Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Power of a Well Told (Lie) Truth .......... Parables 451

December 13, 1994

In a MacLean’s article about unifying Canada, a movie director said, “The power to change what people think no longer derives from telling people the truth but from being able to tell your lies... If the hype gets strong enough, people will believe it.”

Experiments prove that peer pressure determines opinions, even on issues that can be objectively evaluated. For instance, an entire classroom except for one student is told to vote that the second shortest line is really the shortest. The one student who was not filled in on the deception will invariably change his correct vote to an incorrect one after he sees that he alone holds up his hand for the right answer.

Children and students are not the only ones affected by peer pressure and strong “hype.” Advertising is aimed largely toward adult consumers. Some of it borders on deception. For instance, how can a dozen stores that sell the same things all claim to have the lowest prices?

Determining what is true and what is a lie is easy when it involves measurements and dollars. What about discerning true religion? Literally thousands of spiritual claims, denominations, sects, and cults all declare they have the truth. Deciding which is valid is obviously much more difficult than deciding the shortest line on a classroom blackboard.

Try thinking of God as the person who draws those lines, even as the One who made the tape measure. Because He is truth, He knows what is genuine and what is not. He measures everything but also authored the criteria by which He wants us to measure all things. While His Word does not include everything there is to know about everything, it does tell us about Him and ourselves and about spiritual matters.

If truth comes from God, where then do lies regarding God and spirituality come from? Do people just make up things? Sometimes. However, the Bible reveals that the original lie occurred in Eden. God placed the first man and woman there and told them they could enjoy their home and eat whatever they wanted. However, one tree and its fruit was forbidden to them.

Satan came along. By skillfully twisting the truth, he tried to make Eve doubt that God had commanded anything, then convinced her that what God did say was not an expression of His love. God was only trying to keep them from becoming like Him.

Interesting line! She and Adam may have needed to mature in their expression of godliness (something they could not do by disobedience), but God had already made them in His likeness. According to Satan’s lie, they had absolutely nothing to gain by eating the forbidden fruit, but eat it, they did. Their disobedience plunged the world into self-centered sin.

That same lie, in various versions, continues to cast doubt on God. As long as we do not believe or obey Him, we cannot reflect Godlikeness as we were created to do. Instead, we sin, lie and get ourselves and others into situations of hatred and rejection.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” Truth is the way to God. He will not accept lies. They keep us separated from Him.

If lies separate and cause hatred, what can truth do? According to Jesus, it has tremendous power. He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Current thinking aside, real freedom is never found in believing hype. It is only found in knowing and believing truth.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Love and Life's Purpose .................. Parables 450

December 6, 1994

The wife of a city policeman says her husband dreads going to work this time of the year. Family squabbles and suicides escalate. He finds little joy in what could be called the terrible dark side of the Christmas season.

Just as darkness seems darker after looking at a bright light, despair and hopelessness are brought into sharp relief by good will and the happy spirit of Christmas. People who feel unloved feel more rejected when they see others are enjoying love. People who find life meaningless feel even greater despair watching others who are happily filled with a sense of purpose.

Christmas does seem to encourage a loving attitude. Giving gifts and sharing hospitality give many a sense of purpose. Having a reason for living and being able to give and receive love are both very important to human happiness, not only at Christmas but for the remaining days of the year.

At a very foundational level, the purpose of life is connected to the biblical story of creation. There we find that God created male and female in His own image and pronounced this as “very good.” Because we are created by God and because He is good, human existence is also good.

However, being created in His image does not mean we are exactly like God. He is eternal, knows all, is everywhere, and is all powerful. We are limited by time, space, ignorance, physical weaknesses and death, yet our existence is not an accident of time plus chance. We are born, live and have a capacity to enjoy life because it is God’s intention. Also, He made us so we could know Him and be partners with Him in time and eternity. Because of that, we have purposeful lives.

When we were designed, God also included the ability to receive and give love, specifically to “love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.” Since love cannot be forced, loving Him is a choice. God encourages our response by His goodness. He also demonstrated the way to love when He sent Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. The love He wants us to enjoy is a selfless, two-way, unconditional, everlasting love.

It is also His intention we “love our neighbor as ourselves” and be good stewards of the rest of creation. In freely and gladly doing His will in His way, we reflect His likeness, find our true identity, enjoy a relationship of love with Him, and are filled with a true sense of purpose. This would eliminate suicides and squabbles entirely.

So why don’t people live as we were created to live? Why do we sometimes fight and hate life? Why do we sometimes feel unloved and without purpose? The Bible says it is because of sin. Sinful actions are easy to describe but a true definition of sin is difficult because sin itself is so irrational. Why would we reject the love of God?

It is difficult to objectively look at ourselves and truly know what we need to know about our sin. It clouds our logic. When asked to give reasons, we often throw our hands in the air and say, “I don’t know why I do it, I just do it.”

Sin is also a robber of love and purpose. When we fail to grab hold of the love of God, we can feel that no one loves us, not even Him. When we reject His purposes for us, no wonder we feel that life has no purpose.

Is there hope? The Bible says yes. The God-image we are supposed to reflect is found in Christ. He is not only our example but our Salvation from sin. Whoever opens their life to Him is graciously forgiven and receives new life. When filled with His Spirit, the results are love and a never-ending sense of purpose.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Biblical Giving .................. Parables 449

November 29, 1994

The following joke appeared in a church bulletin: “I dreamed that the Lord took my Sunday contribution and multiplied it by ten and this became my weekly income. In no time, I lost my color TV and had to give up my car. My family went hungry and I couldn’t meet my house payment. What can a fellow do on $10 a week?”

As a child, I noticed when a collection plate was passed in church they put fabric on the bottom to muffle the sound of coins. Occasionally someone put in dollar bills. That seemed like a lot of money to me. How times have changed.

Today’s churches often operate with large budgets. For the most part, the money is used to send missionaries out, serve needy people in the community and maintain the educational and other ministries of the congregation. However, when giving or tithing are mentioned, the first pictures that form in some minds are large buildings, ornate decor, velvet choir robes and pastors who drive limos and live in 3500 square foot houses.

Irresponsible spending does happen but severely contrasts a biblical concept of giving. God’s purpose is not so some might wear fancy clothes and others be drained of their life earnings. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.’”

It does not matter if the money collected is called donations, offerings, or tithes (based on 10% of one’s income). What is important is that two groups are responsible for what is done with it—those who collect it and those who donate it. Paul’s request in Corinthians illustrates how it should work...

Christians in one area put aside money for others who were experiencing financial need. He planned to come and collect it but added: “Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” Those who gave went with the gift or sent it with people they trusted.

Second, whatever money is given brings benefits both sides, the giver and the receiver. The benefit to the recipient is fairly obvious, however the giver is also blessed. Paul again writes: “Brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.... For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8).

Notice these people considered giving a privilege and even begged to do it. For them, the motivation came from God who was directing their lives. Paul said, “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us, in keeping with God’s will.”

People who yield their lives to God understand the blessedness of receiving. They have received the ultimate gift. As Paul says, they “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Anyone who receives God’s gift of everlasting life responds with generosity because they now enjoy eternal riches. Anything compared to that is small change.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Chain mail to God? .................. Parables 448

November 22, 1994

An Edmonton community newspaper ran this “Prayer to the Holy Spirit” in its classified section: “...You who makes me see everything and... shows me the way to reach my ideals... and who can give me the divine gift to forgive and forget all that is done to me... You who are in all the instances of my life with me... I want to thank You... and to confirm once more, I never want to be separate from You no matter how great the material desires... I want to be with You and my loved ones.”

The ad went on to say if a person prayed this for three consecutive days without asking for their wish, after the third day, their wish would be granted, no matter how difficult it was. They must also promise to publish this as soon as the favor was granted.

Whoever wrote this prayer recognizes the Holy Spirit has the ability to help them understand. They also recognize the Spirit of God gives the ability to forgive, is with them, and to be thanked. The Bible affirms these things.

The author also seems to believe they cannot tell the Spirit what to do directly, but if they pledge some sort of allegiance and offer this prayer, He will do what they want Him to do.

In this regard, this prayer does not match what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit or about prayer. One point about His role; it is not to show us how to reach our ideals but point us to Christ and help us reach His goal for us.

Second, while the Holy Spirit does help us forgive, biblical forgiveness is not forgetting. Rather, forgiveness means choosing not to hold anything against those who wrong us. God forgives our sins and in a metaphorical sense says He remembers them no more yet it is utterly impossible to conceive of the God of the Bible having no knowledge about anything. He “remembers no more” in the sense that when Christ died, all our sins were put on Him. He paid the penalty for them. Once we accept that for ourselves, He then has grounds to never hold our sins against us. We are set free from His judgment of sin.

Third, any who know God find the struggle is not between material desires and being with the Spirit. Jesus guaranteed the Spirit’s abiding presence when He said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.” Instead, our struggle is between our sinful, selfish desires and what the Spirit wants us to do. We need His help to say no to sin and yes to Him.

Another role of the Holy Spirit is to teach us to pray when we do not know what to say. Since He is “the Spirit of truth,” those prayers will not contradict what God says elsewhere. In a prayer like this, an incantation or formula has been devised to convince God to do whatever the praying person wants. However, no matter how we pray or how often, God is powerful and wise. Our selfish purposes will not prevail over the good He desires for us. Prayers such as these test the Almighty.

In other words, expecting the Spirit to “grant wishes no matter how difficult they may be” usually have nothing to do with being righteous and following the will of God. When Jesus was encountered by a similar notion that offered personal gain in exchange for His homage, He said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”

People who want to follow God can learn how God operates and know what kinds of prayers He wants us to pray. A good place to start is by examining the prayers of Scripture, not those placed in an ad in a newspaper.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Faith vs. Reason? .................. Parables 447

November 15, 1994

A couple of centuries ago, some philosophers and theologians began to promote the idea that faith in God is contrary to reason. They decided the spiritual realm is unseen so any ideas concerning it are speculative and too subjective. Thus faith is illogical for modern man.

This reasoning came when the scientific community began to discover and experiment with concrete examples rather than myths and folk lore. During this time of “Enlightenment,” many thinkers were impressed with their findings and with themselves. They decided their own ability to discover and reason was superior to faith in a God no one could see and in a theology that no one could prove in a laboratory.

The argument grabbed hold. Soon theologians separated human rational ability and faith. For many years, thinking and believing were considered incompatible.

Since then, rationalism is regarded as an unbalanced way of interpreting the religious side of man. Other theological concepts have been introduced to correct the imbalance and reason is now seen as important to faith. Those who believe do not throw away their brains.

However, many people are still affected by rationalism. It is demonstrated every time someone says, “I will only believe what I can see” or “If God exists, prove it.” People who consider faith belongs in the realm of personal subjectivity say things like, “Christianity is fine for you... but not for me...”

Such talk is contrary to something I heard a few weeks ago. A man told others that God helped him through some difficult times and, while many people become fearful during trials, none of us need to be afraid. He added, “If we just stop and think objectively about this, we realize God is big enough to take care of our needs.”

For him, objective thinking did not put God outside the realm of reason but smack in the middle of it. How could he say this?

He gave his reasons. The Bible says certain things about God and he believes it. In other words, he is not making up a god that suits his own personal desires but allowing an outside objective source, Scripture, to tell him what God is like.

For him, believing in God is perfectly rational. How could anyone not trust Him? His revelation of what He is like make it perfectly logical to not only rely on Him but have a certain amount of distrust in human reasoning. So how did philosophers come to their conclusion that our reasoning should be above faith?

Romans 1 provides a clue. It says God does make Himself known through objective means, that is, creation gives enough evidence to verify His existence. However, human beings who rely only on what they see of Him in nature refuse to acknowledge and trust Him.

This passage of Scripture indicates nature’s concrete, objective evidence is misunderstood or rejected. Those who know of God only in this way, turn from Him and “worship the creature rather than the Creator.” They eventually become unthankful and caught away by their sin.

On the other hand, Christians understand that God can be known only through the revelation He gave as recorded in the Bible. Romans 10:17 puts it this way: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

We need our ability to reason when we study Scripture yet God is not discovered by reasoning alone, either in a lab or a think tank. We need the message He gave to us in His Word.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Serving, being Served .................. Parables 446

November 8, 1994

My husband and I took my parents to Banff the last long weekend of the summer. They had not been there since 1930 and were excited about the trip. Whenever they do travel, they seldom stay in hotels so we decided to book the executive suite at Douglas Fir Resort, a two bedroom unit with full kitchen, large living and super-large dining room. For us, it was a delight to give them the finest they had ever experienced.

My mother, unaccustomed to being waited on, never mind indulged, did not know quite how to react. For example, she brought with her two of her own towels, not even her best two. Instead of using the thick, luxurious ones supplied by the hotel, she used her own.

During the weekend, we invited nine others for a surprise family dinner and brought in Chinese food. Mom had difficulty sitting down to eat. Everyone was already enjoying their food yet she hovered over the table, asking if she could get something or do something. When the men later began putting the dishes in the dishwasher (no kidding), she was right there too. One of them finally told her she could play with the grandchildren or have a rest. They had all the help they needed.

As I watched, I realized again how difficult it is for someone who has been a server all their life to be on the receiving end. Mothers are not accustomed to their children doing everything for them. However, it is also important for us to give back. She has been so generous so it is understandable that we want to do the same for her.

The Bible clearly says, “it is better to give than receive,” yet receiving is very important. In fact, no one can become a Christian and give as God wants us to, unless they are willing to be on the receiving end.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that is not of yourself; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” That means God offers salvation as a gift.

Salvation is the term that covers forgiveness, restoration of our relationship with God and the assurance of eternal life after we physically die. We do not deserve this gift because we sin, but even if we could earn it by our goodness, that is not the means by which God gives it. Instead, He offers it “by grace” as a free gift, to those who are willing, by faith, to receive it.

Our problem with this gift is that we tend to want to do something to earn it. Humbling ourselves before God and admitting we cannot do anything worthy to merit His favor goes against our independence and our pride. But salvation, like a luxurious towel, can belong to anyone because it is the Lord’s “good pleasure” to give. He has no ulterior motives.

Whenever anyone tries to gain salvation apart from faith, they actually are rejecting His gracious offer. Instead of wanting what He freely gives, they are giving preference to their own meager resources. Isaiah, comparing “His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” with our good deeds calls them nothing but “filthy rags.”

Because she is a Christian, my mother can receive, even though it is difficult. Today she let me massage her feet and lend her a sweater. Yesterday, she allowed me to cook her a meal while she watched and chatted. She admits that it feels good to be on the receiving end.

Especially when it comes to grace, I have to agree with her.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pushing the Limits .................. Parables 445

November 1, 1994

Susan’s boy, Jason, is always pushing at the rules. If she tells him to stay on the sidewalk, he drags one foot in the gutter. If she says he needs to drink all his milk, he leaves a centimeter in the bottom of the glass. If she tells him to hurry, he dawdles.

When I watch television, I get the impression writers and producers are something like Jason. Society has certain established norms, rules that are generally accepted and required, but for whatever reasons, television shows push the rules.

For instance, it was once a norm that cursing, nudity and direct camera shots of violence or blood-spilling was not seen on prime time TV; it would not be accepted. But these days, almost anything goes.

Responsibility belongs, in part, to viewers. Because of prevailing discontentment, television audiences flick channels unceasingly, looking for new things to watch. Their entertainment must be unusual or they find it “boring.” Few like too many reruns and no one wants to see the same commercials twice in one evening.

Because of boredom, television sitcoms and talk shows are easily able to present as normal what could be called “fringe elements.” Consequently, the bizarre beliefs and behaviors of a small percent of the population become appealing. If viewers are exposed several times a week, week after week, year after year, fringe elements are soon considered normal.

Further, as viewers become accustomed to even the most bizarre, they begin demanding material that is even farther out. The capacity to be easily bored thus expands the market for everyone in the entertainment industry.

Of course this also pertains to advertising. Companies know if they can create an impression that EVERYONE is buying a new car, or EVERYONE takes a drink when they are upset, or EVERYONE looks like a New York model, consumers will want at least the same and usually more. Most of the time, these impressions are myths. Many people are not weird or even outstanding. Many still drive old cars, are able to handle their problems, and have plain faces and bodies.

How should Christian people respond to “fringe element” programming and marketing? Obviously, being a good steward of the resources entrusted to us means ignoring advertising innuendo and not buying the latest products. Certainly we do not need to abandon our “obsolete” beliefs and behaviors simply because someone pushes the myth that everyone else has rejected Christianity.

Avoiding a pull to the fringe means also taking the offense. Instead of trying to fill up with material goods or pushing the norms of our faith, we need to fully grab hold of what Christ offers. He said, “I came to give you life, and that more abundantly.”

Jesus was not talking about a Leer jet, a cottage at the beach, and wide acclaim for being “different.” He meant that following Him is a rich and meaningful way to live, even exciting and “on the edge.” But Christian living is not pushing rules or living on the fringe.

Actually, all-out living for Christ makes the most tantalizing fringe elements boring. While He does challenge us to be content with where we are and what we have, He also calls us to live beyond our visible resources, both personal and material. If we make a radical commitment to follow Him in implicit obedience, He will take us places and ask of us activity that is above and beyond anything we could hope or even imagine. He invented abundant living; we didn’t!

Monday, June 13, 2016

No One can be Good Enough! .................. Parables 444

October 25, 1994

A certain alcoholic man decided to leave his Christian wife. He said she was “too good for him” and he could never be “that good.”

Another person responded in a similar way when she first encountered Christians. She said, “Everyone at church is so godly. I’ll never be good enough to belong in that place.”

Many of the Christians I know are amazed and saddened at statements like that. For one thing, we do not see ourselves as being “that good.” Even though we know Christ has changed our lives, we also know we constantly are in need of forgiveness and cleansing from sin. The nearer we draw to God, the more we realize how imperfect we are.

The idea that a person must be “good” in order to belong also saddens us. While Christ calls for holiness and obedient living, we are well aware it comes as a result of knowing Him, not as a prerequisite. Goodness is the consequence of believing, not the criteria.

Further, a genuine Christian should never be making an effort to be something they are not. The goodness observed by both the alcoholic husband and the new church attender is an unconscious goodness, put there because they know Christ. It is only in that relationship with the Son of God that the above described wife and congregation could possibly have characteristics that qualify as “godly.”

Is it possible for anyone be godly even when they are certain they are unable to be “that good”? Of course it is. God Himself promises to change lives. He says in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white a snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

That means that anyone who is willing to confess their sins to God will receive His forgiveness. As He wipes the slate clean and gives them a new heart, they experience freedom from guilt and a new ability to behave as He intended. This ability comes from His Spirit, a gift to every born-again child of God.

Along with that freedom and ability, Christians find themselves without crippling despair. Instead of fighting a horrible sense of never being able to “measure up” they simply acknowledge it is true. As the Bible clearly says, everyone falls short of the high standard of God and not one person can stand before God on the basis that they are “good enough.” God accepts sinners for entirely different reasons.

This is why Romans 5:8 says Christ died for us, not after we pull up our own bootstraps, but “while we were still sinners.” He offers us love and His own godliness with no prerequisites but need. His offer of forgiveness of sin and eternal life is for to those who realize they do not deserve it.

Compare it to medical care. Those who are healthy do not need a doctor, only those who are sick. In the same way, Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance and new life. Anyone who recognizes themselves to be in that category and is willing to admit it before God, can ask for forgiveness and receive a new, changed life.

The irony is that those who honestly feel they are not good enough to be Christians are far closer to God than anyone who insists they are good enough the way they are.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Human Value and Values .................. Parables 443

October 18, 1994

Losses from 40 years of highway and drowning accidents added to the loss from over 115 years of war (including the Boer, WW I, WW II, Korean, and Persian Gulf wars) equals a total death count of nearly 360,000 Canadian people. In less than half that time, from 1970 to 1991, there have been 1,249,601 abortions.

Statistics from the United States reveal 1,300,000 died in the American Revolution, the Civil War, WW I, WW II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. The number for legal abortions in the U.S. to 1981 is over 12 million. Many more have occurred since.

The law says swimming pools must hire life guards so people will not drown. Speed limits are enforced to make driving and highways safer. For the same reason, automobile manufacturers are given a list of standards they must meet. World leaders hold extensive and expensive summit meetings trying to end war. Yet, according to the above statistics, there are inconsistencies in how our leaders evaluate human life.

What is Canadian policy on population? We supposedly need more people, thus we open our doors to immigrants from other countries. Unlike China, we have no laws telling couples one child only. The laws is not against numerical growth, but we do have a law that allows destruction of our greatest resource.

Some who favor abortion argue human life does not start at conception. To them, it is not a person until it is actually born, or at least well along in development. But it is alive. The heart beat begins 28 days after conception. Brain waves can be recorded very early. If it is not a live human, what is an unborn child?

Others say the pregnancy was unplanned and the baby unwanted; it is better to abort than bring an unwanted child into the world. What about those parents who want babies and wait up to seven years before any are available for adoption?

Maybe the problem has more to do with values. In that regard, God is far more consistent than we are. To Him, life is important from the womb to the tomb. He even expresses interest in every stage of development.

For example, consider what King David of Israel said: “From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.... You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Jeremiah is another instance. The Lord said to him: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

A third example is a young woman who was told she would have a child. He would be “great and will be called the Son of the Most High... he will reign... and his kingdom will never end.” This child was conceived before she was married. The man to whom she was engaged knew the baby was not his.

If Jeremiah’s or David’s mother had decided to abort, we would not have the 23rd and a host of other Psalms, nor would we have some of the most amazing prophetic utterances in Scripture. If Mary and Joseph had decided they did not want their baby, the whole world would be without a Savior.

Freedom of choice supposedly makes life better. In this case, statistics can give us only numbers. We may never know what we have missed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Theory vs. Practice .................. Parables 442

October 11, 1994

Ever hear about the child psychologist who had six theories and no children? He eventually wound up with six children and no theories!

When I was a teenager, I was full of theories too. I had many books about training horses and they filled me with ideas of how to do it. It was not until I owned horses and actually began working with them that I discovered the truth about theories.

First of all, I had to separate mere theory from tested examples. Some of the books were written by people with big ideas and not much experience. While some of their ideas may have worked, I did not want to waste my time and energy with too much experimenting.

Second, I had to follow the rules. When I tried to change them, nothing worked. The authors who tested and then wrote horse training methods based on what they discovered were far more reliable than any speculation on my part.

Third, no theories had any value until it went from the book to my head then into my sessions in the corral with that horse. Without putting those good ideas to work, they were useless, at least to me.

When I grew up, I heard people talk about the Bible as if it were theoretical. They said things like, “it is okay for you but doesn’t work for me.” It made me think of my horse training days, the theories that worked and didn’t work, and the reasons why.

While liberal thinking questions whether or not the Bible story is myth or historical reality, I have taken a look at the people who live by its principles. (Notice, that is different from those who SAY they live by it.) First examine the evidence regarding the human authors. Were they people of deceit and sin? Or were they holy men of God as the Bible claims? Did they follow what they prescribe for us to follow? Did it produce changed lives?

What I see around me in my church is tested examples — from people who take the Bible seriously. They do not play around with which part they will obey and which part they say is only a legend. They demonstrate a life of faith that the Bible talks about as a valid life. While validity is not easy, nor does it claim perfection, there is integrity in those examples.

If someone is going to be a Christian and follow Scripture, they have to do it with their whole heart. I had one horse that wanted to be caught and rode first. If I rode the other one before her, she would not let me catch her. Following Christ is like that. He comes first. Whenever anyone tries to be a Christian but other things take second place, neither theory or efforts “work.”

Scripture is not being restrictive or narrow; this is what works. We need to trust God to show us how to live just as He showed the authors of the Bible how to live. We will misinterpret it and at times we will rebel against it, but God will help us become Christlike people if we give ourselves to Him.

Also we cannot change what it says. Simply put, the Gospel is forgiveness of sin and freely given eternal life. People who accept the offer are different, sometimes uncomfortably so. He does not promise to make everyone rich or cure all our problems. He does promise us eternity in His presence and to be with us in all we experience here.

Most important, the principles of Scripture have to find their way into everything we do. It is not enough to talk about love, sacrifice, joy, and other biblical qualities. We have to be kind to those who mock us, give our time to meet needs, and praise God in all of it. Whatever Christianity is, it cannot be a religion of mere theory without practice.

Monday, June 6, 2016

God’s Sovereignty in Human Affairs .................. Parables 441

October 4, 1994

A pastor struggled with feeling insignificant. He thought his work was futile and had no practical value. He even wondered if God remembered who he was. Despondent, he asked his congregation for a sabbatical.

During his holiday, he walked past a phone booth. The phone began ringing and since no one was around, he answered it. An operator came on the line saying it was a person-to-person call for Pastor... and said his name. Startled the pastor said, “This is me; speaking.”

The caller began talking. She had once seen him on a television program and wanted to get his advice. She Googled the phone number and was not sure she had written it correctly. She was glad he was there to take her call. Could he please help her?

After a few minutes of counseling, the woman was greatly encouraged. She made an appointment to visit his office and the amazed pastor hung up the phone. He then realized no matter how he felt, God not only remembered who he was, but could use him whenever He needed him, no matter where he went!

I heard this incredible story from a person who heard it from the pastor. Some might think it an extraordinary coincidence but the pastor did not receive it that way. He believed God used those odd circumstances to assure him that he was significant; he did have value in God’s plans.

Perhaps divine providence does include unusual events like wrong numbers that turn out to be right ones; however God provided a more definite demonstration of our value to Him, one that our fluctuating feelings or circumstances cannot change.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8).

God says Christ died for us when we were powerless. We had no value to Him because in our sinful condition, we cannot do His will and our actions are simply counterproductive to His plan. However, when Jesus died for us, God could forgive every sin. Not only that, He works in those who believe to make us like Christ, powerful and useful, able to do our part to build His kingdom.

Further, Romans 8 says no one can condemn us because Christ died for our sins. More than that, He was raised to life and is at the right hand of God interceding for us. When we make mistakes, we are forgiven.

The Bible says nothing, including negative feelings about ourselves, critical attitudes from others, whatever we do or do not do, and certainly whatever anyone else does or does not do, can ever separate us from His love. We can cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us.

The worth of a commodity is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for it, practical value or not. Some items like old coins, sports cards, and comic books have little practical value but those who want such things will pay thousands of dollars for them.

Our worth could be measured by its practical value but a more stable measurement is the price Someone was willing to pay for us. When Jesus died, He established forever that we are people of great value to God.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Made in God’s Image? .................. Parables 440

September 27, 1994

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Those words, the first of the Beatitudes, were framed and hanging on the classroom walls when my children were in elementary school. This famous passage from the Bible describes people who know a particular kind of blessedness. It includes great inner peace and frequently amazes others who do not have it.

“Poor in spirit” is not a description of material poverty. It is not about being weak-kneed, fearful, cowardly, or without the ability to stand up against evil.

Poor in spirit is recognizing and admitting spiritual bankruptcy. It is realizing that before God, you do not have a good deed to stand on. It is knowing that sin has the upper hand and because of it, there is nothing that can give you any merit before your Maker and Judge.

Anyone who has this quality will never boast of their own goodness. As far as they are concerned, they have none. But how can this be? Everyone knows we “all have some good in us.”

If that is true, it is because God made us in His own image. Noble thoughts or any capacity for decency is there because we were supposed to think and act like Him. Unfortunately, we seldom see God’s reflection in other people. What happened to it?

The Bible says sin has muddied His image in us and we need redemption so it can be restored. Note, however, that sin is like crossing a line. It does not matter how far across the line a person is but on which side of the line they stand. Each of us is either in the kingdom of God or the kingdom of sin.

Certainly some have gone farther on the wrong side of the line than others. Some are good people who merely go their own way, but without Christ. Others are proud and selfish, hurting others and are not quite so popular. Still others do evil things such as tell lies, break laws, commit incest, or brutally abuse others.

The point Scripture makes is that none of us, without faith in Christ, can be on God’s side of the line. No matter how close we stand, we still do not consistently choose good. Sadly, even goodness will not get us over the line.

The people who realize this and grieve over it are called “poor in spirit.” God says they are “blessed” but this truth is not much of a blessing to everyone else. Proud people feel they are okay... or at least as good as other people. They feel no need for repentance and forgiveness. Selfish people are not interested either because crossing the line is a call from God to turn from personal cravings. No one can serve two masters. They must choose either themselves or the King of Kings.

Evil people are the least interested. For them, sin is too much fun, or too profitable. But God says no one can come to Him (in honesty) and retain their sinfulness. If they do, He will cleanse it out of their lives. For that reason, people who are the farthest distance from the line usually prefer to stay where they are.

God calls the poor in spirit “blessed” because they have discovered the lie, misconception and emptiness in pride, selfishness and a sinful lifestyle. They are no longer interested in fooling anyone with false, inflated images of themselves.

As the verse says, the poor in spirit are also blessed because they are heirs to a different kingdom, one where they are satisfied with God’s grace and never get enough of His righteousness. It is a kingdom where He restores His subjects to image He intended.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Talking to Yourself? .................. Parables 439

September 20, 1994
Ever talk to yourself? Many children talk to their imaginary friends. My husband, whether at his workbench in the garage or his desk in the study, is usually discussing something with himself. As for me, when I make a mistake, I sometimes scold myself and when something goes right, I might say “Good job, Elsie.”

Although some jest this is “the first sign” (of mental illness), the practice of chatting to oneself seems normal. Some claim they do it because they cannot find a better conversational partner!

However, there is at least one situation where talking to yourself does indicate a problem. Consider this story told by Jesus: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’” (Luke 10).

As he lists his outstanding qualities, the Pharisee sounds like a great fellow. He has a first class standing as a leader in the synagogue and owns respect of his countrymen. However, he did not know how to connect with God. Notice, he was praying to himself!

Jesus shocked His listeners when He described the contrasting prayer of the tax collector. They were startled because the only thing they despised more than Roman occupation and burdensome taxes were the people who were paid by Rome to collect those taxes.

The tax collector in this story was definitely a Jew. Romans would not be praying in the temple. He was considered a traitor. For that reason, those hearing Jesus would agree that the tax collector described himself accurately: “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

As Jesus described these two prayers, some must have thought He would praise the Pharisee. He was a religious leader and considered a godly man. He was faithful to the nation and had not sold out to the Romans.

Imagine their surprise when Jesus gave this verdict: “I tell you, this man (the tax-collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

God will justify even the worst sinners if they humble themselves before Him. To be justified means that God not only forgives the sin but also considers the sinner guiltless. Jesus paid the full penalty so there are no charges against them. Justification means “just as if” there were no sin.

As for the Pharisee’s boast, God is not interested in any so-called accomplishments. No matter how good a person appears, God says, “Whatever is not of faith is sin” so if there is no faith in Christ, that person falls short of pleasing Him.

Instead, God looks for a heart broken over sin. Isaiah 66:2 says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

The Pharisee was so proud of himself, the direction of his prayer was not even toward God. Instead, he talked to the person he actually did rely on, trust, and worship: himself. In this case, talking to himself was a big mistake.