Friday, December 29, 2017

Follow the Directions .......... Parables 686

September 26, 2000

A few years ago, one of my articles used an illustration about pruning an apple tree. A friend reminded me of that illustration: “Remember how you told the story about an apple tree, how you first go after it with a scalpel, then a pruning knife, then an ax.”

I replied, “No, Reg. You got it backwards. First you use an ax, then something smaller.”

His face fell, then he laughed. “That’s what I did wrong. No wonder my tree is dead!”

The maxim says, “When all else fails, follow the directions.” Does your eagerness to assemble the product or finish the task tempt you to bypass those complicated instruction sheets?

I often toss directions in a corner too, but when I bought a new desk and saw how many parts and pieces it had, I knew immediately I had to follow the instructions. Even at that, it took my husband and I over eight hours to figure out dozens of steps before finally putting that monster together.

As frustrating as some sets of directions are (such as those in eight languages with English in fine print), we do need them for many assembly projects. Directions come in other forms too, such as recipes and owner’s manuals.

My favorite is the set given to us by our Maker. In that manual, we can find out how we ought to live and how to plug into the power we need for doing so. Scripture also has several trouble-shooting sections that diagnose problems and point us back on the right track.

For instance, when my husband had not yet trusted Christ for his salvation, I didn’t know how to relate to him. He didn’t seem interested in my faith and that put a wall between us. No matter how much we shared, we could not share on a deep, spiritual level.

I turned to my owner’s manual and found instruction about my attitude and actions. It was not a huge surprise to discover that God did not want me to preach at him. Instead, I was to live out my faith without fear, putting my confidence in God.

After Bob became a Christian, I also experienced times when I was not sure how to relate to him. He was still my husband but also another believer. Again, I looked in the Book. There I found all the help I needed about relating to him as a Christian husband. I also found instruction about relating to him as my friend and when neither of these seemed to be precise enough for particular situations, my manual gave me solid principles of how Christians should relate to one another. These principles work well for couples who both believe in Jesus.

Occasionally things go wrong because one or both of us get off track. Scripture offers help with that too. It diagnosis the problem, explains what to drop from our lives, and gives alternative behavior that will bring back harmony and joy.

The Bible offers step by step instruction too. While this may not be the same as assembling a desk, some steps should be followed in a certain order.

For instance, if I say something that hurts Bob’s feelings, my manual says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar (implying giving, but also including offering God worship or service) and there remember that your brother (another Christian) has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

In other words, don’t try to worship or serve God if you know you have offended someone. First go and make things right.

God’s instructions are generally quite clear. They often become more clear as we do what He says. On the other hand, if I go to the manual and can’t make head nor tail of it, then I can be sure I’ve disobeyed something He already made plain or taken a wrong step. This must be remedied.

I notice that the condition of my owner’s manual reveals my condition. If it gets dusty, it shows I am not using it; a sure sign of being out of sync with my Maker. However, right now, it is tattered, like a worn-out road map. Hopefully that indicates that I am eager to find and follow God’s directions and keep my life moving along on the right track.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

As for the rest of the story . . . .......... Parables 685

September 19, 2000

South African President Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell is now a Cape Town tourist attraction. Friends and perhaps foes gaze at the small space that held Mandela for years, but he now enjoys freedom and a new life. His cell was not the end of the story for Mandela. While some wanted his death, he persisted in his dreams and his message. He was eventually was recognized for his visionary leadership and his jailers had to set him free.

In another part of the world, another supposed former prison also attracts tourists. A newly restored dome rises above the traditional site of the tomb of Jesus. Golden rays shimmer across a backdrop of pearly white surrounded by sparkling stars. Friends and perhaps foes gaze at the even smaller space that held Jesus captive for three days and three nights. This man also now lives in freedom and a new life.

That tomb was not the end of that story for the Son of God either, but for different reasons. Jesus was a leader but He was not recognized by the political and religious pundits of His time. His following consisted of publicans and sinners. While they adored Him, the elite of society and everyone else eventually rejected Him. Their rejection led to His death.

One of Jesus’ disciples later preached to those who did the deed. After healing a cripple, Peter said, “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

“He (Jesus) is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved..”

The audience was not exactly ecstatic. They realized what Peter said was true. They pushed that aside though, remarking how this disciple was an “unschooled and ordinary man” yet they also acknowledged that a cripple had been healed. They were speechless — but not for long.

These religious leaders collected their wits and tried to think of a way to stop the disciples from talking about this Jesus. Finally, they commanded the disciples not to speak or teach at all in His name.

Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

I’m amazed that a political message of fair play and freedom for his people landed Mandela in jail for such a long time, but I’m even more amazed that a spiritual message of forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Christ put Jesus on a cross and brought His followers into severe persecution. Most people didn’t want to hear about Jesus then, and many people today still do not want to hear the gospel.

Is it true that right wins over wrong? In Mandela’s case, it could be, but in the case of Jesus Christ, it is definitely true. The evidence that Jesus won over evil is an empty tomb. Even though the sin of the whole world put Him in a grave (and only because He chose to bear the penalty of that sin), it could not keep Him there.

Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. That incredible claim and His equally incredible message would have no credibility if He lied. But He did not lie. Instead, He loved us so much that He died for our sins — then by walking out of the tomb He proved that He is the eternal God, worthy to be set free and able to set us free as well.

Monday, December 25, 2017

How to love the unlovable .......... Parables 684

September 12, 2000

When Sandra married Howard, we wondered what she saw in him. He drank too much, had a coarse sense of humor, and was irresponsible with money. Someone in her family remarked, “Oh, love is blind.”

Is love blind? For sure, infatuation is blind. The preteen with a crush on her teacher does not see the age difference nor the fact that the teacher is just as pleasant to the other students. She is blind to his happy marriage with a partner his same age.

Lust is blind too. It focuses only on externals and physical pleasure without seeing any contrary traits in the other person, traits that demand patience, kindness and self-control. All lust sees is someone that must be possessed, a person that can satisfy the most selfish physical desires.

It is too bad we use “love” for infatuation and lust but this word has broadened even beyond that. “Love” is our word of choice to express how we feel about chocolate cake or the Edmonton Eskimos. We “love” certain television shows and “love” the color of our new car. For us, “love” covers too much and has lost its meaning.

The Greeks used more precise words. For them, lust was Eros (which is the root word for erotica). This was not always a negative word; Eros could describe the strong physical attraction between a man and his wife. However, the Greeks knew Eros could be short-lived.

Another word, philos, described a family or brotherly kind of love. We can remember it by thinking of Philadelphia, the American “city of brotherly love.” Philos described a mutual affection shared by two or more people. When describing friendships, philos meant a two-way attachment without sexual overtones.

Another Greek word for love may have been coined by the apostle Paul. It is “agape.” The Bible defines it by what it is and what it is not. 1 Corinthians 13 says: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

This kind of love is not blind. How could it be? Agape love is patient, suggesting that those who love this way are fully aware that others have the capacity to drive them crazy. This love is kind, realizing that no matter what other people are like, they will offer kindness.

Love that never envies or boasts suggests that agape lovers have deep, inner contentment. While they are not oblivious to their world (as suggested in the dazed expressions of those who are infatuated) agape lovers are not grasping for anything. They are happy with their life and can concentrate on the needs of others.

Agape lovers are not rude, self-seeking, or quick to get angry either. If love were blind, they would not even notice how some people try their patience, test their temper, demand more than they should, and have bad manners. In contrast, agape lovers not only see shortcomings in others, they are determined to care about them anyway.

Obviously, agape love is a choice. Those who choose to love others in this way are fully aware that the other person has less than loveable characteristics. Rather than letting that turn them off, they turn to God in the face of it. They know God can give them an extra measure of grace and love so they can rise to the challenge of loving anyone, no matter what they are like.

I am not sure that Sandra was filled with agape love when she choose to marry Howard but like the rest of us, she has discovered that infatuation and physical attraction have a short life. To continue loving this unlovable guy, the only way is through agape love. It is shared freely by the only One who can love us perfectly, no matter what we are like.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Is discipline abusive? .......... Parables 683

September 5, 2000

Our high school class took pride in eluding teachers by passing notes around the room without getting caught. One day, one of them came to me. In part, the unsigned note said, “I am so envious of you and your sister. At least your parents love you enough to discipline you.”

The person who passed it was the most beautiful and popular girl in high school. Everyone envied her clothes, her charm, her freedom. It’s little wonder that I asked who gave her this note to pass to me. I was shocked when she replied, “I wrote it.”

That note forever affected the way I feel about discipline. While no one ever enjoys being on the receiving end, up until then I never thought what it would be like to never have it. Until this girl revealed her feelings, I had no idea that discipline could be an act of love.

The current debate over spanking misses that. Most opponents call spanking a form of abuse. Even a sweet seventeen year-old told me, “I would leave home if my mother hit me.” However, I watched that girl grow up. She does not remember the swats she received as a toddler. Her mother cared enough to stop any destructive behavior before it rooted itself. That loving discipline shaped her present personality. Her story alone flies in the face of those who say spanking permanently ruins a child. This child is anything but ruined.

Yet I understand the current horror over Bible verses such as, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Many who focus on that verse do not realize that Scripture condemns physical abuse. In fact, it tells parents not even to exasperate their children! (Ephesians 6)

The story of redemption describes God as a loving parent who cares for those who belong to Him. The Bible says, “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son (or child).”

In its context, this verse is talking about our need to overcome sin. Because we love it so much and because it is so destructive, God must help us in that battle. We cannot save ourselves. One of the ways He helps us is by rebuke and discipline. Otherwise, we would destroy ourselves.

This passage goes on: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”

The next verses say: “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us (in that day more than now) . . . . Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

If parents are have a strong moral compass, correcting immoral behavior would never be curtailing freedom in their minds, but a release from sin’s bondage. If parents can see how certain behaviors lead to problems later on in life, then they will be concerned about that behavior in their children and try to stop it. When a child is young and unable to reason or control his selfish desires, often physical discomfort is the only thing that will do it.

When she was small, our daughter stepped off a bridge ledge into the path of an oncoming truck. My husband yanked her arm and pulled her to safety. She rubbed her arm afterwards because he hurt her, but she didn’t accuse him of abuse nor did anyone else who saw it.

A sharp swat on the behind does not have to be abuse either. Sometimes “watch out” will not work. Sometimes a child shuts their ears. While the danger may not be as visible as a speeding truck, it is a parent’s responsibility to protect their child from harm, even self-inflicted harm.

That highschool note still echos in my mind. I am glad my parents loved me enough to discipline me. I am glad God does too. As for the seventeen year old, her mother stopped spanking her after she was old enough to listen to other forms of rebuke but that godly discipline guaranteed that this child has no reason to fear abuse.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A victory procession .......... Parables 682

August 29, 2000

We planned to take our holidays one of two weeks in July; either to Boston when the tall ships sailed into that harbor or to Halifax the next week when they arrived in eastern Canada.

A wedding on the first Saturday kept us home that week. A family reunion the next weekend reduced our view of the ships to our television set. Yet even on a small screen, the sight of those majestic vessels sailing into Halifax harbor brought a thrill to our hearts. One by one they came, a stately display of power and grace, a triumphal procession of victory over the sea. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be on one of those ships. Those on the shore were moved and excited but what about those who were in the procession!

The idea of a triumphal procession triggered a memory. A Bible verse uses that same phrase to describe those who follow God. 2 Corinthians 2:12 says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.”

When the New Testament was written, this phrase was not about ships. It described a display of strength after a victorious battle. The general or king came home, leading a procession that included both the plunder taken in the fight and the enemy survivors who had been captured.

Being taken in battle as a slave sends shivers of revulsion down our spines, but being held captive by Jesus Christ has entirely different connotations, at least to those who belong to Him. We consider ourselves slaves, but as Bob Dillon says, “You gotta serve somebody” and Christ is a far better ‘somebody’ than what we used to serve.

While we may have thought we governed our own lives, our real taskmaster used to be sin. That is, whatever we did, we did it apart from God. We didn’t ask for or want His help nor did we think we needed it. Sin is more than stealing and murder — it begins with this attitude of independence. The Bible says “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.”

So we were slaves doing our own thing but God “captured” our hearts and brought us to Himself. That verse about the triumphal procession depicts Him as the conqueror yet the Bible says we are also “more than conquerors” because we have forgiveness and victory over sin plus eternal life in Christ. Being a slave of Jesus is a glorious thing because we are free from sin and its power, free to follow our Creator and Redeemer.

As we are led in this triumphal procession, God intends to use us. The last part of the verse adds: “. . . and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”

When the tall ships came in, the crowds on the shore were in awe at their majestic beauty. God wants people to look at the Christians in His procession and also be in awe, not so much at us but at the wonder of God who could take sinners and transform their lives.

At least it should work that way, but the next verses say: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?”

Some people look at God’s parade of victory and see the glory. To them, we are the fragrance of life. Others see only a rag-tag line of defeated people who no longer can do what they want. To them, we are the smell of death.

Some cannot see the beauty of being in God’s triumphal procession, but that beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder. Seeing the glory of it is definitely easier if you yourself are in the parade.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Envy killed Jesus .......... Parables 681

August 22, 2000

Have you ever wanted to be someone else? How about Bill Gates? Or Oprah Winfrey? Would you like their empire? Their stardom? Their money?

Perhaps the green-eyed monster bites less deeply. Maybe it’s just the neighbor’s car or the hairdresser’s hair. Whatever that person has, we want it.

The Bible has two words for wanting what someone else has. One is jealousy, the other is envy. Jealousy is simpler; it stays at wanting what someone else has. While it is a reflection of an ungrateful attitude (doesn’t God richly provide all we need?), jealousy is not as serious as envy.

Envy runs deeper. Instead of wanting something, it also wants to deprive the other person of it. Jealousy would like Bill Gates’ income; envy would like Bill Gates to be poor.

Envy is the destructive force that ruins another life. It drives a man to kill another in order to have his wife. It drives thieves to plunder another person’s home or rob a bank. A person can burn with jealousy but envy moves him to make sure other people experience loss and pain.

Envy killed Jesus. The religious leaders of His day were fearful of His popularity, envious that people listened to Him and not to them. They plotted to discredit Him and when that did not work, they plotted to destroy Him.

Pilate, the Roman governor, knew what motivated these envious men. In Mark 15:9 he says, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” The next two verses add: “knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.”

Having their motivations uncovered was not enough to stop envy from moving them to imprison and then kill an innocent person.

Later, some envied the Apostle Paul’s ministry. In Philippians 1:15-17, he says, “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” They not only wanted Paul’s success, they also wanted trouble for him.

With the next three sentences, Paul shows that even envy is not as powerful as God’s grace: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Even though God used envy for good in that situation, He does not want us to be motivated by envy. He says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”

How is that possible? Again, it is only by His grace. Those who come to Him in faith and repentance can claim this from Titus 3: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy . . .”

As powerful as envy is, this sin or any other sin is not a match against the power of God and the fullness of His salvation.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Anger Management .......... Parables 680

August 15, 2000

Elie Wiesel’s book, “Night” tells of his experiences as a fifteen year old in a German concentration camp. Not only did he and his people bear the brunt of their captors’ contempt, Wiesel also struggled with the way starvation and desperation affected his treatment of other people, including his own father.

Sometimes desperate situations or the heat of emotion pressure us into extreme actions. A mother is concerned for her children so steals to feed them. A father is angry at a rebellious teenager so takes a swat at him. These actions are not right, yet under pressure we sometimes respond with words or behavior we might not otherwise say or do.

“Night” was a sobering read. It made me realize that pressure can push ordinary people beyond common responses and bring out the deepest possible negatives. The human heart is capable of so much disdain for human life that it will not only murder, but do so in cold blood and even enjoy the process.

Jesus linked the heat of emotional pressure with the perversity of inner disdain. He said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5).

The Bible talks about one kind of anger that has a cause; something happens and we get mad. Scripture says we can “be angry” but do not sin, nor should we “let the sun go down on our anger.” This indicates God is not surprised at outbursts but does caution us to manage our anger.

However, Jesus seems to be talking about a more continual attitude than an occasional flaring of temper. In the above passage, He indicates an anger that is rooted in contempt or an attitude of disdain for others. Ordinary anger can occur without denying worth, but those who call people names have gone beyond the ordinary. For instance, we get angry at our children for disobedience yet still consider them valuable people, unless we begin calling them demeaning names.

Jesus referred to the name-calling of His day with the words ‘raca’ and ‘fool.’ Raca was an expression of contempt and degradation, much like spitting in someone’s face. Calling a person a fool was even more serious, going beyond anger and disdain to include malice. Saying this meant the speaker wanted the person cast in the garbage where they belonged. Today’s equivalent would be unprintable.

Jesus started His warning with mention of murder. People do kill in angry outbursts; we call them crimes of passion. A more serious charge is laid against someone who kills after a sustained anger, but we are most appalled when a murder is committed as an expression of contempt. The murderer has no regard for the victim and a complete disdain for human life.

Disdain is pride, a superior thinking that ‘I am not like that person’ or ‘I am so much better than you.’ Jesus warns that anyone who feels this way will face judgment for their attitude. They may openly consider others as valueless or they may hold this opinion to themselves, but they are walking time bombs. One day, their contempt will break out in malicious treatment, maybe even murder.

Jesus tells us what to do. He says, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary . . . .” Don’t wait until you come to a boiling point. Go to them. Talk about it. Remember how much God has forgiven you and forgive them for what they may have done. Holding a grudge benefits no one. Instead, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Also, confess your pride. Who made you different than anyone else? If you have any good qualities, give the glory to your Creator and don’t ruin them by harboring contempt in your heart.

Wiesel survived the holocaust but the pain he suffered then and the scars he bears now do not begin to compare to what his unrepentant tormentors will face in an eternity separated from God.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gender differences .......... Parables 679

August 8, 2000

A friend of mine related a touching moment after his grown daughter had left home. She came back to tell him how insecure she felt, then cried on his shoulder. He remarked, “Even after they leave home, you never stop being a parent.”

Some human needs seem to be universal. Who doesn’t want to be significant and needed? Who doesn’t want a sense of security?

Gender differences is a controversial and blurry area but the issue of significance seems more a priority for men while security seems to be a stronger need in the hearts of women.

Some think that men and women are alike from birth and conditioned to behave differently as they grow up. Traditionally, girls were given dolls and boys played with trucks; girls were allowed emotions and boys told not to cry. Others are less concerned with the origin of those differences and more determined to eliminate them. They say men ought to stay at home with the children; women can provide the primary income. Others propose that two men or two women can be the “parents” and eliminate from a couple relationship the other gender entirely.

The Bible account sheds light on these theories. The creation story starts with God noticing that “it is not good for the man to be alone.” He created woman as a suitable mate for him. He said, “a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” God intended a united couple, one man and one woman.

But even with that in place, the differences mess up unity. For one thing, both want to be the boss. (Be honest; you know it’s true!) This is enough conflict in itself, never mind that men and women have different ideas how to do things and often misunderstand each other.

The differences were not supposed to cause problems. God knew men needed a mate suitable for them, to help them where they need help. For instance, women nurture more easily; for many it is second nature. Many men are less interested in relationships and more concerned with their work and earning a living.

However, instead of letting these differences cause conflict, God wanted gender interdependence. In my friends situation, the daughter’s need for security and the father’s need for significance came together. They illustrate, at least for me, that gender differences do not mean that we have to fight over who is the best or who is the most powerful but that we can be what the other person needs.

The Bible says God created us both in His likeness. Even though we are male or female, we are like God by creation. That likeness has been marred by our rebellion against Him, yet God has offered redemption. He promises that those who come to Him for salvation from sin will receive a new nature.

In fact, God has offered us eternal life and, “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.”

With the life of Christ we have the beginning of that restored image and getting along with the opposite gender is made easier. The complexities do not disappear nor the challenges of figuring out the differences, yet the Spirit of Christ produces a unity that is otherwise impossible. This unity is no based on being exactly the same but having the same desires and goals: to live in Christian harmony and together reflect the image of our Creator.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Want to be loved? .......... Parables 678

July 25, 2000

We watch her weave a spell as she makes new friends. They are mesmerized by her stories. Every word she says captivates their attention. Little do they know that most of what she tells them is exaggerated and some are outright lies.

Getting to know this person showed me the power of our human need to be loved. In her case, she was not sure. Her mother had been married twice. She had been a pampered child but now in her teens, she was expected to drop the “cute stuff” and act more grown up. This seemed to make her insecure about her family’s affections. Did a change from being the center of attention to acting more “responsible” mean she was no longer loveable?

Driven by insecurity, this young woman becomes a story teller. She spins yarns that take her listeners out of their ordinary existence and makes her fantasies their fantasies — only they sound true. She may even believe her own lies, but that is unlikely.

We caught her a few times, mostly in the details. She mentioned swimming near a particular kind of shark, a variety we knew does not live in the waters where she swam. She told about meeting famous people, or about knowing skills she does not possess. When we questioned her details, she “adjusted” her story and kept right on spinning.

Our goal was convincing her that we love her, no matter what. After a few days, she relaxed. She also stopped telling stories. She seemed to realize that they were not necessary, at least around us.

Jesus met a woman who felt the same need for love and also looked for it in the wrong places. She’d been married five times and currently lived with someone. She seemed ostracized because she went alone during the noon hour for water when other women went early in the day. Perhaps she feared their condemnation.

When Jesus talked to her, she was amazed. Jews never talked to women or to her kind; she was a Samaritan (half-breed Jew and Gentile). Besides, she had a bad reputation and His was flawless.

Jesus wanted her to know that God loves her but how would He get past years of low self-esteem? Just speaking to her helped, but He also asked questions and persisted when she avoided straight answers. He told her He knew how many times she had been married and yet treated her with respect. She wanted to hear more.

He told her how to get living water, the kind that bubbles up into eternal life. She wanted that too. Amazed at this man and His good news, she dropped her water pot and ran to tell everyone in her village to come and hear Him for themselves.

God does love us. The Bible says “God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

He didn’t wait until we cleaned up our act. In fact, He died for us before we were even born. He knew then that our lives would fall short of His glory. He also knew we would need proof that His love is based on what He is, not on what we are or do. We cannot pretend to be anything other than we are before God because we don’t need to.

Our part is to simply be honest, admit our short comings and fears, acknowledge our sins. His love is experienced by those who trust Him, believing He wants the best for us. We can see it first in the sacrifice made on the cross for our sakes.

Human love is a powerful force yet so often it produces dependance on our feelings or makes us objects for imperfect people who want us to measure up to their expectations. God’s love depends only on God and as long as He is God, that love is firm.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Staying Healthy .......... Parables 677

July 18, 2000

Hard physical work leaves me stiff and sore but after a week of not doing any hard work, I am stiff and sore anyway. My body demands some TLC. I try a warm-up, some light exercises, a walk, and some stretching. It really helps. “Use it or lose it” is definitely true when it comes to flexibility and muscle tone. A body needs exercise.

There are several ways to keep physically fit. We realize the value of a good diet, rest and exercise, but do we know how much our emotions affect our body?

For instance, love produces endorphins and a sense of health, but anger reduces our white blood cell count, making us more susceptible to illness. God may have had more in mind than our spiritual health when He said, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

Other sins affect our body too. First Corinthians says, “He who sins sexually sins against his own body.” Widespread venereal disease and AIDS prove the physical harm caused from disregarding what the Bible says about sexual purity. But any sin can affect our health. Israel’s King David, wrote Psalm 38 as a prayer. He was not specific about his sin but very specific about the harm it caused his body:

“Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin . . . . My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly . . . . My back is filled with searing pain . . . . I am feeble and utterly crushed . . . . My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.”

My body experiences negative changes from guilt also. I am fatigued, sad, unable to concentrate or be creative, and sometimes I get sick.

While not all illness is related to unconfessed sin, the Bible tells us to consider it. James 5 says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

This passage offers a spiritual cause for some illnesses. It also offers a cure. Deal with the sin by confession because it promotes healing.

Confession simply means to agree with God. If He says we have done something wrong or evil and have broken His law, we need to acknowledge that what He says is true and right.

However, verbal confession is not a panacea or a magic formula based on the words we say because God is not a genie we rub with the right words every time we want something. He knows our hearts and the reasoning behind what we do. Our words must come from a genuine sense of guilt and a heartfelt need for forgiveness. He looks for sincerity before He “forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.”

If sin prevents full health, my body may be healed through confession, but it is not made perfect. No matter how well I take care of myself, my body will always have some limitations. Yet I do have hope. Someday “Those who are of the earth will bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”

God promises those who trust in Jesus Christ that they will someday have a body like His resurrected body. Sin and death will no longer have power to drag us into illness. Anger will no longer affect our white count. We will be delivered from it and from every other limitation of living in a sinful world in these imperfect bodies.

In the meantime, eat right, drink lots of water, get good exercise and rest, and trust in the Lord with all your heart; it is good for a body.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Can I really be anything I want to be? .......... Parables 676

July 4, 2000

Many people, myself included, mourn the death of Grant McEwan. While I never met him, the stories about him made him familiar. He was not only well-known but widely admired and respected. Someone wondered about this admiration, and questioned if others thought so highly of this man, why is no one willing to follow his footsteps or imitate his high standards?

We react thinking not everyone can be like him. Besides, we need our heros. Remember our teen idols and switching from one to another? In most cases, such adoration did nothing for the idol (unless it sold products and built their bank account) but it must have done something for us who adored them, like give us an ego boost.

A person I know often mentions many “wonderful, kind” people she knows, but after hearing this many times, it is easy to see that she does not hold up their virtue as much as point out that she knows them. For her, knowing exceptional people somehow boosts her self-esteem.

Part of becoming an exceptional person does include a healthy self-image. Some say anyone can be “anything they want to be” as long as they think they can. Is that right? Can any person become a Grant McEwan?

Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking” said so. I was in my early twenties when my father talked about this book and its concepts. I remember telling him I could think positive all I wanted but it would never make me an opera singer.

Dad had to agree (he likely overheard my squawks from the shower). Some things are beyond some people. Positive thinking cannot overcome certain limitations and being a hero is far more difficult than worshiping one. We can sing along with our favorite music stars but that is not the same as having a hit tune.

Reaching the top of any chart requires personal discipline, hard work, and persistence. “Overnight successes” have behind them a history of untold effort. So would a good self-image and hard work enable an ordinary person to be a man like McEwan? Or did he have a secret others do not know? Maybe he did.

The Bible says that “all good things” come from God. McEwan was a professing Christian. Because of his faith, he had a divine source for the good things in his life.

He also could claim these verses from 2 Peter: “(God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, to that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

God makes His glory and goodness available to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ. Besides salvation from sin and eternal life, Christians have the nature of God added to their own nature. That does not make Christians perfect. Our own nature is still with us (the part that has those evil desires), yet the presence of His nature changes the way we live. With personal discipline, hard work, and persistence, we can live extraordinary lives.

McEwan was one of these. He disciplined himself with simple living and hard work, persisting in the virtues God gave him and went beyond making claims to live out God’s promises. Anyone who aspires to being a man like him can follow his footsteps — if they are willing to take the path that leads first to a Cross and the One who offers Himself to them. Then they can both say and prove it is true: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Monday, December 4, 2017

‘Doing’ does not save.......... Parables 675

June 27, 2000

Well-known evangelist, D. L. Moody was once asked, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?” Moody replied, “I’m sorry, it’s too late.”

Startled, the man asked, “Too late to be saved?”

Moody said, “No. It’s too late to do something.”

Moody did not know this man, had no idea what his life was like or how much of it was left. However, he did know what a person has to do to be saved.

The first question: saved from what? The man obviously knew that Moody was an evangelist, a person who has something to say about God. He may have known that Moody proclaimed the Gospel or “good news.” What he seemed unsure about was the content of that good news — that God forgives sin and grants eternal life to sinners by grace through faith.

Nearly thirty years ago, sin had me in more trouble than I ever expected or wanted. My life was chaotic; everything needed a miracle. I do not recall asking to be saved, but I knew I needed something and cried out to God.

God knew exactly what I needed. He also knew that I was helpless and unable to do anything to get out of my troubles. I needed to be saved, but first I had to hear the good news. He brought it to me in various ways: I read the Bible, and all sorts of other books. I went to church. Finally, I heard it: Jesus is God; He came to earth and put on human flesh so He could die for my sins; then He rose from the dead and offers eternal life to all who believe.

I believed it and when I did, I knew God forgave me and I belonged to Him. I knew that Jesus had come to live in my heart. He gave me eternal life and saved me from sin.

I remember the first time I read about a man who came to Jesus asking the same question as the man who came to Dr. Moody. He was young, wealthy, and in a position of power. If anyone could do anything to gain the favor of God and earn their salvation, this man could.

Jesus asked him about the commandments. The man said he kept them all. Then Jesus said he lacked one thing; he needed to go and sell all he had and follow Him. The man became very sad and walked away. He wanted eternal life but was not willing to pay that price for it.

Before believing the Gospel, I might have assumed this story meant salvation can be had through generous and sacrificial giving. However, I now see that interpretation contradicts other plainer passages. Jesus must have meant something beyond my initial assumption.

Jesus did tell the man to keep the Law but the New Testament clearly says that salvation does not come through keeping the law. Rather, it shows how the Law lays out God’s high standards and no one keeps it. We fall short and we need to be saved from our failure and sin.

This man claimed that he kept all the commandments but Jesus knew otherwise. By asking him to give up all his possessions, He showed the man that he did not keep the first one: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Instead, this man put money ahead of God. No one can earn salvation by giving their possessions away. The point Jesus makes is that rich folks like their money and even if something could be done to be saved, that man was not willing to do it.

Maybe some people are willing. They have a long list of things they “do for God” yet they miss the most important thing — what God has done for them. As the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Our puny efforts to do something for God go beyond being too little and too late; they insult the Giver. His salvation is a gift that we cannot earn, deserve, buy, find by a quest, or obtain by doing anything. As Moody implied, it is already there — waiting for us to receive it.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fight or Flee or...? .......... Parables 674

June 20, 2000

Our neighbor boys discovered a coyote in one of their grain bins. Ignoring any danger, they waved sticks and shouted at the critter who cowering in a corner. Finally the coyote dashed past them, tail between its legs, determined to escape. The boys hooted and called themselves brave.

For humans and animals both, threatening situations produces a response. Adrenalin begins to flow. The mind makes a choice: do we pick up a stick? Or look for the nearest exit?

For the boys, fighting was brandishing since that coyote was more afraid of them then they of it. In other situations, fighting might mean actual combat. However, it often takes another form. If we chose to stick around, we might resist with noise, anger, anxiety and determination.

This week, I fought using all four. I talked a lot. I got mad. I worried and chewed on my situation trying to figure out what to do about it. I determined how to win. But nothing worked. All I got out of it was a headache, a sore neck, and fatigue. Fighting is hard work. In my case, the hard work would have been worth it had I won, but I wound up fighting a foe bigger than myself. It didn’t start that way but my battle was against God.

No wonder I was worn out. Someone told me that beating your head against the wall uses 150 calories an hour. Imagine the calorie burn from fighting the Almighty. I should have lost weight as well as sleep and peace of mind.

From this experience, I realized some realities. First, it is true that the person losing the argument is the one who does the most talking. The more I slipped into second place, the more I tried verbal defense, but it didn’t work.

Second, it is not wrong to be angry but it is wrong to let anger motivate sin. Someone lied about me and lied to me. I was hot. God gets angry at lies (He is Truth so He can do that) and since He lives in me, some of that anger may have been His. What I did wrong was call down fire on the other person. I judged him, accused him, and if I could have reached his neck, I might have rattled his teeth. Not a godly response to lies. Besides exhaustion, this added fuel to the situation.

Anxiety didn’t help either. I worried myself stiff over this. How would other people react to these lies? Would they believe them? Would the lies hurt others? What could I do to stop this person? How should I defend myself? I plotted (not hard for a writer) but the ending eluded me. Determination might do it for some people, but without a cool head, a reasonable solution, and any energy, my resolve was rapidly shriveling. Besides, God reminded me of a few things.

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” My dad often told me there is a reason we have two ears and one mouth, and that no one can listen and talk at the same time. To really hear God and His solution, I had to shut up.

“In your anger, do not sin: do not let the sun go down while your are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Anger may be justified but it needs to be resolved quickly, not nursed. By persisting in it, I pushed God aside and let my enemy confuse the issue with more lies.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

My tension started to dissolve when I began to thank God for allowing this to happen, and for His promise to use it for good in my life. As my determination to fix things or get even faded, it was replaced by prayer for the one who upset me. At that, I was presented with another of God’s mysteries; I could think about the incident yet not feel upset. I do not understand how that works but it sure beats having a headache.