Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What about the end? .......... Parables 698a

December 26, 2000

In a poem entitled “Exit,” author Luci Shaw asks these questions: “When you go will you go with a sizzle—a spiteful spitting on a hot plate? . . . when you leave will you leave with a bang—exploding like a far star, kicking your hot cinders in God’s eyes?”

Questions about endings seem to lurk in our minds around the last couple weeks of December. For a while we wondered — how will the U.S. elections finish? Now it is: how will this year finish? What will my family or my financial statement look like? Did I accomplish what I wanted to in this year 2000?

Many people started this millennial year with a list of dreams and many will take time to look at the results. Ending poorly is not on our mind — not for a day, a year, or even our life. We want to finish well, not with a sizzle but with an exclamation mark.

This desire is tied to our huge inner need to feel significant. I want my life to matter. When I come to the end of anything, whether a day, a week, or a year, evaluation seems almost as automatic as resolutions to do better next time.

I used to be big on those New Year’s resolutions too, but that was before discovering how easily I can set myself up for a poor ending. I would fill pages with things I wanted to do but ignored those factors that are out of my control, like the limits of a twenty-four hour day!

About five years ago, I decided to trade my to-do list for a “to-be” list. I want to be like Jesus, partly because I know that will give my life meaning. As Spanish composer and musician Pablo Casals said, “The capacity to care gives life its deepest significance.” That capacity is one part of what it means to be like the Lord.

I’m learning if I have a caring attitude, that is more important than any of the stuff that gets checked off my list. Being kind to people and becoming a more Christlike person has greater significant in that to-do list too; they are done in a meaningful way rather than simply completed.

Another trouble with resolutions is maintaining balance. What do we do about the mistakes of the past? Just forget them? And how do we plan for the future without, as some sage said, “continually expecting the coming of some special hour when our life shall unfold itself in its full significance” and miss the fact that “life is flowing like water through our fingers?”

Certainly yesterday’s choices makes a difference in today’s decisions but Emerson is wrong when he said, “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. . . . Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely.” We can begin tomorrow with greater wisdom and serenity if we consider what worked well yesterday and what did not.

By far the most important part of moving into a new year or a new anything is deciding, regardless of what lies before me, that I will obey the Lord, that I will think and act in goodness. When it comes down to it, planning is okay but right now is the only real opportunity to do something significant. It may be a small thing in our eyes but Jesus said just giving someone a cup of cold water in His name would be rewarded. I’m sure He meant that we give it in kindness.

Lord, the year is nearly over and I’m thankful that my sins and stupidities are forgiven. I’m also thankful that You do not waste even that but use them to teach me that I need to depend on You. Thank You for Your presence and Your eternal care. If nothing else, may I be more obedient to You — in all of 2001 of course — but also today, even this very moment.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The value of guilt .......... Parables 697

December 19, 2000

A sign on a church reads “No God — No Peace. Know God — Know Peace.”

After a restless night, do you ever struggle out of bed in the morning complaining and muttering, “There’s just no rest for the wicked”? It may be a clique but that line actually comes from Scripture. In context, God is describing the rebellion of His people when they refused to follow His directions. He finishes His description with “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

Some versions use the word “rest” but either way, lack of peace or lack of rest describes the agitation of heart felt by anyone with a guilty conscience.

In spite of popular psychology, feeling guilty is not always a bad thing. It is like pain. If we did not feel pain when touching a hot stove, the burn would cause physical harm. Pain makes us stop touching the stove. Guilt is similar. When we do something contrary to our convictions, guilt helps us stop doing it. Without that agitation, we would cause harm to ourselves and others. Guilt also encourages us to fix the mess that our wrong actions have produced.

Guilt does have its drawbacks. One of them is that we tend to measure it by how bad we feel. That is, if someone feels badly for taking pencils from the boss but the fellow in the next desk feels nothing, then that person is apt to say, “It may be wrong for you but it’s okay for me.”

Such relativistic thinking dismisses all objective standards regarding morality. It says God’s opinion is not important or at best, is open to personal interpretation. That’s just another way of saying, “I don’t care what anyone thinks, even God. I will do what I want to do.”

Christians hold God and His Word as our standard, yet guilt is still tricky. Sometimes we do the right thing but feel guilty if someone doesn’t like what we did. That happens if our goals slip into a desire to please people. If someone is not pleased, then we have failed our goal and will say we feel guilty. As long as we did nothing wrong, this is a “false guilt.”

It gets trickier. True guilt, under the objective standards of God, does not always produce that inner agitation or lack of inner peace. We can break God’s law in ignorance, something like we can drive over the speed limit with a broken speedometer. If that happens, we may not realize we have broken the law because we can’t see (or feel) anything, but we are still guilty of doing it.

Obviously, if we rely on our feelings only to tell us about guilt, we can be mistaken. Not only that, if someone tells us we are guilty but we didn’t feel any guilt, we might refuse to see or admit it. We could say, “But everyone else does it” or “It’s really not that bad.”

Most people could not dismiss speed limits without considering how that would affect lives—our highways are already littered with victims—but our society tosses out objective standards and replaces them with personal opinions, personal preferences, and subjective feelings, then dares to say we are free from “Victorian” restraints. Some call this “progress.”

Lack of civil, criminal, and even traffic laws produces confusion, anarchy, and death but lack of moral law produces progress? Take another look. The price of dropping God’s standards is far more than lack of sleep, a vague sense of unrest, or an argument over who is right and who is wrong. It is out-of-control moral chaos.

Lord, the Bible says You “laugh at the wicked for you know their day is coming” and promises justice for those who do right. It is not easy to live an upright life in a world where right and wrong are measured mostly by what people want. God, help me to know what You want and then give me the courage to do it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

What God says about anger .......... Parables 696

December 12, 2000

I read somewhere if a person yells for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days, they would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee. That doesn’t appeal to me — I don’t drink coffee!

Not only that, I don’t have the energy to stay with it that long. My voice projects about two feet at the best of times. For me, yelling is not a productive activity.

Yelling is mothers calling their children, fans cheering at a game, or turkey farmers trying to talk above the gobbling, but it is most often associated with anger. Angry people produce adrenalin that must be burned. Otherwise, it works on our body the same way revving a motor works on a car propped up on blocks. Shouting, fighting, and running away all burn adrenalin. My mother used to say, “I am so angry I could spit” but she wasn’t the spitting type so found other ways to burn off her adrenalin.

The Bible has a great deal to say about anger. Since God can be angry, this is not necessarily a sinful emotion. One verse hints at this by saying, “Be angry and sin not; do no let the sun go down on your anger.”

God can be outraged at sin and still be righteous and holy, but our anger is often expressions of pettiness and selfishness. If we explode and hurt others, our anger is negative and destructive. Bible warns us that “the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.”

Sometimes we justify our anger as ‘righteous indignation’ but even that may not be as righteous as we suppose. When Moses was leading the people of God to the promised land, they continually griped and complained against him and against God. At one point they needed water so God told Moses to “strike a rock once” and the water would be there. Moses was so frustrated and angry with the people that he hit the rock a couple of times.

For Moses, this was sin. In disobeying God, he defaced more than a rock because God intended his action to symbolize the Lord Jesus Christ who is the ‘rock’ of our salvation. When Jesus was struck (once for all sin) literal water flowed from His side, as did living water to wash away the sin of the world. Moses’ angry blows to the rock marred the symbol. Even though this seemed like righteous anger against sin, God punished Moses’ ‘righteous’ outburst by refusing to allow him to enter the promised land.

So what do we do with anger? Clearly, we need to obey God in spite of our feelings. Anger makes obedience more difficult but God does not allow us to use it as an excuse to sin.

Second, if we disobey God in our anger, we need to make it right immediately. Harboring anger leads to bitterness — and ulcers. Instead, we admit to God we are angry. We tell Him what upsets us and place it in His hands. He cares. He may help us with action we could not take, or even imagine.

Third, our anger might be directed toward someone who hurt us. We need to forgive them, remembering how God has forgiven us. At the same time, if our anger reveals other sinful attitudes, we must confess them to God also.

Fourth, if we have taken angry swipes at others, we need to be truly sorry and apologize to them — admitting we were wrong and asking their forgiveness — before the sun goes down.

Dealing with anger produces peace in our hearts, peace in our relationships, and peace with God. Besides, there are quicker ways to warm up a cup of coffee!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Power to Change .......... Parables 695

December 5, 2000

When I was in my teens, a friend told me that her mother heard from my mother that “Elsie is not as smart as the other kids.” Prolonged illness kept me home from age seven until I reached grade seven, so my mother meant “streetwise smart” but I interpreted it to mean I was dumb. As a consequence, I spent much of my life trying to prove that I was as smart as everyone else.

Other people tell me how words and events from their past hang over them like a cloud. Someone said they were ‘slow’ so they thought themselves slow, even though they were not. Someone abused them and long after their external bruises healed, they were scarred within.

Positive words and actions can reinforce for good, but far too often a negative past becomes a primary shaping ingredient. How can this pattern be changed?

A “Power to Change” campaign in Edmonton, and throughout northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, offers good news to people who feel trapped by their past. The ads feature men and women who give testimony that they struggled with addictions, unhappy relationships, broken marriages and personal lack of fulfilment. They also share how God changed their lives.

This news is the good news God offers in the Bible. He says no one needs to be trapped by either their past or their present situation. God loves us and wants the best for us. He also knows how to help us with His great power. He can change the way we think and act.

This offer is not only for down-and-out people or those destitute or caught in terrible sins. ‘Good’ people need changed lives too. The Apostle Paul is an example. He was raised in the finest Jewish tradition with an excellent education. His upbringing shaped him to love his religion and hate everything that contradicted it. However, he did not understand that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, so he wound up fighting God when he thought he was serving Him.

As the first Christians appeared, Paul became angry at their claims and determined to have these people destroyed. One day, while on the way to Damascus looking for Christians he could “take as prisoners to Jerusalem” a light flashed around him. Paul fell to the ground as he heard the Lord’s voice say, “Why do you persecute me?”

At that moment, the risen Christ stopped this devout man in his tracks and blinded him with His light. Then He sent Paul to a Christian in Damascus called Ananias. He already told Ananias that “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”

This encounter with Jesus changed forever Paul’s attitude and life. He no longer hated Christians and their claims. He embraced both Christ and His people and from that point on, he did just as Jesus had chosen him to do. His life was no longer shaped by his past.

God changed my life too. I no longer feel that need to prove myself because He loves me as I am. He also works to make me like Jesus; a goal higher than any goal I could set or attain. Through Him, and the wisdom He gives, I truly can do all things.

In Christ, we learn how to deal with our past and then put it behind us and forge ahead. Paul said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Even though most of us need to deal with some issues in our past, God’s great work of salvation includes the help we need. As He works to change us so we are like His Son, we are no longer governed by our past but shaped by our future.

If you want the power to change, take that desire to God, admitting your need and asking Him to forgive your sin and failures. Invite Jesus into your life and, by His very presence, nothing will ever be the same.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Ads appeal to our sinful selves .......... Parables 694

November 28, 2000

The average North American is exposed to 1500 commercial messages a day. That means if I turn off my radio and do not watch any television today and someone gets my share, they will hear or see an advertisement every twelve seconds. Who can withstand that barrage? Little wonder we are a nation of consumers!

A college course in the methods of advertising taught me that ads almost always appeal to three things. The first is a desire for comfort. That desire draws our attention to ads for clothing, furniture, and vacations.

The second appeals to a desire for power, otherwise known as “if you have more money, more stuff, a bigger car, sweeter breath, more insurance or the best computer, you will be more powerful, more in control of your life.”

The third category is ego. “Build your sense of worth and competence by owning _____ , or belong to ________ , or doing ______ .” (You fill in the blanks.)

Advertising is powerful. We see how it sells products and ideas (ideas as in political campaigns). If advertising did not work, vast sums of money would be put to better use and our time would be freed up for other pursuits. Perhaps those are the reasons that the Bible warns us to watch out for the three-fold appeal in commercials.

Oh, of course the biblical writers did not know about television, bill boards, or spam. Nevertheless, God knows our nature and inspired these words: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. . . . For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2).

In this passage, ‘world’ is not a geographical place. It is not the people either, as in “for God so loved the world.” Instead, this passage talks about a system of thought, a value system that is focused on worldly and temporary things. This system is not from God and is sinful.

The lust of the flesh means an inordinate desire to satisfy physical desires. It is not merely eating but gluttony, not marital sex but illicit sex, not keeping warm and dry but having more than you need at the expense of others.

King David of Israel gave in to the lust of the flesh when he saw Bathsheba from his rooftop, wanted her, and used his power as king to murder her husband and take her for himself.

The lust of the eyes is wanting everything you see, not because you need it but to have a sense of power, even power over those who do not have it. It is being strong and successful as measured by personal property, control, and bank statements.

The world considers wealthy people influential and powerful. Because they use their money and possessions to get what they want, others are impressed by them and their assets. This lust of the eyes works for criminals and mobsters, business men, and even the woman next door.

The pride of life is whatever makes people think they are better than others. This means going for whatever will do that, not for their own sake but to make an impression. It might be money, big house, educational degrees or knowing all the ‘right’ people. This “keeping up with the Jones” is fueled by an inflated human ego.

God says “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. . . . The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Those who know and live by the love of God are able to turn away from these three reasons for responding to commercials.

Lord, may I never see or hear another commercial message without considering the reason it appeals to me. I might need toothpaste today and a new car tomorrow, but when I go shopping, may my motives for buying not be bent by excessive worldly desires. Remind me often that advertising is only for temporary things. They will fade away and the body I pamper and the friends I try to impress will not be an issue. When I stand alone before You, all that matters is whether my life is governed by Your great love — not sinful motivations.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Persecution .......... Parables 693

November 21, 2000

In January of last year, an Australian missionary in India was burned to death in his car along with his two young sons. This happened just outside a church. Those who tried to help were beaten by the attackers. The missionary worked with leprosy patients for 34 years. His sons were visiting on vacation from school. The attack was unprovoked.

Not long after this senseless incident, five more missionaries were beaten while they handed out pamphlets. India’s Prime Minister, was quick to condemn these attacks, as was Dr. P.P. Job, associated with an organization called “Voice of the Martyrs in India.” Job also warned that Christians should not fear what may happen but always be ready to die for their faith. This man could say this because he knew the warning of Jesus to His disciples: “All men will hate you because of me.”

People are persecuted for reasons other than their faith. A bully might pick on someone because they are small or thin or overweight. Our society sometimes selects an underdog, raising hackles in human rights activists. Laws are passed to protect people from persecution.

For instance, members of one religious group who join the RCMP are allowed to wear the clothing of their faith with their uniform. They and others are protected from losing their job or being physically threatened because of their beliefs.

However, Christians sometimes seem exempt from this protection, if not in North America, in other parts of the world. It should not be a surprise; Jesus said it would happen.

The Bible offers some explanation. Paul wrote, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

He understood that a person who follows Christ can shine light in dark places: godliness is a rebuke to sin. For some who prefer living in the dark, that light can be at the least annoying — at the most intolerable.

How are Christians supposed to respond to expressions of annoyance or even violent reactions to their chosen lifestyle? At the memorial service for the missionary and his sons, his wife and daughter offered no bitterness. Instead, they led the congregation in singing: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives.”

If Christians can shine even under attack, what about those who shrink back from the light of Christ in them? God offers a choice. Jesus said, “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light . . . .” That is, we can live in the delusion of comfort that accompanies lies and darkness related to sin and its consequences, or we can live in the light and truth of Christ, even if it means that others may harm us for it.

Lord Jesus, I do not like rejection or pain, but far better that You accept me for eternity than I settle for the temporary comforts of this life. Help me be a godly person. Give me the grace I need to turn my back on my sin and selfishness. Shine Your light in my life and help me keep on turning toward Your light, even if others respond with rejection, anger or even violence.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Religious vs. Spiritual? .......... Parables 692

November 14, 2000

A critic defines a book by saying, “It’s not religious but it is very spiritual.”

So what’s the difference?

Webster says both words are adjectives. Religious means “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.”

It appears that ‘religious’ is about people. They might be Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, or pagans bowing before a carved stone statue, but the fact that they are ‘religious’ is measured by the depth of their fervor in relation to whatever they worship.

Webster says “spiritual” can refer to things of a religious nature but it also means “of, relating to, or consisting of: spirit, sacred matters, or supernatural beings or phenomena.”

‘Spiritual’ (by that definition) is not so much people as it is the unseen world or at least a person’s interest in that which cannot be seen. This can be God, but also angels or evil spirits.

The difference between the two words is slight. Some might say a person is a ‘religious’ fanatic but not usually a ‘spiritual’ fanatic, but most are not sure why except that being ‘spiritual’ seems more okay than being ‘religious.’

It is my observation that media often uses ‘religious’ or even ‘religious nuts’ as a put-down of Christians. They suggest it is ‘spiritual’ is better because spiritual people know how to keep their thoughts about the unseen to themselves. I wonder what these critics would think of the biblical definitions for those words?

Scripture doesn’t say much about religion or being religious. The New Testament book of James does make it very practical: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

The word ‘spiritual’ is far more common yet narrower by definition than Webster. God’s Word uses it to describe people who are connected to Him in a vital, life-changing relationship through their faith in Christ.

The ‘life-changing’ part is important. Notice Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Corinth. “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ . . . . You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?”

In the mind of God, spiritual people are not mere ordinary folks who have an interest in unseen things. Rather, spiritual people are under the control of the Spirit of God. They live as God intends them to live — in humble submission to Him and each other.

Paul defines ‘spiritual’ further. He says God’s people speak spiritual truths taught to them by the Holy Spirit. He adds that people without the Spirit do not accept those words because they are foolishness to them. They cannot understand what spiritual Christians say. He finishes that section by saying that spiritual people are different because they “have the mind of Christ.”

The Bible is clear that being God’s spiritual person means a changed life, a devotion to Christ that is so deep that whatever He says is gladly obeyed, no matter the cost. It also means being misunderstood by those who do not follow Him.

‘Spiritual’ is far more popular than ‘religious’ yet I would like to challenge those who support the one over the other; close your dictionary and instead get your definitions from the Word of God.

Monday, January 15, 2018

How to be Contented .......... Parables 691

November 7, 2000

The story is told about a complaining woman who griped about everything. Music was either too loud or too soft. Weather was either too hot or too cold. Other people were either too friendly or too aloof. She was never happy with life in general or any of its specifics.

Finally her pastor determined to find something that would bring a positive response. One Sunday morning, he stood at the door of the church shaking hands as the congregation departed. He noted a clear blue sky without a cloud or breeze. The air was perfect, not too warm nor too cool. Birds were singing but no flies or mosquitoes could be seen.

As the complaining woman approached, he remarked, “This is just a perfect day, isn’t it Mrs. Jones?”

Mrs. Jones frowned and said, “Oh, but I am certain it is raining some place.”

Mrs. Jones may strike our funny bone, but who likes being around a person who is always grumpy? These folks assume that contentment is within their reach only if everything around them is perfectly pleasing. Given the nature of life, little wonder they spend most of it griping.

The Apostle Paul said something interesting about contentment: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Notice that he said he ‘learned’ contentment. We are not born with it. A dry, well-fed baby is content, but it complains just as soon as its tummy is empty or its diaper is full.

Yet even Paul was not always content. Before he met Christ, he was so upset by the people with this new faith called Christianity that he determined to have them all arrested and executed. After he became a Christian himself, his life was seldom trouble-free, yet somehow, he learned to be content.

Note he also said that contentment is a secret, but as important as keeping secrets might be, Paul had no intention of hiding this one. He wanted others to be content too.

In 1 Timothy 6, he warned that falling in love with money would not do it. He said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

Paul had an eternal perspective. He realized that no matter how much we accumulate, we cannot take it with us. We should be happy with the basics.

In another place, he said: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

Paul was absolutely certain that God was on his side. He knew that no matter what kind of situation he found himself in, the Lord would be there to see him through.

This ties with the rest of the first passage quoted above. Paul finishes it by saying, “I have learned the secret. . . . I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Those who know Christ know His presence and His power. They know that God is for them — more stuff, more friends, better weather will not do it. Paul looked much farther than that. For him, and for others too, God was with him – and that made everything else a non-issue.

He knew that contentment is not about having everything; it is about having God.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Fully known and fully understood .......... Parables 690

October 24, 2000

Laptop computers are small enough to tuck into a briefcase. For that convenience, they are also a target for thieves, until now.

A Vancouver company has developed a unique software package. Computrace is reasonably priced and now able to catch crooks within days of their heist. This program is so effective that the FBI is using it in the United States.

When installed, Computrace is foolproof. Even if the hard drive is reformatted, a unique IP number or Internet fingerprint inside the computer cannot be erased. As soon as a thief connects to a phone line, an easily-traced signal is sent to a monitoring station, then reported to the police. Through the marvels of technology, computers now have fingerprints and can be as unique as the people who own them.

No two fingerprints are alike just as no two people are alike. We were unique without special software. While being individuals is important to our sense of value, it can make us feel isolated, as if no one really and fully understands us.

Yet there is one who does. Hebrews 4:13 says “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

If we consider that God is all-knowing, we can understand that He knows what we are doing, where we are going, even what lies ahead in our lives. It takes a bit more faith to accept Jesus’ words, that He “knows the number of hairs on our head,” however, if God is all knowing, He must know even what seems like trivia to us.

The verses prior to Hebrews 4:13 challenge us to even greater faith. They imply that God also knows “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” A friend or close relative may know many things about us, even our dreams and hopes, but they cannot be absolutely sure of what we are thinking or exactly how we feel.

Psalm 139 is David’s cry to the all-knowing God. He says, “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my laying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”

He goes even farther, ending in worship: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

Years ago, a strange pair of women began reading my thoughts, even the very words I was thinking. I was terrified. A godly man told me that they were likely demon-controlled. I had to agree. My experience as a child of God has shown me that when God gets into my head, it may be startling but it does not terrify me. His all-knowing power is a comfort for several reasons. 

One, I need someone to help me figure myself out. I act or respond to situations and then cannot always understand what I did or why I did it. God does and His insights are always helpful.

Second, He knows my sorrows and pain. People who know and understand how I feel can be a comfort to me, but what goes on inside me is unique. Besides, some difficulties cannot be shared with other people. Because God knows my heart, I do not feel alone.

Third, when I am misunderstood by other people, I know that God understands perfectly. He knows what I cannot seem to explain. Nothing is too complex or too vague for Him. I am comforted by His knowledge.

Most important, I can trust Him to deal with sin in me that I do not see myself. I can pray the same way David did: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Computrace is pretty good but it cannot do that!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Heaven is an exclamation mark! .......... Parables 689

October 17, 2000

When writers scan newspapers, we notice things like typographical errors, spelling mistakes, and articles related to words, writing and grammar. A few weeks ago, I noticed one about punctuation. It was brief. It said, “The exclamation mark comes from a vertical version of the Latin word ‘Io’ meaning ‘joy.’ The vertical stroke was the ‘I’ and it was placed above the ‘o’ which eventually became a dot.”

That same week, while preparing to lead a Bible study on ‘heaven,’ I came across this quote: “In heaven, all our questions will straighten up into exclamation marks.” (Vance Havner)

I believe that in the economy and power of God, there are no coincidences. He juxtaposed these two thoughts to reinforce a biblical truth; heaven is a place of great joy. Since Christians also experience deep joy here on earth, I wondered if our joy has anything to do with heaven?

The Bible uses the word heaven in three ways. 1) the visible starry expanse above us, 2) a higher created reality we cannot see but where God is praised and served, and 3) the sphere or space of God’s very being.

Jesus said that the will of God is done perfectly in heaven, yet He came from heaven and brought heavenly blessings to us. Those who trust Him expect a heavenly heritage and look for a heavenly city where we will dwell with God forever, yet Jesus says that those who belong to Him also fellowship with God here on earth.

While we use ‘eternity’ and ‘heaven’ interchangeably, it seems eternity is entered through death and is a ‘leap’ from what we know here. Eternity has no limitations of time and space, and as long as we live here, we cannot know the eternal realm. However, there is a sense in which heaven is available to us right now. We can know the presence of God and even be included in the kingdom of God. Jesus described telling a Jewish leader named Nicodemus that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Nicodemus was a religious man yet he was not wise about eternal things. For him, the invisible heavenly realm would remained invisible unless he was made into a new person. But that was not all that needs to happen before people could understand heaven.

Right before His death, Jesus told His disciples that He would go away and prepare a place for them. Some think He meant taking that ‘leap’ of death into eternity so He could prepare heaven while He was gone. Yet Jesus did not remain dead. Instead, He was talking about going to the cross. In dying for our sins, He would prepare a place for us. His death opened up to us the realm of God, preparing that place and making it available to all who believe.

With sin, we cannot enter into the realm of a Holy God. But with our sin forgiven and cleansed, and our lives renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see and enter into His presence, just as Jesus told Nicodemus. In other words, before that great ‘leap’ of death into eternity, we can experience a taste of heaven right now, and that taste means great joy. An old hymn says, “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul, when at the cross my Savior made me whole; my sins were washed away and my night was turned to day — heaven came down and glory filled my soul.”

The bottom line? Even though we might still have some questions, for those who know Jesus, heaven is already an exclamation mark!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Truth to fight that old Lie and that old Liar .......... Parables 688

October 31, 2000

My old friend walked into the crowded room without looking at anyone. His expression was beyond despair; a hopeless blank daze. His face was swollen, as if he had been crying for weeks. I’d not seen him for a long time yet as I went to him, I wondered what to say.

After a greeting, I asked about his health. He said he was not well but that was not his biggest problem. “It’s depression. I don’t think God loves me. I’ve been raised from a child not to believe it. I know in my head that I am wrong, but that doesn’t help.”

Recognizing severe depression and my own helplessness regarding a ‘quick fix,’ I thanked him for telling me his need, and told him I would pray against that lie. I am praying and it is a lie. God does love us. His Word says so and He proved it.

Besides that, God exposes the liar who challenges His love. In the New Testament, Jesus names him. He is a spiritual character called Satan or the devil. The Son of God called this person “a liar” and the “father of lies.”

In other words, every lie originates with him, beginning with his destructive work in the garden of Eden. There, finding Eve alone, he convinced her to do what God had forbidden by suggesting that God had not given the command at all, and even if He did, it was because He was withholding something desirable from her. In a few words, Satan insinuated that God gave His commands for His own reasons, that He is selfish, that He is not thinking about what is good for us, and that He does not love us.

At that accusation, Eve doubted God’s love for her and immediately disobeyed His one command. She encouraged her husband to do the same. Together, they became alienated from God, not just because they disobeyed but because they thought He no longer loved them.

In one way, this story is repeated in marriages, family relationships and friendships. One person in the relationship thinks the other no longer loves them. Even if it is a lie, the very idea of love gone cold drives a wedge between them. One or both begin to withdraw. One may try to win the other person back or do things to earn or deserve love. What was once a loving relationship becomes something quite different.

On the other hand, knowing someone loves you, no matter what you do, is a powerful force. For one thing, it sets people free to be themselves. All pretense disappears. The true personality begins to rise to the surface. Honesty happens. So does humility and thanksgiving. In spite of what could be negative, being loved actually brings out the best in someone rather than encouraging them to their worst. The love of God is like that.

God’s love is unconditional. The Bible says “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possible dare to die. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The love of God also never ends. Jeremiah 33:11 says, “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.” Others may give up; God does not.

The love of God is for everyone. Jesus said these familiar words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Whosoever is a big word.

My friend is walking proof that we need the love of God. We need to know it, be convinced of it, and allow it to permeate our lives. That love lifts our sense of worth, tells us we are accepted, sets us free to grow and love God and others in return, and even adds to our health.

In contrast, the lie says: “You have to earn the love of God, and look at you . . . your life is a mess. You can’t do anything right.” It says, “God’s love has limits” or “He only loves certain people,” or “Obeying His commands is harmful, not beneficial.” The lie can even make us ill.

Truth says our lives may be a mess or we cannot do many things right, but despite the shape we are in, God says we do not earn or deserve His love, although we do need it. In grace and mercy, He freely offers His love and His love helps us resist the lie and gladly receive His truth, enabling us to respond as all lovers respond to someone who is utterly devoted to them.

Monday, January 1, 2018

What needs to be amputated? .......... Parables 687

October 3, 2000

Sophie tells me about an aunt with arthritis in her leg. Eventually, this woman developed leg spasms and could not walk or move about. The spasms became so severe that she was in danger of injuring herself. She had to be in bed with her leg tied down, preventing all movement.

This woman eventually decided this was not the way to live her life. She insisted that her doctor amputate her leg. He did. She is now mobile, of course with the use of a wheel chair.

Not long after talking with Sophie, I read a section of the New Testament where Jesus talked about cutting off offending body parts. He said, “If your right hand causes offense, cut it off and throw it away.”

Of course I thought of Sophie’s aunt. Her leg definitely offended her — so she cut it off. But after reading the context of this verse, I realized Jesus was not expecting a literal amputation. He had something else in mind.

The occasion was His well known Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew, Chapters 5 to 7. The section that contains this verse about offending body parts is Jesus describing God’s intention when He gave His people the Old Testament Law. Jesus wanted His Jewish listeners to understand that their interpretation was off base. They were concerned with outward observance in a literal sense but failed to consider what was going on in their hearts. That is, they thought they were keeping the Law but they really were not.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

They were startled. They knew adultery is wrong but had no idea that even thinking it was also a violation of God’s Law.

Besides that, Jesus wanted them to know that sin is serious. He continued, “If your right eye causes you to sin (another version says ‘causes offense’), gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

Did He want them to actually cut up their bodies? No, for two reasons. First, self-mutilation cannot cure lust. Lust is a condition of the heart and mind. A blind person can lust.

Second, the Bible forbids that we make cutting marks on ourselves or mutilate ourselves as the heathen did (Deuteronomy 14:1). God’s people are supposed to be set apart from heathen or worldly practices, and be holy and distinct in the way we live.

Instead, Jesus uses this strong illustration to get across that sin is far more serious than our personal comfort. We are to avoid sin even if it means denying ourselves in some other way. That denial is important. When we sin, we sin against God but we also sin against ourselves. God tells us to stop, not because He is being mean or vindictive but because He loves us and He does not want us to harm ourselves or ruin our lives. His commands against sin are like diets for grossly overweight people. Those restrictions are intended to save their lives, not ruin them.

Sophie’s aunt realized that her leg was ruining her life. To her, living life was far more important than keeping her leg, so she willingly had it cut off. Living the life God intends ought to be just as important to us as it was to Sophie’s aunt. However, we cannot do it and keep our sin too. Whatever causes it must be cut off and since we are not able to do this kind of amputation ourselves, God provided Jesus to help us with the surgery.