Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What about rewards? .................. Parables 412

March 15, 1994

Once an old, but crafty, man found his new neighbors had very noisy children. Instead of yelling at them to be quiet, he decided to promise them money for making noise. At first the children were excited about his offer and happy to oblige. They whooped and hollered and at the end of each day, were paid for it.

After a few days, the old man told them he couldn’t quite afford as much as he had been paying but would still give them money. They still made noise, but not quite so much. Gradually he lowered the amount each day. Finally they got disgusted and quit. When he asked why, they said, “We won’t make noise for nothing.”

The article accompanying this story made the point; promises of reward for desired behavior eventually destroys incentive. If someone is going to consistently do a certain thing, a reward may be the worst way to make it happen.

Christians are promised a reward. One has to ask if that promise destroys our incentive? Or do we “work” for a different reason?

Part of the answer is in something my mother used to tell me. She said that being kind or doing good is its own reward. That is, knowing that we have done right gives satisfaction. We don’t need anything else.

But why then does God promise a reward? Is it to encourage us to keep doing right? Some people think so. In fact, many have the idea that God sets up a list of rules and if they obey them, they will earn eternal life and go to heaven. This same concept of “do good – be rewarded” is carried over to Santa Claus and parent-child relationships: “be a good boy and you will get that bike you want.”

But God doesn’t work like that. He knows a little bit more about human capacity for goodness in relation to His standard. No matter how “good” people are, everyone falls short. Instead of putting the onus on humanity, He took the initiative to offer us a relationship with Himself on a different basis.

In the Bible, this relationship is described as a covenant, a unilateral agreement that God initiates. His covenants have specific regulations or stipulations for those involved. God says, “If you do this... you will be blessed (rewarded), and if you do not, you will be cursed (lose your reward).

The rules do not establish the covenants. They just outline how the people were to behave because of the relationship they have with God. Doing the right things would bring them blessing but it would not establish or keep them in relationship; they already had that.

It was as if God told the noisy children He loved them no matter what. That would never change. However, God asked them to behave as an expression of their love for Him. In behaving, they would enjoy freedom from the consequences of sin and that would be a reward. If they did not behave, they would lose that reward and their failure would also indicate they failed to love Him.

Christians have a covenant relationship with God. It is not earned by what we do. He says, “This is the covenant I will make... I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people... for I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

In response to His law written in our hearts, we live to please Him. That life has rewards; some here, some in heaven, but the reward is not heaven itself.

Actually, incentive is destroyed by promised rewards in one way. Those who mistakenly think they can earn eternal life as a reward sometimes give up and quit trying.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lasting satisfaction .................. Parables 411

March 11, 1994

The first professional skating performance I recall seeing was a spectacular version of Ice Capades. The program began in total darkness. Suddenly there was a shaft of light bouncing off a slowly spinning mirror ball hung high above the ice. Tiny diamonds of light whirled like huge falling snow flakes around and into every corner. It was magic.

When the skaters entered, everyone gasped. They were dressed in white with fur and feathers, silver sequins and glittering rhinestones. Since then, I’ve seen higher quality skating yet that performance was so magnificent, nothing else has ever met the standard it set. If I never see another, I am content.

In contrast, most of life’s pleasures give little lasting satisfaction, particularly material pleasures. People see or try one thing and enjoy it, but the enjoyment lasts only a short time and they soon want something else. For young people and adults, one thrilling ride at the fair is not quite enough so, “Please, just one more.” Or the latest new outfit is old after one or two wearings so, “But I have nothing to wear.”

As our economy enters a downturn, the ability to satisfy that hungry desire for more, bigger, and better in the realm of having things is also affected. Many of these pleasures carry large price tags. What people long for to make them feel good brings strained budgets to the breaking point. As a result, any hoped for or promise of lasting satisfaction becomes more elusive than ever.

The people of ancient Rome thought their material desires could be satisfied by their thousands of gods. If the people did what the gods wished, the gods would provide whatever was necessary, not only to stay alive but to live abundantly. However, that culture, well-known for its indulgences and excesses, was never satisfied.

It was into this that Jesus Christ was born and later made the outrageous claim: “I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

He was not a wealthy man. Born in a stable, raised by a carpenter, and “having no where to lay his head” were good reasons for those who heard Him to wonder what on earth He could do to raise their standard of life and give them what their gods could not. Even though some people wanted to make Him their king, He really had no political clout either. On what basis could He claim to satisfy anyone’s desire for abundance?

The Apostle Paul knew. When he wrote to the church in Philippi, he told them he was glad for their sakes they had been able to send an offering, not because he needed anything. Instead, he said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil.4:11,12)

Paul had not always been like that. Before he met Christ, he was a driven, unhappy person. After he came to faith in Jesus, he was never wealthy, but he was satisfied. He didn’t need a new car every year, or a bigger house, or a new suit, or even greater thrills. Whether life was ho-hum or exciting, borderline or outstanding, he was happy. Verse 13 gives his reason: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Christ provided him with the capacity to take life as it came, no matter how it came. He did not worry when the money ran out before the month or the days seemed dreary. He knew he was being taken care of and he was satisfied. He had seen the ultimate provision, experienced the ultimate high: he met Christ. In Him, Paul discovered nothing or no one can match the standard He set so he looked no further; he was content.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Why doesn’t God fix it? .................. Parables 410

March 1, 1994

Babies die. Children waste away with cancer. Marriages fall apart. Car accidents take lives. People brutally murder other people. Tornadoes destroy people and property. Earthquakes, floods, and fires take their toll. People are trapped in poverty or wheel chairs or pitifully hooked up to tubes. Why doesn’t God fix everything?

Struggling and skeptical people ask how could there be a God when life is so difficult, so painful? How could God be good and still allow all these things? If there is a God, he is not fair. Why doesn’t God fix everything?

Think for a minute what the world be like if He did. There would be no more illness or death, no more economic downturns, no more wars globally or across the breakfast table. No one would ever have an accident or break a bone. There would be more hate. And the weather would be perfect and the environment completely stable. We would like that. All our problems would be over. Or would they?

The greatest difficulty with this scenario is that when God did fix these things, people really did not welcome His efforts. He raised dead children and adults. He healed those with wasting, horrible diseases. He taught people how to love one another. He ordered the wind to stop blowing. He fed crowds with a handful of groceries. He fixed everything.

It was fantastic for a time. People were excited about what He was doing. However, as much as He loved them and wanted them to experience His power and be healed from the damage of life, He was far more interested in dealing with the roots of their problems. These diseases and troubles were merely the symptoms. Like a physician, He knew that no matter how many people rose from the dead, human hearts are sicker than bodies with cancer or leprosy. For that root problem, His fix was repentance and faith in Him.

It was at this the people balked. They wanted everything fixed, but only up to a point. If it meant a change in the way they thought and lived, they were not interested.

It seems that the issue should have ended in a simple stalemate. God wanted to help them, they only wanted a certain amount of help. God would fix as much as they would let Him, and everyone would be happy. Not so.

The people proved the very point God was trying to make. The condition of their hearts was their greatest problem. Instead of a polite “no thanks” to God’s offer, they retaliated against Him. They accused Him of being Satan. They hurled insults and spit in His face. They mocked Him and nailed Him to a tree. Rather than having God fix everything, they killed Him.

We are responsible for the consequences of our choices, not God. If I insist on eating junk food all day, I will develop health problems. Is it fair to God to ask Him to fix that, even though in mercy He might?

My own sin and the sin of other people brings problems into my life. I may not be personally responsible all the time but can anyone ask God to fix the problem without expecting Him to deal with the sin and the sinner(s) that are responsible? Human responsibility consequences make sense.

Actually, there is a day coming when God will make all things perfect. Revelation 21 says, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

His offer is still available.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Caught off guard? .................. Parables 409

February 22, 1994

The story goes that a man went on a two week vacation and left his Doberman dog alone in his house. Ignoring the obvious questions that scenario raises, the story continues that the man came home and was quite concerned when his dog did not meet him at the front door. He quickly toured the house and found his pet seated in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator. On top of the appliance huddled a sobbing would-be burglar who had been there four days.

The mess left by a dog and a terrified thief was probably much worse than the one found by a mother who went on a short holiday leaving her family on their own. She returned one day earlier than planned. Upon a quick tour of the house, she found the bathtub full of dirty dishes.

Both the burglar and the family were caught in the act. They thought they could get away with something but it did not work the way they hoped. They illustrate several things the Bible says about how people should think and live in the light of God’s promises about the future.

For instance, when the Roman empire ruled the area of Palestine, the Hebrew people had already been waiting several centuries for a leader, a promised Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies. They thought he would be a political giant with great political power, a conqueror who would overthrow all opposition. When Jesus came as a babe in the stable at Bethlehem, they were caught off guard.

Most of them were not convinced Jesus was the One they expected. They did not understand that His coming was for a different kind of deliverance. Instead of Roman oppression, He came to deliver them from their sin to a new and right relationship with God. They were caught off guard because they expected a different kind of deliverance.

Furthermore, He caught some people in the act. That is, many were busily living a life of sin and not concerned about a Savior from God. In either case, their thinking and their actions did not reflect the promises God had made concerning their future.

God made another promise about the future — Jesus said He is coming one more time. He even warned His disciples about being caught off guard again. “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”

He told them to watch, for that hour will be unexpected, like a thief in the night. He also warned about being caught in the act when He returns, that is, the act of sin: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

The Apostle Peter said that in the last days, scoffers will come and scornfully say, “Where is this coming he promised?” He goes on to explain that the Lord is not slow to keep his promise but patient with us. He does not want anyone to perish but come to repentance.

Peter also says that the promise of the Lord’s return is not to fill us with fear. Instead, we are to look forward to it and “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him.”

He does not want us to be caught — either off guard or in the act.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Love and Discipline .................. Parables 408

February 15, 1994

When I was in grade nine, a classmate passed me a note. She was a beautiful girl with a model’s shape, popular with everyone, and dated whatever boys she pleased. She had nice clothes, money, and freedom to go wherever she wanted. Everyone envied her, including me.

The note said, “I envy you and your sister... My parents don’t love me enough to correct me.”

She shook me to the bottom of my prejudices. I thought love was being spoiled and pampered. She thought anyone who doesn’t care whether or not we are on the wrong track does not love us.

That was many years ago. Today, social sciences and current thinking comes down hard on child discipline. Specialists cannot conceive of a spanking being anything more than abuse (many times it is, but it doesn’t have to be) and children are picking up the same attitude. What a tragedy, particularly from the child’s perspective.

Discipline can be given in love, not anger, if the focus is on the needs of the person being disciplined. Is it good for them to continue in whatever they are doing without correction? Will they hurt themselves or other people? Will they have a false idea of what is acceptable social behavior? Will they develop rude, immoral, illegal, or violent habits? What will this behavior look like in them when they are five, ten, or twenty years older?

Answering those questions is far different than popping off at a child who is annoying, or an embarrassment, or simply in the way. Those who verbally or physically expresses how they feel about someone’s behavior are not fooling anyone, least of all the recipient, into thinking they are doing it in love. Even a small child can tell the difference between angry, self-serving correction and stern, but loving concern for their growth as persons.

Besides saying “I love you enough to stop you,” discipline provides boundaries and a sense of security. In many cases, even adults feel more comfortable with knowing their limits.

Of course there are many forms of discipline. Again, as adults who are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that sometimes the only way we learn is through pain.

Perhaps that is the greatest reason I appreciate that note. The Bible talks about God loving me enough to correct me but when I first experienced that correction, I was very upset. How could God “spank” His children? I wanted to run and hide.

Then I found Hebrews 12: “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son (or daughter).... Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

God’s discipline is not an expression of His anger; my failures do not annoy Him. He cares about me so uses whatever is necessary to help me change and become a better person.

While an earthly parent can dish out harsh, unloving physical abuse that results in their child never feeling comfortable with the concept of God as Father, the opposite response can be just as devastating. No discipline at all can also make a person think that no one cares, God included.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The power of Light .................. Parables 407

February 8, 1994

What can be said about Disney World’s laser light show except dazzling? This spectacular display combines colored lasers with music and fireworks. It ends with shafts of light, beamed from at least a mile across a lake, dancing over Disney’s huge geodesic dome. The pattern formed makes Spaceship Earth appear to be a rotating globe, each continent outlined in light. Such remarkable, creative entertainment.

Light certainly has incredible power. The light of the sun provides the stuff that makes plants grow, gives warmth for life and vitamin D to keep us healthy. Even man-made light is proving itself versatile as well as invaluable. Light is used for aircraft guidance, communications, coding systems, cutting diamonds and enumerable home and business applications.

Light also solves a variety of detailed problems. It is used for repairing and reshaping corneas, growing plants all night, making three-dimensional television sets, storing data, improving the consistency of nylon strings, and helping cows digest cellulose. I’ve even seen men’s ties with tiny lights. How practical and helpful that might be is anyone’s guess, but they certainly attract attention.

How can telling time with a simple sundial even compare to the intricacies of laser technology, yet uses for nature’s light continually multiply as modern technology progresses. We are a long way from the first spark of lightning that lit Edison’s light bulb and we are far beyond the ancient Basques, who once pleaded with the sun and moon to “give us the light of life and death.”

Or are we? While our fires, candles, incandescents, florescents and halogens can penetrate the darkest night, none of these lesser lights have entirely replaced the sun. Not one of them can compete with the moon for the attention of lovers when they want to go for a walk. Yet with all the sun and moon give us, no one has discovered from either one (or from science) the mystery of life or how to avoid the certainty of death.

The Basques may have been primitive people but we have to give them credit; they were concerned about this important basic issue we often neglect. We are so easily taken up in the wonder of our own technology and filled with awe and pride in ourselves that we ignore or push aside these basics. However, those who stop and ask the same question, if they ask the right Person, will get this answer: “I am the light of the world. He who believes in me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”

No sun or moon replies with such a claim. It boldly comes from the One who created all of them, Jesus the Son of God. He calls Himself, not A light among many but, THE light of the world. He alone offers eternal life because He alone defeated the darkness of death.

I have walked in physical darkness along an unfamiliar path without so much as a candle or flashlight. It was frightening to say the least. I have also walked in spiritual darkness. It was worse. Jesus came to show the way for that more obscure path, the one where the deepest truth is hidden. Lesser illuminaries and our man-made “lights” are insufficient to expose it.

Other than that, what more can be said? Perhaps just that the wonder of His “light show” makes all our inventions and illusions of what the world is like grow dim as He reveals the brightness of His glory.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Saved by Grace .................. Parables 406

February 1, 1994

When I think of “gracious”, I think of my mother’s friend Eileen, a delightful woman who loves people and relishes life. Everything about her communicates goodness, elegance, refinement, charm, style, and beauty, all synonyms of the word “gracious”.

“Grace” is the root of gracious and used to describe fluid motion, symmetry, adornment, dignity; it has a host of dictionary definitions. With that many connotations behind the word, what does the Bible mean when it talks about the grace of God?

Martin Luther challenged a medieval idea that grace was something God infused into people when they took part in Communion. After much study and the discovery of a serious textual error in a once-popular Latin Bible, he happily announced biblical grace is “the unmerited favor of God.” In other words, God is good to us even though we don’t deserve it.

Luther easily supported this meaning by recalling what the first Christians believed and by pointing to verses like Romans 3:24: “(We) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

This man turned the world upside-down with his definition, however he admitted it was not a new idea. The early church and the Bible had always made it plain. Unfortunately, church-goers in his day were caught up with religious duties and had lost sight of the foundation for faith.

The same thing happened to the nation of Israel. God made a covenant with them and declared to them they were His people. They were supposed to express faith in Him through obedience and draw near through certain religious activities. After a time, they began to disobey God and distanced themselves from Him. They should have stopped their religious expression and repented of their sin but instead disregarded repentance. Their worship became mere ritual and God was not pleased. He said, “These draw near to me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”

Ephesians 2:8,9 explains that our relationship with God also depends on grace: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Salvation means forgiveness and removal of sin so we can have an intimate and personal relationship with God. Grace freely offers this relationship, not the performance of good works or religious duties. While doing good can soothe the conscience or make us look righteous in the eyes of others, God looks on the heart and sees our propensity to turn away from Him. He knows our failures yet graciously provided a way they could be forgiven.

We need grace. Without it, we either ignore God or offer Him that which is tainted, even out-and-out polluted. He has never developed relationships on the basis of our good, only on the basis of His generosity. It is somewhat ironic the above verse says we might otherwise boast about what we do when no amount of good deeds could ever cover over our sin or remove the fact of its guilt.

Grace provides the answer to our spiritual needs. Through grace, we are given faith to believe in Christ. Through Christ, we are given a relationship with God. Through the delight and joy of knowing Him, we are given a deep desire to obey Him, even to happily be involved in various religious activities. Remove grace, or replace it with a foundation of our own works and there is no relationship. At best, we are left with vain boasting and empty ritual.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hidden Realities .................. Parables 405

January 25, 1994

Our son was given one of those new pictures that look like some sort of decorative design but actually hide another picture. At first they appear as a series of artistic blobs arranged in lines and rows but if you focus a certain way on the one our son has, several dinosaurs appear in startling three-dimension. These amazing pieces of art are the ultimate in optical illusion.

Actually, you don’t look right at the picture. You have to let your eyes relax, without really focusing them on anything in the design or the obvious picture plane. Some suggest looking at a reflection in the glass but I find it works better if I don’t look at anything. It will even vanish if I am too quick to focus on the hidden picture when it starts appearing. After it fully takes shape I can move closer and see more details.

Some people cannot find the hidden picture at all. They must wonder at those who stand in awe in front of these “designs” raving at the animals, birds, and other forms. To them, it is only an orderly row of ink blots, and not even particularly attractive. Some of them must think, “There is no picture, these people just imagine it” or “I’ll believe it only if I can see it myself.”

I have no idea how the artists so cleverly conceal the hidden pictures or how our eyes can suddenly see what is not at all obvious. Even if you turn away from it, it disappears and the staring process has to take place all over again before the picture comes back. It does remind me of a verse in the Old Testament that says something about people being created with eternity in their hearts.

Whatever else that means, we do tend to do, say, and create things that demonstrate eternal realities. These picture, while probably not intending to do so, illustrate a prime truth that spiritual matters are not always visible to those who take only a casual glance. A quick look at circumstances seldom allow anyone to see God in them. One glance never reveals what is beyond visible dimensions of physical life.

It is not that God hides Himself from us. In fact, the Bible tells the entire history of how God revealed Himself, first in nature and the wonder of His creation, then in dreams and visions and in His mighty deeds, then in the Person of His Son, the Christ. God is a self-disclosing God.

The problem is with us. We don’t look for Him. We look at the surface of life and decide whether or not we enjoy the patterns, often trying to rearrange the order to suit us better. In doing so, we often miss what or Who is really there.

However, seeking after God requires something different than unfocused eyes. Jeremiah said to the exiled Jews: “For I know the plans I have for you, “ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

God goes on to say He will bring them out of captivity and into the land He promised them. He wants blessing and prosperity for them; their part is simply seeking Him with their whole heart, trusting that His plans are not evil or harmful.

For us, sometimes life does not resemble even a series of orderly blobs. It is difficult to find God in the chaos. Yet He is there. He offers hope and an eternal future for anyone who will stop looking at the chaos and search for Him.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Will machines rule the world? .................. Parables 404

January 18, 1994
Psychologists are concerned that computers and other technical equipment is robbing people of their relational skills. They say that we are becoming so dependent upon machines that we don’t need each other. Not a few science fiction writers even speculate that someday, machines will rule the world.

Don’t believe it. This week, I can prove that we don’t need machines at all; machines need us. During our vacation my husband laughed when he found me playing Minesweeper on a computer in the corner of a Radio Shack store. He was already convinced I would not survive two weeks without my 486 and laughed that I simply could not survive without my computer.

When we got home, we discovered the opposite. My PCU has a rechargeable battery. Because I turned it off while we were gone and wasn’t using it, the battery did not recharge and some of the memory needed to start the computer was lost. It would not “boot” and I had the last laugh; it was the computer that could not live without me!

While I do use this machine a great deal, I am not helpless without it. I can still write, draw pictures, and play other games besides those designed for computers. A fruitful life does not depend on any machine... but this machine’s life and usefulness does depend on me. Pull the plug and it is a mere dust-collector.

After fixing the problem, I thought about co-dependency (another psychological buzz-word) and how God designed us to live as useful tools for Him. The Bible even says, “Offer yourselves to God as instruments of righteousness.”

Certainly we are not machines. Unlike a computer, we have power to choose who we will serve and how. However, like a computer, we do need a power source, something that motivates us and gives us our energy to keep going. Furthermore, the power source we rely upon will determine how we live.

The Bible teaches that we are insufficient in ourselves to keep ourselves going forever. That is, our life comes from God. In Him we live and move and have our being. It teaches that fruitful abundant living also requires Him as our power source. Jesus said, “I am the Vine and you are the branches. If anyone remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

He didn’t mean we couldn’t function at all on our own. Those without Christ are still able to do things. However, without a relationship of dependency and faith, what we do is not sufficient to keep us going for eternity, nor is it enough for fruitful, abundant, godly living.

Even my machine did some things on its own (after I plugged it in) without my direction. It destroyed some sectors on its own hard drive, which was rather foolish. Now it needs some major surgery to correct that problem; a procedure that will wipe it clean and reformat it.

Believe it or not, the Bible talks about our self-reliant efforts in the same terms. God says that what we do apart from faith in Him and His direction is sinful and destructive. In fact, we are so damaged by sin that we also need major corrective surgery to remove it from our lives. We need Jesus to wipe our hearts clean and give us an entirely new life.

Between my Bible and the sometimes goofy circumstances of life, God keeps reminding me how important it is to rely on Him for motivation, power and direction. What I do on my own is either destructive or makes me as useless a computer with a pulled plug.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

More about spiritual blindness .................. Parables 403

January 11, 1994

A remarkable musician named Clarence can play any piece of music on his accordion after hearing it only once. Clarence had his first music lessons as an adult. It took him three months to learn one number but after that, each one comes instantly.

Clarence is blind. He demonstrates how a person who has lost a particular ability sometimes compensates in other ways. While he cannot see, his hearing is remarkable, as is his memory of what he has heard.

The Bible talks about another kind of blindness, quite different than the inability to see with our eyes. It is a blindness to spiritual realities, invisible even to those with 20/20 vision. Furthermore, they cannot be felt, heard, or tasted either.

This type of blindness is the human inability to understand spiritual matters. Because it is so much a part of our natural state, many people do not realize they are blind in this way. Even those who do may not recognize that the ability to compensate is not a given. There is nothing that can be done with any of our faculties that will counterbalance this handicap.

This condition is caused by sin. Sin is turning from God and going our own way. By taking that turn, we become blind to the realities in His kingdom. However, even though all of us have sinned, not everyone is equally blind. That is, people have varying capacities to grasp the realities of the kingdom of God, depending upon their responses to God’s leading and revelation in their lives.

Others are quite unaware of those realities and quite aware they are spiritually blind. They may realize there is mystery concerning God, and that we should try to please Him but they cannot understand how, so like Clarence, they try to compensate. They do it by conjecture, deciding what He wants then setting about doing what they decided.

Some compensate for their blindness by adopting Christianity on a superficial level. That is, they say they believe in God, that Christ is the Son of God, and that a person should have good morals, go to church, be kind, and take care of the poor, all good things. The wrong in them is that these people tend to count on those things to earn them favor with God. It is in that area that they are blind.

They do not realized that God is holy and utterly perfect and anything we could offer Him is less than His glory deserves. While some behave more morally than others, without Christ we are without the capacity to be holy or to please Him. The Bible puts it this way: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Imagine a target on the other side of a great chasm. We use our finest arrows, pull back with all our might, aim carefully, but the arrows fall short, into the chasm. Our best efforts cannot bridge the gap, caused by sin, between ourselves and God. It is too wide and too deep. Everything we try to do falls short.

Spiritual blindness often makes people think their arrows are making it to the other side. They are blind to what God thinks about their efforts and to what He really wants.

Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind. He did that literally, but also offers spiritual sight. It is called “faith.” Through faith, we can see what God wants.

At first, that does not sound like good news. Just as a bowman would be upset if he saw all his best arrows falling into a bottomless pit, so would a sincere, moral person if they saw all their efforts ignored by God. However, that is only part of “seeing.” The other part is that Jesus gives Himself, and with Him, we have the glory we need to please God. He is our bridge across the chasm. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man can come to the Father but by me.”

Monday, March 7, 2016

Spiritual blindness and spiritual light .................. Parables 402

January 4, 1994

People who are blind cannot see where they are going, where they have been, the significance of their surroundings, or what is happening around them. They are unsure what they trip over or bump into (unless they can touch it) and can easily become confused if given several conflicting messages about their environment.

While all that is rather evident to anyone who can see, the parallels to something the Bible calls “spiritual blindness” is not. For instance, a person who is spiritually blind has no idea of their eternal destination. They have difficulty understanding how their choices in the past effect their lifestyle now. They are not usually aware of the impact of the world’s attitudes and ideas on them. When they fail or are frustrated in their efforts to do things, they are not always able to identify the true reasons. If they hear too many conflicting messages about spiritual matters, they usually decide all of them can’t be right so opt for none of them.

Biblical spiritual blindness is more implied than explicit, more described than defined. Many of those who have it cannot see or understand the Kingdom of God. Some are not quite so void of understanding but are not interested or busy building their own kingdoms.

However, it is an affliction that affects everyone because at the root of every person’s inability to follow God or be godly is a spiritual blindness caused by sin. Since God says “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” every person is, or has been, spiritually blind.

Some are unaware they are blind. Some have never heard how to recover their sight. Some know what must be done to see but prefer to be in the dark. Some have been assigned to permanent blindness. A few have been brought out of darkness into the light.

The Bible has tests for those who presume they are not blind. 1 John 2:11 offers the love test: “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”

Another is the faith test, or total trust in Christ for eternal life. Those who have spiritual sight have realized they are sinful and have confessed their need of a Savior. A person who is still blind will claim they are without sin, thus deceiving themselves, another aspect of spiritual blindness.

The way out of such darkness is through Christ. He proclaimed: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46). It is through Him, and faith in Him that a person can not only see and accept their spiritual need and be forgiven, but given the power to break free from sin’s bondage.

Those few who can now see have not been given Light because they are anything special. In fact, they see themselves as the Apostle Paul did, helpless and lost, blinded sinners were it not for God’s mercy shown to them through Jesus Christ. Of them, the Bible says: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Christians rejoice that God said, “Let light shine out of darkness” and that God made His light shine in our hearts. He gave us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. It is in Christ that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. It is in Christ that we see the significance of where we are going, where we have been, our flops and failures. It is Christ who is the Light of our lives.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Do you love babies? .................. Parables 401

December 21, 1993

Babies, as wonderful as they are, can certainly disrupt a household. Even though our children have been adults several years, both my husband and I remember those cries in the middle of the night, not getting enough sleep, and knowing if we ignore the burp that just won’t come, sleeping baby will wake up screaming very soon.

Besides those sleepless nights, babies cost money. Medicare covered most of the delivery bills but after that, other expenses added up, as did the pile of baby “stuff” we spent it on. A weekend at the in-laws during pre-baby days meant grabbing an overnight case and hopping in the car, but a baby meant boxes of this and bags of that. Diapers alone can take up half the back seat.

Did we let these things ruin the joy of having a baby in the house? Not at all. This extra responsibility was worth the effort; our babies were precious to us.

About 2000 years ago, another baby was born in Bethlehem. Since there were no hospitals, his parents didn’t have to pay any medical expenses. Since the innkeeper put them in his “overflow wing” in the stable out back, it is unlikely he charged them for their room.

It was just as well. The parents of this baby were not wealthy. They were not in Bethlehem on vacation either, but had to travel there because Roman law demanded it. Since there is no trunk space or back seat on a donkey, they couldn’t have taken much with them even if they wanted to. Having a baby under these circumstances was certainly not convenient.

This baby disrupted their plans in other ways. Not that they didn’t want a family, but Mary and Joseph were still in the betrothal stage of their marriage. This meant they were legally united but had not yet slept together. How would Mary explain to friends and relatives that her pregnancy was a miracle?

Even when she told Joseph about the baby, he considered quietly divorcing her. Only an angel changed his mind, giving him the same message Mary had received: this child was the Son of God. So Joseph went ahead and took her as his wife.

Imagine raising the Son of God. No doubt He was a good baby yet the responsibility for His care must have been disruptive too. Not only that, having a sinless little boy in their house must have made them feel convicted and decidedly uncomfortable about their own shortcomings. Did any of the neighborhood children even want to play with Him?

Was Joseph avoided and Mary laughed at? Did their families believe them? And did some people react to this baby as some today do: as long as a baby coos and lies helpless and quiet it is fine, but as soon as baby makes demands, pressure mounts and the baby is not as much fun any more?

The Bible does not say much about Jesus’ baby days except that shepherds rushed to worship Him and king-makers from the East brought Him gifts. The manger scene was no threat to them and Christmas was fun. When He grew up, maybe it was the same people who rushed to see Him perform miracles and especially enjoyed having Him feed them, free of charge.

But there were those (who may have normally loved babies) that didn’t like this Baby. Herod tried to kill Him when He was less than two years old. Thirty years later, as the crowds heard Him cry out about His demand on their lives, the pressure mounted and they decided, “We will not have this man rule over us.”

The Baby was not as much fun any more.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dealing with anger ............. Parables 400

December 14, 1993

Tragic stories like the recent killing of family members by a fifteen-year-old boy will haunt us for a long time. That he murdered his family is heart-wrenching enough, but his reasons are almost beyond comprehension.

Most of us become angry at people for rude behavior, for thoughtlessness, for making our lives somewhat uncomfortable. Young people do get upset with parents who make what seems like senseless demands. Parents also get angry with children who frustrate and disobey them, who act without thinking or think up dozens of ways to avoid taking action.

Family conflict is unavoidable and every family clashes from time to time. What must not be avoided is dealing with anger, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. If conflict is not resolved, anger builds like water behind a dam. Eventually, it will flood somewhere.

But what can a person do with anger? Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Does it mean that instead of blowing up, we should pretend we are not angry? That kind of pretense seldom fools anyone.

Does the verse mean we should refuse to acknowledge even to ourselves that we are angry? I have known people whose moral code told them it was wrong to be angry but their pride would not allow them to admit it. Every time something made them angry they convinced themselves they were not really angry and either renamed their feelings into something more acceptable or denied the emotion, and buried it. Most of us know that is not very healthy. It leads to ulcers and dangerous self-deception.

So what does the self-controlled angry person do? Do they blame themselves for having a bad temper, confess anger as sin, and ask God to forgive them? Maybe. Anger is sometimes unwarranted or an over-reaction and is definitely sinful. But is it always wrong?

Better advice says otherwise: “Be angry and sin not; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (see Ephesians 4).

Sometimes it is possible to “be angry” without sinning. If someone does something wrong, harmful, or from unkind motives, the most natural response is anger. In fact, God gets angry at our sin. While we may have more selfish reasons to be mad, anger itself is not the issue: what is important are the various things we do in our anger.

One of them is to get even. When someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back. When someone yells at me, I raise my voice at them. But anger only begets anger and leads to wars.

Sometimes I try to put away my anger denying I have a reason to be angry, or even making excuses for the other person. While I could be simply refusing to acknowledge my hurt feelings or trying to be “big about it,” this is also a way to avoid confronting the situation.

Actually, confrontation is not always a bad thing to do when someone hurts us. While it is important to wait until we cool down, Paul says we should do something before the day ends. For one thing, it will not “seem” as important the next day and we might repress it. This eventually leads to a flood.

For the fifteen-year-old, an angry flood came out in cold, calculating violence. He was perhaps provoked, we may never know, but he did not deal with his anger in a godly way. Instead he let it build until it burst. Sadly, even though he thinks he destroyed those who made him angry, what he really did was destroy himself.