Monday, July 31, 2017

White as snow? .......... Parables 621

December 15, 1998

Something magical happens with the first snowfall. From my studio window, I see hundreds of rooftops. In fair weather, they are a kaleidoscope but after the first snowfall, their various sizes and shapes are unified in white, outlined with dark eaves-trough edges. Snow pulls them together in a huge patchwork quilt. It blankets everything.

Although each flake is crystal clear, millions of snowflakes together take on a pristine quality that makes the world look as the cliche says, “white as snow.”

Because of its color and its ability to cover, snow is used in an invitation from God found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. “Come now; and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Scarlet metaphorically suggests sin is the color of shame, vivid and awful in the sight of God. He wants people to reason it out, to get past vague expressions like, “Of course we have sin” to a personal recognition that acknowledges “I am a sinner.”

Part of the reasoning called for in this verse is to also recognize the reasonableness of God. He is not a tyrant eager to drop a judgment hammer but a God who loves us. Sin spoiled our ability to know and love Him in return. For our sake and for His own, He planned to do something about it. This verse becomes a promise as He says, “they shall be as white as snow.”

This metaphorical use of snow also suggests how God does it. As snow covers the ground, the roof tops and everything it falls upon, so the forgiveness of God can cover our sin. He can give our lives a newness that is something like the freshness of that first snowfall.

Making sin white as snow is not the same as covering it up. God does not mask or hide what we have done as someone who pretends it is not there. Before sin can be covered, it must first be acknowledged and confessed. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

After we uncover our sin to God, He covers it in the sense that His forgiveness cleanses or washes our guilt from His record. Instead of offenses, our slate is wiped clean. In God’s mind, we are as white as snow.

Sin is scarlet but so is its remedy. God says without the “shedding of blood, there is no remission for sin.” Forgiveness and red blood go together. While this is gruesome to us, God uses blood as a cleansing agent for sin, the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

Why isn’t being sorry for our sin enough to satisfy God? Can’t He forgive us on that basis? No, because sin is far more serious to Him than we imagine. It has marred His image in us and we fall short of all He intended. Besides, sin demands punishment. A holy God cannot look the other way.

The wages of sin is death but paying our own wages would not do it. A substitute is acceptable. In the Old Testament, is was an unblemished lamb. Then Christ came, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The substitute had to be perfect and since we are not, we cannot pay our debt ourselves.

God sent Jesus to be our substitute. His death paid our wages for sin and because He was sinless, God accepted His sacrifice. Then He rose from the dead, triumphing over both sin and death. Those who trust in Him are given that same victory.

When we sin, we can look to the Son of God who bled and died for us because He is the only One who can say, “Father, I got it covered.”

Friday, July 28, 2017

The most profitable gain .......... Parables 620

December 8, 1998

When a celebrity or famous person dies, some people must rub their hands together thinking how many ways they can make a profit from it. In the case of Diana, Princess of Wales, it seems the funeral had not begun before greedy profiteers were marketing souvenirs. One recent ad announced that Westminister Abbey is selling the chairs used during Diana’s funeral. They say they need the money.

Everyone “needs the money” or at least some money. It happens to be part of how we live but the question is: how much do we need? Probably a lot less than most of us think.

When the Lord grabbed hold of my life nearly thirty years ago, He had much to teach me about money. I’d been just about as greedy as the average person, but suddenly a single parent with limited funds. My grocery budget, augmented by a garden and a deer hunting license, was about $7 a week. When my parents shopped for me, they slipped in the odd item but we survived on that $7, with creativity and lots of macaroni and cheese.

Our family financial picture changed over the years but the Lord blessed me during that lean time by showing me He is in charge and He will take care of me. When there seemed no funds for necessities, He provided in unusual ways. Maybe someone bought one of my paintings or a monetary gift arrived in the mail. My budget was adequate in God’s hands.

This year brings another change. We moved to a new house and have not yet sold the previous one. People are praying it will sell but it seems God has a different plan. For one thing, this forced simplicity has helped us get off the fast track and more able to enjoy life.

Virtue is neither in poverty or riches but in contentment with what is available. The lie is that money will either purchase a sense of security or give those who have it a greater measure of power, not only over their own lives but over other people too.

Security is important. Maslow says our basic needs must be met or we will not feel secure. But Jesus made a promise concerning where we put our trust for the necessities of life. He said, “Do not worry about what you will eat or drink; or what you will wear. . . . but seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Maslow also says our emotional needs must be met. If we do not have someone to love and are love by someone, we will be insecure. Again, Jesus points us to a different source for this need. He says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. . . . Love each other as I have loved you.” The love we crave is found first in God and then in God’s family.

As for power, it is important only to those who do not realize their almost laughable limitations. Although the money moguls of the world can buy and sell whatever they wish, not one of them can make a seed sprout or stop the wind from blowing.

We have little or no control over almost everything. Control is only a delusion at worst, a privilege at best. God allows people a measure of responsibility, an arena to make decisions, so we can be a blessing or a tyrant, but if He wanted to, He could strip everything away from any one of us.

The people who make Diana dolls for a profit from pieces of her life are fooling themselves. Their money is fleeting and whatever things they buy with it, soon they want something bigger or better. They are like the man Jesus talked about who kept building bigger and bigger barns to hoard his crops. One day, he died and God called him to account about what he had done with the wealth God had entrusted to him. Sadly, he may have gained the world — but he lost his own soul.

The other option is giving our soul to Christ — and gaining His entire kingdom!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Morality cannot be legislated .......... Parables 619

(no tear sheet)
Len from Calgary calls a radio talk show expressing that legislature can control gangs. The host tells him, “Get real. Read a couple of books or something.”

The government usually gets blamed for increased crime rates. “If the police or the politicians would do something, we would have safer streets and less crime” or “If laws were tougher and punishments more effective, fewer people would do wrong.”

Is that true? An Ottawa newspaper editor writes, “If you take a business or political story and report deeply enough, you will find people struggling with issues of faith and values. . . . for too long Canadians have looked to government to fix their problems. We are entering an era now where people are realizing that morality lies in the individual.”

To put it more simply, morality is not legislated. We try. Our law says stealing and murder are wrong; our police officers catch offenders and courts prosecute them; yet despite law and consequences, people still make illegal and immoral choices.

Using rules to force a person to be moral is about like moving a stubborn mule. Tug, yank, yell, make threats, but the mule will not budge. Crack a whip over its head and the mule might give a little, but it is still a mule and being ornery is part of its nature.

Having a whip cracked over our heads has about the same effect. If pain is involved, we might move but threats or rules do not change our inner attitudes. Those predisposed to speed will drive fast despite posted limits. Those who crave power and position will grab it no matter who says they should not.

Getting started in crime brings initial conscience pangs; however, with power and money flowing in, criminals become obsessed with profits, not repentance. They think money will buy all they want or need, and before long they do not care what they have to do to get it.

The Bible ascribes crime and other immoral behaviors to our sin nature. It defines sin as going our own way rather than allowing God to govern our lives. Sin means inner desires are more important than right living. Those desires eventually become mighty tyrants.

Of course, criminals are not the only ones who struggle with immoral and unethical desires. My selfishness can override social or personal constraints, even override God’s desires for me. Also, I know tougher constraints will not stop me. Unless I rely on God’s offer to stop my selfish behavior at its roots and control my life, I will sin.

This change at the level of our “want to’s” is something no government can do. The Roman Emperor Constantine had a supposed encounter with God, then made a law requiring everyone to become a Christian. He failed to realize that righteousness is not an external matter. No one can renew the human spirit by law. No one can pass laws that make people moral. Who is going to believe in God simply because someone says they must?

Even the universal moral law of God cannot change people. The Bible says those laws are valid but makes it clear that we fall short. Not one person obeys them completely. Even if we did, it would not make us Christians. We are “saved by grace thorough faith — and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works (our actions) lest anyone should boast.”

God’s rules show us what He expects but our behavior does not change unless God makes us new people from the inside out. He must take the helm of our life and renew our core beliefs. Then our outward actions change because He gives us a new inner motivation plus the power of His Spirit to do as He says.

Making laws reflects our understanding that God wants us to live morally, yet morality does not reside in law but in the individual. The grace to live it comes from God.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bad Apples .......... Parables 618

November 10, 1998 

If bad apples do not ruin the barrelful, they certainly make life miserable for the good apples. In our home, if I asked “who did it?” and one child lied, all were made to sit on the sofa until the guilty confessed. They told me their teachers did the same thing; if one student cheated, the entire class had to stay after school. In business, those who take home everything from pencils to expensive tools raise the cost of doing business. It affects their wages and the price of whatever that company produces.

Bad apples give religion a bad rap too. For instance, the French government took a good look at the activities of a certain group and denied them church exemption. They also slapped a lien on their property for $50 million including penalties and interest for past taxes. Obviously, something was wrong with this apple.

Even though it is unfair to assume every religious group or person is hypocritical or dishonest, Jesus did warn that people would claim to be Christian when they were far from it. These “wolves in sheep’s clothing” might talk the talk, but without faith, they do not live it out.

With a little help from the Bible, discerning people can separate true religion from false. This prevents being duped yet allows an honest exploration of genuine faith. Use these criteria.

False religions deify people. Acts 14 describes Paul and Barnabas healing someone only to have the crowd worship them. They protested, “Why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things (idols) to the living God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them.” Scripture clearly distinguishes humanity from our Creator. While He made us in His likeness, we are not God or gods. This lie echos Satan’s lie to Eve: “You can be as God . . . .”

Second, false religions demote God by denying His attributes: He is not holy, or not a God of love. Or, they claim many gods, or that God is in everything. They describe Him in human terms as if He does wrong or changes His mind. Although God took on human flesh when He came to die for our sins, He never stopped being God.

Third, false religions minimize sin. For them, sin either does not exist or is overrated. It has little to do with daily life and as long as a person does their best, a few sins will not affect their eternal destiny. God says otherwise. Only the first two people began life free from sin, and that did not last. Since then, He says we are born with a sin nature. The fact that children do not have to be taught to do wrong confirms it. Without His help, we cannot be righteous or obey Him.

False religions mess around with the Bible too. They change it, add to it, say it has errors and generally work on it until it suits their point of view. They interpret a different Jesus, a different salvation and a different Holy Spirit than the Bible describes. For them, Jesus is not God the Son, but rather a prophet or an angel or merely a son of God, just another god.

With that, they also dismiss salvation by grace through faith and replace it with a system of rules and leaders who dictate how to live. Most stop thinking for themselves. Many are ruled by fear and guilt. Further, reducing the Holy Spirit to an impersonal force leaves them without His guidance and power. To live right, Scripture must be interpreted and applied correctly.

Last, false religions are founded by a person or “prophet” who claims to be the only true spokesperson for God. This leader offers “revelations,” adding ideas to Scripture and claiming his way is the only true way. If you do not follow their organization (not Christ but them), you are without hope. Some go one step farther and teach that those who believe in biblical, historical Christian teaching are demonized.

A $50 million tax is staggering even for a large religious group. Yet who can put a price on the eternal cost of belonging to such a group? Without the truth of God’s Word, those caught in false religions stand in a dangerous place.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Are there answers in the trials of life? .......... Parables 617

November 3, 1998

A few months ago, an MD-11 Swissair jetliner plunged into the sea off the coast of the fishing village of Peggy’s Cove, killing all 229 people on board. Last week, Alaska Airlines Flight 261 failed, taking 88 passengers and crew to their death.

After the first disaster, Swissair chairman Jeff Katz thanked Canadian authorities for their help. He had a special word for the people of Peggy’s Cove: “The Peggy’s Cove experience has been perhaps the best part, if I can use that word, for getting them (families of those who died) in touch with what happened and dealing with the loss of their loved ones.”

Memorials to Flight 111's victims were held both in the fishing village and in Halifax. One pastor related that sharing grief with these families made them “spiritually part of our community. We won’t forget them.”

The Alaskan crash off the coast of California tore apart families and claimed families. Wives lost their husbands, children their parents. A man, wife and their four children all died.

Part of grief is the struggle to make sense of “senseless” tragedies. When they happen, we want to turn back the clock and change history. We want to understand what happened. With or without reasons or explanations, we must share our dismay and grief with others.

Tragedy’s question is “Why?” “Why a crash? Why do the children die? Why does anyone die? Why so horribly? If God is good, why did He let this happen?”

Even though the Bible says God is not the source of evil, it does show that calamity is under His control. For many, that fact is a stabilizing assurance.

For example, Job’s story is disaster in triplicate. First he lost his oxen and donkeys, then his sheep and his servants, then his camels and finally all his sons and daughters. His grief can hardly be described. Nevertheless, Job worshiped God. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Then more calamity fell on Job. He was afflicted with painful sores and near death, yet the Bible says, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

Who can relate to this man? Job was not told God’s reasons for his trials yet he realized God would use it for good. At one point, he said, “He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Christians often quote Job or cling to Romans 8:28 as their hope whenever disaster strikes: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Key to understanding this promise is knowing what “good” God intends. His specific purpose is in verse 29: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. . . .”

In all things, tragedies included, God is able to produce in His people a deeper faith and a deeper resemblance to Jesus. Trials tend to focus our minds on Him. If we see Him as He is, that has a transforming effect. In this way, God can use disasters for our good.

It is not fair to guess how God might use trouble in the lives of others, but we can be sure of one thing: everyone needs to hope in Him. All people need to know that God is good and that He intends good for us. All need to believe His promises and cling to the reality that He can bring positive results from the most negative situations.

Without the goodness of God, there is no anchor in the tempests of life. With it, the tempests still rage, but they cannot destroy the reality of God’s love. No matter what happens, we can still hope in Him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The freight or the invoice? .......... Parables 616

November 24, 1998

In a recent crusade, Billy Graham said “busy people have forgotten their souls.” His remark recalls a story about an expedition through a jungle. The white leader pushed for rapid progress but his native servants kept stopping. He thought they were lazy but they said they simply wanted “time to let our souls catch up with our bodies.”

Slow people frustrate those who think full-speed ahead is the only way to make progress. However, being in a rush puts our bodies at risk. Type A personalities have heart attacks. As Graham says, they can also experience a breakdown in their soul.

Long-term soul-neglect sometimes has delayed symptoms. A person might seem fine for a time then suddenly collapse. One Christian leader uses “sink holes” to describe it. A hidden stream of water washes away subsoil until what appears to be a normal area of ground, suddenly develops a huge, gaping hole. Without warning, it caves in.

According to Graham, soul-neglect begins when people ignore their inner ache. He said, “There’s a hole in your heart and in your life. You’d like it to be filled, but you don’t know what it is. And you’ve tried so many things, like drugs and sex. All these things haven’t satisfied the deepest longing you have because that something you’re looking for is God.”

He adds, “people long for a transcendent, timeless touch from God” but instead of going to Him for it, they get involved in the frantic pace of modern life, leaving no time for their souls.

By leaving God out of our lives, that inner void grows deeper. Instead of stopping to fill it with Him, people step up the pace. As the evangelist said, they swirl through life on quick fixes, up-to-the-minute news, instant this and that, amounting to a diet that does not satisfy their deepest needs.

I’ve watched people do it. A combination of soul-neglect and a penchant for quick remedies produces superficial lives and superficial cures. That unsatisfied cry of the heart goes unheard and these people eventually collapse, largely under a load of their own creation.

This solution is obvious: slow down and give time to God. Jesus puts it this way: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Graham uses the Bible to say, “We are powerless to change our spiritual condition, and when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” To be changed, we need to take our lives and our sins and give everything to Jesus. He forgives sin and changes the way we live.

Part of that change is a deep, inner peace that only He can produce in our souls. He fills the void and our busy, restless hearts find rest in Him. While we cannot do that ourselves, we can learn about Him by reading the Bible, worshiping with others and praying.

Learning about Jesus includes the discovery that He is gentle and humble. Busy people often find the only way they can tolerate gentle, humble people is to become that themselves. With God’s help, they can.

Jesus also says rest for a busy soul includes dropping our burden and sharing His. In English, that word “burden” is a turnoff to those who are already worn out. However, in the original language it is not quite what we think. The earlier phrase “weary and burdened” is talking about a load of freight. That is what we try to carry. Jesus’ “light burden” is another word. That culture used it to describe that little piece of paper tacked to the freight, the invoice!

That leaves a choice to those of us who tend to get too busy. Do we want a sinkhole? Or would we rather have the fatigue that goes with carrying around an invoice?

Monday, July 17, 2017

God does not lose data .......... Parables 615

October 20, 1998

Imagine William Shakespeare writing his plays on a word processor or Thomas Jefferson storing the Declaration of Independence on floppy disks. Experts say, if they did that but neglected to transfer their work to paper, those great writings would have vanished long ago, probably into an unreadable jumble of binary code.

Electronic storage seems so practical but it is more fragile than most people realize. Already some census data and other records have been lost. Imagine the chaos if all data from the world’s information storehouses went missing or became inaccessible.

Fragile computer storage methods are not the only problem. Software constantly changes. A book or letter written to disk in 1980 is unreadable using 1998 equipment. My first computer was a Commodore 128. Today, I use a Pentium. As modern as it is, it cannot read those old Commodore disks.

Most average computer users transfer their important information to new storage devices as they come available. Although I could not do this with disks, I did have a modem for my Commodore and for my newer computer. With two phone lines and days of patience, I was able to save all my old files. Now, instead of 3 1/2" disks, I now archive material on Zip disks. (In 2017, some of it is in a cloud!)

Updating or printing on paper works best for permanent storage but large corporations would not find this practical for keeping their storage files current. Besides, many documents now contain multimedia data such as sound files or videos, impossible to store on paper.

The process of writing and preserving books changes over the years yet many documents remain as they were. For instance, clay tablets are preserved in museums along with papyrus documents that are centuries old. A few modern scholars are even able to read them.

Other books stay the same in content yet their format changes with current printing methods. For instance, the Bible continues to endure yet has been reproduced in every possible format including books and computer disks, as well as translated into hundreds of languages.

Translations began early. In fact, most of what Jesus said in Aramaic, the language He spoke, was immediately recorded in Greek. Even our English versions undergo continual translation (using ancient manuscripts) because our language changes, as do all languages.

Methods change too. The original manuscripts were written on papyrus scrolls, much more fragile than electronic storage, yet many fragments still remain. However, Jewish scholars and later Christians so valued this book (actually 66 books) that they painstakingly copied and recopied every word, counting words and even letters to ensure there were no errors.

With all of that copying and changes, what about the accuracy of its contents? Biblical translations are not without a solid foundation. Scholars rely on thousands of ancient manuscripts, more than remain of any other ancient book. Some of these manuscripts date from the second century. Not only that, the art of translation has greatly improved. Modern translators are able to gain additional insights into word meanings and expressions from tens of thousands of Hellenistic Greek documents from the same time period.

Further, the same God who insured His words would be faithful written in a book still works to maintain their fidelity. We can rely on our modern versions. The Bible will never obsolete or out-dated because it came to us from a God who is never out of fashion and who wants us to read of Him and know Him.

Neither can the Bible be destroyed. As Isaiah promised over 2600 years ago, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Friday, July 14, 2017

Only God can hug and rebuke at the same time! .......... Parables 614

November 17, 1998

The pastor asked for simple prayers. “Tell God why you love Him. Make it short and to the point.”

My first thought was, “I love You God because You are the only friend I have that can give me a hug and a kick in the pants at the same time.”

It happened that week. My errands included picking up cardboard cartons at a local moving company. I called first and a man said he would have them for me. I cringed at his voice. It reminded me of someone who is dishonest, an unsavory character. With some reluctance, I went for the boxes.

When I got there, this man met me at the door with a huge grin. He acted as if he knew me. I cringed. He was paunchy, covered with grease and talked constantly. I was unimpressed, even repulsed. He loaded the cartons in the back of my van and said something about moving. I mentioned I was not looking forward to this one. He said, “Don’t worry. The Lord will give you the strength and stamina when you need it.”

Smack — pow! The Lord blessed me from an unexpected source; He reminded me that He gives strength when we need it. He also rebuked me from that same unexpected source as He confronted me about my judgmental attitude.

On the way home, I confessed my sinful pride to God. The Bible is true when it says we “look at a person’s outward appearance, but God looks at their heart.” That man may not have been much to look at but he has a heart of gold.

After receiving God’s forgiveness, I chuckled at His humor in dealing with me. While it is important not to behave like I did, God knew that I was downcast about the large task ahead. He knew I did not need an added burden of His unfavorable judgment. Instead, He rebuked me lightly and at the same time lifted both my discouragement and my sin of pride.

Hebrews 12 offers good advice to anyone who senses God is correcting them. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.”

The passage goes on to emphasize our relationship with God as our perfect heavenly Father. He trains and disciplines only those who are His children, those born into His family through faith in Christ. A rebuke from God is a correction from a Father who loves us and wants us to be the best people possible.

It takes time to learn this. When I was a new Christian, God’s displeasure devastated me. Then I began to realize that He had good reason. The Bible says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Notice it says the profit comes to those who are trained by the experience. Sometimes we respond to a rebuke with excuses, blame-shifting or “everyone does it.” God wants us simply to agree with Him, to say “Yes, I have sinned. You are right. I was wrong. Forgive me.”

Another verse says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

If we do our part, God does His. Instead of being stuck with a bad attitude or wrong behavior, He goes beyond what a human father can do; He purifies our lives.

That is why He is both Father and Friend. He is the only one who can confront our sin and make us feel sad about it, motivated to change. Then, at the same time, He also makes us glad that He told us about our problem.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Value of Exercise! .......... Parables 613

October 6, 1998

A few weeks ago while walking down a steep flight of stairs in the dark, I missed the bottom step and made a three-point landing. After picking up my self, my books and my dignity, I went home to bed expecting to wake up stiff and sore. Imagine my surprise — I was neither.

I learned two lessons. The first is obvious — it is dumb to walk around in the dark. If you do not know where you are going or the obstacles in your path, disaster is almost guaranteed.

In the larger application, life is much like that. Many people live it from one bump to another, thinking darkness is normal and no one can ever know what will happen next. For them, plans, goals and thinking ahead are tasks too difficult. Life is just too uncertain. Others struggle because they try to make plans but their goals have been thwarted so many times that they quit.

Before I became a Christian, I seldom thought about the future. I took each day as it came and was not concerned where I was going and what would happen to me along the way. I did not know I was walking in darkness and had no idea that God could help me walk in the light.

Now I understand the biblical definition of walking in darkness or light. Darkness is a metaphor for lies and impurity. Those who live in darkness do not know light, a metaphor for divine truth and holiness. Walking in His light is NOT a bright beam that shows a person the detailed events of their future. Rather, God’s truth gives illumination that keeps us from tripping over the life’s obstacles that tend to produce sin, which causes us to fall and hurt ourselves.

The second lesson I picked up from my fall on those stairs was that working out every day (dumbbells, no kidding) pays off. You can fall down stairs without tearing major muscles or sustaining huge bruises. Being in shape kept me from injury.

With that thought, I notice how walking in light and being in shape are similar. They both help us avoid physical damage and both are necessary to keep us safe in the spiritual realm.

Getting in shape spiritually involves regular spiritual workouts. A daily routine looks like this: eat and digest nourishing spiritual food from the Bible, exercise obedience to God’s commands by loving others and doing good, rest in God with confidence knowing He is in control, lift your heart continually to Him in praise and worship, persevere in self-discipline that says no to sin and yes to God, and whittle away rough edges through interaction with others.

Focusing on the results helps us persevere. When I use those dumbbells, I think about the desirability of less flab and more lean. When I work out with God, I also try to remember what that will do for me: “If we walk in the light . . . we have fellowship . . . and are cleansed from sin.”

For example, life’s obstacles may be unexpected but if I am spiritually strong, I can face them with courage. The Bible says evil is overcome by good, so doing good counters bad things that may otherwise have happened. As for rest, daily trust and confidence in God becomes a lifestyle so even disasters have less power to throw me into a state of confusion and anxiety.

Lifting praise and worship helps keep my focus on God. When life hands me an obstacle that is too heavy, I am already looking at the One who can give me the strength I need. This also holds true for self-discipline in daily matters. When the bigger temptations come, I’ve practiced saying no and, with God’s help, can say no more easily to the tougher tests.

Last but not least, other Christians keep me honed. In our interactions, I can more easily see my areas of weakness that need a workout and those that are strong and can be used.

Walking in light requires exercise. As God shows me truth, I cannot ignore Him lest that light becomes dim and I start to stumble. In keeping His commands, my life is made stronger and His light shines brighter and brighter.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sticks and Stones .......... Parables 612

September 15, 1998

Bruised by the latest insult, Jonathan lingered in the locker room shower until the other boys went home. He tried to say “sticks and stones . . .” but knew that name-calling felt just as painful as rocks.

People can be unkind. When someone hurts us, we feel like fighting back even though retaliation usually makes matters worse. The Bible says “turn the other cheek” and that is tough enough, but God also wants us to deal with our attitude towards rock-tossers. We can be bitter and angry but hateful emotions are as harmful to us as is their name-calling or sticks and stones.

When predicaments perplex me, I think of Romans 8:28, “In all things, we know that God works for the good of those who love Him . . . .” If God can use everything for my good, what about people who seem set to harm me? How can He turn that around and make it profitable for me?

I remember an Alaskan potter, a tall woman with burlap cape to her ankles. She ran a potter’s wheel at the Kenai Craft Show. Dissatisfied with the plain pot on her wheel, she stood up and frowned at it. She took a few pieces of unformed clay in her hand and leaving the motorized wheel still turning, she stepped back about ten feet and started firing those bits at the pot.

As she battered it, an amazing thing happened. At first the clay on the wheel wobbled and reeled under the blows, but gradually it changed shape. Slowly under the potter’s hand, the plain pot became a beautiful and useful vessel.

In a similar incident, God told the prophet Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house. There he saw a potter working, “but the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Then God told Jeremiah, “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” He went on to explain that He planned disaster that they might be shaped and turn from their evil ways. However, each one would continue “in the stubbornness of his evil heart.” In response, God said, “I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed. . . .”

God uses many methods to discipline His people. If we can compare unshaped clay with people who do not know or follow God, then God can use them in our lives, for our good. He used the Babylonians just like the Alaskan potter used the blobs to shape His people, the Jews. After their captivity in Babylon, they never again worshiped pagan idols.

When Nathan the prophet chastened David for his sin with Bathsheba and the killing of her husband, David felt the sting of his rebuke yet God used that pain to shape him into a beloved leader of Israel.

God even used “unshaped clay” against His own Son. Cruel men fully intended to destroy Jesus but God used their cross and nails for good. His death led to His victory over sin and death. The blobs of clay were God’s instruments to bring Jesus to His rightful place as Lord over all.

What about the things people toss at you and I? Certainly it is possible that God is purposely tossing some blobs of clay because He sees a need for reshaping in our lives. We need to consider that even in pain, God is working to make something useful and even beautiful out of rather plain jars.

Friday, July 7, 2017

New Heart Needed .......... Parables 611

September 29, 1998

The World Heart Corporation is putting finishing touches on a device they intend as an implant for heart patients. This machine is designed to give blood a boost from the bottom left ventricle into the aorta. It is called a HeartSaver, essentially a second heart that works along with a person’s natural heart.

Heart disease is a serious threat. Not only that, heart victims often do not realize their danger. We knew a man who seemed in good health, even played racquetball several times a week. One day, without warning he collapsed and nearly died — from a heart attack.

The World Heart Corporation says 25,000 Canadians will need a new heart this year but not everyone will receive what they need. A less known statistic from the Word of God says heart disease is also a spiritual problem. Not just 25,000 people, but everyone needs a new spiritual heart. Most do not realize their danger either, but the good news is that there is no waiting line. New hearts are available for anyone who wants one.

Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet, spoke for God about His judgment on disobedience and His promise to those who turn to Him. He wrote, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” He also promised, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

Another prophet, Ezekiel, also talks about a heart change. His message from God says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” He pleads with his readers, “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.”

Why did they need a new heart and a new Spirit? They seemed religious on the outside, but God knew what was happening on the inside. They resisted Him and rebelled against His rule over them. They wanted to do their own thing. His laws uncovered their independent attitude because they could not keep them. For that reason, He offered to change their hearts.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells a Jewish religious leader that he must be “reborn” by the Holy Spirit. This involves receiving a new heart too, one that wants to follow God. The New Testament concept of spiritual rebirth is the same as having faith in Jesus Christ. Those who believe have new hearts and are ushered into God’s family.

Being in God’s family is not the end of heart problems, but it is the beginning of the end. To maintain our spiritual health, we need frequent checkups. The Apostle Paul talked to a man whose “heart was not right before God.” Even though God had changed him, he continued to try and run his own life. His old heart was still in control.

How can we know what our hearts are doing? Jeremiah said they are “deceitful” and can fool us. While medical doctors test with a stethoscope and an ECG, those tests fail to give us a complete diagnosis of what is happening on the inside, in our spirits.

For that, the Great Physician is able to test our thoughts, words and actions with His Word. It will show us if we have a new heart and if we are living according its power, the power that comes from God. It will show us if we limping along with the old heart-attitudes of resistance and unbelief. Further, it is able to change our hearts and make us spiritually healthy.

God is fully aware that we cannot survive death with the hearts we have. A transplant or a mechanical HeartSaver is not able to fit us for eternity. However, He offers His spiritual heart-saver. It is just the boost we need.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Layers like an onion? .......... Parables 610

September 22, 1998

Health food advocates and most vitamin companies say artificial is not as good as natural. What about food? Artificial grapes often look better than real fruit, but no one eats plastic food. Silk flowers need little care but no one plants them in their garden. Astro-turf never needs mowing but few people put it on their front yard. What about sports or jewels? Links on the computer is fun but my muscles get a better workout on a real golf course. Costume jewelry is nice but cannot beat real pearls and diamonds. We want the “real thing,” whether it is jewelry, a game, flowers, grass or food.

Most of us like real people too. ‘Artificial’ could mean wax museum dummies, but we usually use that term for folks who, for one reason or another, have difficulty being themselves. They are aloof, closed, hard to get to know.

Related to that, Christian psychologist Larry Crabbe says we are like onions. We cover our real selves with layers because we are afraid others will reject us if they see what we are really like. We protecting our inner selves because we sense that peeling off our layers could bring tears.

As an example of a layer, Crabbe uses shyness. He says under this external behavior is a person who is afraid that self-expression will bring rejection or ridicule. For them, being shy is a better quality than being wrong or thought silly, so they covers their fears with shyness.

Most of us do not admit or even realize we use layers as protection for our self-esteem. For me, it is boasting or over-involving myself in something that I am good at — to draw attention to my good points. If those layers do not work, I might try retreating, or talking about someone else as a cover, anything to keep people from noticing my shortcomings.

Sometimes we are not as inadequate as we suppose. Besides, people as more accepting than we think they will be. However, there are occasions when we really are inadequate or have done something foolish or wrong. It is far more difficult to admit it than to hide under excuses, blame-shifting, or a lifestyle that belies our burdened conscience.

Whether from real guilt or imagined inadequacy, these layers can become very thick. When that happens to me, I notice my ability to relate to others drops to superficiality. At that point, I need God more than ever; He is an onion-peeling expert.

For one thing, the Lord accepts me just as I am without putting me into competition or rating systems. He says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Other people might ignore, dislike or even hate us for our flaws, but God is always ready to accept us because He loves us. The Bible says, “He loves us with an everlasting love.”

God proved His love by the price He paid for us, the life of His Son. No matter what we are like on the inside or on the surface, His great love can fill our need for love and acceptance.

He also takes care of our fears and inadequacies. We worry about all sorts of things and cannot live up to our own expectations, never mind meet the demands of others, but God, true to His nature, provides strength and every resource we need. In Christ, we are not only loved and accepted but equipped and made capable.

This is the secret of onion peeling. God comes into the hearts of those who trust Him. As He meets our deepest inner needs, the layers begin coming off. We find ourselves less and less concerned about what people think of us and instead deeply care about them.

If we have layers and want to be ourselves, we can trust God to help us. When we become what He intended — people without fear, open and layer-free — we are more like genuine jewels and less like onions.

Monday, July 3, 2017

How can good come out of bad? .......... Parables 609

August 25, 1998

The first Ford cars had Dodge engines. Sorry, Ford fans, we all have to adjust to a reality at some time or another. Occasionally the opposition becomes an ally and sometimes our allies oppose us. Consider how it happens in sports. Wayne Gretsky, the ally, moved to Los Angeles and then New York. He became the opposition. We lost other stars and it seems unfair that our winners now defeat us.

In the spiritual realm, those who appear to oppose us sometimes wind up on our team. It happened to a man named Saul, who persecuted Christians. After God confronted him, Saul became Paul and one of the greatest Christian leaders in history.

Remember the Galloping Gourmet? A friend of mine tells me her father forbid her from watching his television show because he was a drunk and a bad influence. She says, “So I decided to pray that he become a Christian.” And he did! What was once a bad influence for her is now a good influence for everyone.

God is full of surprises. My oldest son once worked as an usher in a theater in California. A young television star came in and was creating a disturbance. My son said to him, “You are just as mouthy in real life as you are on your TV show.” A few weeks ago, I found a newspaper article about this same fellow. He is now a Christian preacher, serving the Lord with his mouth.

People are not the only opposition that can become an ally. I often write about how God “works all things together for the good of those who love Him.” Joseph is an Old Testament example. His brothers hated him, threw him into a pit then sold him as a slave.

Joseph wound up in Egypt, spent some time in jail for something he did not do, but eventually became a leader in that country. When a severe famine hit, he was instrumental in saving thousands of lives, including that of his entire family, even the brothers who tried to ruin him. He said to them, “You intended it for evil, but God used it for good.”

Only God can effectively turn evil around and use it for good. If we do something wrong and think we can make it okay, we only compound the problem. President Clinton is an example of that. He sinned against his wife, his family, other people, even a nation that trusted him, then tried to make it okay by “misleading” people. What good came out of that?

Old Testament king David did the same thing. He sinned with another woman, had her husband murdered, and tried to cover up the entire debacle. When God’s prophet Nathan confronted him (a biblical version of prosecuting attorney Starr?), David confessed that he had done wrong but his confession had a different ring to it than the one we heard from the U.S. president. It is found in Psalm 51 and includes these words: “Against you (God), you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. . . . Surely you desire truth in the inner parts ; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. . . . Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. . . . Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. . . .”

God did restore David. He even brought good from that sinful relationship. David married this woman and a child was born. From this child, another and another until eventually two people in the line of David became the parents of Jesus Christ.

Never underestimate the power of God. He may choose to take opposition or even evil and use it for good. We simply need to cooperate, confessing our sins and hopeless inadequacy – and trust Him.