Friday, April 28, 2017

No Debts ................ Parables 581

January 6, 1981

For every person in the U.S., there are two credit cards— a contributing factor to a per capita debt of $20,886 and a per household debt of $55,869.

Canadian statistics are not as easy to find but we have a similar problem. In fact, living in debt is so common that the term “debt-free” seems an impossibility.

Freedom from every kind of debt. Can it happen? Can a person ever be financially current? Is it possible not to owe anyone anything? The Bible says it is. Regarding human debt, God even commands us, “Owe no man anything.”

While this is an unbelievable command (especially after holiday spending that stretches budgets and credit to its limits), there is another type of debt-free situation that is even more astounding. It involves being free from spiritual indebtedness, free from the account we owe God.

To illustrate, Jesus once told a story about a servant who owed his king a huge amount of money. When the king decided to settle his accounts, this servant could not pay his debt. The king ordered him and his family sold to cover it. The servant begged for mercy. The king was merciful, took pity on him and completely canceled his huge debt.

Later, that servant approached another man who owed him a much smaller sum. The debtor begged for extra time to pay it but the servant became angry and told the man he would put him in prison until he could pay it.

When the king heard about what happened, he was furious with his servant. He said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

This story is mainly Jesus’ instruction to His people to show mercy to others. Because God has forgiven us, we need to forgive others also. However, key to being able to forgive is first knowing how God is like that king and our debt is like the servant’s debt.

Some assume that those who receive God’s forgiveness and give their lives to Him, now owe Him something, that a lifetime of service somehow is payment for their debt. But can anyone possibly repay their debt to God?

The story Jesus told also illustrates the size of the debt God has forgiven. Like the servant’s account with his king, the size of our sin is far greater than we could ever repay. Think of it this way: one unkind thought, or one lie, or one sin of any kind, per day for fifty years equals more than 18,000 sins. Remember, sin is simply going our own way and ignoring God’s way.

Since the Bible also adds that “whatever is not of faith is sin,” our account is large. We cannot count the full number of our debts to God, never mind repay them. Besides, what would we pay them with? God says, “All . . . fall short of the glory of God” and “all our works of righteousness are like filthy rags.”

The Gospel is the good news that our debt can be canceled— in two ways. One is that someone pays it for us. The other is that the King has mercy and forgives it. The Bible describes how God did both.

Jesus is fully human yet sinless. He is full of the glory of God; He does not fall short. His life is filled to the brim with the goodness we do not have. When He died on the cross, He paid our debt for sin, both as our substitute and as our payment.

God accepted that sacrifice. To those who acknowledge their debt and make known their desire to settle their account, He says, “Your debt is paid. Because of My Son, you are debt-free.”

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Everyone serves a master ................ Parables 580

January 20, 1998

A simple statistic reveals human attitudes. For instance, 44% of American youth say if they do not like the candidates, there is no reason to vote. If political leaders don’t please them, they opt out of the system and refuse to support any leader.

Public support encourages leaders but voters’ personal preferences do not determine who makes a good leader. Leaders usually advocate change. Voters do not always see change as positive. They may decide to not follow that leader, even if the change would benefit them.

What if change challenges moral values, personal ethics or spiritual waywardness? Leaders who do this could be unpopular because of it. Does that make them poor leaders?

Sometimes the best leaders are the least popular. For instance, more than 99% of the population of Israel rejected Christ’s leadership. When He was arrested and taken to Calvary, His best friends abandoned Him. However, lack of popularity did not change His value as a leader.

In Jesus’ case, and perhaps in other situations where people refuse to support a leader, the difficulty is their own independence. Some people simply refuse to follow anyone. They fiercely proclaim self-reliance and will not let someone else tell them what to do.

The universal cry for freedom often means that kind of freedom. We are just like the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said we are— prone to turn to our own way. However, the Word of God says everyone is in bondage to something. Doing our own thing does not make us free. If we follow our own desires, they rule us. If we ignore the demands of political, legal, religious or social leaders, we will be at odds with a society that does not function very well without some conformity to its rules.

Besides this practical reason to follow social and political leadership, the Bible says we also are responsible for choosing our masters. Some of our options: we can follow our own lusts (they will bring us into addictions and bondage). We can follow the desires of friends (and find ourselves slaves to their demands). We can select political leaders (yet we are seldom happy with the outcome). Not one of those options gives us the leadership we want or the freedom we seek.

How startling that Jesus claimed “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Yet most people, including the Jewish leaders, did not go for that either. They liked their system of law with its 600 plus rules for life. They liked to think they were obeying those rules. They said of Jesus, “We will not have this man rule over us.”

However, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” He also said if they did not want the freedom He offered them, they would “die in their sins.”

The Apostle Paul restated it: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience (to God), which leads to righteousness?”

Both affirm that everyone is a slave to something. Both affirm that those who do not follow God follow their own way, which is sin.

We may not like God’s definitions of our options but we do have the freedom and the responsibility of choosing our own master . . . and of accepting the outcome of that choice.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Walking by faith or walking by sight? ................ Parables 579

(published date?)

Jesus was born long ago in a stable, in a manger meant for sheep or cattle. If He had been born in modern Alberta, all sorts of unusual animals could have been there. Farming is changing; pastures once containing ordinary cattle or horses are now home to exotic livestock.

One odd-looking barnyard critter is the ostrich, a large, long-necked flightless bird. Ostriches do not appear to be speed demons but these birds have 3.5 meter strides and can run 50 kilometers an hour for 15 minutes or longer. If something is chasing them, ostriches can top 70 km/h. A cornered ostrich is no slouch either. With two clawed toes on each of its long, featherless legs, it can kill or seriously maim animals or people with its powerful kicks.

While strong and speedy, the unfortunate ostrich is not noted for being terribly brilliant. In fact, its eye is bigger than its brain. Maybe that is where we get the derogatory expression “bird brain.” For this bird, seeing comes far easier than thinking.

Rather than be too hard on ostriches, it seems that everyone struggles with a similar problem. We find it much easier to rely on what we can see or experience with our other senses than trust more abstract ideas or concepts. Who has not said, “I will believe it when I see it” and in the realm of faith, who has not wondered about a God they cannot see?

The usual argument about faith vs. sight goes like this: “You cannot see electricity but every time you plug in your coffee maker you are expressing faith in it.” Faith in God is something like that, but anyone who trusts God will be quick to agree that we do not make Him work as simply as plugging in an appliance. God is God, not a servant like a toaster or vacuum cleaner.

Perhaps that is the biggest reason we need to “see” Him through the eyes of faith. No matter the size of our physical eyes or our clarity of vision, we simply cannot take in the wonder of God, of who He is or what He does. Without faith, who can grasp that He created the world and all that is in it? Without faith, who can believe He became a baby and lived among us?

Technology may unwittingly be helping our propensity to demand visual proof. More and more, what we see is not very reliable. Film technology makes animals sing and dance. Magicians make elephants, jumbo jets and huge buildings disappear, at least that is what our eyes tell us. However, faith (in natural laws) says this is not happening; it is just an illusion.

Faith in God does not need to rely on our eyes either, although we can use them to develop it. The Bible 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, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” It also says that “faith comes by hearing. . . a message about Christ.”

Through reading God’s record of the above revelations about Himself, faith is nourished in our hearts. In this black and white record of what God has done, we can see what He looks like. We can see how He influenced events and changed lives. By faith, we can believe that God not only exists but that He offers us a personal relationship with Himself. Imagine, knowing God and experiencing an intimate relationship with Him!

However, He does not enter our lives by our senses. We may have better-than-bird brains, quick feet, powerful muscles, twenty-twenty vision — all helpful in life — yet none of these help us see God. We can look in a manger (don’t expect an ostrich) and still not see Him. The key is not that our eyes are wide open but that our hearts are open, that we accept what He says as truth and invite Him to make an impact on our lives. Then He comes into our hearts and minds and even opens our eyes so we have a capacity to know, see and experience Him.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Beware of rumors ................ Parables 578

(publish date ??)

A few years ago, someone started a rumor that there would be a worldwide shortage of toilet paper. Before long, people were buying rolls by the carton and stockpiling it in their basements, just in case the rumor was true.

Those involved in the industry may have been amused or dismayed by this all-out rush on their product; however, they were close enough to the supply to realize there was no danger of a shortage. The rumor simply wasn’t true.

I wonder if that is how other notions, even some widely-held ideas, are spawned. Do they start with rumors from people who are not close enough to the situation to really know for sure if what they say is true? Are they then perpetuated by human fears or other emotions?

For instance, some decades ago, a few people grabbed on to the idea that the Word of God no longer has authority over our lives. These people kept saying we are free to be our own boss, do whatever we want, forget God and the Bible. This notion permeated a culture that once took the Bible seriously. Even though we still make oaths with one hand on our heart and the other on the Bible, for the most part, it gathers dust.

This rumor was further fueled by slogans such as: “God is dead” or “the Bible is outdated” or “it was written by men therefore must be full of errors.” Unfortunately, people seldom checked any of it for themselves. Instead, their Bibles now occupy a bottom drawer or a dusty top shelf.

These notions have also infected the church. Some who call themselves Christian do not believe God’s Book is fully authoritative. For instance, consider the following statistics from the Barna group’s latest findings, published in April of this year. Among Christian men (possibly meaning “Evangelical Christian men”): 28% believe that Jesus was not physically raised from the dead, 27% believe that He committed sins, and 55% believe that everyone will have the same outcome after death, regardless of their beliefs.

Of course the Bible affirms otherwise. It says Jesus was “like us in every way except that He was without sin.” It also affirms that He rose from the dead in a body. It goes on to say that if He didn’t, the Christian faith is totally useless; all who believe it will “die in their sins.”

The Bible also warns about the options regarding eternal destiny. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. . . all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”

Oddly enough, the same survey showed that 47% still believe that there are absolute moral truths. Another 40% believe that the Bible and religion should be the main influences on moral thinking. In other words, the Bible apparently does have value, but not authority?

How then, if God’s Book is not believed in its entirety, is it possible to use it as an anchor for morality? What do we do when our self-focused natures eventually come to a place of resistance to what God says? Is it not His authority that we revolt against, even when we know what He says is true and right?

Mere mental assent to this Book may acknowledge it is God’s book or that it says things that are good for us. Faith is trusting in the One who wrote it and submitting to His authority over us. We already know we are not able to live as we ought. We need help. Faith is turning from our own way and our own efforts and giving ourselves to the care and leading of our Creator. It is yielding to and following Christ, fully dismissing that old rumor that He has no right to our allegiance.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hiding under layers? ................ Parables 577

December 16, 1997

There is a lake in the Antarctica with water reading 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if anyone wanted to dive in and explore it, they would have to take with them a drill or a saw. Chilled by cold air above it, this lake is covered with ice.

George (not his real name) is like that. If there is a warm person on the inside, he keeps it well hidden under a self-protection layer of reserve. Others cannot get to know him or experience what he is like on the inside.

George might admit that he is afraid if others knew him well, they would not like him very much. He protects himself from rejection by what Christian counselor and psychologist Larry Crabb calls “layers.” Like the ice over the lake, these layers hide what is underneath. Crabb says it is almost always insecurity about acceptance, worth or competence.

Whether or not we use the term “layers,” most of us are aware of what we think are our flaws. We might use cosmetics to hide external marks and blemishes but there are no cover sticks for feelings of inferiority. Instead, we either withdraw or go overboard to prove ourselves.

Some people do it with their possessions. They buy the latest car or computer and show off by boasting about it. Others hide their inadequacy behind shyness, reasoning that if people do not notice them, they will not ask them to do anything and they will never betray their inabilities.

Others hide in alcohol or drugs, or become involved with one boy or girl friend after another. Some become powerful controllers who manipulate people so no one can see their weaknesses. Some retreat and become doormats. For them, being told what to do is easier than having people find out they are unable (or so they think) to make their own plans, never mind carry them out.

People who try to feel loved, valuable and competent through making demands on others or their own performance or possessions, always fall short. The main problem is that material things never last and people, even at their best, are unreliable.

For people made in His image, these three core needs can only be met by the triune God. He can make us feel complete. He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, and in loving kindness I have drawn you.” He always cares, and proved it by sending His Son to die for us. When others fail to love us, God’s love is reliable and unconditional. We do not earn it or deserve it but it is something in His nature. He is a God of love. That is what He does.

We can also measure our worth by the price that God was willing to pay for us. To Him, our value is the life of His Son. That is what He paid to redeem us. We are people of worth to God. We do not need to prove ourselves but entrust ourselves to His love and value system.

Competence comes also from God. He gives His Holy Spirit to each one who believes in Him and receives His Son as personal Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit is a willing helper but we are not His robots. If we want to have His power and live using His competence, we must yield to Him. That yielding is immediately forfeited whenever we put up layers.

Instead, God tells us to deal with our inadequacies by dropping all self-protecting layers and acknowledging our insecurities to Him. Through Christ, we can know we are loved and have worth. Through His Spirit, we “can do all things.” We do not have to hide or prove anything.

In God’s care, we may at first feel vulnerable without our layers but as we learn to operate in His three-sided triangle of love, worth and competence, feeling weak gradually becomes something to appreciate. The Apostle Paul even said he could “boast gladly” about his inadequacies. He knew that God Himself promised His power is made perfect in our weaknesses and His grace is sufficient to set us free from all our fears.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Aging well ................ Parables 576

December 2, 1997

My dad had a sign in his workshop that read, “Never take life too seriously. . . you’ll never get out of it alive.”

As certain as death is, life expectancy is at an all-time high: 75.8 years in the U.S. and it could be a little higher in Canada. Fear of dying plus this expectancy contributes to a common practice of joking about death rather than seriously discussing this universal certainty.

My dad, now eighty-eight years old, used to be one of those who never talked about death. Whenever anyone he knew died, his bulging temples gave away the fact that he was troubled and grinding his teeth, but he never said anything.

Increasing frailty and aching bones have made his life less enjoyable yet like most seniors, he realizes more than we do, how precious life is and that both life and death should be taken seriously. Life is a gift from God and we are responsible for what we do with that gift. Further, death is not the end because the Bible says that all die but all will also be resurrected. It clearly points out that what we do with this life will have a bearing on the quality of the next.

Author Eugene Peterson says that to live well and in harmony with God is the best way to spend our years on earth. He says obedience to God is not difficult but sin is difficult. Sin throws us out of kilter with the intention of our Creator. We were not made to sin and it harms our quality of life in every way.

For example, using addictive drugs destroys a person’s health, warps their thinking and ruins their usefulness. Adultery weighs down the mind with guilt, ruins intimacy with one’s spouse and raises havoc with families, sometimes splitting them and leaving hearts in pieces. This is not how God intended we use our years.

Someone once asked me what I wanted to be “when I grew up” and I replied, “I want to be a sweet little old lady” yet aging well is a challenge. According to the Bible, grey hair can be a crown of splendor, but only if it is attained by a righteous life.

We never start out righteous but if somewhere along the time line, we acknowledge our sin and failure to God, and receive the righteousness of Christ, we can begin to age well through taking the lessons of life seriously. When God uses them to shape our faith and give us godly character, we can not only finish well but with joy and courage.

The Old Testament cites Moses as one example. He “was a hundred and twenty when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” Caleb was another. At eighty-five, he could say, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out (forty years prior); I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.”

Aging well means being able to approach death without fear. The Bible says that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” and that Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” By sharing in our humanity and dying for our sins, He “destroyed the one who holds the power of death—the devil—and set free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

In the seniors’ lodge where my parents live, some residents are cheerful and enjoying their remaining years. Thankfully, Mom and Dad are among that group. Dad has changed; he talks about death and even expresses his hope that the Lord will soon come and take him home.

Others in the lodge happily speak about their faith in the Lord. The God of peace is helping them to age gracefully and with joy. From them, I clearly see that if I am to be a sweet little old lady someday, faith in Christ and walking alongside God will take me there.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Information Explosion ................ Parables 575

November 25, 1997

Nearly four years ago, an American company opened an offsite storage service for universities and libraries. Besides space to keep books and records, member libraries also receive retrieval and delivery services for any items requested by their patrons. Soon after it opened, one university put in storage about 110,000 books, dissertations and bound periodicals.

Had this business opened a hundred years ago, few would have shown interest. However, as we approach a new millennium, educators, historians and lovers of research insist all information be preserved and accessible.

Today’s information explosion is mind-boggling. For example, the University of Waterloo’s electronic library claims one million titles. Another says they have 9.75 million articles in their catalogs. The OCLC Union catalog has 30 million bibliographic records. For those who have problems with those big numbers, someone said one issue of the New York Times contains more information than the average 17th-century Englishman encountered in his entire lifetime.

The ancient Scriptures predicted a time when knowledge would increase. In a vision, the prophet Daniel was told: “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”

Interestingly, the Hebrew word used here for knowledge takes a slant toward technical ability. People may not agree about this being “the end of time,” but there is no argument that we live in an era that fits this description; technical knowledge is rapidly multiplying.

Today, we associate knowledge with knowing information and having data and facts at our disposal. The Old Testament men and women had a different understanding. For them, knowledge meant a deeper relationship with the information. One of their words for “knowing” is the same word used in other parts of the Bible for sexual intimacy between a man and his wife.

With that in mind, Daniel seems to be saying that people would be highly involved in travel and in learning more and more. However, in the context of his vision, he did not extend this “knowing” to a deeper, intimate and personal relationship with God or even with truth about God.

The New Testament picks up the same concept. Paul wrote to Timothy about a day when people that would be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Here, Paul is finishing the ideas of Daniel. People will be gathering information of all kinds yet despite all the data and facts, many will miss the most important knowledge: truth.

Pilate, the Roman governor, asked the question: “What is truth?” Jesus Christ, who Pilate crucified, said, “I am the truth. . . .”

Pilate was a knowledgeable man but he missed it. He did not recognize truth because he did not know God nor acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son. Because He denied God, he was blind to the fact that the One he put to death was Truth personified.

The Bible says that many will reject Jesus because they reject the other truths that He came to show us. For instance, He says we have turned our back on God’s way and are lost to God. We need restoration and forgiveness. The Bible also says He is life and He can give His life to us if we are willing to receive Him, and that He becomes our wisdom when we do.

As an incurable “information gatherer,” trying to grasp the amount of data now available simply frustrates me. I am far more interested in the data God stores in His mind. What library collection numbers the hairs on our heads and names all the stars of heaven? What information retrieval service can offer us the wisdom of Christ? No matter how much knowledge we can heap up, none of it compares to knowing Truth and trusting Him to give it to us as we need it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why use drugs? ................ Parables 574

November 11, 1997

In 1991, 52,406 minors were arrested in the United States for drug abuse, particularly marijuana. In 1995, that number rose to 124,467. More recent statistics show little change from in teen marijuana use, but the use of hallucinogens nearly doubled in two years and the rate of heroin initiation for the 12-17 age group has reached historic levels.

A frog will sit in tepid water that is heated to a boil and die rather than jump out because it is oblivious to the danger. Could this be what is happening to young people? Some statistics indicated that less and less young people see a risk in taking heroin. Perhaps using a milder drug numbs discernment and prepares the way for stronger addictions.

How can it be explained that people will try something harmful hoping for some benefit but not finding it, then instead of abandoning that behavior, try something even more harmful?

In the beginning chapters of the Bible, there is one explanation. It tells the story of sin beginning with the first two people eating forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. While it seems a good idea to know the difference, they did not realize until it was too late that evil has an alluring and addictive power. They would seek it but not be satisfied by it.

Since then, the human soul seems to seek experiential knowledge of evil. It isn’t enough to know about it but to taste it, to find out for ourselves what it is like. But sin, like salted peanuts, suggests that just one more will satisfy that inner craving. By the time the bowl is empty, we are far more thirsty than we were to begin with.

Drugs do that too. There is a sense of the cravings relieved as long as the drug is available but when it dries up, the craving rages and abusers find themselves enslaved.

Suggested solutions include stricter laws, more education and increased public programs that offer youth other worthwhile things to do. Oddly, these correspond to some solutions people in the Bible attempt in their efforts to conquer all forms of sin.

The Jews thought the answer was in the Law. They lived with rigid rules but were never satisfied and had no assurance that God was pleased with them. No wonder. Jesus told them they didn’t fulfill the Law because it was humanly impossible. In fact, they became slaves to a legalism that held them in bondage.

Education has more promise. Jesus even said, “If you know the truth, the truth will set you free.” However, educators tend to think of truth as being mere information. When Jesus talked about the truth, He was talking about Himself. If people wanted to escape the revolving door of sin and death, they needed to know Him and He would set them free.

Doing good also has merit. The biggest drawback is that the standard of good that lifts us above sin is not possible to us. Again, Jesus said, “There is none good but God.” The Bible completely affirms that everyone falls short.

What we really need for escaping sin, whether it be bondage to drugs or any other enslaving habits, is a radical change inside our hearts, one that causes us to think differently about the temptations of evil. We need the God of the Universe to not only clean up our soul’s sinful cravings but satisfy it with the only thing that can fill that inner void — Himself.

How is that possible? Humanly, we cannot make it happen. All we can do is humble ourselves before God, admit we need help, and ask for His mercy. It is up to Him to move into our lives bringing grace and truth to set us free from the sins that enslave us.

Will we do it? Without Him, even humility escapes us. We tend to easily swallow the lie that drugs or some other allurement will lift us out of our personal pits, but reject the truth that only Christ can give us abundant life.

Monday, April 10, 2017

No Atheists ................ Parables 573

(? date published ?)

In August 1995, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, America’s foremost atheist, was reported missing. By July 1996, she had not been found. A search for an update led me to the Internet home page for the American Atheists Association, an organization founded by Ms. O’Hair. They comment on futile attempts to find her (and a son and granddaughter who are also missing), but seem unconcerned, even amused, by the disappearances.

Ms. O’Hair is best known for filing a case on behalf of another son that led to a 1963 United States Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in public schools. She also worked to have Bible reading banned from the school system.

Even though one of her sons has become a Christian, this woman claims to have no religious beliefs whatsoever and scorns all who believe in any higher being. Whether admired, hated or ignored, she made waves in the system and considers herself a person of influence. Oddly enough, the Bible that she mocks has a few words of its own for her. It says, “Only a fool says in his (her) heart there is no God.”

The Bible never defends or tries to prove the existence of God. It does say that creation itself reveals “God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature” and because these can be clearly seen, all people are “without excuse.” In other words, in the day when God judges lives and the secrets of our hearts, no one can claim ignorance of Him. There are no atheists.

Some say “practicing atheist” is a better term. It describes people who live “as if there is no God.” They believe themselves to be above their Creator, above His sovereign rule and beyond the reach of His judgment. They do what they please without concern over eternal consequences.

An even harsher reality is that God sees all people as “practicing atheists.” The same passage that calls professing atheists “fools” goes on to say, “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Isaiah says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”

While atheism seems to be a terrible sin, in Jesus’ day, some came to Him with stories about people who seemed to be greater sinners than anyone else. Jesus replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Apart from repentance from sin and turning to Christ, all are without faith and faithless, bound for God’s judgment. Their sin condemns them unless they stop ignoring God’s offer of forgiveness and enter a faith relationship with Him through His Son.

People who accept His offer yield to the influence of God rather than ruling their own lives. Believers may not be as well known as the Madalyn O’Hair’s of this world but they are people of a far more lasting influence. God promises an eternal reward for their lives of faith and works of righteousness. For those who do not believe, He says “all their righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

The American Atheist association may not know or admit the location of their founder but God knows where she is. Not only that, He knows the condition of her heart. Whatever else she claims about her beliefs and the importance of her life, it will be her heart and how it has led her to live that will be His means of evaluation. From that, He will determine her ultimate destiny.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Excited about our faith? ................ Parables 572

October 28, 1997

In a society where teenagers are noted for religiously following the pressures of their peer group, it is odd that those who are Christian feel a responsibility to tell others of their faith in Christ. Even more unusual is that this conviction in young people often exceeds that of adult Christians.

Peers are a strong influence. Teens are not the only age group to conform under that pressure. In a simple issue of selecting which clothes to wear, both women and men make sure their clothes harmonize with what everyone else is wearing. No one wants to be the odd person. However, the gospel counters this tendency. Those who believe it have an unusual desire to demonstrate that we are different, not by what we wear but by what God has done in our lives.

Acknowledging ourselves as sinners is the hardest part. Bragging that we please God and are special to Him would be easier. Nevertheless, if we have evaluated ourselves honestly, we realize that we fall far short of the power and grandeur of our Creator.

Further, by taking an honest look at His Law and listening to our own conscience, we again see that we fall short. We know we have dishonored Him in many ways. We have put other gods before Him and made idols in our minds. We have used His name in profane thought and language. We have not trusted and followed Him but turned our own way and depended on ourselves. We have been without faith and faithless.

Besides directly ignoring or insulting God, Christians must also admit committing similar sins against other people. We know we have not honored our parents as we should. We know we have told lies, blatantly or in some misrepresentation of truth. We have been guilty of covetousness and have taken things that do not belong to us. Not one of us can say we have satisfied the standards of our own conscience, never mind kept the laws of God.

In both creation and His Law, we see our sinfulness but we also clearly see His righteousness. God does not do the things we do. All that He is and all that He does is pure. He is without greed, malice, envy or any evil. He alone is good, holy, full of truth and mercy.

Yet if the truth about ourselves and the truth about God is all we know, we would not have anything wonderful to tell others—failure and despair would overwhelm the wonder of God—but there is more. God’s revelation of Himself does not stop with creation and His laws. He also revealed Himself more vividly by coming to earth in a human body. The man, Jesus Christ, shows us God—with far greater clarity than either the world around us or the rules in His Book.

Yes, God is powerful and can make a universe and yes, God is holy and demands conformity to His law; however, in these we cannot see His mercy and love. Only in Jesus Christ can we see the unmerited favor and kindness of God.

Sin is a fact. So is our helplessness to overcome it. Yet God sent Jesus to trade our death penalty for His life. With Him, we are granted forgiveness and the righteousness of God. His life, in us, makes up our shortfall. He has taken care of our greatest need and makes us different people, capable of loving and obeying God. His life powerfully works to overcome our sin.

No wonder we are excited about our faith, yet even if we lacked enthusiasm, we still must follow the example of our believing youth. Our God has given us a commission, a mandate, to go and tell everyone the wonderful things He has done.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Value systems rapidly changing ................ Parables 571

October 21, 1997

Nearly 18 years ago (now nearly 40 years ago), shocking statistics in southern California said one in four women would be sexually assaulted. More recent statistics quoted in an Ann Landers column report the result of a poll asking teenagers about their opinion of rape.

This poll says that when eleven to fourteen year-olds were asked about forced sex, 41% of the girls said it is acceptable “if the boy spent a lot of money” on the girls. Asked if it is okay for a man to rape a woman if she had past sexual experience, 32% of the girls said yes, rape is okay in that situation. Forty-seven per cent said rape is okay if the couple has been dating for more than six months. In all three questions, the percentages were higher from the boy’s answers.

Ann’s comment was: “We must do a better job of sex education at home. We must teach our children to respect each other.”

Behind this appalling lack of respect is a slippage from traditional value systems. Virtues like honesty, loyalty or self-control are no longer as important as making money (even if it means cheating or lying). Many modern youth are more concerned with being “personally fulfilled” than they are with taking responsibility for how they treat other people.

Beginning with the industrial revolution and mass production, our society was introduced to a throw-away materialism. Consumers can easily “buy another one” so why bother taking care of whatever can easily be replaced? Disrespect for material things seems to cross over to relationships. Why stay married? Or tolerate anyone? Simply replace them with a newer model.

During WWII, women had to join the work force, inadvertently bringing another value change. Children were raising themselves or left with paid care givers. After the need ended, the trend continued. Many youngsters grow up taking for granted that making a good living is more important than sacrificing material things to raise your own children.

Another added pressure on respect came when someone decided “God is dead.” Human pride easily picks up the idea that virtue depends on us, not a Superior Being. By accepting this no-God theory, we are discovering that human virtue is not as strong as we think. In fact, the Bible clearly states than anyone who abandons trust in God, even if they are wearing a clerical collar or singing in the choir, will eventually give in to selfishness and disrespect for others.

We need God to care about people. The Bible tells us, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desire.”

In other words, in Christ, God gives us all we need to love and respect one another. No one has to give in to power-hungry violence, nor agree that it is okay. Instead, we can care for each other.

But this is not automatic. Although God offers these virtues, we need to believe and trust Him. We also need to “add to our faith” goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. While the word “respect” is not in the list, it is certainly implied as part of these other virtues.

We cannot go back to pre-industrial days nor abandon current technologies. We likely will not return to a one bread-winner family structure. However, we can return to God. We can humble ourselves before Him and admit we are in grave danger. We need His power to live lives of virtue and respect. Without it, those dreadful statistics will continue to hurt us and our children.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Happily Ever After ................ Parables 570

September 23, 1997

Fairy tales are supposed to end with “and they lived happily ever after.” Snow White’s story did. She rose from a deep sleep, married her prince and conquered the spell of an evil witch.

Cinderella’s story did. She sweetly waited until her cruel step-sisters ran out of schemes and the shoe was slipped on her foot. She too married her prince and lived happily ever after.

Is this not the desire of our hearts? We long to rise above the evil forces that threaten us. We want to live, laugh and love in style and grace, conquering all with our life of merit. We wish to look good, be appreciated, even gain the adoration of commoners and the respect of kings.

Diana, Princess of Wales, lived out those fairy tale dreams for us. She stood against evil forces with tough endurance and conquered her critics with outpoured compassion. She was kind to suffering people, both publically and privately. She touched thousands with her generosity.

Diana also lived in public our private sorrows. The inner heartaches we long to tell others but experience alone, she lived openly. Our sorrows and pressures, felt within our broken hearts, were on display in her life. The world knew her hurts. She became our champion.

Such a life was not supposed to end in one unexpected moment. Couldn’t we, just this once, turn the clock back and make it right? Couldn’t we revise her final chapter and move it from the middle of the book to the end where it belonged, in the happily ever after?

Personal sorrow over this tragic, too-soon ending seems fitting yet its depth surprises us. Why are we so sad? Is it because the fairy tale did not end the way it was supposed to? Is it that we have lost our stand-in, the one who represents our longing for the world to know and sympathize with our broken places? Do we ache inside because youth and beauty should never fade or be yanked from those who have it? Does this dying bring home to us the reality that life is not fair and death turns its back on no one?

Many of her loyal and grieving public express their opinion that Diana is in that final resting place of bliss. Who can say? Some evangelicals would demand a “public profession of faith.” Others might say her life displayed the qualities of a person who understands and knows personally the kindness and mercy of God. Her vulnerability did resemble the meekness of the One who would “never break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick.” Certainly Diana’s charitable actions put many professing Christians to shame.

Do those qualities ensure a princess a place in heaven? Most of the world thinks so but the Word of God says not. It says eternal life is a gift from God, not a reward for the way we live. It is a gift given in a personal relationship of faith in Jesus Christ. While extraordinary goodness is sometimes seen in others simply because they have been made in the image of God, the goodness that pleases God flows from a transforming, personal relationship with Him and is a result of Christ’s presence in us. The Bible says, “Whoever has Christ has life” along with all the attributes of grace found in Him.

Knowing that, I prayed for Diana in the hour before she died. I asked the Author of life to grant her life—not length of days for that is the minor kind, but eternal life. I know only He can give it—and that He gives it as an act of mercy to the helpless. Inside that twisted metal executioner, Diana was never more helpless nor would she ever be more vulnerable.

If God said “Yes” to that prayer (and no one knows if He did or perhaps had already given her His gift), then the People’s Princess has found her true Prince. She is with Him, enjoying His love and the only true “happily ever after.”