Friday, January 29, 2016

The Value of Money? ............. Parables 386

September 7, 1993

Cicero said, “There is no fortress so strong that money cannot take it.” Joe E. Lewis figured that money is so powerful that “the only thing it cannot buy is poverty.”

Both men put money and power on the same pedestal and many of us do the same thing. Who has not said or at least thought, “If I had enough money I could do what I want”?

Neither money or power is good or evil; what we do with them makes the distinction. Immense fortunes administered by influential people have benefitted thousands of needy people. Immense fortunes administered by powerful criminals have harmed thousands more. The difference is in priority: the criminal uses people for personal gain, whereas the philanthropist uses gain for people.

Even those who are not Christians recognize one major principle in Christianity is love. Love rules out using people for personal gain. For this reason, the Bible tells Christians to avoid having a love for power, or for money.

Jesus warned, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22). Love does not allow power trips.

As for loving money, Paul said, “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 3:3). Money allures people away from loving others and away from their faith.

For that reason, an inordinate desire for both power and money is an dangerous combination. Behind such desire is fear, the opposite of faith. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

According to this, the antidote to misdirected love is not only contentment with what we have, but also a confidence that God is our helper. He controls what other people do and we do not have to fear poverty, lack of power, or other people.

On one hand, those with money do seem to have power. Anyone who is afraid of people could easily assume money will take care of that problem. The more money they have, the more in control they think they are.

However, faith and love do far more to banish fear than money or power. We cannot be afraid of people we love, nor fear anything when we really trust God. In fact, true power is having the confidence that God is our helper. He is sovereign, in full control of our circumstances and “works all things together for our good.” What or who can harm those who God promised to protect?

Money, as powerful as it is, also runs up against a dead end when it comes to resolving conflicts, rebuilding broken relationships, or causing ruined lives to change. In contrast, love and faith are potent forces for change. People who live by that combination also possess a powerful ability to influence and bless people, an ability that does not have to be connected to their bank balance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to See God ............. Parables 385

August 31, 1993

American astronauts, at least a few of them, have said that the view from “up there” makes it difficult not to believe in God.

Whoever thinks God is merely a figment of human imagination find such statements quite frustrating. There is no solid evidence, they say, and they are right, no one can actually prove God exists. However, the Bible makes no argument about the existence of God. Those who wrote it claim God revealed Himself in several ways, outlines those, and leaves believing it up to the critical observer.

It might be that those who say God is only found in our imagination have too high an opinion of human creativity. Instead of looking inside our imagination to discover where the idea of God came from, they ought to turn their eyes elsewhere. Psalm 19 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”

Astronauts aside, an objective observer does not have to rocket into outer space to see creation’s mysteries. Many things right under our feet and noses have no explanation other than they were fashioned by an intelligent Someone.

The Bible itself is another way God reveals Himself. He spoke to “holy men” who recorded what He said. This book spans several thousand years of history, was written by 40 or so people, and presents a unified message about God. If these people merely imagined Him, it is odd so diverse a group would agree on even one of His characteristics, let alone all of them.

A third way, not as reliable as the first two, is that God reveals Himself through people. We are made in His image and have some capacity to demonstrate something of His goodness. The downside is that everyone is also prone to disobedience and resisting God. This conflicting capacity to demonstrate evil is not of God or even like Him, but how do we know God is not evil? Nature sometimes seems that way, at least if we look at tornadoes, floods, vicious animals and aggravations like weeds and mosquitoes. Some even think the Bible portrays God as an evil entity, full of wrath and vengeance, who destroys whole families and nations and sends fire from heaven on those who dare to shake their fist in His face.

For the answer, we need to look at the last and most perfect revelation of God: Jesus Christ. The Bible says He “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being . . . .” (Hebrews 1:3)

Jesus Christ is God putting on human flesh, God loving mankind, God willing to share in our humanness and suffer for our sins, dying that we might live forever. We see God’s compassion and power in Jesus. He heals the sick, comforts the hurting, and forgives repentant sinners. Both God’s holy wrath and loving mercy are seen in Jesus who expressed hatred for sin and hypocrisy, yet wept over the unbelief that kept people from recognizing who He was.

My pastor says, “The non-verbal world speaks a language everyone can understand.” Romans 1 puts it like this: “What may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

God is not hiding.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Darkness and Fear ............. Parables 384

August 29, 1993

“I was too scared to go down the dark one...” said 12-year old Angie, after a visit to West Edmonton Mall’s Water park. She loved the water slides and wasn’t intimidated by their height nor steepness, but the darkest tunnel slide was too dark. No matter how much her brothers coaxed her, she refused to try it.

James and Joey couldn’t understand her fears. “There is nothing to be afraid of,” they insisted. Many parents say the same thing when their children want lights on and doors left open. They know childish monsters exist only in a child’s imagination. But children are not much different than adults. We tend to fear whatever darkness might conceal, not darkness itself. If there are enemies or dangers, we prefer both to be visible, out in the light.

Several hundred years before Christ, Plato remarked, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Whatever Plato meant, I can think of several possible applications. One of them is the not-so-funny fear of looking at one’s self in the mirror in full sunlight, a phobia that materializes some time after a person’s thirtieth birthday.

Perhaps a more crucial fear is that of examining our prejudices. Sometimes we prefer hiding them because we may discover we were wrong. It is difficult to either live with error or change our minds, so we would rather not bring those biases to light.

Light and dark are symbolized somewhat differently in the Old Testament. Darkness is associated with a life of sin and ignorance; light with righteousness and goodness. Jesus added even more dimension to these symbols when He declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”

Jesus Himself is Goodness and Righteousness, true Light that came into the world to expose and set us free from all the hidden elements of sin’s darkness. He shed light on the human idea that sin is something we do by saying it goes much deeper; it is an attitude of the heart. Such hidden sin must be exposed, never covered by a show of “good” deeds.

Jesus’ explanation of sin was not popular then or now. The religious leaders of His day made a show of piety and were what we might call “good, God-fearing people.” Jesus said they were hypocrites because their deeds were motivated by hearts that were not right.

In this context, Jesus uncovered a third fear related to light and darkness. He said, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19).

Notice, He was not talking about those who are afraid of what darkness hides, but people who love the dark itself, a far more serious problem. He gave this reason: “Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (vs.20)

He is referring to people whose attitude toward sin is contrary to Scripture’s teaching. The Bible says those who cover their sin will not prosper. Sin is our worst enemy, the very cause of eternal death. Besides, since light represents for more than goodness or spiritual enlightenment but Jesus Himself, then everyone who does evil hates Jesus, and will not come to Him fearing He will expose their evil deeds.

That means sliding further into darkness regarding the nature of sin and darkness and disregarding the only One who can overcome it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Secret of Job Satisfaction ............. Parables 383

August 17, 1993
A fellow named Robert Orben once quipped, “Work is the recreation of the retired.”

Many retired people agree. Work is not always something you get paid for. They find themselves busier, even working harder, than when they were employed.

Neither is work always something we call “work.” Who hasn’t come home from a vacation to get some rest because they worked so hard enjoying themselves?

Most of us relish loafing but productive and even challenging work is usually more satisfying. We’d rather keep busy than be bored or feel useless. It is part of the way we are made.

In spite of that, it is not uncommon to complain about work. It can be either stressful, demanding, tedious, or difficult. But because work originated with God in paradise, it was not always a negative experience. Work actually became unpleasant because of sin. Prior to that, the first family enjoyed their tasks, made easy in a perfect environment. After they sinned, God banished them from the Garden of Eden “to work” and it would be hard work. He told Adam’s son, “When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you.”

Yet God, not sin, is responsible for hard work. He has the same opinion of bitter, difficult labor as we do — He calls it “bondage” (see Exodus 1:14).

In the beginning, Adam and Eve could take care of a large paradise. Yet after their sin occurred, one job can become too much. For instance, Moses overworked himself trying to lead the Israelites through the desert. God finally told him: “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” Most of us would rather share our workload and certainly need to rest occasionally.

God had that in mind when He instituted the Sabbath: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.”

Workaholics find it difficult to rest, yet God considered a day of rest so important that anyone who put work above it should be “cut off from his people” (Exodus 31:14). Work without rest is too demanding.

Christian “work” can be demanding too. Paul said “We work hard with our own hands” and should “make it our ambition to lead a quiet life, mind our own business and work with our hands... so we will not be dependent on anybody.”

We must work hard, but not entirely for our own selves. Paul challenges us to “do something useful... that we may have something to share with those in need.”

All this implies that whether we work for a pay cheque or not, we can work as a labor of love for God. Even if we find ourselves engaged in the “recreation of the retired,” we can still consider the Lord our boss. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, knowing you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ we are serving.”

Work done for Him, whether while fully employed and paid, or as a volunteer, or while retired, is the secret of job satisfaction.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to Get a Life ............. Parables 382

August 10, 1993

In bold, block letters, graffiti on a wall near the University of Alberta says, “Sinners repent.” Underneath, someone scrawled, “Get a life. . . .”

Positive people are all for enjoying themselves, life, and other people. Their emphasis is making the best of everything, looking for roses not thorns. They are quick to put problems aside and quick to smile. If someone worries too much, or grumbles, or focuses on life’s downside, they might even say, “get a life.”

In contrast, negative people are ultra-cautious. They see doom or danger lurking in every corner and some lose their ability to enjoy any part of life. They consider themselves failures, life is a pain, and anyone who enjoys themselves is either silly or ignorant.

In fact, some people think having any kind of fun is evil. They pronounce doom on sports and entertainment, even on anyone who smiles. Pleasure makes people feel good so it must be bad, as are the people who enjoy it. The person who wrote “Sinners - repent” could have been one of those — but maybe not.

The second message indicates its author thinks repentance is negative and will ruin life here-and-now. Perhaps he or she thinks repentance is feeling bad and moping around with a heavy load of guilt about any pleasurable behavior. Perhaps this person thinks repentance is irrelevant altogether and has nothing to do with real living. Besides, psychologists have decided guilt is unhealthy, so forget it.

Repentance aside, irresponsible people often ask why bother giving up anything they really want, which is what repentance implies. After all, personal choice based on personal desires makes life filled with pleasure, doesn’t it? And is not misery caused by whatever gets in the way of this pursuit to “get a life?”

Could be, but John the Baptist called for repentance and the first recorded word Jesus preached was “Repent . . . .” God sent them to make that call. Is it fair to accuse God of being a kill-joy without first considering what He means by repentance?

Biblically, repentance is simply turning from sin to God. Sin is whatever rejects God or goes against His holy, righteous nature. Repentance is turning from that and welcoming Him and all that He is into our lives. It is both choosing a way of life and having His life, for that is what He promises to all who repent and trust Him.

The problem we have with God’s perspective of repentance is we don’t see sin as He does. Sin is fun. Otherwise, no one would do it. That doesn’t mean the fun lasts, but when temporary pleasure is weighed against the chances of getting caught or regretting what we do, temporary pleasure too easily wins.

Yet God, given His nature, could hardly command people to repent so they would miss out on some fun. He says too much about being joyful and giving joy, about loving us and wanting the best for us. Rather, He knows sin damages our potential in this life and brings eternal separation from Him for the next. “The wages of sin is death . . . .”

Perhaps the second graffiti artist really wasn’t interested in escaping death or a new dimension of fun or life. Sadly, whatever their thoughts, they missed the point: according to the Author of Life, getting life, not just a life or any life, means doing just what the first scribbled note says.

Monday, January 18, 2016

God and My Wallet ............. Parables 381

August 3, 1993
“The wallet is the last part of the body that gets converted to Christ.”

The person who said this could have been one of those high-powered, fund-raiser types who pleads for money and faith pledges with motivational ploys like guilt trips and nagging... or it could have been said by someone familiar with what the Bible says about money and about human nature.

If the first option is true, I am turned off. Manipulation designed to get me to fork over money, whether by high-pressure salesmen or high-pressure preaching, makes me grab my wallet and hold on tight.

Instead, I rather suspect the person who talked about wallets and conversion knew all about human nature. Whoever it was also knew that God speaks rightly about our relationship to money.

The verse most people know about money says something about “the root of all evil” so people sometimes call money an evil thing. However, this verse actually says, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Money itself is useful; it is the way we feel about it that gets us into trouble.

For one thing, the desire for cash (and the things it will buy) has a certain tendency to preoccupy our thinking. Sometimes we presume our problems would be over if we just had enough of the stuff. But God’s Word says even if gold and silver increases, desires increases along with it... there is never enough to satisfy those desires. (Ecclesiastes 5)

Second, preoccupation with money interferes with our inner peace. To be fully content, our soul must rest in the Lord, think about what He has done for us, and communicate with Him (Isaiah 26:3). Continual money-thoughts disable our ability to hear His voice and do His will, something Jesus says will make us truly happy (John 13:17).

Money seems to have a mind of its own as well. Just when we think we have our financial reservoir full, it sprouts wings and flies away. By its very nature (temporary need-meeter), it is just that, an impermanent asset.

God has other reasons for wanting our wallets converted as well as our souls. We tend to think money will take care of us and thus it becomes a sort of god, but one that does not serve us as it should. Money is a harsh taskmaster and actually can make slaves out of us.

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

God calls us to eternal assets, an inheritance that will never fly away, banked in heaven for us. This asset is gained, not by having a cash reserve but by a special kind of faith that trusts Him to take care of our eternal destiny plus all temporary needs, even the kind money will buy.

That is why some say trust in God can be measured by a person’s willingness to empty their wallet. When the disciples pointed to the rich people who gave what seemed large amounts, Jesus commended a poor widow who only gave a couple of pennies. He said, “. . . this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”

This widow was not afraid of the future, no matter what her bank balance said. She looked to her heavenly Father to provide all her needs. Ultimately, that kind of trust demonstrates itself in a converted wallet.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Passive aggression or yielded to God? ............. Parables 380

July 27, 1993

A few weeks ago I watched a man controlling his wife, much to her frustration. She couldn’t do anything to gain the upper hand.

Not that she didn’t try. She coaxed. She nagged. She complained and ridiculed, and some of it seemed successful, but her efforts actually made things worse. He rules their relationship by doing nothing.

The psychologists call his behavior “passive-aggressive.” He is aggressive because he is determined and deliberate, yet passive in that he does not seem to do anything, at least not what she wants him to do.

The wife wants him to talk, to be involved in her life, to take an interest in his own, to grow as a person. However, most of the time he sits, silently, without responding and without taking any initiative, at least the kind she wants him to take.

Those who have never participated in this kind of war might label this behavior childish, or even amusing, but it is an adult game many play. It is not funny. In fact, these two players are quite miserable.

I talked with the wife. She is lonely and unhappy. She is afraid that her life will always be like this. She wants her husband to get out of his shell so he can enjoy his life too. She uses an aggressive approach. She tries everything she knows. The only thing she hasn’t tried is what works so well for him — being passive.

Most people misunderstand the biblical statements about husband-wife relationships. The wording makes them sound terribly one-sided, that the man is the boss and the woman is his doormat, but that is what I’ve just described (at least one variation) and it is far from what God intended.

Before Adam and Eve stepped outside the will of God and sin entered in, this first husband and wife did not play power games. They were completely open and honest. They enjoyed one another.

But sin is that inner tendency to run our own lives, do our own thing. It brings suspicion and manipulation and, as God said would happen, husbands try to rule their wives and wives try to rule their husbands.

Both partners can be aggressive, passive, or this strange combination of the two. Both also can dictate to the other how they expect their own needs to be met, without thinking about the needs of their partner.

To further complicate the relationship I witnessed, if that husband should decide to try and meet his wife’s needs, he seems to have no idea what they might be. He is not alone. Many men wonder what kind of leadership women respond to and appreciate.

Not every women is able to tell them either. Some know they want to feel loved but are not sure what their husbands can do to make it happen. Even those who seem to know sometimes feel that asking for it is counter-productive. Love seems more genuine when it is demonstrated without demands and instructions.

God’s way does not ignore either side of the issue. He commands men to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. He also says they are to understand their wives and take care of their needs.

God commands wives to respond to their husband’s leadership (made much easier if he does his part). She is to trust God to meet her needs, though, not coax, manipulate, beg, or even expect her husband to do it. God might use him (if he cooperates), but is not limited by the limitations of any spouse.

Most people reject these commands because they seem impossible — and they are. Because of our sinful nature, we’d rather rule than follow (or lovingly lead) and prefer taking rather than giving.

However, the Bible says “With God, all things are possible” and “if any one is in Christ, old things pass away, all things become new.”

How encouraging to know both passiveness and aggressiveness can be made passé.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Contentment is a gift ............. Parables 379

July 20, 1993

Is it that “familiarity breeds contempt” or that people are never satisfied? I’m not sure. What I do know is that the thrill or satisfaction of having a new car or house or dress or anything else lasts about a week, maybe two.

What is the matter? Why do we get tired of things so easily? We seem prone to discontent. I even wonder if necessity really is the author of invention? or is it discontent? We produce new things simply because we get tired of the old.

Sure, that excludes some things... like shoes that fit well, good friends and favorite recipes.... but most old things are discarded long before they outlive their usefulness.

Perhaps lasting satisfaction is fleeting because contentment is elusive. In fact, Solomon figured contentment was a gift from God. Notice these few lines from Ecclesiastes:

“When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work — this is a gift of God... he seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”

If anyone considers themselves content, thank God. What a gift to be occupied with gladness!

Solomon goes on. “I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.”

Without this God-given gift of contentment, no matter how much a person has, there is no capacity to enjoy possessions. How sad. Solomon says: “No matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity... a stillborn child is better off than he.... it has more rest than does that man.”

Solomon also said “all man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied.”

Some say we have a God-shaped void inside of us, one created by Him that He intended only be filled by Him. Whatever that means, the Bible never portrays God as a kill-joy who doesn’t want us to be happy about anything else but Him. He made us able to enjoy many things, just as Solomon says.

Rather than making God the Creator of an inner void, is seems more realistic to see Him as Enabler of satisfaction and contentment with what we do have, whatever it is and however much it is. That way, God is not restricted as to how He will fill the void.

Sometimes He does it by helping us better understand our inner longings so we match the remedy with the ailment instead of confusing them with a need to go out and spend money. Sometimes He does it by giving us an eternal perspective so the things of this world lose some of their importance — and having them loses some of its immediacy.

What God really wants is that we understand His promise to take care of all our needs. He is concerned about our wants but only grants them if they will not harm us. He also teaches us how to recognize the difference between needs and wants so we can be thankful instead of grasping for more.

Solomon discovered the important things in life and the secret of being content, but it was not without trying everything else. After filling his life with all anyone could ever want, he concluded that unless God blessed him with satisfaction, he might as well not bother.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Have a heart ............. Parables 378

July 13, 1993

Two severe childhood cases of rheumatic fever left me with a leaky mitral valve and a prognosis of death before middle teens. But mother prayed, my doctors labored, and I survived.

An ultrasound three years ago and another test this month resulted in the same comment from two different doctors: “If you had not told me, I would not have noticed any heart murmur... it is very faint.”

According to the specialists, my heart is healed.

But a heart can be damaged by other things. Besides physical disorders, people can break it. Unfulfilled dreams can make it ache. Unhealthy or harmful relationships can scar it. Suspended hope can make it feel sick. Our heart is a most vulnerable thing.

Obviously these are not references to the physical heart but to the emotional side of our personalities, the part that feels deep pain when injured. This “heart” doesn’t heal by surgery or medication.

There is also a third kind of heart, one the Bible speaks of far more frequently than the other two. Genesis 6 says, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

From that beginning through to Revelation, readers are reminded that God searches our hearts and rewards every one according to how they live. He makes the connection because this “heart” is the center of who we are, the inner part where we think and make choices that lead to actions and the way we live. If our hearts could choose rightly, God would commend us but the sad truth is, none of us think as God intended.

He created us to love and enjoy Him from the heart in an attitude of submission. Instead, we invariably make the choice of independence and rule our own lives — apart from Him. Because this is true, and because He loves us, He sent Christ to offer us a not only a new life but a new heart.

A new heart doesn’t mean open heart surgery. It does mean what the Bible calls regeneration, a renewal that involves a supernatural cleansing from sin and guilt. When it happens, we can see His perspective on the folly of sin and the necessity of obedience. A new heart means thinking differently.

It is not accomplished like a magician with a wand. Old habits are hard to break even though it is reasonable to offer ourselves to God. We try to act right but He encourages us to think right: “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

We are responsible to abandon our own former reasoning and choices as well as reject the way the world thinks and discipline ourselves to a regular “cardiovascular” workout. That means reading and studying Scripture, filling our minds with God’s thoughts, then doing as He says.

Not only does a new heart have the capacity to understand spiritual truth, it’s condition improves with exercise. Pain and scars of our own doing and from mistreatment gradually heal and no longer trouble us.

As I look back over my life, I can see how God has healed my hearts: all three of them. I can wash walls, something doctors said I could never do; I can love and be loved, something I’ve occasionally thought would never happen; and both are more enjoyable and even possible because the Lord touched me and healed my third heart.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Are you needy? ............. Parables 376/377

June 29, 1993 (repeated on July 6, 1993)

A psychologist named Maslow once defined human needs using a pyramid-shaped diagram. Teachers, social workers and other people-helpers use his “hierarchy of needs” to simplify a rather complex topic. At the base of the diagram, Maslow placed basic physiological requirements, such as food and shelter. While these are important for survival, after they are taken care of, Maslow believed people find life more fulfilling if other needs are also met. Further up his list he added important emotional and social needs: a sense of security and the need to be loved and to belong.

The final, most important needs are for self esteem, significance and self-actualization or “to live up to one’s fullest and unique potential.”

From God’s perspective, Maslow’s triangle is incomplete. For starters, He would include such items as grace, mercy, forgiveness and a saving relationship with His Son. God knows these are important for peace and joy, and necessary for a life that lasts beyond this one.

God does not leave out the needs Maslow listed, however. They are important too. In fact, they are so important that He promises to make sure they are all met. He even calls Himself JEHOVAH-JIRAH, meaning “Jehovah (the self-existent One) provides.”

The apostle Paul further explains, “God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” That “all” includes Maslow’s list and everything God adds to it.

Acts 17 says He gives everyone life, breath and all good things. Matthew 6 promises if we make His kingdom and His righteousness the priorities of our life, He will make sure all our physical needs are met, either through our capacity to work for a living (which He also gives us) or by other means.

While God never promises a life without trials, the Psalms are filled with promises of safety and security for those who trust Him. We are secure because He uses even the most difficult circumstances for our good. When life is over, He even uses death to usher us into eternity where we are secure and at peace with Him forever.

He meets our need for love also. Jeremiah 31:3 says: “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.’”

Human love is usually conditional and not always reliable but God’s love is without strings and never fails. Furthermore, when we know His love, we have the capacity to love others beyond anything we could imagine. He produces in us love that is pure and selfless.

God meets our need for significance in an amazing way too. When we believe in His Son, He makes us His children. He declares our worth by the price He was willing to pay for us when Jesus died on the cross. Anyone loved, redeemed, and adopted by God Himself has great significance indeed.

The need to become all that we possibly can is also met by God. His goal is that we be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, He says one day that WILL happen; we will be exactly like Him (1 John 3). Who could imagine a loftier potential!

The Bible says “godliness has value for all things” because it holds a promise for both the present life and the life to come. In other words, His “hierarchy of needs” has greater scope than Maslow’s list; He adds those important to our eternal well-being. Furthermore, in love and grace, He tags to each need a promise that He will meet every one of them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Civil Disobedience – is it biblical? ............. Parables 375

June 22, 1993

“They’ve gone too far... I don’t care what the government says or the law is, this is wrong and I am going to do something about it.”

People worldwide often express displeasure about the way their country is being governed. Outrage at injustice or perceived injustice leads to action from peaceful protest marches to full-scale riots.

Civil disobedience has become almost a daily news item. Workers such as teachers, farmers and civil servants, march in protest, as do those denouncing war, abortion, and the slaughter of baby seals.

The dictionary defines civil disobedience as, “refusal to obey government commands or demands, especially as a nonviolent (and usually collective means) of forcing concessions from the government.”

Sometimes protesters believe it is necessary to oppose laws to gain attention to their cause but what starts out peacefully turns into violence. Citizens who normally abide by the law find themselves hurt and hospitalized, or in jail, without sympathy, and sometimes without much public support.

Does civil disobedience really help? If so, when does it cross that line between a productive activity and one that incurs negative results? It depends on the reason for it and how productivity is defined.

In the early church, Jesus’ apostles stood against their political leaders and refused to obey orders given to them. They were preaching the Gospel and telling others that Jesus Christ had been crucified for our sins, buried, but rose again the third day. The Jewish authorities (allowed by the Roman government to rule their own) were not pleased so tossed them in jail for a night then ordered them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4).

If read in context, Peter and John did not have an attitude of rebellion against the governing authorities. Their simple answer was not given in defiance. Instead, they wanted the matter to be judged by those who arrested them, the leaders who knew the laws of man and of God. What did they think fair and right?

That time it worked. The Sanhedrin threatened the apostles but let them go. The same response may not have secured a release if the governing body was unconcerned about God’s mind on the matter.

What about governments whose ideas and laws are immoral or unjust and who defy God? This is where a Christian must be very careful to know their Bibles and their own hearts. The Bible gives no indication we have a God-given right to oppose laws that DO NOT contradict the laws of God. For instance, a civil law may forbid obstructing the entrances of public buildings. Since Scripture does not specifically command Christians to place themselves in public doorways, anyone who does it can expect to be fined or jailed, no matter why they did it.

In fact, the Bible commands Christians to obey authorities over them because God establishes authorities to punish evil. Governments are His agents. Anyone who defies kings, civil agencies, and the laws of the land may also be defying God.

History records Christians who lost their lives because they trusted God and stood against authorities. This doesn’t mean they were out of the will of God. In fact, God commends and rewards those who are persecuted and martyred for doing right.

Others, sad to say, have not trusted God in their disobedience to authority. While they may have won their case (humanly speaking), they stepped out of fellowship with God by disobeying Him. They lost more than they gained.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Bible and Politics ............. Parables 374

June 15, 1993

Next to sports and entertainment, the most prevalent topic in an average daily newspaper is politics, politicians and political issues.

During elections, the stories multiply. Many of them debate which hopeful is the best or the worst candidate for leadership. Some quote platform promises.

Some of those promises sound much like Absalom, son of King David, who wanted the throne of his father: “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice” (2 Sam 15:4).

Verse 5 says Absalom “reached out his hand, took hold of and kissed” everyone who came and honored him. He was a clever (but underhanded) politician who “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”

A few hundred years later, a king named Herod also made some interesting political moves. When John the Baptist told him it was “not lawful” that he stole his brother’s wife (Matthew 14:4), Herod was upset. He wanted to put John to death; however he feared the people who thought John was a prophet. So put him in prison instead. But Herod’s wife ruled the king. She managed to trick him into a situation where he was pressured to save face in front of his followers. The only way to do it was by beheading John after all.

Not long after that, a certain governor named Pilate asked an angry crowd why he should pass sentence on an innocent man (Matthew 27). They responded with even louder demands for that man’s death. Pilate realized he was not getting anywhere so he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, declared this man’s blood was on their hands.

These stories point out both leaders and followers have some responsibility to hold to legal and moral standards. In that sense, Herod and Pilate not only failed, but so did the people whose demands swayed their decisions.

In the usual sense, neither were even leaders. Both listened to whoever made the most noise or put the most pressure on them (which seems to be the democratic way) rather than stand firm for law and justice. They let fools without concern for truth or right tell them what to do.

Herod’s biggest concern was his public opinion poles. Pilate may have had some sense of legality but his fear of explaining a Jewish riot to his Roman superiors overrode his fear of making an illegal decision. Then he wouldn’t take responsibility, but he did tell the crowd they were guilty of killing the Son of God.

Obviously everyone is responsible for good government. The Bible says leaders should obey God and do right. It also says followers are to pray for their leaders and obey them. If we don’t like what they do, sometimes it is because they are merely listening to whoever is making the most noise.

In a democracy, where leadership represents the wishes of voters, we are also responsible for the demands we make. We are responsible for letting them know what we appreciate as well. Sadly, even good leaders only hear grumbling. David was the best king Israel ever had, yet all some could think of was get him off the throne and put in someone like Absalom, who was dishonest and deceitful, in his place.

Even though she sometimes doesn’t like current political policies, my mother often says we get the government we deserve. Maybe she is right.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Do miracles still happen? ............. Parables 373

June 8, 1993

Two people ran into the back of a truck and walked away from the accident. They said it was a miracle they were not killed.

A doctor delivers a baby and the parents marvel at the miracle of childbirth and new life.

A student passes a tough exam and claims it is a miracle because he didn’t have time to study.

What about miracles? I heard someone say, “We don’t have any today because God’s people no longer believe in them.” So are the above examples really miracles? If not, what is a genuine miracle? And do they still happen?

Some reserve “miracle” for events contrary to the laws of nature such as described in the Bible, not merely to explain an exciting or extraordinary experience. Biblical miracles definitely contradicted the ordinary way nature works.

But how can we define “ordinary?” If God is responsible for nature and its laws, isn’t it possible that He can cause things beyond what we expect and still remain in harmony with His own laws?

In that case, a better definition of a miracle is an event that defies what we know about nature. This suggests the boundaries we give natural law actually may not exist!

For instance, Moses turned the Nile into a river of blood. God told him to do it so the Egyptians would realize He was superior to their gods. Even with modern pollution as bad as it is, turning a river into blood is contrary to what we know. It’s an event we cannot explain.

Christ also did unexplainable things. He healed diseases with a word, gave sight to the blind with a touch, walked on water and ordered storms to cease. In a day of many false prophets and false christs, Jesus demonstrated He controls the laws of nature. By that, He confirmed that He is indeed the Son of God (Acts 2:22).

The Lord also used miracles to authenticate true Christians. Acts 19:11 says “God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul....”

At the time Paul did these supernatural things, the New Testament had not yet been written so people had no way to confirm who spoke for God and who was a false teacher. Hebrews 2:4 explains that God used miracles to prove that Paul and the other Apostles definitely spoke on His behalf.

During the various eras when miracles occurred, Bible lands were populated both by people who believed in God and those who didn’t. Strangely enough, miracles seldom produced believers. Nor did they seem to happen because of someone’s faith. Rather, miracles had more to do with the purposes God had for them.

Sometimes God wanted to authenticate His prophets or demonstrate that His power was greater than any other, so He used a miracle. In other words, if God has a purpose for miracles, He produces them; no one made them happen by their “faith.”

Today, when a person calls anything that gives them a sense of wonder a miracle, they are trivializing the word, much like we have done with great words like “love” or “awesome.” However, there is nothing wrong with getting excited over unexpected good things.

Better yet, we ought to turn that excitement into praise and genuinely thank God that He is not limited by His own laws of nature or our expectations.