Monday, January 30, 2017

Abuse and feelings of guilt .......... Parables 543

January 21, 1997?

Events of the past few weeks shock and sadden sports fans as one player after another confesses to being a victim of abuse. Counseling services report this is only the beginning.

As sport organizers work to put structures in place that may help prevent future occurrences, they are also concerned that pain-filled victims are properly treated. We know they do need to come forward and acknowledge their ugly memories to someone who can help them. The goal is not to sensationalize their situation but that healing may begin. While most realize healing requires more than telling someone, saying it out loud is the first step.

Along with the pain of being a victim, abused people often feel guilty. Some argue it is a false guilt because these people were not willing participants so they should not feel guilty. On the other hand, a person unfamiliar with the power of emotional and psychological manipulation might suggest that “victims” have will of their own and should have said “no.”

Whether or not that is true is not for us to judge. However, even there is some truth in it, the principle of “telling someone” works for real and false guilt as well as for healing emotional damage.

If the problems were purely physical ailments such as coughing blood, or dizzy spells, or constant knee pain, few people would insist that they are not sick. To do so practically guarantees they will remain unhealthy. Unless we acknowledge something is wrong, we cannot or will not take steps to make it right.

If the pain is emotional, acknowledgment is also vital. If I am angry and someone asks me about it, the way to ensure continued pain is by snapping, “I’m not mad.” However, if I want to change my emotional state, I need to admit it exists, to own it.

This principle is important for crisis counseling. An emotionally upset person has difficulty thinking clearly and making decisions. A wise counselor will defuse those emotions by helping the upset person say, or own up to, how he or she feels. Often just expressing emotions robs them of much of their power.

Guilt works in a similar way. For instance, if the speed limit is 90 kph and I drive 120 kph, I am guilty of exceeding the speed limit. It does not matter if I make an excuse or claim extenuating circumstances or did not notice I was speeding. Being ignorant of the law or its violation does not change the facts. I drove over the limit and am therefore guilty. Admitting it is the first step toward an end to that problem.

Moral guilt usually means breaking the laws of God. For example, God says I must not covet or want something that rightfully does not or cannot belong to me. If I do, I have broken the law of God. As long as I will not admit it, there is no hope of change and the act of coveting will begin to damage me and other people.

That is why the Bible says, “He who covers his sin shall not prosper.” In the case of coveting, I could obsessed with the forbidden thing, even to my ruin. I would be far better to face the fact of my guilt and admit the problem. When I do, God begins to heal me of my sin.

In some cases, a victimized person tells all to get even, to hurt the perpetrator, but those injured by emotional manipulation and sexual abuse often try to cover it up. They feel unclean, dirty, as if they were guilty themselves. Perhaps in such cases, rather than trying to assess those emotions or decide if those feelings of guilt are warranted, it would be better to simply confess they exist.

When we tell God about our feelings of guilt, He honors our honesty. He also knows the difference between true and false guilt so at the point of our telling, He offers us whatever we need.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Addicted to gambling? .......... Parables 542

January 28, 1997

The town of Rocky Mountain House has been making headlines. Some citizens are outraged that their community of less than 6000 population has deposited nearly $3 million a year into fewer than 40 video lottery terminals, VLTs for short. These machines are supposed to bring in funds that are returned to the community but in Rocky, the return is slightly more than $52,000. Many are upset over this imbalance and also what gambling is doing to their community.

Gambling can be a terrible addiction, particularly for people working in isolated places. My husband tells of men in a camp construction project that traveled home after they lost their entire pay cheque. What do a husband and father say to his wife and children when he has no money for groceries and rent?

Gambling supposedly offers risks and therefore thrills. Those who do it also hope for the “big one,” the windfall, instant cash, a spectacular prize. Sometimes it happens. However casinos, bingo halls and even VLTs make a profit for the people who run them, not the people who put in their dollars and take the risks.

Rocky Mountain House statistics are one example. If the above figures are correct and if everyone who lived there played the VLTs, each citizen would contribute nearly $500 per year to the machines in order to total the $3 million sent to the government. However, if $52,000 is divided by the same population figure, then the payback averages less than $9 per person.

Putting faith in a machine that promises so little seems illogical but for those who gamble, false hope overcomes logic. Thankfully, we can put our faith in something more sure and have a sure hope, one that will not disappoint us.

If people play the VLT’s because of concern for physical necessities, Jesus said, “ . . . those who not know Me worry about such things but as for you, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

That is an absolute promise made by the Son of God. He invites those who worry about their needs to trust Him, act accordingly and He will make sure they have enough. The Bible says, “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

If people hope for a windfall so they will at last “be somebody,” God promises significance to those refuse to gamble and instead hope in Him. He said to His people, “Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”

If gambling is merely a thrill, an exciting thing to do, faithfully following the Lord offers that too. The Apostle Paul wrote of his experiences, which to me are not appealing but to risk-takers, his life sounds like an adventure. Among them he mentions being shipwrecked, spending time in the open sea, being constantly on the move, in danger from rivers, bandits, false teachers, his own countrymen and Gentiles. In all that he experienced, he also knew the presence of God and experienced His power and faithfulness. To those who share that relationship, closely following God is far more thrilling than gambling, even winning at gambling.

If gambling is for that big surprise, an unexpected windfall, then consider the payoff from following Christ. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or family (or gambling or anything else) for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

It may sound risky, but the payoff is guaranteed — because whatever God promises, He delivers!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Restored to Life .......... Parables 541

January 14, 1997

When Nikita Kruschev died, the story went around that the Communist party did not want to bury him in their country. They called U.S. President Richard Nixon and asked if their former leader could be buried in America. Nixon declined. Then they called Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel. Mrs. Meir agreed but added, “I must warn you—this country has the world’s highest resurrection rate.”

I am not too sure where Kruschev was finally laid to rest but if he had a choice, he may have wanted it to be in Israel. That country has some interesting “return to life” statistics. For instance, an Old Testament Israeli prophet named Elijah stayed with a widow and her son during a famine. God miraculously provided food for all three but when the famine was over, the son died. The widow called Elijah and Elijah called God. Some interpret what the prophet did after he prayed as a form of resuscitation, but whatever he did, the dead child was restored to life.

Later, Elijah’s understudy, Elisha stayed with an elderly man and his wife who had no children. However, Elisha predicted a son and the woman became pregnant and had a boy. A few years later, the child was struck with a severe headache and died. Elisha prayed, did something similar as Elijah had done with the widow’s son, and this boy was also restored to life.

Some time later, Elisha died and was buried. Near his grave, some men dug a grave for another man who had died. A party of raiders came. The men quickly threw the body of their friend into Elisha’s tomb. When he touched the prophet’s bones, the man came back to life.

Jesus is even more renown for raising the dead. A man named Jairus lost his young daughter and Jesus raised her to life. When a funeral procession passed, Jesus took pity on the widow who had just lost her son so raised him to life. Three days after His friend Lazarus had been placed in a tomb, Jesus brought him to life. Later on, the Apostle Peter prayed in Jesus name for a woman named Dorcas and she also rose from the dead.

The most startling resurrection is that of Jesus Christ. No one gave Him mouth-to-mouth or tossed Him on the bones of a prophet. No one grabbed His hand or called “Come forth!” He died, was buried in a sealed tomb and three days later, rose from the dead. How did He do it?

The Bible says He was “crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God’s power.” As a man, He died for all men but death could not hold Him because He is also God and because He is sinless. He did not deserve the death penalty nor did death have power over Him.

Furthermore, all others who were raised to life experienced death later on, but Jesus did not. The Bible says He is our Great High Priest based on the power of His “indestructible life.” The life that is in Christ is eternal. He died only because He willingly went to death for our sake, but death nor the grave could contain Him. His life is more powerful.

Kruschev died and was buried. So did Mohammed. So did all other founders of all other political and religious systems. As much as they might have wanted to live again, their bodies are still in their tombs. Only One man claimed to possess everlasting, indestructible life. Romans 6 says: “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” The tomb of Jesus is empty.

Jesus is alive. Furthermore, He is generous with His life. The Bible says, “You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him” and “He who believes in the Son has eternal life...”

Eternal life does not have anything to do with being buried in Israel. It is about believing in Jesus, the One who conquered the grave and freely shares His power with all who trust Him.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Faith and Good Health .......... Parables 540

January 7, 1997

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, several doctors presented evidence that linked religious beliefs to good health. They said, “people who attend church are both physically healthier and less depressed” and “prayer is good for you.”

Some of their evidence came from a controversial study conducted in San Francisco. Of nearly 400 ill heart patients, half were prayed for, half were not. None knew which group they were in, yet results showed that those prayed for suffered fewer health complications. A doctor said, “This is outside the realm of science. If God heals, it’s a matter of faith. We can’t prove it.”

These doctors are having difficulty explaining their discoveries and admit “health professionals tend to be less religious than the general population.”

Several years ago, S. I. McMillen wrote a book called “None of These Diseases.” This book also looks at the link between faith and health. The title came from an Old Testament promise in which God told His people, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

According to this book, medical research shows that a lifestyle of faith affects stress. Philippians 4:6,7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Faith produces freedom from anxiety by opening the mind to God’s indescribable peace. This has obvious effects on the body. Besides enjoying reduced stress, people of faith are less likely to abuse their bodies with “escapes” such as alcohol and drugs.

McMillen points out that many Old Testament laws are linked to health also. The Israelites were forbidden to eat pork that we now know carries trichinosis. They were also supposed to circumcise their baby boys on the eighth day. Today, medical science links this practice with reduction of certain diseases and cancers. Also, the eighth day is well-timed to coincide with the startup of a baby’s natural immune system.

McMillen makes it clear that “religion” is different from biblical faith. Those who believe and obey God’s Word involve themselves in a community of caring believers, strive for healthy relationships and look outward rather than inward in self-serving activities. Biblical faith is not “What can I do for God?” but “Praise God, look what He has done for me!”

This coincides with one other result from the above study. The doctors say anyone who stays home to pray alone or watch television evangelists “actually are worse off than other folks.”

It seems safe to conclude that those who reap the greatest benefit to their personal health are those with genuine biblical faith that motivates and empowers them to serve others.

As the New Year begins, we resolve to eat less, exercise more and take better care of our bodies. While faith is not intended to be a substitute for exercise, nutritional meals and adequate rest, it might be something to add to the list.

Friday, January 20, 2017

God keeps His Promises .......... Parables 539

December 31, 1996

“But you promised . . . . “

What parent has not heard that accusation, particularly Christmas morning when their child did not receive an expected gift. Did he or she misinterpret “maybe” as a promise? Or did the child hear right and is rightly disappointed?

Thankfully parents and children alike have one Parent we can trust all the time. Our Heavenly Father always keeps His promises. Scripture abounds with examples. Here are three:

First, God promised a Savior, right after the first sin was committed. Then, throughout the Old Testament, He expanded and explained His promise. Jeremiah specifically uses the word: “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.”

Jesus, the perfectly right and just Son of God, was born of the lineage of David, 600 years later. After two thousand years, we still celebrate the fulfillment of this incredible Promise.

The next example is that God promises to forgive all who turn from sin and believe in His Son. Acts 2 says: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Those who have responded to the call of God by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ know that this promise has also been fulfilled. We know the joy of His forgiveness and the reality of the Spirit’s indwelling.

The third example is God’s promise that Jesus will return to judge the earth and then renew it. Second Peter says: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

Some laugh and say this will never happen but the Bible says, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?”

In the Old Testament, God warned His people that if they did not believe and obey, He would destroy them. However, “they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise” and they pushed God’s patience until He judged them and sent them into exile.

Biblical history shows how God hates sin and rebellion but also that He is patient and pleads with His people to return to Him. Peter clarifies His patience in response to those who scoff at the Second Coming of Christ. Instead of giving another threat, he gives this invitation: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Someone has catalogued several thousand promises. God has fulfilled all the others. As He promised, Jesus did come; He was born in a stable—to die on a Cross and He will come again.

This Christmas, consider God’s greatest gift, the promised Christ child. Consider also His promise of eternal life and His promise to come again. Then put your faith in Him because He who promised is faithful. He will do it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Compatibility cannot happen without glue! .......... Parables 538

December 24, 1996 ?

These days, marriages are not expected to last. Maybe that is why the demise of Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth union was not a significant headline. What gave the story some attention was the unusual settlement demands. Her latest ex-partner, Larry Fortensky, asked the millionaire actress to increase his monthly pay of $5,000. He claimed this amount only covered “bare expenses.”

According to Taylor, she filed for divorce because of “irreconcilable differences.” This usually means neither one of them would bend. Personal likes and dislikes were more important to them as individuals with “rights” than was harmony in their marriage, so they ended the marriage.

Traditionally, insistence on one’s own way is considered a mark of immaturity. Fortensky at a mere 44 years old, and Taylor who is 63 prove that maturity is not something that comes with age. Neither have learned to make personal sacrifices to benefit a relationship. For them, it seems easier to find someone else with whom to be compatible.

However, after eight tries, Taylor should know by now that compatibility is not an accident or a discovery. It takes work. Besides, if another person totally agrees with everything we think, say and do, one of us is unnecessary. Compatibility is not the key to a happy marriage anyway. Genuine commitment has far more “glue.”

However, commitment is not easy either. It requires work and determination. Incompatibility will always rear its wedge-shaped head. It has been a problem from the beginning of marriage. Genesis says God made man and woman, both in His image. They were like God and they loved each other, just as God loved them. However, their relationship did not stay that way.

Along came the tempter in the form of a serpent. He deceived Eve and both she and Adam turned away from God and fell into sin. They immediately realized their guilt and hid from God. When He sought them out, He told them their sin would have consequences. One of these was to Eve; God said that, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16)

This “curse” has been interpreted in various ways but because it has the same wording as something God says to Cain in the next chapter, the best meaning seems to be, “You will desire to rule your husband but he will rule over you.”

Remember, this is a consequence of sin and a curse, not the marital harmony God intended. Some people call it the battle of the sexes. Despite our attraction to each other, there is something about the marriage relationship that proves Genesis 3:16 is a reality and it is actually sin, not gender differences, that is behind “irreconcilable differences.”

Sin makes people want their own way. Sin makes people manipulate and dominate others. For some reason, sin makes us think that we must have our own way or we will not be happy. Therefore, husbands dominate wives and wives resist by trying to have their own way.

How can this battle come to an end? Some don’t bother trying; they just fight. Others agree to disagree pleasantly. Some call a truce “for the sake of the kids.” Others put on a happy face and cover up their war. Liz and Larry ended it by divorce. None of these are God’s way.

God brings peace by dealing with causes. If sin causes wars, then the remedy for the wars is His remedy for sin, His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “God made Him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Liz and Larry could take their irreconcilable differences to the Cross and give them to Jesus. He takes sin on Himself and bears it for us (even though it killed Him) and is then able to give to us His righteousness, a new nature. With it comes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”, the kind of stuff that makes marriages work.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Evaluating Communication Methods .......... Parables 537

December 17, 1996

IBM has developed an astonishing wallet-sized, computerized card called “Personal Area Network” or PAN. PAN emits tiny electrical currents, about one-billionth of an amp, using the human body as a conductor. Using touch, this device can transmit small amounts of information to receivers such as watches, smart phones, pagers and hand-held computers. One prototype sent data from a PAN card in one person’s pocket to another person’s PAN card while they shook hands with each other.

PAN sounds great but I have some reservations. For one thing, what is wrong with the methods of data transfer we already have? With PAN, how can we control who gets our address list or sales figures? Will secrets be traded simply by bumping into a competitor’s sales agent?

Besides, are we that desperate? Don’t we have enough inventions that supposedly enhance communication? Maybe we should simply talk to each other more often. Telephones, computers, pagers and other technology are helpful but making ourselves understood to friends and family members still takes human effort, not more electronic devices.

Thankfully, communication is easier with God. He does not need a PAN to know what is going on in our hearts — He reads minds. For example, in Mark 2, Jesus watched a paralyzed lowered through the ceiling by his friends who wanted Jesus to heal him. To everyone’s surprise, Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees began thinking, “Who can forgive sins but God alone!” Imagine their shock when Jesus questioned their grumbling. John says that, “Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts.”

Once, Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast doing miracles. John writes that “many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” We do not have to open our mouths for Jesus knows all about us before we say anything. He knows whether we trust Him or not.

This has several implications. For one thing, I do not have to worry about explaining myself to God. He knows all about how I think and what I think. Actually, He understands me better than I understand myself. If I am having difficulty with who I am and what I do, He is the best person to explain me to me.

Second, I do not have to explain others to God. He already knows how they think and what they think about. He understands them better than they understand themselves too. When I have difficulty with others, God is the right person to help us understand each other.

Third, God is also able to explain Himself to me. He can put His thoughts into my mind. 1 Corinthians 2 explains that “we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” It goes on to say the things that come from the Spirit of God are spiritually discerned and spiritual people can understand them. While we cannot “know the mind of the Lord that we may instruct him” we do “have the mind of Christ” that we may understand Him—making God’s way of communicating far better than a computerized card.

One consolation about PAN; when it shows up in Walmart, we can be thankful it reads only what is entered into the card and can not read our minds. It is already difficult enough to keep our Christmas list secret without our families finding out simply by giving us a hug or a body check!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Death and Eternal Life .......... Parables 536

December 3, 1996

The American Medical Association reports a study concerning terminally ill patients. According to this study, a majority of people from certain ethnic groups would rather their doctor did not tell them they were dying. They felt this information should go to the family instead. In contrast, people from other ethnic groups were more likely to want to hear it for themselves.

Death is never an easy matter to discuss, much less stare in the face; however, terminally ill people may have good reasons for wanting to be told. Perhaps they want time to get their personal affairs in order or say goodbye to loved ones. Some may dislike playing games with reality. If death looms on the horizon, why hide the fact or pretend it never will happen? Those who would rather not be told may believe their family can make better decisions for them.

The report did not mention belief systems of these various groups, just that African-Americans and European-Americans had the least amount of trouble being told of imminent death. These two groups have lived longer with the American philosophy that stresses personal individuality so may feel they can handle the news “by myself.”

On the other hand, these two groups also have had a longer relationship with Christian beliefs. Their desire to know could be influenced by those beliefs. Death, while still a mystery in some ways, is not a huge threat to Christians who personally know the One who conquered it.

People of all religions speculate what will happen the moment someone dies. Some say nothing — the body goes into the ground and that is the end of everything. This is Nihilism and offers no hope.

Others say death is the entrance into another life, one in which the person who died is reincarnated into another life form. Many eastern religions and some segments of New Age teach reincarnation.

The Bible gives quite another version. It reports that Christ rose from the dead and declares that death is not the end but a transition. It also affirms that “it is appointed unto man once to die...” not several times. Reincarnation, according to the Bible, is a false hope.

Scripture offers hope in the Incarnation — the event of God entering our world, pulling on humanity and offering Himself to us as Savior from sin, and Lord of our lives. He proved death is not the end by bringing others to life and by rising from the dead Himself.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes this: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...”

He then describes what happens to us when we die: “The body that is sown (dead) is perishable, it is raised imperishable... it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power... Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep(die), but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed... then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”

The Scripture also reasons this way: “If Christ has not been raised, then the dead are not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins... those who have died are lost.... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised....”

Terminal illness is not unique in that we will all die. But eternal life is unique. It is found only in Christ—the good news is that He is willing and able to give it to anyone who seeks it in Him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Giving a gift yet keeping it .......... Parables 535

December 10, 1996?

According to a story in “USA Today,” a company called “American Express Gift Cheques” did a survey and discovered that about 1/3 of those who receive unwanted gifts, re-wrap them and give them to someone else. Apparently those in a higher income bracket recycle like this more than those with lower earnings. The article did not mention if these statistics include donations made to rummage sales or charity organizations like the Salvation Army.

Receiving something for nothing is not always as good as it sounds. Boxing Day, many shoppers are not making purchases but returning unwanted items. Most of us appreciate a gift, but if it turns out to be something simply unusable or unwanted, we have few choices.

One option is risky—just give it back to the giver. Doing that could ruin a relationship unless that is less important than keeping clutter out of our basements or garages. Of course, we could keep the gifts and simply store them in a handy place. Sometimes people do that and pull them out for display whenever the person who gave it comes to visit. Others just use it, pretend they like it, and hate themselves for their charade. As the survey says, 30% or more dislike those choices and instead find a way to give their unwanted gifts to someone else.

There is one special gift that someone gave me. I kept it. I wanted it. Furthermore, everyone I know who has this gift, also really wanted it. At the same time, I also deeply desire to give this gift to other people. It is the same for everyone who has ever received it. It is too marvelous; it must be shared. It is the gift of eternal life.

Most who do not have eternal life do not realize it is a gift. They think they must earn it or be very good to have it. They also assume it is something that is available after this life is over, that it describes a duration or length of life. Biblically, this is not so. Eternal life is a quality or type of life. It is the life God enjoys. By its very nature, it is a righteous life. It is also rich and generous, anxious to share itself with others. Perhaps God was even motivated to create us simply so He could share His eternal life with someone else.

Genesis 1 & 2 describe creation. The first person was a combination of the dust of the ground and the breath of God, a living soul, another being who had a vital relationship with the One who gave him life. Genesis 3 describes how sin separated the first two people from God and from the “tree of life.” God calls this separation spiritual death. It includes physical death but goes beyond this life to an eternal separation. As Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death...”

However, human sin did not make God want to stop giving away His life. The same Word that spoke creation and humanity into existence one day became flesh, lived among us, and brought a message of hope. Eternal life is again available to anyone who wishes to receive it. That verse in Romans 6 continues: “...but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ...”

Gifts are free. So is eternal life. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast.” We do not earn gifts nor can we do anything to deserve this gift.

Gifts are received. So is eternal life. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to be called the children of God.” Gifts are immediate. So is eternal life. It starts the moment someone receives Christ as their Savior and Lord. 1 John says: “God has given to us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life but he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

His life is wonderful. It means no death, no separation from Him. It also means righteousness, fullness, generosity. Because we know we cannot lose it, all who have it deeply desire to give it away.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Adding any additions? .......... Parables 534

November 26, 1996
Before Kathy moved into her new, three-bedroom split level house, she painted the walls, added a few accent colors and hung wallpaper in two rooms. After she moved her furniture in place, she added paintings, wall hangings, mirrors and other ornaments. She put some plants on a few sunny window ledges and added curtains and swag valences. She arranged art objects on some of the furniture. Before she decorated, the house was nice but seemed empty. After a few careful additions, she transformed it into an inviting, comfortable home.

Few things are so good that they cannot be made better. When the Model T was built, people were amazed, yet it was not long before someone designed a Model A. In May, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile yet in 46 days, someone else beat his record. In spite of its enormous size, the first computer seemed quick. Today, computers are much faster even though some fit inside a shoe box lid.

In the spiritual realm, the “good thing” is faith. The Bible says faith is necessary for forgiveness and eternal life, because “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” However, as good and as necessary as faith is, it is enhanced by some additions. Peter outlines a few: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”

According to the Bible, goodness does not earn God’s favor but no one can claim to have faith without good deeds. As James says, “faith without works is dead.” If we genuinely trust Jesus Christ, we will change the way we live.

Faith is not ignorance but based on the knowledge of God. However, after we come into a faith-relationship with Him, we soon discover we cannot know enough about Him. It is as if faith becomes hungry to know, and unless we add knowledge, our faith can shrivel and die.

Faith also produces an inner control over personal, selfish I-wants. Far from binding us, self-control is a welcome addition. It sets us free from the tyranny of always needing to have our own way. Besides, without this addition, our “faith” is not real.

Perseverance is another necessary addition. As our faith is challenged, increased knowledge may give it a boost, but it is perseverance that keeps faith strong and growing. We must add it just as we must add godliness.

Godliness goes beyond goodness. It means growing to be more like Him so we think His thoughts, talk as He would talk, and make decisions that are in harmony with His will. Godliness is impossible without faith yet faith is not real without godliness. People of faith are God-like.

Another mark of legitimate faith is a love for other Christians. John says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” In our own ability, we might not have the capacity to love some but with Christ living in our hearts and controlling our lives, we can count on Him to supply His love. If it is not there, perhaps He is not there either.

Faith also means loving people who are outside of the family of God. If we add this powerful love, we find our faith is made truly complete. It is the crowning, Christlike touch.

If a person is saved from sin and receives eternal life “by grace through faith, not deeds,” then why do we need to add all these increased virtues? Peter explains in his next verse: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If nothing else, sitting on our faith renders us useless. If we want to draw others to God from an ungodly world, they must see our faith in our life. To show it, we must make some additions.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Fighting the main monster .......... Parables 533

November 12, 1996

Katy cried in fear every time she heard a noise at her window. Matt couldn’t sleep at night because there was a monster in his closet. Sharon dreamed about wild animals and woke up sobbing. In every case, mommy or daddy came to the rescue and hugged away the fears.

Imaginary creatures frighten children but they are imaginary. We have some power over our imaginations. I recall dreams that took a terrible turn but even in my sleep, I changed the storyline and made a happy ending. The threat in my mind was controllable—in my mind.

Real-life monsters are not so easily manipulated. A few years ago, a monstrous black bear visited our campsite and charged our tent several times. Once a German Shepherd lunged unprovoked at my throat. These four-legged monsters did not hurt me but they had a definite ability to do so.

However, my most serious battles are with a formidable monster that I have never seen, one called Satan or the devil. Many suppose that this too is an imaginary creature yet Christians know he is real. Scripture presents him as a real person and Jesus describes him a “liar and the father of lies.” I have wrestled with his lies. I know he is real.

However, one of his most convincing suggestions is that he does not exist. For those who will not buy that, he uses other falsehoods about his identity. For instance, some think this expert at deceit is God’s counterpart. To them, God is extreme good, but Satan is extreme evil.

While that is an accurate description, Satan is not God’s opposite. God is all-powerful but Satan is limited. God is omnipresent, but the devil cannot be everywhere at once. God knows everything, but Satan is in the dark about many things. The devil is only a created being—one that is in rebellion against God.

In that regard, he is like people. We rebel too, but there are differences. For instance, Satan is not as free to do what he wants to do; he must first get permission from God. The story of Job confirms this limitation. When the devil wanted to damage Job, he approached God with this challenge: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? ...But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

For reasons not explained, God replied, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” With that, Satan was allowed to attack Job.

Satan also attacked Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness yet this too was in the plan of God: Matthew 4:1 says, “Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.”

God had His reasons to allow His Son this test, otherwise Satan would not be able to stay in the sinless presence of Christ. His holiness would simply drive away one who is so evil. For that matter, while Christians are not sinless like Jesus, we are also told that when we yield to God (implying that we keep our lives pure and holy), we can “resist Satan and he will flee from us.”

The Bible’s teaching about Satan applies in many situations. If our world caves in, like Job’s did, we can rest in God’s sovereignty. We may not understand why trials happen to us (God did not tell Job), but we know that nothing falls outside of God’s purposes. He loves us. We can trust Him to be with us, to help us and to see us through the very worst situations. He even promises to “work all things together for our good,” a promise my experience stoutly defends.

We can also trust God when temptations are strong, when Satan whispers, “this is too much for you.” Rather than giving in to his lies, we can firmly declare, “My God is able to deliver me.” With that, we are resisting lies with truth, and truth makes this monster turn around and run.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What does it mean to fear God? .......... Parables 532

November 5, 1996

With it, Halloween brings scary stories, reruns of Friday the 13th movies and unusual store windows dressed in black and orange, or even bones and dripping green goo.

Part of the popularity of this holiday is that people like to be frightened, at least just a little. A high from pumping adrenalin is one thing but excessive, mind-numbing fear is not so welcome. It is too hard on the body, never mind the emotions.

Yet fear is important. It keeps us out of lions’ cages and from walking in front of buses. It is also necessary before we can know God. Scripture says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Does this Bible verse mean we are supposed to be afraid of God? Some think not. They say this fear is more like “reverence” or “awe.” In other words, we are to have a similar feeling for God as we would have for a beautiful sunset or a giant tree.

A closer look at this word in its original language and in the context in which the Bible uses it, agrees that most times, fear means reverence. However, it sometimes means fear is just that: being afraid of God. For instance, Jesus offers this warning in Luke 12: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”

Jesus is giving a warning. Anyone who is afraid of people who can kill them ought to realize that what people can do is really not the most important issue. Death eventually comes to everyone anyway, but what happens after death is more serious. Are we going to fear people (who may want to destroy us) or God, who has far more power?

Some people take God lightly. They are more afraid of what people think of them than God’s opinion. As Paul says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3). The Bible is not critical of people who want to please people, but it does condemn fearing what others can do to us to the point that this fear controls how we live. This is the wrong kind of fear.

Other fears can control us too. The book of Hebrews says Jesus died for our sin to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Fear of death enslaves people in many ways but even death is no longer an enemy to those who believe in Christ. He conquers this fear because He conquered death.

Rather than fear anything besides God, we can “call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially.” What He thinks about us is far more important than the opinions of people.

We can also “live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” The word “strangers” refers to the fact that God makes those who trust Christ citizens of heaven. We no longer feel completely at home here, but when we have an attitude of reverence toward God, wrong kinds of fear do not govern our lives. We are at peace, frightened by no one.

Halloween is a reminder to me that everything in life that looks scary or frightens me is not what it first appears. All I need to do is shine the light of God’s truth on it and remember the genuineness of His love and power. Then I can easily see the scarey thing is really only a charade, just another mask attempting to hide His reality.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Are you plugged in? .......... Parables 531

October 29, 1996

“Could you please find some information about glaucoma for me?” the caller asked. I could have used my encyclopedias—both sets require technology—they are on CDS. I also could have called the reference section of the library, using the telephone.

Instead, I decided to use the Internet. I loaded my web browser, keyed in my password and a box appeared on the computer screen telling me that the “server was not responding.” I grabbed the phone, dialed my access provider and got a taped recording. Their answering machine told me their connections to the Internet were not working (which I already knew) however, they blamed the telephone company. When the problem was fixed, they would promptly change the message on the machine. I still didn’t know anything about glaucoma.

For those unfamiliar with any of the above terminology, I apologize. Glaucoma is a vision-threatening condition of the eye caused by internal pressure. The rest of it translates to this: machines are trying to rule the world!

I often wonder if these machines have a mind of their own. Anyone who operates any technology, computer or cash register, realizes when something goes wrong, it is not a simple matter of tightening a few loose screws or replacing a burned-out part. You first have to discover the problem. Nine times out of ten, it is hidden in something mysterious, like software (where does that go when you “load” it into your computer?) or worse, in the hardware (that cannot be found or inexpensively replaced at the local hardware store either).

Electronic circuitry is well-soldered but can be fragile and finicky. Fixing it can be complicated, but not always. Once my computer would not boot up (start running) so I turned it off, took off the case that covers its innards, rattled a couple of wires and tried again. It worked. Go figure.

I’m only joking when I say machines are trying to rule the world. Not one of them can argue with a big hammer or remain alive when we pull the plug. Even if they could, there is a force much more powerful. In fact, computer chips or even the electricity that keeps them running cannot be compared with this mysterious power. Moreover, this power is available to anyone and anyone can use it—without lessons or an owner’s manual!

This power has the potential to rule the world. It is prayer. I know, it sounds like a cliché, but look at some examples. James, half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19) once scoffed the Lord’s decisions and did not believe in Him (John 7:5). However, he later changed and became a leader in the church in Jerusalem. In the book of Scripture he wrote, he talks about prayer’s power: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.” Prayer reaches out to a powerful God.

James goes on: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Prayer reaches the mercy and loving kindness of God, for both healing and forgiveness of sin.

He continues: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

Prayer reaches the Creator who has His hand on all that He has made. That is why prayer is so powerful—it links our needs to Almighty God who hears and answers the cries of His people. Yet prayer is something like technology; for it to work, we must plug ourselves in — to Him.