Monday, February 29, 2016

The logic of discipline ............. Parables 399

December 7, 1993

“I can’t figure out why I have to sit in here and rot. This is a unfair and a waste. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The fellow who said this was an inmate in a prison. He had committed a crime and received the death penalty. Since the appeal process can take years, his sentence had not been implemented. He was bored and grumbling. We listened to him on a television documentary that featured interviews with several men in prison. A few of them were quite sorry for what they had done. They knew they deserved their penalty, even some who were on death row. As we watched, I wondered about their attitudes. How can someone kill another person and think their punishment, whatever it might be, is unjust? What kind of mental attitude is behind their complaints? Why would anyone think they should not be disciplined?

One of the wisest men in the world, King Solomon, noticed a truth relevant to these attitudes. He said, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

Solomon was not thinking about the long wait for retrials and appeals. Rather, he referred to the time between the crime and the punishment. It could have been that people were not being caught for their crimes, or they were caught but not punished as the law demanded. In any case, the punishment was supposed to be a deterrent and when it did not happen, those who were guilty were reinforced in the idea that they could commit more crime and get away with it.

When discipline is eventually enforced, such a criminal would hate it and the punishment would not serve its purpose: that of correcting their behavior. In fact, Solomon also wrote: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

The word “stupid” has some unfair implications in our minds so I checked out the Hebrew word it was translated from. It means “brutish” as a beast, probably contrasting an animal’s inability to reason with our ability to think logically. In so many words, the proverb mean a person who hates being corrected is without the ability to reason. To that person, cause and effect do not make any sense and being punished for what they do is irrational.

What about those who commit crimes and never get caught? Have they any advantage? Certainly they do not go through the agonies of being corrected or punished, but Solomon didn’t think these people had any advantage. He said further in Ecclesiastes 8, “Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.”

Certainly living longer in this life is not the point. Those who reason that being corrected is “unfair” and receiving discipline is a “waste” have illogically assumed that getting away with crime, sin, or even error, will make their life better than it would be if they were experiencing the blessing of God.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Why all the evil? ............. Parables 398

November 30, 1993
Remember the question Gordon Sinclair often asked guests on Front Page Challenge: “If there is a good God, why does He allow so much evil in the world?”

Some viewers were annoyed with him, but this is a legitimate question. After all, the Bible says God is not only loving and merciful but all powerful. Since there is nothing impossible for Him, why do people suffer? Why do we have wars and accidents and illnesses? Why does He let criminals victimize innocent people? Doesn’t God care?

The guests on Front Page Challenge had various responses. One pastor even asked Mr. Sinclair another question: if God were not “good,” why do we call anything evil? In other words, the standard we have for goodness is based on God’s standards. He says love is good, kindness is good, justice is good, so we also call them good. Some might think human beings know goodness instinctively (God also gave us a conscience), but there are people-groups in the world who think it is “good” to betray someone or “good” to kill female children.

Certainly that pastor’s response argued for the existence of a good God, but it does not answer why He allows evil. A better answer might be a cartoon I saw somewhere. It pictured a man on his knees with hands stretched up toward the sky. He says, “Oh God, why do you allow so much evil in the world?”

The next frame shows the answer booming down from heaven: “I might ask you the same thing.”

Why insist the fault lies with God? He did give dominion of the earth to people and if people fail to choose goodness (even just the goodness they know), then people are responsible for the lack of good that exists.

That answer is difficult too. Most of us do not like the idea of being responsible for evil, particularly if there is any suggestion that as victims we brought it on ourselves. However, is that what the cartoon intends?

Try this; God has determined certain cause/effect relationships. Those who make poor choices find out they were poor by the results. For instance, His people were drifting into idol worship so He told them, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (Isaiah 1:19-20).

Clearly, there would be consequences for either choice. If the people obeyed God, their lives would go much easier than if they did not. He did not promise a rose garden but they could avoid certain thorns.

Think what life would be like if God didn’t permit those consequences. Can we even imagine such a world where people could do whatever they liked and no one would suffer? God would have to intervene in every detail to avert the suffering. For instance, if I didn’t feel like making supper, God must miraculously make it instead or my family would suffer. If a gangster felt like robbing a store, God would have to construct more money so the owners would not suffer any loss.

In that kind of world, where God undid bad, would anyone ever obey Him and do good? Would anyone ever be encouraged to make unselfish choices? Would anyone turn to Jesus for forgiveness and the power to defeat sin?

Perhaps our concept of a “good” God needs to allow Him the freedom of when to “fix” our mistakes. Otherwise, we might never quit making them, nor have the desire to repent so that He can change our lives.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The surprising best way to learn ............. Parables 397

November 23, 1993

I thought I was back in high school for a minute when I heard some seminary students muttering, “Why do I have to learn this stuff anyway?”

By the time someone gets into graduate school (and in my case, it has been a long time), it’s assumed they know why certain courses are necessary; after all, this is supposedly preparation for a career. They have already selected what school to attend and sifted from the course catalog everything that does not fit into their plans.

So why the complaints? One student explained, “I’m doing this because I need the piece of paper, but it is not the best way to learn. In fact, I learn far more when I am involved in my local church.”

My curiosity aroused, I decided to look up what the Bible says about the best way to learn and came up with some startling information.

Aside from a few references to learning by asking questions or by observing others in action, almost every passage about learning had nothing to do with putting one’s nose in a book. In fact the only one that came close was John 7:15. Here, the Jews were amazed at the wisdom of Jesus and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”

The rest of the passages about learning clearly linked two things together, hearing and doing. There was no time gap between the two either. In fact, the evidence indicates that if too much time lapses after hearing, the “learner” is actually considered disobedient to the “lesson” because “doing” is part of it.

When Jesus gave his disciples discourses about things they needed to know, very often they didn’t understand Him. He constantly chided them for being slow to hear. However, the lessons where Jesus showed them by His example what they were supposed to do, then sent them out on their own to do it, were different. After those training sessions, the Twelve were excited about what they had “learned.”

A related passage from Hebrews 5 says: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food.... But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

Slow learning does not necessarily indicate slow minds. These people didn’t learn because they simply failed in the business of “constant use.” They neglected to “do” what they learned.

Certainly there are some subjects (like history) that would be difficult to learn by doing. However, the simple reading of textbooks or hearing of lectures is not the best way to learn. The words so easily go through our heads without making any difference in our lives.

In contrast, imagine a school where the teachers made every lesson a “field trip” in which students were given opportunities to actually put the lesson into practice. Quantity of learning may go down but quality would make up the difference.

A final biblical way of learning is by undesirable consequences. Because those lessons are never forgotten, that kind of learning is better than theory. We call it learning the hard way. But if learning an easy way is possible, it has to include doing the lesson, not just hearing it.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Perfect Book about a Perfect God ............. Parables 396

November 16, 1993

A few weeks ago, I dreamed I played a perfect round of golf. If you saw my swing, you would know this had to be a dream!

When awake, I hit the ball just right a few times a game. This dream just happened to be an entire sequence of just right hits — for 18 holes. Of course the last one was a hole-in-one and I won the tournament. I told you it was a dream. In real life, I make too many mistakes.

Part of our humanness is that we do make mistakes, but no one is hopeless. Golfers do hit an occasional good ball. Most of us do much better than that broken clock that is only correct twice a day.

I thought about my golf dream later, when someone asked me how the Bible could be written without error. They pointed out it was written by ordinary people and we make many errors. I hesitated. Was it possible for an ordinary person to hit a lucky sequence and write an error-free book about God? Not likely.

In spite of the fact it could be, that is not how the Bible was written. God wisely considered the odds and had a better plan than that. Instead of leaving it up to one chance in however many billions, God did not ask the authors of Scripture to write with their own wisdom and skills, however extraordinary they may have been.

What God did do was rather unique and the result is writing that claims to be “given by inspiration of God,” writing that “never came by the will of man but holy men of God spoke as the were moved along (or carried) by the Holy Spirit.”

Breaking that down, “inspiration” is used in the Bible quite differently than we used it. We are “inspired” when we are filled with an emotional or zealous motivation that stimulates our creativity. But this verse explains the Bible writers were not “inspired” at all; it is the words of God that were given by inspiration. A better way to say it is: “All Scripture is God-breathed....”

As God breathed out a revelation of Himself, holy men wrote down what He caused them to understand. That they were holy is important since sin separates us from God and prevents us from really understanding Him accurately. These holy men were committed to live in obedience to Him, and were open to receive His revelation.

Sounds good, but a there are several people in our generation who make the same claim to hearing God speak. People rightly wonder if “holy men” have a greater claim to an error-free understanding of God than anyone else. Does the Bible really contain the words God wanted them to say?

The various religions and cultic groups who claim their writings are also “from God” can usually be examined. None of them claim a Savior who died and rose again, and if they do, there is no historical evidence to back their claim. The Bible’s contents are unique.

Further, the teaching of other religious writings often contradicts itself, or it endorses behavior that is decidedly ungodly by anyone’s standards. If those tests are not conclusive, further proof is often seen in the lives of those who follow these “revelations.” Certainly, if any of them end by mass suicide or they continue in harming themselves and others, whoever wrote them does not have the same God-concept as most would accept, certainly not the one presented in the Bible.

Perhaps the best way to ascertain the validity of Scripture is by reading it from the perspective it claims: as a record of what God says about Himself. Then, if God does not match the reader’s expectations, each reader must decide for himself who is making the error.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Spiritual Laws are as certain as Scientific Principles ............. Parables 395

November 9, 1993

Sometimes the way nations try to govern themselves remind me of trying to fall up a tree, or out of a well. Could communist Russia put water in a pan on a hot stove and produce ice cubes? Could atheist Yugoslavia boil water and make it increase in volume, not evaporate?

Scientific laws are more reliable than that. The sun will rise tomorrow. (To be more correct, the earth should keep turning so our part of it faces the sun sometime in the next 24 hours.) Certain birds will fly south for the winter. Snow will melt in the spring. The force of gravity holds things to the earth. We can even expect mixtures of specific chemicals to explode when heated, or turn into a tasty cake, depending on the combinations.

Our world operates on scientific laws, yet other laws are necessary to our well-being, even to our survival. These are laws related to life-principles and moral values. They are as critical for human life as the law of gravity.

Some examples might include: lazy hands make a man poor; wisdom is found in those who take advice; failure to love others makes a person lonely.

Some people do try to bend them or operate without them. A lazy man may even win a lottery or inherit a fortune, and those who ignore wise advice might succeed for a little while. Even selfish, unloving people could have loyal friends, but for the most part, certain life principles are directly connected to quality of life. They make a difference.

It is the same with morals. The person who insists on an immoral lifestyle eventually finds themselves facing some kind of negative consequences. That is, the thief eventually gets caught (or lives looking over his shoulder). The murderer may lose his own life, or carry the guilt of his crime to his grave. The person who commits adultery, while he or she may not be aware of it, has lost something of their ability to properly relate to their own spouse. Anyone who gossips usually finds themselves either a victim of gossip or the recipient of a negative label.

These moral and life principles are not merely for individuals. Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”

In this verse, righteousness is talking about a principle far beyond morals or common sense axioms. Biblically, righteousness includes a right-relationship with God (gained through faith) plus a life that is lived in righteousness or in obedience to Him. Therefore, a nation whose people (in the majority) honor God, trust Him, and obey Him, is exalted. They can expect some kind of recognition and success.

However the opposite is usually more obvious: a nation characterized by sin, by rebellion against God, by lack of faith, by absence of God in the lives of their people, is seldom exalted, at least for long. Disgrace will eventually come.

Some nations receive veneration because they are founded on biblical principles and certain results can be expected. Righteousness does foster peace, happiness and productivity.

On the other hand, some nations have ignored God and godly principles. Their people fight among themselves, are unhappy (thus alcoholism, etc. is a great problem), and there is not enough of the basics like food and clothing to go around. For them, trying to be exalted without godliness is like trying to make the sun rise in the west or expecting rivers run uphill.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Problem of Injustice ............. Parables 394

November 2, 1993

A few weeks ago, in front of her own four children, a woman shot and killed another woman, apparently because the victim had insisted the first woman put out her cigarette in the non-smoking section of a restaurant.

Closer to home, a young girl from an Alberta community was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was beaten up by several other girls. Her alleged crime was expressing some sort of opinion against one of her attackers, not that day but some time previously.

These, and almost every other news story, contain an element of injustice. The innocent are abused. Con artists rip off the unsuspecting. Drunk drivers kill children. Homes are robbed and ransacked. Even people who mean well are ill-treated by spouses, children, parents, and total strangers. Life is unfair.

An elderly friend of ours repeats a platitude from one of the television religious programs: “Life is not fair... but God is good.” How would those four children react to that? Or the mourning relatives of the woman who was slain? Or the young girl whose teeth were knocked out? Does the victim ever rejoice in the fact that God is good in the face of gross injustice?

Occasionally I read some of the Old Testament prophets and find myself getting a reality-check. They not only saw things like they actually were, but bluntly told about injustices for which their readers were responsible. That includes me.

For instance, Isaiah wrote to the nation of Judah after Israel split in two. They were making idols of the gods of the nations around them but also continued with the ceremonies of worship involving the true God. Even though the contradiction seems obvious, some may have wondered why God was not listening to their cries for help. Nearby political powers threatened to conquer them, they cried to God for help, but He was not listening.

At the command of God, Isaiah told them: “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

After saying that, Isaiah listed the injustice going on around them: “Your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies.... Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways.... there is no justice in their paths....”

Isaiah did acknowledge that not everyone was like that: “We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes.... We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away.”

The problem is not that God is uncaring. God feels the same way those people did, and as many of us still do: “The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.” However, God does not hold Himself responsible for that kind of situation. He is not committing the injustices even though many people blame Him when evil people oppress them or treat them unfairly.

Isaiah goes on to talk about personal accountability and the need for each person to be right with God. If everyone took Him seriously, what would happen to the problem of injustice?

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Purpose of the Church ............. Parables 393

October 26, 1990

An editorial, clipped from The Record a few years ago, tells about a local ministerial meeting. After reviewing ideas that the group tossed around concerning joint activities, the article ends with the editor’s suggestion: instead of discussing theology or projects, they ought to get out and do something for the betterment of the community.

Obviously the church is not what a lot of people think it should be. While average non-Christians can hold higher standards for it than do most Christians, different views are sometimes more a matter of priorities and personal felt-needs.

A few people focus on the importance of drafting theological statements because doctrine is related to life; what we believe affects how we act. For that reason, an important task of the church is to make God’s truth known so as to counter the errors of sinful attitudes. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Thus, some think the church should concentrate on its message.

Others consider the primary purpose of the church is to meet practical needs by serving those who are in need. They point to Scripture such as, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others....”

A third focus is the matter of education. Parents take or send their children to Sunday school to learn about God. North American schools began through the work of the church and some private schools try to continue their tradition. Jesus invites even adults to “come and learn of me....”

Some think the church is a place for encouragement, the “refueling depot” at the end of a busy week. They want a boost to their personal progress and sense of hope. Paul wrote a local church and said, “Encourage one another and build each other up....”

Another perspective on the purpose of the church is gathering money and other material necessities for the poor and needy. Paul commended the church at Corinth for excelling in faith, speech, knowledge, complete earnestness and love, then added they “also excel in this grace of giving.” Thus, because of the inequalities of life, the church is supposed to share.

One more focus people take is related to organization. For the church, this is an internal matter (church affairs need to be organized) but it is also important to the church’s reputation in the community. Regardless of the many other things that churches might do, if they are done in chaotic, disorganized fashion, they will not be honoring to God. The Bible says “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”

Perhaps the most important perceived and valid function of the church is the expression of compassion. Whatever else Christians do, this is the one thing that is expected of us, both from outsiders and from within. Life hurts; most people need personal and emotional support at some time or other. We readily admit social service programs cannot heal our hurts but much of the time we fail to understand that proclamation, having our practical needs met, teaching, many forms of encouragement, money, and organization do not do it either.

Perhaps that is why some think the church is irrelevant; doing good things but not the right things, at least not the right things in the minds of those who have written it off. All of us need to take another look at the list. The capacity to do, and to benefit from, all these functions is there, in the church.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where did the idea of God come from? ............. Parables 392

October 19, 1990

Have you seen the marvelous mouthwash commercial featuring a rooster who takes a swig, swishes it around, gargles, then breaks into song? What a delightful example of our incredible capacity to create. We see more of it everywhere, in art galleries, book stores, advertising, every place human hands have touched.

With this remarkable creative capacity, some conclude the idea of God is another one of our inventions. With that suggestion, some definitions are in order. First, which god is meant?

Some have observed there seems to be a force in the universe that permeates all and holds all things together. Plato and Socrates articulated this vague concept. Some have called it “god”.

Another “god” has been defined as an extension of a universal force that permeates the soul and being of all men, the so-called god-within. By this explanation, Shirley McLean claims there is a “god”, even that she is herself “god”, as do many others who embrace the religion of the New Age.

These are two concepts conceived by creative thinkers who may possibly be trying to understand a Something that they are certain exists. For them, it appears there is a god but the nature of its identity is impersonal and open to interpretation. In other words, “god” is up to human definition.

On the other hand, Christians believe there is a Being called God who created us in His image. Because of that, we have this capacity to create other things. We believe if God is someone man created, then man is god, and God amounts to little more than nothing.

Far from nothing, our understanding of God includes a universal force, that is He is infinite and omnipotent; His power pervades all of the cosmos, but He is more than a force. We know that is true because He did not leave us guessing about His nature; He revealed Himself, an element that makes Him different from man-created gods.

Why would man invent a god like this God? If we are that inventive, why not create something that is tangible, something we can see as well as worship, something that can be proven, and dissected and completely understood in any human language?

Looking at it rationally, how could we invent someone that is all we are not? We create based on what we know, observe and experience with our senses. While we may imagine things we have never seen, like roosters gargling mouthwash, we have seen roosters and we know about gargling mouthwash.

The God of the Bible is all that we are not. He is omnipotent or all-powerful. He says, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) There are too many impossibilities in my world to imagine or invent a Being who is thwarted by none of them.

This God is also omnipresent, everywhere at once. The psalmist said, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” He is that because He is, as Jesus said, Spirit. We cannot imagine that. We can imagine a ghost roughly shaped like a human being but we cannot envision Someone who occupies all space yet is not any of the things in that space, never mind an omnipresent God who is also personal. He has no head, no feet, yet He loves us. How could we make up something like that?

God is also omniscience, or all-knowing. The psalmist wrote, “O LORD, you have searched me, and you know me. You know when I sit and when rise; you perceive my thought from afar.... You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely.... Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Crash go the idols ............. Parables 391

October 12, 1990

Fans easily make idols of movie stars and sports personalities; they meet an inner desire for heroes, they seem so perfect. Of course, holding them in reverence lasts about as long as they stay in the spotlight. Should a hockey player stop scoring goals, even for a game or two, or should a star fail to shine, fans begin booing instead of cheering.

Other things can be treated like idols also, particularly if they seem to meet genuine needs. Some people-groups honor images of supposed gods with the assumption these influence their prosperity. North Americans, while more sophisticated, tend to put whatever gives a sense of security and well-being into idol-status too, whether it be jobs, houses, cars, or friends.

Sometimes people even idolize institutions and their leaders. For instance, those who went through the Great Depression of the 1930's saw political and social organizations rise to stardom. Through them, economic prosperity was restored, then improved. During boom years, people began to trust governments and business to take care of meeting their needs.

It is becoming increasingly apparent these stars are falling. Business, political and social institutions (including all their programs and the people who lead them) are no longer able to keep us in the comfort which we have enjoyed. Instead we suffer cut-backs, high taxes, unemployment, and lowered lifestyles. As a result, people are disillusioned and angry with government and big business in general, political leaders and their own employers in particular.

Perhaps we need to look again at the first of God’s most well-known commandments. It deals with idols by saying, “You shall have no other gods before ME” (Exodus 20).

God knows all about our tendency to rely overmuch on (and even worship) the visible things that seem to be the sources of health, wealth, sustenance, and comfort. However, the Bible says God controls our well-being and He is the ultimate source of all that is good: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Our perception of good is being shaken. Our world is rapidly changing, shifting like shadows, and the shadows are frightening. We want things the same, even work hard to maintain (or restore) our situation. We fear anything that will rob us of the good we have enjoyed in the past.

Some politicians take advantage of those shadows. They promise to restore the good life. But can they? Is our disillusionment with those “idols” well-founded? According to the Bible, there will always be downturns, belt-tightening, and even global economic instability that fosters mistrust in leaders and their performance. Maybe it is time to take another look at who we ought trust to meet our needs.

The first Commandment is God’s way of telling us to watch out for idols, watch out for thinking anything else is better able than He is, watch out what we revere and trust to meet our needs. He alone is worthy of that veneration. Besides, He knows if we trust in something less than Him we will get hurt. The Apostle Paul says, “My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” None of our idols can make or keep a promise like that.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Making Genuine Predictions ............. Parables 390

October 5, 1990

An eighteenth Century author, Horace Walpole, quipped: “The wisest prophets make sure of the event first.” What Walpole didn’t define is exactly how a prophet can be certain his predictions will come true.

Some would be easy. I can predict the sunrise tomorrow and the sunset tonight. I can also predict winter and spring, even the change of coloring in the trees and very often whether or not it will rain.

Other predictions are not as easy. Picking future winners of football and hockey games or horse races is difficult. So is predicting where the wheel will stop or what numbers will come up when dice are rolled or cards shuffled. In fact, the difficulty is sufficient that a whole industry is built around the gamble.

Long range predictions are not any easier. Sometimes we look at trends and can safely say we are in for a recession or hard times or wars, but the specifics are yet to be seen and predicting them makes fools out of Jean Dixon and her ilk.

However, there were some seers who enjoyed outstanding success rates. These were the Old Testament prophets, men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Ezekiel. Their remarkable predictions came true with a 100% success rate, leaving only two possible explanations of how they could be so sure of the future. The book of Daniel gives one example.

Daniel was a young Jew deported to Babylon along with many others from Israel around 586 B.C. There he claimed to have visions about a leader who would come against the Hebrew people and “abolish the daily sacrifice” and “set up the abomination that causes desolation.” This prophecy is described in such detail that few doubt it refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Roman ruler who abolished the sacrificial system and desecrated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

The problem is that Antiochus lived about 160 B.C. and Daniel about 605 - 535 B.C. If Daniel wrote it, as the book says (and as Jesus later affirms), how did he know of things that would happen several hundred years later?

Some say Daniel did not write this book at all. It had to be written after the predicted events actually occurred. In that way, the “prophet made sure of his events first” just as Walpole said he should.

The other explanation is what the Bible claims about itself: “All Scripture is God-breathed.... For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The picture is God breathing His Word into men, like the wind blows into a sail, moving them in such a way that they wrote (in their own style) what He wanted them to write. The fact of God’s knowledge of all things, including the future, explains how Daniel could describe an event he had never seen. Because these men were dedicated to God in a faith-relationship, they understood that what He revealed to them was true. They may not have understood the implications of the Revelation (Daniel even asked, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?”) but they did trust the One who revealed them. God had proven Himself faithful to them in the past; surely He would tell them truth right now, even truth about the future.

If we disregard God and dismiss any possibility of the supernatural, there is really no other way for a prophet to “make sure of his events first.”

Friday, February 5, 2016

Christians and Crutches ............. Parables 389

September 28, 1993

Nearly every school has one or more students hobbling the halls on crutches because sport programs starting in September, after a summer without them, usually mean injuries. Some sprain their ankles or break bones; others tear ligaments or dislocate a knee joint. At first, many injured don’t mind the attention their injury receives; however, the novelty of being a cripple wears off quickly. No one likes using crutches for more than a day or two.

Perhaps that illustrates why those who disdain faith in God sometimes call it a “crutch.” No doubt they remember times when life’s problems loomed large and they were helpless. At those times, they may have cried out to God for help, such as when the tornado ripped through an industrial building in Edmonton a few years ago. One survivor told me workers clutched to whatever seemed solid and everyone was praying aloud. Even though most had not prayed before (at least publicly), they desperately grabbed for some “crutches” as the building came down around them.

Who can fault them? No one. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging to God our utter helplessness and crying out to Him. They did it, at least for that moment. But their memory of a time when faith was needed reminds them of their own weakness, and who wants to think about that, hence faith is only a crutch.

This temporary faith is relatively common. The first time I grabbed that crutch was when my favorite childhood pet went missing. After a tearful but unproductive search, I prayed God would help me find it. I even promised to believe in Him if the kitten showed up. It was a clear case of a temporary “limp” because I didn’t keep my promise, at least not at the time.

In contrast, the Bible tells us we are to “pray without ceasing” because we trust Him without ceasing. That means we call on Him daily, crisis or not, and even implies we need crutches a lot more than we think we do.

From this, I see faith has at least two dimensions. There is trust in God for the crisis situations only, which I have already called “temporary faith” and trust that is more permanent. It could be called “eternal faith.”

Eternal faith could be further defined as a trust that understands we have a permanent limp. (Those who accuse us of needing a crutch are right but not exactly.) Eternal faith realizes there is a crisis not directly related to falling down under the trials of this life. It is a large problem that looms ahead and all are helpless to solve it. This unseen calamity requires more from us than a now-and-then cry for help when we feel weak.

This unmanageable crisis is rooted in the past to another kind of Fall, unlike those that merely break bones and scrape knees. Romans 3 says it like this: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Because of that Fall, we are without strength to meet the inevitable, the crisis of God’s judgment.

Those with eternal faith know we limp. We cannot walk like we ought — the standard of measurement is Christ — and we cannot make our way into eternity with God after we die. Heaven is a place of perfection and we are spiritual cripples; heaven’s door slams shuts in our faces. But He opens it for a faith that goes beyond an occasional plea for help.

Our choice is simple, but not easy: do we limp on — with or without a sense of having fallen? Do we cry out only when we feel weak and ignore Him when we feel strong? Or do we step into a walk with Him — happy that He offered us a crutch?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wise Giving ............. Parables 388

September 21, 1993

Siamese twins shared vital organs so one of them had to die that the other might possibly live. Not a happy situation. Aside from the moral and ethical difficulties of the decision made by their parents and the doctors who did the surgery, the father of these twins created another ethical dilemma.

Apparently, money donated by concerned people to pay medical expenses was used for purposes that had little to do with the needs for which they were given. The twin’s father spent some of those funds on drugs to supply a personal addiction. In this case, would those who raised the money have done more good by giving it directly to the hospital?

Granted, anyone under the stresses he no doubt experienced could be expected to make some irrational decisions. We can hope he has found help to overcome his problems. However, this situation raises a question that those who give to charity often have to answer: does giving, in the true sense of the word, mean the recipients can do whatever they please with the gift?

Imagine buying a box of chocolates for another person, only to see them deliberately destroy it. Even if we told them the gift was theirs to do with as they pleased, we might feel a sense of outrage or at least disappointment. However, if the other person had an extreme allergy to chocolate, we would think twice about giving that kind of gift. True giving wants to benefit the receiver, not harm them.

This parallels some questions I’ve had to work through when asked for handouts. We used to live in a former manse next to a large church near a railway yard. At least once a week, people came to my door with one of several questions. If they asked for food, I gave them something to eat out on the large front veranda. If they asked for the pastor (whom I had never met), I gave them a small booklet about the love of God, with the pastor’s home address on the back.

But, if they asked for money, usually making it clear they “needed” it for alcohol, I refused. In that case, I thought my charity would hurt more than help them. Sometimes I would offer a meal instead, but they usually refused my offer. They were not interested in food.

It is not always easy to refuse money to someone who wears rags for clothes and looks as if they have not eaten properly for years. Some may feel it is “unloving” to deny their request; however, I’ve learned to take my cues from God. He “loves us with an everlasting love” yet never grants us that which will bring us harm or destruction.

God is such an excellent Giver because He does love us, but also because He intimately knows us and our needs. If our intentions or plans are unhealthy, He says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

This implies two things about giving. Love must be behind the giving, but knowing the recipient and their real needs is part of the process too. For me, it was easy to assess that those asking for booze-money DID NOT need it, but aside from knowing they needed good food and a lot of care, had I opportunity, I would have discovered far deeper needs than those visible on the surface.

Because getting to know needy people is not easy, most of us give through agencies, hoping they understand whether our gifts will be misused, abused, or inappropriate. But face-to-face giving is far better. When we understand hurts and know weaknesses, we realize a gift of several thousand dollars is just too large a temptation for a person with a drug habit.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Greatest Good ............. Parables 387

September 14, 1993

Many a child has heard the proverb, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” particularly after getting caught in a lie meant to deliver themselves from the consequences of some other wrong they did.

Like all proverbs, this one is generally true. The closest exception I know of was when our house contractor put an outlet and switches where a cupboard addition would cover them up (making their location illegal) and misjudged the size of a closet in the front hall.

They thought they would have to rip out a huge area of ceramic tile to correct the first wrong but when they opened up the wall on the opposite side to fix the closet, they exposed the electrical wiring for the kitchen problem. They easily fixed both at the same time, but since both errors were costly to the builder and a nuisance to us, we still have to conclude two wrongs are still two wrongs.

Wrong is also wrong when disaster strikes in other, more extreme, ways. The optimists around us may say, “It will work out okay,” and sometimes it does, but unexpected financial reverses, natural disasters, traffic accidents, sudden deaths, personal failures and moral downfalls can never be called right. Adding two of them together doesn’t help at all towards making them anything but wrong.

However, that does not mean good is left totally out of the equation. A favorite passage of Scripture, Romans 8:28, affirms that God can do something about the wrongs. It says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Since “all things” includes tragic losses, illnesses, or other dark times in our lives, well-meaning people sometimes use this verse to try to comfort us. If we feel they are saying the wrong is good, or good for us in some way, their words hurt, and so they should; that is not what God is saying in Romans 8:28.

Pain and suffering are not His idea. Wrong things came into the world with sin as part of the package. God hates sin and He does not take pleasure in affliction or death. He would never say, “this wrong thing is good for you.” He is not cruel or sadistic.

What Romans 8:28 does say is that God can use all things, good or bad, right or wrong, for our good. In other words, wrong is never right but by the grace of God, it does not have to have the final word.

The promise of verse 28 makes more sense when we compare the last phrase “according to His purpose” with the next verse which says, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son....”

In plainer English, this says God knew ahead of time about all those who would become Christians, and with that knowledge it is His plan to change them to be like Jesus Christ. His power is so great that He is able to use anything that happens to us to do it.

We need to remember God draws a line between right and wrong and never changes one into the other. Nor is it His goal that all the dirty deals of life and the wrongs that slap us down cause us to be defeated or bitter. Instead, He longs for our good. What better goal could He have, or what higher good could happen to us than becoming more like Jesus?