Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Our deepest needs .......... Parables 673

June 6, 2000

Ramona (not her real name) started drinking as a young adult. She wanted to be an important person and thought she was not. This plus other challenges overwhelmed her. Alcohol provided an escape — for a little while.

She married late. Her husband was not the easiest man to live with and she felt it was her fault. Her drinking continued. They had two children who were her constant delight, but as they grew, being a wife and mother became less fulfilling. She wanted to be more important, to be wealthy and included in an upper income social group. She tried to buy her way up but her expensive taste and extravagant spending put a strain on the family budget and her marriage. Both fell apart.

Ramona was forced to find a part time job. It was barely adequate. Her increasing need to belong and to impress people demanded more money. Finally, she figured out a way to “borrow” it from her employer. She was caught, prosecuted, and convicted. Most people think that the Bible says money is the root of all evil, but the actual quote is: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” In Ramona’s case, that love destroyed her health, and her marriage and family.

Also, that love of money had a root of its own. Ramona needed to feel accepted and significant. She mistakenly thought both these needs could be satisfied by other people and when they were not, the second mistake was trying to use money to gain the recognition she craved.

Money is not the only thing we latch on to as the answer to these two human needs. Some think being attractive will do it. Leaf through any women’s magazine and look at the advertising. Nearly all of it appeals to a desire to be beautiful. That should make us more important.

Another ticket to acceptance and significance is achievement. It will buy applause, awards, a raise in pay, an increase in status, even a page in Who’s Who. This works at least for some people. But then we hear stories from athletes or the wealthy telling how their fame and fortune brings only fleeting blessings.

Despite the stories, Ramona felt money would fix her problem. Others would say all they need is a better body, a higher score, a more prestigious job, something more or better — and that would be enough to make to give them that sense of acceptance and significance they are looking for; however, God says not. He says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.”

What looks like it will work is not what will work. Not everyone will wind up in jail like Ramona, but pursuing money, beauty, fame, or any temporary status can only provide a temporary sense of significance. Wouldn’t we rather have something permanent?

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” While He was talking about food and clothing, the principle applies to far more. God is eager to give us all we need. We block Him from doing it by our futile search to find it everywhere else but in Him. Only God loved us “while we were still sinners” and only God gave us significance by sending His Son to die in our place. We do not have to work for, or do anything, to gain that kind of divine acceptance and status. Both come from His love and from the price tag He placed on our lives.

Whatever might happen to our finances, fame or face, how God feels about us and what He has done for us will never change. It is in Christ that we can find that lasting sense of being loved and valued. He invites us to turn away from the folly of seeking it elsewhere and know the freedom of finding it in Him.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Deciding Priorities .......... Parables 672

June 13, 2000

It was 9 a.m. and the south side lab was already filled with patients waiting for their various tests. A young man rushed in and slapped his medical requisition on the counter. The receptionist placed it under the pile. He looked around anxiously then blurted, “Do I have to wait long? That is a problem. You see, I’ve been fasting fourteen hours.”

She smiled and said, “So has everyone else.”

Fasting all night is not a problem for those who normally skip breakfast but even then, some folks have trouble getting started without their morning coffee. For others, self-denial is difficult no matter what time of day it is.

Ours is a self-indulgent society. For years, we have heard that we need to be individuals, independent, and put number one first, meaning ourselves. Selfishness, in Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged, is even promoted as the greatest virtue.

Christians are told the opposite. While the Bible says, “each one should carry his own load” it means we ought not be freeloaders. It also says, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Sometimes deciding priorities based on those commands becomes a difficult balancing act.

Every now and then my to-do list gets out of control and I want to unplug the phone and stay home until everything is caught up. At the same time, needy friends may call. Sometimes a family member wants help with something. If everything happens at once, which is the most important? Some are more appealing but if the list is long enough, each can seem a sacrifice.

FIRST, THE MOST DIFFICULT? Household chores can be a challenge, so it is tempting to go shopping, but some days shopping seems more difficult and the chores become an excuse to not do it. For me, deciding the most difficult is too subjective and unreliable.

FIRST, THE GREATEST NEED? If someone breaks their arm, that is one thing, but not all needs are as easy to evaluate. How would a lab decide which fasting person was the hungriest? Not only that, the demands of others are sometimes best left unanswered so they can learn to handle their own problems. Maybe I am not the best person to help. Maybe it is not the best time to get involved. The greatest need is a hazy issue.

FIRST, THE PERSONAL SACRIFICE? Some Christians say we should do first that which requires the most unselfish action. The idea is that most of us tend to pick the easiest, the most familiar, whatever is within our comfort zone. Challenges produce a sense of inadequacy and no one likes that feeling, but they do urge us to trust God and sacrifice our personal comfort.

FIRST, WHATEVER FEELS RIGHT? This would work if our feelings were reliable and if we belonged to ourselves. Feelings come and go and Christians do not own their own lives; we belong to God. He asks that we be led not by whimsy, but by His Spirit.

FIRST, WHAT DOES GOD WANT? When God asks a thing, that must be our priority. He considered the difficulty level and knows the need. He also knows He is our greatest resource and that we “can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”

It is not a matter of what we discern is hardest or easiest, the most important or the least selfish. Besides, we generally have no real insight into those issues, at least not like God. Instead, we need to seek and listen to our Lord. He says “The mind (and the life) controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” Doing His will is worth it.

Note that Ayn Rand’s lead character disagrees. He says, “A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altar of others is giving you death as your standard.” Nevertheless, Jesus followed that standard and spent His entire life controlled by the Holy Spirit. Then by obedience, Jesus conquered sin and death and bids us to follow His example. The criteria is not whether the thing is easy or difficult, a delight or a challenge. Instead, we need to ask ourselves: Does God want me to do this?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Want to be Significant? .......... Parables 671

May 23, 2000

The child who stabbed his classmates said he did it because he wanted attention. He got what he wanted, but is he satisfied?

Attention seekers feel they are not important, that no one notices or appreciates them. Some attention would take them from a nobody to a somebody. Is this the somebody-status he wanted?

This child is tragically confused about his own identity. To build up himself, he seriously injures others. This may not have happened had he realized even a single benevolent achievement seldom raises one’s self worth for the long term, never mind what one act of violence will do to it.

Can anyone do anything to make themselves more important in their own minds? Perhaps, but first, we need to understand the difference between being and doing. Is who we are established by our actions, or do our actions simply bring out who we are?

Pam (not her real name) wanted to be wealthy and belong to that crowd who has money. She dressed in the finest clothes, bought the most expensive furniture, and frequented the classiest restaurants, doing all the things a rich person does. However, she is not rich. In her desperate desire to be what she is not, she embezzled money and was caught. Doing the actions did not make her rich, it put her in prison, compounded her delusions, and exposed her desperate heart.

The Bible offers a great deal on this topic of who we are. An Old Testament proverb warns us to watch how we relate to people because no matter how they appear on the surface, “as that man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

God never separates our external actions from what goes on inside. If a person is nice to others, God considers their motivation and whether they have personal gain in mind. He sees all our selfishness, no matter how we cover it. Little wonder He can say that “all sin and falls short of His glory.”

Nevertheless, God never condemns us for our desire to be significant. This is part of being created in His image. Because we were intended to reflect the likeness of God, we have this sense of being less significant than we ought to be. Our departure from walking with God created the loss and something in us wants to regain that sense of being more than we are.

God’s condemnation is not against our desire for significance but against our sinful efforts to make ourselves important without Him. We do not live as He intended.

Think of it: we already are, by creation, significant creatures. Our efforts to make impressions, get attention, or be significant simply deny what God did when He made us. Instead of acknowledging Him and what He did, we try to do it ourselves. All our efforts do not change the fact that we are people made in the image of God.

What changed it is our disobedience to God. We cannot reflect His image when we go against Him. Every time we do, we lose something. Stabbing people seems a greater sin yet even a “white lie” pulls us down from the status we could have. Instead of being important, we fall short of what He intended. He wants a significance for us beyond our wildest imaginings.

An eagle was intended to fly. Put it in a cage or a chicken coop and it has lost its glory. Human beings were intended to reflect the image of God. When we resist and rebel against Him, we also lose our glory. Stabbing someone is just one of the many pitiful ways of trying to get it back but the only way that works is turning from our efforts to the One who can redeem and restore us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Understanding God .......... Parables 670

May 18, 2000

Millions of businesses use the Internet to advertise and sell products. Millions of ordinary folks use it to find information and to communicate with friends all over the world.

The Internet started as a convenience for government agencies. Soon other organizations saw its potential. Since the 1994 advent of Internet browsers, the number of web servers who feed information into cyberspace has exploded from a few thousand to over several million. They host uncountable personal and corporate web sites. With such rapid growth, no one has a handle on the actual size of the worldwide web. While most of us don’t care, some ambitious people are trying to draw a map of the Internet. They want to define and catalog it, somehow wrapping their minds around its size and content.

Imagine an even greater challenge: try to figure out God. The study is called “theology” and theology books are filled with finite human attempts to understand Someone infinite, Someone greater than the Internet or even the entire universe.

Theology tries to list God’s attributes and actions, dividing characteristics into those we can share — like mercy, and those that belong to God alone — such as the ability to know all things.

Theologians devote pages describing how God reveals Himself and how we can know Him. They describe and define His names and His triune nature. Some have perplexing titles such as “Essence and Attributes” and “Defenseless Superior Power.”

Besides chapters on His character, theologians describe the way God behaves. They talk of His mercy in sparing those who deserved judgment. They describe how He takes care of His people, sometimes in miraculous ways.

However, the best way to define God is the way He defines Himself. That is, what God is like is most clearly seen in His Son, Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus was a human being. He was born just as we were, grew up, learned, and was subject to His parents and civil law. He got hungry, thirsty and tired. He was just like us in that He had feelings, thoughts, and choices to make.

However, if we study His life, it is not long before we realize He is not exactly like us, or rather, we are not exactly like Him. We make mistakes, talk out of turn, lose our temper, and get annoyed with people. We lose patience with our own sin and the sins of others. But Jesus said and did the right things — always. He reflects qualities that belong to God and God alone. If descriptions do not convince us that He is divine, Jesus also walked on water, healed the sick, turned water into wine, fed thousands with less than what is in my pantry, and raised the dead. He read minds and forgave sins. Only God can do that.

We may not understand words like immanent and eternal, but in Christ we can clearly see that God is loving and merciful. We can also see how He hates sin but cares deeply about sinners. That is, God pulled on humanity like a pair of pants and walked among us. He knew we could not grasp His nature by mere descriptions. He knew we would stumble if all we had were stories of His interaction with Old Testament Jews. Skeptics even discredit God and those miracles by saying they were superstition, coincidences or freaks of nature.

But no one can explain away Jesus. Real people saw, touched, and heard Him. They interacted with a living person who loved them and did miracles. They watched Him give Himself up to death on a cross for human sin. Over 500 of them rejoiced to see Him alive again when God raised Him from the dead. They knew He was God in the flesh.

By studying Jesus, we can begin to understand God as described in Scripture. By putting our faith in Him, we can experience God too. He will live within us and walk beside us. We never again have to struggle with long words and vague descriptions that always fall short because, in Christ, we can not only know who He is but we can know Him as our Savior and personal friend.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The value of a child .......... Parables 669

April 4, 2000

Anne Geddes, baby photographer, says she takes those beautiful pictures because she wants the whole world to take notice that our children are wonderful. Who would argue with her? Yet violence continues to target children. As politicians battle over who is responsible and what should be done about it, a 1993 statistic says in the U.S. a child died every 92 minutes from gunfire.

Things are not much different today. If our newspapers put each event in a headline, we would face 15 - 16 dead children stories every day of the year. No doubt the fainthearted would protest yet, as morbid as it sounds, maybe full coverage of each shooting would produce more than political bickering.

We claim to value children, but not much is said about these 6000 shooting deaths unless they happen to be spectacular or politically hot. For instance, a grown man was murdered because of his sexual orientation and the whole world heard about it but when a child was murdered by those of that orientation, who made a fuss?

Each year, even each day, thousands of children are aborted, abandoned, and abused without much attention drawn to their plight. What does this say about our value system? We North Americans claim to be moral, even religious, adhering to ethical codes based on our convictions. Perhaps it is time to review those ethics, even to take another look at what God says about the value of our kids.

In the Old Testament, God warned His people not to disobey Him. If they did, they could expect horrible calamities upon themselves and their children. These disasters included disease, crop failure and famine, with an emphasis on the suffering brought to the next generation.

God also warned His people that invading armies would come if they did not obey Him. These enemies would ruin their homes and take their children. Risking disobedience put at risk those most precious to them.

Before we think that God values a child only by its potential rather than an actual value, consider this incident from the New Testament. The chief priests and the teachers of the law saw Jesus doing wonderful things. When children shouted in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were not happy and took their complaint to Jesus.

He replied, “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” He rebuked them for thinking children could not be a blessing to God.

Remember also when the disciples considered children an intrusion? Jesus responded with, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

God holds precious the life of a child. We say we do and, as people created in His image, we are capable of His same protective attitude. Yet actions speak louder than sentiment. Statistics and tiny graves mock our so-called values.

Governments want to confiscate guns, pass more laws, take more control of families. They raise objections at every slaying, just as we do. Yet until the value we place on all human life matches the value placed on them by the One who gave life, it is unlikely anything will change.

What gives us the right to say a child matters only after it is born or born without flaw, or only after it does everything it is told, or only after it fits our plans?

Thank God He is not like that. If He was, none of us would have seen the light of day.

Friday, November 17, 2017

What would Jesus say or do? .......... Parables 668

May 9, 2000

Madeline O’Hare, Shirley McLean and Jesus Christ are sipping lattes at Starbucks. To open the conversation, Ms. O’Hare (the most forward of the three), stoutly proclaims, “There is no God.”

Ms. McLean cringes. How can she say that? It simply ruins everyone’s self-esteem. In rebuttal, she sternly declares, “No, that is not right. You are God. I am God. We are all God.”

At that, Jesus leans back in His chair, smiles and then . . . what do you think He would say or do?

One option might be a storm cloud that fills the coffee house with thunder and lightning, stunning these two with His power. The New Testament describes a time He was in a boat with His disciples. He was having a nap while they rowed across the Sea of Galilee. As it was prone to do, the weather suddenly changed. Some of the disciples were fishermen, used to quirky storms but this was the mother of all storms. They were terrified and shook Jesus awake with, “Don’t you care that we perish?” At that, He rebuked their “little faith” and commanded the rain and wind to cease. It did. Certainly if He can stop a storm with a word, He can also start one.

Another option might be a display of His glory. He did that on a mountain with Peter, James and John as witnesses. They were struck dumb by what they saw (only Peter, who had perpetual foot-in-mouth disease, offered a few comments). All three fell to the ground in terror.

Or Jesus might respond with a sermon. He often preached from mountainsides and fishing boats, so a coffee shop is not out of bounds for a pulpit. We could guess a topic, perhaps the demands of His Law that asks for our perfect obedience. He might explain how no human would invent the Law of God because we have no reason to hold up a standard we cannot reach. Surely Jesus would include God’s grace and mercy . . . although “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin . . . when we were still sinners, He died for us.” With that, He would explain how God loves sinners but hates sin and demands it be punished. In love, He send His Son to earth to pay our penalty for sin. Those who believe in Him are spared but those who reject His offer of salvation must themselves pick up the tab for sin.

Then again, Jesus might not preach or do a miracle. He might not reveal Himself, at least not to these people. One is an atheist who denies there is a God. For her, there is no value to faith nor is there need to consider her soul or spirit. She also denies spiritual realities such as miracles. Anything Jesus might do she would attribute to human skill and an FX crew.

The other one believes in pantheism, a belief once held by primitive people but now adopted by the sophisticated westerner. Pantheists believe that “God is all and all is God.” Each level of existence is simply a different level of God, whether it be mind, mosquito, or mud. For her, God is energy not a person. Even though she would agree that Jesus has the energy of God, even agree that He is God, it would not be because He is God but because all of us are. She would attribute whatever Jesus might do or say to the same forces that she herself lives by, but not to the power of a real and holy God. Pantheists prefer a god they can see, touch, understand, control, and that does not require admission of sin. By making “all” into god, they can worship anything they want. They may not stoop to mud and mosquitoes, but only because their favorite “god” is themselves.

Jesus might smile, finish His latte and walk away. After all, He has already spoken to these issues. Psalm 14:1 begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” and goes on to explain that no one seeks God because sin hardens our hearts to the truth of God.

The Bible points out that we know about the Creator in our hearts but if we persist in denying our conscience, we crowd Him out. Then, because we are spiritual beings, we fill the void with lesser gods and the true God becomes an unknown.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Choices for death and choices for what comes after it .......... Parables 667

January 25, 2000

The “Right to Die Society” announced that someone reversed the technology of a rebreather and invented a device called a “debreather.” This new invention allows someone to orchestrate their own death without help or pain. The debreather bolsters the claim that a suffering person should be allowed to “die with dignity,” assuming that pain and suffering are undignified.

How our values have changed. Remember the old western movies when noble cowboys wanted to die “with their boots on” rather than in bed? They would rather be struck by lightning on the job or shot from their horse by a cattle rustler than get pneumonia and pass on lying in bed.

Today’s values are quite different. Instead of putting the glory of our work at the top of the list, many people consider their priority in life is their own personal comfort.

Wanting comfort is okay but what about the assumption that death is better than pain? Is living with discomfort less dignified than being dead? Is it more important to avoid pain than to live honorable with it?

Perhaps the most danger in the right-to-die philosophy is assuming that physical death is all there is. These people do not seem to realize that death comes in two parts.

The Bible talks about it in graphic terms. Hebrews says that we are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” However, the book of Revelation mentions a “second death.” It says that those who die physically will be brought to the throne of God for judgment. Then they will be “thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.”

The next verse alludes to an alternative: “if anyone’s name (is) not found written in the book of life. . . .” It is clear that physical death is not the end. The Bible teaches that everyone will be raised; “some to live and some to be condemned.” Those written in the book of life already have eternal life and will take part in what the Bible calls the “first resurrection.” Revelation 20 explains that “the second death has no power over them.”

The second death is the kicker. But the crucial point is that no one can escape God’s order of things. Those who want to live forever may do so, but it is God who gives eternal life and He offers it to the living. Scripture says, “. . . this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

This is our choice. Those who want to escape suffering in this life may also make that choice, but it is God who decides what happens next. Anyone who ignores their relationship to Him and does not have eternal life from Jesus Christ, will not find peace and comfort in death, no matter how they die or who helps them.

While it is a popular word, hell is not a popular topic. Yet hell has a purpose; it the eternal abode God created for those who choose to ignore Him and would rather live and die without Him.

Pain and suffering are not popular topics either. Although pain is a signal that something is wrong, we would rather not suffer at all. Yet suffering has a purpose too. The Bible calls it a “light and momentary trouble” compared with eternity. Scripture and the experience of Christians point to its value; suffering can draw us closer to God and a comfort we would not otherwise experience.

We cannot deny the horrendous pain that some people endure. However, compare that with the horrors and finality of the second death. Is not suffering for a little in the presence of God far better than suffering for eternity without Him?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why isn’t the devil as scary as he used to be? .......... Parables 666

April 25, 2000

Halloween costume racks always include one that looks like red underwear with a long tail, a grotesque horned mask, and a fake pitch fork. Yet no matter how frightening it is supposed to be, when this outfit skips down the street, we know that under it is someone’s happy child.

The devil is not too scary anymore. His so-called persona is entrusted to little children and comedians make jokes about him.

For instance, remember Flip Wilson dressed as Geraldine? In one skit, his character explained overspending on a new outfit by saying, “The devil made me do it.”

When asked why he did not respond with, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” Geraldine batted long eyelashes and replied, “I did . . . but he told me it looks good from the back too.”

We know how it works. I have done the same with temptation. I know better but tell myself some reason or other why I should give in to it. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that the devil is a mere twig on my conscience. Scripture does not support the myth that he is only a small guilt that we can easily excuse.

Although some might think the devil is all-in-your-head, he was very real for God’s Son. Jesus mentions him several times. He also went nose to nose with him in two marathon battles, one in the wilderness, the other at the Cross.

Since Jesus taught the devil was far more than a symbol of evil, we would be wise to consider what he can do to us and how we can overcome his efforts.

First, we need to recognize his tricks. They are tiresomely old stuff. For instance, he started his career with a lie to Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say that?”

When Eve listened to his suggestion, she doubted God’s Word, then stepped on a slippery slope into sin. Satan decided that line was a keeper and has been using it ever since.

He slams the Bible, wanting us to think that God did not say anything; it was written by mere men. Or, if God was involved, it has been twisted, or is impossible to understand. This tactic also implies God is powerless since He cannot preserve the purity and accuracy of His Word.

Another trick also started in Eden when Satan told Eve if to eat the forbidden fruit and be like God. He said her eyes would be opened and she would know “good and evil.” That is, she would be a better person with the knowledge obtained by disobeying God, and could rule her own life without His help.

This lie still makes its rounds too. Satan convinces people they are as smart as God and do not need Him. Some buy into this delusion to the point that they consider themselves divine. Remember the actress who loudly proclaimed, “I am God”?

Perhaps Satan’s most appealing lie was when he told Eve that she “would not surely die” because of her sin. He convinced her that disobeying God has no ultimate consequence. Therefore, she could do whatever she wanted.

His fabrication that “you will not die” surfaces in several ways, from complete philosophies (like reincarnation) to the simple notion that we are invincible. Since death “happens only to other people,” we take foolish risks. We also fail to prepare ourselves for death and for God’s judgment. No wonder Jesus called the devil a destroyer as well as a liar, and the father of lies.

Yet Jesus showed us how to fight this enemy. In His wilderness encounter, He responded to every attack with: “It is written . . .” followed by a Scripture quote. Eventually, Satan gave up and left Him alone.

To win any spiritual battle, we must also use the Bible. It enables us to spot the enemy’s lies and resist them. Then, instead of letting him push us around, we can make the devil turn tail (if he has a tail) and run the other way.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Invincible? Or ready to go? .......... Parables 665

April 18, 2000

Pete, a young twenties-something, wobbled home from a party. Missing a turn, he drove off the rural road but didn’t seem to notice. He kept driving until his pickup truck bounced off a barbed-wire fence. Not only drunk but determined, Pete put his truck in reverse, backed up and then took a run at the fence. The wires snapped. He went through, drove about a quarter mile across a pasture, then plummeted off a cliff into the Bow River.

The truck landed on its nose. At that spot, fortunately for Pete, the water was shallow. He crawled up to the top of the cab and slept until morning. Other than a torn shirt, he was unhurt. Pete thought he was invincible and this episode further convinced him. Others share Pete’s conviction; death cannot touch me. These daredevils might break bones by the dozens yet nothing stops their death-defying stunts.

These are not suicidal people, just “invincible” people. They say “other fools” make wrong turns with grave consequences but not themselves. Nothing will happen to them. “Invincibles” push limits yet they are not alone; most of us are just as determined to avoid death. We push it out of mind, refuse to set foot in a home for seniors, avoid hospitals, avoid even the word “death” as if that will make this experience go away. Of course, avoiding it doesn’t work. Everyone dies. Defiance cannot alter the fact. Death is inevitable. Rather than avoid it, we should plan for it.

Death visited our family over the Christmas holidays. My father, died three weeks short of his 91st birthday. It was not a surprise. Invincibility and delusion seldom hang around someone that age. He knew, and we knew, that his years were running out.

At the funeral, the speaker said a person does not have to be old or sick to die. It can happen to anyone. He reminded us of Jesus’ story of a rich man whose farm produced a bumper crop. He decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones so he could store his goods, then “eat, drink and be merry.” This man gave no thought to the future nor considered death. However, God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. . . .”

My Dad was a farmer too, but the resemblance ends there. Unlike the rich fool, Dad thought about the future and even about death. Early in life, he made a will and then kept it updated. In his early forties, he bought a burial plot and grave markers (a practical move considering that today the same package costs ten times what he paid for it).

Dad may have toyed with the idea of being invincible when he was young but as a mature man, he realized he was not. Rather than try to defy death or deny it, he planned for it, even considered life after death.

In 1986, he asked what a person had to do to please God. How can a person be ready for death and be fit for His presence? He was told the answer: “It is by grace you are saved through faith, and that is not from yourself, it is the gift of God — not of works. . . .” We cannot do anything to earn or deserve heaven. All we can do is believe in the promises of God.

Dad understood God’s grace in sending Jesus to die for his sins. He knew Jesus paid the penalty he deserved and that He offers eternal life to anyone who will humble themselves and trust His promises. Dad decided that salvation through faith is a good deal. He simply confessed his sin and asked Jesus to be his Savior, resting in His promise of forgiveness and eternal life.

Occasionally Dad said, “I wish the Lord would come and take me home.” Daredevils and invincibles cannot say that, only people who are ready to go.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Gift from God .......... Parables 664

December 21, 1999

Some people celebrate Christmas without any idea why this holiday is on the calendar. They send cards, put up lights, go shopping. They play carols on the stereo. They cook turkey and exchange gifts. Yet thoughts of the birthday Child never enter their head.

Yesterday, while decorating our tree, I was almost at that point. My husband’s work would keep him from being here to help with the tree and other preparations. The children have homes and trees of their own. My parents are not well enough to enjoy the holiday with us. It was one of those bah, humbug days.

Later, we sat and enjoyed the twinkling tree lights but the spirit of Christmas still eluded me. This morning, the Holy Spirit put it back into my mind along with the reason it had left. He reminded me that I do not do this for the tree, or my husband, or children, or family. I do not do it for myself. Christmas is not for feasting, carols, cards and lights. Nor is it for giving and receiving, as delightful as gifts may be. Celebrating Christmas is our response to the reason this holiday is on the calendar; it is one way we remind ourselves of God’s gift to us.

Of course that gift was a baby, but more than a baby. The Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

When God spoke the world into existence, that powerful voice was His Son. When God spoke to the prophets, those words were His Son. Now, Words made flesh, the ideas and thoughts and expressions of God became a baby. Yet more than words; this baby was God poured into a human skin. Jesus is God made visible, God Himself, God . . . a gift for all people.

The Bible says “He came to His own (the Jewish people) but His own did not receive Him.” They rejected the gift. For them, He could not be God so for them, He remained unopened.

God, through His servant Paul, sent Him to the Gentiles. Some received Him, those who believed in His name. To them He gave the right to become the children of God. They believed He was God. They opened their gift.

God’s gift, once opened, keeps on giving. Yesterday’s bad attitude reminded me of one reason I needed His gift. I was having a self-focused pity party. Only He can turn my eyes away from me unto Someone greater and worthy of my gaze. Only He can pull me out of the mire and replace my whine with worship. His gift did it.

Bob’s late hours and crazy work schedule reminded me of another. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Yet sometimes rest is impossible. For that, Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His gift pours strength into weary bones. Without the gift, the load is far too much.

Who is eligible to receive this gift? Jesus says it is only for sinners. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” The Bible makes it clear that we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves. Salvation is the gift of God, not our own doing.

One would think that sinners deserve punishment from God and that is true. We do. Nevertheless, in sending Jesus, He sent a substitute, one who would take our punishment, which He did. The wages of sin may be death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Life, forgiveness and cleansing for sin, help with the hard stuff and much more besides . . . this is from God to us, with love.

Have you opened your gift yet?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Making Plans .......... Parables 663

(? no tear sheet)

Joe’s wife handed him his Saturday to-do list. He was anxious to move on to other things so yipped in delight to see only one chore: fix a dripping kitchen tap.

When Joe looked under the sink, his smile turned to a frown. The line did not have a shut-off valve. He had to turn the water off. Joe headed to the basement, mentally adding a few more minutes taken from his leisure time. When he tried to turn the valve on the line for the kitchen sink, it would not budge. Not wanting to stress the joints and cause a leak, he decided he should turn off the main water valve. His frown became frustration when he found it was also seized.

Joe’s house was old. If he put muscle to his pipe wrench, he might make even more work for himself. So he called the city. They said they would come out and turn off the main in the street. When they got there, the valve was buried under two feet of landscaping. By the time Joe finished fixing the tap and the mess from digging for the main, it was almost dark. He was not amused when his wife said, “I guess life is what happens when you are planning something else.”

I can sympathize with Joe. Some days turn out like that. A simple chore becomes complex, or the telephone rings all day, or ninety-three email messages turn up in my in-box. Whatever the detour, all plans somehow fall by the wayside. Since tomorrow is another day (with another ninety-three messages), today’s plans may never be fulfilled. As frustrating as this scenario can be, there are some guidelines from God that do help.

First, we do not know the future. James 4:13-14 says, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow . . . .” It helps to remember that our plans are always tentative.

Second, remember our place in the grand scheme of things. James 4 goes on: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Knowing and controlling events is an ambitious undertaking for mere mortals. God challenges us when we think we can do it. He is the only one who can see both the end and the beginning at the same time. It helps to remember that too.

Third, because these two things are true, we ought to consider God in our plans. James 4 continues: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” While God does not move our lives around like chess pieces, He is sovereign. If He wants something, we cannot fight it. If He does not, no amount of our scheming will make it happen. By not fighting God, we become more flexible.

Fourth, taking control without considering God is sin. “As it is, you boast and brag (about what you plan to do). All such boasting is evil.” In the context of this verse, James repeatedly reminds us that we are not God. We cannot make things go the way we want them to go or even say we will do a certain thing without considering that He has the final say. By that, our plans become less rigid.

Fifth but most important, planning to do good is always safe. James finishes: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” This negative warning implies that our plans made without God can be selfishly motivated, even evil. When we consider God, the selfish element is brought to light. If we ask Him, He will give us something good to do, even good that can be included in our current plan.

Circumstances might prevent us from carrying out the plans we make, but if our hearts are motivated in a way that pleases God, we will not be upset with the unexpected.

Friday, November 3, 2017

There is power in blood .......... Parables 662

November 30, 1999

For those who are not squeamish, watching a televised heart transplant offers incredible drama. As the patient is made ready, the surgical team sets up a bypass. They circulate the patient’s blood through a machine that acts on behalf of the damaged heart. After carefully removing the old heart, the skilled surgeons sew in a new one with unbelievably tiny stitches and painstaking care. In the back of your mind, you know that a donor died to give life. This adds to the drama.

After the new organ is in place, the machine is reset and then the amazing climax --- as warm blood is routed through the new heart, suddenly it begins to beat, all by itself. Even the surgeons are in awe. Obviously, without blood living creatures cannot remain alive yet warm blood is only a liquid, merely a conduit for oxygen and nutrients. What a wonder that it has life-giving power.

Blood is a predominant factor in the Bible. While we think about its life-giving properties, blood also points to death. In the Old Testament, about two-thirds of the times blood is mentioned, it relates to the violent taking of life and most of the other usages talk about animal sacrifices.

Pagan religions offered sacrifices yet the Old Testament Jewish system was unique. Their offerings were connected to God’s revelation of how sin must be punished. He said, “The soul that sins must die.” When His people offered their sacrifices, the blood reminded them of the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin.

For them, blood also meant atonement. God hates sin and His Word repeats that “the soul that sins must die” yet He is also compassionate. He promised to send a substitute in good time. While they waited, He told His people that they could substitute an unblemished lamb to atone for their sins.

We do not understand these practices yet there was more to come. The New Testament fully brings out what God had in mind by demanding an atoning sacrifice. While some passages also talk about violent death, the major theme is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for sinners. This too is violence, yet it happened that we might have eternal life.

Blood is the evidence of the death of a substitute. From the perspective of a holy and just God, we deserve death because each of us violate His holy standard. Each of us sin and that sin separates us from God. Physical death makes that separation permanent unless God accepts a substitute.

Amazingly, He does. God made Christ “sin for us.” Jesus shed His blood to pay our penalty. He is the promised sacrifice “presented as a sacrifice of atonement” for those who put their faith in Him. As Scripture says, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!”

The blood of Christ signifies death yet in some mysterious way it has power for life. Ephesians 2 says that even though we were far away from God, the blood of Christ brings us near. Hebrews 9 says “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” for our sins. Jesus spoke of the symbol of the communion cup when He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Hebrews also tells us that His blood cleanses our conscience from dead works that we might serve the Living God. 1 Peter says we were “redeemed from our empty way of life by the blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” 1 John 1:7 says “the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Warm blood motivates life to a new heart. This operating room drama is exceeded only by God’s amazing parallel surgery: the blood of Christ moves Him to give us new hearts!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The secret of joy .......... Parables 661

November 23, 1999

Writing about life, J. A. Motyer penned, “We live by what we love; the shape of our lives is determined by the joys of our hearts.”

Joy flows from a host of sources: the laughter of a child, a thoughtful gift from someone who cares, sunny days in November, the smell of cinnamon, cuddly stuffed bears, hot apple pie and ice cream, a visit to an old family album, even an unexpected raise from the boss.

Being happy is a universal desire of the heart. However, we seek happiness in different places and ways. Some find joy in the fleeting yet lovely accidental experiences of life. For these people, being happy is generally easy.

Happiness does not come so easily for others. In fact, many people think they can be happy only through intense personal effort, or improved health, or greater recognition by their peers, or by having more money. They might say “money cannot buy happiness” but those who try it justify their efforts with: “No, but money can get me a lot closer to where happiness is.”

Is that true? Isn’t happiness fleeting if our source of happiness is unstable? Let’s face it, even a laughing child cries. Even the most wonderful gifts wear out. Our friends sometimes move away. The sun often hides and storms rage in its place. Even the sweet smell of cinnamon can be overwhelmed by stench from last week’s garbage and we know money has wings.

Is it possible to be happy all the time? A wise man wrote there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” We know that is true, but most of us would rather be laughing. We look for a universal answer to the joy question, or at least something consistent that will make us happy.

The same wise man, Old Testament King Solomon, wrote, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”He later adds, “. . . everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil --- this is the gift of God.” His point is that contentment and happiness depend less on one’s situation or external circumstances and more on God who can give the ability to enjoy life just as it is.

One psalmist says, “The Lord is my strength and my song. . . .” He recognized that he had a song in his heart and he knew that it came from God rather than anything around him.

Back to Motyer’s quote. He says the joys of our hearts shape our lives. If he is right, what better joy to shape the way we live than the joy that comes from God?

Think of the alternatives. If our happiness comes only from the laughter of others, can we force a child to smile or a party to happen every time our joy meter drops? If our only happiness comes from thoughtful gifts, will we wither and die between birthdays and Christmas? If all our joy comes from sunshine and sweet smells, what will we do with darkness and the stench of life? If our joy requires more money, how much is enough? How happy can we be should the stock market slump or should inflation shake our financial stability?

The Bible teaches that if we invite Him, God will come into our hearts and live there. When He does, He brings His joy. Imagine that! God making joy in your heart and that divine joy shaping your life! Our problem is that our hearts are generally full of ourselves. No wonder we become discouraged and look elsewhere for our joy. Who can make themselves consistently happy?

Again, Motyer says we live by what we love. If we love God and invite Him to occupy first place in our hearts, then His presence is with us all the time. He promises to “never leave us or forsake us.” No matter what happens, God is as close as our very breath. The Bible says that “in the presence of the Lord is fullness of joy.” With great delight, those who know His presence can paraphrase Motyer’s words, “We live by the God we love; the shape of our lives is determined by His joy in our hearts.”