Monday, February 27, 2017

Cyber-pirates and Spiritual Thieves ................ Parables 555

May 13, 1997

Unauthorized copying and distribution of commercial computer programs, otherwise known as software piracy, is an enormous business. These software pirates roam the world wide web, sailing through Internet security screens and password checkpoints. Once inside a Web-site computer, they freely load up on stored files and programs. Serious pirates (not hacks out for kicks) offer them to the black market or industrial spies.

Software pirates package their ill-gotten products to look like the real thing. Some customers know the goods are illegally gained but do not care and buy them anyway. However, the companies who produced that software lose potential sales and honest people whenever they unintentionally buy their imitation goods and become victims of these crimes.

In parallel fashion, the Bible describes spiritual pirates. They infiltrate their way into the church of God, dressed up in a “package” that disguises their true nature. They freely load up biblical words and spiritual phrases and then offer it to unsuspecting truth-seekers who become their victims.

Spiritual hackers also invent their own interpretation of God’s Word. Because true spirituality involves a life of loving commitment, these pirates are not interested in what the Bible really means. They are more interested in twisting God’s truth just enough so as to personally profit from it.

Paul described these false teachers by saying they are “conceited and understand nothing... robbed of the truth and think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” He goes on to say that truly spiritual people have the opposite characteristics. Genuine people of God know eternal values lie in godliness and generosity, not money. They know wealth is to be shared, not made an object of hope and personal desire.

Paul also describes spiritual pirates as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God... the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires.”

Spiritual deceit in the realm of illicit sexual relationships tears apart families and ruins lives. It also casts the real people of God into a bad light. God calls for purity and marital fidelity, not deceit that robs people of their virtue.

Money and self-indulgence spell power for those who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love... “ yet Paul says they have “a form of godliness” — they look good, but they are “denying its power.”

This means that those who have only a “form of godliness” are religious, full of God-talk, appear pleasant, even loving, on the surface, but inside are (as Jesus said) “ravenous wolves.” The power they deny is not power to manipulate people with their words or their money (which they do have) but the power of God. God’s power is quite different. It melts hard hearts and changes sinners into God-fearing people. His power is given only to those who are poor in spirit, meek and self-effacing, not greedy and deceitful, hoping for personal gain.

Pirated software programs are difficult to detect and raise my hackles. Imitated godliness gets an even stronger reaction, yet anger will not solve this problem. I realize the only solution is that I be a “genuine original” and encourage other Christians to do the same. By this, those who are looking for the truth have a standard by which to compare and expose all imitations.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Amazing power of forgiveness ............. Parables 554

April 15, 1997

Kiyoko Tanimoto, a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, met one of the bomber pilots at a Christian meeting in the United States. All over again, bitter hatred filled his heart. Then, listening to the pilot, he realized the man’s own horror of that event. As a Christian, Tanimoto was able to forgive the pilot.

Corrie Ten Boom, survivor of a German death camp, saw one of her former guards in a church service. She remembered his cruelty toward her sister and herself, but when he held out his hand to her, she asked God to help her greet him. In the name of Jesus, she was able to forgive.

Forgiveness is God’s universal medicine. It cures anger and restores relationships. It powerfully melts animosity between the bitterest of enemies and brings them together as friends. It has also been known to cure anxiety, depression and fear.

Yet the most common response to insult or injury is not forgiveness but retaliation. On a large scale, the wars in Bosnia are a centuries old deadly game of I-touched-you-last between three nations seeking revenge on each other for past atrocities. In the Middle East, the Arab-Jewish conflict goes back 4000 years to rival half-brothers, Abraham and Ishmael.

On a personal level, retaliation produces physical conflict, marital splits, even murder. Children and adults battle over rights and toys. Couples stand before judges and claim irreconcilable differences. Nicole Brown Simpson no doubt lost her life because of retaliation. Those caught in revenge refuse to say “I forgive you” yet forgiveness would change statistics.

Conflict between people is an extension and symptom of a deeper conflict—the battle between man and God. The Bible says that “We like sheep have gone astray. We have turned to our own way.” In that turning away from God we demonstrate our animosity toward Him.

“Whoa,” some would say. “I am not anti-God.” Perhaps there is no consciousness of animosity, but God 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... There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Our sinful, self-seeking ways create a separation or a rift and even blindness to it. Because of sin’s hold on us, we are not inclined to built a bridge across the gap and even if we were, we cannot by ourselves restore the relationship.

However, God has made the first move. The Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In his loving kindness and desire for reconciliation, God opened the way for us by having His Son take the penalty we deserved. “God reconciled the world to Himself through Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

Such forgiveness does not white-wash our rejection of God and His commands. If God could just say, “Oh, sin doesn’t matter” there would have been no need for Christ to die. Sin is serious, just as the atrocities and violence of people against other people is serious.

Because of our sin, we deserve God’s wrath but the Gospel says He offers forgiveness because His Son bore our punishment. It is for Christ’s sake that God can choose not to hold our sins against us.

The ultimate sin by which we will all be judged, is whether or not we trusted in Christ. Therefore, God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal requires a response of faith and trust. When we respond that way, we experience forgiveness and “peace with God.”

That peace produces an overflow. We know forgiveness and can therefore offer it to others and as we do, this wonderful “medicine” not only cures conflict but eliminates retaliation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nurture as God nurtures ................ Parables 553

April 22, 1997
The Ontario deputy coroner says that at least six children were murdered in recent months while under the care of children’s aid agencies. The same source also says there is a higher rate of child homicide for children cared for by these organizations than there is in the general population.

Children’s aid societies are supposed to protect children but this story reveals there is grave danger in some of that “protection,” at least in Ontario. Perhaps more children would survive if more effort went toward teaching parents effective methods for raising their families.

The most effective teaching comes from the parenting lessons offered by our heavenly Father. Up front, He challenges us to raise our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” In other words, it is His plan that we care for them like He cares for us.

“Nurture” and “admonition” mean that we instruct and discipline our children with the noble goals of improving their character and of helping them become all that God intends for them. In the Bible, nurture and admonition are never negative actions but are described as positive activities and an important responsibility.

God’s nurture of His children includes care for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. He corrects us when we go wrong and instructs us in the right way. He also equips us for each responsibility He gives us.

Human parents must do the same for their children, including correction. However, many people object to Scripture’s mention of “sparing the rod” and if we do, we will “spoil the child.” They wonder how a loving parent could use a rod on a child? It seems contradictory to the nurturing command to be like our divine parent.

Actually, in Bible times a rod was used in several ways. One was to count sheep, another to protect them. In the familiar 23rd Psalm, God is likened to a shepherd. If sheep stray into barren or dangerous places, the shepherd uses his “rod and staff” to guide them home. The shepherd never used his rod with intent to harm the sheep, but rather to protect them. The psalmist even says that God’s rod comforts him.

Taken with other passages, it is fair to conclude God encourages parents to use their authority to guide and direct, not to beat their children. A child without guidance, without respect for authority and without standards by which to measure their life, is indeed a “spoiled” child.

Putting a rod in the hand of an angry parent is not what God has in mind either. No one can use this passage as excuse to harm their children. Instead, parents need to untangle their motives. God corrects for His child’s good, not because the child is annoying Him.

Our Father does not admonish us with the thought that, “I will have my own way,” but rather He wants the very best for us. He knows that His way will bring us the greatest joy and lead us in our way to eternal life with Him. Therefore, His discipline is never selfish.

If more parents had that in mind with their children, children’s aid societies, and the abuses within them, would be obsolete.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pass the dictionary! ................ Parables 552

April 18, 1997

Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, said if he could make the world right, he would do it by “insisting on the exact definition of words.”

What a task that would be! Many words and their meanings come to us unconsciously while we are growing. Each carries with it shades of understanding depending not so much on an exact definition but on such criteria as who first presented it, how it has been used, and the circumstances we associate with that word every time we hear it.

For instance, someone asked me if I had “met any Arabs on the beach recently?” He was referring to an incident in a novel, “L’Etranger” but my first thought was a story of the Godolphin Barb, one of the three stallions in the lineage of English thoroughbreds. My connotations for Arab did not match his mental pictures for the same word.

Another example is how we describe snow. Canadians use adjectives such as wet, dry, white and powdered to explain how a particular type of snow looks. However, Inuit who live in far more snowy conditions, have over twenty words for snow. For them, being precise is important. Their survival may depend on it, while ours does not.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for finding an exact definition would be the word “God.” How do we define Him? Do we use the concepts we were taught as children? Do we stick to what Webster says? Or does the Bible describe God in a meaningful, exclusive way?

Some would be quick to say that it is impossible to use mere words to define someone so huge, so complex, so much “other” than we know or can understand. That may be true, but the Bible does give us words and collectively, they do paint a picture of God. By themselves, they are not quite so complete.

For example, one of the most familiar is “Father.” Anyone raised by loving parents will attach positive mental pictures to this word, but where abuse is found, people may draw back from God simply because He is sometimes called our Father.

Adjectives sometimes help. One is “holy.” It means apart, separate, distinct, and carries connotations of being pure, wholesome, good beyond description. Yet there are segments of our culture that hear this word and think “holy rollers” or “holier than thou” and are turned off.

Another adjective is “Almighty.” This word describes a God that can do anything, a God of power that cannot be overcome. While this is true of God, some think of earthquakes and other violent natural disasters. If these are associated with an Almighty God, some will pull away from Him in fear or anger.

A third category for defining God is in His titles. One of them is the word “Jehovah,” a name reverenced by the ancient Jews to the point they feared pronouncing it lest they blaspheme Him. Because of that, the actual vowels between the letters and proper pronunciation have been lost. By its biblical usage, Jehovah refers to the “self-existing One” who is Lord of all, a sovereign God. However, some groups have adopted this name for their own title and thereby limited our mental associations when we hear it.

Perhaps the best way to describe God is referred to in Hebrews 1:1-3. It says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”

If we take a good look at Jesus, we will know how to define God.

Friday, February 17, 2017

He is Alive! .......... Parables 551

(published date unrecorded)

“There is only one bit of evidence for life after death that is convincing to Christians. It is not philosophical arguments for the immortality of the soul. It is not supposed spiritualist conversations with loved ones who are ‘on the other side.’ It is not medical testimony from those who have experienced near death experiences. It is that Jesus was dead and lived again.”

Stephen T. Davis, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Claremont McKenna College gives reason for the Christian faith in that one short statement: “Jesus was dead and lived again.”

Some people reject the Bible as a historical document yet other ancient writings speak of Jesus and His resurrection. For instance, the Roman historian Tacitus quotes Roman Emperor Nero in A.D. 115. A fire had destroyed most of Rome and they blamed Nero. He tried to pass the guilt to Christians and called them people named after “Christus” (Christ). He went on to say Christ had “suffered the extreme penalty . . . at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition (Christ’s resurrection) . . . again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome . . . “

Untrue stories fade away and become non-threatening, non-issues, but Nero was upset that nearly one hundred years later, people were still saying “Jesus is alive.” He scorned the resurrection as superstition, yet was sufficiently threatened that he killed many who believed it.

The Apostle Paul at one time did not believe it either. Called Saul of Tarsus, he was on his way to Damascus to kill Christians when the risen Christ confronted him and changed his life. He became Paul the Apostle, a great preacher of the Gospel who risked his life to tell others about the One he once denied. Seeing Jesus alive made the difference.

Later, Paul said more than 500 people saw the risen Christ after He had been crucified and buried. Seeing Jesus changed them. Before that happened, they were terrified of Jewish and Roman authorities. When Jesus was arrested, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” While in hiding, they did not expect Him to return and were startled, even terrified, when He appeared. At that everything was different.

After seeing Jesus, the disciples feared nothing and no one. They became a band of bold-hearted, unstoppable men and women who turned the world right-side-up with their goodness and righteousness. Why? Because they knew He was alive again, and they were not afraid to die!

Paul said the resurrection is the proof and the power behind our faith. He argues, “If Jesus has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . you are still in your sins . . . if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

How futile to believe in the resurrection if it were not true, yet millions have been backed to the wall over this issue. Those convinced it is true have given their lives rather than deny it.

Today, Jesus continues to changes lives. We cannot see Him with our eyes, yet by faith we read and believe the testimonies in the Bible of those who witnessed His life, death resurrection. Our faith uses our eyes but it is not a faculty of the eyes.

Faith is deeper, more powerful than sight. It is a conviction and determination of the heart to turn from ourselves to God, trusting Him with everything. It is relying on the inner voice of the Holy Spirit that aligns itself with the written words of Scripture. While it is based on hearing and reading, faith is more about putting our lives in the hands of the One who conquered death. We trust Him because He is alive!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Combating deception .......... Parables 550

March 18, 1997

Imagine going to your bank to make a night deposit and later discovering someone built a replica of it and attached it to the side of the bank. Now they have your money. In effect, that is the latest scam on the computer communication system known as the World Wide Web.

This electronic con game is called “Web Spoofing.” Users connect to what appears to be the home page of their bank, enter information such as password or card numbers, and disconnect. They never realize they were not connected to their bank but an electronic replica of their bank’s homepage. Security experts may already have solved this problem, but this is one reason many people continue banking in person. Who needs another deception to watch out for?

Deceptions abound and along with them, an increase in human capacity to be deceived. Not that this is a new thing. The first book of the Bible tells how God made both man and woman: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

God placed them in a perfect garden with only one command: they were not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Along came a serpent and said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Get that? He suggested God may not have given the command, but Eve knew better. That trick didn’t work, but the serpent had another one more subtle. He suggested she was not like God, a remark much like saying to someone, “You would be good looking if you dyed your hair.”

Eve fell for it. She was already created in God’s image, but assumed she needed more. In taking the bait, what she hoped for did not happen. Instead, she became less like God. His image in her was now marred by sin.

In the New Testament book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes to a church that had fallen for a lie about their salvation. They had started thinking they had to keep it, if not earn it, by keeping the Old Testament law. Paul said, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” He warned them and us that many try to deceive us about how a person can have eternal life.

In 1 John and other places, the Bible warns us to “test the spirits” for many would also try and deceive us about the identity of Jesus Christ. He is uniquely God the Son, fully man and fully God. A lesser being is powerless to save, yet some trust an imitation Christ — to their eternal peril.

How can a person avoid spiritual deception? We have only one source of information that gives truth in a black and white format: the Bible. Acts 17:11 gives us a good example of what to do with any spiritual claims we hear: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

The Apostle Paul stood the test because what he said matched the rest of Scripture. The same will not be true about the deceptions of spiritual spoofers.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What can be done with guilt and shame? .......... Parables 549

March 10, 1997

Certain pro-choice advocates claim that women who have had an abortion suffer less trauma than those with an unwanted child. This argument supposedly comforts anyone who struggles with the emotional aftermath of the choice they made to terminate their pregnancy.

It seems to me that comparing the degree of trauma people experience depends more on individual personality and maturity than it does on the differences in their experiences. However, actions that people take after a trauma can indicate the measure of hardship they personally felt.

Statistics provide information in this area. For instance, one country reports women who undergo abortion have a suicide rate three times higher than normal and six times greater than the amount of suicides associated with childbirth. According to those statistics, trauma after an abortion seems very high.

Those who experience this say their feelings include guilt, a sense of shame and even grief over the loss of their child. It is important to remember that feelings like this are not restricted to women who have had abortions. Mothers who cannot take care of their children also feel a certain sense of guilt and shame. All parents in the process of raising children struggle with difficulties and sometimes feel guilty about their performance.

Guilt, shame, grief, sorrow and pain are part of the human experience, as are poor choices. Even if we could perfectly choose our experiences, sorrow and pain would not be avoided. Next best to avoiding negative situations is learning how to deal with them and the consequences. In the case of emotions like guilt, shame and loss, they can be overcome but not by denying the degree to which they are felt.

It is normal to feel terrible when we violate our own standards, never mind God’s laws. Denial of those feelings prevents us from discovering guilt’s remedy. Acts 13:38 says, “Therefore, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

Like guilt, shame is also a natural emotional response to behavior that violates our conscience. We feel embarrassed and humiliated before other people and before God. Again, to deny its reality or its severity also prevents us from finding God’s remedy. The Bible says, “Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame” that we might know the freedom of sins forgiven.

It also says that “anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” Forgiveness not only clears our hearts of guilt but wipes away shame’s pain and protects us from any further threats of shame.

In one sense, loss has no cure. A dead child cannot be restored to life, nor will having more children fill the emptiness or assuage the grief. This is one horror of abortion. It is so final. However, God also has an answer for grief and even a reason. Jeremiah wrote: “Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.”

We experience grief because we are designed by God to feel loss and the consequences of our destructive choices. However, He intends that those feelings draw us closer to Him. He knows He is the only one who can give us comfort and peace.

Abortion critics need to recognize that guilt, shame and grief can bring a woman into such deep despair that she may commit suicide. After-the-fact judgment is not going to help her. It may even push her deeper into that pit.

Instead, women, or anyone in despair, needs God’s protection from the dark powers of suicidal depression and the good news of His love, forgiveness, comfort and hope.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Time: wasting it or using it? .......... Parables 548

March 3, 1997 ?

In a lifetime, the average North American will spend six months sitting at stop lights, eight months opening junk mail, and five years waiting in line. We might be able to shorten the time on junk mail but what can we do to make the time we wait for other people seem more productive?

Before offering suggestions, maybe waiting is not as bad as we insists it is. Always hurrying can be unhealthy. Taking a breather, even in traffic, can keep some of us from losing our senses. In fact, the bigger problem could be impatience. Inner agitation at whatever puts us on hold is more destructive to mental and physical health than spending a few minutes paused at the mercy of machines, traffic lights or the slow clerk at the other end of the line.

However, life is short enough as it is without filling it with years of do-nothing, waiting-for-someone-else-to move minutes. Demands for increased productivity and for more attention to personal development make us impatient with delays. Instead of allowing those delays to fill us with anxiety or resentment, we can use them wisely.

Standard suggestions for sit-down waiting include writing thank-you notes, reading, planning with a notebook and calendar, and knitting or other crafts. Be sure to include the children if that is your situation. My daughter reads to her younger daughter in waiting rooms, while the older one does her homework.

Some people talk to friends or business associates on their cellular phone. Obviously that works for them, but for some reason, it makes me feel like my privacy is being invaded. Those who would rather keep their business and personal affairs private can dispense with a cell phone but use a laptop computer to write letters or outline a business proposal. More than one person has threatened to bill their doctor for the hours spent waiting; however, in our electronic age, we do not need to put work on hold while someone makes us wait.

Personally, I usually take a notebook with me and plan my shopping list, read and take notes for homework assignments, prepare short speeches, outline a Sunday School lesson or design quilt blocks. I also write in my journal, work through relationship snags and rehearse what I want to say to someone I may owe an apology or explanation.

The best idea is using waiting time to draw closer to God. The Psalms are filled with verses referring to waiting on Him but my favorite passage comes from Isaiah 40:29-31: “(God) gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Waiting on God is not the same as being stuck in a hospital waiting room or at the end of a long lineup for tickets. Instead, it is simply refusing to think (worry) about other things or focus on anything else but Him. It is approaching Him as a listener, waiting for His commands and His inner encouragement. It is eagerly standing or sitting still, watching for the signs that He is coming or doing something on our behalf. It is setting aside all the chores and cares of the moment to focus on Him, to hear His voice and be refreshed.

Waiting on God requires time. It takes time to learn how and time to perfect. It also takes time to just do it. If our schedules are already full and making an appointment with Him is difficult, then the best time might be while we are waiting and unable to do anything else.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Stories of Grief .......... Parables 547

February 25, 1997

Blank faced, Dorothy asked, “What if a person never grieves?” When pressed, she explained that when her husband died two decades ago, she went into shock. She cannot remember the funeral or the events months after it. Since then, she has not visited her husband’s grave side or experienced grief.

Death and loss are realities for everyone. Grief is the normal response. Some describe it as a process that begins with shock followed by various stages of emotional release. A grieving person sometimes experiences depression, panic, anger and guilt. Healing involves time and effort. Emotions and pain need to be faced, named, felt and talked about. All these help the grieving person to break ties with the past and begin reinvesting their emotions in new areas.

If a person refuses to grieve because they are not willing or able to face their pain and emotions, the internal stress usually comes out in other ways. For instance, repressed grief can cause physical and psychological difficulties. I wondered if that had anything to do with Dorothy’s many ailments over the past twenty years.

The Bible relates stories of grief that can help us with this difficulty. King David lost a newborn son. Before the baby died, he pleaded with God for the child, fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. When the child died, his servants were so concerned about his reaction that they were afraid to tell him.

Finally, he noticed them whispering and asked if the baby had died. Then he got up, “washed, put on lotions, changed his clothes and went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.”

This seemed odd behavior to his servants, especially in light of how he had been acting. They asked him about the change and he replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought the Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Some interpret this statement as reference to the grave, but others believe that David knew the child had gone to be with God and he would someday join him in heaven.

The most familiar New Testament passage about grieving is often quoted at funerals. It comes from 1 Thessalonians 4: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”

Notice that Christians do not need to grieve as others do. The difference is the hope that Christ gives. Because He conquered death, we who believe have assurance of eternal life. That means that our grieving is different. It is mixed with a deeper hope that holds us up and helps us through the grieving process. This undercurrent is impossible to understand much less describe other than to say hope and inner peace are evidences that the Holy Spirit is in a person’s life.

Besides the Spirit, God also gives all people various means to deal with the pain of loss. Emotional shock is one. However, God intends that when shock is over and emotions rise, we experience those emotions. Repressing or denying them is unhealthy and can even cause depression. Exploding in anger may seem like a release but we are far better to face our pain and feel it, calling it by name. Telling others and God what is happening to us opens our hearts for comfort. Comfort can come to us through people or directly to our spirits from God Himself.

God loves us and wants to help. With shock as a buffer, tears as a release, hope for eternity as an anchor and the Lord Himself as our consolation, we can survive loss and become stronger people even through deep loss and its painful aftermath of grief.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Justice? .......... Parables 546

February 18, 1997

Earlier this month, twelve people decided that a man once declared innocent of two murders was actually “liable for the wrongful deaths” of those same two people. They ordered him to pay several million dollars to compensate the families of the deceased.

How can two courts in the same country come to such diametrically opposite views and their findings still be legal? Justice seems straightforward; when people do something wrong, they should be lawfully held accountable. If they are innocent, they should not be accused but if they are, when they appear in court the facts of the case ought to acquit them. Is this unrealistic idealism? Or has our justice system lost its perspective?

In the O. J. Simpson trials, the facts were apparently debatable as they were presented in criminal court so, for that reason, the jury declared him innocent. Stronger evidence supported the same facts in civil court and a different jury decided he was guilty. However, under those charges, the only penalty involves taking his money rather than his freedom or his life.

O. J. seems to have no intention of letting anyone know how he feels about the conviction. He nonchalantly drove away from the courthouse, stopping for an ice cream on his way home as if he had only been shopping or out for a drive. Oddly enough, his behavior reveals more than he intended. Innocent people, especially those who are living in a country where there is freedom of speech, usually declare their innocence or at least display emotional outrage at having been convicted. This man showed little or no reaction.

However, even if he had, protests do not make a person innocent. A long time ago, two women came before a judge claiming the same baby as their own. One insisted that the other woman had suffocated her own child during the night when she accidently laid on it. Then she got up and switched it for the first woman’s living child. The second woman said no, and protested that the first woman was lying and the living child was her baby.

The judge, who happened to be King Solomon, made an unusual judgment to determine who was telling the truth. He ordered the child cut in half, with one portion given to each woman. Immediately the first woman pleaded, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

The other woman replied, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” At that, Solomon knew that the child belonged to the first woman.

The Bible story ends with this verse: “When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.”

Certainly justice requires wisdom. The Bible says true wisdom comes from God and with it, other characteristics will also be present. We see them in another passage where a ruler from another land speaks of King Solomon like this: “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on His throne as king to rule for the LORD your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel and His desire to uphold them forever, He has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.”

Solomon was a just king because God loved the people of Israel, wanted to preserve them and chose him as a key player in that preservation. He made Solomon understand true justice. As this king wrote in one of his proverbs: “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

O. J.’s lack of “terror” indicates something is missing from the justice system in North America. Some say we need smarter prosecutors, more insightful jurors, or even clearer evidence, but Scripture points to what we really need: the wisdom and blessing of God.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The challenge to cheerful generosity .......... Parables 545

February 11, 1997

In 1990, one statistic says ninety million humans survived the year on less than $88 dollars each. What a gigantic contrast to the annual earnings of Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft Corp. TIME magazine reports that in 1996, he grossed about $30 million a day.

One day of Gates’ earnings would provide 300,000 people with $100 a year. If his total annual earnings were given to those ninety million people in the $88 bracket, it would more than double their income. For those who have difficulty with big numbers, Gate’s profits for one day would provide about 660 people with a yearly wage of $45,000. His profits for one year would pay this average wage to over 243,000 people.

Many people applaud Bill Gates. To them, he is the epitome of the American dream, a rare but possible combination of brains, luck and hard work. He sets an example to those born without riches, giving them hope that becoming wealthy is possible, at least for some.

Others are angry at the distance between their frugal income and the wealth amassed by people like Gates. To them, no one should have more money than they can spend. It makes little impression on them that a few wealthy men do give some of it away, like one who, according to a recent report, donated a billion dollars to charity, keeping a paltry six billion for himself.

The distance between rich and poor is not a new thing. Old Testament king Solomon was a wealthy man. He had a yearly revenue of over 25 tons of gold, and owned a fleet of trading ships, 1400 chariots and 12,000 imported horses. His palace was covered with gold and inlaid with ivory. His drinking goblets and all household articles were gold. He had a great store of shields and weapons. Nevertheless, poverty also existed. God’s prophets were continually telling greedy people to take care of the poor among them.

The gospel writers also noted extremes of wealth and poverty during the life of Jesus. The wealthy Roman Empire ruled over many poor people, including some of the disciples. The Lord says very little about the gap. In fact, when a woman came with a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it on His head, He accepted this extravagance as an act of worship.

On the other hand, His disciples were indignant. The one who took care of the money blurted, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

Jesus told them to leave her alone. He explained she saved this perfume for the day of His burial, then added, “You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them anytime you want, but you will not always have me.”

It needs to be clarified that Jesus was not justifying the giving of money for religious reasons to wiggle out of taking care of those who have needs. He condemned that sort of thing in another passage. Instead, His focus was to point out the woman’s generosity. She was poor but that did not stop her from giving away her precious perfume.

Judas, the disciple who spoke against her, “did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” He completely missed the point Jesus was trying to make. He was blinded to the far greater worth of the Christ by his own greed.

The Scriptures say “God loves a cheerful giver.” If needy people will always be around, maybe the rationale goes something like this: God lovingly provides opportunities for the wealthy to do good. Instead of hoarding their money, they could please Him, and a great many poor people, by becoming cheerful givers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Read it, hear it, but also do it! .......... Parables 544

February 4, 1997

A Nashville, Tennessee congregation held a Bible-reading marathon as part of a week of activities leading up to the dedication of a new church building. During this marathon, over two hundred volunteers took part in reading thirty-minute segments, starting with Genesis and ending with the last verse in Revelation. It took them five days and five nights.

One participant said hearing Scripture read like that, especially all night, gave them a sense of awe and reverence. It seems the entire congregation plus many visitors were affected in a positive way. With such an enthusiastic response, perhaps this unusual marathon will prompt them to a continuing commitment to read Scripture aloud.

More than being a novel undertaking, reading the Bible audibly has attached benefits. For one thing, Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Earlier in that same passage, it says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” then asks the question, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” The point is, unless Scripture is heard, it is impossible to believe in its life-giving message.

A second possible benefit from reading Scripture aloud is that it enters our minds through another gate. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it...”

Notice the transition. Reading is good. Hearing is good. Both are important. However, the blessing has yet another prerequisite attached. What is heard must be taken to heart, moved from the ears to the inner person. Reading or hearing the Bible read is useless unless it makes a difference to the way we think and respond to God and to life.

God said much the same thing in the Old Testament. He told Joshua, Moses’ successor, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Joshua was just beginning his season of leadership. He was not a young man but filling the steps of Moses was probably intimidating. Also, the task before him included moving a huge group of people into a new land. They faced hostile residents who were not putting out a welcome mat. For Joshua, reading and thinking about what he read was important to this task, but notice that his success was ensured by doing what it says, not merely reading it.

James, brother of Jesus, also had something to say about reading and hearing. Like the direction given to Joshua, he also takes it one step farther. He says, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

Any individual or group that undertakes reading the entire Bible aloud will no doubt be blessed just as were those Christians in Nashville. Most of them will have greater insight into the mind of God. They will also better understand the human condition. However, for them and for all who read the Bible, the greater task and the greater blessing depends on what happens after the reading is finished.