Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Where is God when bad things happen? ................ Parables 595

May 12, 1998

Two teen boys open fire, killing five and wounding others at a school in Jonesboro, Arkansas — just another in a long list of violent incidents that raise the old question: Why does God allow such suffering?

When I first became a Christian, I felt that God would care for me like my own father did, doing everything in His power to protect me from trouble or pain. However, life handed me trials and difficulties just like everyone else experienced. What was wrong?

After a few years of both asking and hearing that question, I realize pat answers satisfy no one. Each person who asks these questions must search for the answers themselves. God offers truth for those who turn to Him, yet to some, His explanations may seem too simple. Our need to know is satisfied as faith helps us grasp the significance of what He says.

Part of the reason the world has troubles is not because God ignores us, but because we ignore God. I realize personally, that whenever I go my own way without consulting Him or looking for instructions in His Word, I am not happy with the results. This is true for big decisions and for smaller issues. God wants to guide me and provide all I need for all of life, but if I neglect or reject what He offers, I am stuck with lesser resources.

The Bible says I am not alone: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each to his own way.” Yet God graciously invites everyone to go His way and to help them in it. For many who do not, their own way leads to pain and suffering, not only for themselves but others.

God can, and sometimes does, stop people from having their own way. Jonah is a good example. God told him to go to Nineveh and warn the people that if they did not change their evil ways, He would destroy them. Jonah refused and took off in the other direction. God used a storm and a large fish to stop him. Instead of having his own way, Jonah wound up doing what God commanded.

However, God does not always stop people from doing their own thing, even if it seems very wrong, or is downright evil. Case in point: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was not guilty of anything criminal or immoral. He was full of compassion for people, healing and touching their lives for good. However, He did call things as He saw them, particularly the hypocrisy of religious leaders. In retaliation, they determined to kill Him.

God could have stopped that, but He did not. Jesus could have called legions of angels to rescue Him, but He did not. Even Jesus’ disciples might have put up a huge protest to try to stop this outrage, but they did not. Jesus died.

Was God oblivious? Did He care? The Apostle Peter thought otherwise. He told the Jews: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead. . . .” Jesus died because God had a plan. In dying, Jesus conquered sin and death so you and I might have eternal life.

How does this relate to two boys shooting at teachers and classmates? Like this: if God can bring the greatest good to humanity out of a huge injustice to the most innocent of beings, He is fully capable of accomplishing a good purpose in this and all seemingly senseless situations. He is not ignorant of trouble nor is He helpless. He proved it concerning Jesus and continues to prove it to those who look to Him for meaning in their pain and problems.

For us, trials are tests. Will we trust God? If we do, He deepens and matures our faith, showing us He is not the author of trouble, but our refuge and support in it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

More than a Conqueror ................ Parables 594

April 28, 1998

Napoleon once said, “Battles are won, not by men, but by a man.” Considering his reputation for arrogance, he must have said that before Waterloo.

Winning a battle against many takes more than one man, even a man like Napoleon. However, he was partly correct; some battles are won by one person.

In struggles to overcome bad habits, lose weight or conquer an addiction, one person does most of the fighting. Family and friends offer encouragement but the ultimate decisions belong to that one person. Winning depends mostly on their determination. No one can do it for them.

Socially, the struggle against moral decay is also fought by individuals. The person who wants to maintain a virtuous life in a moral pigpen fights a serious enemy. Although he or she may have support from others, the decision to try to live a clean life is made alone.

In that moral and spiritual realm, we may agree about how to live and group effort is helpful. Nevertheless, an enduring victory eludes us unless we rely on the one person who has already won the battle for us. He calls us, not to do our own fighting but to join Him in celebrating His victory.

To illustrate this, the Bible uses a scene common to the readers of that day. If a leader went out to war and defeated his enemies, he displayed his victory by returning home, leading those he captured in a triumphal parade. With that celebration in mind, the Apostle Paul describes how God won our battle against sin and moral failure. He says, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ. . . .”

Picture Jesus as the conquering hero. He defeated the power of sin (He never sinned) and sin’s punishment, death (He rose from the dead). In that battle, He not only destroyed sin and death but also “the power of the Devil who held people in bondage through their fear of death.”

Jesus won the war. He is leading His spoils of war toward their eternal home and an everlasting celebration. The spoils are His people, set free from the bondage of sin and its ultimate outcome, death. No longer do we fear dying or being separated from God forever. We now belong to Christ and are the evidence of His enduring victory.

The illustration show how one man, the God-man, won the battle for us. No longer in the grip of sin, Satan and fear, we are truly free, even as His captives. This freedom is not the same as being able to do whatever we please. That would bring us back into the bondage of sin. True freedom is being released from the tyranny of selfishness to be cared for by God, to become all He intended when He created us, and to follow Him home.

With this hope and in this freedom, we share in His victory parade. As a child at a football game can jump up and down shouting “We’ve won, we’ve won!” — we too can rejoice in a victory with which we associate ourselves. We did not have to overcome our enemy. All we needed to win was to put our faith in the One who won it for us.

As we commit ourselves to Him in love and gratitude, we more fully realize what He did for us nearly 2,000 years ago and with joy, we can also shout, “We’ve won, we’ve won!”

Friday, May 26, 2017

Defining Ambition ................ Parables 593

April 21, 1998

Ambition. If you do not have it, you will never make anything of your life.

At least, that is current popular opinion. Ambition keeps people going, keeps us committed to excellence. It makes us more inventive, creative, competitive. Without it, we would sit back and let the rest of the world walk all over us on their way to success.

Some ambitions are admirable, like being a good friend, beating your personal best in the Olympics, engineering a new and needed product, discovering new cures or getting an education.

Some ambitions are questionable, like holding the world’s record for the largest ball of string, being the first person to eat a bicycle, collecting a garage full of bottle caps, or like Cool Hand Luke—eating thirty-nine hard-boiled eggs.

Some ambitions are dangerous, such as walking across Niagara Falls on a rope, jumping over semi-trailers with a motorcycle, parachuting from the Trade Center or sticking your head in the mouths of lions.

Some ambitions are without regard for anyone else’s life or well-being, like possessing another person’s spouse, getting a promotion by having an employee fired, or setting speed records with the family car while all of them are in it.

Some ambitions are misplaced. One example was the consuming drive of Agrippina, mother of Nero who was determined to place her boy on the throne of Rome. Seeking the counsel of soothsayers, she was told, “Nero will rule, but he will kill his mother.”

Undaunted, she replied, “Let him kill me then.” Through his mother’s scheming, Nero did become the Emperor of Rome but five years later he ordered his mother’s death.

Most people would think twice if their ambitions would destroy them, but selfish extremists rarely do. Out to conquer any obstacle, they are obsessed with reaching their goals, having their way, tearing down all obstacles. If anyone offers them contrary advice, they ignore it. If others are damaged, they blame them and say they “should get out of my way.”

We condemn selfishly ambitious people, not for their desire to do or be something or to achieve, but for their motivation. It is all for themselves. No one else will benefit. In the end, neither will they. By the end, I mean in the day when God evaluates their lives.

God is not impressed with selfish ambition. Galatians 5 lists it along with other sins that characterize the lives of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Why is it so wrong? According to the Bible description of sin, all people are “like sheep, who have gone astray” and who have “turned to our own way.” Selfish ambition is a visible picture of doing our own thing without any regard for others or for God.

God did not intend we be selfish. He created us in His image and likeness so we could be a visible reflection of Him. When we are driven by selfish ambition, we cannot fulfill His major purpose for us.

God is not selfish. He proved it by coming to earth and taking our punishment for sin on Himself, dying in our place that we might have eternal life. A selfish God would simply say, “Oh if that is the way they want to be, let them go their own way and see what it gets them.”

Nero was a despot who used human torches to light his garden at night. Had Agripinna been more like God intended, she may have looked in the Bible for her life goals and been motivated to teach her son how to love people in generosity and kindness. Instead, he not only killed thousands of other people but his own mother.

So much for selfish ambition.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Know a Perfect Editor? ................ Parables 592

April 14, 1998

A graphic artist worked hard to reach his goal of landing a cover on Fortune magazine. Finally it happened and he joyfully celebrated. However, within a week while standing on a street corner, he saw a garbage truck drive by on its way to the dump. It was filled with outdated issues of Fortune magazine, his artwork on its cover.

Creative people dream large goals but artists, writers and others who create things must understand one reality: what we produce will not necessarily outlive us.

A wise man once said, “Of the making of books, there is no end.” That holds true for all sorts of commodities. Even though precious few paintings are preserved as masterpieces and few books are collected as classics, no matter what we design or manufacture, most of our creative efforts appear for a time then they are “out of print” and fade into oblivion.

Creative people also struggle with “revising and editing.” A first sketch or a first draft is rarely the best an artist or a writer can do. Well-known artists often wipe off the canvas and start over. Famous authors revise their manuscripts six, eight, ten or even more times. Long after their work is produced, displayed or published, there is often a sense that “I could have done better.”

When anyone dreams big or tries to make their work the best they can possibly do, they exemplify a worthy goal for their personal lives. Yet how often we look back with regret at the life we have lived and say, “I could have done better.”

Ben Franklin may have felt something like that when he wrote the following epitaph for his own tomb, but notice the ending: “The Body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer, Like the Cover of an Old Book, Its Contents Torn Out, Stripped of Its Lettering and Gilding, Lies Here, Food for Worms. Yet the Work Itself shall not be Lost; for it will, as He Believed, Appear once More in a New and More Beautiful Edition, Corrected and Amended by The Author.”

Franklin is right; life is a lot like the writing of a book. In the first draft, we construct a lifestyle that feels right, quickly laying down the foundation. Then we begin to revise, realizing that success demands more than a just quick pass.

As the work progresses, we discover there is far more to “good copy” than what can be seen on the surface. We begin editing and revising at a deeper level, perhaps refining our souls. Like a writer, the honest person also realizes that the work of improving is a never-ending task; just when we are satisfied, we see more flaws that need correcting.

Benjamin Franklin obviously thought about life more deeply than the average ambitious person. He knew that no matter how hard he worked, his body would eventually succumb to decay. After his life was over, then what?

Franklin, like many others, looked beyond success in this life to the promises of God. He found that through faith in Christ, he could live forever, in a new body, with God, where death has no power. He also realized that God would do a major revision, deleting all his errors.

Franklin may have read the Bible verses that say, “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day . . . . We know that if the earthly tent we live in (our bodies) is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands . . . .”

He likely found another place that says when we go to heaven “we will be like Jesus,” all typos corrected, all subjects and objects in agreement, every comma in the right place. As Franklin said, we will be a new edition, corrected and amended by the One who created us and who will totally restore us — a far superior fate than being carted off to a garbage dump.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Parties may last for a lifetime, but . . . ................ Parables 591

(No tear sheet)

One of my cousins told me he would never consider becoming a Christian. He explained he was “having too much fun” and being a Christian would “stop all that.”

People go many directions in their pursuit of happiness. Some look for it in more money, or a bigger house, or a faster car, or different friends, or a better job. Most of us realize that even if we achieve these goals, the delight they bring does not last very long.

My cousin thought he would find happiness in a never-ending string of parties, with lots of alcohol and never enough sleep. Instead of the fun he hoped for, he wound up with liver damage that has contributed to seriously deteriorating health. Whether he becomes a Christian or not, “stopping all that” seems like a good idea.

In contrast to my cousin, Cyprian the 3rd century Bishop of Carthage, wrote to a friend: “It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians... and I am one of them.”

Anyone who has put their faith in Christ shares Cyprian’s discovery. There is a joy that cannot be found in external pleasures or material possessions, or even in being healthy. It is the inner joy that God gives to those who walk with Him. It is a joy that cannot be destroyed, taken away or replaced.

The enduring nature of this joy stands on a strong foundation. One is the sovereignty of God. He controls all things in wisdom, power and goodness. Nothing surprises or upsets Him. He has what it takes to meet all situations. When we trust a God like that, anxiety begins to fade. We know He is taking care of every detail of our lives.

The second foundation is the peace of God. God is at peace within Himself. When Jesus said to those who trust Him: “My peace I give to you. . . .” He was talking about that inner peace. With it, we are released from our inner conflict too. Also, God knows how to settle external conflicts. As we trust Him, we begin to learn how to do it too. Stress begins to leave and joy moves in to fill the space.

Because God is eternal, His joy and peace last forever, withstanding time and trials. The only way we can get rid of them (Who wants to?) is by choosing doubt or sin instead of trust.

Joy is also powerful in itself. The Old Testament writer Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” This kind of joy has the capacity to give us confidence and a sense of being able to meet life without fear.

When we know God is in control, we are joyful. When our inner struggles are settled, we are joyful. When we trust God, we learn that there is no joy like the joy of the Lord. Parties may last for the night but God’s peace and joy lasts for ever.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ambitious? ................ Parables 590

(No tear sheet)

Alexander the Great was a man of ambition. However, after completely subduing the known world, he was not satisfied and wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. He died young — in a state of debauchery.

Hannibal was another ambitious man. We remember him as the leader who crossed the Alps with his elephants. Most do not know that the gold rings taken from those he slaughtered filled three bushel baskets. Like Alexander, his end was ignoble; he killed himself by swallowing poison. Few even noticed his death and he left this world unmourned.

Julius Caesar ambitiously conquered 800 cities, “staining his garments in the blood of one million of his foes” but he too found no lasting reward for his ambition. Instead, he was stabbed by his best friend at the scene of his so-called greatest triumph.

Napoleon, once feared as the scourge of Europe, spent his last years in banishment. His ambition and many victories did not bring lasting honor or lasting rewards either.

These men did not dedicate their lives or their ambition to God, but for people who have the outcome is quite different. God’s people may have great ambition or be less enterprising. Nevertheless, their lives have surprising results.

For example, a woman once poured expensive oil on Jesus’ head. The disciples thought the money paid for the perfume should have been given to the poor. Were they right? This woman’s oil was worth about a year’s wages. Wouldn’t God reward her for an act of generosity that benefitted many people instead of wasting it on one person?

Today, movie celebrities donate money to charities that feed and clothe thousands. Other wealthy people give a portion of their millions to people less fortunate. Jesus did not say giving to the poor was wrong, but in the case of this woman, He said, “Leave her alone. . . . She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” A small and costly ambition, but she was given an eternal legacy.

Missionary pioneers Hudson Taylor and William Carey provide more contemporary examples. Respectively, these men determined to take the gospel to China and India. Because of their selfless efforts, millions of souls will spend eternity with God, another priceless legacy.

While not evil in itself, the Bible warns against selfishly motivated ambition: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Selfish ambition and neglecting a commitment to godliness are characterized by wanting what other people have — even to the point of depriving them — and calling it “ambition.” In contrast, the ambition that God approves is like that of Mary of Bethany. She did not cling to what she had but “wasted” it on Christ.

So did Taylor and Carey. They could have stayed home and put their skills to making money or fame for themselves. Instead, they poured out their lives for the eternal well-being of others. Whatever they missed out on in this life, they did not miss out on God’s promises. He affirms that those who serve Him will enjoy His eternal rewards.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Impatience changes with a change of perspective ................ Parables 589

March 24, 1998

A city restaurant offers lunch free if customers have to wait longer than 10 minutes from the time they order to the time it is on their table. We sat with friends discussing the difficulty of waiting. Everyone seems to be time-oriented, busy, always rushing, and increasingly impatient.

One person at the table told a story about a man standing in a slow-moving lineup at his bank. He shuffled from one foot to the other, seething inside. The tellers were pitifully slow. Even the customers seemed to take their time moving ahead when it was their turn. Then he noticed a small sign on the counter: “For every 5 minutes you wait in line, we will put $5 in your account.”

Suddenly he viewed waiting from a different perspective. He relaxed. Slowness was no longer an issue. He even found himself mentally saying “take your time” to both tellers and customers. It was to his advantage that they dawdled.

A different perspective can change our response to other ways of waiting. Waiting on God is one of them. Sometimes we are anxious for His answer to our prayers, for Him to change our circumstances. We feel less anxiety when we look at His view of our problems.

For instance, James 1 tells us to “consider it pure joy when we face trials.” At first read, that is ridiculous statement. Who can face trials with any kind of positive reaction, never mind “pure joy”? But we must not let this strange command make us think God does not care. He has a greater plan in mind than simply giving us relief. James goes on to say trials are His tool to test our faith and produce perseverance. He says if perseverance does its work in us, we will be mature (like Christ) and not lack anything. Therefore, if we can keep His end result in mind, we can face trials as opportunities for our good and even be glad they are happening.

God challenged me when we decided to have my aging parents live in our home. My gifts lie in teaching and although I love my parents, serving them with compassion would be a trial. As my frustrations grew, I prayed asking God why He wanted this for me. His response came quietly to my conscience: “I am using this to make you a better teacher.” After seeing His perspective, it was much easier to cooperate with Him.

Another example that ties with the hurried, impatient pace of current life is the importance of spending time with God. Caught up in hectic doing, many Christians find it difficult to stop and pray or read their Bible. We say we don’t have the time, yet in our hurrying we find ourselves stressed and even exhausted.

The prophet Isaiah offers this: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Waiting on God means not fretting about life but allowing Him to care for us. To do that, we need to spend time in His Word, learning about His faithfulness and reminding ourselves who He is and how great He is. As we do that, we can face trials with a different vantage point — His.

Spending time with God helps us see our circumstances as part of His plan, not something unfair or meaningless. Waiting on God also helps us find our strength in Him and not in our own resources. Knowing He is in control and that he loves us gives us a sense of peace and renews our energy.

Bank line-ups or impatience for food in a restaurant are small trials but for even these, we can focus our thoughts on the care and purposes of God. The renewal He gives will mean far more to us than a free lunch or an extra few dollars in our account.

Monday, May 15, 2017

It’s a control thing! ................ Parables 588

March 17, 1998

Mergers are making news. Not too long ago, Nova Corporation and TransCanada Pipe Lines announced their plan to unite. This deal could create a huge company with billions in revenues and assets. It would also give them greater power over their competitors.

Not to be outdone, Compaq Computer Corporation plans to take over Digital Equipment Corporation. This will be the biggest acquisition in computer industry history, also giving this larger company an edge over their competition.

Banks are getting in on the act too. The Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada announced plans to merge. If this agreement is approved, it will be the largest bank in Canada with enough clout to be considered a world class financial institution. Again, more power.

In the past week, two major pharmaceutical companies also announced their intention to merge. It is unlikely this deal will become reality as this merge would produce a huge monopoly in that market. Governments agree that too much power in the corporate sector is not good. However, intention and motivation are there. And as my friend Gloria would say, “It’s a control thing.”

Some Christians suspect these mergers are an indication that the world will eventually be united under one government and one spiritual and political leader, the Antichrist, who wants to control everything. Whether or not one person will rule the world, forces other than big business do unite to give themselves greater power, particularly in opposition to Christianity.

On that note, the first real “antichrist” merger happened when Jesus was arrested. Luke 23 describes how Pilate tried to pass off making a decision about Jesus by sending him to Herod. When Herod couldn’t get Jesus to perform any “tricks” for him, he sent him back to Pilate to order His death. Verse 12 says, “That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.”

Since then, leaders of varying political persuasions have tried to eliminate Christians by joining forces to make laws against faith in Christ. Believers have been persecuted and killed for telling others about their beliefs. Atheists and others joined forces to make sure reading Scripture and saying prayers to God is banned in most schools, even in Canada. Many religious and secular organizations collectively cry for tolerance and fair treatment but will not tolerate the Christian faith. Again, my friend Gloria would say, “It’s a control thing.”

We do have a thing about control. Marriage partners vie for it and seek out others to “take their side.” Children gang up to wrest it from their parents. Students join to take every opportunity to seize it from teachers. We make control a sales feature on everything from cars to breeds of dogs. And if it helps, we will join forces with the most unlikely people in order to have more control over our own lives.

God (are you ready for this?) says this attitude is the very thing that separates us from Him. In short, our penchant for control He calls sin. One of His prophets describes it like this: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way . . . .”

Apart from Christ and within our own selves, we unite against submission to the authority of God. Our minds say, “I think I am right.” Our emotions say, “I don’t feel like it.” Our wills say, “No one is going to tell me what to do.” Our bodies say, “My own way is far more comfortable.” The resulting merger is that we become our own boss, we turn to our own way.

God says we cannot serve two masters and our self-serving is the essence of sin. Instead, He wants me to pray, “Lord, unite my heart to fear Thy name.” Whenever I insist on being the boss, I declare I do not, and will not, trust God’s sovereign power. Unless I choose otherwise, and again begin believing He wants and knows what is best for me, I become a one-person monopoly.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Power in weakness ................ Parables 587

March 10, 1998

Betty, an eighty-one year old heart patient and almost totally deaf, told her pastor she wanted to be involved in ministry to other people, despite her health problems. So a few people in her church went to her farm where she lived, and taught her how to use a computer.

Betty started using the Internet to find prayer groups and began praying for posted requests. She then began e-mail with those people to see how they were doing and how she could pray further for them. Some of these new friends started visiting Betty on her farm. They wanted to meet this warm-hearted, caring lady. Betty has even volunteered to organize a prayer network.

One of the dilemmas and fears of growing old is losing a sense of personal worth and significance. These are basic human needs, yet diminishing strength or health problems can rob us of the ability to do those things that once gave us fulfilment.

God’s people are not exempt from these fears. In Psalm 71, the psalmist wrote, “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone . . . . Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare Your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.” Betty may have prayed this prayer.

Along with this accurate description of human need, God promises He will be faithful to His people. In another psalm, the writer declares, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Betty is a contemporary example that a failing heart and deafness do not hinder God from pouring His strength into those who long to serve Him.

Our weaknesses and sense of incapacity do not limit God’s power. The Apostle Paul, although younger than Betty at the time, also felt unable to do the things God called him to do. In 2 Corinthians he wrote about an experience that was so incredible God had to give him a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. The Bible does not tell us what that thorn was but we can identify with Paul. Just like him, aside from our strengths we have limitations that seem to stand in the way of our becoming and doing all that we want to do.

Paul asked God three times to take away his “thorn” but God did not do it. Instead, He promised: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” That promise is God’s answer to our feelings of inadequacy also.

God doesn’t need our strengths and abilities in order to use us. A primary example is salvation. The Bible clearly says God does not ask for our character to reach a certain level or our performance to conform to certain standards before He forgives our sins. In the same way, He works in the lives of His people apart from what we can do.

This does not mean our skills and abilities are useless but whatever we do has no eternal significance or consequence apart from being empowered by God. In other words, even if we go through the motions of serving Him, unless His power is there, our work is to no avail.

On the other hand, God’s people are not robots. We have longings and desires and can make choices. As we learn to align those with what we know of God’s will, we find that He is not only willing but able to give us the capacities we need to carry out what He has put on our minds.

Betty illustrates that, but her story does not end with God supernatural blessing of strength in her weakness. She recently went to see her doctor. After examining her, he asked what she had been “taking” that he didn’t know about. She was puzzled and said, “Nothing.” At that her amazed doctor told her, “Betty, your heart is healed.”

The Lord became the “strength of her heart” in more ways than one.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Too simple a solution? ................ Parables 586

(No tear sheet)

Leon Uris’ book, Trinity, fictionalizes the history of Ireland’s conflict with England. It brings out that the battle is not primarily over religious issues, but does involve people associated with Christian denominations. Unfortunately, many people blame the church, religion in general, or even God, rather than putting it where it belongs.

Hundreds of years ago, the poor people in Ireland suffered abuse at the hands of those with money. The upper class not only exploited them, but ridiculed their faith and made fun of their culture. They fought back in a conflict complicated by potato crop failure, intermarriage between factions, and other circumstances.

Today, only those familiar with history understand the roots. The rest of the world looks at Ireland’s conflict as senseless slaughter, or revenge, or a control thing, or lust for violence. Even as talks continue between groups of Republicans and Democrats, Protestants and Catholics, there seems no end to bombing and killing. What will bring peace to Ireland?

Ireland is not the only battleground with religious overtones. In a different kind of conflict, a pastor is asked to resign from a local church even though some want him to stay. Those in control, are just as adamant that he leaves. The others wonder what they can do? Do they leave the church? Do they confront? Do they retaliate?

Or suppose a man is unfaithful to his holy marriage vows. His wife is hurt and angry. He refuses to apologize but says he wants to come back. She is upset, vindictive and wants to get even. What should be holy has disrupted into a domestic battle.

Whether large or small, all conflicts have only one lasting solution. It is not cease fire or settlement, although those happen. Neither is it a matter of one side winning and the other losing. It is God’s simple solution: forgiveness. With it, both sides win.

Contention is sometimes uncomplicated: one person initiates a strike and makes another person the victim. Most injured people who have not done anything to provoke a conflict or perpetuate it feel like striking back, but God says, “Do not retaliate, vengeance is mine.” Getting even is not one of His options.

If an injured person’s pain turns to anger and then bitterness, God also offers this note of caution, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Bitter anger is not one of His options either. Instead, God says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

In situations like the one in Ireland, conflicts are more complex. Years of “I touched you last” heap pain on all sides. Some people may not even be sure why they hate others, they just hate them. However, if peace will happen, someone has to say, “I quit. Even though I am hurt and justifiably angry, I choose to stop fighting, stop getting even . . . and forgive.”

The next step that person must take is this: “I have been wrong and hurt you also. Will you forgive me?” While asking forgiveness is risky (what if the other side keeps shooting?) there is far greater probability for peace this way than taking the avenue of revenge. Besides, God honors those who obey His commands. Anyone who has seems to be a loser if they seek to forgive will gain because God bestows His blessing on peacemakers.

Seeking forgiveness does seem like a simplistic solution; however, if anyone is hurt, angry and drowning in bitterness, it will be the most difficult thing they have ever tried to do. In fact, without realizing the deep forgiveness God offers them, it is unlikely any angry, bitter person can do it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Light in the darkness ................ Parables 585


This winter’s ice storms in rural Quebec kept thousands in the dark for weeks, even months. After intense effort to restore power, failures again plunged them into darkness. Even after repairs were completed at the main substation at Ste-Cesaire, many local lines remained down leaving people without light.

Power failures are distressing. Blackouts can be dangerous. However, another state of being without light has eternal consequences. The Bible defines the inability to grasp truth about God as spiritual darkness.

Some are in the dark about God’s existence. While they may see beauty in creation and other evidences of goodness, tragedies such as ice storms provoke the conclusion that a good God would never allow that, therefore God does not exist.

Others are in the dark about the way God works. They may observe answered prayer, healing or other unusual events but cannot see God’s hand in these. Part of the reason is that the Bible tells us God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are beyond our understanding. While God knows clearly both past and future, we see history dimly and view the present through our own prejudices. Also, His ways are beyond us. He rules sovereignly yet allows evil and tragedy. We simply cannot understand Him or what He is doing.

Besides our lack of capacity, a deep spiritual darkness inhibits comprehension of spiritual realities. The Bible says sin muddies our understanding. God created us to reflect His image but sin darkens our vision and we cannot see Him clearly.

However, God does not want us in the dark about Him. He revealed what He is like and offers us understand of what He is doing. For us to receive those revelations and that understanding, we must again become image-bearers. This will happen when God forgives and cleanses our sins, when we believe and receive Jesus and are spiritually reborn into His family.

Jesus described how this works. First, He said no one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3). Rather than react negatively to the words “born again,” consider what Jesus said — we cannot get into His realm or even see it, without this special change in our lives. This is very important.

Second, He said we need to hear and believe the good news: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

When we believe, the Spirit of God does an amazing thing—He makes us new creatures and places us in a new family, in intimate relationship with God and with Jesus Christ, and with eyes opened to spiritual truth. The New Testament offers this description of those whom God has changed: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

Jesus described Himself: “I am the light of the world.” Then He added, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.” As forgiven people in relationship with God, we can see Him. We are no longer unaware and in the dark.

Refusing His offer is something like telling Hydro Quebec not to bother hooking up the lines. It is like saying life in the dark, without power or light, is better than living with the lights turned on.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Power to change ................ Parables 584

(Tear sheet has no date)

My brother the skeptic says scandal in the American White House is not a new thing. He named incidents in the past and asserts, correctly or not, that the current president will never reform or change. He implies a bad apple is always a bad apple.

In a different context, a church is looking for a suitable pastor. Someone cautioned them that “Past actions determine future behavior.” In other words, watch out for the flaws in the previous ministry of any potential candidate. They will continue the same pattern in your church.

Howard Hendricks, a well-known Christian speaker, writer and professor at a large seminary says, “Change is the one thing people resist the most, yet for Christians, change is our destiny.” He firmly believes there is hope, both for fallen presidents and others who seem to be stuck in a rut.

The Bible is filled with stories of change. David was a shepherd who became king of Israel. He had his faults. When he was a teenager, his brothers thought he was impertinent and self-seeking. As king, he fell into sin because he could not resist beautiful Bathsheba. Yet God changed him and eventually called him “a man after My own heart.”

Saul, in the New Testament, also changed. His story starts with him on a vendetta to kill all the Christians he could find. In hateful rage, he was on his way to Damascus when the Lord stopped him. Within moments, Saul was on his knees in submission. God changed his motives, his character, and even his name. He became Paul, a great man of God who loved God’s people with all his heart and spent his life serving them.

What accounts for the transformation of a person’s life. Is it turning over a new leaf? Certainly the Bible tells us to change, to think differently, to behave in a manner that pleases God and does good toward others.

However, there is a part of us that we are unable to change. It is that deep-rooted resistance, not only to change, but also to God and to the things of God. Romans 3 says God looks at us and declares, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Because this is true, God offers to change us. He does it by giving us new life. Jesus called it a new birth. Paul described it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

The Bible clearly teaches that we are saved from our sinful rebellion and the judgment that is on sin by God’s grace, not by anything we do: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Paul said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” He added that nothing he could do “means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

For some, abandoning the “fun” of sin sounds impossible but it can be done. The Bible says Moses “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” For him, short-term sensual pleasures were no match against freedom from sin’s bondage or against the hope of eternal life.

Change does mean doing things a different way, abandoning old habits and getting in step with the plan of God but whatever else change brings, we do not have to try and do it ourselves. Our most earnest efforts cannot be compared with the transforming power of God’s grace.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Maintenance or prevention? ................ Parables 583

February 3, 1998

John R. Kasich, chairman of the USA House Budget Committee, has this to say about the B-2 Stealth Bomber airplane: “The Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation have concluded that the B-2 has significant maintenance problems, mainly because of the sensitivity of the plane’s special coatings (supposed to make it invisible to enemy radar). Testing shows that the bomber’s skin can be damaged by extreme climates, dust, water and high humidity. This means the B-2 requires up to 124 maintenance hours for every flight hour.”

Wow! Some days, after heavy demands on my time and energy, I feel like a B-2. Not only is my surface damaged but some vital systems are threatening to shut down. Obviously, something is needed. But is it maintenance or prevention?

Looking at what knocks me out of commission, exhaustion is at the top of the list. That happens when I give lengthy output toward people and my work, without enough input from God. A tired body is one thing but a dust-dry spirit is like an empty gas tank.

Refueling is an important part of maintenance. Without it, I am like that sensitive airplane; I crash. Thankfully, what I need to keep going is not nearly as time-consuming or expensive as what the B-2 requires. I simply must keep connected to God, going to Him for my needs.

Old Testament King David wrote: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock in whom I take refuge. He is my stronghold.” David knew where to get refueled.

So did the prophet Elijah. When he was exhausted, the Lord had him lie down and sleep, eat nourishing food, then sleep some more. Another prophet, Isaiah, also knew that even “youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall” but he also knew that “they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

If enemies take the form of people rather than our human limitations, God is also our helper. David wrote: “Free me from the trap that is set for me, for You (meaning God) are my refuge . . . . You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place . . . . I trust in You, O Lord . . . . My times are in Your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.” Scripture shows that God answered his cries again and again.

On the other hand, sometimes my “surface damage” is just that. The problem is a “thin skin.” In other words, I take things personally and incorrectly interpret what people say or do and then get upset or feel attacked — but it is not necessary.

God has an answer and a comfort for that too. My problem is that I’ve chosen an excessive focus on myself. 1 Corinthians 13 defines love as doing the opposite. Love is not “self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” The passage also says that love always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. If I am loving people as God commands me to love them, I will not read evil into everything they do and then feel sorry for myself because of it.

My husband sometimes refers to thin-skinned people as “high maintenance.” He recognizes they are like a B-2 and need constant care to prevent them from feeling hurt about many things. We both realize the best care comes from the One who knows us inside and out. He “manufactured” us. He knows what to do with both exterior and interior damage.

Someone said the B-2 is a great plane, just don’t take it out in the rain. We often try to do that with ourselves, refusing to risk anything that might mean bombardment. Yet who can escape hazards? No matter how hard we try, life is full of adversities. The great comfort is that God cares for us and although we might crash, He will not leave us on the ground.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Significance ................ Parables 582

January 27, 1998

Philosopher Karl Marx was not very rich nor did he have many close friends. When he died, eleven people attended his funeral. If significance were measured by that number, he would not have been a very important person.

Another man, Lazarus, was a beggar by profession. He did not have many friends either. He spent his life sitting on a curb asking for money. Beyond the few who tossed him coins and the dogs who came to lick his sores, no one cared. Eventually he died in pain and poverty. Where was his significance?

A third man was rich. He dressed in purple and fine linen. He had money, power and just about everything anyone could desire. He lived every day in luxury. Like the others, he also died. How can his significance be measured?

Jesus Christ was perhaps more well known than Karl Marx, but He was just as poor as the beggar, if one measures poverty by changes of clothing and a mortgage. Like Marx and the beggar, He gained few close friends. Even though multitudes idolized Him for a time, as His claims on their lives increased, His popularity dwindled. How can His significance be measured?

We tend to evaluate human life by popularity and possessions and other temporal things. The person adored by millions or who owns three homes, five cars and a yacht is rated as highly successful. However, these four people provoke rethinking that value system.

For instance, the significance of a Karl Marx cannot be accurately measured by his status at death. Marx co-authored the Communist Manifesto and his political ideas still impact many parts of the world. Even though his best ideas have been carried to extreme and brought suffering to many people, no one can say he was an insignificant person, at least in his lifetime.

The beggar comes out of a story told in the New Testament. Jesus says, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.” The Lord adds that in his lifetime, “Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted . . .” The beggar’s life was nothing but his eternity is quite wonderful.

The third man, the one who was rich, did not fare so well. When alive, he fit the picture of “the man with the most toys.” His life seemed to matter, but after he died, Jesus said he went to a place of torment where he kept calling out for just a drop of water to cool his tongue from the fire. Significance earned by wealth and power did nothing for him in that place.

What then makes a life significant? If it cannot be measured by what we can see during its physical duration, nor in the size of the funeral, nor in any human evaluation, how can we say who is important and who is not?

The answer can be seen in the person of Jesus Christ. He was poor. He died with no possessions except the garments on His back. He was not without friends but in the end, the crowds became violent with hatred and threatened his life. Finally, jealous religious leaders killed Him. When they did, He had no funeral. Only a few women attended His grave and even His friends walked away.

However, “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

What did He do that made Him so significant? The Bible says, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross” and “God was pleased with Him.”

The wealth and power (or lack of it) have no bearing on the eternal destinies of Marx, the beggar, the rich man, or even Jesus. All that counts is obedience. Where does that leave us?