Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Real and False Endorsements .......... Parables 634

March 30, 1999

Ever wonder if Wayne Gretzky eats the cereal in the box with his picture on it? Do the models with the shiny locks actually shampoo their own hair with the products they hold up in commercials? Do any celebrities use the products they endorse?

We can assume at least one of them did not. Have you seen Fred Astair and a certain brand of vacuum cleaner? Was it around before he died? Even if it was, did you know he isn’t even using it in the commercial?

After seeing special effects in Forest Gump (such as him shaking hands with dead presidents), an enterprising American had an idea. He began asking living celebrities and the families of those who are gone for exclusive rights to use their images from the movies. He plans to feature these stars in television commercials and other advertising, both now and after they die. His idea is already changing how famous people designate their estates.

Part of the reasoning behind celebrity endorsements is that we tend to follow those we know or respect because they are an influence on our lives. If Bob Hope or Brad Pitt is able to entertain us, then we give them a special place in other areas. We even let them be our financial advisors; their commercial endorsements tell us when and where to spend our money.

We know endorsements are not necessarily the best way to evaluate products, but marketing agencies will tell you that the appeal made by a famous person usually overrules common sense. Whether or not the celebrities use them, people buy those products.

What would it be like if it worked that way for the Christian faith? Christians endorse a product, well, a Person. Whether the believer is famous or not, we boast of His love, wisdom and power. We tell everyone they need Him. Yet if we do not “use” this “product” we have no customers. They will not let us get away with a fake endorsement.

Who can blame them? If a Christian claims Christ is the most wonderful person and faith is the greatest need in every life, then proceeds to live without faith or obedience to Him, who can be convinced by what they say?

For example, we claim Christ is good to us. Do we complain about our lot in life? We claim Christ is powerful. Do we fold up or hide in the face of trouble, pressure or opposition? If we say everyone needs Him and needs to have faith in Him, do we give ourselves in prayer asking for His help? Do we need Him? Do we trust Him? Or do we live as if He does not matter?

Jesus addresses this kind of “endorsement” with bluntness. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

He goes on to define what it means to do the will of God. It is not necessarily prophesying in His name, driving out demons, or performing miracles. People who claim only their religious deeds will hear, “Depart from me. I never knew you.”

The will of God is plain: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life.” However, after looking to the Son, after believing in Him and receiving eternal life, Christ is saying that eternal life will manifest itself. People who believe and have it, will act like it. The life of Christ is powerful. It overrules our resistance and gives us the ability to live with Christlike attitudes and actions.

Sometimes this does not happen immediately. However, genuine Christians cannot help it. We must increasingly demonstrate that we are users of the Product we endorse.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Praise is classy .......... Parables 633

March 23, 1999

When ABC reported last month’s Grammy Award winners, they noted how much better the ceremonies were than last year. They said, “even the acceptance speeches had class” and went on to describe the responses of Sheryl Crow, Will Smith, Madonna, the Dixie Chicks, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. They missed the classiest of them all.

Hip-hop artist and surprised at her wins, Lauryn Hill was named Best New Artist. Her album won Album of the Year. When she received her Grammy, she choose to acknowledge her heavenly Father. Apparently most news services did not consider this as “class.”

Christians are almost always surprised when God is left out of the news. We know the wonderful things He does and the glory of His character. He is worthy of our praise. When reporters omit that praise, it seems they do not hear the words or at least do not realize their significance. They seem blind and deaf to God.

Yet if Christians are surprised by that, it is because we have forgotten an important truth. Apart from the grace of God and His transforming power, we would not ‘see’ or hear Him either.

A religious leader came to see Jesus at night. Perhaps he was afraid of his peers but he was curious. He began with, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus did not respond to his comments. He could have expounded on His qualifications as a teacher or miracle worker, or that God had sent Him, but instead told the man, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Today, those last two words have become a huge turn-off for many people. Some recall television preachers who claimed to be “born again” yet behaved as badly or worse than the sinners they condemned. Others recall the loud claims of celebrities naming the name of Christ but living as if He never existed.

Who can blame people who cringe at the term “born again” when pride-filled people hold it up as a spiritual status symbol: “I am born-again and you are not. You need to be like me.”

Put aside those conceptions and look again at what Jesus is saying. Especially notice the preceding words. He says no one can “see” God’s realm unless their life changes. A few verses later, He adds that no one can “enter” this realm without this same change.

To understand what spiritual birth is, we need to know more about the kingdom of God. One theologian explains it as a parallel reality. God (and what He is doing) is all around us yet unless He opens our eyes we cannot see Him or His activities. We are born spiritually blind.

Think of physically blind people. They know nothing of color. Red and green are foreign to them. They may see some light and shadow but not clearly. In the same way, those who are spiritually blind also see shadows and some light, yet the realm of God (who is Spirit and Light) is closed to them unless God transforms their hearing and vision.

Christians are foolish if we expect everyone to see what we see. Others observe many of the same things; we are aware of the failures of those TV evangelists, just as we are aware of our own failures. However, God has reserved some things for Himself and some for our eyes only. The Bible says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us (His people) and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

Rather than being upset or perplexed at the media for not including Hill’s classy speech, we need to remember that those reporters may not have ‘heard’ it. But, if we did hear and join her in praise, we need to thank God for opening our eyes and our ears to the wonder of His kingdom.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A gift is free or it isn’t a gift .......... Parables 632

March 16, 1999

Have you every bought yourself a gift? I did it once, for Christmas. It seemed like a silly thing to do but at least I didn’t have to exchange it. However, I did miss being surprised when I opened it. Besides, I had to work to pay for it. In the true sense of the word, it wasn’t a gift.

Gifts should not bring an expense to the recipient. One time, someone gave me a gift certificate for a spa. I am not a spa person. It took me a year to redeem it. Then I agonized during the two hour session. Do I tip the girl who pampered me? And how much? This treatment seemed such a frivolity. A suitable tip would actually be more than what I thought the treatment should cost. Besides, having to pay anything would make this gift seem less like a gift.

Gifts should be free. At least that is what the promoters claim. Send for their product and receive a “free gift.” Sometimes, they say if you don’t like their product, just return it and keep the “free gift.”

When I was younger, I sent for whatever it was, just to get the gift. After a while, I realized I didn’t like being on mailing lists. I also realized keeping the gifts made certain whoever sent them took my name off their list. Obviously, their so-called ‘free’ giveaways were not their actual intention.

Personal gifts can come with a price tag too. Most givers do not expect to be paid for their gift, but they often expect something in return, anything from a simple thank you to an equally priced gift.

When I became a Christian, someone told me that God’s salvation is a free gift. They explained I could do nothing to earn it and showed me verses like Ephesians 2:8,9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Even though I believed this was so, it was years before the idea of earning things from God became foolishness to me. Somehow, I thought I could earn His approval or at least prove that God gave this gift to a worthy recipient.

Now I know why I cannot earn His grace. I failed to understand God’s standard. To spend eternity with Him, I must be perfect. No matter how hard I try, that is beyond me. Besides, if anyone could earn eternal life or somehow pay for it, what would be the cost? Can we offer our goodness and expect Him to ignore the other stuff? Isn’t that like serving an omelet with 12 good eggs and a few rotten ones?

God is perfect and our goodness is like filthy rags compared to His (Isaiah 64:6). It is to that standard that the Bible says we fall short, like arrows that cannot make it to the target.

So God’s eternal life is a gift, but is it free? Are there no strings attached? Don’t we have to do something to get it? Be good? Or at least go to church?

Soldiers in training lined up in front of their sergeant. Two of them had lost their rifles. The sergeant had two rifles slung over his shoulders. He called one of the men forward and barked, “You lost your weapon. How can you be a soldier? What should happen to you?”

The trembling soldier listed a string of what he thought were suitable consequences and soon found himself running laps full tilt with his rifle held high over his head. This is work.

The sergeant called the other soldier and asked the same questions. The man replied, “I cannot be a soldier without my weapon, Sir. I simply need it, Sir.” The sergeant handed him his rifle and told him to rejoin the ranks. This is grace.

God’s gift is wrapped in a Person and set before us. Grace means that our part is simply realizing that we cannot have eternal life without Him.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

To spank or not to spank? .......... Parables 631

March 2, 1999

My friend Wayne could be a prophet. Months ago, he wrote a short fiction story about a family caught in a law that did not allow spanking. A few weeks ago, Jordan Riak of Oakland California, made headlines in his one-man crusade to stamp out spanking.

Riak says, “I think that every time a little boy is spanked, it gives him his first lesson in becoming a beater, and every time a little girl is spanked, it gives her the first lesson that people who love you slap you around.” Does he have the right idea?

Wayne’s story takes a look at what could happen. A dad takes his children to their vehicle in a public parking lot. His daughter disobeys his warning and runs in front of a speeding car. He yanks her out of danger and instinctively gives her a swat on her backside. But spanking is against the law and someone sees him. He is arrested and charged.

Wayne writes from frustration. Who decided you can reason with small children? Most research says they cannot reason until they are about ten years old. While parents hope they will understand why some things are wrong or dangerous, until ten or so, they have difficulty with rationale. However, even a two-year old is capable of trusting mom and dad to guide them.

The downside is that everyone knows parents do not need to teach their children how to misbehave. The question is, how do you encourage them to do right? And what do you do when they refuse? From an adult perspective, reasoning seems kinder but if a child is too young to reason, then all they hear are mere words, easily shut out.

Riak equates spanking with beating children and slapping them around. Wayne argues loving parents have a different motive. Child abusers are frustrated and out of control. They want to harm not help. Loving parents are concerned that their children learn how to do right, make wise choices. They do not beat or slap but want the very best for them. They reinforce obedience with praise and discourage rebellion and disobedience (which is not the same as a childish mistake) with uncomfortable consequences.

A parallel might be a toddler and a hot stove. Parents can talk and reason, but no matter how strong their warnings, some little ones will touch it anyway. When they do, sudden pain impresses them that Mom is right; a hot stove is not safe.

From the child’s side, the Bible says, “Obey your parents . . . that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” This was directly applied to a family that taught their children to obey instantly (no small feat). It paid off. One summer day, as their sitter watched them in the family pool, she noticed a flash and a sagging overhead wire. She yelled, “Get out of the pool, right now!” They did (most would not) and moments later, the hot wire fell into the pool. Long life and obedience are a team.

It didn’t work that way at the end of Wayne’s fiction story. As the press sweeps into the family yard, insisting on an interview, the children are out of control. Dad tells them to stop but they insist on playing with some electrical equipment. He is frantic yet they ignore his words.

The reporters realize this is the test. Will this man lose his cool again and spank his children? Right in front of their cameras? They taunt him. The children laugh. Their mother sides with the reporters. What will he do? As they harass him, the children freeze. All action is in slow motion. Dad rushes toward them, silently screaming — but too late — both are electrocuted.

It is only a story but Wayne makes a point. Love is aware of the importance of obedience. Love does not beat children but teaches and corrects them, firmly and with necessary actions.

Surveys say about 90% of children are spanked. However, 90% do not grow up to be abusive husbands or abused wives. Is spanking taking the rap when the real culprit is something else? Maybe we have forgotten the importance of obeying authority. And maybe we have lost the true definition of love.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cheapskate Christians? .......... Parables 630

February 16, 1999

A Florida journalist wanted to find out if it was possible for a person to live on minimum wages in America. She did something unusual. She moved out of her home, put her career on hold and began looking for another job.

She soon realized that finding low-wage work is not as easy as she supposed. After searching the want ads, calling at appropriate businesses and filling out application forms, she was finally hired as a waitress in a diner. Her story is long, informative and eye-opening.

One paragraph applies to people who believe in Christ. She says the most dreaded restaurant patrons are “Visible Christians” and goes on to describe them as “. . . the ten-person table, all jolly and sanctified after Sunday day-night service, who run me mercilessly and then leave me $1 on a $92 bill. Or the guy with the crucifixion T-shirt (SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO) who complains that his baked potato is too hard and his iced tea too icy (I cheerfully fix both) and leaves no tip . . . .”

Does this mean us? Or is it shocking news? Many professing Christians are noted for continually looking for, if not expecting, bargain prices. While there is nothing wrong with being careful how we spend our money, being reputed as ‘cheap’ or stingy, calls for a change.

Of all the people in the world, we have the least excuse for being tight-fisted. God promises to supply all our needs. Certainly that means we do not have to worry that a generous tip will bankrupt His supply. But how did we get this reputation, this attitude of ingratitude?

It could be that we are stingy and greedy but it could also be a twisted spin-off of how we interpret the grace of God. Grace is God’s unconditional blessing, His free forgiveness of our sins. Grace is His lavish provision for all that we need in this life and in the next. However, grace does not mean everything else is free.

Some define grace as an acronym: God’s riches at Christ’s expense. The Bible says, “Though He was rich, He became poor for our sakes, that we might be made rich.” He not only became poor, He became dead, for our sakes . . . that we might live. Grace is free for us but it was costly for God.

Another definition of grace appeals to me. It is this: Grace is a revelation from God about Himself that somehow changes your life. The emphasis is on ‘changes your life’.

Discovering the generosity of God and living in His grace is fantastic; however, we are supposed to be “imitators of God” in every way. Since He intends a transformation from the inside out, this includes being like Him in character as well as doing the things He does.

In other words, we receive — but never hold or keep what is given for ourselves. We must share the gifts God gives, passing them along to others. We share His love, His mercy, His righteousness. We also share from the abundance of material blessings He bestows on us.

In the area of generosity, grace means being generous towards those we serve. It also means generosity towards those who serve us. We should not take God’s gifts for granted, nor should we take for granted the people He uses to bless us.

Some Christians do not have much money to spare but if we can afford a meal in a restaurant, we cannot afford to waste the grace of God associated with that meal. He allows us the privilege of being served. (Was not Christ a servant?) Do we pay it back by being rude, stingy or unthoughtful to the waiters and waitresses He brings to our table?

If this is true, shame on us. We need to re-examine our theology and our behavior.

Friday, August 18, 2017

God’s merciful persistence .......... Parables 629

February 9, 1999

Lana (not her real name) is dying. The medication prescribed to treat a serious disorder has destroyed parts of her throat and esophagus. Soon she will be unable to eat. A tube will help for a time but the damage will eventually eat away her ability to breathe.

Lana gets angry at anyone who offers to pray for her. She is not interested in God or the gospel of hope for eternal life. Fiercely independent, her faith is in herself. Further, she wants to die as she has lived — her way, not anyone’s, not even God’s.

Her friends feel helpless. Whether or not she made choices that brought her to this, Lana’s own way is not working. Everyone sees it so clearly, except Lana. They want to help her but she doesn’t want any help. Those who know how to pray, pray anyway, without her permission. What else can they do?

Some say if prayer is against her wishes, it should not be offered. If Lana wants to turn her back on God, it is her choice. Do not interfere. Let her make her own decisions, even if they are not what we want. Others say the problem is not her stubbornness but that she just doesn’t understand how anyone can die with hope and in peace.

Regardless of our personal experiences with God, the Bible makes it clear that He does not give up easily. Lana may not be interested in God but God is interested in her. Even as she resists Him, He will not turn his back on her. God is like that. He even shows mercy on the least likely. In one example, Jesus stopped at a well during the heat of the day, long after the villagers had been there to draw water. A lone woman appeared on the path and when she got to the well, Jesus asked her to draw enough for Him to have a drink too.

This was an unusual encounter. In those days Jewish men did not talk with women, especially a woman by herself. Strike One. Second, she was a Samaritan. Samaritans were a half-Jew, half-pagan race hated by the Jews and banned from worshiping God with them. Strike Two. As Jesus talked with her, it came out that she had been ‘with many men and now lived with one who was not her husband.’ Strike Three. Why did Jesus break at least three social norms of His day and bother with her?

He had His reasons. Throughout the Gospels accounts of His life, He gave his attention to both men and women. He never once indicated any contempt or discriminated against a woman. He reflects the attitude of His heavenly Father who created both in His image and loves both without prejudice.

In the same vein, He had no prejudice against Samaritans. He knew the plan of God did not exclude anyone, regardless of their race or background and how or what they worshiped.

Third, Jesus was interested in sinners. In Matthew 9:13, He challenged people to learn what God meant by saying He wanted ‘mercy, and not sacrifice.’ He then said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

By this lone incident, the Lord reveals His merciful heart. The woman was surprised that He talked to her. She knew the norms. She was late coming to the well because she knew others looked down on her, yet Jesus did not. He persisted in the conversation until she understood who He was and that He could give her ‘living water,’ a euphemism for eternal life.

Lana’s friends who know God will persist in praying for her. They do it, not to push something on her, but because they have Christ in their lives. His merciful persistence is showing up in theirs. They also hope God will touch her life despite her resistance and the many strikes against her. They know as God does, that her thirst for life is greater than her thirst for independence. She needs that living water.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Love is the higher law .......... Parables 628

February 2, 1999

A group of religious teachers and Pharisees dragged a woman into the courtyard and dumped her in front of Jesus. “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law says we should stone her to death. What do you say?”

Jesus held His tongue. I wonder if I could have done the same?

On a different day, another woman came into the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. She was crippled and bent over, unable to stand. Jesus called her over and then healed her. The worship leader was indignant. He yelled at the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

Jesus immediately retorted, “You hypocrites!” Had I been there, I wonder what I would have said or done, especially if someone had violated my religious convictions?

The more I read about Jesus, the more I am amazed at how He responded to people. He was often unpredictable yet each surprising instance underscores the fact that He understands human hearts. We tend to look only on the surface but He know our motivations.

For instance, Jesus knew the religious leaders of His day were not concerned about mercy. They did not care about the shame and pain of both the adulteress and the cripple. Their idea of justice was that everyone ought to keep the law to the letter and be punished to the greatest extent for all infractions. This notion motivated all their actions.

Jesus was not like that. He was deeply merciful, from the heart. However, His mercy enraged the Pharisees. To them, God’s laws were not suggestions but strict rules that must be kept. Why wouldn’t this man who called Himself the Son of God hold a hard line? Why would He be merciful to an adulteress? Why would He break the Sabbath to heal a mere woman?

Jesus did not defend His compassion. He knew God’s intention concerning the Law that He gave to Israel. As God’s Son, He had been involved in their formulation. Like the Father, He was interested in a response from the heart. He said the greatest commandments were to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”

The Pharisees did not understand that love is a ‘do’ command. They interpreted God’s Law with an emphasis on ‘do not.’ They failed to understand that God intended the Law as a measurement of their love, not as a set of regulations they could impose on everyone else.

Love is the higher law. It is also the law that Jesus lived by. For example, He did not drag people caught in sin into a public courtyard and heartlessly demand that they be punished. He knew the shame in their hearts. He also knew the power of God to change their lives.

In the case of the adulteress, Jesus also knew the Pharisees were using her to trick Him. They knew His reputation for mercy and used it in hopes that He would deny the legitimacy of the Law of Moses. They could use that against Him.

But in a surprising move, Jesus turned the trick back on them. He asked if any of them were sinless. If so, He said that person could cast the first stone. One by one they left. Then Jesus turned to the woman and said to her, “Go, and sin no more.”

As for the crippled woman in the temple, Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for our benefit, not to put us in bondage or force us to be inconsiderate. Love is interested in helping and healing, regardless of the day.

The Pharisees pretended to love God by insisting everyone must keep the rules, but they had no regard for the needs of people. They topped it off by condemning Jesus for His mercy. Today, religious people can also become so zealous about rules that they forget mercy, even condemn those who remember it.

Maybe we need a fresh visit from Jesus.

Monday, August 14, 2017

How we get our image of God .......... Parables 627

January 26, 1999

A talk show hostess interviewed a black woman who fought illness, poverty and racial tension. She became a successful business woman and mother. Her family, part of the studio audience, rose to bless her. One son said something like, “Mother, thank you for allowing me to stay in your body and be born, for raising your family and sticking it out for us.”

Most of us know that God tells us to honor our father and mother. What we do not realize is how much our children depend on us for their concept of God. That is, if they see us as loving and wise, they think God is loving and wise also.

However, children whose parents are thoughtless, selfish or abusive have a difficult time imagining God as someone who could possibly care for them. To them, the word ‘father’ can have unpleasant connotations. When they hear it they feel, at the least, disappointment and are often angry and fearful, emotions that carry over to their concept of a heavenly Father.

The father image that God choose to use in His revelation of Himself was never intended to be a bad image. God created marriage and the family unit. His design included loving parents who give their best effort to raise children who love, obey and respect them.

Occasionally, we meet a family that seems close to this ideal. I think of the Pattisons, a couple whose lives recently ended in a car accident. Married 63 years, they had sons and daughters who honored and respected them because this couple loved and nurtured their children.

Yet for many, the image of father and family is deeply marred, not because poor parenting is God’s pattern but because human nature, in general, has also been marred. Even the Pattisons were not perfect yet many more families fall far beneath their standard.

In a marred family, parents resent their children. Children curse their parents. Sometimes, headlines tell of tragic situations in which parent or child goes so far as to injure or even kill others in their family. How can this be?

God made man and woman in His image. That is, we have characteristics that are like God and that reflect His nature. These characteristics appear whenever we selflessly give time and effort toward raising our children. They also appear when our children honor and obey us.

Yet the nature of God in us is marred by sin. Who is perfectly like Him? The Bible says, “There is none righteous, no not one . . . . All have fallen short of the glory of God.”

To get back on track, we need our sin and imperfections forgiven by God and cleansed from our lives. The Pattisons experienced that, even before they were wed. For most of their lives, they honored God in their personal life and in their home and community. God blessed them in return. Their children love and serve God and are wise and loving parents themselves.

The lady on the television show also honored God. She said that she owed all the good that was happening in her life to Him. Proverbs 31 says, “A woman that fears the LORD, she shall be praised” and that “Her children arise up, and call her blessed.” What a joy it must have been for her to have her son rise up on national television and bless her.

These and others like them are examples of how to be a great parent. They clearly show that when we obey God, we are not only living up to His intention in our creation but making a difference in the lives of our children.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Human Rights? .......... Parables 626

January 19, 1999

Will the VLT question ever be settled? A provincial vote recorded public opinion but somehow the matter is still up in the air. Human rights continue to blur the issue.

Rights, a worldwide hot topic, spans the extremes. For instance, minority groups cry for the right to be heard and teenagers demand the right to drive the family car. Women ask for equal pay for equal work and my grandchildren each want the right to the TV remote. Criminals ask for the right to vote and dissatisfied spouses think they have the right to be unfaithful. Writers demand their copyrights and everyone wants to stand at the front of the line.

Which demands are legitimate? How can anyone know? In many cases, if all are equally valid still some must give in to others. So who decides which rights take priority?

It is irrational to give looters the right to enter broken windows and take what they want whenever they want it. It is also irrational to give angry people the right to express their feelings by spraying a shotgun in a school ground. Is it irrational to give people the right to gamble?

Of course playing VLTs is not the same as stealing or killing but excessive or compulsive gambling takes a toll on innocent people. How much is excessive? Can human rights have limits in this case? Is it possible to agree on what those limits should be?

Endless questions with debatable answers should make us ask what God says but the Bible says nothing about VLTs and very little about gambling. It does mention human rights.

God defines rights and freedom far differently than we do. While He allows us choices, He does not define that freedom as a right to do whatever we want. Instead, He says “not all things are beneficial.” In God’s mind, making choices is a privilege, a responsibility, even an opportunity. He also says if we think we are free to fulfill our own wants, we are actually slaves.

How can this be? To understand God’s perspective, we have to realize that the essence of sin is selfishness. When we do our own thing contrary to the commands of God, we sin. The New Testament book of Romans asks, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey . . . ?”

God says: choose to either serve Him and be free to become all He intended when He created us, or choose to be a slave to ourselves and sin. This is strong talk, but He gives no other options.

Slaves are unpaid workers who cannot say no to their boss. This sounds like a person addicted to gambling. VLTs rarely pay back the people who use them. Instead, they are designed to make a profit. Not only that, they rob people of discernment. In thinking they are doing as they please, gamblers are actually in bondage to an expensive, thrill-seeking habit they cannot break.

Families of gambling slaves also pay the price of this so-called “freedom.” They lose their “rights.” Money for their groceries and utility bills is spent on “roads, education and health care” or it goes into the pockets of whoever owns the establishments that house the machines.

You and I also pay a price for this “freedom.” Our taxes go up because families draw more deeply from social services. Gamblers who want to quit need therapy too, and someone must pay for their increased needs. We also pay in pain if the addicts are people we love.

Those who make money on the machines are caught in a “love of money” trap that the Bible calls the “root of all evil.” They cannot set themselves free and will eventually “pierce themselves with many griefs.” This demand for “rights” is costly and deceptive, not true freedom.

Freely giving everyone the “right” to gamble results in huge losses. Everyone is trapped by one side of it or another — and everyone pays a price.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ultimate communication .......... Parables 625

March 9, 1999

Electronic mail has revolutionized business and personal communication. With a computer and modem, anyone can send messages around the world in minutes, even make and cultivate friendships in cyberspace.

However, e-mail has the same annoyances as regular mail. Total strangers somehow get my address and send me Spam or unwanted advertising — electronic junk mail. Occasionally, I get chain letters too. “If you make ten copies of this and send it on to ten friends...”

Yikes, I have enough to do. I use this technology when I want to say a few words without feeling guilty that I didn’t have time to write fourteen pages.

Carnegie Melton University in Pittsburgh researched people who spend far more time in cyberspace than I do. According to their data, the more that people use e-mail, chat rooms and discussion groups, the more depressed, stressed and lonely they feel. They also add that being on-line replaces time people should spend building deeper relationships with family and friends.

In my limited experience, electronic discussions, no matter how intimate they seem, do not reach true intimacy. Impressions easily created in mere words fall flat in face-to-face relationships. With e-mail, it is easy to fake who you are and how you feel. Even regular mail and the telephone fail the intimacy test. To pass, we need to look into each other’s eyes.

The Bible says the eye is the lamp of the body. Philosophers say it is the window to the soul. Ordinary people know that the look in someone’s eye can tell them a great deal about that person’s heart and mind.

At least that is true for human relationships. It simply does not apply to the ultimate cyberspace communication — prayer. We do not have to look into the eyes of God to get close to Him. We just talk or even think and God knows exactly what we are trying to communicate. He speaks back through the Bible or sometimes without words into our minds — and we hear Him. We know who is speaking and we grow deeper in our relationship with Him.

I am amazed how we can fool each other with the best of technology yet our hearts are open to God using none whatsoever. It is as the psalmist wrote, “O Lord, You have searched me and You know me. . . . Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord.”

Spoken or written prayers help us express ourselves to Him but His understanding goes deeper than what we say. He knows what we really mean and how we really feel before we even tell Him. Not even our closest friends can do that with the same accuracy.

Actually, prayer is not really cyberspace communication. The Bible says if we put our faith in Christ, He comes to live in our hearts. We are “a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in us, whom we received from God.” Our messages do not have to go from ‘server to server’ around the universe searching for His address because He is right here with us. Nothing could be quicker.

Further, going on-line with God doesn’t require a modem or computer. Anyone can do it anywhere and anytime, without any costs and in any language. No one has to learn how to type on a keyboard or open any software. Nothing could be easier.

If spending too much time online makes people lonely, prayer has the opposite effect. Consider evangelist Billy Graham’s definition of loneliness. He says it is the way we feel when God is calling us to spend time with Him. When we do that, we are filled not emptied.

These days, I’m beginning to wish I could get paid to read and respond to e-mail but when I pray, there is no sense of lost or wasted time. God never sends Spam or junk mail, only peace and a sense of being with Him.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Defeating stress .......... Parables 624

January 5, 1999

One brave Canadian couple allowed a television crew to follow their home renovation project. Like most renovations, theirs evolved into a bigger mess than they expected.

First, they thought they could live in it while the work was being done. They quickly realized this was impossible and rented a town house. As work progressed, so did unexpected extras and with them, difficult decisions. Some days, their contractors or sub-trades failed to show. Everything took longer than anyone planned. Deadlines moved back. The weather interfered. What else could go wrong?

Well, with December arriving, they realized their rented town house had no room for a Christmas tree. The family felt isolated. Then their landlord served notice. He had sold the place. In two weeks, they would have to move, but their house would not be finished for two months. Finally, the husband lost his job. On national television, the couple admitted that stress was putting a strain on their lives.

According to statistics, 60 per cent of Canadians experience a high level of stress at least once a week. Two out of ten are at their stress limit. This means if they needed to detangle several strings of tree lights, they would crack under the strain.

A certain amount of stress is important. Without it, we would not stand up straight and most people would never get out of bed in the morning. However, unwanted circumstances and difficult relationships produce an inner resistance that is unwanted and unhealthy.

How can we manage stress? We could avoid stressful situations. Consider the couple with the renovation project. As they fear losing their home, they admit that instead of letting this renovation project take over their lives, leaving it the way it was would have been easier.

We could also reduce stress in some way. If the man could find a new job or the contractors could work overtime, perhaps that would reduce their stress. Others reduce stress by taking a holiday, enjoying a hobby, even turning to drugs (prescribed or otherwise) and alcohol.

How did Jesus manage stress? There is no doubt He experienced situations that were stressful. Imagine being on a small fishing boat in a terrible storm with twelve terrified men. Imagine being pressured all day long, day after day, by people wanting you to do something for them. Imagine being rejected by the very people you came to help and eventually being tried and convicted for something that was not a crime.

Jesus had two things going for Him. He knew that His Father in heaven was sovereign over everything. That is, God did not necessarily instigate any of these situations against His Son but He could stop them if He wanted to. Jesus knew who was in control.

He also knew that people would be cruel and mean. While rejection and harsh treatment do not feel good, this never surprised Him. I know that much of my stress comes from thoughtless or unkind actions that I did not expect.

The Bible says that Lord took a different attitude than we do toward stressful situations and harsh treatment. A passage in 1 Peter talks about how we should react to unfair treatment and says of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Jesus did not welcome the stress curves thrown at Him. However, instead of meeting them with inner resistance or any form of retaliation, He trusted God. By yielding to the things that threatened Him and knowing God would use them into good, He defeated their power over Him.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Enjoying a healthy body? .......... Parables 623

December 29, 1998

Rheumatoid arthritis and AIDS are quite different disorders but both are related to the auto-immune system. In RA, the body becomes confused and attacks its own joint fluid as an enemy. Without lubrication, bones grind and wear against each other causing pain and disability.

In AIDS, the auto-immune system is not confused; it just quits. The body loses its capacity to fight external enemies and dies from illnesses such as pneumonia.

While the human body is an amazing organism, these two conditions illustrate how one part working contrary to its intended purpose produces painful and even deadly results.

The New Testament uses the human body as a metaphor for spiritual unity. Those who believe in Christ should function together, just as the parts of our body should.

For instance, the Apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts by pointing out that each believer has a different gift, just as each part of the body has a different job to do. The eye is not the hand and the hand is not the eye. Each needs the other so all can function.

As a body has many members so it can work properly, so does the Body of Christ. This analogy helps Christians appreciate both our oneness and our differences. It also illustrates the importance of working together. When each part of a healthy body cooperates, that body is strong and productive. The Bible says, “From Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and build itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

However, this analogy also can describe what happens when Christians set themselves against one another. If we do not appreciate our differences, reject unity and refuse to cooperate, we are like a malfunctioning auto-immune system. The results are just as disastrous.

In love, we function like healthy bones and ligaments but if we do not keep ourselves in right relationships with mutual support and instead begin fighting, we are like rheumatoid arthritis. We are destroying necessary “lubrication” and begin to wear and grate against each other.

Loving one another is vital, not only to our health but to our appearance. Jesus said the world will evaluate us by our love (or lack of it) for one another. If the Body of Christ malfunctions, we experience personal and corporate pain and become crippled, even totally disabled, in our ministry to others. Besides, the Bible says if one member hurts, all hurt. In-fighting is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

A malfunctioning Body of Christians has another problem suggested by the analogy and how a human body suffers if it has AIDS. Spiritually, the Bible is clear that the Christian struggle “is not against flesh and blood” but is against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” When we pit ourselves against each other, we become helpless against external enemies. Satan and the powers of evil can easily defeat us.

Paul wrote that if we “yield to God and resist the devil, he will flee” from us. Notice what comes first: yielding to God. The Bible defines that simply as loving Him and loving one another. Jesus said that we show our love for God by loving other Christians.

Everyone wants a healthy body. We do what we can with rest, proper diet, exercise and regular care. In fact, these exercises occupy a major portion of our lives. What a difference it would make if we gave as much attention and effort toward maintaining health in the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What is the spirit of Christmas? .......... Parables 622

December 22, 1998

What is the “spirit of Christmas”? After a survey, here are some opinions.

Some say it is family being together, eating and giving gifts. It is a pervading sense of good will. Even strangers go out of their way to say ‘Merry Christmas’ (at least they used to!)

Others call it an anticipation, like that of a child filled with wonder and excitement. Many claim it is a spirit of generosity, an open-heartedness that thinks benevolent thoughts and gives gifts. Others say it is remembering the reason for the season yet they do not define it.

Some respond by saying they put up a tree, put lights on their house, and play their Christmas CD’s to get into the spirit of Christmas. For them, you don’t have it until you unpack the decorations or play the music or open the gifts. Others counter by saying no, the Christmas spirit is in your heart, a warm, glowing feeling that you cannot buy in a store.

But many still think the spirit of Christmas is out dazzling your neighbors with more—more ornaments, a bigger tree, more presents, more flashing lights, more moving figurines, more parties, more of everything.

Today’s celebrations are foreign to the first Christmas. That day there were no parties, lights, turkey dinners, brightly wrapped gifts or Christmas carols. The people who took part in the event may have had a song in their hearts, but they were not at all as we imagine them today.

For instance, our Christmas cards picture clean, gentle shepherds, but the genuine tenders of sheep were rough and unkept. Their bodies and clothes both needed a bath and they had little or no education. Shepherds were considered the lowest on the social scale.

Yet the shepherds were joyful. They returned from seeing the newborn Christ “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” They had the spirit of Christmas.

After Jesus was born, few recognized His significance. One who did, a devout Jew named Simeon, “took Jesus in his arms and praised God.” He had the spirit of Christmas.

Mary and Joseph seemed amazed at their baby. The Bible says they “marveled at what was said about him.” They had the spirit of Christmas too.

The “spirit of Christmas” as indicated by the story in God’s Word, is partly an incredible awe, an awe that fills the air and touches even those who have no idea where their joy comes from. It is the awe of response to a great message: God became a baby and entered our world as one of us. It is the awe of hearing angels saying this is “good news of great joy for all people.” It is an awe that touches those who haven’t even heard that good news because the spirit of Christmas fuels the joy and the music, and touches people with a warmth from outside themselves, a sweet delight from the heart of God.

Would it be the same without the birth of the child? One man complained about carols ruining his Christmas because “those religious people have to get into everything.” He and others like him fail to make the connection between the celebration and the reason for the season. They are like people who go to a baby shower, eat the food, laugh, enjoy themselves and pass around the gifts, but never bother themselves to admire and praise the baby.

They miss the point but they also miss that ancient and original spirit of Christmas. The Bible says that “God inhabits the praises of His people.” That is, if we throw a Christmas party filled with the praises of our lips, the goodness He puts in our lives and the carols that honor His birth, then He is the guest of honor. For those at the party, the spirit of Christmas becomes a deeper and richer awareness of His presence.