Friday, September 30, 2016

Guilty? .......... Parables 491

November 14, 1995

A young woman is distraught: “I feel guilty all the time. What is wrong with me? I am a Christian, but no matter what I do, it seems as if it is never enough.”

Guilt and guilty feelings are complex. A person can unknowingly violate a law or a standard, like speeding without looking at the speedometer, and not feel any twinge of guilt. In such cases, lack of feelings or awareness does not change the facts — they are guilty.

On the other hand, being aware of doing wrong may or may not produce guilty feelings. If a person tells lies often enough, and excuses them every time, soon their conscience becomes hard and they can lie without it bothering them.

In contrast, guilt lands hard on a sensitive conscience. The offender cannot think of enough ways to apologize or make up for what was done, even though other people simply acknowledge or confess their wrongs, make them right, and their guilty feelings vanish.

There is also such a thing as false guilt — feeling guilty when no wrong has actually been committed. It happens when we take on more responsibility for real or perceived wrongs than actually belongs to us.

In all these cases, guilt is a symptom. Some wrong needs to be confessed and corrected, but it is not necessarily a wrong action. The person who feels guilt may need to deal with a conditioned conscience, faulty thinking, false teaching or unrealistic expectations.

For instance, guilt traps us if we fear human rejection. Proverbs says, “The fear of man will prove to be a snare.” People-pleasers focus not on God but human approval and always feel inadequate because it is impossible to please everyone.

Another example is children who are raised without praise and grow to adulthood driven by a deep need for approval. Without recognizing their motivation to please parents (who may be absent or even dead) they strive, always feeling as if they “never do enough.”

False guilt can also come to Christians who assume God is displeased unless we meet certain standards or follow certain rules. “Legalism” results in guilt because the Gospel never allows for our “doing” to be enough to please God. Anyone who takes their eyes off the fact “we are saved by grace through faith, not our works,” and that we “all fall short of the glory of God”, soon becomes hopelessly disappointed in themselves.

Even if we could keep His laws perfectly, the Bible says we cannot achieve right standing before Him in that manner. Instead, God is pleased by faith and by the actions that flow from it, not from guilt. The Bible explains, “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him.” In other words, we live the same way we are saved — by faith.

False guilt also flows from a proud assumption of being indispensable. Anyone who tries to do more than God calls or gifts them to do has an ego problem or “messiah complex.” The answer for that “guilt” is also in Christ. He did not preach to every person or convince every sinner that He was the Messiah. He simply did the will of His Father and was able to say, “I have completed the work You gave me to do.”

As far as true guilt, the Bible says all have sinned, whether guilt is felt or not. God bids everyone to confess their sin, turn from it to Christ and follow Him. His grace puts Christ’s righteousness on us, setting us free from guilt and making us His own child.

When Christians sin, they confess to God who continually “forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness” — on the basis of what Christ has done, not our efforts. In Him, there is no further condemnation but free and complete acceptance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When evil wins .......... Parables 490

November 7, 1995

The arguments continue. Did O. J. really do it? Will this case forever have a cloud hanging over both the crime and the decision? Will we ever know? Maybe, maybe not.

What irks those convinced of his guilt is that he appears to have gotten away with it. Those who disagree are irked because his case became a racial issue and because the police appeared to be on the wrong side of the law. Either way, evil seems to have won.

Whenever law-breakers (or supposed law-keepers) walk away from their rotten deeds without due consequence, Psalm 37 comes to mind. It say: “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away... Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret — it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.”

In historical context, the psalmist was encouraging God’s people. While things looked bad for the moment, evil would not prevail; eventually they would live safely in their land.

The psalm contains an important principle: “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous.”

There is a day coming for those who escape the long arm of human law. God’s arm is longer. He, in perfect justice, will deal with all who do evil, whether their crime is murder, violence, hatred, racism, abuse, robbery, envy, lying, blasphemy, or even gossip and unbelief.

If I could rephrase Psalm 37 in regard to the O. J. Simpson case, I would write, “Don’t get bent out of shape because a double homicide goes unpunished. Whether guilt lies with unknown assailants, a football player, the police, or (as my dad says) the lawyers, the Lord will deal with them. It is better you do not get riled. Instead, trust God and hold your tongue and your temper. Don’t let evil prevail in your own heart. A vehement desire for revenge, hatred, or even scorn are punishable by God too, just as are those other evil acts.”

The Gospels say the same thing. When people came to Jesus and told Him about a certain disaster that happened to other people, they seemed to imply God was punishing some secret evil they had done. However, Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

He makes the psalmist’s point. While unpunished evil is not desirable, and the killer (O. J. or otherwise) needs to be found and proven guilty, personal hatred, vindictiveness, or a “I would never do that” pride is evil also. Instead, the psalmist invites us to, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

We may not see the day that the guilty are punished here, but if we trust God, their judgment day will come and we will not only miss seeing it then, but be glad we are not standing in the crowd on that terrible day when the guilty finally receive what they deserve!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Caring for my mother .......... Parables 489

October 24. 1995

The poem starts like this: “When I’m a little old lady, then I’ll live with my children and bring them great joy, to repay all I’ve had from each girl and each boy. I shall draw on the walls and scruff up the floor: run in and out without closing the door.”

After more of the same, it ends with: “What fun I shall have, what joy it will be, to live with my children like they lived with me.”

Someone sent it for a laugh but instead I cried — because this week a specialist told my mother she has a form of dementia called Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s is both mysterious and cruel. Those who have it know not that they know not. My mother is aware her short term memory is sluggish but has no knowledge of the other tricks her failing mind plays on her. Sometimes we can laugh together but too often there is little to laugh about.

Even if parents are unable to behave as adults, God intends their children to honor and respect them. In the past year, I realized how often I based my “honoring” on expectations. When mom moved in, I hoped for comradery but was quickly disappointed. For weeks, I found it difficult to honor her because I felt let down, but God reminded me of a verse in the Psalms: “When your father and mother let you down, the Lord will pick you up.”

God also intends that my expectations are in Him. He created us as social beings who interact with each other, yet we are bound to be disappointed if we expect too much from other mere mortals. Expecting my mother to be different is unfair. She cannot rise to the challenge of an incurable disease that makes her unaware her faculties for relationships are deteriorating. She no longer knows how to meet needs.

It is also unfair to God if I depend on something or someone else for my fulfillment. He promises to meet all my needs. While He may use people, the choice is up to Him. Besides, if I put people first, I am guilty of a form of idolatry.

Watching mom deteriorate is difficult and sad. Other families struggle with similar heartaches and feel overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility and the weight of decisions that they must make. Many also struggle with guilt.

Someone gave me this threefold and timely advice: “One, you cannot do everything.” Aging people need physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual care. I cannot be nurse, counselor, pastor and program planner. I have learned to depend on God for strength and to follow His leading to wonderful resources available in the community for my parents.

“Two, you have done what you could.” There is nothing more debilitating than regret and false guilt. If I can do what I know God wants me to do, that is enough. It may not cover all the bases, but He knows my limitations and will not condemn me for them.

“Three, you are doing what you do out of love.” When I tell my mother she needs help with certain things, or when I take her to the doctor, I do it because I love her. I am not trying to make her life difficult, do for her what she can do herself, or make sure she “keeps me in her will.” I do it because she needs help. Doing it is a sacrifice of sorts, not a personal gain but it also includes joy. Genuine love, like God’s love, has both elements: sacrifice and joy.

Love also does not act out of a sense of “duty” or an obligation or discharge of a debt. In a way, caring for my mother is a return on something she invested in me. She raised me with respect, treated me as someone precious and never complained that I was a burden to her. That is a debt I can pay back, in full and with interest.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fire as a force .......... Parables 488

October 17. 1995

The National Fire Protection Association publishes booklets on fire safety tips because even careful people can find themselves in emergencies. These booklets deal with the importance of planning ahead in case a fire occurs.

The rules are simple. Know the house, know all the exits and how to unlock them. Know two ways out of each room. Arrange a meeting place outside and discuss this plan with those in the household. Carry emergency information numbers with you always so you can call for help from any location.

Floods and storms are different. A rescue raft or even a piece of wood may save someone in a flood. Suitable shelters may protect potential victims from high winds. A sturdy roof diverts torrential rains — but fire consumes anything and everything. Saving yourself from raging flames requires water, other suitable extinguishers or putting distance between yourself and danger.

Fire is frequently used as a metaphor in Scripture. For instance, Proverbs 6 warns men to avoid immoral women. The passage adds, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” In other words, sin is like fire — it burns anyone who plays with it.

An uncontrolled tongue is also like fire. James 3 says, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

The process of purification also is like fire. For instance, Peter compared going through that process was something like being in a refinery or smelter. However, he pointed out that refined gold will eventually perish but faith proved genuine by “fiery trials” will never perish.

Fire is also used to describe God’s judgment. Scripture says someday “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Further, when God judges individual lives, those whose names are “not found written in the book of life” will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Fire purifies, scorches and destroys. On the other hand, when fire is under control, it provides light in darkness and warmth in the cold. Can we control those negative, uncomfortable “fires” in the Bible?

We learn the hard way that we cannot control the fire of sin. For that we need a Savior. The fire of an untamed tongue also needs supernatural help so we can obey commands like: “Let no unwholesome words come out of your mouth...” and “Let your speech be full of grace and seasoned with salt...”

For this power, we need a special fire that God alone provides. As John the Baptist said of Christ, He “baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This is a fire we must not “quench,” a fire like the amazing bush Moses encountered, “on fire but not consumed.”

Through the fire of the Spirit of God, we have power to say no to sin and its destructive force, endurance to grow and become more godly in trials, and most important of all, that fire is His escape route from that final fire of judgment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What do sheep eat? .......... Parables 487

October 10. 1995

According to the March 1995 issue of the Financial Post, it costs $250 a year or about $21 a month, to adopt a sheep at the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo. According to Hope International, a development agency that uses donations to support needy families, it costs $312 a year or $26 a month, to support an entire family. I wonder what sheep eat?

Quality of family life equivalent to the lifestyle of an urban Toronto sheep does not mean being locked in a cage, fed hay and having zoo patrons stare at you all day. For about the same price, that family probably gets one meal, basic clothing and clean water.

I wonder how long the average Torontonian would last on $21 - $26 a month? Personally, I would not do well. Shelter, utilities, food and even a minimal wardrobe exceed ten times that amount in less costly sections of Canada. Hope International families must live without central heating, electricity, running water or denim jeans.

What is more amazing is the high cost people are willing to pay for animal care. My cousin “boards” a few angora goats for a wealthy lady who pays her one dollar per day per goat — plus the cost of their feed. My cousin does not have to build fancy cages, hire zoo employees or pay city taxes so is able to take holidays every year on her “goat” money.

North Americans also spend millions on zoos and pets. Sometimes those in need go without because those with money would rather give it to a sheep than offer help to those less fortunate. This twisted attitude is a prominent target in Scripture. God condemns those who ignore needy people, and even offers Himself as their helper. “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.”

We are made in His image and ought to have His compassion. He expects us “to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed; rescue the weak and needy; and deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82).

Why don’t we? Too often we look down on them rather than help, but it is not a sin to be poor. Furthermore, God does not necessarily want everyone to be rich. He emphatically says wealth can be a snare. The pursuit of money can draw people into all sorts of evil behavior.

God says we should use our money to help people, not abuse or neglect them. This includes employees for example: “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

The way we help poor people is an individual matter. Some will give food. Others will donate clothing or furniture. Some give their time and skills. Others give cash. One person cannot do everything and some have more to offer than others. Nevertheless, if each person obeyed God and did their part, we would see drastic changes in economic imbalances.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” He also said that God would reward any act of kindness done in His name. Therefore, when we do anything to help others, we ourselves will eventually benefit. On a global scale, it only follows that the lot of humanity would improve.

And I am certain there would be enough left over for the sheep in the zoo.

Monday, September 19, 2016

“I know so” faith .......... Parables 486

September 26, 1995

My brother tells a story on himself about tearing apart cupboards during renovations and finding some money. It was paper, marked and dated prior to the American Revolution. He thought he was rich.

Of course he took the bill to a reputable coin dealer. Since it was so old, it must be worth a considerable amount. Can you imagine his chagrin when the dealer told him it was not real — it had been made by a cereal company during a promotional campaign!

His story reminded me of another I heard years ago about a man who belonged to a well-known religious group with headquarters in Utah. His daughter told how he had committed his life to the teachings of this group but on his death bed he said, “Now I will find out if what I believed is really true.”

My brother’s story was funny; the second story made me weep. An uncertain hope for increased wealth based on counterfeit money is far less serious than an uncertain hope for forgiveness of sin and eternal life based on teaching that may or may not be true.

Granted, life is full of uncertainties. Who can predict what will happen tomorrow? Who knows for sure which teams will win the game or who will win the next election? Who knows if anyone will be sick or healthy or how long they will live? On the other hand, the Bible says we can be absolutely sure of what will happen to us after we die.

In the Bible, faith is described as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith that merely wonders if something is true, is by definition not faith at all. It is simply wishful thinking, an “I hope so” belief rather than an “I know so” faith.

The reason true faith gives certainty is very similar to the reason my brother knew his find was worthless. Someone reliable and who had accurate knowledge told him. Furthermore, based on the coin dealers credibility, he choose to believe his words.

Biblical faith stands on the same ground. God reveals truth to godly, credible people. We are given the choice whether we will believe or reject it. When we choose to believe, “the Holy Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are the children of God.” Deep in our hearts and minds, we know that what He says through Scripture is true.

This is not the same as making up something and telling ourselves it is true. Just as the coin dealer was important regarding what my brother believed about his money, so revelation from God is vital regarding what we believe about Him and eternal life.

His revelation has two sides, one is objective, the other subjective. God revealed Himself to the prophets of Israel, then through the person of Jesus Christ. His truth continues to be revealed through the written record of those disclosures in the Bible. This is objective revelation in that it can be examined, even tested to some extent. It shows us Christ is the Savior.

Subjective revelation is what the Spirit of God does in our hearts. People can read the Bible, pray and perform religious ritual, but only when the Spirit touches and opens the inner person, do they realize that “Jesus is my Savior.”

Revelation makes us dependent on Him. On our own, we distort and wrestle with the message of the Bible. With Him, it becomes clearer. We can believe it because we are absolutely sure of what it says. The Apostle John said, “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.”

Scripture promises a certainty so that anyone who believes in God’s Word has assurance throughout their life. No one has to wait until they die to know the truth.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Astonishing Providence .......... Parables 485

October 3, 1995

My father lamented that his advancing age made him unable to go to Scotland with us to the Leslie Clan Reunion last June. However, about two weeks after we returned, providence brought a little bit of Scotland to him.

One evening, my husband and I decided to run some errands. As we left our condominium complex, Bob spotted two men walking up the hill towards a small playground area. He said, “Would you look at that!” They were carrying bagpipes.

By the time we stopped and walked up the hill, they were facing each other, toes tapping and playing their pipes. We waited until they finished, then told them about our trip and my dad. I asked if they would like to give an old Scot a real thrill. They obliged and in a few minutes my parents enjoyed bagpipe music under their bedroom window.

Some people would say it was a remarkable coincidence — which it was. Who ever “happens upon” pipers in a city the size of Edmonton? However, it was also an example of the loving providence of God. He knows my dad’s heart for the pipes and He knows how to let an elderly man know that He loves him and wants him to enjoy his old age.

Job, a familiar Old Testament character, said: “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.”

God sometimes uses strange means to show kindness and demonstrate His care. Years ago in Banff, our youngest son, then a preschooler, followed a costumed character down the street. When he turned to come back to the family, he missed our location and became lost. We went the direction of the man in the costume not knowing Scott was going the other way.

In our search, we spotted a young man with orange hair done in a huge, curly Afro ball. We asked if he had seen a small, blond boy. He hadn’t, but took pity and started looking. He searched until he found him and returned him to us.

Another time, we were camping in Jasper and a black bear wandered into our site at night. The bear began rushing up to our tent, growling threats and terrifying our family. Within minutes, we were rescued by four men returning to an adjacent campsite. They had been drinking that evening, enough to be braver than we were, and chased the bear with rocks and loud threats of their own. Both incidents showed God’s providence.

The Psalms are filled with praises for the Lord’s loving nurture and protective care. He may use ordinary circumstances or situations some people call chance, fate or luck. In fact, the dictionary uses terms like that to define providence, but these concepts miss the biblical idea.

God’s providence is more like foresight and prudence. God sees the end from the beginning, just like the pilot of an airplane can see highway #2 from Edmonton to Calgary. He looks at what lies ahead and, in sovereign power, brings in other elements that suit His purposes. He can influence pipers to choose a playground to practice in at 7:00 p.m. on a certain night. He can influence an unconventional looking young man to search places that frantic parents do not think to look. He can also influence night time revelers to go back to their campsite just when they need to be there.

God can also use angels to protect His people. Some will scoff but those who experience unusual acts of divine care sometimes see no other explanation. Besides, who says angels wear halos and play harps? While I’m not suggesting they drink beer, but maybe they have orange hair and occasionally trade in their harps to play bagpipes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Perfect Contentment .......... Parables 484

September 12, 1995

A wealthy employer once overheard one of his workers exclaim, “Oh, if I only had a hundred dollars, I would be perfectly content.”

Knowing something about having money and feeling discontent, he surprised her. “Since I would like to see someone who is perfectly content, I am going to give you a hundred dollars.”

He handed her the cash but before he was out of earshot, he heard her remark, “Why didn’t I say $200?”

Contentment is like stepping into your own shadow. It certainly is not part of the package we call success. Wealthy people wish they had more money. Autocrats crave more power. Models want wrinkle cream and facelifts. Famous people worry about the few who never heard of them.

What is perfect contentment? Is it being happy and totally satisfied all of the time? If true, no one would come to the table for lunch! Some would say it is life without distressing or uncomfortable concerns; hunger but not starvation, earning a living but not staying below the poverty line.

Even defined that way, contentment is still elusive. Who can ensure their circumstances will be somewhere between great and favorable? Working hard does not guarantee financial independence. Living carefully does not guarantee healthy bodies and intact bones.

Another definition comes from Webster’s dictionary. It says contentment is “limiting one’s desires or expectations.” In other words, if steak is not on the menu tonight, a contented person will be just as happy to eat hot dogs. This is not resignation but a true attitude of acceptance. A contented person has a sense of well-being that does not depend on “having it all.”

The Apostle Paul displayed this kind of contentment, but he had to learn it. In his letter to the Philippians, he told them how glad he was that they could care for him, but added, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

This great man of God was not exaggerating when he said “in any and every situation.” He had known extremes. He had adoring followers and spiteful persecutors, great moments with God and terrifying hours at the hands of men. If we lived as he did, we would find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster, nevertheless, Paul learned how to remain level.

His secret? He said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul knew that no matter what happened to him, Christ was with him, giving him the power he needed to handle the situation. It is like walking through a dark alley with Joe Fraser or Mike Tyson. Who cares what danger lurks in the shadows!

Paul also had a philosophy about money and contentment. He realized “men of corrupt mind . . . think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” He said “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

For him, food and clothing was enough. There is a life beyond this one and that was far more important. Besides, he had seen “people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires.” Paul was smart enough to look elsewhere for his contentment. He firmly believed “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

One hundred dollars or one million dollars cannot buy lasting peace of heart or total satisfaction. However, to those who are willing to seek out their true source, both are available.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The greatest war .......... Parables 483

September 5, 1995

During the First World War, a young French soldier’s arm was so badly smashed it had to be amputated. His surgeon, regretting the necessity, waited beside his bed to convey his sorrow personally. When the soldier’s eyes opened, the doctor said, “I am sorry — you have lost your arm.”

“Sir,” said the soldier, “I did not lose it; I gave it — for France.”

From every country in the world, thousands of soldiers have given limbs, even their lives, for victory and freedom. For some, the sacrifice was in vain. In either case, those soldiers would be the first to say that war has no winners.

They are right, except one war. This one is not a political battle nor an ideological conflict, but does involve a kingdom and ideals. It is a far greater and a far more important power struggle than any war ever fought. It is the unseen war for spiritual victory over sin.

The battle began eons ago in Eden. The enemy of God, an angel He created to serve Him, determined to usurp God’s authority. His first tactical maneuver was deceit. He lied to persuade the crown of God’s creation, Adam and Eve, to disobey God. With one bite, they said no to God and yes to sin.

People have been shaking their fist in God’s face ever since. Some of that is strong defiance, out-and-out rebellion. Some is subtle — rebellion often puts on religious robes and pretends to honor God. Nevertheless, they do not fool Him, nor was He stymied in His desire that people become all that He created us to be. He fought back.

However, God is not our enemy. The actual opponent is the one who suggested to Eve that God did not want the best for her. When she believed that lie, she disobeyed God. Believing the same lie continues to draw people away from His love and into sin.

To win this battle, one person needed to overcome sin by refusing to disobey, by being sinless. Because no one fits that description, God pulled on humanity like a pair of pants and became a man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The sinless Christ constantly faced many challenges. By being born as a baby and becoming a man, He limited Himself to a body and to human life with all its temptations. He suffered hunger, thirst, fatigue, loneliness, ridicule, betrayal and pain.

Finally, He hung on a Cross, convicted of blasphemy for claiming to be God. The crowds taunted, “Come down from there; you saved others but you cannot save yourself.” Behind them, the Liar cheered and urged Jesus to give in.

Yet this incredible Warrior fought back. If He saved Himself, He would be disobeying His Father. If resisted, He would die — but His death would prove that truth, righteousness and godliness prevail over sin. Not only that, His death would pay the penalty for all our sin. Out of incredible love, He give His life — for His “enemies” — and established a Kingdom which He alone rules. He won the war, and true to the great mystery that is God, He did it by losing.

What does His victory mean for us? If a person does not feel any guilt because of sin and is without concern about their separation from God, then His battle and triumph mean absolutely nothing. However, His victory condemns their apathy and neglect. If we do not have a serious need, why did Christ bother to die?

For those who are concerned about this holy war, His victory is our victory. Because sin and death did not win, our battle against sin is like shadow boxing and death is merely a dark valley. From it we pass through to the next life — where forever we will be winners with Him.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Matters of the Heart .......... Parables 482

August 29, 1995

Every few days authorities arrest someone for physically or sexually abusing their own or someone else’s children. Susan Smith went even farther when she killed her two little boys. She claims emotional distress yet who can help but question the actual condition of her heart?

Statistics reveal alarming increases in child abuse. While raising children can bring exasperation, understanding a total lack of tender-heartedness is difficult. Any kind of abuse sadly illustrates the depths to which human beings can fall.

What can be done to prevent or stop such abuse? Education may help. Punishment, or the threat of it, might deter a few. It is more imperative that something is done at the heart level to defuse whatever it is at the core of our being that makes too many of us tick like time bombs.

Human nature is complex. For instance, why do some people beat their kids yet that behavior appalls others? In God’s sight, what is the difference? Why does He say ALL need forgiveness and salvation from sin when some are obviously more in need of it than others?

A diagram helped me understand something about the condition of humanity as God sees us. Draw the left half of a heart. Since the heart represents a person, label it “ME.” Finish the right side with a vertical line. This line shows something is missing, which I will explain shortly. At the top of the line, put a “zero.” This represents goodness or zero evil — no badness at all.

Above the half heart shape, draw a horizontal line extending left from the zero to the edge of the page. This line represents human potential for doing wrong. We must admit evil’s appeal.

Human attitudes, motives, speech and general behavior will be somewhere along this line. People who maybe tell only a few white lies, seldom say mean things and are generally kind and law-abiding, could be called “good” and will be close to the zero.

Others express their tendency toward evil in more serious activities such as robbing banks, mugging people or cheating on their income tax. Their mark would be farther away from the “zero.” Depending on individual opinion, Hitler and Paul Bernardo would be farther left than these or than average people. Some might mark them right off the page.

On your diagram, draw the other half of the heart with a dotted line. Draw another line above the heart going to the right of the “zero.” This represents human potential to be godly or like God, an actual possibility because He made us in His image.

However, the Bible says we fall short of getting any marks on the godliness side — because of the stuff on the other line. Any bad deed spoils the image we were created to reflect. Looking at the diagram, it is easy to see we are incomplete. Without God’s help, the best we can do is reach half our potential and, as far as God measures, it is the wrong half.

God loves us too much to leave us like that. He offered a way we can move beyond the middle line when He sent His Son to pay our penalty for everything marked on the left side. Even more, He put all of that bad stuff on Christ, removing it from us “as far as the east is from the west.” Those who believe in Him are assured that God “remembers their sin no more.”

Secondly, God takes the righteousness of Christ and puts it on those who believe. What an incredible trade! “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Even more amazing, God gives His eternal life and power to those who trust Christ. Because of His presence in them, they have a new nature and the potential to extend that line out to the right toward godliness. While evil is still possible (God never removes our power of choice), its power to condemn us before God is broken — and He makes our hearts whole.

As for child abuse, according to the Bible, response to Christ means “the hearts of the fathers will be turned toward their children.” He becomes a potent cure, right where it is needed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gaining the world? .......... Parables 481

August 22, 1995

When the tomb of Charlemagne, Frankish king and conqueror, was opened about 200 years ago, the workers saw a startling sight. His body was in a sitting position, clothed in elaborate royal garments, with a scepter in his bony hand and an open Bible lying on his knee. His lifeless finger pointed to Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Charlemagne inherited great wealth and doubled the territory under his control. For three decades, he ruthlessly attempted to subjugate Saxons and was merciless in “converting” them to Roman Christianity. In only one day alone, more than 4,500 Saxons were executed.

Some reports say this man had great political and humanitarian vision combined with a devout religious bent but most historical records paint him as a gluttonous, superstitious illiterate with a tremendous capacity for brutality.

How ironic that he was buried in such a manner. Did he realize this biblical truth before he died? Did he request burial with a Bible verse to warn others against his lifestyle? Or did someone who knew him make this final caustic comment on his life?

No matter how Charlemagne came to this end, the verse he pointed to in death was as true for everyone as it was for him. No matter what anyone gains for themselves, everyone dies, is buried — and is unable to enjoy any of it beyond that day.

One day, Charlemagne will stand before God. How sad that his Creator is not interested in the size of his fortune, his notoriety or how much land he conquered if he did not listen to Jesus’ warning: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Jesus illustrated with a parable about a rich man who produced a good crop and decided the only thing to do was tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store it in. The man said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

But God said to that man, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus added, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Being rich toward God means loosening our grasp on whatever else we depend and putting Him first. For the rich man in Jesus’ parable, it was material abundance. Jesus added it is an issue of the heart: “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.”

Jesus promised that whenever anyone seeks God’s Kingdom, God will make sure their needs are met. When it comes to caring for His people, He is generous, but we have to let go of whatever we cling to before He will give it to us!

Even more startling is Jesus’ explanation of how someone can become one of God’s people. He said, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

The kingdom of God is a gift! By its very nature, no one can buy a gift nor can all the money in the world influence the Giver. Gifts are gifts and they are free, no strings attached.

If anything can touch God’s heart, it is an attitude of contrition and trust. Since this is an absolutely frightening state for most of us, money, fame, power, even the whole world seems like an easy alternative. However, as Charlemagne knows by now, putting anything ahead of God means trading that thing for eternal life.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Counting the cost .......... Parables 480

August 15, 1995

A salesman trying to sell a refrigerator to a couple said, “Look, you can save enough on your food bill to pay for it.”

The husband answered, “We’re paying for a car on the bus fare we save, we’re paying for a washing machine on the coin laundry bill we save, we’re paying for a television set on the cost of movies we don’t see anymore. It looks as if we can’t afford to save more money right now.”

Sometimes spending money does save money. The cost of doing laundry for a large family in coin-operated machines can soon add up to the price of a washing machine. However, “savings” do not always materialize. If I left the house only once a week and paid a taxi fare of $10 each time, it would not be economical to buy a car and pay for insurance, gasoline and repairs just to save on taxi fare.

We can be too easily influenced by a sales presentation. There are occasions when it might be wiser to sit down with a calculator and count the cost. How does the hidden costs associated with the purchase compare to any savings? Will I wind up with black or red ink on the ledgers?

Counting the cost is a familiar principle in many activities. I sometimes ask myself, is it worth losing sleep to stay up for the late show? A handyman considers the cost of a trip to the store for a few nails when there might be enough odd nails in his workshop to finish the job. A stressed out employee might even weigh the cost of working with stress against the price of a vacation. Everyone would rather come out ahead, not wind up short.

Jesus talked about counting the cost too. He said God rewards kindness paid to people who cannot return the favor. He illustrated with a story about a man who invited people to come to his banquet but they all made excuses. He told his servant to go out into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame instead.

The implication was that these people who made excuses are like the people God invites into His kingdom. Sometimes they say they cannot because of family pressures or financial concerns. He said those people needed to count the cost. He added, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Unlike refrigerators, washing machines, television sets and cars, eternal life is a free gift. There is nothing we can do to pay for it, earn or deserve it. God offers it to anyone who is willing to accept it as He offers it. However, eternal life is not cheap — it cost Jesus His very life and whenever anyone accepts this gift, their own lives begin to change and others may react negatively. For instance, family members may think it weird that one of their own all of a sudden wants to go to church or read a Bible. Others may persecute or even kill dedicated Christians.

Following Christ does have a cost. That is why Jesus said “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” While giving up everything does not pay for eternal life, but having eternal life requires turning everything over to Christ. That is why it is important to count the cost. Is living forever in heaven with God worth it?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Singing with real joy .......... Parables 479

August 8, 1995

My mother’s German Roller canary sings a lovely, rolling melody from his cage hanging in our kitchen. Before he arrived, someone gave mom a small ceramic bird that makes chirping noises whenever anyone bumps or shakes it. Obviously, it is an imitation — anyone can see the difference between it and the one in the cage.

I’ve noticed church goers can be like either kind of bird. Some are happy, even bubbling over in joyful song. They are different, full of life. They make you feel happy. If asked about their joy, they might say “Christ has given it to me. Once I was dead to God and dead in my sin, but now I am alive in Him.”

Other church goers are like the ceramic variety. They attend worship services, even talk about their church or religious experiences (only when bumped?) but something is missing. They might sing with their voices but there is no song in their hearts.

Because Jesus promised “abundant life” to His followers, vibrant joy should be the norm for those who claim to know Him. In fact, His Spirit will produce the “fruit” that is described in Galatians 5 as: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Because God gives joy, why should some Christians be lifeless, even sour, complaining and unhappy? Have they lost their sense of being alive with Christ? Have they lost their spiritual emphasis and focus? Are their lives consumed with problems, money or other things that take them away from God?

Perhaps. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explains that human hearts are like four kinds of soil. When the seed, which is His Word, is planted, one kind is like good soil and produces a good crop but the other three are unable to bear fruit. Jesus tells why. If the sower scatters the seed on hard soil where it cannot penetrate, that is like a person who is told about God and Christ but is so hard of heart they really do not hear the message. To them, it is just noise.

The second soil seems a bit better. That person is at first receptive but when any problems arise because they believe, it can be seen that their hearts are like deadpan. Whatever began to grow can find no root. They begin to resist and finally reject God’s Word. The Holy Spirit cannot produce fruit in their lives.

The third soil also receives the seed and it begins to grow too. However, this person’s life is full of “thistles” which represent the worries and concerns of this life. These things draw that person away from God and His Word and again, there is no fruit produced in them.

While this parable generally describes people who are without any faith, Christians can also have hardness deep down in their hearts. They can resist God during trials and miss out on the joy His Spirit wants to give them. They can become so preoccupied with worldly concerns and current circumstances, that their joy becomes dependant on these things. When all goes right, they smile, but as soon as trouble comes, that kind of joy disappears.

People with “good soil” hearts are receptive to God’s Word, all the time. They are “alive in Him,” not into power trips or worldly pursuits. Like a singing canary, joy flows out effortlessly. It is a part of being alive, being what Christ intends them to be.

On the other hand, a ceramic bird sounds like a bird, even look something like a bird. With considerable work, it could even move like a bird — but it will never be alive nor will it ever produce a real song. With Christ, people at least have the possibility.