Friday, June 30, 2017

Compatible with God? .......... Parables 608

August 18, 1998

Back in the 80's, a computer wasn’t considered one hundred percent compatible with IBM unless it could run Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. How technology has changed! Computer usage has become far too complex to evaluate with such a simple comparison.

Word usage changes too. “Compatible” once referred to human relationships. When a man and a woman considered themselves compatible, they got married. Today, lack of compatibility is still given as a reason for marital breakdown.

Like two computers, in a compatible relationship two people have similar dispositions or tastes. They get along because they think alike or have learned to understand one another. Sometimes they anticipate one another’s words and finish each other’s sentences.

What couple does not want to be compatible? While some might settle at both cheering for the same football team, wives and husbands want to be understood by a partner who shares their interests and ambitions, yet married couples know this takes effort.

Compatibility of interests is more apt to draw people together, and even without shared hobbies or interests, two people can cultivate at least one mutual interest. Understanding another person’s character and deepest desires takes more work.

If being happily compatible in marriage involves hard work, what about compatibility with God? Is it possible to be involved in a relationship with Him that includes sharing a similar disposition? Can we be interested in the same activities and goals as He is?

Many people try to enter a relationship with God on their terms, supposing He thinks like they do. In their minds, He will wink at their lifestyle, support their ambitions and help them reach their goals. However, we err if we think God’s character is like our own or that His plans and desires are like ours.

The first clue is that the Bible is clear on how to enter a relationship with God. It must be on His terms. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” The Apostle Peter adds, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” God tells us how to know Him; we cannot decide this for ourselves.

Secondly, God does not think or act like we do. He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . . .” Although we were made in His image, He is holy and we are not. Although He took on human flesh and became a man, those who observed Jesus said no man ever spoke or acted like He did. So how can we be compatible with God? We are not like Him in character or the way we behave.

Some say you simply do the things Jesus would do, imitating His actions. Some actions may make us give us an outward appearance of being like Him, but just as compatibility with your spouse involves far more than acting like them, so does being in harmony with God.

Our problem is with both “doing” and “being.” We have trouble doing godlike things because of who we are. It is a matter of the heart. To conform to His character or have the same interests as He does, we need to “be” like Him, think like He does. Who can say they know for sure the thoughts of God? Remember, God said His thoughts are not like ours.

Nearly every married person seeking compatibility has said silently or aloud, “I wish I could get into her (or his) heart—then I would know what she thinks and feels.” We might think if we could get into God’s heart, we would know Him, but we cannot do that.

However, God can get into our hearts, not to understand our thoughts and feelings because He already does, but so we can know His. Oddly enough, that is how to be compatible with God; we need to invite Him in.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

High Octane Refueling .......... Parables 607

August 11, 1998

In case you think your car is a gas-burner, the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth II moves a mere six inches for each gallon of diesel fuel. (Multiply that by fuel costs and you’ll know why an ocean cruise is so expensive.)

That amazing bit of trivia is a reminder that getting somewhere requires fuel. Not only that, now and then most of us have a “cruise liner” day — we burn a lot of energy but don’t go far!

Last week, I had one of those. It was Friday and my granddaughter was here. We both slept a bit later than usual and after we got going, she wanted to go shopping. My to-do list was long and the phone kept ringing.

In the hubbub, I did not take time to pray more than a couple of token sentences. Whenever that happens, by suppertime I’ve little left to keep me going. The worst of it is I know what I need to regain some energy but this time I simply didn’t do it.

One of my favorite Bible stories illustrates our need to be fueled up so we can sail through our responsibilities. Jesus is visits the home of Mary and Martha at dinner time. Martha rushes out to the kitchen but Mary sits at the feet of Jesus. Martha is annoyed and complains to Jesus that Mary should be helping her. Jesus rebukes Martha for being so anxious about her meal that she neglects the “most needful thing.”

Taking time to talk with God is a needful thing. Martha needed it so she could make dinner with the right attitude. I need it for my attitude and for the energy to make it to dinner time. Although most people think praying is bringing God our list of requests, prayer also prepares us for whatever lies ahead.

In the morning, we need strength and wisdom for the day before us. When we talk to God first thing, it helps us remember He is in charge of the universe and nothing is too difficult for Him. It also helps us remember that He loves us and listens to our prayers. Those things calm our hearts — and a calm spirit is energetic and creative.

In the evening, we need to unload our burdens by discussing with Him our concerns. He says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Prayer also insures a good nights sleep!

In between morning and evening, God offers to renew depleting resources. Scripture says, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Taking time to pray is tough in an age of fast-lane living. It takes a great deal of discipline to spend time in prayer when you already have more to do than hours in your day. It is also difficult when the day past leaves you so exhausted that you fall asleep before your head hits the pillow.

It is even harder to pull over in the middle of the day for a prayer-stop. However, God says the problem of not enough time is not solved by having more of it but by allowing Him to take care of every detail of our lives. His cure for exhaustion is not always more sleep but that our hearts are at rest. His cure for tough situations is not necessarily “work faster and harder” but “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”

God helps us go farther with prayer — it is fuel with the highest octane.

Monday, June 26, 2017

What size are your ears? .......... Parables 606

August 4, 1998

Remember Pinnochio, the wooden puppet who wanted to be a real live boy? In the story, every time he told a lie, his nose grew.

A news item reports that our eyes are always the same size from birth but our nose and ears never stop growing. Having tried portrait painting, I am aware that a child’s eyes are huge compared to other features. I’ve also noticed when you look at a person’s profile, the length of the ears is the same as the nose. Age doesn’t matter.

That ears and noses never stop growing is a surprise. I suppose if they have to be the same size as each other, it makes sense if one grows, the other must grow also. At least this would keep our features looking somewhat balanced. What a curiosity. Why would we need continual growth to our nose and ears? When we get older, is there a need for increased nasal passages? Does our hearing improve if our ears keep getting bigger? There seems no reason for it.

From another angle, it would be interesting if we had the same type of affliction as Pinochio – only applied to hearing the wrong things, like gossip. Imagine our ears becoming larger whenever we listened to stories better left unheard. How helpful. We could easily identify those who can keep secrets and those who should never be told anything!

This news story makes me think about gossip. Idle talk is a universal activity. People in every culture and for centuries have been swapping stories about others, particularly those not involved in the conversation and who have not given permission for the telling.

As much as people like to gossip, no one wants others to gossip about them. Most of us agree that it is wrong and Christians know God says we should not do it. Before I read about it in the Bible, my grandmother said, “If you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Sometimes gossip begins innocently. We tell someone about another person’s troubles and ask them to pray for that person. If we stopped and prayed at that point, all would be well. However, talk easily slides to semi-disguised put-downs, ridicule or a judgmental evaluation. Job’s friends even did this to his face.

God does not take this universal activity lightly. It is listed with sins like jealousy, anger and arrogance. Slander (a closely related relative) is classified with greed, idolatry, adultery and sexual immorality. The Bible says, “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.” (A variation says, ‘ . . . and the words of an obedient man will live on.’)

Gossip is wrong yet breaking the habit is seldom easy, especially if everyone else is doing it. My sister says she gets caught too, but sometimes stops herself with a little trick. She says, “I gossip about myself.”

Actually, she shows great insight. We need a certain core attitude before we can resist both gossip and slander. If we can tell stories about ourselves, particularly highlighting our weaknesses, mistakes, or short-comings, we usually have a healthy self-image. People with a strong sense of their own value do not need to tear someone down to build themselves up.

A healthy self-concept is rooted in deep confidence that God loves and accepts us and will meet all our needs. Since His opinion is primary and His care is certain, there is no need to prove anything or compete with others, much less tear them apart with gossip.

As for the ear/nose thing, I could check it out by measuring them every year. However, God says “life and death are in the power of the tongue” so that means another priority. By His grace, I’m working on putting a stop to the growth of gossip.

Friday, June 23, 2017

God’s wisdom might seem odd . . . .......... Parables 605

July 28, 1998

What would you do if you owned a business and your customers complained continually that your parking lot was full of kids on skateboards? Most businesses put up signs. There is one at our local mall that says NO SKATEBOARDING IN THE PARKING LOT.

Signs like these make customers and shoppers happy, but what about the youngsters who like to skateboard? After meeting with his church board, a youth pastor in Florida came up with a novel solution. A local youth staged a protest demonstration about off limits signs that kept them from having fun. This pastor in Dunedin, Florida showed up and invited them to use the church lot. Thus began “Live Wire,” a program for skateboarders and their friends.

Each Tuesday, the church parking lot is open from 6:00 to 7:00 for skateboarding, skating, and pickup basketball. Then the church offers food and a short Bible study, followed by more games. Because they feel welcome, young people are attending the study and learning that Jesus loves them too.

Christians soon discover that the Holy Spirit is quite willing to give wisdom and creative solutions to all who ask Him for it. I recall one of our sons being threatened by two older and larger boys at school. I prayed for wisdom and God gave me an interesting idea.

I told my son to tell those two boys he would be in big trouble with his parents if he got into any fights. Instead, why not come over to our house and they could don boxing gloves and have it out in our garage?

Our son was puzzled. What if they came? I said, “Before you have your fight, I will serve milk and cookies.” He laughed and left for school. When he came home, he was laughing again. The boys decided they should be his friends and the conflict was over.

James 1 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

That sounds easy but there is one catch to it. James goes on: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

God gives wisdom to those who believe in Him, to those who trust that He will. We are not given the option of asking then when we get an idea, second-guess it or wonder if it is from God or if it will work. In my son’s situation, we could have let the idea “what if they come” grow into real doubt that the plan would work. Instead, we trusted that God gave the idea and since His idea’s are good, it would work. We could go ahead, placing our confidence in Him for the outcome.

God also gives practical wisdom. He knew that skateboarders need to use their skills in an appropriate place. He also knew that these young people needed to know that someone cares about them and that He also cares about them. He gave a good idea to a youth pastor who saw the problem as an opportunity to seek God’s wisdom.

Whatever the problem, our God is wise enough to give us answers. The problem may not be quickly solved, but if we trust Him, He will lead us through to an amazing resolution, one that we would not have thought of without His help.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Speaking His words, not mine .......... Parables 604

July 21, 1998

David Prowse wore the Darth Vader suit in the Star Wars movie and spoke all of Vader’s lines but in the final version, all his words were dubbed over by James Earl Jones. Prowse must have been disappointed. Even though he was playing the role of an imaginary person, he expected to hear his own voice in the theater.

Prowse was playing a role, but saying someone else’s words could also be plagiarism. I once heard a speech that was almost identical to another one delivered by a more famous speaker. Because I recognized it, the second speech was a great disappointment.

Sometimes people say someone else’s words because they are delivering a message for them. For instance, we send one child to tell the others that “it is suppertime.” We expect them to deliver the message promptly and repeat it as it was given.

I’m not sure how we can define what James Earl Jones was doing. He delivered Vadar’s lines (an imaginary person) using Prowse’s moving lips (without his permission). In some ways, he was delivering a message but imagine words coming out of your mouth that are not your words and someone else is saying them!

Being a “mouth” for another person’s words is not a far-fetched idea for a Christian. When the first disciples of Christ came together for prayer, Acts 4:31 says “they prayed and the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

These men and women were talking — but their words were not their words. They were not actors playing a role, nor were they committing plagiarism. They were delivering a message, given to them by God, a message He wanted them to pass on to others without changing or adding to it. Further, passing on a message from God is a more incredible responsibility than telling someone supper is ready. The destiny of the listeners depended on fidelity to the original.

Besides that, giving God’s message has an added twist. Merely reciting verses from of the Bible, even reciting them accurately, does not necessarily do it. God did inspire the writing of Scripture, but delivering a powerful message for God is not reading — instead, it is God-driven.

God-driven describes a person controlled by the Spirit of God rather than by personal motivations. This person is usually willing to speak, however God is not restricted by human resistance or indifference. If He chooses, He can speak through whoever or whatever He wants (even a donkey (see Numbers 22).

God informs His people, even commands us, that we can say His words: “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). Imagine the difference in our speech if we knew God was using our mouths!

Most importantly, speaking for God is a type of service for Him. Peter goes on to say, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.”

Speaking for God is not for self-aggrandizement. In fact, selfish motives must be put aside. When a person (or a donkey!) actually does it, God is using them in a living and active way. He is present and very intentional; these words are important to His plan.

In the minds of Star Wars fans, no one thought about David Prowse’s lips moving, or that they were hearing sounds made by James Earl Jones. For them, Darth Vadar was speaking. It is like this when God speaks through His people. The voice may be a preacher, a Christian neighbor or whoever He decides to use, but those willing to hear God will know it is Him.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dealing with stress? .......... Parables 603

July 14, 1998

A commercial shows a young man in the company of beautiful, alluring women. The words tell of his struggle to resist temptation as sweat drops from his brow—but it isn’t the women that are enticing him—it is their cigarettes. He is trying to quit smoking.

A friend tells me that he started smoking on a dare, but it soon became his main source of relaxation. As his life entered the fast lane, his habit grew to over a pack a day. He now claims he needs this much nicotine to calm his nerves.

What can a person do for a stressed body and frenzied minds? In 1984, over 100 million prescriptions were written in the United States for tranquilizers and related drugs. Some prop themselves up with alcohol. Others crash in front of a television set. Nothing seems to have a lasting effect because that fast lane soon demands they come back.

Because of our hectic pace, North Americans suffer in epic proportions from “sleep-deprivation.” Instead of cutting back, our to-do lists get longer. Instead of taking mini-vacations, we add pep with pills, chemicals, multi-vitamins, and all sorts of related pick-me-ups. Amid the pressures, our limping bodies demand a bigger and better boost to keep us going.

The problem with our props and crutches is that even if they do work, the relief they give does not last long. It is like dieting; we lose weight but soon go back to our old eating patterns and the pounds return. We need a permanent change in the way we live, not a short-term boost.

One bonus: the body is sometimes smarter than the mind. It will fold up on its own if we refuse to willingly take a rest. Illness forces us to do what we knew we needed but were too busy to allow ourselves the time for.

Jesus knows all about our tendency to go too fast without taking time to refuel but His solution was not necessarily more sleep. Even though stress and the tensions of life eventually affect the body, they begin their toll in the inner places, in our hearts and minds and souls.

On one occasion, crowds pressed Jesus for greater miracles but He noticed those who refused to believe in Him, religious leaders who preferred their own hectic efforts at pleasing God. To them (and to us) He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus knew their fast-lane living came from efforts to be all they could, but they were trying to do it in their own strength and by their own rules. Without God’s help, they were becoming weary, beating up themselves with impossible rules and demands. They missed out on God’s help because they refused to put their trust in Him.

On another occasion, Jesus visited Mary and Martha, sisters who loved the Lord. It was mealtime. At first, both women sat and visited with Jesus. Then Martha became anxious about the meal and sped to the kitchen. Soon she grumbled that Mary was not helping her but instead sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha complained to Jesus. He told her she was over-anxious, then added, “. . . only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better. . . .”

The meal was important but so was spending time at His feet. Without it, Martha did not have the strength (or the right attitude) to do the work. She railed at Mary and even tried to tell Jesus that He didn’t care. She thought Mary was lazy but Mary knew her source of strength. The work could wait until she was fueled up and ready to do it. Jesus said this was “better.”

Notice, Jesus does not promise a work-free life. He just promises to lift anxiety and be our ultimate crutch. With Him, we can find strength for life, even for the fast lane, but we have to slow down to get it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Faith is about who God is .......... Parables 602

July 7, 1998

I used to argue with my mother about evolution. She believed in a six-day creation by God and I thought horses used to be the size of small dogs.

One day, after a few major failures, I invited Jesus Christ into my life. I wanted His forgiveness and help with what I had ruined. At that point, the creation/evolution conflict was not an issue. Sometime later, I realized that I no longer believed the horse thing. I had much the same belief in creation as my mother. My mind had somehow changed although no one had tried to convince me with various points from either theory. I had read the Bible, trusted God, and despite so-called scientific evidence to the contrary, my position changed without any effort on my part.

Descriptions of experiences like this cause some people to think Christians “park their brains” when they embrace faith. They wonder how a thinking person could possibly believe that there is a God or that He created the world. This especially includes the scientific community.

Several years ago, someone researched this issue. They discovered that many founding fathers of modern science were Bible-believing Christians. This includes names like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur, Francis Bacon and German astronomer, Johannes Kepler.

For instance, Kepler reasoned that since the universe was designed by an intelligent Creator, it should function according to some logical pattern. In his day, other non-believing scientists thought the universe was a product of chaos, therefore had no order. Kepler countered that a chaotic universe was inconsistent with God’s wisdom. Because of his faith and thinking, we now have a better and more accurate understanding of the consistency in planetary motion.

In more recent research, it has been noted that 40% of the scientific community professes a belief in God. The writer who reported this number seemed surprised. The percentage turned out to be the same as statistics before this century. He thought that since more “scientific evidence” had been discovered, more scientists would dismiss God and embrace evolution.

In my experience, faith seemed to sidestep the creation/evolution debate, yet I realize that faith is not about believing something without evidence. Nor is it believing in spite of evidence to the contrary. Instead, faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” based on a deep trust in God and in what He says. If it opposes other theories, who is right?

In relation to how the world was formed, God says “what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Believing that God created all things is not based on what I can see or not see or figure out by my own reasoning. My faith is based on what God has revealed about Himself and my trust is in Him. When I ask “Is God telling the truth?” — faith says, “Yes, He is.”

Faith is reasonable. If God is the God described in the Bible, God can make a universe out of nothing. He can do whatever He wants, even form a spiritual dimension or reality that is totally unlike those things we can see, yet exists parallel to them.

The Bible says sin has flawed human reasoning. We cannot always depend even on our own common sense. Gideon is one example. He went into a battle against a Midianite army of more than 100,000 but God told him his army of 32,000 men was too big. God thinned it to only 300, then instructed Gideon to use a battle tactic that was absurd.

Gideon’s faith saw both visible and invisible realities. He knew he was hopelessly outnumbered. However, he did not allow what he could see to detract from what God said. His faith went beyond what his common sense told him. He believed in the unseen God — and won the battle.

Faith is not blind but accompanied by inner vision. Faith sees past theories and suppositions because it is focused on God and His Word.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Patience pays off ............. Parables 601

June 23, 1998

My impatience shows up in many half-finished craft projects. Sometimes I excuse them by claiming boredom. If I am honest, I must admit I move from one thing to another because the current one is taking too long to finish. For me, persevering to the end is often a challenge.

Patience and its twin, perseverance, form the crown of virtue and maturity. If a person can persevere under all pressures and temptations to quit, they are mature and able to overcome great challenges. John Wesley, a famous Methodist preacher, was a patient man. Consider this page from his diary:

  • Sunday morning, May 5, preached in St. Ann’s, was asked not to come back anymore.
  • Sunday p.m., May 5, preached at St. John’s, deacons said, “Get out and stay out.”
  • Sunday a.m., May 12, preached at St. Jude’s, can’t go back there either.
  • Sunday p.m., May 12, preached at St. George’s, kicked out again.
  • Sunday a.m., May 19, preached at St. somebody else’s, deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
  • Sunday p.m., May 19, preached on the street, kicked off the street.
  • Sunday a.m., May 26, preached in meadow, chased out of meadow because a bull was turned loose during the services.
  • Sunday a.m., June 2, preached out at the edge of town, kicked off the highway.
  • Sunday p.m., June 2, afternoon, preached in a pasture, 10,000 people came to hear me.
Wesley’s patience paid off. He decided that anything worthwhile was worth waiting for, even worth enduring opposition and setbacks. The difficulties did not stop him but seemed to affirm that his goal was worth pursuing.

Our generation is not like that. We have instant breakfasts, fast food lunches, heat-and-serve dinners, no-iron clothes, jump-to-the-pump service. Television, with problems solved in 30-60 minutes, makes us impatient with our own problems. In our minds, all challenges should be quickly and neatly wrapped up in, at most, a day or two.

The problem with quick solutions is that we miss an important step in the development of our character. Trials make us patient.

James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, put it this way, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Perhaps most people do not see a trial as a test of their faith. However, all challenges, particularly difficult ones, are opportunities to trust God. Easy problems do not test our resources to the limit. Tough situations bring us to the end of our abilities and, hopefully, to God.

Faith in God means trusting Him to supply whatever we need to make it through our tough situation. First, we may need wisdom. For that James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all. . . .”

During trials, faith also keeps us from bailing out or running away. Instead of turning to drugs, booze or other numbing “solutions,” faith keeps us from despair. By faith, we know that God hears our cry for help and His help is on the way.

Faith also knows that God uses all things, even trials, for our good, to make us more like Christ. Part of being like Christ is being patient, being able to persevere, to finish what we start.

Hmm. Now where did I leave that half-finished cross stitch?

Monday, June 12, 2017

The ‘why’ question ................ Parables 600

June 16, 1998


If the question is not added after newspaper headlines, people do ask it after hearing tragic events such as young students bringing guns into their school to shoot classmates and teachers.

Without intending to diminish the horror of recent events, a cartoonist attempts to answer that huge question. His drawing shows a man shouting at God, “Why do you allow injustice?” A voice comes back, “I might ask you the same question.”

In another attempt to answer this question, an eighty-year old friend says we are foolish to confuse God with life. In life, we experience evil, helplessness and things that seem senseless. However, God is always good, powerful and wise. While we may not understand His reasons for staying out of certain human activities, we cannot blame Him when people do evil things.

Who do we blame? The psychologists debate back and forth; is it nurture or nature? Is the environment at fault or is this a genetic problem?

Those who blame nurture say something is wrong with a bad person’s environment. That could include parents, the school system, their neighborhood and society at large. Accordingly, if children were properly raised, rightly educated, and lived in the right part of the world, they would not do evil things.

Others think genetics determine character and intelligence. Certain people are simply prone to unacceptable behavior. In this theory, kids who shoot other kids are genetically predisposed to be anti-social (or however the current lingo describes them). We are simply “programmed” and our behavior is a natural outflow of that programming. We have no real choices in what we do because our decisions flow out of predetermined factors set at birth.

The Bible does put some responsibility in both areas. Because our environment does have influence, parents are told to raise their children to know and obey God. Social structures are encouraged to be just and moral, upholding righteousness and punishing those who do evil. Of course failure of families and other social systems to uphold godly values can result in children without those values, kids who shoot other kids.

As for genetics, Scripture does say that we are “born into sin.” This means that although human beings were created to reflect God’s image, sin has marred our ability to do it. Our propensity to go our own way, opposing and ignoring God, permeates the entire human race. A huge reason kids shoot kids is inherent in what the Bible calls our “sinful nature.”

However, the Bible makes it clear that God does not allow anyone to blame their nature or their environment for their behavior. Our sinful nature is neither an excuse nor a reason for despair. God will forgive us and give us a new nature. With this transformation, we can choose good and rely on Him to give us the power we need to overcome our sinful nature.

We are not stuck with externals that “program” us either. Despite the lawlessness around us, with God’s help it is possible for us to choose to obey Him. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” Through faith in Him, we can overcome the negatives that life throws at us.

God clearly says no one is a helpless victims of their genes or their environment; we are personally responsible for our choices. Nature and nurture can be negative or positive but God gives freedom from both by giving us the ability to choose — and that will influence how our life turns out.

God’s key to the nurture/nature debate is choice. He may permit evil but He also puts the ball back in our court. He says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . .” 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Surviving Ursus ................ Parables 599

June 9, 1998

A few years ago, when our youngest was still a baby, we were tenting in a mountain campground. About midnight, Bob and I woke up to loud crashing and scraping noises. We quickly peered out the tent door window. Much to our amazement and only a few feet away was a large black bear.

Bruno was intensely interested in our metal cooler. He straddled it and pulled off the drain spout releasing the smell of food inside which drove him into a frenzy. But batting it ten or twelve feet at a time was not working. After half a dozen swats, he decided to take a run at the door of our tent. He stopped several feet away then whirled back to the cooler. Again and again, he charged the tent, each time coming closer. Soon Bob could smell and feel his hot breath.

Our little guy was still asleep. The older two were awake, shaking in fear. Bob handed me a knife and said, “When I tell you, cut a hole in the back of the tent and take the kids to the washroom.” It was a few yards behind our campsite.

My mind was strangely calm. In fact, running through it were the words of a comical country and western song: “Lord, you delivered Daniel from the lion’s den; now for goodness sakes do something about that bear.” I took the knife, wondering if cutting canvas was difficult.

In a few moments, the occupants of the next campsite drove into their parking space. We had asked them earlier to be quiet because their noisy party kept our baby awake. They left and now were back, obviously from another party.

Getting their attention seemed to take a long time but once they spotted the bear, their bottle-derived courage flared. One started yelling. Soon all four were throwing rocks. The confused bear decided the food in the cooler was not worth this harangue. He lumbered off.

After thanking our rescuers and safely stowing the cooler in the trunk of the car, we went back into the tent. The children went back to sleep. Bob and I enjoyed sudden peace with trees silhouetted on the wall of our tent. About an hour later, we woke again to a new silhouette. The bear was back, but again, we were unexpectedly calm. He snuffed up to the tent, dug a small hole near our heads, then shuffled away. Soon we were sleeping.

Years later, we tell of this strange event. Common sense says we should have been terrified, or at least much more concerned than we were. Yet faith often reassures me of what was really happening that night. God was there — and He taught me at least three important truths.

One is that prayer does not have to be theologically deep, solemnly spoken, in King James English, or said on my knees with heart-felt emotion and pleading. It can take any form, even that of a silly song running through my head. As the Bible says, God “hears the cry of our hearts.”

Second, I learned that God answers the needs of the moment. His response may not be a miracle, nor is He limited to our ideas of what constitutes a miracle. Also, His answers may not come through angelic beings or even pious people. If God wants to meet our needs using the drunken bravery of four partying campers, He can do it. He says, “Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know.”

Third, I learned that when I am in the care of God, I do not have to be afraid; nothing can harm me unless He wills it. That bear may have been the biggest and most dangerous in the park, but God knew how to influence its actions and choices.

Our tenting days are over now. Our children do not even remember that night, but I will never forget it. It is a memory not just because of the bear but because of God’s faithfulness to hear and answer a prayer that was never quite prayed.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Recognizing God ................ Parables 598

June 2, 1998

Dad “works better” with Mom around. They have been partners for nearly sixty years. Together they are much stronger than they are apart.

This is particularly true in the past few years. My mother has Alzheimers and my Dad has legs that will not work. He has been her mind and she his body. Now, both are struggling. Although they need each other, neither one is much help, either with memory or physical activity.

Since February, Dad has been separated from Mom because he needed nursing care. It is only across the street from her senior’s lodge, but life is frequently confusing for him. His memory plays tricks. Some days he thinks he sees my mother but it is someone else. Does he forget what she looks like? I don’t think so. When she visits, he recognizes her instantly. Whatever goes wrong when she is not there seems to work just fine when she is with him.

Their situation is sad, yet they enjoy small delights and are always thankful. They remind me constantly of things God is teaching me. Like them, I do better with others around, most of all God. He has been a faithful partner, even when my mind and body do not do whatever I want them to do. There are days when I am unsure of His presence, but others when I recognize Him instantly. No matter what goes wrong in my life, I know He is always close, whether I sense it or not. Because of Him, I enjoy small delights and am thankful.

For myself and others who believe in Christ, recognizing God is not a problem, yet it was for people in the first century. When Jesus came to earth, the Bible says, “the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

Odd that His own (referring to the Jews) would not know Him. Their relationship with God went back several centuries. Didn’t He act like the God they thought they knew? Didn’t He look familiar? Or were they having problems with their eyesight?

At that time in history, the Jewish people were under the thumb of Rome, humiliated by both military and economic defeat. The Romans tolerated their presence but life was not easy. For years, God had promised a Messiah, a great deliverer. Most people were certain He would come as a man of war.

However, Jesus was anything but that. Besides, He didn’t act like the God of the Old Testament who helped them battle their enemies. How could this Jesus be God? If He showed anger, it was not against Roman oppressors but against self-righteous Jews.

Once He made a whip and drove them from the temple, accusing them of greed and turning His Father’s house into a “den of thieves.” He even accused them of violating the laws of God, pointed out other sins but mainly condemning them for not believing God had sent Him to redeem them. A few realized who He was and followed Him. Those who refused to admit their sin and rejected all that Jesus offered them were the same people who did not recognize Him.

According to Scripture, these rejecters had “eyesight problems.” They were blind to the identity of Jesus because their sin kept them from seeing reality. Their lack of vision was correctable. All they needed to do was acknowledge that Jesus was no ordinary man and seek His true identity. If they admitted they were sinful, God would have cleansed them and opened their eyes. In refusing to do this, they missed their opportunity to know God through Christ.

For all who want to know Him today, the same principle applies. We too must acknowledge our sin, admit our helplessness, and keep our eyes open. God will reveal Himself. He will forgive and cleanse our sin. He will give us a new understanding of reality. And when He does, we will never forget what He looks like.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Word became flesh ................ Parables 597

May 26, 1998

When receiving entries for a writing contest, I was startled by the title on one manuscript: “I AM A WORD.” It was entered in a category asking writers to explain why they thought they should be writers.

We use words to communicate ideas, inform, teach, inspire and encourage. We use words to express our sense of personal identity, to tell others who we are, how we think and what is important to us.

Words are symbols for ideas or things. Using symbols has some risk for confusion because the listener may picture something different than what the speaker is trying to convey.

For instance, when we hear “word” we think of a collection of letters (written or spoken) that represent something. But when the ancient Greeks used “word” (or “logos” in their language) they had a different idea. For them, logos represented the basic element or “soul” of the universe, an undefinable reasoning or wisdom that controlled all things and could express itself in some understandable way. For that reason, “logos” is translated into English as “speech” or “word.”

People in the Western world usually avoid thinking in abstract terms. We are far more apt to use concrete words. For instance, if I say, “I am a woman.” my hearers would agree. If I say, “I am a word,” they might raise their eyebrows and mutter, “Oh sure, and what does that mean?”

My point? Language changes have limited our understanding of who Jesus is and what He said about Himself. John’s gospel begins with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John is referring to Jesus as “the Logos” or “the Word.”

In the Greek culture where He was born, “logos” or “word” was a powerful expression of an infinite being. By using this term, John knew his readers would make some connections. For the Jew, the Old Testament was God’s written expression of His revelation to them. Now John is saying that Jesus is the living expression of a Being who is the “soul of the universe,” God Himself. He once revealed Himself to Israel and that revelation was recorded in printed form. Now He is revealing Himself in a human body to all who will accept Him.

Those who knew the Scriptures understood that God speaks. Now His expression was through a living man, Jesus Christ. When Jesus spoke, because He was “logos”His words were God’s words.

Does this heady stuff make any difference? Is it important today? Only if it is true. If Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, we must consider Him. What is God communicating to us through Him? Why are His words important? What is the message of His life?

If our universe is closed, God could not come in. However, Jesus said, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” In a world where “logos” can inhabit a human body and interact with people, it is possible to know God.

The Bible affirms that Jesus is more than a good man, more than a teacher or a prophet. His sinless life of doing good, and His death and resurrection prove He is more than mere human. He claimed to be God incarnate.

We need to consider what this means for us. If we believe what He said about Himself and take Him up on His offer of forgiveness and eternal life, He promises that we will enter into a relationship to One we can know personally, not just as a vague entity the Greeks called “the soul of the universe” but God Himself.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Overcoming the worst addiction ................ Parables 596

(No tear sheet)

According to the manufacturer, nearly 16,000 Smarties are eaten every minute. That is about 960,000 per hour and about 23 million per day. Since at least 3/4 of the world’s population do not have access to Smarties, a few people are consuming a great deal of candy.

The candy industry would not exist apart from our craving for sweets. For some, a penchant for sugar becomes an addiction, causing problems with weight gain and nutrition. I’ve noticed that eating sugar kills my appetite for carrots, corn, broccoli, oranges, bananas and other fresh fruit and vegetables. To put it simply, the body confuses its hunger for nutrients with its sweet tooth. In no time, a good diet becomes a craving for junk food.

Every now and then, I get angry with myself and determine to stop eating sweets. The first week or so is awful but once the cravings stop, I can manage without desserts. . . for a month or so. Then I just have to have something sweet. My conclusion is that the body needs a certain amount. The problem is maintaining moderation. Like eating salted peanuts, it is difficult to stop at just one.

In an article about addictions, TIME magazine says that the twelve-step program seems to be the most helpful. This program was made popular by Alcoholics Anonymous and is now used by other groups trying to overcome obsessive or addictive behaviors.

These twelve steps begin with admission of need and taking ownership of the problem. They go on to acknowledging that the problem is bigger than one’s own ability to solve it. A “higher power” is needed, sometimes referred to as “God, however you perceive him.”

Although many twelve-step programs use terminology designed to include all religions, participants think of God as this higher power, and suitably so — the steps are biblical in their general form. They were originally prescribed by Him as part of His remedy for sin, the most destructive and insidious addiction of all.

To overcome sin, a person must recognize that it is not only a problem but their problem. It is easy to point fingers or shift blame yet we cannot conquer it by passing it off as “not a big deal,” “everyone does it,” or “I am not really so bad.” The Bible says “the wages of sin is death.”

Anyone who takes the battle against sin seriously soon finds out it is more difficult to stop sinning than to stop eating salted peanuts or sweets. Just when we think we have made progress, we slip again. Like an alcoholic cannot think themselves cured, we cannot think this problem is behind us. We also need to acknowledge that we cannot do anything ourselves, that sin is bigger than our determination to avoid it or our good efforts to replace it.

To make matters worse, even if we have some success, pride moves in, and pride is sin. The challenge is not to reform outward behavior, which may or may not last, but receive inner purification and a change of heart about our problem.

God provides both through Christ, the One who is totally pure. He not only died for us, that our sins may be forgiven, but He also comes to live in the hearts of those who believe in Him. When He does that, we are given divine desire and power to fight sin. The Bible says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” It also explains that the promises of God combined with the power of the indwelling Christ help us “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

For some, this can be an instant escape. Others struggle longer against their addictions as they learn how to rely on the Lord and not their own strength. However, the battle to stop at “just one” takes on a different flavor when Christ is present to help us overcome.