Monday, May 30, 2016

The true nature of humanity .................. Parables 438

September 13, 1994

A Canadian doctor, after 12 years of doing surgery in war-torn places, has come to this conclusion: “There are only bad people and worse people.” He hopes he is “only one of the bad.”

Many people say war brings out fine attributes in people such as courage and national pride, but this doctor seems totally disillusioned. For him, there is no human goodness and war makes it obvious.

According to the Bible, the doctor is correct. It is those who see a positive side of human nature, wars or not, that are disillusioned. Consider this verse from the Old Testament: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). That means everyone, even those who seem the most saintly, have sinned.

A second passage from the New Testament adds more: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Certainly by human standards, people often do good (the doctor did some good during his 12 years of service), but the Bible teaches that by God’s standard, sin pollutes every person and every deed. God even says the good we do is polluted. One of His prophets explains: “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.”

For God to condemn what we esteem, must mean He sees something behind our supposed good deeds that we cannot see. Consider our motivations. I honestly must admit I am often influenced by selfish desires for personal gain or recognition. I know God sees that and does not approve.

If sinful motives were not enough to condemn even the good we do, God expects even more. He says “whatever is not of faith is sin.” Not only do selfish motives fail His test, deeds done in unbelief fall short. He wants us to be motivated by faith.

According to God’s Word, all sin, even sin not apparent to us, needs to be exposed by God and acknowledged to God. His purpose is not so He can condemn us (sin already does that) but so He can forgive and cleanse our sin from us. Accepting and believing His evaluation of our condition is the first step towards good deeds that are not motivated by selfishness and unbelief.

God, through grace and the power of His Spirit, provides a way to be rightly motivated in godly activities. Our hope is in the righteousness of Christ, given freely to all who admit their need. Romans 3 says “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

The goodness of God is a genuine gift. No one can earn or deserve it; we do not have the capacity. We cannot even claim the smallest measure of goodness. Nothing we do without Jesus can satisfy God’s high and holy standard. Without His offer of salvation by grace through faith, none of us would even seek that degree of goodness.

Even with faith in Christ, the good we do is clearly from Him. Any believing Christian who thinks otherwise simply proves our sinful tendency toward pride.

As the doctor said, war does amplify the extremes of our sinful nature. While we respect those who courageously risk their lives to defend homeland and families, we should never forget it is because we are sinners that we go to war in the first place.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Atheists, agnostics and knowing God .................. Parables 437

September 6, 1994

A person professing to be an atheist was flattered when someone suggested to him, “You must be extremely knowledgeable.”

He responded that he felt he was definitely intelligent and well informed. To that, the other person responded, “You must know everything there is to know.”

The atheist said, “Well, no, I have to admit that I do not. Actually, no one can know all there is to know.”

The next response was more unsettling: “I am surprised. Being an atheist requires knowing all there is to know about everything. The reason you have to be so knowledgeable is simple: if you don’t know everything, then God could exist in a realm of which you are completely ignorant.”

At that, and somewhat to his credit, the person who called himself an atheist changed his label. He said perhaps he was really an agnostic. The Bible says, “Only a fool says in his heart there is no God.” This man at least decided not to be a fool.

An agnostic position is somewhat like atheism, however. Agnostics believe ultimate reality (usually God) is unknown and unknowable. They seldom insist there is no God but say no one can know for sure.

Strangely, the Bible never argues for the existence of God. Instead, it treats the issue as self-evident. Concerning creation, no one finding a grand piano in the middle of a jungle would suppose the ebony trees fell in just the right configuration, ivory tusks from elephants over a period of years arranged themselves in order and were polished smooth by the rains, and copper ore was buffeted by the elements until it became piano wire. Because of the intricacies of creation, an intelligent Creator is assumed.

As for accountability, the Bible also assumes every man realizes that one day he will die and face judgment. This common fear is evident in the way people from every culture and era try every possible means to either escape death or appease the “ultimate judge” regarding their obvious imperfections.

A few decide the most rational choice is to declare God dead. If there is no God, there can be no judgment. Others imagine a god (or gods) that would approve of their lifestyle. Still others make idols to represent the gods they fear and offer sacrifices of various sorts hoping this will make their gods treat them favorably in the afterlife.

The religions of the world have in common the notion of some sort of ultimate reality but only one holds there is one God, the Lord Jehovah, creator of the universe and sovereign over His creation. This God revealed Himself to a people-group, the Hebrew nation, who recorded that revelation in a collection of books known as the Old Testament.

Then, two thousand years ago, He revealed Himself more fully by pulling on humanity (like a suit of clothes) and becoming one of us. In Jesus Christ, we can see what God is like: He loves us, but hates sin — so much so that He became our sacrifice for it. His story is in the New Testament.

As for the atheist’s requirement to know everything and the agnostic’s insistence one cannot know, Christ declares God is knowable. Those who follow Christ enjoy an intimate, personal relationship with Him. The reality of that relationship is so incredible that we are satisfied not to know everything else.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Practical Education Methods .................. Parables 436

August 30, 1994

The students in Leah’s elementary class were each given two plants and instructed to put one in a closet and the other where it would receive plenty of sunshine. Otherwise, both plants must receive equal care.

After a few weeks, the teacher asked the class what they observed. All reported that the plant in the sunlight was twice the size as the other one. All but Leah said they learned from the size of the larger plant that plants need sunlight. Leah had a different view. She looked at the smaller plant and said, “No matter where you live, you can grow.”

While some teacher might not appreciate that response, Leah’s mother applauds her daughter’s thought processes. Leah did not give the “expected” answer and she “doesn’t think like the others.” She is very “positive.”

My question is: will the education system encourage thinkers like Leah? Or will she eventually “learn” to give only the “expected” answers?

A common method of education involves teachers learning material, then passing the information to students, often by using a lecture. The students use notebooks to record what they hear, memorize some of it in order to get a passing mark on an exam, then forget most of what they learned.

Although most manuals on teaching say this is the least effective way to learn, many teaching situations fall into this lecture/exam pattern. Sunday school and church are often similar. Even though preachers and Christian teachers usually spare us from exams, most use lectures and applaud note-taking.

Jesus lectured too, but used another teaching method that was very effective. He involved His students both in discovering and defining problems as well as involving them in the solutions.

The following example illustrates a modern application. Students form a circle leaving one person out. They wrap their arms tightly around the neighbor on each side and will not allow the one outside in, no matter how hard he or she tries.

After the exercise, the class discusses how it felt to be excluded (helpless, unwanted, angry) and how it felt to exclude one person (fun at first, then uncomfortable, guilty). They examine ways outsiders can find acceptance, what to do if they are part of such a group and do not like what is happening, what the others might do if one person broke the circle, and creative methods of displaying acceptance.

After this exercise and discussion, they will long remember the importance of Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

In a class that uses active learning exercises, the students are not expected to give certain responses. There is no right way to feel nor is there an exam hanging on the answers. The students are drawn into a situation that produces emotions very much like those they experience every day but in an environment where it is safe to discuss them. Students who participate in the above exercise often say they feel just as bad keeping someone out as they feel being left out, something they normally would not admit in an actual life situation.

Jesus taught His disciples this way, but rather than create an artificial situation, He took them out into the marketplace. Together they met with, taught, and confronted their world. After a debriefing with the Master teacher, those men never forgot His lessons.

Leah would fit extremely well into classes like that.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Importance of love .................. Parables 435

August 23, 1994

Love is risky. We all know it. Boy meets girl and they fall in love, then one of them changes their mind and the other one is devastated. The risky side of love is that there is no guarantee of a return on the investment.

Love is also vital. It must be, because, for the most part, no matter the risks of falling in love, it still happens. Experiments prove that unloved children (and adults) have poorer health and some even die. Receiving love is a basic need. Giving love is also a basic need, as we shall see.

Because of pain after having their love rejected, a few people refuse to love again. For them, the risk was not worth it; their hearts have been broken. Without a return on their investment, they do not want to love anyone. It makes them too vulnerable to tragedy.

They are partly right. C. S. Lewis says it well: “To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, no even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the coffin of your selfishness....”

Definitely the opposite of love is self-indulgence. As Lewis says, it is pampering the heart and making comfortable the body, refusing to take risks, and flat-out denying the love-needs of others.

The familiar words of John 3:16 stand out in stark contrast to this idea of holding back love. It describes how God made Himself vulnerable and took the risk of loving us. “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

God’s love is unlike ours. He did not concern Himself with getting strokes, enjoying hugs, receiving gifts, or basking in complements. His love gives – as demonstrated by Christ Himself. What more could God do to show He loves us than by giving His own life?

Further, He did it “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5). Since sinners are people who reject God and do not love Him, being loved in return was not the issue for God. Had it been, He would not have gave so much to people who were ultimately going to reject and crucify Him.

Scripture describes love, not as an emotion but as attitudes and actions. Both require decisions; read 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient—lovers decide to be patient. Love is kind—lovers choose kindness. Love does not hold grudges—lovers sometimes even acts apart from contrary inner feelings.

Followers of Christ must be committed to His kind of love. In fact, without love, Jesus said no one can be His disciple. He describes it as being willing to give up control, comfort, pride, and personal rights for the sake of God and the eternal good of others. It is a choice, a risky but vital decision.

Those not wanting to risk it, as C. S. Lewis says, will wind up clinging to their comfort, and guarding personal wants and rights carefully, locking them safely in the coffin of selfishness.

Lewis goes on: “But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--your heart will change. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Friday, May 20, 2016

God speaks in a whisper .................. Parables 434

August 16, 1994

In recent storms, lightning turned night almost to day, thunder shook the walls, and the wind even got our attention. Insurance companies describe those storms and their aftermath as “acts of God,” but, while God’s power may be illustrated by thunder and wind, it is not the only way He gets our attention.

Disasters usually bring God to mind though. Some raise an angry fist and shout at Him, “why me.” Others close their hands in prayer, even pull a dusty Bible off the shelf, and turn to Him for help. They are hoping He will somehow speak reassuringly.

Elijah, an Old Testament prophet and godly man, suffered what he thought was a disaster, then listened for God’s reassuring voice in a storm. To his surprise, he heard Him in another way.

Elijah had been divinely sent to confront the wickedness of King Ahab, his treacherous wife Jezebel, and a few hundred false prophets who promoted idol worship. After a spectacular encounter, the prophets met their death. Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah: “May the gods deal with me ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like of one of them.”

Elijah He ran for his life. After covering considerable distance, he collapsed under a tree. God took care of his physical needs but Elijah was still extremely anxious. He traveled even farther and spent a night in a cave. Then God asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

At that, God told him to stand on the mountain in His presence and He would pass by. When Elijah obeyed, a powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but the Bible says, “the LORD was not in the wind.”

After the wind there was an earthquake, but “the LORD was not in the earthquake.” After the earthquake came a fire, but “the LORD was not in the fire.”

Finally, after this display of power, God did speak—in a gentle whisper. Elijah heard it and covered his face. God quietly told him, “Go back and anoint a new king.” He also addressed his fears: “I reserved seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”

God reassured Elijah that he was not battling evil all by himself, but the story makes another point. In his state of anxiety, Elijah was so wrapped up in himself and his concerns that God had to use a spectacular demonstration of power to get his attention, some so-called “acts of God.” In them, Elijah discovered what many of God’s children also discover: God’s voice is not loud like thunder, earth-shaking like a quake, or flashy like lightning or fire. Instead, He speaks in a “a still small voice,” a whisper.

That “whisper” can be heard, if we, like Elijah, turn toward Him and willingly listen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Taming a moose .................. Parables 433

August 9, 1994

An Alaskan airport has an unusual item in their budget; special turnstile gates for moose.

Alaskan moose are gigantic. We had a cow and calf living in our neighborhood in Kenai. She stood over six feet tall at the shoulder. We also noticed if any vehicle, no matter its size, encountered a moose on the highway, the moose won.

No wonder airport officials were concerned when moose continually wandering across airport property. These animals thought nothing of lying down on the runway for a snooze, swimming in the float plane basin, and grazing along landing strips. Special gates had to be installed, turnstiles that let moose out but do not allow them to return.

Wildlife can be a problem anywhere. Today a magpie landed right outside my study window. When I moved, it flew to the fence but returned as soon as I looked away. It squawked at me as if to say, “I was here first, get out of my space.” Sometimes I think magpies (and mosquitoes) really plan on taking over the world!

Whether animals plot against us or not, the first chapter in the Bible describes what God intended our relationship to them should be: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”

This plan of dominion over all creation is often misunderstood; environmentalists sometimes blame Christians for exploiting nature. Clearly, the Bible never advocates such exploitation. Adam was told to “tend and keep” the garden, indicating God meant we were to take care of the world. It provides food and other resources necessary for our survival yet God forbids we selfishly abuse or pollute that supply.

Having dominion means nature’s creatures were intended to be subject to man. Some of that is apparent in the domestication of cattle, sheep, chickens and other birds and animals. Some are trained to work: oxen, horses and carrier pigeons; or to perform: lions, tigers, and talking parrots. Others are tamed as pets.

Occasionally someone shows an ability to relate to animals in an unusual way such as feeding wild birds out of their hand. I used to be able to catch horses that others had to lasso. However, most animals require work to tame or train. They have minds of their own and are not interested in doing what we tell them to do.

In fact, most wild animals run the other way when they see or smell human beings. They seem to understand something has gone wrong in the heart of man. Instead of respecting us, they are afraid of what we might do to them.

It was not always like that. Adam and Eve lived in harmony with creation. A few generations later, Noah built an ark and was able to put on it two of each living creature, but even by his generation, sin was beginning to have its effect. Not only were human relationships rapidly deteriorating, so was the proper relation of man to animals. Because of sin, we have now lost most of the kind of dominion we were intended to have.

The airport in Alaska previously used 54 regular gates but, wouldn’t you know it, people were always leaving them open. Once one man could command a multitude of animals into a boat, now it costs thousands of dollars just to keep a few moose out of our space.

Monday, May 16, 2016

God’s amazing love .................. Parables 432

August 2, 1994

Did Dr. Spock start it? Or was it the flower children of the hippy generation? Who popularized this laid-back, passive “love” that does not bother itself with trying to correct anyone’s behavior? Who decided that love accepts anything anyone else does?

Whoever did it, the concept is a far cry from what many of us from an “older generation” experienced in our growing-up years. Our parents loved us... so much so that whenever we rebelled, we received correction—bent over their knees. Some of my friends, who were never spanked, complained their parents didn’t care about them!

This soft, look-the-other-way brand of “love” probably contributed to another popular concept. It goes something like this: “God loves us too much to send anyone to hell.”

Putting that alongside Biblical descriptions of God, one must conclude those who deny the reality of hell and deny that anyone will go there, have a false concept of God and of love.

That does not mean God is unloving, not at all. Remember John 3:16; “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son....” But God is also holy. Holiness is wholeness, perfection. Christ demonstrated it: He was “in all points tempted like we are but was without sin.”

Does sinlessness mean that God is so good, so pure, that if anyone entered His presence with their sin it would somehow pollute, violate, or ruin God?

Not at all. His holiness does not depend on the purity of anyone or anything else. Again, Jesus demonstrated it: He walked this earth and rubbed shoulders with sinners yet none could entice Him to do wrong.

However, sin did violate God in a sense. It was imputed to Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “God made Him (meaning Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us...”

That means that God put all our sin on Jesus, much like a judge, if so disposed, could write the crimes of another person to my account, thus forcing me to pay their penalty. In Jesus’ case, Isaiah the prophet said it would happen, yet Jesus was not forced to take our sin; He did it willingly. “The Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all... yet He did not open His mouth...” (Is.53:6). Why would God do that?

The answer is also found in Scripture. The Lord took our sin upon Himself here on earth so we could enter heaven without it. The full reading of 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In this great exchange, my sin was put on Christ and Christ’s righteousness was put on me. By this trade-off, the Divine Judge declared me free, no penalty to pay myself because Christ paid it for me. I am not innocent but, because of Christ, I am justified. God treats me just as if I had never sinned.

To say God is too loving to punish sin implies that the love of God is not really love, sin is not a big deal, and most of all, that Christ did not have to die. It says the descriptions in the Bible of God’s character are lies, as is the historical account of Christ’s death and resurrection. If God does not love us, Jesus had no reason to do what He did.

Perhaps Jesus knew some would misinterpret the love of God as a soft, look-the-other-way tolerance. Even though He both affirmed and demonstrated the love of God as far greater than that, He also said, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”

Hell is not a pleasant thought, but because of Jesus, the place is avoidable.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Importance of humble submission .................. Parables 431

July 26, 1994

The baby sitter sat on the swimming pool’s edge. She enjoyed taking care of these children. Not only was the pool a nice bonus, these children were obedient. Their parents had diligently taught them to obey with a pleasant spirit. When she told them to do something, they did it with a smile.

As she dangled her feet in the water, a flicker of light and faint buzzing attracted her attention. She looked up into the cloudless sky and saw nothing. In a few seconds, she heard the noise again. It sounded like an angry insect. Her eye caught a flash of light near the house where cables carried electricity into the family home. Wires sparked and cracked.

The sitter jumped to her feet and quickly called the children. She didn’t have time to think what might happen if they argued with her. “Get out of the pool, right now,” she cried.

Each child obeyed instantly. Moments after they backed from the edge of the pool, the cable sizzled once more. With sparks flying, it separated and one end fell into the water with a loud crack, then a bang as the breaker tripped. No one was injured.

When we heard this story, we thought most children would have responded to a command to get out of a swimming pool on a hot day with: “What for? We are having fun. Give us a break...” or something similar. These children were different. The rest of the story explained why.

At the root of their response was training received by parents who were dedicated to the Word of God. They tried to know it, understand it, and teach it to their children. They also realized teaching alone would not insure obedience, so they tried to follow it as closely as possible in their own lives.

They particularly modeled what the Bible said about couples. Their father tried to love their mother and serve her needs, just as Christ loves and serves the church. Their mother made it her aim to respond to her husband as the church should respond to Christ. Their children saw how God’s plan for families resulted in parents who worked well together without missing any of the enjoyment of life.

That example made it easier for them to obey Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother--which is the first commandment with a promise--that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

The phrase, “obey your parents in the Lord” refers to the children in their obedience, not to the parents in their giving orders. In other words, the children are “in the Lord,” trusting Him, rather than waiting for parents to be godly before listening to what they say.

In the sight of God, children are significant and able to make choices. He knows children can choose to trust and obey Him, even if their parents do not. However, verse 4 shows that God is concerned parents do their part. Moms and dads are not supposed to exasperate their children or provoke them to anger. Instead, they are responsible to lovingly teach their little ones as the Lord would, nurturing and caring for them.

Even though the primary message of the Bible concerns eternal life in heaven, this story illustrates one way that simple obedience to God can result in a longer life here on earth.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Size of God .................. Parables 430

July 19, 1994

Along the edge of Alaska’s Cook Inlet, across from the city of Kenai, stands mountains without foothills. One of them, Mount Redoubt, rises out of the edge of the sea to over 10,100 feet. Its outline is almost a perfect isosceles triangle. No matter where you stand in Kenai, 60 miles across the inlet, Redoubt looms huge in the west. The mountain is awesome.

The Canadian Rockies also fill viewers with wonder. We climb several thousand feet driving through the foothills to their base and are still amazed when we look up at their height. We feel so small.

It reminds me of what an ant might feel like at a picnic. Imagine how large a piece of cheese would seem, or an apple, or a turkey drumstick!

Even more, think how a human would seem to an ant? We are so large, the insect would probably not really understand our size. It might notice heat, feel some vibrations, and sense movement yet would fail to grasp that something far more complex than itself had staked a claim on the picnic area.

Comparing ourselves with mountains and ants is not too difficult. To most of us, whatever ants do is not a big deal either. Some hot-climate varieties make homes several feet high and filled with intricate tunnels, but we know one bulldozer can easily level them, just as one toe can deal with a pesky picnic variety.

Mountains are not so easily leveled. Sometimes they blow their own top (as did Redoubt a few years ago), but the best we humans can do is carve a few roads along their sides or bore a tunnel through part of them. We compare to mountains about the same way an ant compares to us.

Although a mountain’s size may awe us, someone will rise to the challenge and at least identify its rock, vegetation and wildlife. Others will climb the thing just to prove “big” is something they can conquer.

What about the bigness of God? Is He like a mountain in that we can figure out His shape, measure His distance, and evaluate His make-up? Can we conquer Him to prove we can handle Him?

Understanding the size of God may be more like the task of the picnic ant. God’s bigness is beyond our vision. We cannot back far enough away to get Him in perspective. We cannot understand His immensity. He is not only unseen but His size is beyond our comprehension.

Part of the reason we cannot contain Him with our senses is that God, according to Scripture, is everywhere. Theologians use the word “omnipresent.” It simply means God exists in all places. Maybe we can move away from Him spiritually, but physically, we cannot get away from God (Psalm 139).

There are several ways we can sense God is present, even if He is too “big” to see. For one thing, His activity can be seen both in the grandeur of His creation (from a mountain to a butterfly’s wing) and in the ways He changes human attitudes (from sin-loving to repentance).

God’s presence is also seen through answered prayer. We can rely on Him to be an “ever-present help in time of trouble” because He promises to hear and respond to those who trust Him.

Finally, God tells us He is with us. Jesus said, “I am with you always.” Just as “the Spirit testifies to our Spirit that we are God’s children,” He often gives us a definite sense of His nearness.

An ant at our picnic may be threatened by our size and we will certainly not welcome the ant, but don’t let His size fool you: God does not chase anyone away from Himself.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fears and the power of God .................. Parables 429

July 12, 1994

My husband’s Uncle Bud led a colorful life. For instance, he once had a water spaniel that was afraid of water. Embarrassed with this inappropriate characteristic, Uncle Bud did what most people would do; he tossed it in the river. The fearful dog not only nearly drowned; Bud had to jump in and rescue it!

Like that dog, each of us have fears of one kind or another. For instance, my sister-in-law shrieks when she sees a spider and I once chased my brother around the yard with a garter snake. My own pulse races just watching on television the view from atop a tall building. People have fears in the spiritual realm too. Some are afraid of evil spirits. Others are afraid of God and think He plans harm for them. On the other hand, some Christians fear making gross mistakes and sinning against Him. Those who feel that way often pray: “lead us not into temptation.”

In relation to fearing sin, there is a comforting promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Anyone serious about not sinning hopes this verse means God will never give them anything they can’t handle. That is almost what it says, but not exactly. Read it again. God promises to not allow temptation beyond what we can bear — in that He provides a way to stand up under the temptation. He does not say overwhelming temptation will never come nor does He say we can handle it by ourselves.

Realistically, this world without temptation would be heaven! Since that is not the case, temptation to sin is everywhere, not only inside our own hearts but all around us. By allowing us to experience temptation, God helps us discover one of two things. Either by failure we learn where our faith needs to be stronger, or by success we learn that God is faithful. His way out actually works.

Regarding fear, it is generally opposite to faith. It is impossible to trust God and be anxious at the same time. When Jesus walked on water, Peter thought that would be exciting and asked if he could try. Jesus invited him to step out of the boat. Peter was fine as long as he kept his eyes on the Lord. As soon as he looked at the storm, fear confronted him and the apostle followed anxiety instead of Jesus.

Peter had a way out. He could keep on trusting Christ, but he failed. Instead of standing up under the temptation, he actually began sinking under the water. Jesus had to come to his rescue.

Job, an Old Testament character, had problems with fear also. He hoped calamity would never happen, but after losing his livestock and his family, Job said, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.”

However, Job also “feared God and shunned evil.” When his negative fears came true, his faith in God wavered but held. He was finally able to say: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Later, God restored his losses and commended him for his declaration of faith.

Like Bud’s little dog, without intervention, we would not survive many situations that confront us. Trust in God does not eliminate temptation, danger or trials, but He does guarantee to provide a way through them so we can resist yielding to fear or sin.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Hero Worship .................. Parables 428

July 5, 1994

The man with a gun to his head led over a dozen police cars along the Los Angeles freeway system. Live television cameras unfolded this emotion-charged drama right in our living rooms.

For the most part, the crowds along the highway seemed concerned that football star, O. J. Simpson, did not pull the trigger. To them, he was a hero, an exalted champion. Heroes do not kill themselves. They shouted words of support from opposite driving lanes. In the tension of the situation, people forgot he was a suspect who may have already killed two other people.

Within a couple of weeks, O. J. appeared more and more involved in the brutal deaths of his ex-wife and another person. Even so, some regard him as still a hero. He shone so brightly on the playing field, nothing can tarnish him in their eyes. “He must have been framed,” they say. They are loyal, no matter what their hero may have done.

Psychologists say we need heroes. We want someone bigger than we are to look up to, even to be our model, someone to pattern our lives after. For many, prominent athletes like O. J. Simpson fill that need. His die-hard fans indicate some will defend a hero, yet others quickly turn away in disgust at the first sign of mortal flaw.

What would happen if the hero were perfect? Would that guarantee complete and total loyalty? Would all become fans and none ever turn away disgruntled or disillusioned?

It seems logical to suppose a perfect hero would guarantee total commitment. Consider the Carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “He was in all points tempted like we are, yet He was without sin.”

Here is a perfect person, according to God, He did no wrong. He was flawless, the ideal hero. But what does that mean?

Consider His power: He went against all challenges and conquered them. Violent weather, demonic forces, sickness, blindness, even death, was no match for this hero. However, sinlessness has nothing to do with power.

Consider His love and gentleness. Jesus never hurt anyone. He forgave the repentant, wept over the indifferent, warned those with hard hearts, and loved everyone to the point that He willingly died on the Cross to pay their penalty for their sins. This is closer to what sinless means, yet His actions of love are more a symptom than a definition.

Consider His virtue. He is described as being “full of grace and truth”, one who “went about doing good”, “the true light,” “the Bread of life,” and “the way, the truth, and the life.” Sinlessness is virtue, goodness in the heart. It is never disobeying God because there is absolutely nothing inside that is evil.

Jesus had a large fan club for a while but eventually everyone turned against Him. Maybe they wanted a hero with an extensive wardrobe, fancy house, several cars, and a swimming pool. Certainly they wanted one who could change their political situation. But most of all, they wanted a hero who would give without making any demands – and Jesus disappointed them.

He talked too much about how they should give up everything to follow Him, even their lives, and become “perfect, even as their heavenly Father is perfect.” Heroes are not supposed to do that.

So His fan club began to criticize Him. The imperfect resented Him. Soon the cheering crowd became a raging mob – and since Jesus would not put a gun to His own head (He had no reason to do so) they killed Him themselves. No one wants a perfect hero. A fallen, tarnished superstar will do.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Value of discipleship .................. Parables 427

June 28, 1994

“I’m going to church every Sunday,” explained Vernon to his pastor. “I really don’t need more training on how to live like a Christian. Hearing a good message once a week is enough.”

The pastor didn’t argue with this new Christian. Instead, he talked of other matters, and as he talked he reached down into a small bucket and scooped a handful of water toward an assortment of bottles a few feet away. Some were open, others had lids on them.

Vernon wondered if his pastor was working too hard. As their discussion continued, every few minutes he reached again into the pail and tossed water at the bottles. Finally Vernon asked, “What are you doing with that water?”

“Oh, I’m trying to fill those bottles over there.”

“But why don’t you pick up the pail and pour it in, one bottle at a time?”

“Well, Vernon, doing it this way is something like preaching. I know not every bottle gets filled up like it should, but I do my best.”

Vernon laughed. “I get your point. So when are you going to start discipling me?”

Some form of personal training is an important part of learning how to follow Christ. Jesus modeled it when He selected and taught the twelve men who were His disciples. He spent three years showing them and telling them how to minister to others. The instruction was tailored to their individual needs.

This form of teaching, usually called “one-on-one discipleship,” was stressed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

While that verses uses the word “men,” it is in a generic sense. The idea of discipleship certainly included women. Paul told another pastor, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women...”

Individual discipleship is very important for several reasons. First, as the mentor gets to know the disciple, he or she has opportunity to help them with specific problems and needs. New Christians particularly want individual attention and feel uncomfortable sharing personal problems in a larger group. Sermons may help them, yet sermons are not always directly related to the need of the moment for every person listening.

Second, new Christians have many questions. They need to discuss these, as well as give opinions, and test their ideas in a non-threatening setting. Some issues may trouble them, even to the point that when they come to church they are so preoccupied they do not hear what the pastor is saying. They are like jars with lids on them. With a personal mentor, they can raise questions and discuss issues.

Third, faith is reinforced when the one who believes can verbally express exactly what they believe. Even though some worship services allow a time for people in the congregation to share, practicing with a mentor makes sharing less intimidating and a more natural part of a believer’s experience.

Jesus did preach to the multitudes and a few responded positively; however when it came time to decide, it was the small group of disciples who continued to follow Christ. They had been well trained and would go on to train others.

In contrast many, who at one time crowded around Jesus, eventually cried out, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.”

Monday, May 2, 2016

Need to see to believe? .................. Parables 426

June 21, 1994

The existence of Jesus Christ is established. Tacitus, a great Roman historian born in the first century, speaks of Jesus. Josephus, a Jewish historian born A.D. 37, tells of His crucifixion. The Roman calendar is based on His birth. Christmas, Easter, and several other holidays are celebrated because of His life.

Few contend that Jesus had an impact on history. Someone says one edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica uses 20,000 words in describing Him, more space than what is given to Aristotle, Cicero, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed or Napoleon Bonaparte.

With all this evidence and more, it is amazing that some refuse to believe only what they see and, for that reason, insist Jesus was a myth. Even more amazing is that one of His disciples, a man who walked and ate and talked with Jesus, also declared, “Unless I see... I will not believe.”

After Jesus was put to death, His followers were overwhelmed with grief and fear. How could He die who Himself had raised the dead? It was inconceivable. They were also terrified that the authorities who killed their beloved Teacher would do the same to them.

In the midst of this grief and fear, an unbelievable thing happened; Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene beside His empty tomb. She obviously did not expect Him to be alive because at first she did not recognize Him. She was shocked, then overjoyed.

The other disciples did not expect Him to be alive either. Despite seeing Him do many miracles, it never entered their heads that He would conquer His own death. They saw Him being crucified and the sword put in His side, so no one believed her glad report.

Later Jesus appeared to two of them as they walked along a road. They were so convinced He was dead, they didn’t recognize Him right away either.

Within a short time, Jesus appeared to all of the disciples except Thomas. This one had listened to their eye-witness accounts but he still did not believe Jesus was alive. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.” For that, he has been called the “doubting disciple.”

Jesus finally came to this sceptic. He did not scold him for his doubt; after all, the others also believed only after seeing Him alive. Instead, He invited him to: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas did not need to touch the wounds. He only looked at Jesus and his doubts disappeared. He declared, “My Lord and my God.”

After that, the disciples, including Thomas, had no more doubt. Jesus was alive and that was enough to dissolve their grief and fear. From then on, they yielded their lives to His complete control.

Do we need to see the living Christ before we can believe that He died for us and rose from the dead? According to Jesus, there is a special blessing for those who believe WITHOUT seeing. Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

For us, the evidence is not a visual sighting of Him in the flesh but a careful weighing of all that is known about Him: from history books, the Scriptures, and from observing the changed lives of those who did believe--including doubters like His own disciples.