Friday, April 29, 2016

Supernatural or super dangerous .................. Parables 425

June 14, 1994

A young pastor was not particularly interested in the daily horoscope column. While he knew Christians were not supposed to dabble in such things, he thought it was basically harmless. However, he decided to read it every day, just to prove that it was nothing.

Within weeks, this man lost his ability to minister to his congregation. He could not sleep properly and struggled with roller-coaster emotions, particularly fear. His doctor could find no physical cause for his problems. After other counseling, his daily reading habit came to light. He was encouraged to stop and when he did, his difficulties dramatically ceased.

Horoscopes, Ouija boards, seances, crystal balls, and divining rods have been around for a long time. These and other devices have been used to predict or discern the unknown or communicate with the dead or the spirit world.

Often, those who have experience with such things will tell you of their success. They have discovered their future, or been told to avoid certain things they may otherwise have chosen. Many claim to have talked with, or at least seen images of someone who is dead.

Every now and then, a community hosts a “fair” that features these and other related elements. Those who attend often think nothing of it; it’s just harmless fun.

If asked about the origin of such “supernatural” happenings, some might say “it’s all in your head” or “people have untapped powers” or “there is a lot we don’t know.” Some might even say this belongs to the same realm as God.

While the Bible leaves a lot of things unexplained, it plainly says not everything supernatural is from God. The miracles that He did are not the same as those done by magicians. God’s miracles are never described as tricks or stunts. Their purpose was to deliver His people from danger, make the sick well, give sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk, or demonstrate His power over nature and the elements.

Neither are prophecies God gave the same as those given by fortune-tellers. His predictions concerned what He would do in the lives of His people (usually either to bless or chasten them) or the appearance of the Messiah, or His second coming and the events surrounding the end of the world as we know it. He did not tell people things about their personal future except as it related to their obedience or disobedience to Him.

According to the Bible, other than the realm that relates to God, all intriguing and mystical supernatural activities are off-limits. God warned His people: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:31).

Deuteronomy 18 is more specific: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”

Notice what God calls these things. He does not find them imaginary, or fascinating, or harmless. To Him, they are detestable, offensive, even repulsive. So are those who practice them.

A person who believes in Christ is given the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:16) and ought to feel the same way about these things as God does. However, as the young pastor found out, the ungodly side of supernatural also has power to attract and hold even a Christian in bondage. This is one “fair” and one “roller-coaster ride” to stay away from.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tampering with the Bible? .................. Parables 424

June 7, 1994

A certain group of scholars have decided to color-code the Bible. They are trying to determine which words Jesus actually said, which words He may have said, and which words (in their opinion) He did not say. Their goal is to print these words in red, grey, or black.

Christians believe that the Bible was inspired by God and is an accurate historical record. That is, all words the writers attribute to Jesus actually do represent things He said.

On the other hand, these scholars (who may call themselves Christian), come from a tradition of liberal theology. In that tradition, sceptics and rationalists, for many years, have discounted the literal value of the Bible. For instance, they say miracles are not logical therefore cannot happen, so the miracle accounts cannot be accurate.

They also say Jesus was perhaps a real person but the New Testament could not have been written by those who knew Him directly. It was compiled much later. Because of that, so they say, whoever Jesus is, and whatever He actually said, is lost. Based on their rational judgment, the scholars have put themselves in a position to decide which quotes have merit and which are only a later addition.

The entire premise behind this reasoning is that Jesus could not possibly be God and the miracles attributed to Him could not have happened. Their color-coding is not an attempt to discredit the value of the Bible as religious literature but somehow explain where it came from. After all, it has endured and has a positive effect on those who follow its teachings.

Some Christians feel threatened by this sort of “scholarship.” Others laugh at the “stupidity” of the so-called educated. Quite frankly, it seems these people are sincerely trying to understand, but cannot do it because their God is too small. He is unable to come into history in a human form or do miracles.

Sometimes my concept of God shrinks a bit too, but not quite the same way. For example, if I give in to despair in “impossible” situations, I am not really believing that “with God, all things are possible.” Whenever I yield to temptation, I am not relying on a God who is able to help me resist it.

An even more extreme situation is whenever I disobey God by choice. I may know what He wants of me but, for a time anyway, I simply refuse to do it. During that kind of rebellion, my attitude may actually come from listening to Satan instead of God. When this inventor of evil and “father of lies” tempted Eve in the garden of Eden, he used this line: “Did God really say that?”

When Eve began to doubt what God said, she actually changed His command from “do not eat” to “do not touch.” Her tampering with the Word of God led to disobedience on her part, then Adam’s. As a result, their sin brought the propensity to sin into the entire human race.

Doubting that God really means what He says leads to sin. Doubting that Jesus is not deity and casting doubt on everything He said sounds like dangerous business for anyone.

However, rather than point fingers at the foolishness of that error, all who claim to be Christian need to be on guard. If we obey only what appeals to us from the words of Jesus, perhaps we are no different than the liberal scholars. That is, if we don’t follow ALL of His Words, we too are “color-coding” our Bibles.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The power of sin .................. Parables 423

May 31, 1994

According to a survey by Queens University at Kingston entitled “Canada Youth & AIDS Study”, about 1 percent of the population is homosexual, not 10% as some claim. (Three studies in 12 areas of the United States reach the same percentage figure.) Why is such a small segment of the population given so much clout in determining what moral values should be acceptable in Canada?

The Bible offers one explanation. Romans 1 says, “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities... have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that (people) are without excuse.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator... because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.

“Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

This passage of Scripture not only denounces homosexual activity, it explains the reason those with that orientation (which it calls “their perversion”) cannot control themselves. God has taken His hand of grace from them. They have no power over their own lusts.

Those who refuse to acknowledge God as God and who exchange the truth about God for a lie cannot worship and obey Him. Instead, they bow down to their own gods. In New Testament times, these gods were images and carved idols. Today, an idol could be defined as anything people rely on to meet their needs. If it is not the true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, then it is an idol.

The power that only 1% of the population wields is really a misconception. The few who are gay are able to convince a larger majority who are not because the larger majority has also rejected God. Just as the mood of the dog can be discerned by the wagging of its tail, the prevailing attitude of Canadians seems to be against godly sexual morals. While not all these would call themselves gay or lesbian, they also have rejected God. As a consequence, many have been turned over to their various sins, as reflected in Canada’s crime rate, the divorce and abortion rate, and the increase in social problems. No one can reject God and maintain goodness.

According to Patrick Johnson’s Operation World, Canada’s population may include about 10% genuine Christians. However, for a nation that largely rejects God, our message is more repulsive than that of the 1%. While they insist on their right to freely sin: we call for a return to God and freedom from sin’s control. Does anyone really want that kind of freedom?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pride vs. Humility .................. Parables 422

May 24, 1994

Self-confident and immaculately dressed, the new preacher almost swaggered up to the pulpit. This was his first sermon in his first church. He had been an above average student in seminary, even received the faculty award for best preacher. He was certain he would revolutionize this congregation.

He smiled, more at his own assurance than at them, then opened his mouth to speak. But the words simply would not come out. He took a deep breath and tried again. Nothing but a croak. Finally he burst into tears and left the platform.

Two older women were sitting in the front row. One remarked to the other, “If he’d come in like he went out, he would have gone out like he came in.”

Isn’t it the truth? Whenever we become inflated over some accomplishment, the next time we try it, we usually do not do as well or even fall flat. The biblical adage “pride goes before a fall” is well-recognized.

Pride is too. While there is a healthy kind of pride, a respect for excellence we see in others, or a respect for a job well-done, negative pride is not healthy. The question is, how does a person maintain any balance? Most of us tend to swing back and forth between arrogant self-congratulations and unhappy self-pity.

Last week, I taught a workshop at a writer’s conference. All my faculties were focused on the task at hand. I was not thinking about me or about what anyone thought of me. I was only thinking about my audience and about communicating the information I had in the clearest way possible.

A few weeks before, I gave an oral presentation. I was concentrating on myself, whether or not I did well, and what others might be thinking. The workshop was a success but that presentation was a flop. I wanted to make a good impression and was more concerned with how I did than what I was doing. My pride interfered.

In between that awful presentation and the workshop, the Lord used His Word to show me what He thinks about humility and pride. I had some wrong ideas. It was clear that whenever vanity governed my attitudes, God would not allow success, but what did He have against pride? what is humility? and what does He want me to do with ego problems?

One of the first verses I read was Proverbs 29:23. It says, “A man’s pride brings him low; but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”

Amazing. God says pride itself is a destructive force. For some reason, I had thought it was God who brought me low because of pride, but that verse says pride itself does it to me. No wonder He warns us to avoid pride; it is harmful.

Instead, God tells us to have a lowly spirit, but He does not mean self-pity or self-depreciation. Lowliness has nothing to do with success or failure either. It is simply serving others without being concerned what happens to me, proving I trust God to take care of me.

 As far gaining honor with a lowly spirit, anyone who serves unselfishly is doing something God highly values; with God’s recognition and applause, what higher honor could anyone have?

Working without any desire for recognition, applause, or glory makes me immune to the warnings about pride; it cannot bring me down. But with His kind of lowliness, I can be sure God will bring me up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ending the gender war .................. Parables 421

May 17, 1994

Dr. Donald Joy says women have minds like computers. A computer searches through bits of data scattered all over its hard drive then brings together all related information. Dr. Joy says this is an excellent parallel to the way a woman’s intuitive reasoning works.

He also says men think in a logical, line-by-line order. While this type of reasoning can be slower, there is greater opportunity to spot flaws in the process. However, men often become frustrated when women solve problems in what seems a random fashion, especially when correct answers appear without any explanation of their origin.

Furthermore, some research indicates boys are generally better in mathematics, while girls excel in language arts. Men are supposedly more aggressive and women more emotional. Research in this area also says the left side of the brain controls logic, analytical ability. Because of some changes in the brain caused by male hormones, boys are born with a tendency to use that side more than the right.

In contrast, women are generally inclined to being right-brained. This side controls feelings, imagination, speech, relational faculties, etc. Since girls do not experience the same hormonal changes, they are more adept at simultaneously gathering data from both brain hemispheres. While not everyone agrees with Dr. Joy’s simplified explanation, it certainly describes some commonly observed differences between men and women.

If it is true that men and women think differently, then comparing intellectual skills and mental abilities is unfair. In the battle of the sexes, each tries to make the other feel inferior, but both miss the point of being different.

According to Genesis, God made the man first and gave him a job to do; he had to name all the animals. Without a modern zoologist’s classification system of families, orders, and species, giving names to thousands of variations was a gigantic challenge.

Even though Adam was able to do the job, God observed that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Then God added, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Various versions say “a helper corresponding to him” or “a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs.”

Some might think the term “helper” is demeaning to women, describing them as second-class citizens. Not true. This word is used elsewhere ONLY to describe God Himself. He is the “helper” of His people. If being a helper makes women slaves, then God would also be understood as subservient, but He is not. Further, the Bible never speaks in a demeaning manner about anyone who helps others.

When God created Eve, Adam was delighted. He was no longer alone; he had a companion to help him. Most important, God designed her so she would perfectly complement the way God designed him. Each had their own strengths. Together they were a terrific team.

Unfortunately, sin entered the picture. Eve blamed the snake, Adam blamed Eve, and God put them all out of paradise. The mess has multiplied ever since, which is no surprise. God said it would. He told both of them to expect hard work and difficulties, but He also said because of sin the man and woman would fight each other. The woman would “desire the man” which if carefully compared to Genesis 4:7, says she will want to rule him. He then adds, “but he will rule over her.”

The good news is that the battle between the sexes does not have to continue. Those who find victory over sin through faith in Christ experience a reversal of this curse—instead of competition and fighting, they are given the ability to appreciate the difference and begin to truly complement one another.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Being real .................. Parables 420

May 10, 1994

A waitress approached two customers, a small boy and his mother. She asked the boy for his order and he said, “I’d like a hamburger, fries, and a glass of chocolate milk.”

Mother said, “He will have Salisbury steak, vegetables, and a glass of plain milk.”

The waitress, eyes on the child, said, “What would you like on your hamburger?”

“Just ketchup, please.”

After the waitress left, the boy turned to his mother with excitement. “Did you notice that, mother? She thinks I’m real!”

Imagine yourself at a social event or party and no one listens to anything you say. How would you feel? Invisible? Insignificant? Unimportant? Hurt? Angry?

Anyone who is ignored in any situation, feels frustrated. Continued neglect can result in low self-esteem, depression, even violence or suicide.

People need to know some one hears them. That is one reason prayer is so important. Even if no one else hears or cares, when we talk to God, He listens. How can we be sure?

The Apostle John wrote three short letters besides his familiar “Gospel of John.” Apparently the early Christians also had feelings of uncertainty and worthlessness. They wondered if they really belonged to God and if their experience with Him was real. 1 John addresses these uncertainties.

John first wanted them to be certain their sins were forgiven and they had eternal life. He told them to test themselves by their attitude toward their sin. Did they pretend they were not sinners? Or did they confess their sin? If so, he assured them God forgives and cleanses whatever they confess.

He also told them to test how they responded to the world’s system. Did they give in to sinful cravings and boasting? Or were they more concerned to do God’s will? If so, he assured them this desire came from their Father, therefore they were part of His family.

A third test involved how they treated others. John asked if they hated others and “loved” them in words only? Or was their love real and demonstrated? Were their relationships characterized by kindness, truth, and obedience to God?

A fourth “be-sure-you-are-forgiven” test involved the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. If they genuinely believed Jesus is the Son of God, and if He actually was in their lives, the Spirit would assure them they had eternal life. They would just know.

Besides forgiveness and eternal life, John wanted his readers to be confident about who was who. Many claimed to be Christians in that time (as they do now) but were actually deceivers. True believers could test such “false prophets.” What was their attitude towards sin? Did they confess it? or embrace it? Did they accept or reject Jesus Christ as One who came from God? Did they continue in fellowship with proven Christians? or did they walk away?

John also wanted Christians to have confidence in God’s love for them. He reminded them, and us, that God proved His love by sending His Son to die for our sins. That alone should be proof enough, but there is more; Christians can prove God’s love by loving one another with the same sacrificial love. Since this love comes only from God, when we demonstrate it, we have confidence God loves us.

Finally, John’s readers are assured of God’s love because He hears them. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us--whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him” (5:14,15).

As long as we belong to Him, and as long as our requests are on His menu, answered prayer builds our confidence: God “thinks we are real.”

Friday, April 15, 2016

Children are patience-builders! .................. Parables 419

May 3, 1994

“How many times do I have to tell you to take your shoes off at the door...?”

Every time he came in, my brother had to be reminded. Finally, when he left home and later married, my mother was certain his wife would have the same problem, but she didn’t.

In a round-about way, a school guidance counselor explains why. She says when children behave well under the care of someone other than their mother, mother is doing a good job. She added that a child who is good at home but misbehaves when away from home, is either compliant or being controlled. When that child is on his own, he demonstrates that mother’s lessons have not been learned.

What a relief for mothers who wonder what is going on when their children are a handful for them but not for grandma or the baby sitter. Instead of developing an inferiority complex, they can sigh in relief; they are doing a good job.

Being a parent is not an easy task though. It requires lots of patience, something we never have when we take on the role. In fact, patience is one virtue that is more likely to develop as we do it – something like on-the-job-training, or steel being tempered in a furnace!

The Bible agrees patience is produced by trials. Romans 5:5 says “suffering produces patient endurance.” James 1:2,3 says, “Consider it pure joy... whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

But who of us welcomes trials and tribulations with joy? I know my mother didn’t stand at the door every night saying, “Oh, good, here he comes with manure all over his shoes and I have the privilege of watching him track it in the house or reminding him to take off his boots. I’m so happy.”

However, the Bible is not unrealistic. James was reminding his readers to consider their faith (their “knowing”) because faith would tell them God had a positive purpose in allowing them to experience trials. If nothing else, trusting God in them would bring the end result of patience.

While no one welcomes unpleasant tests, they are much easier to take when we can learn to focus on the good that will come out of them rather than on the tests themselves. It will be difficult to do that however, unless we believe God is able to produce good and that patience is an important virtue.

For that reason, James encourages Christians to recognize trials as not simply irritations but tests of our faith. When something unpleasant happens, our response to it will reveal whatever we really trust, and how much trust we actually have.

My mother didn’t have the latest in child psychology to tell her she needed to persevere. She must either persist in reminding my brother about his shoes or continually have him clean up after himself until he remembered on his own. She also choose her attitude, deciding patience would pay off. Without faith in God to help her maintain it, one can only imagine the consequences.

Other trials may be less or more severe. In any case, each of us also have opportunity to rely on God. Will the trial produce patience or will it result in anger, bitterness, or some other negative attitude?

Mom wanted clean floors. She also wanted a thoughtful son. God considered her desires and gave her both – and also blessed her with patience.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Where do we come from? .................. Parables 418

April 26, 1994

I remember the first time I talked about creation with one of my grandchildren. She was an easy-going five-year old. First I pointed to the trees and flowers and said God created them. She smiled her approval of that idea. Someone once said you seldom find five-year old atheists. However, when I told her God also made her, she surprised me. She stamped her foot and declared, “Nobody made me!”

My intention was to show her the wonderful design in nature and let her know she was well-designed too, but her response reminded me that independence and a desire to be self-reliant starts in the crib. She was not about to give anyone any control over who she was, at least not that day.

Intent on building her sense of worth, I tried again a few days later. This time she grinned at me and expressed pleasure. For reasons only known to her, she decided it was okay to be created by God.

When I challenged the creation story, my mother strongly defended it. I was much older than my granddaughter. I did not mind the idea of being created by God but at that time the theory of evolution sounded reasonable. Not wanting to give up God, I tried to separate the issue into two camps: science and religion. God was someone to worship and hear my prayers but since science seemed to have proven otherwise, He must have created everything by some sort of evolutionary method.

What I didn’t know is that all scientific data is not in yet. Even since then, research has uncovered evidence of an instantaneous creation. Igneous rocks and coal have “radio halos” which indicated a very young earth. The familiar process of erosion also shows that the earth cannot be as old as once thought.

As far as where life came from, in the middle ages, people saw mold grow, insects come out of morning dew, and maggots appear in rotting material. To them, it was reasonable to believe life was spontaneously generated. It was only after Pasteur proved otherwise that this medieval alternative to Creation became obsolete.

However, there were some scientists that did not want to let go of that idea. They determined Pasteur proved very little. They said life may be able to occur spontaneously in other conditions. To them, scientific proof was not enough and life must somehow just happen. Author J. H. Rush says, “It illustrates beautifully the tendency to believe what we want to believe.”

Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

It seems that people have said, “Let us decide that humans are creatures evolved from a primate, evolved from a one-celled whatever, and that this one celled creature came from... we are not sure. In any case, we intend to rule everything, including our creation history.” So men and women created gods in their own imagination and made them creatures that vaguely resemble themselves.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Loved like an old sweater .................. Parables 417

April 19, 1994

At eighty-five years young, my father has a sharp mind but his body is slowing down. During a recent visit, I noticed how many times he talked about old people who feel useless. He never mentioned he personally felt useless but it seemed he might be thinking that way.

After two days together, our conversation turned to teenagers and how they often lack a sense of self-worth. I mentioned that many people, both young and old, struggle with self-esteem. So easily, we try to get it from either our possessions, our popularity, or our achievements. The downside of using those things to give us a sense of worth is that do not last. When they go, so does our self-esteem.

My dad totally agreed. After eight and a half decades, he knows first hand how quickly money and material goods come and go. At one time his Scottish heritage made him a thrifty person. Now he is not concerned if he spends his money because having it means much less than it once did.

We talked about the times I taught seminars on self-esteem. In them, I shared how it is possible to develop a solid sense of worth on something that can never fade or be taken away from us. In contrast, if money is the foundation for our value, we will never have enough. If we make popularity the thing to give us worth, then how many friends will we need to be satisfied? Further, no matter what anyone achieves, someone always comes along to out-do their achievement.

As we chatted, I said our worth is far more secure when it is based on Christ who does not change. By dying for our sins, He proved He loves us. Further, He died for us when we were still sinners, so He accepts us no matter what we have done. Knowing His perfect love is very important to a healthy self-worth.

Then I told my dad a true story about an old sweater.

A certain popular author had a pullover hanging in the back of his closet. It no longer fit him and was worn full of holes. He never wore it anymore. Logic told him he should throw it away. It was so shabby.

But his heart would not let him get rid of the sweater. Even though it was not useful, attractive, nor able to keep him warm, he considered it precious. He even loved it. The pullover was valuable in his sight because of who made it. Years ago, it was knit for him by his beloved mother.

I told my dad this is like the love of God. He cares for us regardless of our usefulness or beauty. Sometimes we forget that. Our logic says that when we are old and faded, worn and useless, there is nothing left for anyone to care about.

But the love of God is not based on those qualities or on who we are. His love is based on who He is and it does not change because He does not change. Hebrews 1 says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

The earth will perish, never mind the stuff that we collect or achieve, but the love of God is a constant thing. Those who rest in that love can be assured they are like an old sweater. God has no intention of cleaning out His closet because those He has made and redeemed are precious to Him.

The day I talked with dad, I also vacuumed his room. His closet door was open and I noticed hanging in the back were a few worn-out old pullovers and cardigans. Maybe that is why his eyes filled with tears when I reminded him he is loved just like an old sweater.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Preparing to die .................. Parables 416

April 12, 1994

On Easter Sunday, before we left for church, my husband turned on the television set. One of the religious programs was just ending with a choral rendition. The song stirred our hearts. It was called “He is Risen,” and vividly described how Jesus conquered death. Right after the music finished, the station went to a commercial break--an advertisement for funeral services!

How ironic that a message about the glorious hope of life after death should be followed by another that was essentially twentieth-century marketing. The main gist of it was that without prepaying on a casket and funeral plot, no one can prepare for dying.

Every culture does make plans for burial, even people who lived the same time as Jesus was on earth. For instance, a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea had a tomb, a new one he must have bought for himself, but he was not the first to use it. When Jesus was crucified, this man asked Pilate for His body and placed it in his own tomb.

However, preparing for death involves more than buying a coffin and a cemetery plot. We all experience birth, life and death, but the Bible says we all face judgment after we die (Hebrews 9:27). It seems to me judgment requires some preparation also.

My husband used to think that if he did his best, God would evaluate the good against the bad and make a fair decision. Bob later realized his concept of what would please God is something like serving an omelet made with three good eggs and three rotten ones. No judge would even smile at that mixture.

Some people think judgment will not be a problem for them because they have tried their best. They have been “basically good people” and no doubt, they are right. They have not committed gross sins, robbed banks, abused their family, or murdered anyone. Instead, they have been good neighbors, had a generous heart, and served their home and community well.

However, imagine good swimmers lined up on the west coast of Canada. Hawaii is heaven and swimming is the only way. Good swimmers would cover at least twenty-five or thirty miles, maybe more, yet in regard to getting to heaven by goodness, Romans 3 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That means the “good” people may seem closer than others, but in reality, no one can make the distance. The standard is too high.

How then can a person prepare for a judgment he or she is sure to fall short on? There is only one way: by realizing the outcome of this judgment is not based on the relative goodness or badness of our lives but on what we have done with Christ. John 3:36 says: “He that believes on the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

Some say of Jesus, “We don’t want this man to be our king.” Jesus said they will get their wish. Those who spend eternity outside of His kingdom, in outer darkness, away from His presence are those whose preparation for death did not include Christ. By rejecting Him in this life, they cannot be with Him in the next one.

Others gladly receive Jesus. They receive from Him forgiveness of sin and the right to be called the children of God (John 1:12). He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

The Bible says because Jesus lives, we can also. According to these spiritual realities, the Easter song has more about funeral planning in it than the commercial did!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Generosity is evidence of faith .................. Parables 415

April 5, 1994

A former major in the Canadian armed services shared how different his financial affairs became when his spiritual life changed. He said at one time, neither he or his wife were walking with God, even though they considered themselves Christians. During that time, no matter how hard they tried, they had trouble making their money last from payday to payday and were always in debt.

Eventually, a crisis turned them in a God-ward direction. After that happened, they became convinced they should be giving a portion of their income to the needy, toward missions, and to their church, yet it was impossible. How would they have enough money?

Nevertheless, they decided to be more generous. God would supply their needs. This man was happy to say it was not many years before they were completely out of debt and they had a substantial savings account besides.

The Bible teaches several things about money, especially our attitude towards it. Greed, selfishness, hoarding, and withholding from those in need is condemned. Instead, God wants His people to give generously to others and be wise managers of what is left.

The Bible also teaches that the more a person’s life is given to obey God and do His will, the more generous that person becomes. In fact, it says faith can be measured by generosity: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical need, what good is it?”

A common concept among those who do not go to church is that all a church wants from people is their money. That might be true for some but it certainly is not true for all congregations, nor is it biblical. Almost every church I have ever attended took an offering, had a budget, and gave out tax receipts simply because there are expenses involved in managing a local church, but their focus was never on money but on needs.

Even in our wealthy country, there are needy people. In Edmonton alone, there are homeless, hungry, and helpless folks who freeze in the winter, eat from garbage dumpsters, and must be cared for by others more fortunate.

Some criticize the church for lack of social action without realizing that even the simplest help given comes with a price tag. If the people who attend socially-involved churches do not give generously (both time and money) who can be helped?

Jesus stood with His disciples watching people give. Some were wealthy and gave great sums. One was a widow who only had two coins. She gave both of them. Jesus commended her rather than those who had lots and gave only a portion. She gave all she had.

Paul said, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Because God is interested in the reason we give, no one should be forced to give, or sent on a guilt-trip if they cannot.

The Bible teaches that God wants us to know Him, to know He is generous and will take care of us. When we have faith in Him, we are set free to help others without worrying about ourselves. He says, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and... your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

The person who trusts God still has a responsibility to know where their money goes, but when we do trust Him, He will make sure we have enough.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Christianity cannot be legislated .................. Parables 414

March 29, 1994

A few weeks ago, a senior federal judge in Texas ordered a woman and her four children to attend church each week for a year. The judge also advised the woman to not have any more children without a husband. He said, “I know there are all sorts of constitutional questions about this, but I just thought if I put her on probation... it would do a whole lot more good...”

“Constitutional questions” indeed. What about separation of church and state? Does it mean no one in the legal system can use “church” as probation for a crime? Can judicial action like this lead to disintegration of personal and civil rights?

Historically, political leaders first tolerated the church then persecuted its members but around A.D. 300, Roman emperor Constantine decided that it was to the advantage of the Empire to declare Christianity the state religion. Since he had the clout to enforce such a decree, most people made a profession of faith, whether or not they really believed. With that, the known world became “Christian.”

For several hundred years, politics and church were far from separate. If the head of the Roman Empire and the head of the Roman church did not agree, the stronger one ruled, both politically and in matters of religion.

During the Reformation, several Christian leaders decided that because of corruption, both politically and ecclesiastically, these two institutions should be separate. In other words, their faith would not be dictated by the king.

However, many thought political leaders were responsible to maintain the faith. That is, according to Scripture, the government was under God for the purpose of maintaining law and order and to make sure the church was protected. So, while many Christians refused government interference in doctrinal matters, they welcomed Christian leaders who would look after their best interests.

It has seldom worked. Perhaps power corrupts, but the fact of the matter is, true faith can neither be legislated or enforced using political means. The Gospel is a spiritual message requiring a personal decision. Neither Constantine or judges in Texas can make anyone become a lover of God against their will.

On the other hand, the Gospel is a power to be reckoned with. Through it, people have been fully convinced of their sin, fully made aware of their need for forgiveness, and fully released from the power of sin that controls them. Men and women who once hated Christians have been transformed into God-fearing Christians themselves.

The judge in Texas did have another option. According to the strict letter of the law, the woman’s crime called for a prison sentence, which would separate her from her children. They would be wards of the state and put into institutions or placed in foster care.

Since the judge had enough clout to go contrary to current thinking about church and state, he took a chance. Going to church would not automatically reform that mother’s ways yet there is a possibility that the power of the Gospel will set her free from her criminal habits. As Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If being made to go to church sets her free from a life of crime, how can the constitution, or anyone else, fault that judge’s decision?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Testing religions .................. Parables 413

March 22 1994

A few weeks ago, an employer wanted to cut costs by making substitutions without the knowledge of a client. A person who worked for that company insisted on holding to high standards. Within days, he was informed the company had no more work for him.

Cutting corners is a common but not always ethical practice. People usually lose their jobs for doing it, not for refusing to do it. Who can tolerate being ripped off?

Yet it happens, not only in business but in the realm of religion. Substitutes are offered all the time and many people have no way of distinguishing between the real thing and sub-standard alternates that fail to deliver what they promise.

Putting the religions of the world to the test risks being simplistic; religions are complex. However, the answers to a few basic questions may reveal whether a belief system has something to it, or is merely an imitation.

First, ask if it has adequate answers to the big questions, such as: Where did we come from? Why are we here? and where are we going?

Second, ask who started the system? Where did it come from? And does it offer convincing evidence for its sources?

Third, does it change people? both their lives and their destinations?

And one more; since no one makes copies of imitation Gucci watches, ask if the belief system is copied, and do those copies do justice to the original?

In one form or another, those questions are raised every generation. Some within each era discover that the Bible answers those questions. Even though the answers are constantly challenged, it does not mean they are incorrect.

Working from the last question to the first, the Bible and Christianity have been imitated. During the first centuries, counterfeit “Scripture” abounded. Fortunately, followers of Jesus who were close to the events could tell the difference. Succeeding generations have a solid foundation of Apostolic teaching by which imitations can be discerned. Today, the Bible, the Christian church, and people who believe in Christ are constantly copied yet all the cults and isms have failed in their imitation of the genuine.

A biblical faith has solid evidence for its source. Scripture was written by 40 authors over several thousand years yet they agreed with each other, demonstrating divine inspiration. Prophets foretold future events with amazing accuracy. Honest scholarship and archeology continually uncover historical validation. Thousands of copies exist with only minor variations. No other book has withstood as many attacks against it as the Bible.

The greatest evidence is Jesus who claimed “I am the resurrection and the life.” He was crucified and buried but walked out of His tomb. He says those who believe in Him will do the same.

Those same believers are also imitated, yet genuine Christians are different from imitators. We know we fall short of God’s high standards because of our sin. We also know God will accept a substitute. We know Christ died in our place, taking our sin on Himself and accepting the punishment we deserve.

We also know Christ lives in us, giving us the only standard of life that satisfies God. In both life and death, He is an acceptable substitute, not sub-standard like we are, but perfect. Because of Him, we are different.

He also answers those first questions. Everyone is here by God’s creation, designed to glorify and enjoy Him. Everyone is also going from this life to eternity. The way people live here and the place where they spend eternity depends on what they do with Jesus.