Monday, October 31, 2016

Technology: Pros and Cons .......... Parables 504

(date unsure) 1996
Because I have a computer with a modem, people ask, “Are you on the Internet?” I used to say, “No. I am afraid I’ll never come home — and someone has to make supper!”

In January, I gave in. After a few weeks of trying it out, “coming home” is not as difficult as I feared. My deep practical streak (Scottish ancestry?) and full schedule will not permit aimless wandering. However, I am delighted with this massive, easily accessible resource.

For example, someone asked me for an article on vacation planning. In less than five minutes, I loaded my “net browser,” connected to a local “server,” found a good “search engine,” did a word search that yielded dozens of article titles, and downloaded the research information I needed. Now I understand the excitement over this fascinating technology.

Although a relative thinks the Internet is part of a big conspiracy, other friends, students and writers find it saves multiple trips to the library and the expense of long distance phone calls to find information. Further, our grandchildren, with a little instruction and using the right software, have access to the same data as do doctors with a Ph.D.

Hasn’t communication evolved! It has progressed from pictures on cave walls to computer software that corrects our spelling as we type. Now words fly to the other side of the world in moments. One cannot but wonder will it last and what is next. Remember gramophones with the RCA logo dog who sat listening in wonder? Now most of those machines are in museums. A few years ago, folks said they could never manage without a telephone but now many are using another recent marvel of technology to answer it for them.

Our amazement is soon replaced by a yearning for more, perhaps because even this latest, easy-to-access network of information cannot solve all our communication problems. People still incorrectly hear or interpret each other. Prejudiced people still distort black and white facts with slanted journalism and statistics.

Communication is so easily garbled. Sometimes it is unspoken attitudes in the speaker. To that, listeners are justified when they respond with, “I cannot hear what you are saying because who you are speaks louder than your words.” Sometimes the garble is in the frame of mind of the listener or in assumptions made by both sides.

Technology gives us communication tools, but like any other tools, the quality of production is in proportion to the skill of those who use them. Word processors do not produce great novels and stories nor do telephones build bridges and relationships.

As for the Internet, it has its limitations. People put pages on the “World Wide Web” because they have an ax to grind. Some are strictly commercial. Some are so filthy that at least one “server” has added features to help parents protect their computer-literate children.

One other resource still impresses me far more: the Bible. The Author had no ax to grind, no selfish gain in mind. How could He when He is complete in Himself and needs nothing!

Besides, even though God used human instruments to write and produce them, His pages never need censorship. While they bluntly describe sinful humanity as it is, they also give hope. One passage says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the people of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Jesus affirmed that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Web pages are helpful but no technology produces life or godliness, hence we are never satisfied with it. Instead, we need words of hope lifted from the pages of God’s book and downloaded into our hearts and lives.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The new gods .......... Parables 503

February 27, 1996

Whenever the word “idol” is mentioned, different images come to mind. My granddaughter might picture a television or singing star. An older generation might think of rotund little statues or grotesque carved figures mounted on poles. Most of us would never think of a science laboratory.

While reading a book about world views, I came across an interesting definition of “idol.” As background, the author maintains world view is how a person answers four questions: Who am I? (Or who are human beings?) Where am I? (Or what is the nature of our world?) What is wrong? (Or what keeps us from attaining fulfillment?) And finally, what is the remedy? He says whatever we depend on and look to for answers is our response to the last question. In other words, whatever we think will fix wrong in our world becomes our “God” or idol.

On a global scale, answers to those last two questions fall into three major categories. The first says economic chaos is our problem and it can be remedied by money, either by right use or more of it. A second response says we are crippled by archaic methods therefore technology and the right tools will “fix” the world’s mess.

The third answer is that we do not properly understand our world. All we need is careful observation and workable theories that have been tested and proven. Then we will discover what we need to know and use those same scientific methods to resolve our problems.

Science proves itself a mixed blessing. For instance, inventions ease our work load with labor-saving washing machines, power tools and computers, but what happened to the predicted twenty-hour work week? New inventions eat it up with increased production!

Scientific development changed the way we work but also the way we think about God. For instance, faith was once considered a response to God’s revelation. Truth from God was considered ultimate truth and faith accepted it as reasonable and provable. However, certain “experts” found themselves unable to put revelation in a test tube. They demanded reason be divorced from faith. Unfortunately, allowing that separation produces spiritual chaos.

For instance, with science, humans are now “enlightened.” We can split atoms, cure most diseases and launch ourselves into outer space. Scientific theory collects evidence to “prove” man is an evolved ape and the world is a cosmic accident. Some claim whatever is wrong, humanity can fix it. They say we don’t need God and He, even if He existed, is dead.

Observation is a major scientific foundation, yet anyone who has their eyes open can easily see the scientific method falls short. It cannot cure the world’s ills because our human sinfulness interferes. We explore and marvel at the wonders of creation, yet have not found a perfect way to stop ourselves from exploiting and polluting it. More personally, people protect a seal pup’s right to life with the same zeal as their right to destroy their own unborn babies.

Science enables us to gaze in awe at the cosmos and thrust spaceships into it, but cannot guarantee an end to violence and bloodshed. Even in our fiction, people war over ownership of the moon and traffic control on their way to the stars. Science has not stopped hate, fear, poverty or pride. Human beings are still selfish and abusive, hungry and helpless.

Nonetheless, science has merit. Rather than abandon it, we need to put it in its proper place — under the law of God. He commands: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Obeying would keep us from elevating science above Him. Instead, we corrupt it by our sinfulness and make it yet another ailment that needs yet another remedy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Test for what is genuine .......... Parables 502

April 16, 1996

Modern pirates are not sailing the high seas in search of booty, instead they are filling their treasure chests with profits from the sale of plastic disks full of stolen information.

Pirated computer software is big business. Copyright laws have not prevented hackers from reproducing codes off entire commercial product lines. Then they crank out millions of authentic-looking copies and sell them all over the world as if they were originals.

Quality has always invited duplication. Swiss watches are the cliché imitation but copyists mimic every product that sells well, from soft drinks to mink coats. As for religion, for generations, the teaching and teachers of the Bible have been imitated.

In Old Testament times, false prophets sometimes outnumbered true men of God. Elijah was so disgusted with phony prophets that he challenged 850 of them to a contest. This led to a spectacular demonstration of the power of God. To show who was real and who was fake, God ignored the false prophets, but sent fire from heaven that consumed the water-soaked sacrifice offered by Elijah.

In the New Testament, Jesus warned His disciples that many would come claiming to be Christ. He called them wolves in sheep’s clothing. True to His warning, the first Century church discovered imitators in their midst. Since then, Christians have been warned to be alert to fakes but also alert to our own faith. We need to be certain we ourselves are genuine.

The Apostle John gave some guidelines to identify true believers. For one thing, authentic faith produces an authentic change in lifestyle. He writes, “If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Whatever faith one claims to have, the biblical test is “walking in light” or being obedient to God’s will. People who trust God are willing to do what He says. A renewed attitude toward God and disgust with sin produces a like-mindedness with other believers. We enjoy being together in spiritual fellowship. John says phonies may join us but will not stay with us. They do not think the same way.

Biblical faith and walking in light are not the same as being perfect. Even genuine Christians make mistakes. However, as we confess our sin and strive to be obedient, God produces increasing purity. John says, if none of this is happening, we ought to question if we really are Christians. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Fakes cannot produce godliness because only Christ can produce Christlikeness. That is why John says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.”

Phonies may duplicate the classic look of the real thing but like pirated software or a fake Swiss watch, they look good only on the outside. The true test of authenticity is not labels or claims but rather a lifetime change of mind and performance.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bad things do happen to good people .......... Parables 501

February 20, 1996

The flight was supposed to leave at 11:30 p.m. After boarding, the pilot announced one gauge failed to read properly. Every few minutes, he returned with negative updates. After an hour, they sent us back into the terminal for coffee and muffins. Finally, about 2:30 a.m., the pilot brought even worse news: the right engine failed. They canceled the flight.

We returned to ticketing. Bob and I told the agent to get us to Orlando, even if she had to reroute us through Hawaii. Nice try, she said, and booked us through Dallas, Texas, a flight leaving at 6:00 a.m. with check-in at 4:30. It was too late to go home and too early to go to gate whatever, so we found a couple of benches and slept, sort of.

The return to Edmonton was almost as challenging. When we boarded in Orlando, the weather was sunny and warm. People were wearing shorts and shirt-sleeves. When we arrived back home, we were greeted by one of the coldest days of the year. Even hardy Albertans struggle with such drastic transitions!

Despite the inconveniences, few people grumbled about the flight cancellation or the weather. Perhaps it is because nearly everyone realized that grumbling would not change either situation. Being angry cannot provoke airlines to produce replacement airplanes or raise winter temperatures. It only heats up those who complain!

Job, a man who has an Old Testament book named after him, is a man for all time because he set a good example of what to do in adversity. He was a good man, wealthy and yet wise. He loved his family and treated his servants, friends and neighbors well. For most of his life, he had little to complain about. All that would change.

Unknown to Job, Satan looked at his goodness with contempt. Job’s integrity was a definite blight to his evil plans. He approached God with a scheme to stop it, suggesting if God did not take such good care of Job, the man would not continue to live in a godly way.

God knew Job’s heart. He also knew that genuine faith in Him is a persevering faith. Satan was actually challenging the integrity of God so the Lord accepted his challenge. He gave Satan permission do whatever he wanted except touch Job’s body. He quickly destroyed this man’s family, servants, and all his livestock — in one day!

Of course Job was overcome by grief, yet Scripture records “in all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Satan returned and claimed if Job was struck down physically, he would curse God to His face. God allowed this test too, but forbid him to take the man’s life. Then Job’s situation became even more desperate. Even his wife encouraged him to “curse God and die.”

Job’s response? “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, the Bible says Job did not sin in what he said. He later complained and questioned God, but never agreed God was punishing him for hidden sins, as was the accusation of his friends. He did not enjoy or understand what was happening but held onto his belief that God would work good from it. He said, “When I am tested, I will come forth as gold” and “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

Job’s story makes readers thankful for what they have and glad that God is in control. We may wonder why God allows such horrible things to happen to good people but God’s Word never explains. He only invites us to trust Him. Job did — and survived the challenges, challenges far more difficult than sleeping on a plastic bench or making a transition from a balmy +25 to a frigid -37.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Overcome Worry .......... Parables 500

January 16, 1996

A wise person says worrying in your recliner chair is more difficult than singing in your garden on the business end of a spade.

According to my dictionary, worry is mentally gnawing, like a dog worrying a bone. Another definition says worry is “a complete cycle of inefficient thought revolving around a pivot of fear!” Because worry is non-productive, even destructive, maybe worry is like a dog gnawing but the results are more like what happens to the bone!

Most of us do not define worry as “fear” but use softer words. We say, “I am not worried, but I am concerned.” The difference is merely in degree. Besides, not all fear is destructive. Fear keeps us from drinking poison, driving too fast, or walking into a den of snakes. However, fear is a curse when it prevents us from enjoying our family, riding a bus, or walking across the front yard.

Fear also swings its club whenever something new challenges us. Fear threatens failure, ridicule and loss of self-esteem then hits us again on the back-swing suggesting every effort we make to prevent failure will also fail. Fear says we will eventually suffer. Whatever we fear will be the worst thing that ever happens to us.

Perhaps worry is a feeble attempt to control things we cannot control. A family member misses curfew — but does watching the door make him come home sooner?

Worry is folly and although Christians affirm faith and say God has the power to control everything, we still worry. Fear nags with “God will not do anything.” We worry that whatever happens, it will not be the thing we want done.

People with faith can trust God — but faith is not “don’t worry, be happy, shut your eyes to reality.” Faith sees the problems but trusts God because the person with faith knows God. Faith understands that God can use circumstances constructively, even negative circumstances. Romans 8:28 says “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.”

The next verse defines God’s purpose. He is in the process of changing me into the image of Christ. It is His intention that I respond to all things in Christlikeness. Instead of gnawing on “inefficient thought” or let it gnaw on me, I have something to do.

For Christians, productive thinking begins with confessing fears and worry to God and telling Him we are sorry for thinking so little of His love and power. As He dissolves those fears into trust, we begin thinking differently about our situations. Our attitudes become more like Christ’s attitudes. We may not always know how to solve every problem but we are at peace instead of wasting energy and time fussing about what to do.

Faith’s productive thinking soon rolls up it sleeves and gets to work. We usually know what to do next. It may not be the solution to our problem but something more simple, like taking pencil and paper in hand to plan or reorganize, or washing a sink full of dishes. Faith uses energy to produce results, not headaches and ulcers.

Philippians 4 explains both our part and God’s part: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That unfathomable peace produces singing — both in the garden and the recliner chair!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tests for a true prophet .......... Parables 499

February 6, 1996

A friend was offered a $5000 advance just before Christmas. Amazed at this unexpected source of generosity, he wondered if God was telling him he would soon need some cash. The phone rang again. This time it was a sales pitch for a funeral plot!

This amusing story suggests we need to be careful about interpreting life’s situations as special messages from heaven. While God is involved in history, interpreting each of life’s daily events as prophetic messages can lead us astray.

Nevertheless, thousands of people want a handle on the future. Some plan their day around their horoscope. Some seek out fortune-tellers for predictions on everything from vacations to Vatican decisions. Few consider the fact that false prophets abound. Fewer realize there is a test to determine the legitimacy of prophetic claims.

In the Bible, the prophets and seers proclaimed the will of God. Sometimes their messages followed a pattern: If you do this... God will do this.... making it clear that God’s plan included conformity in the lives of those who heard it. Sometimes their utterances included accurate predictions of future events, events that always came to pass.

Not all who called themselves prophets loved and served God. Some were “false prophets.” They were in the fortune telling business but their messages were not from heaven. They claimed otherwise but God’s true prophets challenged their claims.

Jeremiah writes, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.’”

Jeremiah explains to the people: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.”

According to God’s Word, false prophets tell those who despise God that He will give them peace (inferring that their attitude against Him is okay). False prophets also say no harm will come to those who stubbornly follow their own way instead of His. Jeremiah says none of them seek the will of God or hear His word. Instead, they tell people reckless lies that will not “benefit them in the least.”

When the people asked how they could discern true prophets from false, God gave them these answers. First: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” A false message will be inconsistent with one basic truth of the Gospel — that we are under bondage to sin unless we turn to God and His saving power.

Second: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams... announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.” This test acknowledges false prophets sometimes make predictions that happen but we need to test if their message will lead us toward God or away from Him. If it leads us away, then the messenger is not from God.

Third: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.” This is the major test: EVERYTHING a prophet predicts must happen. Otherwise, he or she is a false prophet.

Our friend decided God was not talking to him through his unusual windfall. He didn’t buy a funeral plot. Instead, he paid his bills and purchased some special gifts for his family.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Where is God when life hurts? .......... Parables 498

January 2, 1996

A teenage girl is beaten by her dad and screams, “There is no God.” A purse snatcher robs a senior of her savings and she sobs, “There is no God.” A man befriends a young couple, convinces them to invest in his company, then disappears with their funds. They cling to each other and cry out there is no God.

Sometimes unthinking Christians respond to these tragedies with a line from Scripture that declares, “Only a fool says in his heart there is no God.” We don’t know what is in their heart. Perhaps a kinder and wiser option is speaking and living in a way that demonstrates to them that there is indeed a God.

People can do it. According to Genesis, God created us in His own image. In some ways we are like God. We are not reflections of His physical likeness (He is spirit) and we cannot be everywhere at once nor do all things. We are like Him in our creativity, emotions, capacity to think, to love and to make decisions. Also, He intended we reflect something of His wisdom, goodness and generosity. He created us so we would magnify His glory.

It is not that people are blind to God’s glory from other revelations. The psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Nature reveals God’s power and creativity. If cats and dogs and grass and thunderstorms can declare the glory of God, why can’t humans?

God also revealed Himself to the prophets of old. They recorded in books what He showed and told them — compiled into what we call the Bible. Scripture is a written record of everything God has revealed about Himself. Reading its pages with an open mind opens our eyes to the truth of Who He is. If we can see God in a book, why can’t we see Him in each other?

The point is, whether people believe in God or not, all are image-bearers — but not all are doing the job. The mirror is dirty. God’s image is muddied by abuse, greed, power trips, stealing, extortion, adultery, gossip, hatred, murder, jealousy and selfishness. When we look at the downside of humanity, we are almost justified in saying, “There is no God.”

Even if we take an honest look at the positive or good things people do, we have to admit the goodness in people points to a higher good. Yet we fail there too. We prefer to give ourselves credit for our goodness. In doing so, we contribute to the notion that there is no God.

With all those ways we mar the image of God, I am glad God gave a greater revelation of Himself: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son... the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being....”

The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s perfect revelation of His love and holiness. As He said, “He who sees me sees the Father.” Yet take note, God chose to reveal Himself in a human being. Jesus needed sleep, food and drink and was tempted by sin just as we are. He had all the limitations of being human but was different in that He did not sin. He proved that sin is not essential to being human because it was in being human that Jesus accomplished what we fail to do. He perfectly reflected the image of God.

Through this remarkable God-man, we are offered forgiveness and cleansing of our sin. He can polish our mirror and restore the image of God in us.

Everyone, including people who suffer and those who torment them, need to see that God indeed exists. The compelling evidence may not be a lecture, sermon or thunderstorm. They might see Him in someone who thinks, talks, and acts like Jesus.

Friday, October 14, 2016

And He will give you rest .......... Parables 497

January 9, 1996

My husband and I begin this year with a rest. For us, it is not only a new year, but a new beginning. Just over a year ago, my parents moved in with us; just three weeks ago, they moved into a residence for seniors.

All four made the transition with mixed emotions. My parents were excited yet apprehensive about another change in their lives. Would this new home be a place of rest, peace and security for them? Would they make new friends? Would their old friends visit them? Would their health continue to be stable? We hoped so.

Bob and I have a different adjustment. We are long-term tired. Although mom and dad are easy to get along with, being care-givers is time and energy consuming. A long rest is important right now. Not only do our bodies need it, so do our emotions and our souls. God did not intend that we stay on the fast track indefinitely. Rest is part of His plan for us.

God’s plan for rest considers high stress situations. When a wicked queen named Jezebel threatened the prophet Elijah, he ran several miles then fell under a tree utterly discouraged. He cried out to God but God did not respond with lofty revelations. Instead, He made sure Elijah was fed and had some sleep. After rest, God encouraged his spiritual life.

God’s plan also places work before rest. The Genesis account of creation says God worked for six days then rested on the seventh. He proclaimed this a special day for the people of Israel. They also worked six days and rested on the seventh.

The pattern changed slightly in the New Testament. The Scripture writers said the Sabbath days were a “type” or a shadow of a greater rest to come. After Jesus was crucified for our sins and rose again, people could enter His rest. Then they would “cease from their own work just as God did from His” and enjoy life in His kingdom.

This was a rest (and a kingdom) for both now and in the future. Anyone who labors to please God and then discovers “salvation is not by works of righteousness we do” but by “grace through faith” also discovers an inner rest in their soul. They no longer feel the stress of pointless behavior. In the future, they will also enter an eternal rest where they will enjoy God forever.

It seems New Testament Christians no longer held the seventh day as their day of worship. This external “shadow” Sabbath was swallowed up by its internal fulfillment. Because of their deeper, inner rest, believers began to celebrate the victory of Christ over the grave on the first day of the week, Sunday.

This placement in the week has a practical side. Many of us realize that our work and all that we do is blessed whenever we pray before we begin doing it. We realize that our week is blessed also — whenever we begin it with praise and worship. Starting with God brings renewed focus and commitment. We take time to ask for wisdom and grace for each coming situation.

Our hope is to begin the year with rest and worship. We want to praise God for His goodness in 1995 and renew our focus for the year ahead. We want to recommit our future to Him, asking for grace and wisdom in the multiplied choices that lie before us.

Whether others can take a vacation or not, we hope those who know and love God will start their year with Him. Resolutions are okay but depend too much on our own strengths. A commitment to follow and obey the Lord brings the added benefit of much higher resources!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

War and/or Peace? .......... Parables 496

December 19, 1995

“If those who want peace are just as interested in success, popularity and power as those who want war, what then is the difference between war and peace?” (H. Nouwen)

Good question. It interests me that Jesus Christ offered both war and peace. He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” but also said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.”

Why the contradiction? Was Jesus interested only in results and not at all concerned with the means used to get them? Did it matter to Him whether He became popular with promises of peace or powerful with promises of a sword? What was He trying to say?

Some think Jesus enjoyed popularity but when it leveled off, He and His disciples concocted a plot — if He “died” and “rose from the dead” no one would ever forget Him. In other words, Jesus was no different than anyone else who seeks personal success, fame and power. Securing a name for Himself and a following was the most important thing.

If Jesus was interested only in success, popularity and power, He had to be mentally warped. Nothing He did secured any of those three. The world, even in His day, measures success by wealth and position. Jesus was a mere carpenter and an itinerant preacher who died without owning any land or houses, only the clothes on His back. He was penniless.

Popularity is measured by the number of people who like you and stick with you. It is not the same as notoriety. If Jesus wanted only to be popular, why then did He make decisions that caused even His closest friends to misunderstand Him and eventually desert Him?

Power was measured in His day by the size of a man’s army and the number of His weapons. Jesus had no army. His power was kindness and forgiveness, with which He gathered a following of fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “low life” of society who hardly fit anyone’s idea of an army.

Even the “power” He had had no influence on Jewish leaders, except a few who were too afraid to let anyone know they followed Him. He also had no influence over political leaders. Herod tried to kill Him as a baby, and subsequent Roman leaders willingly allowed the Jews to crucify Him. Even on the cross, Jesus did not choose power. The crowds mocked Him saying, “You saved others... come down... save yourself” but He refused to call out for help, either to His Father or to “legions of angels.”

Was Jesus’ idea of success twisted? No, but His concept was different. He knew the Scripture said, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” To Him, success was obeying everything God said. He was successful at doing that.

Jesus did not have a twisted idea of popularity either. He simply was not as concerned with the applause of men as He was with pleasing God. The Apostle Paul later wrote, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God....” Of Him, God said, “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was popular — with the One Person who counts.

As for power, the Bible says Jesus had no human armies and even though He could have called on angels to deliver Him from death, He instead affirmed that spiritual might is not in swords and spears. The Bible says the “weakness of God (in becoming a vulnerable man and dying) is stronger than men.” His death accomplished the purpose of God in providing redemption for sinful man. However, His “weakness was not permanent. Jesus also has the “power of an endless life” — and He lives and reigns forever at the right hand of His Father.

Rather than challenge the difference between those who want war and those who want peace, Nouwen would be wise to inquire about different views of success, popularity and power. He might discover it is possible, even in the midst of conflict, to have peace.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Messiness is not always a bad thing .......... Parables 495

December 12, 1995

The poster says, “A clean desk is a symptom of a sick mind.”

Whether my mind is hale and hearty is debatable, but one thing is certain, my desk is never clean. At the moment, one side hosts a stack of research for something I am writing, two magazines, a calculator and three letters. The other side is buried under a pile of receipts, two cassette tapes, a glass of water, a book, reminder notices of events, my cordless phone (the cradle is somewhere) a box of diskettes, a basket of pens, memo paper, some business cards, and an open notebook stuffed with loose pieces of “to do” notes to myself.

The mess bothers me enough to clear it off about once a week but in no time it is messy again. Actually, according to a verse in Proverbs, I should be proud of the mess. The verse says, “Where there is no oxen, the stall is clean.”

Solomon, who wrote most of Proverbs, knew if a living, working animal was around, a mess could be expected. If nothing else, my messy desk indicates I am alive and working.

Also, my mess has a redeeming quality — it is never the same. This morning, the pile included two boxes of tissue, a cross stitch kit, three magazines and an invoice for my mother. By tonight, the contents of the mess will change again. To paraphrase that Proverb: “Where there is life and activity, there will be a mess to clean up!”

Active living creates debris of all kinds. There would be no “messes” if we never did anything, never took risks, never created, never involved ourselves in work or play. Desks would be clean — as would homes, garages and life — clean, but uneventful and boring.

The risk takers in life endure fatigue, physical harm, emotional downturns, ridicule, and failure. Those things can be “messy.” But without risk, there would be no exploration, no conquests, no inventions, nothing new. So along with adventure, risk takers usually have to clean up — the first man to use fire had to carry out the ashes — but his cave was warm.

As far as taking risks goes, God qualifies. Imagine the angels when they first heard His plan to redeem the world: “What? Risk Your only Son in a virgin birth? Have Him raised by ordinary parents? Why have Him become something so vulnerable as a human being?”

Maybe they added, “You mean Your plan for Him includes only three and one-half years of preaching and teaching? And it will climax with everyone deserting Him? And the religious leaders hating and killing Him? Oh, what a mess that would be!”

Even riskier were three days in a grave, a resurrection, then returning to heaven leaving a handful of astounded disciples to manage the message of redemption. How could God trust the greatest story in the world to mere sinners, stubborn and slow to learn? Would they do the job and take the message that Jesus died and rose again to the whole world?

Perhaps God said to the angels, “This is my plan. If the disciples do not succeed, it is the only plan I have. I am willing to risk it.” So He did.

The disciples took a risk too. When they took the Gospel to the world, most of them were persecuted and killed. Only John lived to old age and he died in exile. Some would call them failures yet generations later, other risk takers have heard and passed it on, taking the risk of fatigue, persecution, ridicule and physical harm. By God’s grace, the power of the Gospel continues to transform ruined lives and mend broken homes.

Christians who avoid the cost (sometimes very messy) of sharing the Gospel will discover that not working might give them “clean stalls” but tied to their safe, no-risk choice is boredom, spiritual lethargy and a vague sense of wondering if they are in the right place.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Electing Leaders .......... Parables 494

December 5, 1995

Every election, disgruntled Canadians (and Americans) look for a special leader. They want improvements in every area from employment to Medicare — without increased personal cost.

The Israelites living in Egypt had the same wants. Joseph, their previous special leader, saved them from famine in their own land. He moved them to the fertile Nile delta where they enjoyed a lush lifestyle.

A few generations later, a new leader decided to make slaves of them. Although God blessed them with increased numbers, they continued to pray, sacrifice their lambs and look to Him for deliverance, both from forced labor and from this new Pharaoh who was ordering all their male babies tossed into the Nile.

One baby escaped. The Pharaoh’s daughter found little Moses, took pity and without knowing it, hired his own mother to nurse him. He was trained to be the next Pharaoh but God had other plans; Moses became the next special leader of Israel.

God’s people were excited. This man was going to take them out of bondage and back to the land God had promised them. Their excitement quickly faded when they faced the cost of freedom: a terrifying escape from Pharaoh and his armies, a dry trip across a barren desert with only manna to eat, and finally a need to battle “giants” before repossessing their land.

They provoked God’s anger by looking for another leader. They complained, “We sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you (Moses) have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Out of that entire generation, only two made it to the land of promise.

Hundreds of years later, their descendants were again looking for a special leader. They had experienced another exile and another bondage, this time in Babylon for seventy years. Their captors restricted their sacrifices and made rules against their praying, yet God heard their cries. With leadership of men like Ezra, they were able to rebuild their homeland.

By 400 B.C., the nation entered yet another bondage. God was silent. No prophets were on the scene repeating His promise of a great Deliverer. The Greeks arrived and changed their nation. Then Rome ruled with an iron hand. The people longed for deliverance from political oppression, prayed and sacrificed their lambs, but saw no sign of a special leader.

Finally, another baby was born. The shepherds found Him first. The magi (Persian king makers) gave Him gifts, but the Roman leader tried to kill Him. The child escaped and grew to manhood. One day, John the Baptist declared Him the promised One, the great Deliverer, “the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.”

This was their special leader, sent by God to save them from their greatest bondage — not the rule of Rome but the tyranny of personal sin.

This freedom comes at a price too. Jesus called for repentance. People must turn from sin and from ruling their own lives, and embrace Him as their Lord and Messiah. Most of them said, “We will not have this man rule over us.”

Israelites or not, people are still looking for a special leader — who can produce paved roads, free medical care, and all the benefits of high living without the cost of tightened belts and self-discipline. Many still reject Jesus because they would rather have free indulgence in their sin (and be in bondage to it) than serve Him.

Perhaps today’s leaders can find comfort in the fact that even the Son of God could not please disgruntled people — who want heaven on earth without cost or without change to their lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What happened to marriage? .......... Parables 493

November 28, 1995

A popular talk show host says three years in a marriage is a long time. Thousands of couples divorce within five years and many do not make it to their first anniversary.

What happened to marriage? One writer says commitment is the key to make marriage last, combined with seeing ourselves as givers. He says, “too many come to marriage looking for a handout, someone to take care of them, keep them happy, make up their deficiencies. They come with their umbilical cord in their hand looking for a place to plug it in.”

If commitment is key, whatever happened to commitment? Sociologists and psychologists may differ, but at the risk of oversimplification, maybe the problem is the current “if it feels good, do it” philosophy. Commitment eventually means weathering through some tough times. Too many want to leave “for better or worse” out of their vows.

The biggest ingredient in any commitment is seeing ourselves as givers. However, children are now encouraged to be takers. A mother told me her preschooler goes to many birthday parties and although the children are expected to give a gift, they each must go home with one. They even arrive with their hands out asking, “What do you have for me?”

Commitment and being a giver is easy when it feels good. Over a year ago, my husband and I made a commitment to bring my parents into our home and care for them. For several weeks, we discussed both pros and cons of such a move, anticipating some joy and a few difficulties. Although the joy is there, emotional benefits could never keep us going — some days being a care giver is simply not fun.

My mother holds a biblical philosophy: “No one is ever really happy unless they are doing something for someone else.” She is right, but emotional enthusiasm is an unstable base for decisions. Besides, as personal comfort fades into oblivion, my commitment level trembles and threatens to leave home with it. Some days I am desperate for privacy, or for moving at a faster pace, or for just a break in routine, yet commitment argues — you decided to do this! The decision to do something for others is always a matter of the will, not feelings.

Long term marriages work because there is a will to make them work and because each decides to give 100%. Giving is not a fifty/fifty, I-will-if-you-will proposition. Jesus would agree. He set His will to do the will of His Father (not a bad goal for couples) and determined that He would be a Giver, even if it killed Him.

And it did. As He anticipated the horror of the Cross, He sweat drops of blood and asked His Father if salvation could be accomplished some another way. Nevertheless, He added, “Not My will but Thine be done.”

Jesus obviously saw Himself as a Servant, totally willing to do whatever His Father asked. He fulfilled the role promised by the prophet Isaiah: “... My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.”

Jesus committed Himself as the Servant of His Father but His commitment was not joyless. The Bible says, “For the joy set before Him... He endured the Cross...” He has a happy heart because He kept His promise and served 100 per cent.

Jesus continues to keep His promises and still offers Himself as Lord and Savior. Those who unite themselves to Him find that He has His hand out but He is not looking for someone to care for Him. Rather, He cares for those who take His hand, keeps them happy, and makes up their deficiencies. He is the place where the needy can “plug in” — the One who enables couples to keep their vow “for better or worse, until death do us part.”

Monday, October 3, 2016

True Value .......... Parables 492

November 21, 1995

Patrick Combs of San Francisco thought he would have some fun by depositing a fake junk mail cheque in his account. Much to his surprise, his bank credited his account with the face value of the cheque — $95,000.

Wow! Poor Patrick had no idea they that would take his prank seriously. He could go to jail for bank fraud. His bank also experienced a wake-up call — they realized they should have taken a closer look.

As this story illustrates, face value is not always true value. Pleasant sales agents are sometimes con-artists. An innocent countenance sometimes conceals a greedy heart. Behind a smile may lurk an ulterior motive.

The same goes for ideas. Some seem reasonable, at least up front and to needy people. For instance, a lonely woman becomes pregnant thinking a baby will fulfill her need for companionship. An insecure husband initiates a relationship with a younger woman thinking that will make him feel young again. A bored child nags her parents assuming that as much stuff as can be piled under a Christmas tree will challenge her mind and fill her time.

Of course these notions are mocked by the aftermath. The baby asks far more than it gives. The affair turns into a crushing guilt trip, ruining a conscience and a marriage. The toys soon become just as “boring” as life was before she unwrapped them.

We should not take religious teachers at face value either. Jesus looked closely at the most religious people of His day and called them “hypocrites” with lives like “tombs — full of dead men’s bones.” He saw through their prayers, daily worship at the temple and alms giving. On the outside, they performed flawlessly and looked pious. However, their hearts were not right toward God so their religion had no true value.

Becoming spiritual is not as it seems — the Scribes and Pharisees missed it because their motives were wrong. Ancient Israel was also condemned for doing religious duties without true devotion to God. God’s prophets preached strongly against their hypocrisy, but were persecuted for their efforts. Most people did not seem to notice or care. To them, their religious leaders seemed fine. Nevertheless, this was an example of Solomon’s Proverb, “There is a way that seems right to a man (or a woman), but in the end it leads to death.”

Today, many religions also seem right — do good deeds, give to the needy, pray now and then, worship in a designated place — but all rely on human performance and a humanly devised way. According to the New Testament, God has only one way. Jesus said it: “I am the WAY, the truth, and the light. No man comes to the Father but by me.”

For many, His way does not “seem right.” It is more logical to rely on “I am a good person” or “God loves people so I will be okay” or “I worship God in nature and that is good enough” or “all that matters is that I am sincere” or “the ways to God are many.”

The Bible says “all fall short — no one is “good” enough. It also says God loves us, yet He is also holy and will not tolerate sin. As for worship, Jesus said “God is Spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” People can be sincere but sincerely wrong.

What matters is that we come the way He says we must. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again... no man comes to the Father but by Me.”

If another way seems right, look a little closer. Face value is not always true value.