Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Value of Silence .......... Parables 517

July 2, 1996

The husband comes home complaining, “There are people on my committee that never say anything. When we are supposed to brainstorm ideas, they never talk. It drives me crazy.”

His wife replies, “I have the opposite problem. My new boss is a nice person, but I can’t get even a ‘Yes, Sir’ in sideways. Talk! He must have once been an auctioneer.”

The Bible says, “There is a time to speak and a time to be silent....” Don’t we all sometimes find ourselves confused about which is which?

Sometimes people think actions have greater power than words or silence yet when a father tells his children, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” they don’t copy his words but his actions.

Learning how to behave properly includes learning how to keep one’s tongue. Simple silence can prevent many problems. Proverbs 21:23 says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Another proverb adds, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:27-28).

A wise person is one who says the right thing at the right time. As one lady put it, “My grandfather was one of those people who did not talk very much, but when he did, everyone turned their head to listen.

Certainly Jesus Christ was not a person to mince words yet whatever He said showed His great wisdom. When He spoke, people not only turned to listen but came in droves to hear Him.

Jesus was also the only person with perfect knowledge of when to speak and when to be quiet. During the last days of His life on earth, as He was taken before the men who would eventually order Him crucified, He choose silence. As Isaiah 53 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth.”

The silence of Jesus was not a sign of ignorance or weakness. Because He was the Son of God, He could have opened His mouth and ordered legions of angels to rescue Him. He could have defended both His character and His innocence with great eloquence. Instead, He said nothing, perhaps because He considered His life purpose. As God’s Son, He came, “not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

In that case, what would be the point of self-defense? His accusers had seen Him do miracle after miracle and still didn’t believe He was anything but an ordinary man. One more sermon would not convince them nor would any effort to verbally justify Himself. Even if speaking would change their minds, in light of what He came to do, the only option He had was silence. Because He choose this, sinners can choose life.

For those who do, silence is often more powerful than words. Peter wrote that Christians needed to trust God and submit to the rules of people in power. He explained in 2:15, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” Later on, he adds a note to wives of husbands that are in rebellion against God. He exhorts them to live such gracious, trusting lives that their husbands may be won over, without a word!” (Italics mine)

Learning when to speak and when to be quiet is one of life’s toughest lessons. My father loves to talk but also knows when to keep his tongue. It seems he learned this lesson from eighty-seven years of experience but then again, maybe he also read the Bible — his favorite expression mirrors Proverbs 17:28, “Better to be quiet and thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Most Influential Person of all Time .......... Parables 516

June 25, 1996

A recent issue of TIME magazine features an article identifying twenty-five of America’s most influential people. The lead person is Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics and a man with a vision of what the Internet can become and who developed of a software program (Netscape) that is making that vision a reality.

Others on the list include comedian Jerry Seinfeld, jazz musician Wynston Marsalis, talk show host Oprah Winfrey and author-speaker Stephen Covey. A shorter article goes on to describe the most powerful people in America. That list includes Bill Clinton and Bill Gates.

Unfortunately, TIME left someone off their list. Thousands, perhaps millions of Americans know Him as the most significant change-producer, not only in their lives but for all eternity.

For example, Franklin Graham would put Jesus Christ at the top of the list. Franklin is the son of Billy Graham (who should have been on TIME’s list too). While growing up, his parents tried to influence him to choose Christ but Franklin had a mind of his own. For years, he resisted them and resented countless people who assumed he would take over his father’s ministry.

Franklin’s attitude was changed while running an errand in the Middle East for his father. He met two missionary women and through them, was encountered by Jesus Christ. From that time on, the direction of his life changed. Franklin now preaches the Gospel he resisted, even in the pulpit of his father during a recent Billy Graham Crusade in Australia.

Christ definitely has power to change lives in a way no other person can. Without Him, we are helpless to make God-pleasing changes. Romans 3 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Without Christ’s influence, we would not even seek God.

The Bible can make such strong condemnations against humanity because God’s standard of goodness far exceeds anything we call good. Sin has damaged our perception. We do not know God nor have the capacity to reflect His image as we should. We may think we can do it alone, but we cannot. We need a power outside ourselves and stronger than our resistance. We need an influence that tugs at our hearts and draws us away from our independence, pulling us to God.

For that, we must have a power that can give us new life through a spiritual birth. We need to be new creatures. Only Christ does that. When He influences a life, He enters the heart and mind, sufficiently and permanently changing the way we think and act.

2 Peter says: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

As individuals who supposedly have minds of our own, we are pushed and pulled from all directions. There is no end to influences. TIME left out art, music, media, advertising and a host of environmental and social factors. They also left out the inner pressure, that which 2 Peter calls “evil desires” within our own hearts.

Powerful men and women, our environment, and sin are tremendous shapers of behavior. However, Christians have another choice. We are influenced by our Lord and Savior. For us, the power of people like Jim Clark, or sin, or any other thing is not nearly so compelling. We know by faith and by experience that Christ alone can influence us for good and for God. He take us in a positive direction and can even make us a positive influence in the lives of others.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The best kind of communication .......... Parables 515

June 18, 1996

E-mail (short for electronic mail sent through computer modem) is revolutionizing communication. This week, I received messages from friends in Edmonton, Camrose and Papua New Guinea, a company representative in Toronto and several people and organizations in various places in the United States.

Some of these people I know personally but even though we have a face-to-face relationship, e-mail is more convenient than a telephone. Our schedules seldom match so rather than interrupt each other’s work, we can read and answer messages as time permits.

Some who send me e-mail are also members of the same writing group, or they work for a company with whom I do business. For instance, one e-mail was from a person who responded to my order for a software upgrade. She said it would arrive soon and it did.

Sometimes people connect through e-mail, develop a relationship, eventually meet face-to-face and get married. Intimate relationship building by e-mail would be risky by itself (too much can be masked) but such marriages illustrate e-mail can be used for more than business.

Obviously, e-mail has limitations. We do not use it for everything nor can we use it by itself to verify the reality or integrity of someone on the other end. Perhaps that is one good reason God did not wait for electronic inventions like e-mail, telephones or fax machines in order to reveal Himself to us. Instead, He worked through real people. Hebrews 1:1 says, “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways...”

God spoke and the prophets wrote; one reason why the Bible is called the “Word of God.” While some say the Bible is written by men only, God ensured these authors were godly men who obeyed the His revelation and faithfully recorded it. Through them, generations have received His message and the Bible remains number one on best seller lists.

God did not reveal everything in written form. Hebrews 1:1 finishes, “...but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” Jesus is the ultimate communication from God, “...the Word made flesh.... the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”

In recent years, some argue that Jesus is only an idea, a representation of the truth about God, a nice thought but He did not really exist. Others say if He did exist, He was only a man and the stories are exaggerated; no one could have done the deeds attributed to Him.

However, as the written Word survives and thrives, so Jesus also outlasts those who deny Him. He remains the central figure of history, the one whose name and deeds are told and retold over and over. If what He did was mere exaggeration, why do the stories persist? In contrast, will the amazing stunts of modern illusionists be retold two thousand years from now? Could anyone eventually reverse these stories claiming elephants actually did vanish? Hardly.

I must admit that once I was not so sure about the reality of Jesus. Sometimes He seemed a myth, but in time, He convinced me, not with arguments but with a combination of His written Word and my own experiences.

His Word says, “I (Jesus) am returning to Him who sent me...(the Father) and I will send Him (Holy Spirit) to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin...”

Jesus promised that God’s Spirit would convince each person of their sinfulness. No sane individual would invent such a conviction, particularly because it includes personal and eternal condemnation. Only a higher authority can override our insistence on our own goodness.

Then, just as Jesus promised, the Spirit came and convicted me. This event plus His promise convinced me that Jesus is an actual person. God did exactly what He said He would.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Biblical Oxymorons .......... Parables 514

June 11, 1996

Ever wonder about terms like an original copy? Or a loud silence? Or sweet sorrow?

These figures of speech are called oxymorons, from two Greek words meaning sharp and foolish. In the first example, a copy is so true to the original that they call it an original. In the second, silence is so profound it seems loud. In the third, sorrow is mingled with joy so even its pain has a sweetness to it.

These contradictory word pictures are found in many pieces of literature as well as throughout the Bible. In one instance, two experiences that are not normally associated with each other describe the pain of death as “birth pangs.” Other Bible oxymorons include “living sacrifices,” “their glory is in their shame” and “you killed the author of life.”

Someone told me this week that “self-esteem” is also an oxymoron. Those who do not have it simply cannot give it to themselves because no one can rate themselves favorably when they are convinced their own opinion is worthless!

What about “self-control?” Is it also an oxymoron? From the Bible’s definition of self-control and what I know about human nature, it seems so.

Human nature has a built-in perverse tendency to say “no” to God and to all that He is and represents — but says yes to everything else. For instance, God is a Being of order and arrangement but we resist being ordered and arranged. Even when we try to work at it, it is just that, work! Drawers, desks and closets are a constant battle. Those who win the battle do so with less than saintly motives. We are not trying to glorify God, we just do it so we can find our socks.

Self-control is a biblical term in many English translations. It is from two Greek words: one means “temperance” and the other refers to someone with “a sound mind.” Since Scripture says people are generally anything but temperate in their behavior and sound in their thought-life, this form of “self-control” is unique. It is not talking about restrained outward behavior but something far more significant.

Placing self-control alongside sinful human nature produces two pictures. One is what the Apostle Paul calls the flesh, or the old self, or the old nature. This describes someone who lives without constraint and without concern about sin. Obeying God is not their goal. Yet this also describes people who appear religious, those capable of a “form of godliness” but who “deny the power of God.” Their religion is only a show, an outward pretense.

The second picture is the new man or the new self that comes into existence when Christ forgives and cleanses a sinner and by faith, they receive Him into their life. The process is called regeneration or new birth. The new self is the new nature that the Spirit of God controls. With Christ in charge of this “self,” temperance and sound thinking are possible.

However, none of the second picture is a product of “self-control” in the sense that the person himself produced it. As the Gospel of John says, the children of God are “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” New life and the resulting self-control happen not because we decide it should, but because God decides He will give it to us.

Paul affirms this by declaring godly thinking and godly living — self-control — is a fruit of the Spirit. He produces it, not we ourselves. This wonderful virtue is the ability to say “no” to that sinful nature, the old self. It is the capacity to live under the control of a contradictory self-discipline — it can only be ours when we are yielded to God.

With that, it seems “self-control” is one more delightful oxymoron.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Meekness is not weakness .......... Parables 513

June 4, 1996

The horse weighed at least a thousand pounds. What was she doing standing on my foot? That was not the worst of it. The week before, she ran under a tree and knocked my memory back two weeks. At times, training horses is painful and dangerous.

As a young person, I would ride anyone’s horse, including crazy animals like a chestnut thoroughbred that once belonged to a chuck wagon outrider. When I put my foot in the stirrup that gelding shut his eyes and ran. I also fondly remember a wild mare that was so stubborn that she raced to the end of her tether rope and flung herself on the ground until she was too tired to do it anymore. I rode her too.

Of course, that was years ago when I had more stamina and less sense, but I still dream about horses. Training them was a challenge. I worked hard so they submitted their strength to my control. That process helped me learn the meaning of an often misunderstood biblical word.

The word is “meek.” Most people think “wimpy”when they hear it because today it is used to describe doormats, Walter Mitty types, and anyone too weak to raise their hand or their voice in their own defense. Because of this limp, withdrawn attitude, the meek are always walked on.

However, according to the way the Bible uses “meek,” our modern definitions miss the value of meekness. For example, Scripture says spiritual giants like Moses were meek. It even says Jesus was meek. In fact, God promises that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” In other words, God considers meekness a virtue.

Scripture does not depict the meek as fearful, cowardly people. Instead, they are strong in faith because they understand God’s power and sovereignty. For them, God is always in charge and always able to do whatever He wants, whenever He wants. They also realize that resisting God is folly. He is far more powerful than anything we can do. He always wins, no matter the battle.

On the other hand, biblical meekness is not weakness either. Instead, it is like a wild stallion that has been tamed. The horse’s strength is in the fact that it is under control, not exercised in nonsensical behavior. Even the wildest horse, once tamed, becomes an asset to its owner.

When it comes to people, God’s way of controlling our negative strength is not a self-control such as holding back when you feel like hitting someone. Instead, it is the control that accompanies knowing the power of God. He makes the use of negative aggression or even positive assertion unnecessary. Why fight anything when God is more powerful? Why assert our wants, wishes or “rights” when He is on our side and willing to do it for us?

The meek do not resist God or the circumstances of their lives either. They know He controls what happens to them and that makes it easier to submit their lives to Him as well. He will either explain, change, or make sense of all of it and in the meantime, the Spirit can produce its fruit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.”

If meekness were a whipped, beaten puppy that cowers in a corner, God would not recommend it. Instead, meekness is a graceful, prancing, parade-leading pony, moving forward under the direction of its rider. Meekness is not afraid because it trusts the Master. Meekness is not cowardly because it knows Who is on its side.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Computer and other hoaxes .......... Parables 512

May 28, 1996

A friend sent me an E-mail message with a grave warning. A new and extremely destructive computer virus, unlike all others, was being transferred through E-mail messages.

I believed the warning and, as instructed, sent notices to everyone on my E-mail list. The next day, two other friends, who know far more about these things than I do, kindly told me this virus is a hoax. It does not exist. Hastily, I sent retractions to everyone.

As a writer and teacher, checking sources is almost automatic, to make sure information is correct before passing it on to others. Almost automatic was not good enough this time. I simply believed my source without a second thought. Happily, no harm was done.

Gladly receiving and believing information without verifying it can make someone easy prey for unscrupulous sales gimmicks or just a hard sell. For that reason, our laws protect those who sign purchasing agreements by allowing three days to change their minds.

Some consider themselves shrewd by demanding visible proof before agreeing to anything. However, these days, visible “proof” has questionable value. For instance, computer-generated television commercials have realistic cars changing into realistic tigers and roosters gargling with mouthwash. A good graphics artist can make even the most outlandish ideas appear true.

In commercials, it may not always matter if the treatment is real or pretend, but there are situations when all information needs to be carefully verified. For instance, doctors will not prescribe drugs unless they had been thoroughly checked and rechecked. Grocers will not purchase products that claim to be food unless they are licenced and clearly labeled.

Spiritual claims also need careful examination. Some groups say, “Those who belong to us will live forever” or “Who needs Christ? Just live a good life and you will be okay.”

Unfortunately, neither statement square with what God says about eternal destiny. Since this is His habitation, His word on the matter is important.

Consider His great love: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Consider our great need: “There is none righteous, no, not one.... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.... the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Consider His solution: “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God.”

The good news or Gospel of the Bible is diametrically opposite to the notion that eternal life is something we can earn or deserve. Unfortunately, few understand that it is free and fewer still receive it for themselves. All could learn something from the people of ancient Berea.

When the Apostle Paul arrived there, his reputation for sound, persuasive preaching preceded him. He had successfully preached from the Scriptures in Thessalonica, “explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.”

When he and his friends arrived in Berea, Paul began preaching in the local synagogue. The Bible says they “received the message with great eagerness....”

However, these people were not gullible victims of a slick presentation. The next line says, “the Bereans... examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Even with Paul’s reputation, these people verified what he said, an attitude that is important for everyone. The gospel still sounds too good to be true — so check it out, be sure of what it says. Unlike computer viruses, God’s good news is not destructive and never a hoax.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What about being good? .......... Parables 511

May 21, 1996

“Good” is a workhorse when it comes to adjectives. We use it to define behavior, manners, attitudes, character, taste, quality, size and even the weather (sometimes). It can measure acceptability, appropriateness or reliability and describe a certain degree of accuracy, legitimacy, wholesomeness, agreeability, attractiveness, competency and even completeness.

Which of these many associations did the rich man mean when he asked Jesus, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

For one thing, he sounds as if he understands goodness is somehow linked to eternal life. He therefore assumes if he does the right “good” things, namely actions, eternal life would be his.

Jesus answered his question with another question, also using the word “good.” However, He did not describe anything the man could do. Instead, He asked, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good.”

Rather than tie goodness to what someone could do, Jesus tied it to “being,” to who someone is. Then He limited the use of “good” even farther by saying only One Being is good.

Without giving the man a chance to ask any questions about God’s goodness, Jesus went on: “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

The man insisted that he had but in the remaining conversation, Jesus showed him he fell short of moral and religious perfection. He told him to sell or give away all his possessions, then come and follow Him, but the young man turned away. His great wealth was more important to him than what Jesus offered. His goodness was only on the surface.

Not only that, this man missed the point. Jesus said none is good but God. In other words, doing good to please God is like jumping off a rooftop flapping our arms to impress an eagle. God’s goodness is perfect and limitless. Our goodness falls short, is mixed with selfish motives and grinds to a halt when the sacrifice is too great. Nothing we do looks good compared to Him.

The man was asking the wrong questions. He hoped for eternal life by doing something to earn it, but missed the connection between what Jesus said about “good” and his own shortcomings in that department. If he had really listened and agreed, he would have asked for mercy, not continued to ask how he could earn eternal life.

Many people assume that “being a good person” is all that is necessary to please God. To them, eternal life is a matter of their own efforts measuring up. However, Jesus says our “good” is not quite good enough. To please God, it needs to be the perfect good that He alone possesses.

Of course the goodness of God is in Jesus Christ, who is God the Son. The Bible 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.” Anyone who has eternal life, has it in Him and because of Him, not according to personal merit points.

Wealth plus pride kept the man from getting what he said he wanted. Maybe he was proud that he was a self-made man with a sizable bank account, that he refused to count his own anything he could not work for or earn. His problem: eternal life is a free gift.

Jesus showed this man he needed to relinquish his wealth. It stood in the way of trusting God. He couldn’t do it and for that reason, he walked away sorrowing. What he may not have realized is that someday, he would lose it all anyway. Even at a “good” funeral, where the deceased is a believer on the way to heaven, there is no U-Haul behind the hearse.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rules and absolutes? .......... Parables 510

May 14, 1996

Youth leader and speaker Josh McDowell says that young people today usually agree that lying is wrong, but most of them are unable to explain why. I asked a young friend about this and she could only say, “It’s wrong because it’s wrong, that’s all.”

According to McDowell, parents often teach rules, such as “do not tell lies” but neglect to give any foundation that supports or explains those rules. Rules or precepts without reasons for them amount to legalism. We may teach that telling lies is wrong because it is immoral, but adding that principle is a no-no in today’s culture. Too many now insist that there are no absolutes, that truth is subjective and what is true changes relative to time and situation.

McDowell says people need to know absolute truth does exist. Not only that, truth is objective, universal and constant. It can even be tested. According to Webster, truth is “fidelity to an original or a standard.” Therefore, to test if something is true, all one needs to do is measure it by the original standard.

For instance, if you wanted to test whether a liter of milk actually contained a liter, you could take it to the place where standards for weights and measures are located. A careful comparison would show if your liter is truly a liter.

In the case of lying and other moral issues, the standard is the person, character and nature of God. He is the Original, the Creator of all things who made us in His image.

Even those who doubt the existence of God would say, if God did exist He would be perfect and true, not a liar or an immoral being. The Bible confirms this: “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all” and “ is impossible for God to lie.”

We can safely measure truth by God because He is the author of it. Obviously, lying cannot pass the test. Not only are lies the opposite of truth but they, and the act of lying, are contrary or opposite from the Original Standard.

Also, McDowell suggests that children (and adults) need to know God’s purpose for precepts, such as “do not lie.” While most people think God makes rules to ruin our fun, in reality His precepts protect us from being harmed and from harming others. In the long run, lies are destructive. They ruin relationships, undermine trust, destroy confidence and produce emotional instability. God does not want us to experience those consequences.

One of our biggest difficulties is that immediate consequences from disobeying Him may not look so bad. People steal or do other illegal and immoral things but negatives are either delayed or do not happen, at least in this life. Today’s instant society finds long-term effects difficult to visualize and ridicule the idea of eternal judgment.

Faith in God can look at eternity. As the Bible says, it is “the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Faith believes God without seeing because sight has nothing to do with it. Faith is based on who God is and He stands firm as its foundation. Because God does not lie, we can believe what He says about the effects of lying and other wrongs.

In contrast, Jesus speaks of the fallen angel, Satan, as “a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Ultimately, lying is also wrong because of its source. Truth, and the reality of its nature, is good and right because of its source. It is grounded in the absolute and flawless character of God.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A fresh definition of patience .......... Parables 509

April 30, 1996

“I try to be patient with my children but sometimes lose my temper and yell at them.”

“You sew your own clothes? Not me. I don’t have the patience for sewing.”

Ever try to define patience? Is it finishing a difficult project? Is it restraint instead of interfering? Is it waiting without pacing the floor? Is it fishing all day without catching anything?

Most agree, patience is enduring a difficulty without over-reacting. For those who trust God, patience is based on a deep faith that He is in control. Because He is good, and is a God of purpose and design, we can trust Him and be patient, even if all goes wrong. The trouble is, we do not learn this virtue unless it does!

Job is an interesting case. People often say, “She has the patience of Job” without realizing what happened to Job. He was a biblical character, probably from the same era as Moses or earlier. In one day, he lost his family, servants and all his possessions. Soon after, his health was also taken. If patience is tested in troubles, Job faced a supreme test.

He did well in the beginning. When his wife suggested suicide or euthanasia as a way out and told him to “Curse God and die,” Job patiently replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Was this true patience based on deep faith? Or was he in shock? God knew. Before his trouble began, Job’s faith was discussed in heaven. Satan challenged God with the insult that His people only trusted Him because He kept them safe from harm. God said, in effect, “Is that so?” He then allowed Satan to do whatever he wanted to Job, except take his life, to prove that genuine faith is not based on circumstances but on God’s own character.

As far as we know, Job never knew about this challenge. Although he started out well, his troubles multiplied. Not only did his wife fail to support him, his friends began accusing him. They were certain God would not have allowed this to happen to a righteous man. He must be punishing Job for some hidden, unconfessed sin.

Job was angry. He defended himself with sarcasm, his comments interlaced with groaning. Soon he was less verbal about his commitment to accept whatever God allowed and more vocal in his frustration and pain. However, as he ranted, not all his words were dark. His faith was deep and it wrestled with his feelings. In the midst of his complaining, he did affirm that God had a purpose. He declared, “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Also, Job was determined that God was not punishing him. He didn’t know why this trouble happened but he knew he had kept short accounts with His maker. Even though many of his protests were aimed at God, he expressed trust: “Though He slays me, yet will I trust Him.”

Towards the end of the story, Job made one more defense of his life and clung to his conviction that he was innocent. Finally God broke His silence: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? ...Where were you when I created the world? ...Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?”

Job hung his head. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know... My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Genuine faith is able to confess sin and inadequacy. Job did not know everything, and, unlike his friends, he was able to admit it. God restored his health, wealth and family. He proved His point. Faith is enough — as long as it does not rest on our ability to believe but on the One who holds us secure.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Genuine, lasting peace? .......... Parables 508

(no date)

World news seldom features stories about peace. It reports peace talks but actual peace, or at least the absence of war, is not in the headlines because it seldom occurs.

Peace is an illusive quality. Human nature longs for it yet our behavior is counter-productive. Consider two small children in a playpen. One has a toy; the other child wants it. By the resulting noise, one wonders if this could be the beginning of another world war. Even mothers add their own din by shouting, “Can’t we have some peace and quiet around here?”

Playpen battles continue in playgrounds. Older children go on to fight in the streets, in high schools and colleges, in pool halls and later in boardrooms and around conference tables. No location is perfect. People stranded on a paradise island also fight with each other.

Modern educational systems offer courses in Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution but who would offer a course called How to Deal with Peace? If someone did, would it be boring? Would anyone register? Who knows?

Most people define peace as absence of strife or tumult. For them, peace is tranquil surroundings with nothing to disturb or interfere with plans and goals. They say, “If only people would get along or if only everyone would be quiet, then we would enjoy peace.”

Jesus had another idea about this illusive commodity. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

According to the Bible, Jesus was the Prince of Peace. The angels at His birth said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” However, Jesus’ life was not free of conflict. Noisy crowds pushed to see Him and hate-filled rivals tried to destroy Him. For that matter, “all men” have not experienced peace since He came. For most, it is the opposite.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace because He personally enjoys it within Himself. We demand silence and freedom from conflict but He did neither. We demand personal or corporate wants, and insist on treaties. He needs none of these to enjoy a calm heart. He owns and controls peace; therefore, has no need to demand it. Furthermore, He says He will give it to us.

Paul called this inner calm “the peace of God” and said it “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It comes from Him and because it does, it “transcends all understanding.”

That transcendent aspect of peace surprised me. Early one morning, a frantic call from frantic neighbors jarred my husband and me from our sleep. They reported their child and one of ours (who was sleeping over) and their vehicle were missing. The situation was serious — we lived in southern California (the fruit and nut state) and neither of these two young people could drive.

I did not have time to breathe a prayer before a sudden, strange calm settled over me. I recall thinking, “This is weird...” I usually argue with myself about not worrying. I thought I should be anxious at least, yet being upset was impossible. Unexpected peace controlled me. For the next few hours, it filled my heart and protected my mind. I was free from fear and emotional turmoil. Such peace greatly amazed me, but it should not have; Jesus said He would give it to me.

Since then, I know God’s peace is sufficient. Noise, conflict, danger or problems need not fill His people with turmoil nor should we have any desire to fight with others. God cares for us and although He may not wipe out external conflict or remove troublesome people from the scene, He can prevent a troubled heart. He simply fills it with something else.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Hope .......... Parables 507

April 2, 1996

A small boy spies a bright red bicycle displayed in a store window. After a longing gaze, he carefully notes the price and rushes home. He dumps dimes and quarters out of his ceramic pig and asks his father if he has enough. Of course, he does not. His father calculates the remainder and writes it down as a goal. The boy hopes with all his heart that when he has saved enough money, the bicycle will still be in the store.

His sister comes home from school. She opens the front door and catches the faint scent of cinnamon. “Oh, I hope that is what I think it is,” she exclaims, “and I hope I can have one.”

Her mother answers from the kitchen, “Yes, it is your favorite — cinnamon buns. As soon as you come through the kitchen door, I will give you one with a glass of milk.”

Two longings. Two hopes. The first is a “I-hope-so” wish. The second is a “I-know-so” certainty. The first child tries to make his hope happen. The second knows hers is already prepared for her and will definitely be hers. Someone who loves her has made a promise.

The Bible uses the word “hope” more than 150 times. Most uses refer to the second kind of hope, which is far more than the enticing scent of a delicious cinnamon bun. The Bible says our hope is eternal life based on the love of God. Because Christ died for us, He has prepared a place for us with Him. We will have new bodies and be like Jesus.

In this life, we catch the sweet scent in the promises of God, but until we go through heaven’s door, our hope is unseen. As Romans 8 says, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?”

The foundation of our hope is God’s love and His many promises. God proved His love by sending His Son. He says, “Whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Psalms 147:11 says, “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

As for our heavenly hope, The Apostle Paul wrote this prayer: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” In another place he talked about “the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven...”

Paul also said we have “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.”

Again, God promises eternal life so those who trust Him can consider it a sure hope. In fact, the Bible says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” We can “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”

Finally, as if heaven were not enough, we also hope for personal perfection. John writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Hope is incentive to live for God. Think of it. The boy who wanted the bicycle may get discouraged and stop saving his money because his hope is uncertain. However, his sister’s hope is a sure thing. She does not want to ruin it before she gets to the kitchen by being willfully disobedient to the one who made the promise.

Our hope is the same. Besides enabling us to live with expectation, even catch a faint whiff of it in the air as we go on our way toward it, hope gives us a God-ward focus and changes the way we live.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fruit Inspectors .......... Parables 506

March 26, 1996

An orange tree in the backyard would be delightful, but one good thing about buying fruit rather than picking it is that store-bought oranges seldom have worms in them!

Those nearly perfect citrus fruits from Florida and California must pass through fruit inspectors before they are shipped. These people make sure all insects stay down south and diseased or poor quality fruit is used for something else than human consumption.

As an analogy, Jesus talked about vineyards and fruit and fruit inspectors. He did not give instructions about growing and enjoying them but used these terms in a warning about false prophets. He said, “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

Jesus added that grapes do not come from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. Instead, good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. According to Him, this law of nature applies also to human beings. The question is, what kind of fruit was Jesus talking about?

A man named John the Baptist gives a clue. He came on the scene just before Jesus did and used a fruit metaphor when he told people to repent from their sins and turn to God. He explained how action accompanied real repentance. Merely wanting to change was not good enough. As certain hypocritical religious leaders listened, John bluntly told them they needed to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Later, Jesus talked to these same religious leaders. He told a story about a group of people left in charge of a vineyard while the owner was away. Every time he sent servants to collect his fruit, the servants beat or killed them. Finally he sent his son, thinking they would do what he said. Sadly, they murdered him also. Jesus then told His audience that God would take His kingdom away from any who refused to produce its fruit and give it to those who did.

These analogies seem to suggest both John and Jesus were talking about visible evidence of true faith. In other words, people who are genuine will be characterized by a life change that shows they have turned from sin to God. They will also welcome Jesus as God’s Son and gladly offer the “produce” of their lives to Him.

Later in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul again defines fruit. He says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

These nine characteristics identify the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says this fruit comes from God through people as His blessing and we cannot genuinely produce it without Him. Some will try to imitate it but spiritual fruit is from God. Those who have it are also from God. It may need time to develop and ripen but false prophets cannot produce it.

As Jesus said, false prophets are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. That is, we do not easily notice them. To discern who they are, Christians need to develop the skill of fruit inspection. We need to look for evidence of repentance and changed lives, and for the presence of the fruit of the Spirit. If someone claims to be from God but is without love, joy, peace or any of these qualities, then we can question their claim. It may be false.

We also need to remember that if God expects love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control to be the test, then Christians are responsible for having these things present and visible in our lives. Literal trees cannot evaluate themselves or other trees; however, in the spiritual realm, fruit inspectors must be able to do both.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

That lover called ‘money’ .......... Parables 505

April 23, 1996

Expressing disgust at unnecessary federal expenditures, an American radio announcer suddenly blurted, “If I had a job that paid one million dollars every day from the time Christ was crucified until now, I still would not have enough to pay half our government’s deficit!”

With this protest fresh on our minds, we pulled into a roadside flea market in Florida. Cheap jewelry, old pocketbooks and assorted other non-necessities filled rows of tables. Patrons in shabby clothes pawed the merchandise. Some only looked. Others shelled out nickels and dimes, their expressions brightening as they pocketed their trinkets.

Most seemed too poor for even bargain-priced “luxury.” Perhaps buying second hand treasure made them feel wealthy. After all, the rich can hoard dispensable extras so why not imitate at least that part of their lifestyle?

Reflecting on government excesses and the spending habits of both rich and poor, it appears all three groups have some things in common. For example, all can spend money they do not have and all can waste money on “stuff” no one needs. The illusion that more money will fix everything is not limited to any class or group. Neither is that fleeting sense of well-being that comes and goes after making a major purchase. Besides all that, it matters not if a spender is rich, poor or a government committee, if you spend more that you earn, you go broke!

A fire burns beneath this urge to spend, buy and have. This fire motivates buying, selling, producing and profit-making all over the world. It is a passion for money; what one writer calls “the worship of economics.” Surely this love, not the romantic kind, makes the world go around.

The Bible does not say money itself is evil but that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Those who attach false value to dollars are always yearning for more. They become pre-occupied with it and plan their lives based on how much money is available or anticipated. Everything is measured by categories of cost, price or profit. Virtue is lost at the toss of a coin.

However, money makes a lousy lover. It gives a sense of security to those who have it, then flies away or becomes consumed. It leaves its lovers bankrupt, literally and emotionally. For all the attention lavished on it, the satisfaction money gives in return seldom lasts beyond a day or two. Soon the disillusioned return to the marketplace, hungry for more.

Money also leaves an indelible imprint on the soul, simply because people become the same as whatever they worship. Those who idolize the almighty dollar soon become empty, cold, impersonal and uncaring, just like the coins and bills stashed in their bonds, banks and mattresses.

Breaking away from this lover is difficult. The huge national debt in Canada and the United States and the likelihood of ever paying if off fails to convince many that their infatuation is foolish. What will happen to them if economic structures crumble? Where will they turn? Will they seek comfort in the hope of another upswing? Will they resort to crime and violence to satisfy the hole in their hearts? Or will they find something more reliable to worship?

The promise wealth makes is false. Solomon had vast riches, yet called it “vanity and futility.” Instead, he and others have discovered that only the promises of God are certain. God says, “I will never leave you or forsake you... I will meet all your needs... I have loved you with an everlasting love.” The Lord promises (and delivers) joy and indescribable contentment.

As the economic idol topples, will those who worship money have the fortitude to turn to Him? Or will they greedily cling to their god and their hoarded resources — and crash along with them? In either case, God is waiting with open arms and with promises that last for eternity.