Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Cleansed from the inside out ............. Parables 748

April 9, 2002

Will Rogers once advised, “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”

A friend says she does not live the same way at home as she does in public because when she is at home she leaves her false teeth on the vanity. Would people gossip about that?

We laughingly assure her that gumming is hardly grist for the gossip mill. Even though we are what we are when no one is looking, some allowances are expected. Hiding immoral behavior behind a facade of decency is a far bigger issue than popping in those dentures when the door bell rings!

As far as immoral behavior goes, Dr. Laura says anyone can clean up their life. We are created with the ability to make moral choices. The problem is that true change comes from the heart, and if a person’s heart is not in it, the cleanup is only on the surface.

This issue was disputed in Jesus’ day. The religious leaders thought that looking good in front of people was vitally important. However, Jesus said they were hiding their true selves. He called them “whitewashed sepulchers; clean on the outside but full of dead men’s bones.”

Although the laws of God indicate He wants us to clean up the way we live, Jesus stressed that He expects more than external behavior. He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”

Living from the heart means being honest with God, ourselves and others. Psychologist Larry Crabb says that most people do not do this because we are terrified of complete self-exposure. Instead, we build layers to protect ourselves. These layers prevent others from knowing our inner thoughts and feelings.

Layers show up in our conversation. The deeper the layer, the shallower the topic. For instance, the most protective conversations are spoken in cliches. Some call it “weather talk.” Remove some layers and the next level of conversation becomes “reporting facts,” usually about external events or other people. This chitchat does not include personal or self-revealing statements.

Remove more layers and the conversation includes ideas and judgments. Even at this level, the person talking watches listeners carefully. If there is any indication they are not interested or do not agree, the speaker layers up again, retreating to chitchat, cliches or silence.

When we stop hiding behind layers, we can share our feelings and emotions and begin to reveal ourselves. This does not happen all the time or with everyone, but if it never happens, it indicates we have many protective layers and a deeply hidden personality. Those who hide themselves behind an “acceptable” exterior lack integrity, and depending what they are hiding, they may be living a terrible lie.

Jesus expresses deep concern for issues of the heart. He says “out of the heart comes evil thoughts,” and we know where evil thoughts can lead. We need to behave properly but can we really do it without guarding our hearts? Even if other people do not care if we harbor lust, greed, hatred, or anger, God does. He asks that we be transparent and honest with Him. When we confess both outer and inner sins, “He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Simply put, He cleans up our hearts, and that purity affects the way we live. Someone with a clean heart is careful to stay away from layers. They are open and honest about their lives, including their inner life.

They are also safe if their parrot, or anyone who knows them, brings up their name in front of the town gossip!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Our Substitute ............. Parables 747

March 19, 2002

James M. Gray says that around the beginning of the last century, the city of Tokyo had an unusual law. If a foreigner wanted to take up residence, they could do it only if they had a “substitute.” Should the resident foreigner break any of Tokyo’s laws, the “substitute” would pay all penalties, no matter what they were. Gray says natives hired themselves out for this purpose even though their resident foreigner might commit a crime worthy of death.

In a discussion about the purpose of Jesus’ death, a man said to me, “I don’t know why Christians make such a big deal about it. I believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world.” After a moment, this response came to mind: “But what about your sins?” He was silent for a long time. Then he said, “I see what you mean.”

At that moment, he understood why Jesus offered Himself to die in our place. Although we live in the world God created, if we want to live in His eternal city, we must have a personal substitute. Otherwise, we must pay our penalty ourselves.

In Tokyo, it was possible that a resident foreigner might break a civil law, yet no matter where we live, breaking God’s law is a given. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The degree of our sin may vary from person to person but everyone sins.

Scripture offers countless examples. In Eden, God told Adam and Eve they could eat anything they wanted except fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They broke this one law and ate that fruit.

Their sin compounds through history. God said, “Do not murder” but Moses killed a man. God said “Do not take another man’s wife” but David, beloved king of Israel, committed murder and adultery. Solomon broke God’s command that forbid kings from multiplying gold, women and horses for themselves. Jonah ran the other direction when God told him to go to Nineveh.

From the least to the greatest, everyone sins, that is, everyone except one person. The Bible says that even though Jesus was tempted like we are, He was without sin. Because He has no sin or need for punishment, He qualifies to be our substitute.

The idea of substitution began in Eden too. Instead of punishing Adam and Eve, God killed an animal and covered them with the animal’s hide. After that, God’s people offered, by faith, animal sacrifices to cover their sins. For this, God required a spotless lamb.

Yet this was not enough. The blood of animals could not take away their guilt nor their feelings of guilt. The New Testament explains how this sacrificial system was only “a shadow” of that which was to come.

When the time was right, God sent His Son to bear the sin of the world. Mark 10:45 says He came “to give His life as a ransom for many.” John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus, the Lamb of God, became the perfect substitute.

We deserve the wrath of God and cannot live in heaven because our sin makes us “foreigners” to that holy place. Jesus died on the cross as our substitute and paid our penalty for sin. Because of Him, God can offer life and citizenship in eternity for all who accept Jesus as their personal substitute.

If we lived in Tokyo a hundred years ago, we might understand what it means to have someone step into our place and pay for our crimes, but we live in a society that says, “I will do it myself.” To us, the principle of substitution makes no sense, and the life and death of Christ make even less sense — until we lay our sin and our guilt at His feet and embrace Him as our Substitute.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Are angels real? ............. Parables 746

March 12, 2002

John G. Paton, a former missionary in the New Hebrides, tells how hostile natives surrounded his headquarters. They intended to burn his house and kill him and his family. He and his wife prayed all night. They were amazed when their attackers left in the morning.

A year later, the chief of that hostile tribe became a Christian. Paton asked him about that night and the native man said, “Who were all those men you had with you there?”

Paton said there were no men, just himself and his wife, but the chief told him they had seen hundreds of men in shining garments and drawn swords standing guard around his house. Did that native man see a heavenly host of angels?

Artists assume angels fly from heaven to earth so paint wings on their backs. Hollywood and television shows depict angels like humans and even give them our sinful tendencies. The Christmas story puts golden halos around the heads of angels. Some writers depict them as warriors. Other people think they are more like the fairies of folk lore.

What does the Bible say about angels? First, the word angel means “messenger” implying that angels convey something from God to His people. They are depicted as actual beings that usually take human form but are distinct from both God and humans.

Angels were created before the world and are spiritual beings. They have the ability to make choices (some choose evil and fell from heaven) and have emotions and intelligence. The Bible says they cannot reproduce themselves.

Angels are holy, powerful and do not die. They are usually designated as masculine and ranked in order with various classifications, duties and definite ministries.

Angels appeared in the Old Testament, but not often. Some references describe “the angel (or messenger) of the Lord.” This was probably a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ Himself rather than an actual angel since the Bible also says Jesus is not, and never was, an angel.

The New Testament tells how an angel came to Mary and told her she would become pregnant with the long-expected Messiah. An angel also reassured Joseph that this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would be God’s Son. Later, an angel directed him to take his family to Egypt so Herod would not kill the baby.

Not only did they predict and announce the birth of Christ and protect Him, angels also strengthened Him after His temptation in the wilderness and at Gethsemane, rolled the stone from His tomb, and announced the resurrection.

While angels also announce impending judgments, inflict punishment, and act as reapers to take unrighteous people from the earth at the end of this age, Hebrews 1:14 says angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.”

For instance, an angel released the Apostle Peter from prison chains. Another stood beside Paul and told him what would happen next and what to do. Jesus told a story about several angels carrying a beggar to heaven after he died.

Scripture is clear that even though angels can take human form, they are not like human beings. They do not sin. Nor do people become angels when they die. Jesus said that when Christians go to heaven, we will “be like the angels” and will “not marry nor be given in marriage” yet angels and humans are distinct beings.

The missionary, John Paton, probably was protected by angels. His story is like an Old Testament account of the heavenly host that protected God’s prophet Elisha when His enemies threatened him. However, Hollywood angels miss the mark.

How can we know if the “angels” people claim to see today are really angels? All angel sightings should be tested by God’s purpose for creating these beings. They are holy messengers who speak and act on His behalf. They are not willful (like people) nor do they exercise mysterious and magical powers. They simply carry out the intentions of God and by doing this, He is glorified.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Addictions and mind games? ............. Parables 745

February 26, 2002

Our friend, a doctor, says he loves working with people who have addictions because “treating them is a game.” He explains that an addict will eventually agree to treatment, but only because he secretly thinks he can get out of it. This doctor likes to “out-manipulate” addicts and “put them in a position of giving up their will.”

Does this treatment succeed? Perhaps some people are freed from addictions, but I’m not sure anyone actually gives up their will. God gave us freedom to make choices and unless physically forced or chemically induced, our will is too strong to easily take from us. Perhaps some would say this doctor is doing a bit of “god-playing” with his treatment. He backs the addict into a corner leaving only one clear option. The patient sees he must choose cooperation and abandon his addiction. Or is “god-playing” an appropriate term? Does God work like that?

In the New Testament book of Romans, the Apostle Paul talks about some who commit gross kinds of sin. He explains in chapter one how “God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts” and “to a depraved mind.” He explains how consequences are a “due penalty for their perversion.”

In other words, if a person wants to persist in doing wrong, God will not necessarily interfere. In fact, He might pull back all help and let that person become totally addicted to their sin. This is one opportunity He gives us to change our minds about doing things His way. He lets us find out that our way does not work.

Why would God do let anyone become addicted? The passage gives some answers. First, letting people go into deep sin is a revelation of His wrath. If people reject God and the dangers of sin and “suppresses the truth by their wickedness,” God reveals the results of their rejection: they become slaves to the very thing they wanted the freedom to do.

A second reason is that God makes Himself known to everyone through creation. The passage says, “ . . . what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

It goes on to explain that some, “although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Rejection of God’s revelation brings blindness to spiritual truth. In that darkness, people succumb to habits and substances that become their gods. These sins bind them like slaves.

How does God release people from that bondage? In this case, those who are enslaved by an addiction can start loosening their chains by acknowledging God as Creator. As they do, they must also admit that He has a claim on their lives.

Another thing an addict can do is be thankful, not only for life and its good things but also for their problems. Even though they used an addiction to escape from them, these problems can be a driving force in a better direction — to God instead of to their habit.

God does not play mind-games. We cannot accuse Him of manipulation. He knows how to pull desperate people out of the clutches of an addiction. The human side is to recognize and admit helplessness, even admit being out of control and not wanting to stop. Then can call to God for help. God’s part is not backing people into a corner — we get there ourselves. Instead, He hears our cry for help and gladly works in us — making us to not only want His will but also setting us free so we can do it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A hiding place ............. Parables 744

February 12, 2002

Little Beth likes to hide from her mother. She crawls under a bed or behind the clothes in a closet and almost holds her breath when she hears her mother looking for her. This cute behavior is not so cute when the family is shopping. Beth finds a rack of clothes or a counter and crawls in to hide. Her parents become frantic. No matter how much they call or what they say, Beth sits quietly until they discover her hiding place.

When my children were small, they often ran ahead of me. No matter how I called, they kept going, but when I turned and began walking the other direction, they panicked. Instead of continuing to tease me, they became fearful. They thought I was leaving them so turned around and ran as fast as they could to catch up to me.

Supposedly, we are born with only two fears: falling and loud noises. If it were not for children like Beth, we could add the fear of abandonment. Nevertheless, this fear might not be innate, but most of us pick it up fairly soon.

Actually, fearing that people will abandon us has a positive potential. For one thing, it motivates us to build close relationships. We do not want to be left alone. Our nature as human beings tends toward gregariousness. We may learn to fear people and fear being hurt, but we still want to draw close to others. Even Beth loves the care and attention her parents give her.

Adam and Eve enjoyed a close relationship with each other too. The Bible says they were “naked and not ashamed.” They had nothing to fear so they never hid anything from each other. They also had a close, fearless relationship with God, but that was before sin entered the picture. After that, they were afraid of God. Genesis tells how it happened and how they tried to hide from Him.

The rest of Scripture shows how we have playing that same game since Eden. On one hand, we want to bring ourselves, our problems and our sins to the only One who truly accepts us as we are. On the other hand, we do not want His help us with our problems nor do we want to admit we have sin and need forgiveness, so we hide from God.

The hiding places are imaginative. Some people decide God does not exist, making Him easy to avoid; for them, He is not real. Like children, they shut their eyes and think that makes them invisible and God too. Others hide by saying God does not care, so they can dismiss their sin, or rename it. They are free to do whatever they wish. If He is not concerned, why should they care?

People hide behind masks too. Pretend I am strong; I don’t need help. Pretend I am righteous; I don’t need grace. Pretend I never make mistakes; I don’t need forgiveness. Or pretend I am religious . . .

All religious systems have rules and keeping them supposedly pleases God. Hiding in a religion makes us appear to be close to God and if we can pick a religion with rules compatible to our comfort zone, we can hide from God and yet not appear to be hiding.

The gospel unmasks and uncovers our hiding places, even the religious ones. It says no one is saved by good deeds, rule-keeping, or being “saintly” because God is not impressed. He sees the heart and His standard is Christ. Do we dare measure ourselves against Jesus?

None of what we do either brings us into a relationship with Him or hides us from Him. As the psalmist says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”

Instead of hiding from Him, God invites us to hide in Him. Lord, my favorite chorus combines two verses from Your Word: “You are my hiding place, You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance, whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You . . .”

Like a loving parent, He never stops longing for us to stop running away and come to Him. Regardless of whatever we fear or want to cover up, we can hide ourselves in His love.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Responding to bad news ............. Parables 743

February 5, 2002

We lost touch for the past few years so an old friend’s letter came as a welcome surprise. However, her news is not good. The letter read like the experiences of Job, a biblical patriarch who lost his family, possessions and health. My friend has lost her health to the point she cannot enjoy her possessions, and sadly, her family has been in one mess after another.

What can I say to my friend? I thought of the three friends who came to comfort Job. At first, they were so overcome by his situation that they could not say anything. I feel like that. But I need to reply and no matter what I say, I want to avoid the next thing Job’s friends did; they began telling him that he must have done something wrong to deserve this. They reasoned that God never punishes the righteous.

Maybe these accusations were an attempt to sort out their own theology. Maybe they were trying to relieve their sense of helplessness. But whatever their reasons, Job knew that his friends were wrong. He was not disobeying God when these tragedies struck. Job didn’t claim to be sinless, but he knew that when God chastens anyone for a particular sin, that person knows what it is. When God puts us under His thumb, we are not left in the dark. We realize we deserve at least a good slap or some other consequences.

After a series of speeches between his friends and himself, Job finally lashes out at them but to no avail. They insist that he must have done something to deserve what happened to him.

Finally, God speaks. He rebukes Job for forgetting how great God is, but never explains why he was tested. Instead, God commends his integrity and that Job “spoke rightly.” In other words, the devastating events were not a result of any particular disobedience. Bad things happen to good people.

Back to my friend. She does not know God. He has been left out of her life by her choice. Some people might tell her if she turned to God those bad things would not have happened to her. I cannot tell her that. I know the story of Job. Furthermore, I don’t want to be a “Job’s comforter.”

Also, I cannot promise her that if she turns to God now, He will fix it. God does not promise us a walk in the roses or any other kind of garden. Life cannot, and will not, be perfect. If she were upset, I could hug her but I cannot send her to God with a blank cheque.

So what benefit is there to being a Christian? Job believed in God and got smucked. My friend does not believe and she got smucked too. This is a huge question but perhaps the answer lies in the fact that we assume too much.

We assume uncomfortable is bad and comfortable equals good. A careful reading of Scripture shows that sometimes, in the mind of God, “good” is bad and “bad” is good. Besides, God can use any situation to transform our lives and make us more like Jesus, no matter how we might label it. His reasons are holy and good, even if we cannot figure them out.

However, there are benefits to being a Christian. Believers are never alone. We are often awed by God’s power. He may remove us from trouble or take trouble away from us but more often, He takes us through it. He teaches us to respond in faith rather than with anger, despair or hopelessness.

Since my friend reported her circumstances much like a news story, I don’t know if she is bitter or overwhelmed. I don’t know if she is trusting God or has her fist in His face. Before I assume and open my mouth, I better remember Job’s foolish friends and find out.

Lord, You say, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Help me be a benefit to my friend. Give me right words to say to her, and keep me from assuming anything. Amen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

No fears? ............. Parables 742

January 29, 2002

“I’m not afraid of anything,” boasted the redhead. She planted her hands on her hips and defied all comers.

It was only a television movie, but this line is repeated many times everyday by children on the playground, teens trying to impress their peers, and adults who are certain they can conquer whatever comes at them. But everyone is afraid of at least two things. We are born with a fear of falling and of loud noises. All other fears are acquired.

Is fear bad? Not always. We tell our children to look both ways before crossing the street. We want them to be afraid of getting hit by a car. We run if we see a charging wild animal and would hide if a gunman appeared. We are afraid of walking on thin ice or touching a hot stove.

Those fears are normal, even wise, but pushed to excess, fear can be debilitating. In the movie “Secret Garden,” a child’s care givers feared he would become ill and die so they kept him in bed all the time. Their fear almost ruined his life.

Real wild animals can be dangerous but only if they are real. Proverbs 26:13 tells us, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets.’” Fear (real or feigned) keeps a lazy person from going about his business. A friend tells me she cannot go on bridges or even escalators. She is terrified of heights and falling. Taking a normal fear to this extreme prevents normal living.

This kind of enslaving fear started in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve began life there they “were both naked, and they felt no shame.” They walked in open communion with God and each other. After they disobeyed God’s one command and ate forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they hid from God. When God called to them, Adam replied, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Their disobedience produced shame. The man and woman no longer felt comfortable with God nor could they focus on Him and His care for them. They tried to solve their shame by covering themselves but it did not work. They became “slaves to sin,” unable to free themselves without the help of God. Their guilt also produced fear.

Other situations produce fear too. My mother-in-law is terrified of spiders. A neighbor is constantly afraid she will be robbed. A friend fears a terrorist attack. The list is long but, as with Adam and Eve, those who are overcome by fear have lost their focus on God and on His power to love and protect them. Whenever we commune with the Lord and maintain our awareness of His love and power, we cannot at the same time live in fear.

Those who have faith in Him also enjoy the security of His care. That does not mean problems disappear but faith does banish our fear. As the psalmist says, we cry out to God and “He delivers us from all our fears” (Psalm 34:4).

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

Fear can protect us but when we allow it to rule our lives, we become its prisoner. Thank God that He can give us His perfect peace and set us free from the enslaving power of fear.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Be careful what you ask for! ............. Parables 741

 January 15, 2002

During a television interview, Billy Graham’s daughter Ann was asked how God could let the September 11th terrorist attacks happen.

She responded, “I believe that God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, get out of our government and get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe that He calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand that He leave us alone?”

While this rightly points at the guilt of those who reject God, does God protect and bless only those who invite Him into their lives?

In one sense, no. He blesses everyone. The Bible says God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” One does not have to invite God into their lives to enjoy many of His blessings. They are simply part of our life. That being said, those who welcome God do enjoy special blessings. However, they are not what most people would guess or expect.

The confusion lies with His promises. In contradiction to some television preachers, God does NOT promise financial overflows, total health and well-being, or a life free of pain and trouble. Let’s not forget that Christians also died in those terrorist attacks. However, God does promise major blessings to His people. For instance, He promises His presence. He says, “I will never leave you or forsake you” and “I am with you always.”

He also offers the fruit of His Holy Spirit to those who live obediently in His presence. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”

A third blessing is deep fellowship with others who know Him: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” God living in me is able to commune with God living in other believers. The unity of that communion bridges all ages, races, cultures and denominations. When we enjoy fellowship, it is as if we have “always known” each other.

Another huge blessing is answered prayer. While God may say “no” or “wait,” He also says “yes” and does it in ways that we have no doubt He heard our requests. Imagine the sovereign God of the universe listens to our cries for help!

By far the greatest blessing is the assurance of eternal life. “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

This is not the life that can be snuffed out by terrorists. It is a life that begins here with God through a simple invitation, then gives us what we need to go through whatever sorrow, pain or suffering this life might dish out. It then takes us beyond the grave and on into eternity to spend forever with Him.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What about clones? ............. Parables 740

December 25, 2001

Scientists now claim to have cloned a ‘human being.’ This is not as impressive as it first sounds. Their clone was not an exact duplicate of the cell donor as was “Dolly” the famous cloned sheep from Scotland. The best they could do was a human ‘embryo.’

An embryo is “an unborn or unhatched offspring in the process of development, especially an unborn human in the first eight weeks from conception.” If this clone was “developing,” it did not get very far — only six cells. In other words, it did not survive to the point of being visible.

These scientific gurus also fell short of their stated purpose for cloning. They hoped to produce stem cells but this tiny, six-celled mass did not have stem cell capacity within it. It could not form itself into various other cells required in a human being, such as brain, hair, muscle, etc. Without that ability, who knows what it might have become?

One wonders how this six-celled creation could be called a ‘human’ embryo. Many people will not tag ‘human’ on a eight-week old fetus even though it has fingers, toes and a heartbeat. They say an unborn child is not human — only a “blob of tissue.”

Creating a human from another human might become possible but even if science accomplishes this so-called feat, God will always stand far above our efforts. In the first place, He created a man from the dust of the ground. After breathing life into that man, He later put him to sleep and from his rib created a woman. Now that is an accomplishment!

Those who consider this story a myth have to dismiss God entirely or at least say He hasn’t any power. They are left with the theory that people evolved over millions of years from apes, and apes came from a lesser life, and lesser life evolved from a single cell that accidently appeared as atoms clashed in some primordial soup.

Granted, maybe faith in God is more difficult because if we believe in Him, we must also believe and acknowledge that we are no longer the perfect creatures that He initially created. Since pride is part of the reason we are no longer perfect, we struggle with that part of faith.

No problem for God. He knew we could not do it alone so He did something even more amazing than the creation of Adam and Eve; He Himself became a human so He could save us.

Until recent computer and film technology, I could not offer anything that compares to the Incarnation. God in human flesh? How can that be? Yet I “saw” a leopard become a person through the magic of morphing. Through the eyes of technology, one became the other.

In the case of God, He did not lose His own identity by morphing into a human being; He remained fully God. And the person that God became was nothing less than fully human, yet He was also fully God. Through the eyes of faith, we see Jesus “who being the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of God’s person. . . and by Himself purged our sins.”

The man, Jesus Christ, was totally human. He breathed, became hungry, thirsty, and tired, and ate, drank, and rested. He had emotions; He cried and laughed. He was intelligent and understood human needs. He had a will for He decided to obey His Father rather than yield to Satan’s temptations.

The man, Jesus Christ, was totally God also. He could see into the human heart and declare a person’s motivations. He was powerful — “even the wind and the sea obeyed Him.” He was also sinless, something true of deity only.

By taking on flesh, God did something unique. No one can duplicate His feat. We might be able to ‘create’ flesh but it would not be anything like Jesus Christ. Instead, the result will be more sinful people, just like ourselves. Why add more rebels to a world already filled with them?

Even stem cell research makes no sense. No matter what science comes up with to cure disease and prolong life, without a changed heart, living longer only adds more time for sin. Our real need is not duplication in triplicate but the salvation God offers us through the death and life of Jesus Christ, His remarkable clone.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Stuffed with too much stuff? ............. Parables 739

December 11, 2001

Norman Douglas says “You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.”

Take a look. Most of the ads in today’s media are for cars, alcoholic beverages, computer equipment, beauty products, clothes, household furniture, sports equipment, restaurants, life insurance, food and entertainment.

Translation? The ideals of our nation are those things that spell comfort, security, and the good life. Besides, marketing experts know how to appeal to our senses. If something tastes good, sounds good, looks good and feels good, it is a sure sale. Add the possibility of making an impression on the neighbors and consumers will line up and buy two.

Not that comfort or the good life is wrong. Our culture is well off and we should be thankful for what we have. However, our motivations are out of control. Instead of function or practicality, we opt for the biggest, the fastest, and the most expensive because these things will supposedly make us more popular, more powerful, more impressive.

More “stuff” does make some people happy, at least some of the time. I can remember my youthful desire for a big house. After moving twenty-eight times, I have a big house — but the desire is long gone. Besides, I no longer have my youthful energy to clean it!

Growing older makes a person realize that satisfaction with “stuff” soon flies away. The cosmetics work for a little while, but external beauty will not last. Clothes look good for a season but they soon wear out or go out of fashion.

Impressive achievements fare a little better yet soon someone else is in the limelight, just as a fancy car rapidly becomes last year’s model along with computers and other gizmos. No matter how up-to-date we are, the calendar keeps flipping to the next day, week, month, and year, leaving us wheezing in its dust.

Jesus knew we would have problems with “stuff” so offered this warning: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . . for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The first of the Ten Commandments says it too—God wants first place in our hearts. He deserves it. He created us and He is greater than anything else; all the fame, fortune, or “stuff” that we could possibly accumulate. Besides that, He knows that we become like those things we worship. Imagine what will happen to us if we fix our hearts on “stuff” instead of Him.

This year, as every year, our family members make out a wish list for Christmas, mostly to help one another know what to put under the tree. I had three things on my list. One was a new Bible, the other two were smaller items. My son said, “There must be something else you want, something you’ve seen on TV or a new gadget?”

I scratched my head and finally came up with a couple more things but at the same time wondered if I’m finally listening to my own “sermons.” I am content. I don’t want more stuff.

Of course, I’m also thankful for the good life, the security we enjoy, and my “stuff” but I realize there is enough of it for six people. How can I make out a wish list when I really need to give away much of what I already have?

For many of us, we must honestly admit we have enough treasures to satisfy us for a long time. Right now, the one thing we need the most, regardless of how much “stuff” we have or want, is to more deeply know the heart of God and more actively live to please Him. Just imagine the change that would make in both our ideals and our advertising!

Monday, May 7, 2018

How the enemy wins ............. Parables 738

November 27, 2001

Stephen King was starting his morning’s writing when he heard the news on television, Tuesday, September 11th. He said, “I can’t do this.”

King admits he has no illusions about the everlasting significance of his novels. That is one reason he felt it was not crucial to continue writing that day. Yet he went up to his office, blocked out the television his wife watched downstairs, and went to work. He explained that he continues to write because “if everybody continues working, they (the terrorists) don’t win.”

King is one of thousands who express this sentiment. If fear prevents anyone from their responsibilities, not only do the terrorists “win” but in many other ways, we lose.

At the same time, I don’t think anyone has been able to carry on normally since September 11th. Who can say this atrocity has had no impact on their lives? Some try. I’ve met a few people for whom nothing matters but their own personal agenda. They’ve shut their minds to the photographs and daily news. They concentrate entirely on their own goals and plans. It seems to me, at least in their case, that the terrorists may have gained some ground.

Terrorism is a tool of the heartless; people without concern for anyone or anything that stands in the way of their goals, even innocent bystanders. In several instances, they claim to do their violent acts in the name of God and that He will reward them for their zeal and tenacity. Even people who know very little about God doubt that He is delighted by destruction. Those who know more understand that God is perfect goodness. Jesus both said so and demonstrated it.

In contrast, Jesus said that the devil is “a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him . . . he is a liar and the father of lies.” Satan is the opposite of God and rejects goodness. Although God sometimes deals harshly with evil people, His goal is to protect and uphold truth and righteousness. He redeems people from sin and enables them to live in goodness and peace.

On the other hand, Satan’s purpose is delusion and ruining lives. He instigates destructive acts. He does not want anyone to honor and obey God, to know truth, to be good, or to have a legitimate claim to eternal life. To reach his evil goals, he convinces many that they are serving God when they are actually serving him. The apostle Paul was a case in point. Before he met Christ, he was killing Christians and thinking he was doing God a favor. In His mercy, God opened Paul’s eyes so that he knew the truth and decided to follow it.

God says that the heart of man is deceitful to begin with. Paul realized that is true. He knew that everyone seeks their own way. When the lies of Satan are thrown into the mix, the human heart is not only deceived but can become extremely destructive.

Judas is another example. He was a selfish man. He spent three years as a disciple of Jesus Christ but that was not enough to change his heart. The Bible says he carried the money bag but dipped into it whenever he wanted some for himself. Later, “Satan entered his heart” and Judas betrayed Jesus by selling information to those who wanted to kill Him. When Judas realized what he had done, he was still under satanic thinking. Instead of confessing his sin and asking forgiveness (God’s way) he believed the Liar, listened to the devil’s lie, and destroyed himself. The trauma of a horrid event did not change this man.

If the trauma of September 11 does not change us, what does that imply? Tragedy ought to make us more compassionate and act on behalf of others, but if we harden our hearts and go our merry way, then the terrorists have won. They have pushed us into their same heartlessness and unconcern for anyone but ourselves.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Golf, presidents and persistence ............. Parables 737

November 6, 2001

Despite the insistence from non-fans that the game of golf only “spoils a good walk,” I know why golfers enjoy their game and keep coming back. It’s that occasional perfect shot. I had a dream once in which I played a perfect golf game, finishing with a hole-in-one. I woke up laughing. Even though an occasional good shot gets me back on the course, in my case, perfection takes a lot more than dreaming.

My husband calls golf a “muscle memory” game. I say I have a bad memory. He says practice may not make me perfect but it would certainly help my game. So, I need to practice. Actually, if golf can teach me persistence, then this otherwise “spoiled good walk” has more value to it than I thought.

Persistence is an important commodity. History offers many examples. For instance, a family was forced out of their home when their son was seven. He had to work to help support them. His mother died two years later. At twenty-two, he lost his job. He wanted to go to law school but his education was insufficient so he went into debt to became a partner in a small business. Less than five years later, his business partner died and it took him years to repay the debt.

He courted a girl for four years but she turned down his marriage proposal. After trying three times, he was elected to Congress but failed to be re-elected two years later. Two years after that, his four-year-old son died. Four years later, he ran for the Senate and lost. In two years, he failed as candidate for vice-president, then two years after that failed to make the Senate again. Finally, at fifty-one, he was elected president of the United States. His name? Abraham Lincoln. He persisted and became part of American history.

God tells his people to also persist. When life gets rough, we are not only to keep trying, but the Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1)

Aside from the “be joyful” part, God makes sense. We are not born with persistence. We need trials to learn and develop it. Without steep hills to climb or difficulties to overcome, our lives atrophy.

The Bible continues: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Gems are polished with friction; we are perfected with trials. Notice that enduring under pressure is the mark of maturity. Obviously, those who endure must be well-grounded in their faith. They can handle whatever comes their way with courage and determination because they know that God is with them and He will help them through the trial.

Compared to the difficulties faced by Abraham Lincoln, being persistent in golf is a small challenge but big or small, whatever looms up before us can be seen as important to our character development and maturity. Rather than letting trials produce whining and retreat, we can let them produce growth in our lives.

So I’m working on the ability to stick to it, no matter what. Facing obstacles is a challenge but I try. As I do, I’m also noticing there is one other obstacle — when I see trouble coming, I’m not quite yet able to be joyful about it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Living now — living forever ............. Parables 736

October 30, 2001

A Roman scholar named Cato started to study Greek when he was over eighty years old. Someone asked why he tackled such a difficult topic at his age. He replied, “It is the earliest age I have left.”

Cato was not the last of the spunky senior citizens. I attended a party for a woman celebrating her 105th birthday. With a twinkle in her eye, she supplied her own entertainment. She breezed through every song she knew on her harmonica and tossed out one-liners in between. She also took requests and if she didn’t know the song, she picked it up after someone hummed a few bars. This woman has Alzheimer’s disease and cannot remember what day it is—but she retains her storehouse of favorites and her huge sense of humor.

Another acquaintance is in his eighties. He rides his bicycle and participates in bicycle marathons, riding hundreds of kilometers in a summer. He too has a wonderful sense of humor.

A woman in our church is over ninety and just retired from work. My uncle is in his early eighties and just went back to work. Both walk tall and have a twinkle in their eyes.

These seniors value life and yet refuse to hoard it up for themselves. Their remaining years are dedicated to learning, growing, keeping active and blessing others. For them, life is lived to the full, much to the pleasure of those who know them.

While time may be short, for them it is not an issue. They have come to grips with Solomon’s words: “There is a season for everything: a time to be born and a time to die.” They realize time is a precious gift from God but are not anxious about it’s passing.

The Bible also says to “redeem the time for the days are evil.” Paul explains further: “The time is short . . . buy something as if it were not yours to keep . . . use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

The Bible tells us to utilize whatever things of the world we need but not clutch them to ourselves. God gave us “all things” to use and even enjoy, but we are not to make ‘things’ our chief concern. After all, they will pass away.

That statement is in contrast to most warnings about materialism and worldliness. Preachers and philosophers say, “You cannot take it with you” and focus on the fact that we will pass away. But instead, Paul says ‘things’ will pass away.

Even if we could take our stuff with us, we need to remember it is still temporary. ‘Things’ are not designed for eternity; they rot, rust, or fall apart.

Even our bodies age and die too, but God plans new bodies for His people, bodies that are “incorruptible.” He says, “mortals will put on immortality” and “death is swallowed up in victory.” Only people are designed to live forever. That does not happen to our stuff.

Most of my senior friends realize and live by the truth found in 2 Corinthians 4: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

For them, that eternal hope not only conquers death, it also changes life. It gives music to an aged woman who has forgotten everything else, mobility to an older man who wants to keep active, and meaningful work to two folks who are long past ‘normal’ retirement age.

This hope of eternal glory is available but we need to unclench our fists. We will last forever, but our stuff is doomed.