Friday, March 31, 2017

Toward a truer self-image ................ Parables 569

September 30, 1997

Do you remember reading about Louie the cat with obnoxious habits? First she tore out her hair in two strips down her back. After she got tired of that, she began looking at her reflection in shiny surfaces. Soon she was fighting with it and howling night and day. Her owner finally had to cover every surface in their home that allowed the cat to see her own image.

I know what it is like to fight with my reflection. Bed-head mornings, black-eyed tired, zits, and “what? Is-that-another-wrinkle?” can keep me almost howling in front of the mirror, sometimes with laughter, sometimes in dismay. However, I am learning that what I see in the mirror is not the most important image to be concerned about.

One of the first things I learned as a new Christian is that God called me to be changed into the image of His Son. That goal impressed me so much that I wanted to cooperate with God. However, I soon discovered that this new image was easier to set as a goal than actually define or reach. First, I had to discover what Jesus is really like. Along with that, there was the seeming impossible task of getting rid of the things in me that did not conform to His likeness.

Difficult as it sounds, this goal ought to be a universal. The Bible says that God made everyone of us “in his own image” both male and female. However, because we tend to go against the will and character of God, we toss mud on the likeness He intended we reflect. We have difficulty seeing it in each other and it prevents us from clearly seeing Him.

As I studied this concept of self-image, I began to realize that I could not think well of myself when I was not living up to the lofty ideal for which God created me. Something deep inside was not satisfied with me — no matter where or when I encountered myself, like Louie, I was fighting with what I saw.

Thankfully, God knows the cure to a low or sensitive self-view. He began to show me that although I saw myself as a sinner, the new reality of Christ in my life was beginning to change that image. I was “a new creation” and, as 2 Corinthians says, “the old has gone, the new has come!” He wanted me to stop looking at myself from my muddied perspective and start seeing myself in Christ, as He sees me.

My self-image has also been affected by the treatment of others. Lack of love or consideration, as well as unkindnesses, leave holes in my esteem but God says those things do not need to shape my image anymore. I do not have to be the person others try to shape by their words or abuses. If I insist on looking at myself through their eyes, my view will be distorted, like looking at my face in a coffee spoon.

In Christ, I am a new person. I am forgiven and washed clean of sin, given new life and new ways to think. Right now, I may not be all that I will be, but God is at work and the Bible says He will finish what He started in me (Philippians 1:6). When I enter eternity, all vestiges of my old self will be gone. What an encouragement to change and grow, to stop basing my way of life on what I used to be or how people used to treat me. Because of Christ and the certainty of God’s promises, now I am shaped by my future, not my past.

Those days when I act like Louie are becoming fewer and farther between thanks to the marvelous grace of God. To cure me, He knew better than fill my house with magic mirrors or let me find a restored self-image in temporary things. Instead, He is at work changing the person who is looking at the images.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Where peace must begin . . . ................ Parables 568

October 14, 1997

A few months ago, an unusual picture showed up in a daily paper. It was a boy reaching out to shake hands with an adult, not so unique in itself except that the boy was Palestinian and the solder was an Israeli.

People living in this Middle East hot spot have experienced hatred and animosity for centuries. How odd to see that picture. We cannot help but wonder if a child can reach out in peace and touch the “enemy,” why can’t all people establish a lasting peace?

The root of this particular conflict goes back to the ancients, to a man named Abram who was given a promise by God: “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

At the same time God made this covenant promise, He also told Abram to leave home and go to his new land, a land that now includes all or parts of Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

This covenant later included the promise of a son. However, when Abram was eighty-six years old, he agreed with his wife Sarai to follow the custom of the pagan nations around them and took Sarai’s maid, Hagar as his wife. She became pregnant with Ishmael but this was not God’s promised son. Thirteen years later, He reaffirmed his promise, but Sarai was ninety years old and just laughed. Yet God had the final chuckle a year later — Sarai gave birth to Isaac.

God gave new names to Abraham and Sarah, and blessed them just as He promised. Their true son became the father of the Israelites. However, God also honored the other son, Ishmael. His descendants increased until they were “too numerous to count.” He also said Ishmael would have “his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand would be against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

Thus the sons of Abraham have been in conflict. Islam traces its lineage from Abraham through Ishmael. Jews trace their lineage through Isaac. Because of their connection to Abraham, the Muslims, Jews and Christians all claim to be spiritual “children of Abraham” but each do not agree that the others have a lawful claim. Jews and Arabs have been in conflict for years over the land and this issue. Some who claim to be “Christian” also enter the conflict.

As the Jews fight for their promised land and the Islamic people legitimize force to spread their beliefs, Christians need to remember the many exhortations in the Bible to be at peace with one another and as much as possible, at peace even with their enemies. We can do this because Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

The peace Jesus gives is first a peace with God. With faith in Him, the enmity between ourselves and God is over. We enter into a new covenant that gives us new hearts and promises us a lifetime of relationship with God and an eternal inheritance in heaven.

Secondly, Jesus gives us the peace of God, a deep and settled assurance that God is in control of all things. Even if our enemies overwhelm us, in His time He will win our battles and establish His eternal kingdom. We are responsible to believe His promises and live accordingly. That means abandoning any battle for our so-called rights. It means loving one another, even loving our enemies. It means ceasing to add fuel to the feuds that arise from time to time and instead applying the mercy, compassion and forgiveness that Christ has given us.

The third peace is coming. It is the external peace of heaven where there will be none of the sin that now so easily entangles us and draws us into conflict.

With God’s peace, we can regain a childlike response to people and hold our hands out without fear, even reach out and touch those who threaten our external comfort. They can never take from us what God has put in our hearts.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Physician has no need to heal Himself ................ Parables 567

September 2, 1997

A cartoon shows an obese doctor telling his obese patient, “I want you to quit smoking and lose 40 pounds. Then I want you to come back and tell me how you did it.”

We might not laugh because we struggle ourselves with trying to break some habits that seem impossible. No one wants lung cancer, heart disease or any other medical problem interfering with enjoyment of life, yet even those concerns are sometimes not enough to motivate some people into making a total break from unhealthy addictions. For many, the feel-good sensation of alcohol, cigarettes and rich desserts has a stronger appeal than any alternative.

We also can laugh because this cartoon reminds us of “pots who call the kettle black.” Even the Bible condemns the practice of judging others if we have the same problem. Those who did were quick to hear, “Physician, heal thyself.” Jesus said, “Those without guilt can cast the first stone.”

But if we refuse to listen to losers, will we listen to a winner? When the most perfect Being tells us how to live, will we easily follow His directions? For instance, one of the Ten Commandments says, “Thou shall not envy.” But who of us has not envied? Who has not had a yen for what others have? Who has not been discontent with their own things and wanted more?

God tells us to stop all sinning. That includes envy but also other attitudes and behaviors such as selfish thoughts, unkind words, lies, violence, immoral activities, and so on. Yet God is not like the cartoon doctor. For one thing, He doesn’t struggle with the things He tells us not stop doing. He never offers a “prescription” then asks us how He can follow it too. We have the problem, not Him.

Most of us find it difficult to even admit we cannot obey God. Some say they never murder or commit adultery, as if those were the only sins. But who has not envied? Or told a lie? Or grumbled against God? Or just ignored Him?

Anyone who tries to be godly knows that stopping all sin is an impossible assignment. We are so helpless. That being the case, why does the Great Physician bother to tell us how to live? Doesn’t He realize that His Law is impossible for one hundred percent obedience?

Of course God knows. But we do not. We fail to realize how far we are from what God intended we should be, and without the Law to set His standard for us, we are ignorant of our condition. The Law is God’s eternal standard and has an unexpected purpose — it was not intended to bring us closer to God but to show us how far away we are!

In writing about envy and the Law, the Apostle Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was except through the Law. . . . so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. . . the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual . . . .” Paul admits that he could not stand approved before God through obeying rules. In another place, he explained why—the Law was never intended to make us better people. Instead, “the Law is our school master to lead us to Christ.”

God is not like the cartoon doctor. While He does give us a prescription of what we must do, He takes it one step farther and offers us a Living Savior who will enter into our lives and do it for us. As a Christian author once said, “The Lawgiver on the throne becomes the Law keeper in our hearts.”

Because of that wonderful reality, Paul conquered the sin of envy. He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. . . I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” He didn’t have to do it by himself.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Defining Christians ................ Parables 566

August 19, 1997

A leader of a major evangelical Christian denomination says one of the biggest problems facing Christianity today is that many members of Christian churches claim to be Christians but in fact are not Christians at all. How does he know that?

There are several ways to defining a Christian. The Bible does it this way: “To all who received him (Jesus Christ), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Scripture goes on to explain that this spiritual birth happens when the Holy Spirit gives His life to a person. Another passage explains that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within them does not belong to Christ.” Our question is this: how do we know if someone has actually received Christ, really believes, and has God’s Spirit living in them?

One way to know is by looking for evidence of God in their life. Since the Holy Spirit brings new life, there ought to be changes. To start with, genuine Christians will begin thinking God’s thoughts about many things, including sin, other Christians and Christ.

Thinking God’s thoughts doesn’t happen in a vacuum though. We must first KNOW His thoughts and ideas. Since the Bible is a record of His revelation to the prophets and apostles, it is our guide to the thoughts of God. When Christians read, study, and believe the Bible, their lives begin to change. They begin to think the way God thinks. The Spirit of God and the Word of God work together to produce evidence that a person really is a Christian.

If someone claims to be a Christian but does not live according to what the Bible says, then they are either deceived, imposters, or ignorant of God’s Word. Perhaps this ignorance is at the root of some of the problems in Christianity. For instance, 87% of “Christians” in a recent survey say that their religious beliefs are very important in their life; however, that same survey shows there is much confusion or ignorance about what the Bible says.

For instance, 8 out of 10 surveyed feel that “God helps those who help themselves” yet this notion is a contradiction to clear biblical teaching. The Bible is filled with commands to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

Trusting God for all we need is a command, not an option or a suggestion. Ignoring this command is disobedience. How can anyone claim to follow Christ but say “No” to this most basic biblical truth?

However, Scripture also teaches that trusting ourselves is unreasonable. Compared to God, our wisdom and resources are puny at best. Instead, God helps the helpless. The sooner we realize our need of His help, the quicker we will see Him at work in our lives. . . and the more obvious it will be to others that we are indeed Christians.

Another key component of being a Christian is belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, only 70% of those surveyed said they believe it. Remember, these are people who claim to be Christians.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ (died believing in Him) are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

Christians must refocus on Scripture. Even at that, if what we read, study and believe about God and ourselves does not affect how we live, then we must seriously question whether or not we really have read, studied or believed it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Taking a stand is not easy or simple ................ Parables 565

August 12, 1997

Southern Baptists, the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States, have challenged the moral direction of The Disney Company, one of America’s corporate giants, by urging Baptists across the country “to refrain from patronizing” any of Disney’s enterprises. This protest includes any other company that promotes “immoral ideologies and practices.”

While most of their leaders feel this will not change Disney policies, the SB’s feel they will be making a statement about deteriorating family values and at the same time demonstrate that “Christians love Jesus more than our entertainment.”

This denomination does not want to alienate people from the church and from God but at the same time, they want to protest the promotion of a particular sinful lifestyle. To do this, they must have God’s hated of sin and His love for sinners. Even if they have it, they will be criticized and misunderstood. It appears the Southern Baptists have taken on a difficult and complex task.

Consider Jesus. He was called the “friend of sinners” because He ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes who gladly followed Him and listened to His every word. However, most of the Jewish religious leaders considered themselves above this rabble. They looked down on Jesus and even accused Him of belonging to Satan because He associated with these people.

Today, Christians wrestle with how to hate all sin yet at the same time be friends with people who struggle with it and need to know God. We don’t want to be misunderstood or accused of hating people. We need to remember that we too were once immoral and caught up in sin. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 names specific sins).

Even though the Bible says we now are “washed, sanctified and justified,” full victory over those old enslaving habits may mean avoiding certain places, even certain people. For instance, Christians converted from alcohol know it is easier to obey God if they stay away from situations where people are drinking.

Christians who have never had a problem with alcohol know the destructive power of a drunken lifestyle and feel sorrow over those caught in this or any other trap. So while we need to avoid that and all other sin, we also need to pray for those caught in sin, care deeply for them and hopefully share with them the liberating good news of the Gospel.

The downside is that excessive drinkers seem to feel rejected when we refuse to drink with them and may even think that we hate them. They misunderstand our stand against alcohol and criticize us as “wet blankets” or worse. At that, I sometimes lose my perspective and forget how God sees those people. Beneath the surface of their addictions and other sins is a soul for whom Christ died, a person of worth and importance. Sometimes I see only a drunk or a dealer or a liar or a thief.

What about those who do not actually commit certain sins but see nothing wrong with them? Scripture says, in some cases they are blind and need their eyes opened. If the leaders of Disney Company are openly supporting sexual behavior that God condemns, the stand taken by the Southern Baptists may open their eyes.

Before anyone is quick to criticize this denomination, remember that Jesus also stands against all sin. He said, “If your brother sins, rebuke Him” and “anyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Sin is so serious that He took drastic action to save us from it.

Therefore, whenever Christians take His powerful stand against sinful behavior and stand in disapproval of anyone who supports it, we must also convey His radical love for those who are guilty. While it will be misunderstood and criticized, this may not be as difficult and complicated as it appears—it is the same way we try to treat our children.

Monday, March 20, 2017

God and fearful threats ................ Parables 564

August 5, 1997

Abortion continues to be a hot topic. Recently, the United States Congress recommended a ban on partial-birth abortions. President Clinton vetoed this proposed legislation but at least a dozen states determined to go ahead with the ban at the state level.

Military hospitals continue to ban all abortions, even after a challenge to change that legislation. A member of the House of Representatives who voted to retain the ban said, “We are in the business of having the military win wars, not make war on an innocent baby in the womb.”

“Pro-choice” advocates would argue that is not a valid argument; that a fetus is not a “baby” and women should have total freedom to do as they wish with their own bodies. Some try to use Scripture to defend abortion even though their methods of interpretation are questionable.

The decision to abort a pregnancy has multiple motivations driven by powerful emotions. One of those emotions is fear: fear of being caught pregnant, fear of not being able to care for a child, fear of a boy friend’s rejection, fear of losing popularity, fear of the sacrifices required to raise a child and so on. Although God offers some direction about the value of human life related to a child in the womb, He gives much more direction and help for that debilitating emotion: fear.

The Bible says “God is not the author of fear.” It also says “fear not” and “be not afraid” over 100 times. Sometimes these are words of encouragement to His people to not be afraid of others who are a threat to them, because He is with them and is on their side.

Other times God encourages His people to drop an unwarranted fear of Him and of judgment. He promises that anyone who trusts Him, belongs to Him and is obedient to Him, has no reason to fear. He is with His people and will take care of them.

However, a few passages tell people that God is to be feared. For instance, in Luke 12 Jesus says, “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.”

Reading this statement in its context, Jesus means we spend far too much energy being afraid of those things that threaten us when we should have more concern for our standing before God. After all, it is He who controls our eternal destiny.

For some, an unborn child is a fearful threat. Those fears pressure people into considering actions that are not based on a genuine awe of God or on a deep faith in His power. He can help us but He also can judge what we do. We need to be more concerned with His opinion of us than that of other people or even our own.

However, fear of God is not intended as a club over our head. Jesus affirms this by adding: “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.”

Rather than suggesting fear as a threat, Jesus wants us to realize God loves us and wants us to spend eternity with Him. We need to make that a priority choice.

Jesus also knows that when fear of people or other things motivates our decisions, we are not living by faith and “anything not of faith is sin.” When we find ourselves in emotionally-charged or frightful situations, Jesus wants us to realize that He cares about us more than we could ever know and that He is able to meet our need, no matter how impossible it seems to us. He invites us to come to Him rather than be driven by fear.

If fear is a driving force, then consider transferring that negative fear into a positive reverence for God. All our fears can be overcome — by faith.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Church vs. State? ................ Parables 563

July 22, 1997

Mandy shut her eyes and shouted, “There, you’re gone. I made you disappear.”

Her pesky brother laughed back, “You wish!”

Major segments of the population wouldn’t last long if shutting our eyes could make them go away. Neither would any other offensive realities. Nevertheless, recently elected members of the Michigan Board of Education have decided to try it anyway.

They voted five to three against certain portions of their mission statement. The unwanted and offensive parts “thanked God for the blessings of freedom,” and said “children are created by God” and “religion is necessary for good government.” Those statements are supposedly “a violation of laws concerning separation of church and state.”

Is that really the intent of that mission statement and those laws? By its nature, the church (at least as described in the Bible) is a group of people under the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ. It cannot be ruled by anyone else and still be the church. However, in the days of the Roman Empire, the emperors were declared head of the church regardless of their spiritual qualifications. They ruled as they pleased. This often resulted in not only bad government but in serious spiritual deterioration in the church. More recently, Christians have welcomed laws that protect the church’s unique submission to Christ from being undermined by ungodly political entities.

At the same time, the Bible teaches that we are to “submit to the governing authorities” unless they demand we disobey God. In a normal sense, “they are God’s servants to do us good” (Romans 13). The idea is that political leaders should also submit themselves to God so their rule is wise and just. God had no intention that leaders abandon a genuine, biblical religion.

Even though political abuse of God’s principles once motivated laws to protect the church from political domination, now the church is considered a threat to political entities. In an odd turnabout, leaders are using these same laws to keep God and God-fearing people from having a voice in the way they govern. This has gone so far as to strike mention of God and religion from anything remotely connected to government activities and documents. It is as if they think that by putting both out of sight, God and religion will simply disappear.

Apart from using separation of church and state to keep God from political and legal arenas, many individuals also try to shut their eyes to God. While they may want a God who is there when they need Him, as in tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, they push Him out of day-to-day decision making. Unless disaster strikes, both individuals and governing bodies would rather try and make Him disappear than admit any need for help from Him.

The psalmist observed a similar foolishness in his day. He asks, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say...”

He goes on, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs. . . I have installed my King on Zion...”

God has firmly established Christ as Sovereign King over all. Shutting our eyes or pretending He does not exist will not make Him vanish. According to God, He is Lord, whether we say so or not.

As for religion, people who “thank God for the blessings of freedom” should appreciate and safeguard that freedom. People who know they are “children created by God” should respect themselves and others. People who feel that “religion is necessary for good government” should bring godly wisdom and fairness into their political activities.

Shutting out God will not make Him go away but what will happen if closing our eyes to Him instead shuts out freedom, respect, and justice?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Facts rule over opinions ................ Parables 562

July 15, 1997

Children in a grade school crowded around their new school mascot, a furry little hamster. One asked the teacher if it was a boy or a girl. The teacher didn’t know. The children hotly debated the question until finally, one little fellow thought he had the solution. He said, “I know. Let’s vote on it.”

This amusing story is harmless because the children will soon learn that taking a poll does not change a hamster’s gender. However, what happens when we make vital decisions based on opinion polls rather than on established facts?

One example might be the trial of a person for a murder he did not commit. A decision must be made whether or not the suspect committed the crime even though innocence is already a fact. But if innocence cannot be defended with solid evidence, the suspect’s fate is left in to the opinion of a judge or jury.

All too often, spiritual matters are likewise tried in the courts of popular opinion. Consider statements like: “The Bible? Nobody believes that anymore.” Or “Christianity is just old-fashioned and not very popular.” Or “None of my friends believe in God so why should I?”

In polling Americans to find out their beliefs, results consistently show that about 85% of Americans and Canadians consider themselves to be Christian. The biblical definition of a Christian is someone who knows God, trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, and believes the Word of God. That is, Christians put their faith in what God says rather than in the opinions of people.

Being a Christian is a fact-issue. A person either believes God or they don’t. Yet another poll reveals that some of those 85% may have the wrong opinion of themselves. This poll asked questions about spiritual matters to those who claim to know God. Some were: Can a person who does good earn a place in Heaven? Is Hell an actual place or a state of separation from God? Is Satan a living being or a symbol of evil? Was Jesus actually resurrected from the dead?

In this poll, 57% said they think people who do good can earn a place in Heaven. In contrast, Scriptures say the opposite: “For it is by grace you are saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2).

Of course God wants everyone to do good, but the Bible makes it clear that not one person’s life measures up to God’s standard for heaven. If we want to have eternal life, He offers only one way to get it—through faith in Jesus. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one can come to the Father but by me.”

Those who entrust their eternal destiny to Christ are given His life and a new nature, out of which comes the ability to do the kind of good deeds that please God. Apart from Christ, whatever we call good cannot earn us a place in Heaven.

Another question in the poll asked people if they believe Jesus rose from the dead (as if such a monumental event could be decided by opinion). Despite evidence from Scripture, the testimonies of key witnesses, and other historical records, 45% of people interviewed believe that Jesus was not resurrected.

What if that had been a 100% decision against it? Or for that matter, a 100% vote for it? Would either one determine whether it happened or not?

Public opinion is not always reliable because many people do not always make decisions based on facts or a thorough examination of the evidence. In this case, everyone needs to examine the record and claims of Christ as they would a case in a courtroom. This is a vital issue that concerns eternal destiny and should not be left to public opinion but given serious investigation.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The greatest technology ................ Parables 561


One family member is suspicious of technology and assumes it has some vague connection to a massive super power. He shies away from using the Internet, even using computers.

Regardless of those who hold back, communication technology is here to stay. Perhaps it started with Gutenberg’s printing press, invented over five hundred years ago for the mass reproduction of books. This technology revolutionized the way people communicate and learn.

In a few generations, we have seen other amazing changes in communication methods. Our grandparents used fence phones; we have call-display cellulars. Our parents understood Morse code; our children understand satellite conference calls, complete with large-screen video displays of those in attendance. Communication technology changes so rapidly that even experts struggle to keep on top of the latest inventions.

In another segment of this vast field, the Internet is now reported to draw hordes of consumers away from their television sets. Some are predicting that digital broadcasting soon will replace television systems around the world. They back up their claims with surveys that show many people prefer to be on the Internet rather than watch the tube.

Others claim the ‘Net is just a novelty that will wear off’ but maybe they need to think again. In 1943, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, reportedly said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” He had to eat his words. This technology is here to stay, at least until something new is invented.

Changes and growth in our technology is awesome yet God has a system that is more amazing. He offers us a means by which we can connect with Him that has never been declared obsolete and anyone can use it with very little instruction. Further, no matter where we are or what condition we are in, we are still able to communicate with Him.

Yes, prayer is never outdated or upgraded. It provides an instant link with the One who hears and answers our pleas. He understands it, whether we speak in English, French, Chinese, Russian or any other language. He hears us when we offer our words in silence, from the heart.

Prayer is also instantly translated into the correct request. Romans 8 explains, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. . . the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

Genesis records the first instance in the Bible of man talking to God when Adam offers his excuse for why he was hiding from Him. The last prayer is the closing verse at the end of the Bible that says: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

In between these utterances, the history of man’s sin and the story of God’s grace and redemption can be traced in the prayers of His people; prayers of contrition and confession, of pleading and complaining, of submission and also praise.

God remains in the business of hearing and answering prayer. My prayer journal is a personal reminder that He does what seems impossible to me, even that He takes time to hear (never mind grant) the requests I place before Him.

Book lovers know books will never be obsolete and radio and television have their usefulness. We value our computers (but don’t curl up in an easy chair with them) and the Internet provides a wealth of information, saving many trips to the library. Yet none of these can match the timeless efficiency and value of prayer. It is a marvelous “technology” from God that is in a class all by itself.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I Am What I Am! ................ Parables 560

June 24, 1997

While mutually admiring a photograph of the Rockies, seven-year-old Levi told me he loves being in the mountains. I asked this little lad, “When you stand looking up at them, do they make you feel small?”

He said, “No, I already know I am small.”

The so-called negative realities of life are sometimes difficult for most people to accept. Some “vertically challenged” adults buy shoes with lifts or wear clothes with vertical stripes, anything to appear taller. Two shoe salespeople have related that customers came in insisting they wear shoes two sizes smaller than the pair that fits them. Both clerks admitted scratching off the number and putting the proper-sized shoes in the wrong box, just to make the sale. They understood that these customers are not prepared simply to state the facts and live with them. Perhaps that is why remarks like Levi’s make us say, “Out of the mouths of babes. . . .”

Accepting undesired, unchangeable features is a challenge for many people. Too often we think we should be taller, or slimmer, or have smaller feet, or that our bodies must conform to the vogue in Hollywood or the criteria of New York modeling agents.

That our outside shape dictates our value seems to be an old problem. Somewhere around 1050 BC, the people asked one of God’s prophets to anoint for them a king. He picked Saul. The Bible says Saul was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.”

Saul also impressed the prophet but after a few years, that same prophet had to boot him from office. This “impressive” king had not kept the commands the Lord God gave him so his tenure as king was over. God asked the prophet to anoint another man.

This time he was directed to a family with several sons. When he saw the height and appearance of the first one, he said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here . . .” but God told him “No.” He added, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Because we see the outside first, we often make evaluations on only that. If a person’s appearance conforms to our idea of good, favorable, well-shaped, lovely, well-muscled, or whatever other measurement we use, then we accept the person. In other words, if “short” is in then Levi will not have a problem with his peers, but if tall is popular, he will be ostracized for being small for his age.

Thankfully, God does not look at Levi or anyone else with those measurements in mind. Instead, He looks for an honest heart, one that will admit that the standards of this world are not reliable. They change from culture to culture, from year to year but God’s standards never change.

For that reason, the Lord looks for people who can say, “Yes, I may be short (if shortness is their particular issue) but I also fall short. I cannot measure up to the standards of God and I know that I need a Savior. I need God’s forgiveness and His help so that I can become all that He wants me to be.”

God also says, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD. . . .”

An addition seems appropriate: “Let not the tall, handsome lad boast in his appearance...” Levi, small and ordinary, displays extraordinary humility. He has already taken a giant step towards pleasing God.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Never Alone ................ Parables 559

June 17, 1997

“I’m working alone today.”

“But you are never alone.”

“That’s right. I am by myself, but I am never alone!”

A friend and I say this many times to each other because loneliness is a universal experience. No one enjoys it but we all experience it. We reassure each other because we know that, even if there is not another human being for miles, we are still in the presence of the Lord.

Being with others has obvious benefits. For example, Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one, because . . . if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

Aside from being without friends or being in situations where we are all alone, a person does not have to be friendless or by themselves to feel lonely. Loneliness is such an odd condition; we can feel it in a large crowd or even with our family or closest friends near us and caring for us.

What causes this strange longing in our hearts? I’ve heard three similar explanations. One was from evangelist Billy Graham. He says that whenever we feel lonely in a crowd, we need to consider that as God’s way of beckoning us to come and spend time with Him. He says we feel lonely in a crowd because we all need and yearn for a deeper relationship with our Creator.

The second explanation came from a writer from England. He says we feel lonely because we are designed to live in a different world than the one we are in. He says we long for God and for heaven’s perfection. For that reason, there is really nothing that can fully satisfy us here on earth. We can enjoy a measure of contentment but it will never last. We call that sense of longing “loneliness” because we fail to recognize its deeper significance. It is a reflection that God has “placed eternity in our hearts.”

The third explanation is much the same. It is from a college professor who says we should never try to cure our loneliness because it is our longing for God and for our eternal home. We simply need to learn to live with it and with the reality that this world is not permanent or perfect.

These three slightly different views have much in common. They agree that loneliness has more to do with wanting to be near God than it does with wanting to be close to people. If that is the case, then it is vital to do what some Christians call “practicing the presence of God.”

In my experience, that sense of being in the Lord’s presence is sometimes very vivid. During those times, it is of little concern whether or not people are around to keep me company. Yet there are times when the sense of His presence is heightened when His people are together. In either case, it seems to depend on my own relationship with God and attitude toward Him.

At other times, that sense of His nearness has faded. He seems absent. During those occasions, I have to remind myself of His promises. God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Just because it seems to me that He is not with me, He is. I cannot rely on my feelings.

It is possible to practice His presence though. By that, I mean we can heighten our sense of God being with us. To do that effectively, we need to do what Jesus did. He often retreated from His hectic life-work, and from people, to talk with His Father. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Secondly, Jesus continually affirmed that God was with him. He said, “You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me . . . The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone . . . .”

We need to remember that He has not left us alone either.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Perfect Place to Hide ................ Parables 558

June 10, 1997

Since January, residents of Bangladesh, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Madagascar have endured tropical cyclones. Madagascar was double-whammied by an invasion of locusts.

Floods made headlines in several places such as Winnipeg and the Midwestern States, also including China, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mozambique and Malawi. Also in the past five months, drought struck Ethiopia, Ecuador (also flooded) and Kenya. Earthquakes rocked Iran, Trinidad and Tobago, China, Iran and Peru. Because of these disasters, many people died.

Weather is not the only calamity that hits unexpectedly, taking or changing lives. Traffic accidents, cancer, heart disease also takes their toll. Consider Mark O’Brien. Struck by polio forty years ago, O’Brien lives in an iron lung. Without it, he would not survive, nor would the 118 others who call one of these contraptions home. Even at that, if there were a better place to find protection, all 119 would want it. For them, this machine is both a refuge and a prison.

Polio victims are not the only people who need a refuge. All of us experience difficulties that we cannot handle by ourselves. Sometimes we look for hiding places or shelter when we are in danger or when our world spins out of control.

When calamities happen, many look to God. The psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

The psalmist believed God was always ready to help him. Even if the world was falling apart, he knew that he could find a sense of security in the Lord.

Perhaps it was this psalm that prompted the winning entry for a painting depicting “peace.” The artist thought that a calm sea or a lazy meadow would not make the statement he wanted to make. Instead, he painted a severe storm with threatening waves of the sea crashing against a cliff. In the center, sheltered in the cleft of a rock, he placed a bird on her nest, calm and safe in the middle of the turmoil.

The Apostle Paul knew inner peace is possible in outward difficulties. He wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” He explains, “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Paul knew God is in control. He also knew God uses all things to shape the character of His people, to help them become more like His Son. With that in mind, the tough things in life did not get him down or rob him of his hope. He was able to persevere through them.

When we put our faith in Christ, we too can know God as our refuge in the midst of life’s storms. His Spirit and His presence become a comfort, His truth a peaceful resting place.

Friday, March 3, 2017

As if rejection were not bad enough . . . ................ Parables 557

May 27, 1997

Book stores feature a novel that alleges to be the memoirs of Jesus. It is written in first person format, just as if Jesus Himself wrote it. However, author Norman Mailer debunks or diminishes most of the Bible stories about Him. Instead, he treats his own opinions as if they belong to the Lord and claims readers should look upon this book as a “small miracle” compared to the biblical miracles. He “hopes to remain closer to the truth . . . . “ than the Bible does.

In speaking for Jesus, Mailer says His death on the cross was a “debacle and disaster” and that Christianity was invented to disguise or cover up that failure. Remember, this is not a writer merely disagreeing with the Bible but a writer claiming his thoughts are God’s thoughts, then publishing them with the hope people will buy it.

What’s new? It sounds like the same old denial of Christ and His work, dressed up for profit in an genre no one ever used before now. Mailer simply fails to realize the impact of what God has said (through the prophet Isaiah): “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”?

We have no more idea what God thinks than we can accurately guess the thoughts of other people. Unless we are told, or in God’s case, unless He reveals them, His thoughts are largely beyond the scope of our senses. In fact, God’s thoughts are beyond even our imagination.

For instance, a young pastor preparing to relocate went to a certain city near Calgary was looking for rental property. He was surprised to find none, and even more shocked that housing was at Calgary prices he could not afford. We prayed that God would solve his seemingly unsolvable problem.

A few days later, he called to tell us that the church he is going to work with had been bidding on some property but had given up when a land developer also began bidding. They assumed the developer had more funds to work with. However, the church was awarded the bid. Included with the property, was a house, a place where he could live at a price he can afford.

No one thought of that as a possibility. We saw again how God answers prayer. It is always “exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think.” No matter how great our imaginations, no one successfully second-guesses God.

As for Mailer, Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” even if they claim they “prophesy in (His) name, and in (His) name drive out demons and perform many miracles.” He says, “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!’”

The point is, if people are rejected by God because they did not know Christ, even though they use His name and do what appears to be godly deeds, what then will happen to a man who claims to speak for Christ yet blatantly denies that He is who He claimed to be? What happens when anyone denies the written revelation God gave to help us know and believe in Him?

Besides that, God has another way of giving people understanding into His thinking. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul, who had great faith, says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him—but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit . . . For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”

Truth about God is revealed, not imagined. To grasp that revelation, we need the mind of Christ, given freely to those who trust in Him. But the revelation is withheld from anyone who “has not received His Spirit” because they have denied and rejected God’s Word.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Faith is its own “proof” ................ Parables 556

May 13, 1997

What does it take to convince people to follow Christ? A Thailand missionary found out that a cloudburst can do it.

Lun Poobuanak, working among Buddhists and animists in Kalasin Province, was leading a small group during a Sunday service when the village leader interrupted him. “If you will ask your God for rain this month, all the 134 families in the village will worship your God and become Christians.”

Poobuanak realized their desperation. The monsoon rains had not come and their harvest was almost ruined. He also knew that God cannot be mocked or manipulated. However, these people insisted they were serious. They promised if they did not keep their word, “Poobuanak’s God” could judge them. Were they sincere?

The missionary gathered the few Christians in the village. They fasted and prayed for three days, trusting that God knows the human heart and would respond accordingly. On the fourth day, the heavens opened, flooding the canals and rice fields. Poobuanak reports that all 134 families humbly admitted that Jesus is the only true and living God and they became Christians. Others in the area are still following them into the faith because of this answer to prayer.

This incredible story from a missionary news service illustrates that God knows who is sincere and who is playing games. The Old Testament tells how the prophet Samuel was looking for God’s choice of a man to replace Saul as king of Israel. He was directed to the family of Jesse. As Jesse’s sons were brought to him, he thought the oldest must surely be the one. However, God said not, that “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”

God knew that Samuel’s first choice did not have a heart for Him. It was not until Samuel considered David that God gave him assurance that this young boy would be a great king— that is exactly what came to pass.

In my own prayer life, I know the same truth. I cannot play games with God. If I know the right thing to do and ask Him to give me some sort of assurance, He is silent. If I am genuinely ignorant or confused and ask for His leading, He gives it to me. He knows my heart.

The same applies to those who are seeking God. Some merely mock as they make phoney requests to God. They are thinking, “If God is up there, then I need proof . . . I have to see first, before I will believe.”

On the other hand, if a person is sincerely and genuinely seeking God, God knows that too. I remember reading a story of a young man who kept asking God to reveal Himself. For instance, He was hitchhiking and prayed, “God, if you are real, have the next car stop for me.”

This is not a normal pattern because God is not playing games with us. However, God knew the young man’s heart and played along. Finally, the man was convinced and gave His life to Christ. Then, he tried one more time “just to be sure” but God did not play along. Faith was present in this fellow’s heart and he no longer needed “proof.” As the Bible says, faith itself is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is its own “proof.”

Sometimes it seems as if God is silent and not listening to my prayers or hearing my doubts. During those times, it helps me to remember that He knows what is going on in my heart. I have heard Him often in the past. He has faithfully revealed Himself to me already. I can look at Christ and do not need other visible evidence that He cares for me.

Nevertheless, for those who do need evidence, He sometimes grants other “proofs.” He wants sincere seekers to recognize that He alone understands the silent cries of the heart.