Friday, July 29, 2016

Loss becomes a Win! .......... Parables 464

March 21, 1995

On June 18, 1815, the French under the command of Napoleon were fighting British, Dutch and German troops commanded by Wellington in the famous Battle of Waterloo. The people in England waited for a signal to find out how the battle was going. One of these signal stations was on Winchester Cathedral.

Late in the day, the message flashed from the tower: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N -- D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D- -.” At that moment, a sudden cloud of fog obscured the tower. News of defeat quickly spread throughout the city and sorrow filled the entire country.

Suddenly the fog lifted. The message had four words, not two. It said: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N – D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D- - T-H-E  - - E-N-E-M-Y!” It took only a few minutes for the good news to spread. Sorrow was turned into joy. Defeat was turned into victory!

The Israelites knew what it is like to experience dejection and later surprise by seeing “the rest of the story.” Early in their history, Moses led the Israelites to the banks of the Red Sea. The threatening Egyptian army was right behind them. God’s people were angry with Moses for bringing them into this situation. Defeat was certain. Imagine their relief when the sea miraculously parted and Moses led them across. They turned to watch the returning waters sweep their pursuers to defeat.

Years later, another generation of God’s people was taken captive in Israel and hauled off to Babylon. Sorrow filled them. They could not even sing their traditional songs of worship. However, after seventy years, the story took an upward turn. The Babylonian king allowed Nehemiah to return home and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra was allowed to rebuilt the city. Finally, God’s people could go home!

Almost two thousand years ago, a group of men and women also felt great sorrow. The religious establishment had delivered their leader to Roman authorities who put Him to death. Hope and joy died in their hearts. They could not understand what happened. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and fed the multitudes. Why then, when the soldiers arrested Him, did He offer no resistance? Their dream of a new kingdom of Israel was now sealed in a tomb covered over with a large stone.

These disciples were like the people of London after the Battle of Waterloo—they only read part of the message. What they saw spelled “C-H-R-I-S-T - - D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D- - -“ Their future was black. Their hearts felt like large stones.

Three days later, the fog lifted and revealed the rest of the message. At first they could not believe it. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to the other women—but their words seemed like nonsense. Finally “He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the believers.” Christ is alive!

The message did begin with sad news: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . . He was buried . . . “ but it ends with glad news: “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” This message reads: J-E-S-U-S - - D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D - - S-I-N - - A-N-D - - D-E-A-T-H!

Now God’s people rest in joy and full assurance. Our greatest enemy has been swept to defeat and when we die, we can go home!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

For Christians, death is only a shadow .......... Parables 463

March 14, 1995

Following the death of his first wife, pastor and Bible expositor Donald Grey Barnhouse was taking his children to her funeral. They stopped at a traffic light and a large truck sped by, its shadow engulfing them for a moment. Turning to his grieving family, Barnhouse asked, “Would you have rather been hit by the truck or its shadow?”

“The shadow,” they replied.

Barnhouse responded, “That’s what happens to Christians when they die. Your mother was touched only by the shadow of death.”

Barnhouse’s analogy is familiar to those who know the 23rd Psalm. Verse four says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

In contrast, those who understand death only as the cessation of physical life would scorn that as “Silly, when you are dead, you are dead.” They see little if any difference between the death of a Christian and the death of anyone else.

However, David, the psalm writer and king of Israel, thought death was only a shadow too. He acknowledged the possibility of fear yet looked to God knowing His presence would comfort him. Where did he get the idea that death is a shadow? Probably from the same Spirit of God that Barnhouse did. This shadow analogy is another way to describe His assurance of eternal life. Shadows are nothing more than places not fully illuminated because comes between them and light. They take the shape of whatever causes them but that is the only resemblance.

Scientists do not agree on the nature of life and death. The Bible has much to say about both. In Genesis, it describes God creating the first man from dust. He became a living creature when God “breathed” life into him. The word “spirit” is the same word as “breathed.” Physical death is the loss of this breathed in life. The spirit leaves the body and the body returns to the ground from which it came.

The Bible also describes another kind of death, a spiritual death. It occurs when the soul or spirit (the inner part of man) is separated from God. This happens because of sin. In other words, people may be physically alive but can also be “dead in their trespasses and sins.”

Scripture says life is not snuffed out when the body dies but “the spirit goes to God who gave it.” That is, life continues after physical death.

According to Jesus, there are two possibilities. He said, “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” Some will exist eternally alive with God. Others will exist in a state of eternal condemnation — separated from God.

This is why death is a shadow for a Christian. Spiritual death is that which separates people from God. Christians are not hit with this death. Instead of going into darkness and condemnation and all that God is not, “whoever hears His word and believes . . . has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Through faith in Christ, believers experience only physical death, the shadow. After passing through it, they enter God’s presence and remain there forever.

Monday, July 25, 2016

What is Life? .......... Parables 462

March 7, 1995

Imagine getting up one cold winter morning to discover your three-year-old is missing. After a fruitless search of the house, you open the front door to an icy wind blowing snow in your face. You look down. Your child is lying on the step. You snatch her inside. She is blue and stiff. There are no vital signs. How can she be alive?

When this happened to a family in Saskatchewan, the frantic parents and a determined medical team defied the obvious and tried to revive the child. Their story has a happy ending; she lost one leg but laughs, eats, sleeps and moves. She is very much alive. Was she already dead when her mother found her? Or still alive? Are the signs reliable indicators? Thankfully, who thinks of asking if she is alive now? The signs of physical life are unmistakable.

However, there is another kind of life. It has some of the characteristics of physical life but there are great differences. It is what the Bible calls “spiritual life.”

Some would argue that all creatures have a basic “spiritual” life. They say we are part of a cosmic energy, a spiritual reality that ties the universe together and is part of every living thing. Others include inanimate objects. God’s Word does not allow that broad understanding. According to it, God is the eternal Reality, an invisible Spirit who created all else from nothing. His creation, whether visible or invisible, is distinct from Him and depends on Him.

The Bible also teaches God is the source of all spiritual life. According to Jesus, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” While human beings have a “spirit,” it is disconnected from God because of sin, a separation called “spiritual death.” The good news is that spiritual life is available and can be received from God through a new birth.

Unfortunately, many get on the “born again” band wagon using this term to describe what happened when they set goals or made resolutions. Some even use it to sell shampoo. However, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Just as our physical life begins with birth, so can a vital, new spiritual life. It comes as a gift from God through His Word. 1 Peter 1:23 says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.” The Word of God is both a written account and a living Person, Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ disciple, John, wrote, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

New birth is not a gimmick. It comes through faith in Christ and through sharing in His life. Like physical life, it bears evidence of its reality and those who have it know they have it. Those who claim they are “born again” but display no evidence of any life from Christ are deceived and possibly trying to deceive others. Spiritual life is self-evident in attitudes and actions. Those who have it confess their sins. They see themselves in the light of God’s holiness and realize they do not earn or deserve His favor.

Reborn people also confess Christ as Lord and stop trying to run their own lives. They will sometimes make mistakes and sometimes even rebel and look frozen and lifeless, but spiritual life eventually prevails. Those who have it begin resembling the One who gave it to them.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

Godly Compassion .......... Parables 461

February 28, 1995

Because strong emotions seem to interfere with sound judgment, some people are afraid their feelings will lead them astray. However, certain emotions are part of important virtues such as compassion. In fact, we are most like God when we are compassionate toward each another.

Jesus felt compassion for the confused and hungry multitudes, so He taught and miraculously fed them. He felt compassion for the widow whose only son was dead, so He raised him to life. Clearly, God’s compassion is an emotion that raises the question: “What can I do to meet this need?” If human problems and an emotional response motivate God, they also ought to motivate people. We are made in His image.

The Bible gives examples of acts of compassion. Most of them have less to do with emotion and more to do with choices and action. For instance, the Old Testament hero, David, and the king’s son, Jonathon, were good friends but Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was certain David wanted his throne. Enraged, he began a massive effort to kill the younger man. Of course David fled for his life.

Saul was crafty and had powerful armies but could not catch David. During this game of cat and mouse, David had several opportunities to kill the King, but in each case, out of respect for God’s established leader, he refused to retaliate.

After Saul and Jonathan were killed during a battle, David became king. As the Bible says, he was a good leader. “...the Lord gave David victory wherever he went . . . and David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.”

Saul’s descendants were not a threat to his throne—none are on the scene. However, David did something incredible. He called his leaders and asked, “I there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

It turned out that one person was left, a crippled man. Much to his and everyone else’s surprise, David brought this man under his care on a decision made without first knowing who he was or that he even existed. No obvious need moved him emotionally. This was an act of premeditated compassion, a choice to be kind.

Another example of compassion is the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. This man went out of his way to take care of a wounded stranger, likely an Israelite who considered him an enemy. He spent physical and emotional energy, time, and money to ensure the injured man was well treated. He felt sorry for him but also decided to do something.

Compassion for others without helping them is not compassion. Notice this verse: “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 needs, what good is it?”

Sometimes we fail to feel pity toward needy people. Sometimes we are too busy to notice, or our hearts have become immune or hardened, or we are turned inward. Sometimes we do not want to empathize with them because we have been through it ourselves and prefer to avoid reminders. Other times we are moved to tears in pity, but that is as far as it goes. However, being a Christian means being like Christ. Whenever someone is hurting and we hurt with them, our compassion should definitely move us—not only to tears but to take whatever action is necessary to relieve their pain.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Acting like a sheep? .......... Parables 460

February 21, 1995

My farming experience did not include sheep but a neighbor told me about one of their annoying idiosyncrasies. If a fence had a little hole in it, they would find it and crawl through even if it meant leaving their pasture and wandering in areas without food. When they were brought home, the fence had to be fixed or they would crawl through it again.

Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet, makes an interesting observation. He says “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have all turned to our own way.”

Isaiah was one of many prophets who preached God would bless them for following Him and bring a curse if they disobeyed. These curses were sometimes simple, logical consequences of their social and moral failures and sometimes included famine, drought, disease and the invasion of more powerful enemies.

During one of those periods of disobedience, the writer of Judges commented, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” In their eyes, idol worship, injustice and lawbreaking was acceptable.

Isaiah and the other prophets could not see any sense in abandoning the laws of God. When God’s people obeyed Him, they always experienced spiritual and material prosperity. Why would they crawl through His fence of protection when the results were so disastrous? When the consequences of going astray completely overwhelmed them, they turned back to God but after years of this cycle of disobedience, consequences, repentance, God finally refused to hear their cries. He abandoned them to the invading Assyrians and allowed them to be taken into captivity in a foreign land. They remained in Babylon for decades lamenting their sheep-like behavior and learning again that sinful choices bring disaster.

Today, people still turn away from the laws of God and still miss the connection between this choice and the consequences. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union decided that praying and reading Scripture is unconstitutional in schools. As a result, these God-honoring activities are now illegal in the United States. Good things happen when people praying and read the Bible, not so when they turn away. Is there a connection between this choice and the dramatic drop in student self-esteem and the drastic increase in student discipline problems?

Violence on television is another example. God tells us to hate violence and refuse to look at it. However, television brings crime and bloodshed into our homes. While psychologists argue its effects, statistics show that brutality increases when these programs are made available in communities that once were without them. Is there a connection?

What proof do theorists need that the laws of God are valid? In spite of the hypocrites and phonies, when anyone genuinely places their faith in Christ, the process of becoming like Him begins. Christ produces a desire to obey God that results in increasing efforts to stop sinning and do right. According to Jesus, this change for the better is not only valid evidence of genuine faith, but has a life-giving, preservative effect on all of society.

When people cannot or will not observe the consequences of sinful behavior, could it be that they, like sheep, have turned their own way? To those who prefer their own wisdom, the Bible gives this grave warning: “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

God says it, His prophets say it and statistics back it up: it is folly to act like sheep.

Monday, July 18, 2016

How faith works .......... Parables 459

February 14, 1995 

An Edmonton man complained about a weather report on television. It predicted a 0% chance of rain but when he went outside it was raining. He was drenched. Wet and annoyed, he called Environment Canada and found that the weather reporters could not see the storm coming. They relied entirely on instruments because, at that time, their operation headquarters had no windows!

My husband has another interesting way to forecast the weather. My father, a retired farmer, turns on the weather report every morning. Bob teases him, “I can give you a report,” he says, walking over to the window. “See, the sun is shining today . . . “

While observation alone can be unreliable, it is an important part of any scientific inquiry. Scientists do not define rain or wind, explore the ocean floor, or classify orchids by looking inside their own heads or by relying entirely on instruments like thermometers, barometers or computers. They use their eyes and other senses to observe carefully and objectively in their exploration and analysis.

Scientists also work together, depending upon the observations of each other. They seldom limit what they know about the visible, material world to speculation but instead look for evidence that proves their theories.

However, scientists sometimes hesitate to exam or make conclusions about invisible or immaterial topics. They are reluctant to include in their studies concepts such as God or faith because God is invisible and faith cannot be directly observed, measured or dissected. Scientists usually ignore these topics, considering they belong in the realm of theory.

Does faith really require a leap in the dark? Is it based on speculation only? I do not think so. No one trusts anything without out some evidence that warrants their trust.

Electricity is an example. It is invisible but the average person can test it by the results it produces. We simply plug in our appliances. If they work, believe in the presence and power of electricity. If they do not, then electricity is either absent or worthless. If it did not do anything, we would have no reason to rely on it.

Also notice that the evidence is produced by the object of our reliance. It is not trust or faith in it that makes electricity work; electricity makes trust possible. That is, electricity that we cannot see causes something to happen that we can see, so we can believe in the power behind it.

Faith in God is like that. God is also invisible but He showed Israel what He is like through His activity on their behalf and through the words He spoke using His prophets. Because of the evidence, the people of God believed He is real.

God’s ultimate evidence of Himself occurred when He appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is God’s fullest revelation, the “exact representation of His being,” incarnate in a human body. When anyone seriously examines this evidence, they are convinced that God is real and they put their faith in Him and in Jesus Christ. This faith is not something believers conjure up in their minds, nor does it exist independently of the evidence. Christian faith is based on God-given evidence.

No matter what people decide to believe in, something convinces them that the object of their faith is worthy. If only one in twenty-five outlets in a house makes the toaster work, few would have any faith in the wiring in that house. If Christ had not demonstrated His worth, no one would ever say, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain...”

Christ demonstrated God’s grace, goodness and power. Because of what He has done, we have enough evidence to believe He is worthy and He can be trusted.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Nature or Nurture or ? .......... Parables 458

January 31, 1995

“From the day your baby is born, you must teach him to do things. Children today love luxury too much. They have detestable manners, flout authority, have no respect for their elders. They no longer rise when their parents and teachers enter the room. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?”

A quote from a modern psychologist? or a Junior high school teacher? or a disgruntled mother? None of the above. Socrates (a Greek philosopher who believed doubt was essential to discovering truth) said it in 399 B.C.

Nothing has changed. Children still must be taught manners, respect and how to do things. In contrast, awful behavior has psychologists and philosophers arguing. Can the blame for it be put on nature/genetics or nurture/environment?

Certainly most of them agree that genetics are the cause of eye, hair and skin color and even the predisposition to certain diseases; however, environment and training are powerful factors that also influence the way people think and live.

As they argue, many experts ignore two other reasons for bad behavior. One is the human ability to make choices. Even though they will not remove genetic flaws like deformities, or erase bad experiences, good choices can help people overcome both. We can decide to make the best of a bad thing, profit from it and go on to reach our goals.

Concerning behavior, making choices requires taking responsibility for the way things are. If someone realizes they are rude, greedy, or selfish, taking responsibility for their actions sets them free to choose other options. Anyone who continues to willfully do wrong and at the same time blames poor parenting or a bad background is irresponsible. Unfortunately, “choices” and “responsibility” are not popular terms these days. Society prefers  “dysfunctional” and “abused.”

Another reason for bad behavior is connected to a doubted, and almost completely rejected, biblical principle. According to this principle, children and everyone else has an incredible tendency to love luxury, disobey authority, and fail to respect other people. It is called the sin principle.

Sin is not a popular topic but it is real. Sin is God’s terminology for the bad things people do. It is also His explanation for why those bad things happen. We do sinful things because there is sin in us. This is the sin principle.

Sin means that by nature, we fall short of the Godlikeness we were intended to reflect. Sin expresses itself in actions ranging from fibs to rape and murder. No matter the extent or damage done by sin’s expression, the Bible says “all have sinned...” and “there is no one that does good”... all have sin in them.

Socrates thought the solution was education, but even educated people can know beyond a doubt something is wrong and still do it. He also suggested loving luxury was an issue, but even a happy pagan in a loin cloth sins. Desiring the finer things can encourage evil but taking luxury away will not necessarily drive anyone to do good.

Proper teaching, respect for authority, and contentment without luxury are virtues that we may choose, but no matter how much we desire them, they are elusive. The sin principle is always at work.

The Bible says we need to take personal responsibility for our own sin. When we do, God’s remedy is a relationship of faith and trust in Him. Without this relationship, we will doubt God and take matters into our own hands. Sin will then multiply and those “awful creatures” Socrates talked about will always be a problem.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What does heaven look like? .......... Parables 457

February 7, 1995

We are planning a vacation next summer in Scotland that will include a family reunion. This one will be a true gathering of the clan. My maiden name is Leslie and the Leslie’s of Leslie Castle near Aberdeen have invited Leslies from all over the world to join them in three days of highland music, feasting, and various other activities.

I keep forming mental images of what it will be like to meet a host of relatives. I see a myriad of plaid kilts, hear a thousand Scottish burrs, and wonder at the awful beauty of dozens of bagpipes playing reels and marches. However, that is probably not a true picture of what awaits us so I have decided to abandon the limits of my imagination. Soon enough, we will see what Scotland and those many Leslies are really like.

Refusing mental pictures is a challenge because the unknown is hard to leave that way. We form the same mental pictures of many places, even of heaven. Where is it? What does it look like? Who will be there? Will we know everyone? Are we going to sit on clouds and play harps all day? Will there be angels in long white gowns with feathered wings? Are the streets really gold? Does St. Peter sit at a Pearly Gate checking in each arrival? What will we do for eternity? Will it be boring? What does God look like? Is He smiling?

The Bible says very little about heaven. Maybe visual images are too difficult because we cannot imagine perfection, yet Scripture does call heaven Paradise and in our hearts, we are drawn to something better, something beyond what we know, and better. Certainly heaven is the dwelling place of God and the desire and longing of many human hearts.

What does God say about it? While the descriptions seems symbolic, the book of Revelation does talk about a Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It says this city will shine with the glory of God and will be of pure gold, as pure as glass.. It will be brilliant like precious jewels, and clear as crystal. The walls will be high, with twelve gates and twelve foundations each made of precious stones. The great street of the city is pure gold, like transparent glass. There is no temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple, and this city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Obviously, heaven is a place of worship and very beautiful.

Revelation 21:21 also says there are twelve gates and each gate is made of a single pearl. Walls and gates suggest shelter for those inside and entrances for those outside. Heaven is safe and protected, but also accessible. However, the gates are not wide open. The Bible says, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life....”

According to the Bible, any decision about who gets in is not made by St. Peter at the gate but by each person on earth before they die. The Lamb’s book of life is reserved for those who repent of their sin and place their faith in the Lamb, Jesus Christ, while they are still living. However, God says whosoever will may come.

Scripture also says in heaven there will be no more curse. Sin is forgiven and cleansed, judged at Calvary and never again to be judged. The throne of God and of the Lamb are in this wonderful place and here God’s servants will joyfully serve him forever.

The priority of God is obviously not that we know what heaven is like but that our names are in the book of life. The final verses in the Bible are His invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’” He wants us not anxious about what heaven looks like but concerned that those gates of pearl will someday swing open for us.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Amazing Forgiveness .......... Parables 456

January 17, 1995


According to the news item, Rev. Walter Everett forgave the man who murdered his son. The younger Everett was shot after a misunderstanding and physical struggle. His death was another senseless tragedy.

In the mind of the murderer, the forgiveness from his victim’s father must seem even more senseless. He says he does not fully understand how or why this father could do it. After what he had done, revenge and hatred seem far more natural. But it was good news.

Everett’s wife could not understand her husband either. How could he forgive their son’s killer? She was so distressed that, after 34 years of marriage, she walked out.

I’ve occasionally struggled to forgive people who have wronged me. In one situation, I was willing to do it and even offered it, but the other person seemed to have no desire to be forgiven or even admit wrong had been done. Up until that time, I believed forgiveness was complete only if it was received. I also thought forgiveness would restore broken relationships. However, the other person did not want restoration and even met my attempt with further betrayal and hurt. It seemed clear forgiveness would not change anything. Why then should I forgive? Even though the Bible says I must do it, it did not make sense.

Then I read from Isaiah 48 God’s words to His people: “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger... For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.”

From this I learned another aspect of forgiveness important to my own situation. God Himself forgives because it is not like God to be unforgiving. His very nature is to be compassionate, kind and generous. If people are not willing to receive His kindness, it becomes a blotch on their name, not on God’s character.

Forgiveness, in this one case particularly, was for me. As a child of God, my Father did not want me to hold unforgiveness in my heart. It would be foreign to godliness and contrary to the Christlikeness to which He has called me. The person who hurt me may never receive my offer, but by forgiving that person, I am acting as God intends.

When I did it, I was set free from anger, from the nagging desire for revenge, and therefore from all possibility of bitterness. My own spirit became soft and settled. My relationship with God grew sweeter. Clearly, forgiveness is profitable for me.

The Psalmist prayed, “For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great” and “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.”

Asking for forgiveness on the basis of God’s name and His character is clarified further when we consider His forgiveness. His Son was also murdered by people who misunderstood His actions and struggled with accepting His claims. Crucifying the sinless Jesus was a brutal and totally senseless act. Yet, by that act, God was able to forgive not only those who killed His Son, but all sinners and all sins ever committed by every person. His forgiveness brings restoration between sinful people (who accept it) and a Holy God.

Does that make sense? Without faith, it is illogical. God dying on a cross so He could forgive us? That is senseless — but it is also good news!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Faith is only as strong as its object .......... Parables 455

January 10, 1995

He was a sick little boy. Not only mute, he sometimes fell to the ground, rigid with flecks of foam coming from his mouth. The neighbors called it a demonic disorder but whatever was wrong, his family was desperate.

Finally his father took him to some faith healers. In spite of their confidence, When they tried to help him, nothing worked. Their efforts drew the attention of a few religious leaders and an argument added to an already distressing scene.

As onlookers wondered what was happening, three more approached. One of them asked the men who tried to heal the boy why they were arguing. The father of the boy answered: “Teacher, I brought my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

The Teacher, whose name was Jesus, told him to bring the child. Immediately the boy went into a convulsion, fell to the ground and rolled around foaming at the mouth. The father said the boy had been like this for a long time and added, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said, “’If you can?’ Everything is possible for him who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” At that, Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and the boy was healed.

This remarkable narrative from the New Testament tells us about human doubt in the face of divine power. I can identify with the “faith” of that father. I believe yet there is sometimes doubt. Is God really able to take care of my problems? Is my faith sufficient?

Sometimes people claim to have “strong faith” but actually are focused more on their own fervent emotional assurance. From personal experience, I recognize this as misplaced faith. Instead of believing in God, the emphasis has shifted to believing in “faith.” When that happens, I need reminding that Biblical faith is not measured by the strength of personal convictions. God’s reliability does not slide up and down with my feelings.

Faith is only as good as its object. If my object or basis of trust becomes the strength of my come-and-go emotions, my responses to life soon begin to match. On the other hand, stability returns as I and focus on God and rely on His power, regardless of what I feel. Biblical faith is not faith in the strength of faith but faith in the strength of God.

Faith does not stand alone. It requires an object, something or someone to believe in. It also requires knowledge about that object. It is impossible to believe in something we don’t know. Because we tend to make up gods in our own image, God graciously gave us a revelation of Himself so we can know about Him, but we also need to be aware of this revelation. Faith can’t be conjured up by someone who is ignorant about God.

The Bible affirms this need: “Faith comes by hearing... and hearing by the Word of God.” As we read about God as described in Scripture and revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, faith can develop and grow. If we look at circumstances (like sick children), and our human weaknesses, doubts, emotions, and wavering convictions, “faith” wobbles along with them, kept on a teeter-totter by our gut-reactions.

The solution is hearing... or reading the Bible. The father went to the Living Word with his confession of mixed feelings. We now can go to the Written Word where God replaces doubt with confidence in Him. He is in control and He wants us to know it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Labels and Stereotypes .......... Parables 454

January 3, 1995

Most of the current how-to books for writers feature at least one chapter on sexist language, political correctness and stereo-typing. Writers submitting anything to newspaper, television, books and magazine editors must not violate certain criteria. If they avoid using certain terms, they will also avoid receiving rejection slips, at least in certain markets.

Everyone is familiar with written taboos like “mankind” or “chairman” but even visual images are affected by the new standards for political correctness. Editors want women as well as men operating machines on construction sites and men using home products as often as women in television commercials. Women should not be wearing aprons and black people should not be in servile roles.

This so-called correct language applies to almost all groups, except Christians. For some reason, it is okay to give unkind labels to Christians and stereotype them.

Actually, we even do this to ourselves, although not usually to be mean. In fun, we mimic the preachers who pound their pulpits with hellfire and brimstone. Today’s preachers who give that message have learned to do it with greater sensitivity. We also have labels for those who say they are Christians yet live like God does not exist. We call them hypocrites just like anyone else would.

Christians usually receive a different kind of mockery from language and stereotyping. We are often portrayed as if ALL are hypocrites and ALL are out-of-touch idiots. Seldom do we see movie or television stars portraying genuine believers, those who take their faith and relationship with Christ seriously.

Perhaps genuine Christians are so hard to find that story writers do not know what one looks like. Perhaps hypocrites are more prolific. Perhaps writers have had so many negative experiences they simply turn their backs on anything they know as positive about Christians.

Whatever motives each writer, genuine Christians do exist. Some are well-known, such as Charles Swindoll, Billy Graham, or Christy (her life story is the television series with the same name). Others are less known but just as honorable and marked by integrity.

Why then do television and motion pictures neglect to feature people like them in their plots? Why do they depict believers as either fools, fakes or false teachers? If that were done with groups such as homosexuals or black people, those groups would cry out and demand their rights. Laws would (and have been) passed making it illegal to say or print anything negative about them in public.

Oddly enough, Christians seldom cry out. While some do demand equal rights and some loudly complain, the Bible wants us to model our lives after Christ. 1 Peter 2:23 says, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

A few verses earlier it says, “It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Jesus Christ offends everyone who is unwilling to receive Him and the godly lifestyle He lived and offers. Rather than just ignoring it, some will ridicule those who preach, teach and live it. Some will openly persecute them.

Oddly enough, many Christians don’t complain about unfair treatment. The Bible says if we live like Christ, we will suffer persecution. How can we retaliate or even complain if people do not like us because we resemble Him?

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Bible and New Year’s Resolutions .......... Parables 453

December 27, 1994

As 1994 draws to a close, we look back and remember. Was it a good year? Or was it a year you would rather forget? Maybe this was a year for inheriting money or winning a lottery. Maybe 1994 was the year for marriage, or divorce, or having a first child or becoming a grandparent. Perhaps a series of financial setbacks put a blight on this year, or relationships did not turn out as hoped. Whatever 1994 held, the memories are important.

The Bible uses the word “remember” many times. Some of these passages suggest positive advice for ending the year and some suggest resolutions for next year. Here are a few examples from the New Testament about remembering.

Matthew 5:23 talks about being at worship and remembering that another person has something against you. It says go to that person and seek their forgiveness, then return and give worship. Patching up broken relationships is never easy. Anger and bitterness can be deeply rooted. Yet God knows these words are powerful: “I am sorry, I was wrong... please forgive me.” When we remember hurts we have inflicted on others and do something about it, we not only restore a relationship and remove tension, we also bring peace to ourselves and to the other person. This is a good way to end a year and start a new one.

Clearing up a botched relationship also applies to ourselves and God. Whenever we remember something we have done against Him, we can confess it, remove the load of guilt, enjoy restored fellowship with Him and a renewed sense of personal peace.

Remembering and confessing sin can be painful, but because Jesus died for our sin and rose again, we have access to God. As the angel told some women at His tomb, “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how He told you...!” Remembering that Jesus died for us takes the sting out of any memories of moral and spiritual failure.

Perhaps 1994 brings memories of godly living. If it does, then it may also bring to mind ridicule or mistreatment. In this regard, Jesus said, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).

Jesus was rejected because His holy life stabbed the conscience of anyone who did not want to repent. Christians who live for Him need to remember what He said about this and not be surprised if others prefer sin and reject us and our message. Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We can remember that and be thankful for His grace that enables us to live in a godly way.

If this year’s profit was financial, here is another truth to think on: Remember this: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). If you were generous and God rewarded your generosity, thank God for the principle of seeding and harvest!

Tied into the idea of being generous is hospitality. The Bible tells us, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” It also gives us pleasure to remember those times of sharing with our friends.

However, God also reminds us “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Being kind to everyone brings happy thoughts and if that has not been a large part of 1994, it is a good resolution for 1995.

At the close of the year, we can also remember others in prayer. Throughout Paul’s epistles, he says, “I constantly remember you in my prayers.”

Prayer for others is a wonderful way to sum up a day, a week, or a year. It takes our focus off ourselves and gives us opportunity to be part of God’s blessing for others.

Hebrews 13 gives a specific target for our prayers: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” This probably refers to persecuted believers in countries where Christianity is illegal. Thank God we are free to worship Him, but remember not everyone enjoys the same luxury.

Another target for prayer is in the same passage: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.” Christian leaders in pastoral ministry or other vocations need our prayers now and all year long! The verse adds a good resolution for 1995: “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

This small sampling demonstrates how the Bible can help us wrap up 1994 and look ahead with hope and specific plans for 1995. As you use God’s Word to guide you in remembering and planning, may He richly bless you.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ignoring Jesus? .......... Parables 452

December 20, 1994

Christmas cards often feature an artist’s version of the Christmas story. Some show Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem where Jesus would be born. Others depict the couple under a bright star or in a manger scene adoring their newborn Son.

Many cards have bells, candles, snow scenes, poinsettias or symbols traditionally associated with this time of year. Others feature cartoon characters, fat or skinny Santas, or people involved in wintertime activities. I haven’t done a survey but a good percentage of December’s greeting cards do not use the word “Christmas.”

While there is nothing wrong with sending someone “Season’s Greetings,” “Happy Holidays” and wishes for a “Bright New Year,” this makes me wonder how many folks either prefer to ignore the Christmas story or refuse to celebrate the birth of Christ. Obviously some welcome a holiday but prefer Jesus be left out of the picture.

What is it about the birth of this child that offends some people? Why would card companies produce lines that are clearly Christmas cards yet have nothing on them to indicate the reason we celebrate this holiday?

The story itself gives some clues. Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register for a new tax. When they arrived, the small town was filled with others who were there for the same reason. If hotel keepers in Israel 2000 years ago were like some innkeepers today, they might have put a bed in a closet or a storage room rather than turn away a woman nine months pregnant, but that did not happen. Perhaps the innkeeper didn’t think of it. Perhaps he didn’t want the inconvenience. Whatever his attitude, many people today respond toward Jesus Christ in those ways. If He is not welcomed and made room for, He is turned away because inviting Him into their lives would be an inconvenience.

After Jesus was about two years old, some wise men were looking for Him. These were ancient magi or “king-makers” from Persia who had seen his star. How did they know this was a significant child? Centuries before, a young Jewish man, Daniel, had been taken captive by the Babylonians. By his wisdom, he earned the respect of the “wise men” of the day. He may have told them about his God and God’s promise of a coming King.

When the descendants of those wise men came to see this little child, they brought gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh were unusual presents for a baby but not at all strange for a boy who would someday be king. They gladly bowed in worship at the side of this baby’s bed.

However, there was another king had no intention of worshiping Him. The Roman leader Herod, heard about the magi and about Jesus. Would he lose his throne to a Jew? For him, the child was a threat. He gave orders to his soldiers and they put to death all boy babies under the age of two.

Today’s responses to the baby Jesus is also like the responses of these men of authority. Some recognize Him as the promised King of kings and gladly worship Him. Others see Him as a threat to their power and try to get rid of Him. That could even include a deliberate removal of His name from holiday greeting cards, an industry that likely would not exist if Herod had succeeded in killing the Christ child.

There is another reason that some people want to forget about this baby born in a cow barn. He did not remain a baby. He grew to manhood, turned water into wine, healed the sick, fed multitudes, walked on water, and gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. At first, everyone loved Him; they liked being healed and getting free food, but eventually Jesus claimed to be God and this changed their minds.

God in a manger? Forget it, they said... our God would never lower Himself to that! They were so angry at His claim that they did what Herod tried to do and put Him to death.

In dying, Jesus proved His claim was true. As Peter told the multitudes, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead... because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.”

The innkeeper did not prevent Jesus from being born. Herod could not kill Him. Those who rejected His claim to be God put Him on a cross and into a tomb but the One who is eternal life could not stay dead. What makes anyone now think ignoring Him on Christmas cards will make the “inconvenience” or “problem” of Christ go away and disappear?