Friday, March 30, 2018

Illegal, immoral, or fattening? ............. Parables 722

July 3, 2001

Don’t you love those self-sticking postage stamps? They save time. Besides, regular stamp glue tastes bad. Did you know that each time you lick a stamp, besides that bad taste you consume 1/10 of a calorie? This makes self-sticking stamps even more appealing.

Notice how many things are either illegal, immoral, or fattening? People crave relief from the pressure of so many temptations. We are glad to see more low-cal or no-cal foods, even in sour cream, candy bars and soft drinks. These guilt-free products ease the pressure we feel when stocking up on greasy hamburgers and fries — at least the drink can be non-fattening.

Maybe cities should offer “speed as you will” zones. We can now eat food without getting fat and a speed zone would offer the option to drive as fast as we want without getting a ticket. “Crime days” might be an idea too. If, for one day a year anything goes, then people could steal from their boss, cheat on their income tax, or even rob a bank without feeling any fear of getting caught.

In case it doesn’t sound like it, I am being sarcastic. Our culture seems to have the idea that we should overrule any guilt from doing what is illegal, immoral or fattening. All we need are guilt-free options, and the added plus of someone saying it’s okay to indulge.

It happens. A Sherpa guide in the docudrama “Into Thin Air” voiced his fear of what might happen because a man and woman were having an extramarital affair on Mount Everest. One American passed it off as okay by saying, “We think about these things a little differently in our culture.”

No kidding. Most North American television programs depict adultery as a normal way of life. Everyone does it and few express indignation, except of course the spouse who suffers when someone he or she loves and once trusted takes off with another person.

The realm of food and drink has one unalterable law: if we eat more calories than our bodies can use, they are stored as fat. To get around that law, we must either eat less or burn more calories. Oddly enough, some think a better solution is a pill or a food that makes fat pass through our bodies. That way, we can break the law of stored fat and eat what we want.

The realm of law and order has one unalterable law too; if civil law is not upheld, anarchy will reign, and everyone becomes a victim of those who do whatever they want. At the same time, who can say they have not bent civil law “just a little” when it suited a personal need? We want the law but we also want to declare ourselves above it when necessary.

Moral law has some unalterables too. First, it exists; it is written in our hearts. We know certain things are wrong even without the code of Scripture and the rules given by our parents. Nevertheless, everyone ignores or defies moral law at some point or other. We make excuses or rationalize our transgressions. Others try another tactic by dismissing the biblical moral law and saying Scripture is obsolete or out-dated and irrelevant. Or they burn the Bibles. Those who turn their back on moral law think themselves clever and above rules but another unalterable law exists: God sees their attitudes and actions and one day will call them to account for what they have done.

The psalmist wrote about those who turn away: “They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares; they say, ‘Who will see them?’ They plot injustice and say, ‘We have devised a perfect plan!’” (Psalm 64)

Yet “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming” (Psalm 37).

God cares about our physical condition yet likely won’t say much about licking a few calories off the back of postage stamps. Nevertheless, He has already spoken judgment on those who persist in breaking both civil and moral law.

As someone said, we can go through the supermarket of life and put whatever we want in our basket, but one day we will go through the checkout. What rings up at that till is what counts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is guilt a bad thing? ............. Parables 721

June 26, 2001

We were at a funeral when we heard someone say that they seldom go to funerals or church because “the preacher always makes me feel guilty.”

No one likes guilt. It steals both peace and sleep. Yet guilt is as vital to our well-being as pain. Pain tells us our body is injured or sick. Guilt tells us to stop and consider our actions.

Both are built in signals that protect us from physical and moral danger yet they can malfunction. My oldest son lost two fingers in a sawmill accident. Sometimes he feels pain in those fingers yet they are gone. This “phantom pain” is not legitimate.

Sometimes guilt is not legitimate either. When my nephew died on a trip away from home, my brother said, “I should have driven him there myself.” As we talked about it, he realized that he had no reason to feel guilty. He knew his son was dying, regardless of the trip. Taking that trip or having his dad with him on it would not have changed the inevitable.

Also, we can be trained to think our actions are wrong but they are neither illegal or immoral. A friend has huge pangs of guilt over spilled food. He admits that when he was little, his mother scolded him at the slightest accident, making him feel that spilling food was deliberate bad behavior. While his head says this guilt is silly, his emotions poke his conscience.

Illegitimate or false guilt makes us beat ourselves with regret over things that are simple mistakes, or unavoidable and out of our control. True guilt is different. It relates to moral choices we make and things we can change.

True guilt convicts us when we do things that are against an outside standard such as civil law and God’s moral laws. Whether we rob a bank or say unkind, careless words, or neglect to do something we knew we should have done, we can feel pangs of conscience. These feelings are supposed to direct us toward change and help us to think, talk, and live upright, moral lives.

Real guilt comes in two varieties. The Bible talks about the remorse we feel when we do wrong and get caught. We may be sad, mad, or otherwise upset but that is as far as this kind of guilt goes. It creates an uproar but we do not change.

The other kind of guilt is a “sorrow that leads to repentance” or a turn away from whatever we did toward changed behavior. This guilt is different from simply being sorry we got caught because with it we realize we have displeased God — and we did not want to do that. We are sorry because we are hurting ourselves and our relationship with Him, so we take steps to live differently.

This makes sense. If we get a painful sliver under our skin, we don’t take painkillers but look for ways to remove the sliver. Yet some people who feel true guilt avoid tackling the real issues. They try to get rid of the law or God (and say He is dead). They try to eradicate those guilty feelings with excuses, rationalizing and denial. This may numb their conscience but it does not set them free.

God’s solution for guilt is confession, forgiveness and cleansing. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Running away from guilt makes as much sense as trying to cure a broken leg with pills. While we might be able to cover some kinds of pain for a while, covering guilt never works. It builds life-limiting scar tissue and blocks our relationship with God and others.

Lord, repentance is never a one-time activity. Even the godliest of Your people must constantly listen to their conscience. Help me then, to always hear what guilt is saying to me. If it is true guilt, may I never try to cover or excuse it but bring it to You for forgiveness so You can change my life. Amen.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Objective or Relative? ............. Parables 720

November 13, 2001

A few weeks ago, our top government officials were asked by the opposition to produce an original document and thereby prove that the copy they publicly displayed was not a forgery. These opposition members of parliament demanded truth. My parents told me “don’t lie” and “truth may hurt.” They said I should never make up stories to protect myself from truth, yet for some, truth is not that important.

I’ve met people who can lie as easily as they breathe. At first, they sound sincere, but after getting to know them, contradictions appear and my confidence in them begins to slip. I’ve learned that telling the truth involves more than giving other people an accurate description of the facts. Being a truthful person is also an ideal, a desirable quality. People of truth never intentionally deceive others and are never artificial or false.

Truth is sometimes relative though. For instance, if I say “the sky is blue” then it looks blue to me. However, an astronaut in outer space or a color-blind person might see something else. For each person, what they see is true for them. In other words, the color of the sky is relative. It depends on who is looking at it and the conditions of the time.

Truth may also be objective. That is, something is true all the time, for all people. It never changes and cannot be made relative to any person’s opinion or perspective. For instance, “all living people were once babies” is an objective truth. “All will die” is also an objective truth.

A sign outside a church says, “Fight truth decay — study the Bible daily.” What kind of truth is this sign referring to? Is it relative or objective?

If it were relative, the sign would be correct in linking it with decay because relative truth often changes or fades away. The color of the sky is not the same today as it was yesterday. Not only that, those who hold to relative truths often strongly defend or fight for their opinion. Is the Bible relative truth? Those who think so say things like, “it may be true for you but not for me” but with that, they dismiss Scripture as having no importance for their lives.

What if the Bible is objective truth? If it is, then the sign on the church is wrong: objective truth cannot decay. The real victim of deterioration is our attitude toward the Bible and towards the truth in it. Here’s a few examples of objective statements from Scripture. However unpopular they may be, the rules of grammar do not allow them to be made relative. They are either true and apply to everyone, or they are false.

“There is none righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All and none are inclusive words. God is not saying “some” or “a few” people sin and fall short; He says everyone does. If this is not true, then this statement must be false.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” God cannot say His love is everlasting but only love us for a limited time. This statement is also either true or false.

Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the light, no one comes to the Father but by me.” Jesus did not say He is “a way” or “a truth.” He also said “no one” can come to God apart from Him. The statement cannot be partly true or true just for some people. His language does not allow us to say “this is not for me.”

Actually, relativism tosses the Bible entirely. Even though they hope their neighbors will live by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments, they say Scripture is not for them.

Those who study Scripture find that the Bible is not like other books. God speaks through it. He points at sin but also repeats His declaration of love and offers the Way to overcome that universal sin problem. He tells the truth, and while it often hurts, it also always heals and gives hope.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tolerance can be an enemy ............. Parables 719

June 19, 2001 & August 28, 2001

North American society is slowly killing itself. Its odd weapon is tolerance.

Even though ‘tolerance’ has slid from its biblical definition, it started out as a godly quality. In fact, God is the origin of tolerance. One Old Testament prophet said to Him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

This man knew “the wages of sin is death” and he could not understand why God would look the other way and allow evil people to do their thing without bringing them to justice.

This prophet did not realize that God’s tolerance has a purpose. It is explained in the New Testament where it says we should not “show contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance and patience” because His kindness is intended to “lead us to repentance.”

Instead of striking sinners dead, God tolerates our godless behavior because He intends that His mercy produces in us a deep sorrow for sin that results in changed behavior. He also asks us to have the same attitude towards others.

We must not forget that God clearly hates sin. We are supposed to hate it too, but we must also refrain from condemning people without giving them a chance to change. Our mercy and grace is supposed to allow them to experience God’s mercy and grace, not give them license to continue in godlessness.

In other words we cannot, in the name of tolerance, say sinful behavior is okay because when tolerance is lifted from its biblical context, it becomes deadly. Instead of hating sin, we become passive, not caring. We do not act against evil but look the other way.

This ‘tolerance’ damages the very core organs of society, including government, church and family. These days, politicians can lie, break promises, be unfaithful, act in immoral ways and speak to and about each another with rude, insulting words. Critics can condemn some of this, but lately if Christians speak against such behavior, we are labeled ‘intolerant.’

More and more, we are expected to look the other way at childish bickering that makes parliamentary debate more like sandbox-style mudslinging, and ignore behavior that mocks what we were taught as children about being considerate and respectful. Although the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders, Christians find this difficult when we cannot respect what they are doing.

‘Tolerance’ also affects the church. God sets high standards for His people, including those who lead them. Society, in the name of ‘tolerance,’ lowers those standards, even changes them completely. Instead of the biblical pattern, the church is expected to show ‘tolerance’ toward those outside of it, welcoming them into leadership. Any Christians who say ‘no’ and stand for God’s standards are said to be ‘intolerant.’

The family is the hardest hit. In the name of ‘tolerance,’ we must accept deviations, even encourage them. In the Old Testament, God’s people fell from His commandment not to marry outside their own people but when the Jews returned to Israel from a long captivity in Babylon, they did just that. Their leader, Nehemiah, was upset. He “rebuked them and called curses down on them . . . he beat some of the men and pulled out their hair and made them take an oath in God’s name.”

Today, Nehemiah would be imprisoned for his ‘intolerance’ and no one would be encouraged to right the wrong they committed against the law of God. Instead, society says to mind our own business when it comes to adultery, even same-sex marriages. What was once shameful behavior is now ‘tolerated’ and God’s model of the family is becoming extinct.

Scripture warns what will happen when God’s purpose for tolerance is ignored: “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

By perverting what God intended as a good thing, our country is shooting itself in its vital organs. The mess seems impossible to fix. Lord, grant Your people godly courage to speak against evil like You do, and at the same time, the godly ability to tolerate evil like You do — with the purpose that people will turn from their sin to You, that they might experience forgiveness and changed lives.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

God knows all the details! ............. Parables 718

May 29, 2001

Internet use multiplies daily yet no one really knows how many people actually spend time in cyberspace. Adding together the total number of customers from each service provider turns out to be inaccurate. Apparently some providers include inactive accounts (to make themselves look better?) and government providers are no better with their numbers. Besides that, thousands go online for the first time each day. Any total is out of date as soon as it is compiled.

Regardless of inaccurate numbers, it seems safe to guess that millions of people use the Internet. That boggles my mind. How can anyone think in terms of ‘millions’?

This week I found an article that used ratios to put the world’s population into perspective. It suggested reducing the world to a village of one hundred people. By comparing the number of people who have computers to total population and applying that ratio to the village, they discovered only one person owned a computer. Explained in those terms it seems are globe is not as saturated with technology as we might think.

That same article went on to say that thirty people in the village would be Christians. How amazing that there are more Christians than computer owners (and that one person with the computer could be a Christian too).

As I thought about those numbers, I recalled that the Bible says God put the stars in place and calls them by name. He even knows how many hairs we have on our heads. Obviously, He is far better with big numbers than I am, and even though that kind of detailed knowledge may seem useless, this is not the issue. The point is, God knows and cares about details. As Scripture points out, He feeds each sparrow and notices if one falls to the ground.

The psalmist 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 lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely . . . such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

While that all-knowing quality of God could make us feel like shrinking back in fear under His scrutiny, it should motivate us to trust Him instead. He cares about sparrows — He cares about us.

Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like to listen to the prayers of a million people all at the same time. How can God sort them out, then send appropriate answers, at the right time, to each person? For Him, this is easy. Remember, He knows how many hairs are on our heads. Yet this vast knowledge also includes compassion and understanding. He knows and cares about the things that bother or upset us and understands our needs.

Lord, should I stop trusting You, I would be a fool. Your knowledge far surpasses mine or anyone else I might trust. You know every detail of my life. Even more important, You care about those details. Guide each thought, each word, and each step I take, today and always. Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Living longer than any bug. . . ............. Parables 717

May 22, 2001

One positive thing about Alberta winters is that extreme cold weather kills the bugs, at least most of them. We lived in California three times and have memories of turning on a light in the middle of the night and seeing critters dashing for the cracks. Yuck.

Cockroaches are probably my least favorite insect, even worse than mosquitoes. Did you know that they can live nine days without their heads before they starve to death? I don’t know if they jump around like chickens without their heads, but it wouldn’t surprise me. They are tenacious critters and have persisted on this planet longer than almost all other life forms.

Humans can survive a bit longer without food than cockroaches, up to about forty days, but we can’t do it without our heads. Our survival depends on having major body parts intact with all systems working.

Of course we need food to live. God even tells us to pray for “our daily bread” — but Jesus pointed out that we are spiritual creatures. We need more than food. He said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

If our spirit needs proper food, just as our body does, what is our spirit? And how does the Word of God feed it? Obviously it is invisible — not like hands and feet — and seems more connected to our personality, even our emotions and intelligence. But it goes deeper than those.

Some say the human spirit is our conscience and intuition. It is the part of us that instinctively knows right from wrong and has the capacity for faith and worship. In Scripture, the term ‘spirit’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘soul’ yet they are not exactly the same: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Also, Hebrews 4 says the Word of God divides soul and spirit.

The difference seems to be in function. Our soul is where we make decisions, think and feel emotions. These abilities can enhance or interfere with the work of our spirit. For instance, we are able to worship God in our spirit but our soul may not ‘feel’ like it or ‘decide’ not to. Our spirit may want to trust God but our intellectual ability argues with it.

Soul and spirit both find expression in the visible part of us, our bodies. Our worship may be an internal matter yet it becomes visible in the way we live, at least if the spirit is at work. However, the soul is generally active all the time (thinking, feeling, making decisions) but the Word of God says some people have a ‘dead spirit.’ That is, they are not physically dead but they have turned away from any interest in God or being godly. They do not have any sense of ‘knowing’ truth about God (faith) and are said to be “dead in their sins.”

Unlike a physically dead person, a spiritually dead person can be brought to life. God’s Holy Spirit is able to regenerate them through Christ. The life of Jesus starts new life in them, an ‘aliveness’ that begins in the spirit and then permeates their soul. The way they think and feel about God and spiritual matters is changed.

Those changes impact the whole person. Because they have faith in God and are worshiping Him, they begin thinking in new ways, feeling new emotions, and making decisions that please God. All this leads to new behavior, a changed lifestyle.

No wonder the Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.”

A cockroach may be able to live nine days without its head and may be the longest living bug species but we can have something completely beyond its expectations. Because of Jesus Christ, we can live forever. We start by feeding our spirits on His Word, sharpening our conscience and giving ourselves Someone to trust and worship. As we do, new life begins. . . and it extends from the point of faith right on into eternity!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Public Speaking or Death? ............. Parables 716

May 15, 2001

Sweaty palms, short breaths, knocking knees. For most of us, if we must stand up and talk to a crowd, the thought of dying comes to mind, or at least the wish to be someplace else. No matter how often I do it, forget the butterflies — my stomach feels as if an entire herd of bison is thundering through. I am convinced the statistic is correct — the main fear in North America is not death but public speaking.

Maybe we are so afraid of it because we can imagine ourselves flubbing up in front of a crowd. We can hear the hoots and cat calls and feel ourselves tripping over our own tongues. These images are far more vivid than imagining ourselves dead. Death is an unknown. Oh, we’ve read about people seeing a bright light or feeling themselves float to the ceiling. I suppose we can imagine that, or at least that we have moved somewhere else, yet being dead is a foreign experience.

The Bible agrees that a person does not know much about it. The apostle Paul explained in his New Testament letter to the Corinthians: “As it is written, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Who has departed from this world and came back with an eye-witness account? Who has seen the angels or heard them sing? Who can fathomed a city with streets of gold, glowing in the light of God Himself?

We can read the words and study the biblical descriptions, but we find it more difficult to put ourselves in that entire scenario. Those near-death stories of being with Jesus, of walking toward a bright light and seeing relatives who have died before us are only a taste.

Notice that Paul’s quote ends with “... for those who love him.” What about those who deny God or hate Him? A doctor wrote a book from his experience of being with people who were resuscitated. Some saw that heavenly light but others saw flames and torment. They were terrified as they related those images to him, but without exception, anyone who had them soon forgot what they saw. Perhaps that is the biggest reason most people fear death. While the uncertainty of what waits on the other side is a perplexity, those who reject God and refuse His light do fear another reality, that judgment is coming. Where will they spend eternity?

The above quote from Paul adds another phrase. While we cannot see, hear, or imagine our eternal dwelling place, it concludes with “. . . but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

In other words, our unaided imagination cannot know about death and the afterlife but by revelation from the Holy Spirit, God’s people are not in the dark about their future. We can know where we are going. He gives us an understanding of a heavenly place that is beyond a mere glimpse. We know with certainty that we will be with Jesus. Wherever and whatever else that means, His presence will guarantee perfection.

The Bible ends with a description of our eternal dwelling. It says, “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain . . . nothing impure... nor shameful or deceitful... no more curse . . . no more night.”

Even though that is hard to imagine, the Holy Spirit and the fact that God promises it, gives me a certainty that all this wondrous perfection will be mine. Now I just wish it was that simple when it comes to the delivery of my next speech!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lasting significance is . . . ............. Parables 715

May 8, 2001

An English-speaking writer from Montreal contacted me with an odd request — she could not find quotation marks on her keyboard. She explained that she wanted to submit to English markets that required them. I eventually discovered that she was using a French keyboard. It does not have quotation marks because the French do not use them in their writing. At that point, I realize I’d made an assumption. I thought ordinary quotation marks were a universal punctuation.

How many other ‘ordinary’ things do I assume are universal? I remember one social norm that is commonplace to me but not to everyone. Here, we easily chat with service and retail people but this is not done in all other countries. People from Russia are delighted yet open-mouthed when they first encounter a friendly conversation from a Canadian grocery store clerk.

Despite differences between cultures, universals do exist. These common situations or issues tend to bond or bring people together. For instance, everyone shares joy, sorrow, loneliness and grief. These emotions are experienced by people of all ages and all over the world. Everyone fears dying and everyone wants to be significant. We want to know that our lives matter, or at least that we are noticed or important in some way. This is a universal desire. From Alaska to Zimbabwe, toddlers show off to impress anyone who might be watching. Young people boast to their friends and adults talk about work and their accomplishments. While everyone may not want to be at the top of the heap, no one wants their life to pass without notice.

We generally measure significance by size and quantity, like how much money, power, fame, possessions, popularity do we have? We pick what we think is big enough to impress others and take note of what they have that impresses us. The problem with this measurement is that no matter how much we have or gain, there is always someone else with more. Our race for importance becomes a rat race, and by running it, we find ourselves continually pressured by a sense of defeat.

Is there a significance that lasts? Would lasting importance be ours if we could make an impression on someone who lasts? On the eternal God? Our hearts say ‘yes’ but before jumping to it, we need to know that He is not impressed by size or numbers. He says in Deuteronomy, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you . . . .”

Our quantities do not impress God because His standards are not in the same ballpark. We want to attain and be proud of ourselves but He is pleased by something we tend to avoid: humility and sacrifice. The Bible says, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” It defines the most pleasing sacrifice as “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

To impress God, we must come to Him in humility, seeking His mercy and forgiveness and offering ourselves to Him. Mercy and forgiveness are universal needs too, but only God can satisfy them.

Once we ask for His blessing and begin to give to others instead of take from them or try to impress them, we find that He graciously supplies all our needs, universal or otherwise. He becomes our joy, our peace, our wisdom, our source of strength, even our significance.

Dear Jesus, You promise to live in the hearts of humble people. You say you will “never leave us or forsake us.” You become our ‘forever friend’ so we are never alone again, no matter who walks out of our lives. You are also our significance. You give us work to do that matters, not only in this life but for eternity, but our greatest worth is in the price that You were willing to pay for our forgiveness. Thank You for your mercy and grace, and for eternal life. Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Priorities and abundant life ............. Parables 714

May 1, 2001

Both the business world and personal self-help guides tell us we must evaluate or order our priorities but only in the last few decades has the word ‘priority’ been used in the plural. In the same way ‘unique’ expresses one of a kind, priority is a singular word.

If a person can only have one priority and someone gave us a ‘priority quiz,’ what would be at the top of the list? The boss says your job. The spouse says your family. The halls of learning say your education. The banks say your money. The Jones’ look at your house or car. Most people say ‘me’ putting ‘old number one’ in first place. The Bible consistently exhorts us to put God first. The first of the Ten Commandments says: “I am the Lord your God . . . you shall have no other gods before me.”

I know what another priority might look like. Those who put their work first spend up to twenty hours a day doing, thinking, breathing their job. Those who put their family first turn down anything that conflicts with family responsibilities and commitments.

But what does putting God first look like? Does that mean being in church two times on Sunday and at least twice more during the week? Does it mean putting 90% of your income in the offering plate? Does it mean leaving your home and family to serve God on the mission field? If He is first, do we settle for an old Chevy and Value Village clothes?

Scripture supports some of those ideas but other passages shoot them down. For one thing, God is not interested in ‘religious exercises’ done without love for Him. He berated Old Testament Israel for their empty worship and sacrifices because their hearts were far from Him. The New Testament also warns against a form of religion. Jesus talked about those who piously prayed on street corners or who gave money but did it only “be seen of men.” These religious practices were not pleasing to God.

A better example of what it means to put God first comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount in the New Testament book of Matthew. Near the end of chapter six, He says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .”

The first thing in our lives, our priority, is that we seek, discover and explore the things of God. He wants us to find and practice His goodness (as opposed to our own) all our lives. Jesus adds that “. . . all these things will be added” meaning the food, clothing and other necessities that tend occupy far too much of our focus.

Yes, God also asks that we spend time with His people. He also asks that we be generous regarding the financial needs of others. He may even ask us to become missionaries in some far-flung place, but if the priority is right, we will not be afraid of the conditions that fall under it.

God, I know that many people are afraid of putting You first. They are afraid they will no longer enjoy life or be able to do anything meaningful. What they do not realize is that You are the author of joy and the only one who can bestow true and lasting significance. Help each of us seek You and Your kingdom. Help us discover that when You are our priority, we will have the richest and most significant life possible.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A ‘joint journal’ and intimacy ............. Parables 713

April 24, 2001

For the past few weeks, my husband has been working two days in Calgary, two days at Scotford and one day in Fort McMurray. When he comes home, he catches up on chores and spends time with me and our family. This week we returned late Tuesday night from a short vacation. He left early Wednesday for Calgary, was home tonight for supper, then caught a plane north after dessert. I teased him that I know he’s been home when I check for dirty socks in the hamper.

Obviously, we don’t have much time for deep discussions yet despite that lack of time, we do have things to talk about. I think of important or personal things to say to him but often forget what they were by the time he gets home. He has the same experience. Also, when he arrives he is often very tired from a long day of both working and driving. Yet rather than let our conversations deteriorate to hockey scores and the latest weather report, we decided to do something about it.

An idea came from an article in a writers’ magazine penned by a mother who shared a journal with her daughter. They took turns writing in it, but avoided diary notations. Instead, they recorded their feelings and struggles about being a mom or a growing girl, the conflicts they faced, and even what they liked or didn’t like about one another’s decisions. As the girl grew to womanhood, both she and her mother found themselves able to communicate on a much deeper level than do many other mother-daughter combinations. This unique form of communication created a strong and lasting bond.

Even though I’m the ‘writer’ and he doesn’t think he is, Bob and I thought this would work for us. We selected a lined notebook and call it our “joint journal.” Besides using this journal to express those fleeting thoughts, we are learning to say what is very deep in our hearts. In these “ink chats,” topics often come up that might not otherwise surface.

This communication requires rules. One is that we do not criticize what the other says. We also reject all small talk. Third, this journal is about us, not our kids, the church, the neighbors or anything else. Whoever is in possession of the book writes something before putting it on the other person’s desk.

Right away we noticed an increased sense of intimacy. Intimacy is important. Everyone wants to deeply know someone and be deeply known. For it to happen, there obviously must be communication but intimacy is more than talking. Intimacy also requires personal revelation. But personal revelation does not happen without trust. Who can say anything about themselves or how they feel if they are afraid of being shot down? Everyone wants to be accepted as well as be heard.

The need to be heard, understood and accepted is universal, and while we do the best we can, no one can fully satisfy those needs the same way God can. He knows all about us. In fact, the psalmist says He “perceives my thoughts from afar . . . and before a word is on my tongue, He knows it completely.”

God understands our quirks, foibles and darkest secrets yet He is kind and merciful when others might be harsh or judgmental. He listens and accepts our honest revelations of ourselves, and is “faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No human friend or lover can do that either.

God also makes Himself known. He reveals who He is through the pages of His book and the life of His Son. We see Him in creation and in His people. His willingness to expose who He is and how much He loves us became fully apparent when He allowed His enemies to nail Him to a cross for the sins they (and we) committed.

Someone once told us that if two people draw closer to God they will also draw closer to each other. How true . . . and for some, having a joint journal simply adds icing to the cake.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Busyness, time-management, and God ............. Parables 712

April 17, 2001

My ladies Bible class just finished a series called “Meeting God in Busyness.” The topic seems almost an oxymoron. How can a busy person find time to connect with God? Christians find busyness is one of our greatest tests of commitment to our Lord. Even at the best of times, we are so easily side-tracked from our dependence on Him. When we are busy, we need Him the most but how can a person stop that ticking clock long enough to touch base with God?

Everyone in the class agreed that God belongs in more than just in our most pious moments. We are Christians all the time, not merely when we feel ‘religious’ or are filled with spiritual thoughts. Jesus lives within us, not Sunday morning only but seven days of the week and in all situations. Our task was finding out how to make that reality a practical part of every day.

One thing we talked about is that the word ‘priority’ is singular. So what is the one most important thing in our lives? God? Or our to-do lists? If we say we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, then we must spend quality time with Him. Also, He must be consulted regarding our daily plans and every decision.

The class also noticed that spending time with God at the beginning, before the rush begins, has a positive result. Our worship, Bible study and prayer time produces an inner peace and strength that reduces the pressures of busyness that would otherwise takes us down.

We discussed how stress is not always from our to-do list. Sometimes it is a result of unsettled issues, such as sin, broken relationships, fear or doubt. Since God forgives and cleanses sin, heals interpersonal conflicts, and erases fear and doubt, meeting with Him reduces that stress too. Without the strain of those issues, busyness is less likely to negatively affect our emotions.

Another discovery was that obeying God makes a difference in our fatigue levels. Sometimes we rebel in subtle ways, like saying ‘yes’ to something that God asks us to turn down or deny. Even if it is not a sinful activity, it could be adding one more item to the list which the straw that can break our backs. We need to listen to Him because by refusing to do what God asks, we can wind up doing far more than we wanted, simply as a consequence of not listening to Him. Even if obedience seems like ‘more’ or ‘too much’ up front, the Lord always honors it. Often, our remaining tasks are easier, or seem so, because we know we are following the Lord.

The Bible says, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Being busy is not always a bad thing. When God is in it, our productivity can be a blessing to Him, ourselves and others.

Lord, thank You for the many responsibilities that are in my life. I know that I cannot handle them well or with a song in my heart unless I first go to You for wisdom, strength and the joy that Your Spirit brings. May the tasks I do today be done in Your power and according to Your will. Warn me when I am tempted to step outside of what You want for me. May I not neglect Your clear commands or try to do anything without Your help. Do not allow me to add more to my schedule than You want for me. Instead, help me to do my God-given tasks in such a way that You are pleased and honored. Amen.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Is Christianity a crutch? ............. Parables 711

April 10, 2001

If you get email, you probably get junk mail, virus hoaxes and assorted electronic chain letters. Some of them are humorous, others not worth the electricity it took to send them.

Occasionally some of this flotsam looks like hate-mail circulated by disgruntled employees. One arrived last week. It seemed to be copies of an exchange between the sender and a person who worked for a well-known television network. The sender had complained about a particular episode in a show that network carried. He took a biblical perspective on a certain issue and his letters were polite. The person who supposedly answered his complaint did so in a crude manner. He used lines like: “Get your nose out of the Bible . . . . treat people as equals . . . . try thinking for yourself and stop using an archaic book of stories as a lame crutch for your existence.”

Keep in mind that these ‘letters’ may been fabrications. Junk email is often like that; however, it did touch on a topic worthy of consideration. When some Christians speak about their faith as it applies to current controversial issues, we often are told that our religion is a crutch. The implication is that Christians are weak and their faith helps them limp through life.

It is true that crutches support people who are injured or disabled but there seems also to be a suggestion by these accusers that no one needs crutches. They seems to believe that all human beings can think for themselves and that our own ideas are all we need to live and solve every problem. In other words, we can do it without religion, faith or God.

Maybe that is true in limited situations. I get up every morning and brush my own teeth without help — but a quadriplegic cannot. Not everyone is self-sufficient in everything. Besides, the Bible says it is because of God that we “live and move and have our being” so without common grace from God, I could not get up in the morning and brush my teeth.

As I watch the nightly news, I cannot help but conclude that even if we human beings have the capacity to think through our problems, many of us do not. A certain percentage of the population is doing the opposite: thinking up problems.

Add to this the mistake factor. A corporate executive can make incredible and sincere decisions but are all his decisions beneficial? What about leaders of universities? Is every idea sound and positive? If the best leaders and thinkers can make mistakes, what about you or me?

Since lameness is the inability to function correctly, then everyone is lame, at least part of the time. We mess up, no matter how good we are at “thinking for ourselves.” This includes presidents, professors and thinkers as well as you and me. Even by our own standards of measurement, there is no perfect person who is limp-free all of the time.

So how about the standards of a perfect God? How does He measure our lameness? Solomon, a man noted for his wisdom, wrote this: “There is not one person that does good and never sins,” a theme that is repeated throughout Scripture. God can say that because He measures us by the standard of His Son. Jesus was a perfect man. He never did anything that violated the standards of His Father. Oh, on a human level some might find fault. If perfection is monetary, then Jesus failed. If perfection is popularity, then Jesus limped. Yet God says His Son passed all the tests.

People who tell Christians to stop using the Bible as a crutch do not realize that they themselves have crutches. Why else does society gobble up Valium, booze and excess food? What are those cravings but an attempt to hide a limp?

God knows our lameness but rather than ridicule us for it, He offers us His crutches. Anyone who tries them learns that with God, it is far better to be lame than blind.

God’s amazing surprises! ............. Parables 710

April 3, 2001

A local bookstore hosted two evenings of poetry readings. While looking for a parking space, I breathed a prayer. How nice it would be to see an old friend, someone I had not seen for a long time and who would jump up, run over and give me a hug.

Why that prayer? I’m not sure. Even as it came to me, it seemed odd. I was seeing friends who would read their work and could not imagine anyone else who might be there, let alone someone who fit my request.

As I walked into the store, someone jumped to her feet, ran up to me and gave me a hug. It was my best friend from Bible college ten years ago. I was overcome and amazed. My request had not only been granted but the answer was put in place before I even prayed it.

This surprise prayer/answer combination happens now and then. One Sunday morning on the way to the church, I prayed that a new couple would start attending and gave specific criteria for this couple. At the church a few minutes later, two people fitting my description arrived at the door and spent the first of many Sundays with us.

In that case also, I wondered about my prayer. Where did the idea come from? At the bookstore, I had not thought about old friends or even that I needed to see one. I did not expect anyone to travel some distance to be there either. Was my prayer intuitive? Did I know what would happen rather than ask God to make something happen?

At the church, new faces were not on my mind. Did the idea come from my unconscious mind or some unknown desire? Where did the specifics fit in? How did I know to pray them?

However these thoughts emerged, they did. And as soon as they did, they were sent up to God as a prayer. In retrospect, both left me wondering if they had came down from God too. That is, did God reveal these two events to me just before they happened? If so, why? Did He want me to understand His power? His ability to reveal His will?

Who would turn down insight into the will of God? Not many. His moral will is easy to find — the Bible is clear about those issues — but what about the future? The Bible reveals only a general plan (which can be best summed up by ‘Jesus wins’) but the specifics are a mystery. As God’s people pray, we might get a glimpse of His plan but only a glimpse, and for reasons unknown, we are always surprised when these glimpses become reality.

For instance, chapter twelve in Acts describes how the Apostle Peter was jailed for preaching the Gospel. The church was in distress. One of their number had already lost his life for the same thing. Would Peter be next? They gathered to pray for him.

In the meantime, Peter was miraculously released from prison by an angel. He went directly to the place they were praying and knocked at the door. The girl who answered was so overjoyed she ran to tell the others without opening the door. All were astonished.

Think about this: they were praying to Almighty God who can do anything and who says He hears and answers our prayers. Why then were they surprised? Did they think their request was too difficult? Did I think my requests were too insignificant? Or unreasonable? I think they were amazed for the same reason I was amazed. God heard and set up the answer to their prayers before they even prayed them. That is astounding. Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Lord, my requests are often like thoughts that I breathe, not like the earnest praying done by the early church for Peter. Yet You answer, even before they are uttered. You make us who pray realize that we are in partnership with You. What wonderful assurance to be encouraged by Your surprises. Thank You.