Monday, April 30, 2018

Power in weakness ............. Parables 735

October 16, 2001

When golf balls were first manufactured, they had smooth covers. Someone soon discovered that after they were roughed up, they could get more distance. That is why golf balls are now dimpled.

I can imagine the first time these dimpled balls appeared on the market. No doubt a few golfers took one look and snickered: “Why anyone knows, a smooth ball goes faster and farther than a rough one. This thing is flawed!”

“Flawed” golf balls cannot hog the spotlight. When it comes to surprises, God’s people can go farther with imperfections too. In fact, God says our weaknesses are useful. When my husband became a Christian, he decided to sign up for a particular ministry in a large church, although he told the leader that he felt totally inadequate for it. He didn’t know anything about it and was not sure he had any skills in that area.

To his surprise, the leader replied, “Good. That is just the kind of attitude we want you to have.”

What Bob didn’t know then is that God tells us when we are weak, then we are strong. This seeming contradiction is found in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul talks about having a problem in his life that he asked God to remove, but God did not remove it. Paul tells the reason: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

At that, Paul was able to say that he would boast gladly about his weaknesses so that the power of Christ would rest on him. He could even delight in his inabilities and troubles because “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This can be explained. When a person becomes a Christian, we are given the Holy Spirit who adds a new dimension to our life and character. Yet we have the same personality as before. Scripture calls it the “old nature.” God exhorts us to put off the old, which is not only sinful and selfish but also unable to obey God. He says we need to put on the grace and power of our new nature so we can do His will.

It sounds good but there is a trick to it. When we are living in the power of the old nature, we strive for superiority, self-confidence, and a sense of power. We even try using this self-sufficiency to enable ourselves to do the will of God, but it doesn’t work. That old nature cannot obey God no matter how confident it feels.

The problem is this: when we yield to the Holy Spirit as we should, we feel our inabilities and weaknesses rather than a great flush of power . . . and who wants to feel weak? Nevertheless, in weakness we learn to trust God and ask for His help. Our difficulty is that we expect that along with His help He will remove that sense of weakness but He doesn’t. He knows if He did, we would quickly stop trusting Him.

So the Christian who walks with God discovers that a power-filled walk might look powerful to others but we ourselves do not feel powerful. Instead, there is a huge sense of helplessness. In faith, we learn to trust He is helping us but it doesn’t feel like it.

Such irony. The life that feels ‘flawed and dimpled’ becomes a great instrument in the hands of the Lord. We become people who can go the distance. We need to abandon our typical human trait of wanting to appear smooth and flawless and realize that by welcoming a sense of feeling useless and without power, we become people who can accomplish the will of God.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Enjoying the process ............. Parables 734

October 9, 2001

Like millions around the world, I have been bitten by the quilting bug and often mention this passion to people I meet. Some of them look at me with a frown and say “I don’t have the patience to make a quilt.”

That remark puzzles me. I cannot imagine why this enjoyable pastime requires patience. To me, quilt construction is like therapy. I’m enjoying the process, relaxed and absorbed and never getting quite enough of it. To me, patience implies waiting for something to happen. I suppose there is a sense of wanting the quilt to be finished yet making it is part of its pleasure. Quilting is not something to rush or be anxious about.

The dictionary also defines patience as “the capacity to tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without becoming angry or upset.” Those not interested in quilting (or any other handwork) may find themselves anxious to get it finished. They may be frustrated without the skill or equipment to do it properly. They might poke themselves so many times with their needles that the task is a trial not a delight. But for me, the process of quilting is relaxing in itself. If I never finished a quilt, the time spent working on it lowers my blood pressure and gives me great pleasure. The joy is in the journey and finishing it is like frosting on a cake.

Nevertheless, patience also intrigues me. The Bible describes it as a virtue, something to be desired. It says God is patient toward us and we need to be patient with one another. Another word for patience is ‘long-suffering’ or ‘endurance.’ For many reasons, life can be difficult but the person with patience is able to bear with those trials and continue walking with God. They have the right attitude, even though they are being tested. They also trust God for the outcome.

Maybe I’ve stumbled across the key to patience in my attitude toward quilting. While skill and strength are needed (try moving a queen-size quilt under a regular sewing machine arm), I can look at each step as an enjoyable challenge. I’m not fussing because the piece is not done yet but enjoying the process, relishing the challenges of the section or step that I am working on at the moment.

This patience is much like God’s patience with His people. We are not finished either. He is at work in our lives but we have a long way to go. Nonetheless, God is not anxious about us. He never goads or nags but like a parent, He delights in each wobbling step we take toward maturity. Can I not be like that with others?

Our Father urges us, like infants, to desire the Word of God so we will grow. He takes our hand as His children and walks with us, promising to “never leave or forsake” us. He challenges us as mature adults, yet never forgets we are “like dust” and frail. He tolerates our mistakes because they are not only forgiven and covered by the blood of Christ, but He can use each one to teach us more about being godly people.

The Amish purposely put a mistake in their quilts. They say to make a perfect quilt would be an insult to God. I’m not sure God is so easily insulted. Instead, as His people, we need to be aware that we are flawed with many mistakes. Yet God, who is the Master Craftsman, will patiently continue His work in us, moving pieces, patching rips, rearranging colors, until we are as He intended.

One day, those who trust Him will be ushered into His presence. The Bible says “we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.” Until we are perfected in heaven, we remain in process, unfinished. Even at that, Scripture says “He rejoices over us with singing!” That tells me that while we are being remade in His image, He is also enjoying the process.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Zeal without godliness ............. Parables 733

October 23, 2001

A few weeks ago, we watched the film “Hawaii” on television. It was based on James Mitchner’s novel of the same name, a story I recalled as spanning several generations.

The movie highlighted only one character, a ‘hell fire and brimstone’ preacher who intended to “convert” Hawaiian natives to Christianity. He began telling them about God but obviously cared more about “winning souls” than he cared about the people themselves.

Unloving, in-your-face people are not popular. In their zeal, they fail to combine compassion with even the most worthwhile goals. They reach the top of their ladder by stepping on the rungs of all who challenge them. When a preacher does it, he is acting like many of the Pharisees behaved during Jesus’ time. These men were also zealous. They believed that God spoke to the Jews (which He did) and that they were sole guardians of His message. In their zeal, they felt they must guard the Law of God by writing many other laws that would “interpret” how His Law should be obeyed and put a protective ‘fence’ around it.

Jesus was not impressed. Over and over, He rebuked them for their spiritual pride and for missing the whole point of God’s Law. He told them they were “white-washed sepulchers: clean on the outside but full of dead men’s bones.” He pointed out that they offered money, prayed, and did their acts of worship “to be seen of men.” For this, Jesus strongly condemned them.

Today, the Christian church also labels certain people as having a pharisaical attitude. The most common relates to how the ancient Pharisees said one thing and did another. Jesus said they “built tombs for the prophets and decorated the graves of the righteous” yet belonged to a long line of religious leaders who murdered God’s prophets. They also murdered Jesus.

Modern pharisees may not murder people but they also say one thing and do another, earning the label “hypocrite.” They tell others how to walk with God but do not do it themselves. If Jesus were here, He would also strongly condemn such hypocrisy.

However, it is possible to misapply the label. Christians should not be called hypocrites because they sin, as if a Christian must never sin. God does not promise us freedom from sin while we live in this world. For us, it is a constant battle, one that we sometimes lose. Instead, hypocrisy is claiming to be perfect rather than telling the truth about our battles.

Another modern take on the New Testament Pharisee is legalism. This means not only living under rules (instead of under grace) but pushing those rules on others. It means saying a person cannot belong to God unless they do everything a certain way. Legalism claims the observance of God’s Law but holds a superficial interpretation of that Law — then adds its own rules and regulations on top of it. The emphasis is on personal or church traditions rather than on the teaching of Christ.

Today’s pharisees miss the point of Old Testament law and New Testament directions for living. They also miss the point of their denominational traditions. All of these are intended to humble us and draw us closer to Christ. As the Bible says, God’s Law is like a school-teacher “put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”

Once we have faith in Jesus, that Law goes on reminding us that we still need Him. We have nothing to be smug about. We cannot obey perfectly even one of His laws, never mind all of them. We fall short. We can live as we should only by continual reliance on His grace and power.

Pharisee or not, everyone has is a sinful heart but we also have the freely-offered forgiveness of God and the enablement of the Holy Spirit. We can live as He wants us to live, at least much of the time, by faith. But without Him, not only are hellfire preachers hard to put up with — the Law of God is also a burden too great for anyone to bear.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A horrid day in USA history ............. Parables 732

September 18, 2001

There was no warning. Within twenty minutes of each other, two airplanes flew directly into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and a third crashed into the Pentagon in Washington.

Thousands of people worked inside those buildings. Some of them never heard or saw anything coming. One moment they were drinking coffee, sorting paper on their desk, chatting with other employees; the next moment they were in eternity.

I’m writing this the day it happened. By the time this is printed, anything could occur. Another bomb. Retaliation. The U.S. and even Canada could be at war. Who can guess? We didn’t think today would be this way. There was no warning.

When life is unexpectedly snuffed, we shake our heads and realize how fragile we are and how precious our days. A few take stock and make decisions. They say, “After this, my life is going to be different. I will be more thoughtful, less reckless” and so on. I’ve said it too, yet I must be honest. A death, a funeral, a tragedy produces deep sorrow and personal reflection, but life goes on. I adjust. I must. And seldom do I change.

Yet for some, change is unavoidable. It happens in proportion to the size of the tragedy plus their proximity to it. I think of those who happened to be late getting to work at the Trade Center today. How can they be the same? For one thing, their place of employment no longer exists.

As the reality of ‘like a war movie’ scenes from television settle in and mark our hearts, some of us will change too. People will dig deep into their generosity and offer their money, food, clothing, even comfort and blood to those affected by today’s catastrophe. Many will pray.

For now, my personal response is both prayer and tears. With that, I feel a pleading rising up inside me. A voice says, “Oh people, there is no warning. We may think we are invincible. If we at least realize we are not, we might be careful, yet no matter what we do, death happens, and for most of us, it happens without adequate preparation. We didn’t think about it.

Jesus talked about a man who thought he was invincible. He was rich and his crops were fantastic. He thought to himself, “What shall I do since I have no room to store my crops?” So he decided: “I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my corps and my goods.”

We are like that man. We live in the richest province in one of the world’s best countries to live in. We have so much and life is so good. We are strong. We have few worries about our future. We are more concerning what to do with all the goods we have now.

But there is no warning. God said to the rich man, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” For him, death came without any chance to figure out Plan B.

The voice inside me calls out: People, don’t wait until you are old. Don’t wait until you are done ‘doing your thing’ because you think you have ‘plenty of time for God.’ No one knows. Eternity could suddenly open its doors and there you are inside, without any opportunity to prepare yourself. There may not be any warning.

Lord, my heart aches for the loss of life and the devastation in New York and Washington. I see people rallying to save lives, to protect and care for those who managed to survive. Yet I see You too, reaching out Your blood-stained hands and pleading with the living that they stop and consider the fragility of life, that they listen to Your voice. May they turn from any rebellion against You and they realize Your love and forgiveness is their greatest protection.

God, no matter how sudden or how devastating the end may come for any person, life never ends for those who place their souls in Your care. You promise: “Whoever has the Son of God has life” and “whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” In the midst of our overwhelming shock and sorrow, Your mercy and the assurance of eternal life is what we need the most.

Friday, April 20, 2018

God spoke and . . . ............. Parables 731

September 11, 2001

Does an ostrich really hide its head in the sand at the first sign of trouble? If it did, these long-legged birds have an excuse: their eyes are bigger than their brains. If they can see trouble coming, they probably don’t know what to do with it. It could be worse. A starfish, which does hide in the sand, has no brain at all! How do they know what to do to survive?

The amazing animal world sometimes stumps me. How do geese know when or even why they fly south for the winter? At spawning time, how do salmon find their way out of a vast ocean to the very fresh water stream or river where they were born?

Animal instinct might explain geese and salmon but not a particular mother duck. A few weeks ago, a policeman reported that a female duck hurried up beside him and began pulling on his pant cuff. He tried to shoo her away but she persisted. Then she ran to a storm drain, looked down it, and came back to yank on his pants again. He followed her to the drain and found several ducklings had fallen through the grate. Of course they were rescued.

Any attempt to explain it might produce a certain remark from an elderly Christian gentlemen we once knew. With a twinkle in his eye, he’d say, “Isn’t evolution wonderful?”

Evolution says that all creatures are products of a primordial soup plus time plus chance. If that were true, then all geese would have shivered to death unless one of them happened to stumble across a route south, then happened to return for the rest of the flock, and then happened to return the next year.

If salmon spawned by the time-chance theory, they would likely be extinct because their eggs do not survive salt water. One salmon had to have first found fresh water. No, actually two would have to take the trip. Then they had to be both in the same place in the same stream so one could fertilize the eggs of the other.

God as a powerful Creator is more believable. While the story is in Genesis, there is a verse in the New Testament that helps me, but it is often overlooked. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

I once thought evolution was a good theory until I understood the power of God. He can do anything. He does not need a pollywog to make a frog or an embryo to make a person. He can do or create whatever pleases Him. If He could not, then He would be limited and I could not call Him ‘God’ nor believe that He is Creator.

The other part of that verse from Hebrews says that what we see did not come from visible matter. In other words, God created ex nihilo or from nothing. While He did make the first man from the ‘dust of the ground’ and breathed life into him, He spoke the universe and our world into existence.

We talk about the power of the printed or spoken word but the power of that ‘word’ is astounding. Here is how the Apostle John describes what God did with His word: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John is talking about Jesus Christ, the Word of God in a human body. He came to earth to reveal God to us. While “the heavens declare the glory of God,” the Lord Jesus Christ makes Him known far more clearly than even His amazing creation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Laugh — because we are created in His image! ............. Parables 730

September 4, 2001

My weekly drive to Rimbey to see my mother is almost like going on a safari with a side trip to an avant garde art gallery. The safari offers whitetail and mule deer, the usual cattle, horses, goats, pigs, sheep and donkeys, but we are often delighted by herds of domestic elk, bison, llamas, and even long-horned Highland cattle, all far from their normal homes.

The main feature in the art gallery draws the greatest chuckle. It is a fence about a mile long with a colorful baseball cap nailed to the top of each fence post. We understand llamas and the like in Central Alberta, but no matter how creative a farmer is in making his living, fence posts do not normally sprout baseball caps. We cannot help but laugh.

This trip reminds me that people are both creative and humorous. God made us in His image so we come by it honestly. He is not only creative but one look at animals like giraffes and platypus convince me that He has a sense of humor.

Besides odd animals, God’s humor shows up in other ways. In the Old Testament, a man named Gideon is described as something of a coward. One day, the angel of the Lord came to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (that is funny) then told him to “go in the strength you have,” and save Israel from the oppressive power the Midianites who threatened to overpower them.

Faint-hearted Gideon protested. He was from the weakest clan. He was the least in his family. He had more excuses — but God persisted. Finally, after testing God’s message several times, Gideon agreed. He gathered an army of 32,000 to go against the 135,000 Midianites. Then God asked him to thin down his army, first to 10,000, then to three hundred. Gideon was not laughing, yet.

The Lord told Gideon to divide his army into three companies and give each man a trumpet and an empty pitcher with a torch in it. They obeyed. They surrounded the enemy camp. When Gideon blew his trumpet, the men blew their trumpets and at the same time broke their pitchers revealing the light of their torches. It turned out that the Midianites were already afraid of Israel. They cried out in terror and in their confusion, they began to slaughter each other until over 120,000 were dead. The rest fled.

God often delights His people with an idea that works when it seems impossible. In another situation, He told Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child but they were “old, well-advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself” no doubt because she found the idea so outrageous.

God makes me laugh too. Some of the animals He created seem to be put together backwards. Some wind up in the most unexpected places. Sometimes the people He created demonstrate a zany creative streak. Sometimes He offers His people ideas that work even though they seem impossible. We laugh and I am certain He is laughing too.

Lord, You told Gideon he had “too many men” and might boast against You by saying his own strength saved them. You reduced his army, yet he must have laughed when he saw how Your creative solution outwitted the enemy.

I chuckle when I see skunks and armadillos and how they have a place in Your creation. You perplex me with conundrums then solve them in startling ways. You also give me the gift of being able to laugh. Thank You for a sense of humor. Enable me to use it in my creativity too.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A merry heart is like good medicine ............. Parables 729

December 18, 2001

Medical science offers new labels for sad, crabby, or worried people. For instance, if we used to complain that we “get the blues when it rains” or “have the winter blahs,” we can now call it SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Those who might have called themselves “worry worts” now can say they have GAD or General Anxiety Disorder. A similar designation, something like “excessive rage disorder” applies to spoiled children with temper tantrums.

Maybe modern medicine is on to something but a few experiences make me wonder if symptoms like these have less to do with physiological conditions than they do with choices.

When my brother was a teenager, he was often cranky in the morning. My mother noted which days were the worst and diagnosed his problem as not having enough sleep the night before. Now as an adult, he has learned to go to bed earlier but has also discovered that tired or not, he can choose to be cheerful.

All through my own life, I’ve had PMS. It has affected my behavior but a wise person told me how to handle it. She said, “Sure, your body hormones are out of whack, but observe yourself when this happens. You will discover all the areas of life where you have weaknesses that need to be taken to God. Keep track. When you are back to ‘normal,’ review them and confess the sins. He will cleanse you and the next time will not be so difficult.”

She was right. For me, each bout with PMS became an opportunity to see and confess sinful attitudes and fears that came out only when I was physically ‘weak.’ As I brought them to God, He forgave and cleansed me at a deep level. Gradually, the hormone swings stopped affecting my mood.

That does not mean God says,“it’s all in your head” (or heart) and ignores genuine physical needs. The Bible gives many instances where He puts the body first. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah ran several kilometers, confronted an evil king, received a death threat from the queen, ran even farther to escape, then collapsed under a tree and wished himself dead. God could have rebuked him for his negative attitude and for being afraid of a mere mortal. Instead, He ordered food and rest. Soon Elijah was back on his feet, encouraged and ready to do God’s will. In other words, Elijah’s fatigue contributed to his discouragement. Nevertheless, his lack of courage was fear and a lack of trust. He was afraid God would not help him.

When we get into a situation where we are fearful and discouraged, we need to remember that “God is not the author of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind.” He is able to help us. We must also remember that whenever Jesus was tired, He never used fatigue as an excuse to be rude, cranky or to ignore people. When He took His disciples to a remote place to rest from their exhaustion, the demanding crowds followed. Jesus was tired too but He took care of the needs of the multitude anyway.

Scripture offers many exhortations about our attitudes and clearly tells us that our lives should be governed by love, God’s power, and sound thinking. There are no disclaimers. Even if SAD or GAD or any other disorder is genuine, we can still love others. Courage, grace, power and joy are still available from the Lord.

Some of the most cheerful people I know have chronic illnesses or are in pain. Sadly, the same is true for some of the crankiest people I know. Lord, when my back hurts or things are not going well, help me to deal with whatever it is in a wise way but also help me remember that You are here with me. With Your help, I can remain loving and cheerful.

Friday, April 13, 2018

What is spirituality? ............. Parables 728

August 21, 2001

Everyone from Oprah to palm readers talks about spirituality. What is it? What does a spiritual person look like? Do they walk around on a cloud? Do they constantly talk about God or their gods? Are they so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good?

In my mind, a spiritual person is one who is aware of and considers matters other than what they can see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. They know that God (or “something out there”) is real and that they have a dimension to their being that can connect with that invisible reality. The term ‘spiritual’ is often linked with goodness and evil. The good spirits are pleasing or beneficial; the bad ones cause sorrow and problems.

Some say spiritual means being close to God, being good, being interested in the after-life and eternity. Unspiritual means concerned only with material and temporary things. The unspiritual are not interested in God.

Christians have a biblical take on this issue. The Bible defines the spiritual man as a person redeemed and renewed by God in their spirit or inner person. Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian, defines that inner person as the part of us that can connect with God. It is our spirit that has the capacity for faith. It is our spirit that hears and understands God’s will.

Scripture says that sin separates people from God and that everyone is born with an inactive or dead (dead meaning ‘separated’) spirit because of sin. Only forgiveness and spiritual life from Jesus Christ can bring us back to God and restore a connection with Him. The Bible says spiritual people have a deep interest in the things of God. They hear God “through the Spirit” and want to obey Him.

Does that mean that spiritual people reach the epitome of all things good and godly? Do they have the edge on virtue? Even perfection? Not at all. The Bible says that a spiritual person does not stop being spiritual when they are weak, helpless before God, even when they are crying in despair. That means we can be spiritual when we are backed against a wall or have no idea what to do next. Emotions such as fear or anger do not change the fact of being a spiritual person either. Whatever is going on in our outward life cannot change the fact that God’s Spirit has changed the inner person.

Nevertheless, God’s Spirit does affect our behavior. For those who do not know this reality, imagine your hero coming to live with you, being in every room with you, taking part in every situation where you are. That hero’s presence would change the way you behave.

It is the same with the Spirit of God. He lives with and in His people. His presence is felt in the same way we are aware of any person who is close to us. We even feel His feelings. If we disobey God, the Holy Spirit is grieved and we feel His grief. If we refuse to listen to God, we quench the Spirit’s voice and then have a sense of being cut off, or out of touch with Him.

Nevertheless, there is a phoney spirituality. A person can talk the talk, even walk the walk, yet be out of touch with God.

Also, pressure such as illness, unexpected financial reverses, a severe loss or other hardships test spirituality. Those who have the Spirit of God may be knocked down but they will get up.

Time is another test. Human skills might maintain an appearance of godliness for awhile but it will not last. Eventually the source of strength will be revealed. Spirituality is a human condition but it finds its source and its strength in the Spirit of God.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How shall I talk about myself? ............. Parables 727

August 7, 2001

Author Anne Lamott writes about her life, easily admitting her quirks, foibles and bad attitudes. Before hearing her speak at a writers conference, I sat with some people who discussed her style. They clearly thought she is a misfit who reveals far more of her sins than she ought.

Sometimes a close-up confession from another person embarrasses us. While we might hope for friends that are perfect (or at least only slightly flawed), it takes time and a well-developed relationship to accept and understand someone’s darker secrets.

If a stranger tells us too much, we might wince, excuse ourselves, and leave. We don’t want to hear that they lied or stole something or considered murdering their mother or took drugs when they were teenagers. When someone dumps those kinds of things on us, we feel used, like a garbage can.

Everyone wants intimacy with family and friends but how should we react when someone reveals their dirt? What do they want from us? Absolution? Or a pat on the back and a patronizing, “I’m sure you are making it sound much worse than it is.”

My sister tells about confessing to a prayer group that she was not as faithful to God as she would like to be. They said, “Oh, no, not you, you’re okay.” They would not allow her confession and tried to convince her that she was wrong to think that way, never mind say it.

Nevertheless, saying it can be powerful. P. D. James’ mystery story “Innocent Blood” said it. When I finished reading it, I felt as if I had heard the confessions of humanity. The people in the story were fictional yet so real. I knew everything about them. While some goodness showed through (after all, we are made in the image of God), the dark side was revealed in such a way that I wept at the pitiful condition of human beings who are without love or hope.

In contrast, I’ve read a nonfiction book about real people but it tells only their virtue. The story is completely unbelievable because the people are phoney. I could not identify with their perfection. Who can? But when a writer like P. D. James depicts the best and worst in her characters, the story reaches right into our hearts. These fictional people are like us. We see our own best and realize our very worst. We are undone.

That is one reason God asks us to be honest. Certainly confession is necessary for forgiveness but confession also encourages integrity. Those who hear it find it easier to admit that they are often weak also, and prone to sin. An honest confession helps us know we are not alone in our struggle with evil thoughts, words and deeds.

The Bible says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Without confession, there is no forgiveness, no healing, no change. In fact, Scripture also says, “He who covers his sin will not prosper.”

Anne Lamott is a Christian who knows that her goodness comes from the Lord. She is made in His image and being renewed in the image of His Son. Yet she does not boast about herself.

I asked the group who criticized her honesty how could a person write about their own virtue. No one answered. To their credit, they realized that bragging and pride need far more criticism than does humility and integrity.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Is it true? Or an opinion? ............. Parables 726

July 31, 2001

The Norwegian Pagan Society in Oslo, Norway is allowed to proclaim “God does not exist” every Friday for three minutes. In eighteen locations throughout the city, Muslims can issue calls to prayer five times a day, including the words, “God is the greatest.”

Both groups are convinced that what they are saying is true. This conflict is no problem for relativism. Relativism says that God is true for the Muslims but not true for the pagans.

When two statements clash, relativism may be unconcerned but those who believe in absolutes are mortified. They say two opposite and conflicting statements cannot both be true. For them, a door is either open or shut. It cannot be open in one person’s mind and shut in the mind of another.

Absolutes and relativism have nothing to do with preferences. My husband says “chocolate tastes terrible” even though nearly everyone disagrees with him. If thinking something is true makes it true, then those who like chocolate are hopelessly deluded. Instead, he needs to say “I think chocolate tastes terrible.”

This would clarify the issue of conflict between pagans and Muslims. If they said, “I think God does not exist” or “I think God is the greatest,” their statements would not be in conflict.

More simply put, those who decide “what is true for you is not true for me” have made a choice based on their preferences, not on what is true or not true. Because opinions vary on the taste of chocolate, there is no absolute truth about that issue. On the other hand, whether God exists or not cannot be an opinion. He either exists or He does not, just the same as Aunt Mary or any other person exists or not.

Pagans are in trouble if God exists. They need to rethink their philosophy and its resulting lifestyle. Muslims are in trouble if God is not the greatest. They must also do some rethinking. Believing in absolute truth and being an objective thinker requires work. Conflicting claims must be checked out. Merely forming an opinion will not do.

For example, if a person rings my doorbell and tells me that my house is on fire, I need to go and look. Even if I cannot see or smell smoke and there are no flames in sight, it would be dangerous to simply form an opinion. Saying something is “true for you” might be okay when it comes to chocolate or picking the color of your next car, but many matters require investigation and sound decisions. Forming an opinion without making sure could mean disaster.

Besides that, pagans and atheists have inflated egos. To say there is no God means they have all knowledge of all things, that they have searched the universe and verified no one is out there. No wonder Scripture says, “Only a fool says in his heart there is no God.”

The early Christians said there is a God and that Christ is His Son, resurrected from the dead. When they were accused of being deluded, they replied that if God is not real and the resurrection did not happen, then “we are of all men most miserable.” They had staked their lives on what they believed, taking Jesus seriously when He said, “He who saves his life will lose it . . .” They lived for the glory of God, not for personal gain.

God exists but the reality of His existence is made apparent only to those who know Him. This fits with the words Jesus said in a prayer to the Father, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”

If God is not real in the mind of an atheist, where lies the problem? Is it that God is not real? Or do they not want to obey Him? Or have they foolishly formed an opinion without checking it out?

Friday, April 6, 2018

The rat race should be only for rats ............. Parables 725

July 24, 2001

When was the last time you heard someone (more than twenty) or said yourself, “I am bored”? Not many people complain that they haven’t enough to do. The pace of life accelerates at alarming rates. Why are we going so fast? Why is our day never quite long enough to check off everything on our to-do lists?

Maybe we have too many options. Our modern society offers a plethora of choices. Yesterday I stood in a copy shop amazed at the range of papers, then went to an office supply store and was further amazed at the number and types of gel pens. The proliferation does not stop at goods and services. We have more job descriptions and more activity opportunities than ever before in history.

Besides the options, human beings have a seldom-satisfied hunger for both fulfillment and significance. For some reason, the search never starts internally at an intrinsic level. Instead, the measurements for fulfilment start with externals. People do not feel important unless they achieve mightily and own twice as much.

Whatever drives us, we often crave just a little rest. We complain that we are too busy and want to slow down yet how many actually choose a slower lifestyle? We crave the weekends but in our part of the world, Saturday and Sunday are much like any other day. People work, stores are open. Some still take Sundays off and a few go to church or spend time with family, but their metronome swings just as fast. Our worship often is as filled with action as our recreation.

Occasionally, I meet people who insist on a literal, no-work Sabbath day. For them, Sunday means church, no work, no games, no play, no sports, no travel. Meals are prepared the day before and everyone has a nap in the afternoon. Most Christians may find the ‘do nothing’ part appealing but usually consider such abstinence too radical. They say it’s a throwback from a dead era. Yet many Christians I know yearn to slow down, to get off the merry-go-round at least one day a week.

We miss and long for what God calls Sabbath rest. It began “in the beginning” when God created and then rested. He was not tired but took time to stop working, look at His work and say, “It is good.” He also set a pattern for us. He said we ought to work six days and rest on seventh as He did. We may have lots of energy or really need a physical rest, but that is not all we need.

For one thing, looking back and examining our activities is also important. At first, we might avoid this backward look. We are critical of ourselves, maybe unfairly. We might not be able to pronounce ‘good’ upon our week. Nevertheless, by examining what we have done, we are better able to evaluate our life and think of ways to improve. As we do that, we more readily ask for God’s help and become more prepared to move into the next week. We also gain a certain sense of satisfaction; last week may not have gone well but at least we can label why and put some handles on it, feeling satisfied with our evaluation.

We have heard the “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The Bible agrees. God tells us that only fools hurl headlong into their plans: “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”

Scripture also says “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Folly comes easy, maybe as easy as the sense that “my whole week was a waste.” Our loving God gave us a day of rest to help us change that.

Lord, You alone have insight into the future. Your wisdom sees what is wise and what is foolish. Unless we, your people, slow down and take time to examine our lives in the light of Your Word, we will waste our days. Since You promise rewards for those who commit their way and activities to You, help us to take the time to examine what we are doing. Guide us on the right track so we do more than run around it as fast as we can.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Keys to wisdom ............. Parables 724

July 17, 2001

John D. MacDonald’s 1950 mystery, “The Homesick Buick,” has one character with an IQ of a genius but he was so unattractive that no one would accept that he could be smart. He solved the acceptance problem by retaking the IQ test until his score was average. This young fellow illustrates the difference between being knowledgeable and being shrewd. He used his smarts to benefit himself without anyone realizing the trick he played on them. Eventually, he also used his intellect to solve the mystery in the story.

Being knowledgeable also is not the same as being wise. A wise person is able to use their knowledge and experience with good judgement so it benefits everyone. Wisdom is not measured by IQ or Mensa tests but shows up in the way a person handles life.

The Bible says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This fear is not a terror that drives a person to flight but a feeling of awe mixed with respect and adoration. Almost every reference to the “fear of the Lord” combines it with knowing and obeying God. In other words, those who know God will also fear Him and do what He says. They do not offer Him mere lip service because knowing Him awes them into total allegiance.

This does not mean that a wise person never makes mistakes. King Solomon is said to have been one of the wisest men who ever lived but he disobeyed God. The Lord said that a king should guard against acquiring gold, horses, and many women. Solomon had more horses and gold than any king of his time and several hundred wives. Nevertheless, Solomon wrote “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.”

In this search to become wise, people have done everything from perching on flag poles to living in a desert, but Solomon knew that wisdom comes from God. He said “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”

One practical way to glean this wisdom is by reading words that God inspired Solomon to write, such as Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. Since Proverbs has thirty-one chapters, it is fairly easy to read one a day on the corresponding day of the month. If a chapter is missed, go to whatever one matches the date and catch the one you missed the next month.

If you search for His wisdom, God promises a positive payback. He says, “Listen . . . accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”

Our words and ideas are limited to the input we receive. Imagine the difference when that input comes from God who is limitless. No wonder the psalmist wrote, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies . . . I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.”

Fictional wise guys might be able to solve crimes but God can help us solve the mysteries of life. Our part is to know Him well. If we allow that knowledge of Him to fill us with awe, then we will want to do everything He says. As that happens, we will become far wiser than our best IQ scores.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Joyful work ............. Parables 723

July 10, 2001

“Soldiering” is a term to describe the art of looking busy at work while not actually doing anything. Apparently, there are rules to this game, including how to take twice as long to get up from your desk yet still look as if you are not procrastinating. While work can be boring and some jobs are tedious, most who ‘soldier’ simply don’t feel like working. Some might describe these folks as simply lazy.

My Dad used to say lazy people had “an aversion to work.” He did not speak kindly of them, partly because he never avoided the tough jobs himself. His attitude shaped our lives. Our family tends to add extras to our to-do lists and we rarely complain that we dislike our work.

Children are easily influenced to think about work in terms of ‘the pleasure of a job well done’ or something to be avoided at all costs. Without positive reinforcement, they soon grumble about homework, housework and later, the prospect of working for a living. However, God did not intend that we hate our jobs. He planned that work would be enjoyable, even the more difficult tasks. He also wants us to be fulfilled and rewarded for what we do.

The first man had an easy job. He took care of and guarded the garden where he lived with his wife. Before they fell into sin, there were no weeds and pesky bugs in Eden. After these two disobeyed the one law God gave them, humanity was plunged into sin and life changed. Toil became “painful” because the earth produced “thorns and thistles.” God told the man, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.”

While this curse has plagued us ever since, God’s people are taught that work is not all bad. Solomon said those who honor God with their wealth would experience overflowing barns and wine vats. In other words, work would have visible results.

He also said, “I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him . . . God gives wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5)

Solomon adds that he has seen people who have wealth, possessions and honor yet they are unfulfilled. The reason? God “does not enable them to enjoy” what they have. No one wants to spend their entire life doing something they hate, but the Bible says even a change of employment will not help unless God gives us joy in our labor.

Sometimes my work list is too long, or too difficult, or too boring. On those days I know I need God’s help, but I also realize that even the pleasant aspects of my work could be drudgery unless He enables me to enjoy what I do.

Part of the enjoyment is remembering His promise: one day my labor here will cease. I know eternity will not be spent twiddling my thumbs, but whatever I do when I am there will be made richer because of the rewards He gives for the work we do here.