefully compared with similar passages on the same topic or with other passages written by the same author, the meaning often becomes clearer.

That sounds like work -- and it is. However, every occupation and pastime, including hunting and fishing, has its “Bible.” Engineers, doctors, lawyers, and all professionals study thick, complicated textbooks -- massive volumes of information written by experts in their various fields. Homemakers have thick childcare manuals and recipe books. Farmers have detailed manuals for machinery, livestock care, and building maintenance. Even an almanac can be fairly complex. Anyone wanting to be an expert on any topic has to study their subject.

Whether it is the end of the world or how to have eternal life, there is no other way to find out what God says about anything than to study His Word. Too many people simply pull information out of their heads or settle for an opinion made by someone who did only half their homework.

In case this topic of the end times is frightening, Jeremiah 29:11 offers hope: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” saith the LORD, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

God promises a glorious future for those who trust in Him.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

God’s Love and our repentance .............. Parables 273

June 26, 1991

A young father told us how he disciplines the rebellion of his little boy. After spanking him, he tells him he didn’t enjoy doing it but is correcting him because he loves him very much. As he assures him of his love, the child bows his head and says, “I is sorry.”

One day this father was enjoying his boy at play and spontaneously threw his arms around him exclaiming, “I love you.” Much to his surprise, the little fellow quickly bowed his head and said, “I is sorry.”

While some fathers might have been horrified at that response thinking it was some kind of conditioning, this father saw how it illustrated a Biblical principle: the connection between love and repentance.

First, our heavenly Father does love us very much. Jeremiah 31:3 says: “The LORD hath appeared saying... I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” God’s love is everlasting -- it never wears out when we misbehave.

Not only that, God’s love caused Him pain. “For God so loved the world, He sent His only begotten Son...” Death on a Roman cross is not an enjoyable way to express love, but He did it anyway.

Thirdly, God’s love is assured to us because it does not depend on what we do or fail to do. We don’t deserve it; as the Bible says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We don’t earn it because we are like disobedient children who don’t seek God or desire to do His will (see Romans 3).

But God loves us anyway, so much that He became one of us, dying as our substitute. In Christ, He offers us forgiveness for our rebellion against Him, power to overcome sin, and a secure future with Him in eternity. All is free, graciously made available to us because of His love.

Fourthly, repentance relates to love in two ways. First, Romans 2:4 says it is God’s goodness that leads sinners to repentance, even though His goodness is not deserved. In other words, the general blessings from God are motivation for many to turn away from sin. Then, when turning from sin and turning to God, sinners find that the punishment deserved for their sin was inflicted on Jesus Christ. Instead of God’s wrath, kindness and mercy are again freely offered. So repentance is simply a contrite sinner’s response to God’s double expression of love.

Once God forgives us and we become Christians, He is still concerned when we sin. He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten... therefore repent.” So becoming His child is for sinners and becoming His obedient child is for Christians who then spend all of life turning from sin and turning to Christ. We do not despise His correction but recognize even an earthly father corrects his children. In fact, if a person is not being corrected by God, he (or she) is not a child of God at all (Hebrews 12).

If asked, the young father would say his purpose for a spanking is not merely punishment. He corrects in kindness, to make his child a better child, set free from foolish behavior. Just like an undisciplined child, we also need correction. Our foolish behavior, if left unchecked, will destroy us.

So how do we respond when we hear that God loves us? Do we interpret it as giving us freedom to do whatever we please? Or do we realize that along with His love, He desires to purify our lives? If so, do we receive His love in an attitude of repentance?

Put it this way, when was the last time we sang “Jesus loves me, this I know...” then bowed our heads and said, “I is sorry”?

Monday, May 11, 2015

God sustains His church, even some of its meeting places .............. Parables 272

June 19, 1991

The Strasbourg cathedral in France is a magnificent structure with towers, ornate carvings, and an extraordinary spire, visible for miles. It was first built to honor God and is still a place of worship, just as it was originally intended.

As Bob and I sat bowed before the Lord in a side chapel reserved for prayer away from other tourists, we could almost sense the presence of believers from past centuries who had prayed here before us. Bob whispered, “If walls could speak...”

Those walls certainly housed a long history. Christianity spread to the Strasbourg area of the Rhine valley in the 4th century. While there is no accurate record establishing a date when they built their first worship centre, a large fire in 1176 necessitated the restoration of what was there. Thus construction began on what is now the present building, over 800 years ago. Later, in 1402, Ulrich von Ensingen, a man considered one of Europe’s most famous master-masons, designed the impressive spire.

We noticed huge bells, the oldest of which weighs 9000 kilograms or about 20,000 pounds, and magnificent sculpture. Some of the ancient carvings have been moved inside a nearby museum to protect them from erosion. The immense organ has been replaced a few times. The clock is newer. It chimes to mark each hour with a baby appearing and the angel of death removing an old man. Inside the vast main sanctuary, modern chairs replace whatever people sat upon in earlier days. The side-chapel where we prayed had woven cane seats that seemed a more suitable vintage. Every part of this building, from the crypt to the cross high on the spire, is the work of dedicated craftsmen.

We could not help but think of the heritage that belongs to the Christian faith. To be sure there are stains on the pages, from the Crusades to the recent televangelist scandals; but by far out-numbering the blots and blights are unsung faithful souls who believed in and loved Jesus Christ. This building endures as a reminder to the fact that despite how we mess up what God intended, the content of the Christian faith endures.

In our humanness, we have no inborn ability to hang on to an everlasting faith, yet the One who gives faith, the One in whom our faith is placed, can be depended upon to sustain our trust in Him. Furthermore, He is available to anyone of any era or century who recognizes His revelation of Himself through His Son and who trusts the work of Christ for forgiveness of sins.

Psalms 104:31 says: “The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever...” That means that God simply remains -- beyond this world, its contents, and beyond time itself. Hebrews 1:10-12 tell us: “You, Lord, in the beginning have laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of your hands: they shall perish; but You remain; and they all shall wear out as does a garment; and as a mantle you shall fold them up, and they shall be changed: but You are the same, and Your years shall not fail.”

When the Christians at Strasbourg erected their cathedral, they did it with God’s character in mind. Even though no building can be holy, sacred or eternal like He is, every time it was burned or bombed or eroded, they rebuilt, refurbished and restored because they wanted God’s eternal character to be honored as much as frail humanity could possible honor Him.

That is how we felt too, as we prayed on cane chairs under immense, arching and echoing ceilings and in the light of brilliant stained glass. God cannot be contained in a building but the building reminded us that He willingly offers to live in the hearts of those who trust Him and will remain there forever.

Friday, May 8, 2015

United in Christ, but not always in name .............. Parables 271

June 12, 1991

A woman from Toronto tried to put “Canadian” on the census form where it asks for “ethnic origin.” She was told this was not allowed. Ethnic groups must be counted for various reasons, so instead of her citizenship, she must put down German, Pakistani, or whatever. I felt her frustration remembering the time I put “Christian” under “religion” on a hospital form, and found out they wanted my denomination.

The census and hospital people have a point but I, like the Torontonian, was upset at being divided into sub-categories. Just as Canadians should be united under one name, I felt Christians should simply be Christians.

Actually, the struggle with sub-categories is not new to Christianity. In New Testament times, the Corinthian church was in a mess because of factions that divided them into what could be called “earthly groups.” Some said “I am following Paul.” Others claimed to be following Apollos. The “super-saints” claimed to be following Christ (as if Paul and Apollos were not). Paul wrote to tell them they were behaving like ordinary mortals who needed to unite as true citizens of heaven, and get along with each other.

Sad but true, Christians who use labels today can also indicate a division over who follows what. Denominations do quarrel, something like the church at Corinth. The non-Christian looks at 10 churches in one town and has reason to wonder why believers cannot get along. After all, there is only one Elks lodge or one Kingdom Hall.

First, it is important to understand there is a difference between “denominations” and “religions.” Denominations usually refer to various branches of Christianity (although these days even some of those are not truly Christian), while “religion” can refer to any system of worship. For example Hindus, Animists, New Agers and so on, are religious but these are not Christian denominations. The point is, Jesus made it quite clear Christians must claim to be distinct from other religions, however, we should not insist on divisions within Christianity.

Surprisingly, it was normal for the New Testament church to have several congregations in one city. Aside from the scrapping at Corinth, they actually did divided for practical purposes -- meeting in houses, not church buildings as we do now, because each house could only hold so many people. Besides, relationships deepened in these more intimate settings.

The Bible doesn’t say if they put labels on themselves. They may have. One was “the church that meets in Philips house,” another “the church that meets in Amos’ house.” But the entire group of believers in one city was called “the church of Philippi” or “the church of Rome.” The emphasis was on unity, not on their different locations. The letters Paul wrote to one church were circulated throughout all groups of believers. This promoted unity. Their common bond in Christ through the Holy Spirit promoted unity. Wrangling over who had the most authority or who was superior was evidence of pride and immaturity, not unity. It is one thing to have several congregations in one city because there isn’t room in one building for everybody, and quite another to have several congregations as a result of fights and splits.

We could say the church in Fort Saskatchewan meets in several different “houses” too. There are differences, but minor differences are not necessarily unbiblical. As long as the Word of God is believed and followed and the members have committed their lives to Jesus Christ, there is unity.

What is not allowed is a prideful superiority that puts “me and mine” above everyone else. Factions simply demonstrate our “earthly origins.” We need to be united as “Christians” and demonstrate we are all citizens of the kingdom of God and all members of His family.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

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, 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, May 4, 2015

Christianity is not for audit .............. Parables 269

May 29, 1991

Summer school at Bible College means cramming one full 3-credit semester into two weeks. Classes are four hours a day with mid-term and final exam on the two Fridays. How long students retain the information is debatable but it is nice to concentrate on one subject at a time and have all afternoon to think about what was taught in the morning.

Sandra took one of the same courses I did. She sat in on all the instructional sessions, learned the same information and took part in every class discussion. However, Sandra didn’t plan to bother with the assignments and was unconcerned about the exams. She was auditing the course rather than taking it for credit.

There are some similarities in taking courses at college and living the Christian life. For example, the Bible tells us to be instructed concerning what we are to believe and know how we should put it into practice. It says: “Love your neighbor as yourself” and also: “Let us not love with words, or tongue; but in actions and in truth.”

In other words, love others: don’t just sit around and talk about loving or restrict love to a feeling but do things that show others they are loved. James 2:15-17 is more explicit: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Jesus was just as stern as James. He said, “Not every one that calls me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Jesus, like James, was not saying our good deeds earn a place in heaven but that genuine, living faith will be accompanied by action. Real believers put their money where their mouth is, that is, they KNOW what they believe and DO the assignments.

Another way Christian living is like taking a college course is that we need to be prepared for examinations. Some of these tests come up without warning in the form of trials, something like a “spot quiz” some teachers like to use. I Peter 1:7 says these trials come so our faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed; they are “faith exams” and we pass them by continuing to trust God in the trial.

God also uses exams to see if we will obey Him. Deuteronomy 8 tells how He led the Israelites forty years in the wilderness, to humble them and to test them, to know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep His commandments, or not. Trust can be passive reliance but more often it is expressed in active obedience.

Of course there are final exams. Christian or not, God will examine every life to see if there has been any deeds resulting from faith in Christ. Those who don’t pass this test must face His wrath. Those who do pass it have already been granted eternal life.

Christians have one more exam. It concerns the sorting out of all they have done in their life. Actions of eternal value are rewarded and those with no eternal value are burned. That prospect of that exam clearly shows that believers cannot audit the Christian life!

Sandra wasn’t too far into the class when she decided to hand in assignments. She didn’t write the exams but expressed how sorry she was to have made that decision. She found herself wishing she had taken the course for credit so she could prove she really knew the material she had been taught. May all of us who sit under the teaching of Jesus Christ have the same desire!

Friday, May 1, 2015

My Fortress .............. Parables 268

May 22, 1991

Heidelberg Castle towers high on the south bank of the Neckar River. Once the home of the elected princes of Germany, it is a huge fortress designed to protect its inhabitants from enemies who sought their life, liberty and land. It was seldom conquered.

Bob and I scaled several hundred stone steps from an underground parking lot to the courtyard, went through massive gates, crossed the wooden bridge over a dry moat and entered another time frame. Here monarchs once traded their daughters for political favors and princes protected their reign with lances and shields. We could almost hear the swish of royal robes, the clattering hooves of war horses and the slosh of wooden pails dropping into the courtyard well to draw water for their thirst. Psalm 18 came easily to mind: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress... in whom I take refuge... my stronghold.. and I am saved from my enemies.”

Twenty-six times the psalms describe God as a fortress, a strong tower, a place of refuge where His children can seek shelter from their enemies. Heidelberg Castle made all those metaphors visible. Surely our God is like that immense fortress.

The Bible makes it clear our real enemies are not human. Instead, they are called “principalities and powers” (referring to demonic spirits) who appeal to our sinful desires, selfish attitudes, and godless motives. These enemies seek our allegiance, affections, and attention. They may not bear arms we can see with our eyes, but we are often victims of their attacks.

When I was a new Christian, my God protected me from those dangers. I was not aware they existed. As I gained knowledge of spiritual forces and the power of my enemies, He showed me His provision: spiritual armor and weapons and how to use them. I’ve been strengthened by spiritual battles.

However, other dangers threatened -- one of which was like the danger that caused many nobles to lose their life, liberty and land to the enemy; I began to think I was invincible. Nothing could defeat me. After all, my weapons were His weapons and they were very effective. However, God had another battle strategy to teach me -- the lesson of the strong fortress.

He allowed an attack from a totally unexpected direction. It was a powerful assault, almost shattering my allegiance and affection for God because it seemed His weapons had failed me. It also diverted my attention from serving Him to counting my losses. All seemed destroyed.

But the Fortress still stood. Instead of bleeding to death on the battle field, God called me to run to Him, take refuge within His strong walls of love and protection, snuggle in safety hiding there, and let Him take the enemy fire.

Some may call it retreating to regroup but that is not the purpose of a fortress. The castles of Europe were not a place of retreat but a harbor of defense, a fortress of deliverance. So is God. In Him I can hide and heal, while He shields me from enemy fire. His weapons didn’t let me down; He just wanted me to know that the weapons are not the main protection -- He is.

Heidelberg Castle was not invincible. Louis XIV’s gunpowder blew apart two of its towers; the split-off pieces remain today as reminders. But my Tower, the Christian’s Mighty Fortress, cannot be destroyed. He remains forever a strong place of refuge for all those who rely on His loving protection.