Friday, July 31, 2015

Whale-sized Dreams ................ Parables 307

March 3, 1992

The cartoon showed several fishermen on a frozen lake each beside holes the size of an ice auger — except one. His fishing hole was the size and shape of a whale! The thought provoking caption asked, “How big is the size of your fishing hole?”

Another expression relates to dreaming big: “It is better to aim for the stars and hit the woodpile than aim for the woodpile and hit your foot.”

Dreaming big does have its drawbacks. Sometimes we fail. Of course the misery of it seems emphasized by the large size of the dream hoped for but not accomplished. The up-side is that those daring enough to dream big are often able to put failure behind them and refocus on a new dream, perhaps even a bigger one.

Faith is related to dreaming big, at least that is what four friends of a paralyzed man found out. They loaded him on a stretcher and carted him down the street to a house where Jesus was staying. They heard this man was healing people and even though their friend was powerless, the four of them dreamed he would walk again. When they arrived at the house, they discovered they were not the only ones with dreams. The place was so crowded they couldn’t even get near the door, much less inside. At this point, they had a conference. How could their dream come true?

The rest of the story is recorded in Luke 5. And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. So when He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

What? The four expected Jesus to heal their friend — but instead He declared his sins were forgiven? As they wondered what this meant, Jesus turned to some ever-present critics and challenged their unspoken complaint. “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man (referring to Himself) has power on earth to forgive sins — He said to the man who was paralyzed, I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

At that the man rose up, folded his cot and left, glorifying God. Not only was the auger-sized dream of his friends fulfilled — but Jesus carved out a whale-sized dream and fulfilled it too.

Do we dream too small? Sometimes I do, at least when it comes to what I envision God wants or can do. Those little dreams reflect a little faith. But I am learning that Jesus longs to give us dreams a size or two too big. For one thing, He wants us to grow into them, to become much more than we thought we could be. But the main reason is so He can demonstrate to us that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think (Ephesians 3). Therefore, every time we dream too small, we could be limiting God and missing out on really knowing His power in our lives.

So remember the whale-sized hole — not just the next time you are fishing, but whenever you are praying... or dreaming.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pressure produces sponges ................ Parables 306

February 25, 1992

You have heard that old expression: “You can’t get blood out of a stone.” It is true about water too. An ordinary rock can lie on the bottom of a river for thousands of years but if you squeeze it, not a drop of water comes out.

Someone said the church in North America is like that. We sit soaking in spiritual things most of our lives, but when we get squeezed, nothing comes out  — just expressions of dissatisfaction that the pressure is making us uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t like pressure either. A little bit might make me more productive but huge problems come along and I’m right there complaining about my lot in life too.

Not like Job. He was a man who believed in God, prayed daily for his family and lived uprightly. For a while, his life seemed too good to be true. Like a rock in a river, he had been soaking up His blessings and may have spent the rest of his life enjoying every one of them but along came some pressures, considerable pressures, and Job was squeezed. What came is a surprise.

Oh, he did complain. In fact, when someone wishes they had “the patience of Job,” I wonder if they ever read his story. I didn’t see much patience the first few times I read it. He was quite vocal about his situation, his discomfort, and his friends who were falsely accusing him. (They thought he must have sinned or he would not be having all those problems.) Yet in spite of all his groaning and moaning, God says we are to “consider the patience of Job.” What on earth could He mean?

When I am impatient, I try to change things or somehow control what is happening. While Job protested, he did not press for change. What he did do, in spite of his grief and protests, was make two or three remarkable statements. These utterances proved that he was NOT like a rock in a river — the blessings of God had sunk in and made him different from the average person, even the average Christian.

In his suffering, Job said: “. . . the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all of his losses, Job did not accuse God of doing wrong or complain that He had no right to take away a blessing.

He also said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Even though he was hurting, his faith remained strong. Who else could he trust in such difficult circumstances? He had lost his wealth, health and family; why lose faith too?

Another of Job’s responses to the squeeze was: “He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job knew that the pressure would (not could, would) make him a better person. He also knew God was not oblivious to his problems, nor was He simply observing and not caring. Even though Job insisted he was not being punished for any particular sin, he knew God was using this pressure to purify his life.

Job also said, “I know my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth, and after my skin is destroyed... in my flesh I shall see God.” Job knew that his friends’ accusations had once been true — he was guilty of sin — but he had a Living Redeemer who had forgiven him and who he would one day see face to face.

Job was no rock in a river but a sponge. He dismissed any notion that God would not or should not allow pressure in his life. God is God. He can do what He deems best. Job also had a unique perspective regarding the purpose of pressure — it was not just reason to cry out with requests for restored comfort. Instead it was an opportunity to pour forth the faith that was in him.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Choose what kind of hypocrite I want to be ................ Parables 305

February 18, 1992

Professional Counselor Larry Crabb says that Christians, no matter what how they live, are hypocrites. He quickly adds a qualifier — Christians can make a choice regarding what form their hypocrisy will take.

To understand Crabb, it is important to have a clear definition of hypocrisy. We usually think of hypocrites as people who pretend to be good but are not, people who are nice to our face but stab us in the back. Webster’s Dictionary broadens the definition. It defines hypocrisy as: feigning to be what one is not, or to believe what one does not believe.

In other words, if I pretend to be an opera singer, when clearly I am not, I am a hypocrite. (My first performance would reveal the hypocrisy.) However, there are two ways to look at this. If I really was an opera singer, say an excellent soprano, but told everyone I could not sing a note, I would also be a hypocrite.

Notice Webster’s definition includes pretending to believe something as well as pretending to be something. I gather from that some people who say they believe in something or someone, when they really don’t, are hypocrites too. Without intending to be unkind, this might include parents who tell their children about the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy.

Taking this into the realm of religion, hypocrites are people who pretend to be what they are not, or pretend to believe but really have no faith. But it could also mean people who really are Christians and who really believe in Christ but say or act otherwise.

The first description we immediately recognize as the charlatans who masquerade their way into the church, fleece the flock, and leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. They are the business people who go to church on Sunday and conduct unethical business practices the rest of the week. They profess faith but do not possess it.

But what about the other kind of hypocrite, the one who is really a Christian but acts and talks like everyone else? Actually, this sort probably does far more damage in the church and to the reputation of Christianity than the other kind because few people can distinguish between these and the charlatans.

What is behind this strange form of hypocrisy? Well, when a person becomes a genuine Christian, they receive a new nature. This new nature is to govern their lives. However, the old nature, with its habits and selfishness, can have a strong influence if allowed to do so. When I was a new Christian, and sometimes even now, strong desires of the old nature try to govern what I do. In fact, sometimes obeying God seems unnatural — and doing the right thing, when I don’t feel like it, makes me feel like a hypocrite.

At that point I have to choose what kind of hypocrite I want to be. Am I going to be true to the new creature God says I am? Or am I going to be true to my old desires that God says have been crucified with Christ?

Psalm 26 says: “...I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord...” Integrity means being true to who we really are, and if we really are children of God, we ought to act like it, even if we don’t feel like it.

This is Crabb’s idea - Christians have to choose their hypocrisy.

In times of high moral and emotional pressures, something inside me may protest obedience. I may even yell, “I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT!” At that point, I need to remember I can be true to those sinful desires but I will be a hypocrite to what I really am. But if I choose to be true to what I really am, I will be a hypocrite to my sinful desires. The Bible says it is okay to be that kind of hypocrite.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Pain has Purpose ................ Parables 304

February 11, 1992

A child is murdered. An arsonist burns a home to the ground. A car accident cripples a newlywed. And we, even we who believe in a sovereign God who controls all things, are at a loss to explain our out-of-control world.

Oh, we Christians say God has His reasons... but our pat answers offer little comfort to the child’s parents, the family who has lost everything, or the couple whose hopes and dreams have turned to perpetual pain and wheelchairs. They cry for a way out and question — how can a sovereign, loving God allow such horrid things to happen?

When in pain, our ability to reason often abandons us, yet reason has shown me some new ideas about pain and suffering. For one thing, I used to think pain was always something to avoid, but isn’t some pain necessary? Without it, no one would go to the doctor to have broken bones set, or yank their hand off a hot iron, or avoid sharp knife blades. All pain is uncomfortable, but not all pain is evil.

Furthermore, I used to consider death as utterly bad, however it does have two very practical purposes. One of them, admittedly heartless but nonetheless true, is that if every man, woman, child, dog, cat, and goldfish that ever lived still lived, there would be no breathing space left.

Our real problem is with UNWANTED pain and the UNAVOIDABLE separation and suffering involved with death. We want God to intervene, to change things so we don’t hurt any more. But reason says for that to happen, God would have to change the nature of the way the world works, more precisely, the principle of cause and effect.

Cause and effect makes life predictable. We flip a switch and a light goes on; drink some water and our thirst is satisfied; sleep all night and wake up refreshed. However, if cause and effect could no longer be relied on, we would never be sure what would happen. They light may go on, but then again, it might not.

Imagine the chaos of a world without this principle. We could never be sure about anything. Would living with unpredictability would more tolerable than living without pain? The pain of consequences at least keeps most of us from inadvertently destroying ourselves.

Our prayers often demand God to change our situation or take away our distresses but we forget one more thing: without pain to keep us in check, we probably would do even worse things to each other than we do. Actually, if we are going to demand anything of God, maybe it should be a solution for sin. After all, sin causes death (“The wages of sin is death...” Romans 6:23) and a large percentage of human pain and suffering.

Actually, God has provided a solution for sin and it relates to this whole issue. Follow this carefully: those who seek His forgiveness receive a changed life and an attitude that desires to alleviate pain rather than inflict it. However, God does not change the cause/effect principle. If we sin, someone suffers, even though God can use that for our good, to draw us closer to Him. Instead, God created another world — His full and final solution to the misery and pain of this world. It is a place where we can live forever in the pain-free environment we wish we could have here. Of it, the Bible says, “God will wipe away every tear... there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying... no more pain, for the former things (including the principle of cause and effect) have passed away.”

That is where the second practical purpose of death comes in. Death is the process by which we enter that perfect, eternal place. Without it, we would be stuck here. So, listen to what Jesus said, “I go and prepare a place for you and will come again and receive you to Myself... I am the way...” the way out...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Freedom in being a slave! ................ Parables 303

February 4, 1992

“There is no slave like the person who is free to do what he pleases.”

The psychiatrist who said it backs it up. He discloses that four out of ten teenagers who come to him with psychological disorders are beyond his help because “each one is demanding that the world conform to his or her personal and uncontrolled desires.”

This professional also says, “If these personality disorders persist far into adulthood, we will have a society of pleasure-driven people, hopelessly insecure and dependent.”

Hopelessly insecure and dependent. Interesting. Apparently modern psychiatry has discovered what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years — pursuing our desires does not bring security and independence but great bondage.

It is common to think true freedom means being free to do whatever we please, but experts in mental health say not, and so does Scripture. Freedom is a big topic in the Bible and yet Romans 6 reduces it to two simple choices: we can either serve God as His bondslaves, or serve ourselves and be in bondage to sin.

For most, that is illogical. Again, freedom seemingly means being able to do what we want, when we want, with no restrictions. Of course slavery would then mean being in bondage to the dictates of someone else; and if that someone else is a holy deity that demands goodness, how can being good all the time equate to freedom? Those who think that way abandon obedience to God to pursue their own desires, usually without giving thought to the consequences.

Scripture offers some spiritual insights regarding this kind of thinking. First, Proverbs 14:12 warns there is a way that seems right... but the end of it is death. Like the psychiatrist said, those who go the way that seems right are eventually very insecure. The Bible says they are destroyed.

Also, Romans 3 says there are “none who seek after God, they have all turned aside... and become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one... destruction and misery are in their ways...” Again, the conclusion of the psychiatrist is the same as that of the Word of God: there is no slave like the person free to do as they please... because what they please is so self-destructive.

Secondly, Isaiah 53:6 says “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquities of us all.” According to Isaiah, simply turning from God to do our own thing is the very definition of sin, and the reason Jesus was crucified.

Author Oscar Wilde, not a Christian, made this confession: “The gods have given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease... tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.”

What Wilde tragically never discovered was that God treats His slaves far better than sin does. In fact, Jesus said: “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

God’s amazing healing power ................ Parables 302

January 28, 1992

A year or more ago, I wrote about a bomb being dropped in my life and about God whispering in my ear assurance that in this I would be a winner.

For those who know me and the nature of that bomb, your prayers have gone heavenward and been answered more abundantly than imaginable. For those who do not know anything about it but may have wondered, I just want to affirm how God can not only overthrow evil but even make it work for His purposes.

What seemed in the beginning the worst that could happen has resulted in indescribable blessing. Several lives have been radically altered. Relationships have been given a vitality that none could have expected. Family members have been drastically affected: two of them so much so that I can only feel awe about my God who has done such great things.

He has worked in my own heart too, revealing needs and then meeting them, bringing to my consciousness wrong attitudes I was not aware of and (as I confessed them as sin) transforming my thinking.

As a result, I have an understanding of the saving and healing power of God that is beyond anything previously imagined and have been able to share more deeply in the lives of others, ministering to their hurts with far greater compassion.

Romans 8:28, my life-stay for many years, promises, “God works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Again, God proves Himself faithful beyond any doubt. He uses even evil for good, that is, the good of transforming His children into the image of His Son.

We live in a sin-sick world full of selfish people whose only desire is to get what they want, regardless of who they hurt. However, sin and selfishness result in twisted, broken lives, ruined relationships, demolished and impoverished spirits. The schemes of foolish people do not produce the peace, security and true joy they seek. Only God’s way can result in such enjoyment; selfish, sinful living will never do it.

The desire of God is to bless His people but it takes us a long time to learn that His way is the way of the Cross. That is, it is by dying to our selfish desires that He gives beyond our wildest dreams.

You see, even Jesus Himself went through a “bomb” experience. Who would have thought that God could work good out of a frame-up and a crucifixion — but it was by these very evils that the Lord worked the very highest good. With death’s violent explosion, He secured eternal life for all who believe.

Along with the Apostle Paul, I too say, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32). For me, the “all things” have included a blasting away of the power of evil — replaced with His life, His renewal, His peace, and His incredible healing.

Romans 8 also says nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword... not even bombs! In fact, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

The love of God makes bombs into balms — healing right on the heels of hurt, and restoration right in the midst of destruction. So my thanks to the Lord for you who prayed. Our God is an awesome God.

Friday, July 17, 2015

In the kitchen with Jesus ................ Parables 301

January 21, 1992

Some kitchens, no matter their size, are not big enough for two cooks. I can remember when I was a young mother and had to share a kitchen with my mother. We did not agree on anything. She wanted the appliances in one cupboard, their cords in another. I thought the mixer, cords, beaters and bowls should all be together... and on it went.

Far from being a 20th Century North American phenomena, when Jesus and his disciples were invited for dinner, Mary and Martha’s kitchen shrank too! Luke tells the story in chapter 10. Apparently both were making lunch but Mary decided to leave the pots and pans and wander into the living room. Martha was furious. She called Jesus and told Him to make her sister come and help her. (Note, although she appealed to the highest authority, she was telling Him what to do.)

Jesus’ response was not what she expected: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The details of the incident are left to our imaginations. Knowing women, it may be that Mary noticed these men were far more occupied with theological truth than culinary skills so she voted for quick nourishment, perhaps peanut butter sandwiches. But Martha wanted roast turkey and all the trimmings. She wouldn’t hear of feeding sandwiches to the Son of God. Besides, what would He think of her if she didn’t put out her best spread?

Obviously Mary wasn’t trying to impress Jesus with her cooking. Other passages about her reveal that she was the only one who realized He would not be with them much longer. Perhaps she felt an urgency to know more about Him and more about how to live as one who trusted Him. Perhaps she knew neither big meals nor any other personal accomplishment would improve her standing with Him. Perhaps she realized she needed Him to make an impression on her — the impression of His righteous image stamped deep on her life.

Martha seemed to have different desires and certainly different priorities. While it may have appeared a good thing to be busy with “much serving” and a natural thing to be distressed about Mary’s choice, Jesus’ gentle rebuke shows that something was wrong.

Martha’s anxiety was a clue. What was important here: how she looked (based on how she cooked) or calmly trusting His acceptance — based on His love, not her service? On the other hand, Mary already knew that Jesus saw right through her. Nothing she could accomplish would change what He saw. Only HE could make her acceptable.

Mary choose the “good part,” to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He had to say. I’m sure she discovered many new things about herself. Some of them may have made her uncomfortable, even filled with shame, as Martha no doubt eventually felt after the rebuke. But Mary came to Him anyway. She knew His Words healed and He would forgive her if she trusted Him and confessed her sinfulness.

The story of Martha and Mary is not an excuse for we who cook or share a kitchen to abandon our culinary responsibilities and read the Bible all day. Instead, it is a challenge to take inventory. Do outer activities fill our life so we have no time for Jesus? Do we ever stop to ask if we are trying to impress Almighty God? Do we claim to serve Christ yet find ourselves full of anxieties... and resenting others who are not working as hard? Do we even complain to God and insist He do something about them?

In other words, turkey may rate higher than peanut butter in our list of what is important, but where does time with Jesus fit in?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

You cannot out-give God .............. Parables 300

January 14, 1992

The propane tank rental was due but I didn’t have the $50 necessary to avert repossession. I had been struggling to earn a living sewing and selling wildlife paintings so I could stay home to support my two small children. It was in this narrow place, a new Christian alone against threatening poverty, that God taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Prior to the propane tank crisis, I had realized my sinfulness and came to the Lord in humiliation. Mortified by some of the things I had done, I had a deep desire to please Him but I knew I could not earn eternal life — that is a gift. Grateful for it, along with the forgiveness He offered, I sought to become all He wanted and intended I should be.

He showed me His promise regarding the daily concerns of life: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. These things referred to food, clothing and other needs (not greeds). At that point, my luxuries were in a rather barren fridge, hanging in an nearly empty closet, and sitting out in the yard in a bullet-shaped silver fuel tank.

At this point, I’d not looked around and noticed there were other people prospering while I was not. Had I done that, I may have been angry at God and needed to read Psalms 37: “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way... for evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.”

Nevertheless, verse 16 of that Psalm was a truth God wanted me to learn: “The little that a righteous person has is better than the riches of many wicked.” I was learning to appreciate the simple necessities. Even though my meager income only allowed $7 a week for groceries, God saw fit to fill my freezer through the generosity of others who knew Him. He showed me I did not need to “be ashamed in the evil time, And in the days of famine I would be satisfied” (Psalms 37:19).

In the years since those tough early days of my Christian walk, I have seldom if ever worried about having enough. God taught that lesson well — and honored His promises. My husband was deeply in debt when we were married but we paid off that debt, by the grace of God. Later, when he became a Christian, God taught Him that if he would trust the Lord and be generous with what God had given, God would continue to meet every need. We have learned that we cannot out-give God. Whatever we do to help out someone in need, God pours in the supply.

Sometimes I have wondered if this abundance will last... and God always takes me back to the lesson. He supplies all our NEEDS, according to His riches. With the Psalmist, I can say, “I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread” (37:25).

The principle of Matthew 6:33 is simple: As His children seek Him (not wealth), and seek His righteousness (not some exalted human goodness but the goodness that comes from a deep relationship with Jesus Christ), He will take care of all our needs (again, not greeds).

The propane tank? Shortly after the bill arrived so did a letter from a woman I had never met. She wanted me to paint a portrait of her dog and cat. Not an unusual request but what she included with her order was very unusual. It has never happened before or since. She sent what she thought would be an appropriate payment — in advance! The amount was $52.50, enough for the pressing needs  — the tank rental, and a canvas on which to put the paint! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

A New Thing .............. Parables 299

January 7, 1992

A farmer in the Moose Jaw area has invented a new type of rod weeder. He says it will do in three days what once took sixteen with older equipment. Whether or not his boast is accurate, he won’t go back to outmoded methods. He spent half his life doing things that maybe worked but now he has discovered a better way and no one is going to convince him to change and go back.

Human beings are inventive sorts. Some say necessity is inventions’s mother but sometimes new things are given birth by our desire to work quicker, easier, or cheaper. Perhaps a longing for beauty tugs at our coattails and we paint pictures, embroider pillows and write poetry. Whatever the reasons behind our inventions, much of that creative ability was built in when the Creator God invented male and female in His own image.

Genesis was not the end of God’s invention of new things, however. When a few Israelite men rebelled against Him, “...the LORD created a new thing — the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up... they went down alive into the pit...” While onlookers gaped in terror, God used the first earthquake to demonstrate the seriousness of sin. Did this new invention do the trick?

No. While the earthquake judgment did rid the nation of some rebels, it did not bring the children of God into submission. It was set aside for another method, an inventive idea also called a new thing, a “road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). This was figurative language for a promise of a way out of their difficulties, a promise of mercy.

Like children who are first spanked, then hugged, the Israelites enjoyed the hugs far more than the earthquakes, but they still rebelled against their Father. One would wonder why God did not go back to the former plan and just open the earth and swallow them up, but mercy won over judgment. He unfolded still another plan, another new thing.

Earthquakes nor even God’s promise had no effect on sinful people so He fashioned a saving device whereby rebellious hearts could be changed. He knew we ourselves could not change, even if we wanted to. But He could make us new. Coming in a cradle, culminating in a Cross, this new thing — God in human flesh — was the invention par excellence, God’s coup de grace. What the law could not do, what judgment and wrath could not do, what promises of mercy could not do — the Son of God did. All who desire a new thing may put their faith in Him and, by the power of God, “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (Corinthians 5:17).

Like the farmer and his new weeder, there is no reverting back. Those who are under grace never need to fear the wrath of God because all the condemnation we deserved was taken at the Cross. Jesus bore the penalty of sin for us. He warns us “not turn back to folly,” but the same verse promises He “will speak peace To His people and to His saints.”

There is danger for those who think that because God is not opening the ground and swallowing up sinners they can continue in sin and never face His wrath. However, John 3:36 says those “... who do not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Certainly the expression of His full wrath is withheld for now — He is not willing that any should perish. But someday His wrath will be revealed from heaven (Romans 1) and be poured out upon the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6) who will be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.”

It will come when people are so accustomed to the mercy of God that they will think wrath is a “new thing”... really it is not — it is simply what a Holy God should have done about our sin all along.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Abundant Gifts for You .............. Parables 298

December 24, 1991

For many, this is the happiest time of year. Family gathers and warm memories are shared. Happy celebrations around the piano singing, around the table laughing. Gifts opened and squeals of delight echo through the house and Christmas is a time of abundance.

For some, this is the saddest time of year. Perhaps memories are not heart-warming; a Christmas past brought heartache. Perhaps celebrations are not happy; a family member is addicted to spirits of a chemical variety. Perhaps gift-giving brings no joy; hard times or foolish spending robbed the children of their toys. And those who yearn for an abundant Christmas spend it in physical, mental and emotional poverty.

The occasion is the birth of Christ (remember?) and the party is in His honor. Will the fact that the party has been ruined a few times destroy forever that abundance longed for and yet seemingly so out of reach? Or does the Christ child, now a resurrected and exalted King, still have a gift unopened for you?

For those who mourn and cannot applaud His birth, Jesus reaches out across time, across a million scarred and ruined holidays and cries, “This thief came to steal and kill and destroy... but I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.”

Abundant life. Anyone who searches the Word of God looking for more presents, a bigger tree, a nicer car, a larger wardrobe, a fancier house, will not find that kind of abundance. Jesus says anything that rots, mildews, or rusts is not worthy of our Christmas list. He has far more valuable treasures in His “santa sack”.

The first parcel is labeled “PARDON.” He offers it with this word: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him... for He will abundantly pardon.” The gift tag is made out “To __________”, so whoever wants this parcel can fill in their name and help themselves.

The second gift is labeled “RENEWAL.” This abundance is for those whose lives have been scarred by their own foolishness, at Christmas time and otherwise. When they fill out the tag on the first gift, this is what they receive: “...not by your good works, but according to His mercy He saves you, through washing you with new life and renewing you by the Holy Spirit... whom He poured out on you abundantly through Jesus Christ your Savior.” This Gift-giver trades His New Life for your old memories.

The next parcel is labeled “SATISFACTION” for He knows we need more than tinsel and glitter. “They (those who receive the first two parcels) are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of His house, and He gives them drink from the river of His pleasures.”

Whether the tree be buried under a great mound of worldly treasures or barren as a greedy man’s heart, the Lord’s gift of satisfaction doesn’t depend on cash flow. Furthermore, it also is free!

Is there any more? Yes, for those memories and miseries that threaten joy all year round, He offers still more surprise-packages. But these have no label and no one knows what is in them until they help themselves. Here is their promise: “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us....”

Whatever we ask for, whatever we can imagine that would make Christmas and all of life wonderful... He is able to do more, exceedingly abundantly more. And as we turn away from our rotting, rusting treasure and allow Him to give us His gifts, we find the last and most lasting parcel there for us.

It is called “HOPE,”the promise of “an entrance supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

With that, He vows someday the celebration will be totally without tears. For now, we can bring the sorrows of our celebrations to Jesus and let Him turn every one into abundance.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Golfing and Grace .............. Parables 297

December 17, 1991

The fourteenth hole at Hillside Golf Club has a creek meandering through, first in front of an elevated tee box, then along the right side and back across the fairway just before the green. For some reason, my golf balls always think they are ducks when we play the fourteenth hole.

That fourteenth hole confirms the golf pros who tell me that this is a game of concentration. Obviously one has to ignore the water and concentrate on where the golf ball should go, but after a few direct hits into the drink, it is tough to put that hazard out of your mind, even while taking aim at something a little less liquid. Personally, the harder I try to not think about the water, the more my ball is apt to head straight for it.

The first time we played that hole, my husband laughed with me as my ball sailed into the creek. Then he hit two in a row — both splashing in the same spot — right in front of a mallard duck. After a few more rounds on the back nine, it didn’t take a calculator to figure that our golf ball budget would last longer if we just skipped the fourteenth.

However, avoiding the tough holes will not improve my aim. Nor will wishful thinking do anything for my back swing. Concentrated effort and continual practice are necessary. Even at that, I’ll never be a golf pro.

Sometimes I feel the same about the flaws in my character as I do about my performance at the fourteenth hole. If certain situations could be avoided, maybe no one would notice those shortcomings, but life is not like that. Even on the golf course, you wind up running over other people to get around the parts you don’t like. So I must find another solution.

In golf, the best answer is hours at the driving range, yet for players like me, there is no guarantee that the next time I swing my driver, the ball will go where I want it to. Thank God, His remedy is a little different for character flaws.

Instead of trying to change myself, God promises to get me to my goal if I will only just LOOK and keep on LOOKING at the target. Since flawless character is the goal, of course that target is Jesus Christ. He is the “bull’s eye,” the perfect mark, the total hope and aspiration of anyone trying to live to please God.

Obviously, we must rely on God’s power to become like Him. Our part includes complete commitment, refusing to be like we once were yet allowing Him to renew our minds and change our lives (Romans 12:1,2). Key to change is total honesty before Him, not hiding our sin or pretending to be what we are not. (That would be like trying to hide a hook or slice — what a joke!)

And here is where the lesson of the fourteenth hole comes in: we must concentrate on the target... because He promises that when we do, we will be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory... by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That does not mean it is easy. Just try thinking about God for 60 seconds without losing concentration. Distractions easily draw away our attention and our aim, and we find ourselves hitting something far less than the perfect target of Christlikeness. If it were not for His grace, I’m sure none would ever come even remotely close.

Someone once told me it was better to aim at the stars and hit the woodpile, than to aim at the woodpile and hit your foot. It doesn’t work in golf. Aiming at the pin and hitting the water is not any better than aiming at the water and hitting the water. But aim is important in ironing out those flaws. When Jesus is the target, whatever I hit is an improvement over how I would live without Him.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Establishing good habits .............. Parables 296

December 10, 1991

Is it ever difficult to start an exercise program in December after giving it up in late September. All summer and on into fall my husband and I biked, fished and played golf, but after the cold weather came, it is so nice to curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book. Who wants to exercise!

But before long, we notice the effects. Stiff joints and aching muscles, not being able to bend as easily as this summer — all add up to one conclusion — use it or lose it. So we strive at slim and trim.

Actually, the principle is the same in our spiritual lives. We have to decide how we will live and then work at it — or we rapidly get flabby. Yet making the choice is only the first step, and by far the easiest one! Doing it is the difficult part. Some persistent bad habits just continually hang us up; we can’t seem to get the habits established. Godliness, like fitness, must be continually worked at or it definitely eludes us.

Not only that, stubborn bad habits make us feel helpless. Sometimes those wrong things seem to take over and almost become obsessions with us. We can even assume our lives are out of control and there is nothing we can do to change. After all, we try so hard to say “no” to that sin, to simply stop doing it, but in spite of good intentions, we seem such slaves to it.

But is that biblical thinking? Is it possible to be out of control? Perhaps the real problem is simply focusing on the wrong issue. God tells us what we are supposed to DO as well as what we are to stop doing. He wants us to take our focus off the negatives... by doing the positives. For instance, God says tell the truth; don’t lie. Love our spouse; don’t be unfaithful. Work with our hands; don’t steal. Give thanks to Him; don’t jest or talk filthy. Love our enemies; don’t seek revenge.

So when sinful habits seem out of control, this is where the use-it-or-lose-it principle comes in. We need to ask God to help us concentrate on the DO’S. It is only by spending our energy there do we have any hope of victory over the DO NOT’S. In fact, like unused muscles, bad habits can atrophy — simply die — from lack of exercise.

It works the opposite way too. Those who refuses to tell the truth find lying easier and easier. After a time, their capacity to tell the truth becomes atrophied and lying develops strength to control their life. In the same way, anyone who refuses to love their spouse finds straying easier and easier. The capacity to love becomes atrophied — and marital treachery develops a strength that controls their life. Most compulsive or obsessive behavior is the same.

In contrast, a commitment to God calls for the exercise of godly virtues such as love, truth and faithfulness. As these things develop, sinful habits begin to wither up and lose their strength to govern our lives. They also lose their importance because the new habit is so rich and rewarding there is no desire or appetite for the old.

Simply put, God will help us overcome dominating sinful patterns by urging us to give extra-special attention to that sin’s opposite behavior. He says “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil by doing good.”

Of course sinful attitudes and actions cannot be completely ignored, denied or repressed. They must be confessed and forsaken as we use the new nature we have been given to prevent spiritual atrophy.

Yes, getting on the exercise bike takes much determination. My muscles ache and protest. Yet the resulting strength and endurance will be worth it, and a good reminder that the habit of obedience makes more obedience a little easier. With that gain, sin atrophies and loses much of its appeal.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Making Plans .............. Parables 295

November 26, 1991

Last week’s mail brought a new catalog full of planning calendars designed especially for people with so many business appointments and activities they cannot keep track of them any other way. For a fee, one day, one week, or one month can be seen at a glance or at the turn of a page.

Personally, I find these calendars terrific for a homemaker-student-writer too. No matter how little or how much is on my agenda, it is far easier to remember if it is written in my book instead of stored somewhere in my brain. Besides, if most of my “plan-to” items are not committed to paper but merely left to good intentions, they somehow never get accomplished. Planning to do them – and writing down the plan – makes the thing somewhat more certain.

However, the Bible has a thing or two to say about planning. One statement goes something like this: “Hey, you people who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,’ don’t you realize you have no idea what will happen tomorrow...?’”

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote that. Was he suggesting that Christians should never make any plans? After all, if we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, why plan?

If that is what James means, I’m in trouble. One of my college classes is Principles of Administration and I have a major assignment due next week. It requires that I make a Five-Year Plan for my life. I must use a chart of some sort, base it on a purpose statement, outline various objectives, add goals for reaching those objectives, and include standards by which I can measure whether or not the plan is carried out. This assignment is a challenge. I have spent the past year essentially living one day at a time. Now I MUST think ahead, and in detail.

First, I need to settle the issue James raises about planning. The rest of the passage says “our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away,” like a puff of smoke. In other words, most of us are relatively insignificant in the overall scheme of things, at least as far as our own plans go. I might go somewhere, buy, sell, and make a profit, but when measured by God in light of eternity, plans that are designed to profit only me are really not very important – at least not for long and not to anyone else but me.

James then adds; “Instead (of making your own plans) you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’”

James is not putting down buying, selling, or make a profit... he is just pointing out that if God says to do otherwise, we are foolish to make such plans. He says ignoring His will in favor of our own is “boasting in arrogance and all such boasting is evil” (verse 16).

So what can I include in my five-year plan that will not put me out of the will of God? James gives a final clue in verse 17: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

James says acts of goodness must be included in the plan. I already know WHY they must be planned: unless I think ahead and prepare to do unselfish things for others, my schedule will rapidly fill up with activity designed for me, for my profit only. Unselfish goodness is left out, also vanishing like a puff of smoke.

So my professor in Principles of Administration is wise. He did not misinterpret James. Instead, he has thought of a way to help those who take his class to make the first step towards godly living – planning it in advance.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Can’t understand the Bible? .............. Parables 294

November 19, 1991

“The Bible? It’s just a book... it doesn’t do anything for me... I’ve read it and it doesn’t make sense. Even the parts I do understand don’t seem relevant for my life.”

Ever feel like that? Then try this: make a list of all the things you qualify for, such as Workman’s compensation, Family Allowance, Social Assistance, Retirement Pension, singing in operas, performing brain surgery, writing a book in Gaelic, becoming president of Peru, paying child’s fare for a bus ride, owning property, feeling warm sunshine on your face, drinking clear water, making a baby smile, signing your name, hearing a sparrow chirp, feeling the cool fall air, the Bible...

No kidding, a person has to be qualified for understanding the Bible; and not everyone is eligible, but anyone can be!

Before assuming you go off and join a church or go to a seminary, that’s not it. The qualifications are related to a covenant or contract or an agreement – made in two parts called the Old Testament and the New. It is between God and all those who put their trust in Him.

That partly explains why some people see nothing for themselves in the Bible. Without faith in God, the Bible is not particularly addressed to them. They are not participants in the covenant. They just don’t qualify.

Furthermore, note what the Apostle Paul says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be mature, thoroughly equipped to do good works.” Notice again, the Bible is not given to just anyone or is it profitable to just anyone.

But does a person have to trust Jesus Christ and become a man (or woman) of God before getting something out of Scripture? Of course not. If that was the case, no one would ever have biblical faith. “Faith comes by hearing... the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). People without faith and without a covenant relationship can receive faith only through hearing His Word. (The word “hearing” means listening with the intention of acting upon what is heard.)

So to really qualify for getting something out of the Bible, one must trust in God, become a man (or woman) of God, and read it with a view to obeying it. Then God will give understanding. Mind you, this is a progressive thing. It begins small and grows as one obeys. After all, God is not obligated to reveal more truth to those who reject what they already know.

Lest that seems unusual, we could think of it this way: because of our general rebellious attitude towards God and our persistence in running our own life apart from His direction, there is little reason why He should allow anyone to understand this timeless book. Our sin not only blinds our minds to spiritual realities written therein, but it also disqualifies us from the privilege of communing with the One who authored it.

But God shows mercy. Anyone who comes honestly to His Word, however unenlightened, will find Him faithful to help them be qualified to understand it. In other words, the person without a relationship with Him can ask for it; the person looking for faith or truth can admit their lack and ask for it; and those whose lives are full of disobedience can also ask – and be forgiven.

Qualifying for financial assistance, positions of prominence, special privileges – all those things may be important, but when anyone is qualified by the grace of God to interact with Him through reading and understanding His special covenant, they ought to feel deeply honored and deeply humbled. Such a qualification is indeed a blessing and a privilege.