Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Measuring God? .......... Parables 478

August 1, 1995

An atheist farmer wrote the following letter to the editor of a local newspaper: “I plowed on Sunday, planted on Sunday, cultivated on Sunday, and hauled in my crops on Sunday, but I never went to church on Sunday. Yet I harvested more bushels per acre than anyone else, even those who are God fearing and never miss a service.”

The editor printed the man’s letter and then added this remark: “God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

An atheist asserts that God does not exist yet sometimes talks more Him than do people who are convinced otherwise. Atheists are seldom found going to kindergarten, in foxholes or beside a dying loved one. Apparently, believing in no-God is not easy.

However, according to Scripture believing in God means far more than acknowledging He exists. James, half-brother of Jesus and writer of a New Testament book, said “So you believe in God? Even the demons believe, and tremble.”

The demons know God is there but their “belief” does not seem to do them much good. While the Bible says we do need to believe He exists, it adds we must also believe that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

God’s rewards are not like those human beings give and receive. For one thing, they are eternal, not every October, yet He often gives a taste right now of what is to come.

For instance, faith in Christ results in peace with God. Sin separates everyone from Him but Jesus died for our sin so that separation could be removed. Believers often experience a wonderful inner peace from God as they live out their Christian lives.

Without faith, inner peace is fleeting at best. Writers H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw both rejected God and placed their trust in their own systems of belief based on human reason. They were brilliant men, yet neither found lasting peace of mind and heart.

Wells’ final literary work, has been called “a scream of despair.” Shortly before Shaw died in 1950, he wrote, “The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt . . . Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, have led directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once . . . In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions . . . And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”

For seventy-five years, communist leaders tried that same notion in Russia. Now, after years of physical, social and spiritual decay, they admit they were foolish. Many of them have come to a personal faith in God through Jesus Christ.

It seems to me proving the grand notion of God untrue requires much more effort and faith than believing He is real. While circumstances in the world around us often make us wonder why Lord does not do something, even that question admits He is there.

As for rewards, this page is too small to list them, but if I did, their fullness would be difficult to describe. God reserves that for those who believe. Also, He never uses rewards to prove He is there. Instead, He reveals Himself to His people through the Person of Jesus Christ and the pages of His Word. He invites faith by being consistent with what He has revealed. He is a good, holy, powerful and changeless God.

He also rewards faith. He may not “settle His accounts in October,” but He promises His presence right now, all through an abundant life — a life that reaches into eternity, spent with Him. Then there will be no more sin and evil, sorrow or pain. Only fools would dare suggest bushels per acre is a worthy comparison.

Monday, August 29, 2016

You have to have been there! .......... Parables 477

July 18, 1995

The woman on the plane sounded Scottish so I asked her where she was from. She replied, “I live in Liverpool, but I belong to Scotland.” What charming words!

A few hours later, we landed in Glasgow and spent two weeks traveling through Scotland. Now, those words are more than charming. Now I have been there myself. Now I feel her heartbeat. I also feel as if I belong to Scotland. It is everything I imagined and more.

Perhaps my love affair is due to my grandfather being born near Aberdeen. There is something about family roots that draws a person back to the land of their origins. Whatever it is, I dream about Scotland nearly every night since we arrived back here in Alberta.

Mind you, there are drawbacks. It rains a great deal there (but I like rain). The roads are narrow and everyone drives on the wrong side of the road (but it never hurts me to slow down or learn a new skill). The prices are double or more what they are here in Canada and it is hard to make a living (so that is why Scots are so thrifty — but I am too). Still, I would go back tomorrow, if I could. And while I am dreaming, I would buy a castle ruins and have it restored. I even have the castle picked out. But then, you would have had to have been there.

“You have to have been there...” How true! Remember telling funny anecdotes but somehow they lost some of their magic in the retelling? The event was better “first hand.”

What about when children finally grow up and become parents... don’t they now better understand the joys and sorrows of being parents after they have “been there” themselves?

The same holds true in the Christian experience. Most people know at least something about God, but hearing about Him and is not the same as having “been there,” as having a personal relationship with Him. Try as we might, our glowing words, praises for God, and stories of answered prayer all sound flat to people who have not “been there.” Perhaps one way to explain is like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and trying to describe its color to a blind person.

The question is: How can a person know God? According to Scripture, we do not know God through hearing eloquent words, magnificent descriptions, and glowing testimonies about Him. They may help but the difference is like reading about Wayne Gretzky in the newspaper compared to playing on the same team with him.

Neither does being smart guarantee that a person knows God. The Bible explains that God (in His wisdom) decided no one in the world would know Him through wisdom. Being powerful or wealthy does not automatically make a person know God either.

How then can a person know God? Paul says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit...”

A “been there” experience of God is a revealed thing, and God has to do the revealing. He hides Himself from those who are proud, uninterested or simply playing games. Therefore we must come to Him with a “humble and contrite spirit” and “believe that He is and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” We have to look for Him and desire to know Him for ourselves.

The lady on the plane could have described Scotland. She could have told me about the flawless fresh air and the bend-over-backwards hospitality — but being there made the difference. Scotland showed me Scotland... and now that I have been there, I’m not sure I understand why she lives in Liverpool.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Seeing and believing .......... Parables 476

(no date for original)

My mom wears bifocals. Actually, that is not exactly true. She has bifocals. She wears them on a cord around her neck — most of the time. Whenever she tries to read, or watch television, or look out the window, she narrows her eyes and squints.

One day I asked her why she didn’t wear her glasses. Couldn’t she see better with them on? She put them on, looked at the TV, took them off and said, “Yes, I can, but most of the time I don’t want to look at anything.”

I understand that. Some days I don’t want to look at anything either. The news is frightful or repetitive. The day outside is gloomy. Television is nothing but reruns. I’ve read all my books. Why wear glasses?

As my mother grows older, she is becoming less and less interested in life’s confusion. Keeping her eyes off the world is one way to cope with a decreasing ability to make sense of it. Although I understand and even sympathize with her, her attitude reminds me of another type of refusing to see. This one is far more serious, even deadly.

Jesus talked about people “having eyes but seeing not.” He told His disciples that He spoke in parables or stories that would be not be understood by these people because, “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

Jesus added “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”

Confused? The Bible explains. When someone hears spiritual truth but ignores or rejects it, their heart (mind) becomes hardened. As the process is repeated, a callous forms and soon that person can no longer hear or understand the truth Jesus proclaimed.

In contrast, those who follow Jesus have a responsibility to both hear and repeat the truth Jesus told. For instance, God gave the Apostle Paul a special mission. He related to King Agrippa what God had told him: “I am sending you to (the Gentiles) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

Then Paul added, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”

As Paul obeyed what God showed him, he was given increasing revelations. The Lord even allowed an “infirmity” or weakness to prevent him from taking pride in that he had seen. Without this “thorn in the flesh,” Paul may have boasted about himself and his knowledge instead of doing the job God sent him to do.

The Pharisee’s illustrate the other end of the matter. They refused to believe anything Jesus said. Before long, even the simplest truths illustrated in parables confused them. Their deliberate choice at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry did them in. That choice was refusal to see the most basic reality: all have sinned (including themselves, the most religious Pharisees) and all need God’s forgiveness and the redemption He offers through faith in His Son.

“Use it or lose it” can be applied to muscle tone, eyesight, and skills — yet the most important application is to spiritual understanding. Whenever anyone refuses to see their own need of God, God politely makes Himself fuzzy, if not invisible, to their sight.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Smell, then taste and see .......... Parables 475

July 25, 1995           

According to a recent article in “Health Watch,” smell has more influence on our lives than taste. For instance, the odor of vanilla reduces anxiety. According to one experiment involving three thousand people, the scents of banana, green apple and peppermint together encourage weight loss, up to 5 pounds a month.

People who lose their sense of smell also experience depression or anxiety. Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of smell and taste research in Chicago says often smell is craved, not food. Perhaps that is why those smells produce a weight loss; smell alone satisfied those three thousand people in the experiment.

If people are truly more interested in “smelling” than eating, that could explain why people do not like Christians “shoving religion” down their throats. I will explain. . . .

The metaphor is this: in the Bible, prayers and obedient lives are called “pleasing odors” to God and the “sweet smell” of Christ to others. Being forced to ingest or accept a doctrine or theological viewpoint without really wanting it is like being force-fed. Seeing someone live it out is far more pleasing. Thus, “smelling” is better than “eating.”

The metaphor holds true from the opposite perspective too. If someone is spiritually hungry and fortunate enough to observe a pleasing Christian lifestyle, their hunger will be satisfied, but only for a short time and only in a minimal way. The “sweet smell” of another person’s life cannot replace spiritual food to satisfy a deep and genuine spiritual hunger. Those who are hungry need to “taste and see” for themselves or they may perish.

Jesus called Himself “the Bread of Life who came down from heaven” and claimed, “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

People who heard him were confused. Before they could understand the metaphor, they had to accept that He came from heaven. This they were not willing to do. To them, He was merely the son of Joseph, the carpenter, so He responded to their confusion with, “Stop grumbling among yourselves . . . Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only He has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.”

As Jesus explained that his flesh was the bread, which He would give for the life of the world, the Jews began to argue even more. They thought He was cramming an unwanted theology down their throats. Although He had lived a sinless, “sweet smelling” life before them and although He had told them this “Bread” would save their lives for eternity, they were not interested in either eating or smelling.

The Apostles experienced the same response: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”

Some cannot imagine anyone enjoying life in submission to Christ; to them, Christians “smell” like death. They assume whatever we offer is poison. Others see the aroma of Christ and to them, the Christian life is pleasing, like fresh baked apple pie. That sweet smell draws them to the Source and eventually to “taste and see that the Lord is good” for themselves.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Cry for Justice .......... Parables 474

July 11, 1995

As the horror of the Oklahoma city bombing unfolded on television, many people began expressing their hopes that justice would soon prevail. A few angry citizens even sounded like Old West style lynch mobs crying vengeance and saying, “Those who did it should be hung on the spot.”

Some simply think any who would do such a thing do not deserve a fair trial; those are only for cases where there is reasonable doubt of guilt or that innocence needs to be proven. Others seem to fear that judicial “fairness” will result in less punishment than warranted by the magnitude of the crime.

While no one wants to see criminals go unpunished, insuring a fair trial for even the obviously guilty is a freedom we need to protect. The concept of justice and a fair trial goes back a long way with foundations in the legal system of the Roman Empire and even beyond to ancient Biblical history in the Middle East. In fact, right after Noah and his family stepped off the ark, God told them “From each man, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Many nations developed civil laws but those of the Jews were unique. Around 1450 B.C., after Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, God gave them specific commandments. We are familiar with the Ten, including “Thou shalt not murder,” but many other laws defined justice and ethics further. God told them, “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. Do not deny justice to your poor people. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death . . . .”

God’s laws also included protection for the accused by decreeing trials that are as fair as possible; the prosecution must produce “two or three witnesses” whose statements agreed. God repeatedly warned that it was the responsibility of governing officials to punish lawbreakers, not angry, vengeful citizens. Even murderers in those days had “cities of refuge” where they were protected from private revenge.

Human justice systems are not always as fair as that which God designed. Innocent people are sometimes condemned and the guilty set free. When justice is perverted, fear and anger are normal responses. On the other hand, those who know God take reassurance from His promise of a final justice: “Do not fret because of evil men . . . The wicked plot against the righteous . . . but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming.”

Even if someone escapes human courts, God Himself eventually deals with those who deserve punishment. His judgment is far more serious than the light tap implied by Maude (from the television show by the same name) when she warned, “God will get you for that.”

Should American courts be too lenient toward the people who used the bomb, we know that God is fully able to render justice to whom justice is due. However, that should never be an excuse for civil leadership to slap wrists only. God established authorities here on earth as agents of wrath to punish wrongdoers (Romans 13). His justice demands that the full horror of what they have done be brought home to the hearts of the guilty.

On a personal level, an eternal perspective tells us not to be too quick to condemn even the most brutal acts of terrorism with a smug, self-righteousness. Pride and even small sins produce guilt before God too. We need to pay attention also to our own lives.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Is the past a drag? .......... Parables 473

June 20, 1995

We decided to go after our excited daughter’s phone call. “The dishes are just like Grandma’s and they have toys just like we had when we were kids . . . “

It was the biggest garage sale anyone could imagine. Stuff people usually buy and sell from tables set in driveways filled all three pavilions at Northlands Agricom. Some of it was for sale. Much of it was on display. No matter what side of the table they were on, everyone seemed to enjoy the “1995 Antique & Collectibles Show.”

Memories and old things are held together with string, yarn and wallpaper paste. Unfortunately, after twenty-seven moves, either across town or across the country, we have tossed out many objects that might evoke the good old days. That I regret. Memories are important. Good ones bring warm emotions and draw us closer to each other. Even the painful are revived, either for their good learning experiences or for their funny side.

The Bible make a great deal of remembering, both for present need and future choices. God says, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past . . . “ and “Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles and the judgments He pronounced.”

During Israel’s history, God did wonderful things that stirred faith and hope with their memory. He also gave commands to learn and obey. Without some reminders, even these who directly received them were apt to forget what He said, just like we do.

For that reason, God said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.’”

Throughout history, believers have used objects like these tassels and blue cords to remind them of their spiritual history. The Orthodox Church had their icons. The western church had paintings, carvings and statues. Crosses endure as another familiar reminder of the sacrifice of Christ and the love of God.

Personally, I often put a note on the edge of my computer screen to remind me of God’s goodness or His commands, especially those I have trouble recalling. Sometimes I print Scripture verses on cards and put them above my sink or in other frequented places.

Some people go overboard and live in the past as a way to avoid the challenges and pain of the nasty here and now. Instead of occasionally reminiscing for enjoyment or instruction, they painfully dwell on their past mistakes. Others live in the “good old days” as if nothing worthwhile happens now. Both extremes wrongly use memories.

The Apostle Paul had a word for Christians who struggle with their past: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul made mistakes, learned from them, then moved on. He had successes, praised God for them, then moved on, always toward his goal. The past was fine, for a season, like an afternoon of antiques and collectibles, but I’m with Paul — the past was fine, and so were its treasures, but I would rather be moving in traffic with the little I need, than spending time, money and energy at a garage sale collecting things that will only hinder me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

God’s Creation Reveals Him .......... Parables 472

June 6, 1995 & July 4, 1995

According to Michael McIntosh, author of an article about doves in “Wildlife Art,” male doves are the only males in the animal kingdom that excrete milk for their young. A few days before the eggs hatch, the walls of daddy dove’s crop thicken and his glands secrete liquid. It is whitish, creamy, and rich in calcium and vitamins A, B, and B1. The female doves also produce milk but not as much as the males. McIntosh does not explain it.

Research into the realm of living creatures reveals all kinds of perplexing oddities. Certain spiders that breathe oxygen can live underwater by taking a bubble of air down with them. Skunks are totally defenseless yet survive because of a powerful spray-on scent.

Even more novel is the platypus. It has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, a flat tail like a beaver, thick fur like a mammal and lays eggs like a reptile. This marsupial’s bill is not hard like a duck’s but soft and rubbery and used to feel around in the mud for food.

Getting back to the male dove, perhaps the Creator made this bird with the unique ability to produce milk because He intended to use it as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The dove feeds his young with milk from its body; the Spirit feeds His newly-born children with truths that the Bible calls “milk.” 1 Peter 2:2 tells us, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”

Animal and plant life, and even inanimate natural objects, often illustrate spiritual truths that the Bible describes. God shelters the helpless under His wings or speaks with a roar like thunder. Little wonder David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19)

All of creation bears the signature of the Creator. The psalmist says everyone can see His glory in what He has made and therefore concludes: “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard (that is, the voice of the heavens). Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

David recognized how God’s creation demonstrates that God can be known by openly observing what He has made, at least in some measure. The Apostle Paul agreed. At the beginning of the New Testament book of Romans, he wrote: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

That last phrase means we are accountable for what we can see in nature’s revelation. Paul says it should cause everyone to honor God as God and be thankful. This implies exalting Him. Whenever and whatever God speaks, we should listen and do what He says.

However, many people do not want to honor God as God, never mind obey Him. Our ingratitude and our sinful natures pull us away. Like Isaiah says, “We like sheep have gone astray. We have turned each to his own way.”

Unfortunately, just knowing there is a God by observing creation is not enough to turn us back. It may be easy to feel “spiritual” out in the great outdoors, but God says feeling spiritual will not satisfy Him. Instead, He asks that we look at and submit to One who is a greater revelation, His Son. Peter wrote of Jesus: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”

Baby doves benefit more from dove’s milk than we do. For us, His use of a dove as a symbol for His Spirit is somewhat helpful, but God’s ultimate revelation goes beyond creatures, rocks, trees and even symbols. We get a fuller picture when we see Jesus.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Best-selling Book .......... Parables 471

June 27, 1995

Our new encyclopedia takes up less space than a pocketbook. This latest version of Grolier’s features information on thousands of topics, has colored photographs, movies, animated drawings, even sounds. We can read about doves but also watch their flight pattern. We can see how an eagle catches a fish and watch a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. With multimedia computers and a library of CDS, one picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

Even though the industry is evolving from paper and ink, the ability to publish words remains valuable. Where would schools, universities and other learning centers be if we had no books, historical records or written wisdom from the past?

Publishing, CD or otherwise, also has strict standards. For instance, encyclopedias must be accurate because readers depend on them. Not only are details checked and rechecked by editors, errors are spotted and reported by critical readers.

Publishing is an old art. It is mentioned throughout the pages of the Bible. Kings published decrees on animal skins, papyrus, or stone tablets. For them, putting important laws in writing added a sense of authority and permanency over mere oral commands.

The Word of God in its printed form also carries a sense of authority and permanency. In spite of many attempts over hundreds of years to discredit or destroy it, the Bible has survived. Since mass publication started in the 1400's, it has been number one worldwide in sales. The psalm writer probably did not know how prophetic his words were when he penned: “The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it” (Psalm 68:11).

If there were no printed records of God’s activities among men, could Christianity survive or even exist? If it had been passed on by word-of-mouth, would its accuracy remain intact? For that matter, do people believe in any philosophy or creed without an unchanging text? Publishing is a vital part of our spirituality.

God could have used other methods to convey and preserve His word and His will but He choose to use a Book. It was a good choice. We still have thousands of ancient copies, with variations of less than 5%. However, many people insist the Bible cannot be true to the original manuscripts thus is unreliable, or it is a collection of fables. Perhaps a verbal telling and retelling would never survive those accusations, but the printed version stands firm, just as God promised. Lives are still changed by reading and applying it.

On that vein, God’s Book is not a volume of scientifically verifiable data like Grolier’s and for that reason, attempts to “prove the Bible” vary in success. Instead, God offered another argument for the validity of His Word. He challenges those of us who believe it to prove it by our lives. We are supposed to be as open and honest about ourselves and God’s message as God is. This “proof” is not a demand for perfection but a call to “tell it like it is.”

In other words, people are more apt to believe the Bible when there is a match between what God says and how His people live! The Apostle Paul put it this way: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Similar to Grolier’s CD version, Christians are “living letters” from Christ. Our lives should be “moving pictures” that speak volumes about the truth in God’s Word. However, we must remember that critics also evaluate our lives. We want to be sure we do our part to keep the Bible on the best-seller list.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Conquering Death .......... Parables 470

May 2, 1995

Daniel Webster, an orator and statesman who lived from 1782 to 1852, is not to be confused with author Noah Webster who compiled words into dictionaries. Daniel was just as well known for his skill with many words but he ended his life with just one.

It happened in Marshfield, October 24, 1852. Webster’s doctor, a sensitive man named Jeffries, gave him as much medicine as practically possible. Knowing death was near, he chose to be a friend rather than a physician. He picked up an old, well-worn hymn book and began reading one of Webster’s favorite hymns: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”

Jeffries read every stanza. When he got to the last, Webster’s lips were moving too, but no sound came. The doctor read the concluding line: “When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing thy power to save. I’ll sing thy power to save, I’ll sing thy power to save.”

Their eyes met and Webster uttered his final words: “Amen, Amen, Amen!”

This true story reminds me of books: “Foxes’ Book of Martyrs” and a more recent work called “Voices from the Edge of Eternity.” The first describes the heroic deaths of those persecuted for their faith in Christ. Some of them signaled without words to onlookers that their great God was not allowing them to feel pain during the torture they were receiving. For others, their last words were descriptions of their first glimpses of heaven.

The second book is by a modern doctor. During his career, some of his patients lost their vital signs yet were revived. Many of them described similar “near-death” visions of a tunnel of light and family and friends welcoming them into a beautiful place.

He also tells of others in the same situation but with a far different story. When they slipped toward death, they screamed in fear and horror at what they saw. Descriptions included flames, darkness and horrible creatures.

The doctor noted that the group who claimed to see wonderful things remembered what they saw and could tell others about it. Their experience also eased their fear of death. However, those who were terrified by a vision of darkness and fire quickly forgot what they saw and were quite unable to repeat it to anyone.

The validity of such stories is debatable. Were these “visions” the result of preconditioning? Did these people in fact die? Rather than form an understanding of what happens when we die from them, better information comes from the one person who truly did die, was buried, and then came back to life.

Hundreds of years before His death, a psalmist wrote: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

The psalmist did die but the New Testament explains: “He was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

Near-death visions strengthen those who have them, but the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection gives a greater victory to all who believe in Him. Because He died and rose, we too can conquer death and, without fear of flames or torment, look forward to glory.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Justice or Mercy? .......... Parables 469

April 25, 1995

Consider this moral and judicial dilemma. A woman has two rare diseases, one of which requires intravenous feeding. Government health care funds have paid for treatment, a legitimate claim. However, there is a complication; she and her husband have been accused of defrauding the government out of welfare payments.

Some say a thief is a thief—justice demands punishment. Others say the woman could die if she is not shown mercy, let her alone. If she is found guilty as charged, how can her crime be reconciled with her helplessness?

Should those who believe that we must uphold the letter of the law stop and consider the condition of the lawbreakers heart? Was this person desperately in need? Was she motivated by fear of dying? Did she attempt any legitimate means of getting enough money? Is she sorry for any wrong she may have done? There are no excuses for breaking the law but penalties can vary, depending on the guilty person’s attitude.

Those who make decisions based on pity also should consider what is going on in the perpetrator’s heart. Is she a deceitful crook? Is she selfishly taken up with her own needs without any concern for others who might suffer because of her actions? Did she ignore all legitimate methods and simply hope she did not get caught? Is she defiant toward those she may have deceived? Showing mercy is commendable but is it always right to do so?

If I had to pass judgment on this situation, I would pray for the wisdom of Solomon. He was a king of ancient Israel and once approached by two women arguing over a baby. One rolled over during the night and suffocated her child so she took the other’s baby and claimed it as her own. Only the women knew which was which and both of them accused the other of negligence and kidnaping.

Solomon was not baffled. He asked for a sword and ordered the child be split in two, half given to each woman. One said that was a good idea. The other said “No! Give the baby to her,” pointing to the other woman. Solomon knew a mother’s heart. He gave the baby to the one who would rather give up her child than see it killed.

Because we cannot always evaluate someone’s motives, sorting it out the claims made by those involved in a dispute is difficult. When my children had their three-way spats, I usually asked what was going on or how it started. Sometimes they offered three convincing but different stories while each claimed innocence.

Unlike me, or even Solomon, God knows what makes everyone tick. No “story” can fool Him. Also, He knows how guilty people will respond if they receive harsh condemnation or if they are given leniency and mercy. He knows when chastening will result in a changed life and when mercy will have the most impact.

Anyone evaluating cases like that of the sick woman in the first story will ask many questions. Whose prerogative is it to pardon or charge a seriously ill person for abusing the system? If she is not charged and goes unpunished, how many people will try it next? If she is charged, how can she pay any penalty if she is so ill she cannot move?

When one doubts whether to pass judgment or show mercy, someone once said it is better to err on the side of mercy. Guilty or innocent, God is the ultimate judge. Anyone who is unjustly punished in this life will be vindicated and those who escape justice will eventually answer for their crimes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Genuine Freedom .......... Parables 468

May 16, 1995
When Rome ruled the known world, a law allowed soldiers to demand that any citizen carry their pack of equipment and weapons for one Roman mile. Israelites living in Judea and Galilee during the time of Christ, were included in that citizenship. Although they were allowed to keep their religion, the Jews longed for full political liberty. Can you imagine how they felt whenever they saw a soldier looking at them or even coming their way?

Put yourself in their place, maybe walking home after a hard day’s work. A soldier rides up and orders you to go 1620 yards in the opposite direction carrying his helmet and metal breastplate. Or perhaps you are dressed for an important job interview when accosted and forced to carry a dirty, smelly pack that smears both muck and aroma on your suit.

Roman taxes were bad enough without this further oppression. When Jesus came, many Jews began looking to Him as their Messiah, the One who would deliver them from their enemies, the Romans. Can you imagine their reaction when He told them, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles”?

Jesus gave them this startling command when was speaking to the disciples and a huge crowd gathered at the Mount of Olives. His discourse that day is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus upended traditional rabbinic teaching. He also said things that mock so-called common sense, like “love your enemy” and “do good to those who hate you.” Why would He tell them to go beyond compliance and do Roman soldiers a favor?

Today, if someone tried to order anyone to carry their pack or do anything else they didn’t want to do, there would be a quick protest to the American Civil Liberties Union or some other rights protection group. North Americans value personal rights. We are free people who resist doing anything we don’t want to do. Besides, that Roman law was exploitive and encouraged people in power to be selfish and cruel.

It would be easy to look at the words Jesus said and think He was telling His followers to be submissive to evil, selfish people. That is not the case. He clearly teaches elsewhere that we should stand up against evil and do all we can to make sure people are treated justly and with respect. Furthermore, it is not biblical to encourage selfishness in others or allow them to do unkind things.

Why then did He urge “go the second mile?” Think of the typical response to unjust treatment: revenge; however, according to the Bible, getting even is not a godly response to evil. Romans 12 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The people Jesus talked to were outraged at the Romans who exploited their resources, time, energy and personal liberty. Even if they were not strong enough to physically resist, revenge was certainly in their hearts.

Nevertheless, Jesus told them when someone tries to rob you of your liberty, give it to them. This is not to encourage selfishness, not even to show unusual kindness. Instead, doing the unexpected for those who do not deserve it is being like Christ. He did not wait until we repented, made up for it, smartened up or quit sinning. Instead He “demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

By making a free choice to serve others, God’s people demonstrate they possess a loftier kind of liberty, a freedom that no one, not even a Roman soldier, can take away.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Grace enables us .......... Parables 467

April 11, 1995

Do you ever wonder how contestants study before going on quiz shows like Jeopardy? They seem to know everything about everything, from Ancient History to Zulu Culture. Some sound like walking encyclopedias. They must read them in their spare time. Some of them must have photographic memories.

Not everyone is like that. A woman told me people often ask her questions but she cannot always think of the answers. What really frustrates her is that those who ask lose interest in talking to her, even if she says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know but I’ll find out.”

In her case, the questions people have been asking are not trivia or facts and figures about history or Zulus. They are asking her questions about spiritual matters, the meaning of Bible passages and issues concerning her Christian beliefs. They usually challenge biblical principles. She wonders how she can be more able to answer questions and refute arguments.

Some might suggest a series of studies where she could learn more and have all the answers. I’ve heard others wish they could memorize the entire Bible or have some sort of Scripture database implanted into their brain.

After talking with this woman, I remember thinking that knowing all the answers automatically makes a person an expert. However, that logic breaks down when it comes to spirituality and to biblical wisdom. Both are different from human expertise because God has a different way to help us answer questions about our faith.

The New Testament book of Colossians says this: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” According to the Apostle Paul who wrote these words, the key is not how much we know but who we are.

Of course being spiritual does not eliminate the need to study God’s Word. It is our source of knowledge and can make us wise. By it we become more like Christ and know more about how God thinks. Nevertheless, being biblically wise does not mean questions will never stump us. No one is so much like God that they know everything!

However, the above verse says that knowing how to answer does not depend on memorizing verses and illustrations or on taking a course in perfect comebacks. Instead, God wants us filled with His grace. Grace can be defined as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. It is ‘unconditional love and acceptance or God’s merciful favor.’ Others define it as ‘a revelation of God to the human heart that transforms us into the likeness of Christ.’

Being filled with grace goes beyond receiving grace. It is being in a condition where His grace overflows. People of grace are loving, accepting, and merciful, not argumentative, suspicious or vengeful. They are a blessing to others, including those who ask questions.

God also wants His people “seasoned with salt.” This relates to the properties of salt, a preservative that also makes people thirsty. When Jesus used this term in Matthew 5, He clearly connected it to attitudes such as poverty of spirit and sorrow over sin. He also meant character traits like meekness and purity of heart. These are qualities opposite to assertiveness and demanding one’s rights. When combined with faith, the person who has them is unique and often attracts people who have questions.

Grace-filled people also know, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

That means that whenever demands are made, God supplies the resources necessary to meet those demands. This even includes grace to know how to respond to questions.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ready for Death? .......... Parables 466

May 9, 1995

There is nothing like being prepared. Before anyone else arrives at the office, my husband is often already working at responsibilities he organized the night before. Whenever anyone invites my parents for an outing, my father is standing at the door with his coat on about fifteen minutes before their ride is expected.

John Newton was another person who believed in being prepared. He had been a slave trader, but began preparing for eternity by giving his life to Christ. After preparing for the ministry, he became a preacher and helped others prepare to meet God.

Newton also wrote hymns, the most familiar being Amazing Grace. Notice the words of the fifth stanza, “And when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease; I shall possess within the veil a life of joy and peace.”

Newton’s lyrics were tested. Two years before he died, he was weak and had to be supported while he preached. When he was finally confined in bed and unable to move, he said, “I am like a person going on a journey in a stagecoach, who expects its arrival every hour and is frequently looking out of the window for it . . . I am packed and sealed, and ready for the post.”

Newton was prepared for death. In his life, he faithfully carried out the responsibilities God gave him. When the end came near, without dread or regret, he was ready to go.

How does one prepare for death? In a practical sense, financial affairs should be in order. When I die, I’d like my income clearly documented and any debts paid or at least current. All taxes should be paid and my family should know which banks have my money. My will already clearly states what I want done with my possessions.

Emotional preparation is not so straightforward. No one likes to think about dying. We often deny that it will ever happen to us or at least not this week or this year. Should illness or an accident bring it closer to reality, we strongly fight against the prospect. Such responses are not just instinctive. It is our way of protecting ourselves from emotional trauma.

Those who are stoic prepare with stern jaw and no emotions. Others weep or worry, feeling many emotions but unable to take action. True preparedness requires both feelings and a stern grip on ourselves. Refusing to think about it will not make reality disappear. The second verse of Newton’s great hymn says, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved...”

Our lives will end someday. Crying and anxiety is normal but can hinder preparation. When anyone is prepared, as John Newton, by the grace of God through believing in and receiving Christ as Savior and Lord, thinking about death does not have to cause trauma. Instead read Jesus words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Those words give comfort. The rest of Newton’s second verse reads, “. . . How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”

Newton, along with other Christians, experienced freedom from what the Bible calls “the sting of death.” When we die, we go home to be with our Lord. Because of advance spiritual preparation, life is not over when physical breathing stops. Actually, because of God’s grace, that is when life truly begins.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Fear of death .......... Parables 465

March 28, 1995

“Doctor, I’m a Christian but I’m afraid to die. What happens in the hour of death?”

It is no surprise that the Bible identifies death as our enemy. No matter who faces this opponent, in the end death defeats everyone. Fear of death is also an enemy. Scripture says this fear can hold people in slavery all their lives. It extends to fear of growing old and even of becoming gravely ill. Also, many will not speak directly about death. Instead, they use euphemisms like “passed away” or even a flippant “kicked the bucket” to soften fear’s stranglehold.

If death was a friend, vitamins and health food companies and a host of other industries and services would not exist. Medical science dedicates itself to free people from these fears. Cosmetic companies flourish because people do not want to lose their youth and strength.

What are people afraid of? Is death feared because of subconscious warnings of an unpleasant judgment? Maybe. Hebrews 9:27 says, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

After death, judgment is certain. It is based on what people do when alive. Sin has an eternal consequence, as Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death . . . “ However, the rest of the verse gives hope. It says “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Certainly the Christian who made the above statement believed both the first and second half of that verse. No doubt he once feared judgment, but as a follower of Christ, judgment was no longer a fearful thing for him. He knew he was “justified by Christ’s blood” and “saved from God’s wrath through Him.” He also knew, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Through Christ, the law of the Spirit of life sets people free from the law of sin and death.

Having confessed and received forgiveness, if a Christian still fears death, the fear is not about judgment but the actual process of dying. Will it be painful? Difficult? As the man asked his doctor, what does the hour of death hold?

The doctor was also a believer but could not think of a comforting answer. When he turned to leave, he was sad that words had failed him. Just then he heard scratching and whining outside the door. He remembered leaving his car window open. His dog must have jumped out. He opened the door and the little dog bounced inside, excited that he had found his master. The doctor playfully cuddled his pet.

At that moment, he thought of a way to express the truth his patient longed to hear. Turning to the sick man, he said, “Did you see how my dog acted? He has never been in this room before. He had no idea what was inside. Yet when I opened the door, he sprang in without fear. He knew his master was here and that was enough!”

Christians do not know the glories that await us on the other side of death. The Bible says our minds cannot grasp the wonders God has for us. However, one thing is sufficient. We do know our Master waits there. Jesus said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you . . . I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Jesus is in heaven waiting for His followers to walk through death’s door. Our delight in seeing Him will combine with His delight in welcoming us and all our fears will be removed — forever.