Monday, July 30, 2018

Understanding the Bible ............. Parables 774

January 2004

At the beginning of this year, I was thinking about a pastor we once had who gave us a Scripture passage each January as our “Verse for the Year.” It seemed a good idea to give one to each of our children. As I prayed for our children and grandchildren, specific verses came to mind for each one. I put the verses on cards and, after explaining why, gave the cards to them.

Our youngest granddaughter, who has not yet considered Christianity, received John 3:16. When she read it, she looked at her older sister and said, “I don’t understand it. Do you understand yours?”

Her sister said she did. The younger one looked puzzled. “Do you understand mine?” When she got an affirmative response, she frowned again. Then her sister, who had accepted Christ some years before, said, “Just keep reading it. One day you will understand it.”

Without realizing it, she gave an incredibly wise response. Sometimes biblical realities can be explained, but with a verse as easy to understand as John 3:16, it seemed obvious that the younger one needed time for the Holy Spirit to open her eyes.

In 1 Corinthians 2, the Apostle Paul explains that God’s wisdom is hidden to the “natural” man. By this he means that God’s words are a mystery to those who do not have the Spirit of God living in them. He says we need to have them “revealed to us by His Spirit.”

I can vouch for that. When I was about thirteen, I decided a “real woman” read the Bible every day, just like my mother did. So I read it, but I didn’t understand any of it. Oh, I knew the meaning of the words, but they held no significance whatsoever. Further, I read it every day for about sixteen years, and still did not understand what it meant.

Finally, everything changed. In one day, one Scripture verse (in another book) jumped out at me. Suddenly I realized that Jesus was God, come in the flesh to die for my sins. At that moment, I believed in Him and gave my life to Him. At that moment, I also began to understand the Bible.

Now I also understand the problem I had not understanding it. For years, I was such a vain, proud person. I did everything right and no one else knew as much as I did. My life was in control and I controlled it. Then, it fell apart. My marriage failed. I was a failure. That perch was knocked out from under me. I could see things now that I could not see before. One thing I saw was that I did not do everything right. I needed help. I also realized I did not know everything. I needed both knowledge and wisdom. I started looking for it, but the book I was reading that day was about to take me in the wrong direction.

God, in His great wisdom and grace, decided to turn me around. He used the one verse of Scripture in that book to open my eyes. When I saw Him and realized what He had done for me, I tossed the book aside and began reading The Book with renewed enthusiasm and an understanding that had not been there before.

I know my granddaughters will be blessed by their verses for this year. While the younger one does not understand her verse, as the older one said, she will get it. Actually, knowing the way God works, that verse will eventually take hold of her!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Spiritual warfare? ............. Parables 773

January 2004

There stands Billy in front of the candy counter. The store owner’s back is turned. Billy looks at the candy. On one shoulder sits an angel telling him to keep his hands in his pocket. On the other shoulder sits a bright red figure with a pitched fork and a contrary argument. If Billy does not touch the candy, who is the real winner in this battle?

Like 99% of the population, I decided last week to get rid of a few pounds. While I can still button up my clothes, they are tighter than they were a month ago. Too much turkey stuffing. Too many chocolates. Even with those safely out of sight, a second helping of anything was still a big temptation. However, I decided that if I say no to the extras, my tongue may lose a “taste sensation” but my body will come out a winner.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian, graphically described similar struggles with other kinds of temptation besides gluttony. He said, “Being a Christian is like having two dogs fighting inside me.”

The battle between what is the good and what is forbidden rages continually. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings uses an epic fantasy to depict it. Even in fiction, this Christian author refuses to minimize the power of darkness to lure persons into wicked thinking and behavior. He also brings out the struggle inside the hearts of his characters.

Yet not all of them struggle. The good guys battle evil, but those who are evil only fight good because it threatens their freedom to choose otherwise. As I read Tolkein’s stories and see the movies, I marvel how he depicts the inner battle of the two dogs. I also marvel that this battle would not be so evident to me had I read the books before I became a Christian.

Becoming a Christian changed the way I think about good and evil. Even though I was not heavy into evil, I was surprised when these changes came. Before, I used “doing good” to serve my own purposes. Before, I rejected temptation only if I could see negative consequences. After giving my life to Christ, suddenly I wanted to do good — without having any reason, yet was (and still am) amazed at how fiercely temptation opposes me.

The Bible makes it clear that when the Holy Spirit lives in a person, that person changes. We become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). It also describes a new conflict. “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want.”

Every Christian experiences this battle. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” He goes on to say that his sinful nature is up to no good, but his inner being, where the Holy Spirit dwells, wages war against that nature. He thanks God that Jesus Christ enables him to win this war!

Watchman Nee would agree. Someone heard him describe his battle with sin and asked, “Which dog wins?” He responded, “The dog I feed the most.”

My experience this past week is almost a pun on Nee’s reply, As I turn away from fancy desserts, rich sauces, and other temptations, my desire for them becomes less intense. Not only is my body beginning to lose weight, but my appetite for overeating has diminished.

For those who fight a battle with temptation, be thankful; it’s one test that gives evidence that you are a Christian. To win the battle, ask the Lord to help you feed the good dog (in my case, it likes lots of veggies!) and starving the forbidden dog. You will see it will shrivel up — and leave you alone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Science says faith has real benefits ............. Parables 772

December 2003

An American psychiatrist, Dr. Harold Koenig, says prayer and worship have health benefits. He even says the connection between religious faith and health is a hot topic in science. Science has always separated itself from matters of faith on the basis that science involves theory that can be proven by evidence. Scientists have said you cannot do that with matters of faith.

However, today’s technological ability to gather and interpret large amounts of data enables scientists to make correlations between people of faith and their well-being, and compare what they find with data about people who do not practice any faith. The benefits listed in Koenig’s statement include faster recovery from heart surgery and depression, lower suicide rates, and a longer life span. It is interesting that Jesus promised to give His followers “abundant life.” Could this be part of what He meant?

Koenig also says that attending worship services must be for the right reasons. If you do it just to improve your health, it will not work. He says “The health effect is a natural consequence of following the religious life for religious reasons.”

This ties to another statement made by Jesus. He was explaining to Samaritan woman that the place a person worships is irrelevant. He said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

For Christians, this describes the nature of our worship. While it is usually expressed in externals like praise and singing, true worship originates in our innermost being, our spirit. Christian worship must also be “in truth” which can mean we are being truthful in our motivations and expression, not just going through the motions. However the Bible strongly links Jesus with “the truth” that it seems His statement is a reference more to Himself than a dogma. Jesus claims that true worship involves meeting God through Him, the one who is “full of grace and truth.” He also says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

By that, He emphasizes how we must approach God in worship. Over and over, Scripture says our spirits are dead because of sin, yet can be made alive when God, by His Spirit, gives us new life through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, we cannot worship God “in spirit and in truth” unless our spirits have been regenerated (or made new) by the Spirit of Christ who comes to live in our spirit.

Jesus promised eternal life to His followers, but also abundant life. He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (physical needs) will be given to you as well.” While abundant life does not necessarily mean the poor will become rich, it does mean a fuller life than we would have without Him. He clearly says if we put Him (and living for Him) first, then He will take care of us. This is a natural consequence of following Him for the right reasons.

Freud once said religion was an “obsessional neurosis” and psychiatrists of his day and up to the 50's were convinced religious people needed more therapy. Because of his analysis, did some people avoid having anything to do with faith? Did they miss that abundance that only God can give? And now with Koenig’s findings, will some be drawn back to God, the Bible, and church?

This is a great resolution idea for this coming new year. Put Jesus Christ first. Worship Him in spirit and in truth. See what happens.

Monday, July 23, 2018

More Precious than Diamonds ............. Parables 771

December 23, 2002

This holiday season at least three advertisements are telling us “diamonds are forever.” One comes from the De Beers company urging us to buy sparkling gems for our loved ones. Another is a James Bond movie title, also involving jewels made from carbon under pressure. A third, I kid you not, is a dating service, no doubt using this title to offer possibilities to their potential customers.

The fourth is more startling — it is a new trend in the funeral business. LifeGem Memorials offer to take the cremated remains of loved ones (animal or human) and turn the ashes into artificial diamonds. One news headline said this gives the “dearly departed a chance to sparkle forever.” Already, customers are wearing these stones as rings and necklaces.

In my mind, remembering those who died is important, but wearing compressed and recycled body parts on a chain is a bit much. Even so, I realize many will quickly sign up for these “keepsakes that can be handed down from generation to generation.”

This latest gem-making proposal sent me to my electronic Bible to do a word search for “diamonds.” I discovered that out of all the jewels listed in the Bible, this one seemed missing. The Old Testament priest wore a breastplate with twelve stones, including a ruby, topaz, beryl, turquoise, sapphire, emerald, jacinth, agate, amethyst, chrysolite, onyx, and jasper, all mounted in gold settings. No diamonds.

Revelation in the New Testament describes God’s heavenly city as shining “with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” with gates of pearl and a street of gold, transparent like glass. It also says the foundations of the walls are made of “jasper” and are layered with other gems like sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth and amethyst. No diamonds in that list either, but I wondered if the names hid them, like all precious gems are hidden. After checking various sources, I discovered that “jasper” is a transliteration from a Greek word that actually refers to a completely clear diamond!

So the walls of the heavenly city will be made of diamonds. However, are those walls all that is left of the dead? Not so. The same chapter says this city “will not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb (Christ) is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it . . . . The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

The people are inside the walls. So the walls are diamonds, not the people, and LifeGem didn’t do their homework. While diamonds may last a long time, the only way to get into this eternal city is through the Lamb, the One born in a stable over two thousand years ago.

So this Christmas, whether you are looking at the shine on a child’s face, or the sparkle of icicles, or the radiance of a gemstone, or the flash of reflections in crystal ornaments, think about “forever” in terms of the only One who can offer it, Jesus, the Lamb of God. Remember His promise to give us new and glorious bodies when we die, not recycled and compressed stone made from the carbon in our old bodies.

Also remember that figuratively speaking, His children are as diamonds — very precious — just as it says in Malachi 3:17: “And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.”

Remember also this old hymn that uses Malachi’s sparkling metaphor. You can find the music at Here are the words: “When He cometh, when He cometh, To make up His jewels, All His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own. Like the stars of the morning, His brightness adorning, They shall shine in their beauty, Bright gems for His crown. He will gather, He will gather the gems for His kingdom; All the pure ones, all the bright ones, His loved and His own. Little children, little children, Who love their Redeemer, Are the jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own.”

Friday, July 20, 2018

Understanding and being understood ............. Parables 770

December 18, 2002

A couple years ago at a writer’s conference I met a man whose speech was difficult to understand. English was not his first language. His accent added to my difficulty. To make things worse, when I told him I could not understand him, he repeated it — but exactly the same way he said it the first time. Then he smiled and nodded as if it was clearer to him. However, he seemed unaware that I could not grasp even the gist of what he said.

At one time, I thought “understanding and being understood” were universal needs. This man upset my convictions, yet this remains a firm need in my life. Even more important is that others understand what I am saying to them.

A child’s curiosity is based on this desire to understand. Our grandson often takes things apart just to figure out how they work. Even though he was reprimanded for constantly fiddling with radios or other technical appliances, at eighteen his curiosity remains strong.

Children also want to be understood. At two, our son knew “lellow” and “blana” were not quite right, so he practiced until they came out “yellow banana.”

Conversations like the one with that man at the conference are frustrating. One side thinks their speech is clear, but the listener is not hearing them clearly. Dare we be polite and pretend we understood?

A friend died but before she did, her daughter told the doctor her mother was a Christian and “ready to die.” The doctor understood her words, but not what she intended. He watched the mother put up a good fight to live. He didn’t believe she was ready at all to die.

The problem was not an issue of readiness, but of understanding and being understood. Christians who are ready to die have made peace with God. They know their sin is forgiven. They also have assurance of eternal life through their faith in Christ. Death is not a fearful thing. However, being ready to die does not mean that we hate life. After all, the Bible calls death an enemy. While Jesus conquered it (and we will too), being ready is not the same as simply giving up when death comes calling.

In thinking about the desire to understand and be understood, I’d have to say God perfectly models both. The Bible reveals how He understands us: “Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar . . . You are familiar with all my ways . . . such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” David, who wrote this psalm, worshiped God for His great understanding. He was not afraid of being known like this; it satisfied this deep desire to be understood.

David also sought to know and understand God, but the Bible says such a desire is not natural: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” The Bible explains this lack of desire to know God. It says each of us “turn to our own way.” We are quite happy to know our own minds, desires, and attitudes. We are content with our own understanding of things, and convinced that is enough. The Bible also says that this determination to do our own thing is what keeps us blind and deaf to the reality of God. Because we don’t want to know, we can’t understand.

To make matters worse, in our blindness we make up our own version of God, our own version of spirituality, our own version of religion. No wonder there are so many “faiths.”

God is willing to reveal Himself to anyone. We need to be willing to know and understand Him as He reveals Himself. Those who are content with their own understanding has no idea what they are missing!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

How to get close to others ............. Parables 769

December 11, 2002

Bernie was a new Christian. He was excited to serve God in the church he attended, so he approached one of the pastors. The pastor asked him a few questions and Bernie had to admit that he did not have a good relationship with his wife. The pastor told him that God’s priority was a close marriage relationship. Church work came second.

When Bernie heard that, his eyes fell. He muttered, “How am I supposed to do that?” He’d been married nearly ten years and it seemed to him that nothing he did worked out right. A good marriage seemed impossible. He dreaded hearing another hopeless to-do list, but the pastor’s answer surprised him.

“Bernie, does your wife work at her relationship with God?” Bernie had to admit that she did. “Then your part is easy; you simply need to also work on your relationship with God.”

Bernie asked how that would help. The pastor made a triangle with his fingers and explained, “God invented marriage and He places Himself over it at the top corner. The man and wife are the other two corners on the bottom. What happens to them as they move up the sides of the triangle closer to God?”

Bernie quickly saw that as the two moved closer to God, they also moved closer to each other. He was intrigued, but wondered out loud, “How can I move closer to God?”

The pastor offered another illustration. He held up his coffee cup and said, “You are like this cup. As a believer in Christ, you are open to the ministry of God who daily pours Himself into your life, just like we pour coffee into a cup. Most of the time, you gladly receive His ministry, but what happens if you sin?”

Bernie thought for a minute. “I fall over . . . I turn from God. And everything inside gets dumped out.”

The pastor laughed as he tipped the empty cup. “Yes, that’s about it. The openness to God is gone too. You can’t receive from Him anymore . . . at least until you get right-side-up again. Do you know how to do that, how to get back under the blessings of God?”

Bernie thought for a minute. He was a new Christian, but he knew that if he “confessed his sins, God was faithful and just to forgive his sins and cleanse him from all unrighteousness.” He learned that verse from 1 John in adult Sunday School. He recited the verse to the pastor.

The pastor said, “Right on, Bernie!” and turned the cup upright again. “You also realize, Bernie, that you will go through life like this . . . “ and he tipped the cup and up righted it several times. He added, “The best you can do is shorten the down time and lengthen the upright time.”

Bernie smiled. He was new at this but he already found out that God could give him new ideas and attitudes. He was joyful when he used to be sad, patient when he used to be agitated, loving when he used to be resentful. He could easily see how being right-side-up applied to an improved marriage.

Today, Bernie is still working at keeping his cup upright before the Lord. In the meantime, his marriage amazes him with the depth of its intimacy and its strength. He now is quick to tell others if you want a deeper relationship with someone, first get right with God!

Monday, July 16, 2018

One thing we cannot lose ............. Parables 768

November 27, 2002

The older I get, the more often my memory takes naps. Today, I thought about a lady I know who owns a quilt store in BC. I can see her face but cannot remember her name.

Forgetting names is bad enough, but this sleepy memory also forgets how to spell. This week, inconsistencies became enconsistancies. I’m thankful for spell-checkers and dictionaries!

But I wonder what will disappear from my head next. Will I try to phone my daughter and forget her number? Will I see my neighbors and forget where I met them? Will I drive downtown and forget how to get home?

The prospects of dementia are doubly frightening as I think about my mother’s decline due to Alzheimer’s disease. She could not remember her own face at times, even though she always remembered mine. Her confusion was often frustrating as she tried to say something and could not remember the words to describe her thoughts.

However, as I think of her dementia, I must also remind myself of two things. One, she was nearly always happy. And two, her relationship with God remained constant. There are some things that memory loss cannot take away.

Edward T. Welch, in his book “Blame it on the Brain?” says that the spirit and the mind are two different things. While one does have some influence on the other, a person with any type of mental disorder or brain injury is still able to hear God speak, understand spiritual matters, be joyful, and talk to God in prayer.

He uses Scripture to back up his theory. In 2 Corinthians 4, the Apostle Paul talks about physical decline. He says, “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

That verse and others like it show me that what happens to our body does not prevent God from speaking to our spirit. His Spirit communicates with our spirit, not just our minds.

Welch’s book illustrates with true stories. One is about a cranky man with Alzheimer’s who was bitter and impatient. He made many demands on his care giver daughter. Both were Christians. The daughter was frustrated, but decided to be patient and kind. She finally asked her dad to be less demanding. To her delight, he responded as she asked. His mind was not working but he could still repent from his ornery attitude and experience God’s cleansing power.

In another story, Welch tells of a woman whose dementia robbed her of the ability to remember and talk about much of anything. Mostly she communicated how much she hated God. Her care giving family could not leave her home by herself, so each Sunday they took her to church with them. One day on the way home, she said, “I need forgiveness for what I have done.” Her family explained once more that Jesus died for her sins and that forgiveness was available through faith in Him. The woman believed and received Christ as her Lord and Savior.
From then on, she talked about Jesus all the time, telling her friends and others about his love and forgiveness. Her mind was dying, but her spirit received new life.

Actually, my mother’s loss of memory was not so bad. She did not suffer anxiety. We all want that. She was able to laugh about it, another good thing. I’m sure she passed her days in contentment because the Lord was with her. He gave her that peace and good humor.

Just writing this reminds me of one more thing that dementia cannot take from anyone. Because He promised, “Lo, I am with you always,” we can lose our memory but we can never lose Jesus.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Why Suffering? ............. Parables 767

November 13, 2002

For several weeks, I’ve offered reasons why God allows suffering.

Sometimes suffering is the consequence of our own actions. Israel’s King David chose violence. The consequences were as predictable as dropping an egg on a concrete floor. Not only did bloodshed follow him most of his life, but God also refused to allow him the great thing he wanted to do for God, built a temple. However, God is gracious — David was allowed to write the Psalms.

Sometimes suffering is God’s punishment for sin. This may not happen for each sin a person commits in their lifetime; however, God warns of a coming judgment when unrepentant sinners will receive what is due them. The Bible says their torment will be everlasting.

God may allow suffering because He intends to bring good from it. Old Testament patriarch Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Years later Joseph became powerful in the land where he once lived as a slave, and rescued his entire family from a famine and certain death. He said to his brothers, “You intended it for evil but God used it for good.”

Sometimes suffering tests our faith. Job is the strongest example, but every Christian knows that tough times affirm God’s faithfulness. He sustains His people during suffering.

Suffering also results when godly people are hated by the ungodly. Rather than preventing it, God says “those who live godly lives will be persecuted.” In this case, sufferers bear the brunt of godliness.

Sometimes God allows suffering so He will be glorified. A man was born blind, not “because he or his parents sinned” but so that “the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus healed him and glorified God.

And sometimes suffering happens for no reason at all. We live in a sinful world where all people do bad things. Often innocent people suffer because of what others do.

Out of all these reasons why God might allow suffering, there is only one occasion in history when every one of them applies. It happened when Jesus died on the cross.

In one sense, Jesus suffered the consequence of His own actions. He rebuked the legalism and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day. They retaliated by crucifying Him.

The cross tested the faith of Jesus. The Bible says “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made not threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him (the Father) who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”

Jesus suffered as a punishment for sin, not His own for the Bible says He was sinless, but bore our sins. The penalty for sin is death.

In that, God intended to bring good out of His suffering. He offered Jesus as a sacrifice for us, and promises that all who believe in Him might be forgiven and receive eternal life.

Even though Jesus died because He was godly and hated by the ungodly, He did not deserve death, and death could not hold Him. He rose from the tomb, and His suffering and subsequent resurrection brings great glory to God.

When the life of Christ is examined, there seems to be no reason at all that others would kill Him, but the fact that they did proves the very reason He came to earth — we live in a sinful world where all people do bad things. This innocent man suffered because of what we do.

Yet the only way His suffering can be labeled meaningless is when people refuse to consider Jesus, and will not let His suffering affect what they believe or how they live.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why evil? ............. Parables 766

October 29, 2002

Again we are asking the same big questions we asked during 9/11. Why do terrorists attack buses and night clubs, hold hostage hundreds of people? Why do people shoot people, at random, with no apparent reason? Why do people do terrible things? Why do innocents suffer?

We hear answers. Some say “these are evil acts committed by evil people.” The perpetrators might explain that their victims “deserved it.” The thoughtful are not satisfied with either answer yet we want answers. We want to know the causes, the reasons why.

People were not created to live meaningless lives. Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, said when people “cut themselves off from the root of their being, from God, then life turns empty, inane, meaningless, without purpose.”

God created us to live in a fulfilled way, but as Jung says, people who abandon God experience emptiness. Life no longer makes sense.

As I think about the acts of terrorism around the world, I have to conclude that sin is simply not rationale. It might be logical in the mind of a terrorist to blow up, shoot, or terrorize others in order to gain some supposed end, but if viewed from the perspective of God and eternity, this is totally meaningless. There really are no answers to those why questions.

However, we must ask them. Why does a bullet intended for an opposing gang member fly into a home and kill a sleeping child? Why does a car stall and a mother of four fail to escape before being hit by a train? Why do children starve to death while their nation is at war? Do we suppose that knowing why will fix it, or at least make us feel better?

The illogical is making this world a place of unpredictable and random acts of violence. While God can produce good out of seemingly senseless suffering, and can use pain in ways we do not understand, He is not the cause of this suffering. It is sin, and sin makes no sense.

Even at that, sin cannot escape the rule of cause and effect. Rebellion against God and His intention for us has consequences. Because Adam sinned, because his descendants sinned, because you sin, and because I sin, the world is set askew. As it wobbles, everyone staggers out of kilter, bumping into each other. We are on a collision course with human foolishness.

Jesus warned His disciples. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

He also said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Is it possible to live in a world run by terrorists and not be afraid? Christians can say yes. Two of them, a couple from Vulcan, Alberta, were watching the latest news on the Washington snipers, happy that they lived in a small town away from all that. Suddenly a young man burst into their home, threatened them with a knife, and demanded they drive him to Calgary.

These folks may have initially felt fear, but the news story indicated they were far more concerned about this “terrorist” than they were for themselves. The wife called the episode a “joyride” and told young man that “it’s not too late to change, the Lord can help you.”

They are Christians (relatives of my sister-in-law) who know the reality of God’s “peace that passes understanding.” They took Jesus up on His offer of “abundant life” and found their faith tested in this most unusual way. Inner peace overruled fear.

I suppose to some, this inner peace makes even less sense than sin, but if God actually takes care of His people as He promises, then He can put into our hearts a full assurance of His power. He is in control over even the most bizarre situations.

With His peace, we can watch the evening news, pray for the people held in bondage both by terrorists and by their own fears, and not be pressured by any urgent need to know why these things are happening.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Why God allows suffering ............. Parables 765

October 2, 2002

For this series on why God allows suffering, I had prepared an outline for each article. The past couple of weeks have been filled with so many other responsibilities that I’d no time to write, or even think about writing.

Then came Sunday, September 15. My mother woke that morning with her usual cheerful attitude, and asked her care givers in the nursing home to play some music on her tape deck. As they began to prepare her for the day, she bowed her head and died.

My mother had Alzheimer's yet still recognized her family and maintained a remarkable attitude. She was happy, thankful, and as her nurses said, a joy to take care of.

With great sorrow in our loss, I’ve fumbled through my responsibilities in preparation for her funeral. Today, I determined to finish the next article in this series. When I opened the file, my first line said, “God allows suffering because this is the way that He takes us home.”

Death is inevitable. When someone is ill, my husband often says, “We are all terminal, but most of us don’t know when — so we need to prepare for it when we are alive.”

Most of us do not know how death will come either. Will it be an accident? Illness? Great suffering? Even “natural causes” involve some pain as the body ages and common illnesses or organ failures join hands with death to carry us from this world. Suffering and dying usually go together.

That said, some suffer more than others. We have two doctors living nearby. One told me a horror story of “the worst death I have ever seen” and another talked about patients who linger for months, even years, in pain. They want to die but cannot.

Some advocate euthanasia as the means to overcome the pain of dying. Others will not go that far but will ask for morphine or some medication to ease the pain. Even though many people seem to fear pain far more than dying, the Bible calls death the final enemy.

However, for God’s people, there are no guarantees of an easy death. Hebrews speaks of Old Testament saints who were stoned, sawed in two, and put to death by the sword. Jesus Himself died a horrible death. He suffered more than we can imagine.

Even so, the New Testament also says that Jesus endured the Cross “for the joy set before him” and that some of God’s people “were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might face a better resurrection.” That is our hope.

Hebrews 2 says that Jesus shared in our humanity so “by His death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Because of Jesus, we no longer need to be afraid of suffering or dying. Those who believe in Christ know that because He lives, we also will live.

Suffering does not always imply punishment. Suffering does not always lead to a greater good, at least in this life, but in the suffering of death, it can be the doorway to eternal life with Christ. That is the greatest good of all.

Ultimately, God takes responsibility for our suffering. He knows all about us. As a butterfly must not be helped out of its cocoon, or a chick aided through the shell of an egg, our Maker may have an unseen purpose in the struggle of some to move from the confinements of this life to the freedom of eternal life.

Yet for others, God has a different plan, perhaps just to show the gentleness of Jesus. My mother’s suffering was minimal. Because she knew Jesus and was not afraid of death, when her time came, she went without any resistance.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Why does God allow suffering? ............. Parables 764

September 4, 2002

Nancy* tearfully shared that her father was in the hospital with pancreatic cancer. The doctors said he would live only a few months at most. Nancy asked people to pray.

In two weeks, the doctors noticed her father was not showing the same symptoms as he had earlier. They decided to do more tests; first a MRI scan, then a second one. The cancer they had seen with their eyes in surgery had disappeared. They could not explain it, and within days they sent the man home with a clean bill of health.

Nancy and her parents suffered considerably for a few weeks. The father’s suffering was both mental and physical. For a while, he was on life support. The two women suffered emotionally as they tried to adjust to his condition. Everyone was glad the suffering came to a happy ending, but why did God allow it in the first place?

The answer is found in another story about another man. This one suffered all his life; he had been born blind. The theology of the day said he was being punished by God because he or his parents had sinned. (In other words, life would be perfect if everyone behaved themselves?)

When Jesus’ disciples saw this man, they reflected this current reasoning by asking Jesus who was guilty, this man or his parents. Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God might be displayed in his life.”

At that, Jesus spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in a certain pool. When the man obeyed, he “went home seeing.” Those who knew him were amazed. They could not explain what happened. The religious folks accused him of being an imposter, then threw him out of the temple. They were not willing to admit that Jesus healed him, or that this healing was a miracle from God.

While this story has many implications for our faith, most important to the topic of why God allows suffering is Jesus’ answer to the disciples. This man suffered, not because of his sin, or because someone else had sinned, but that by healing him, God was going to be glorified.

What does a person do with this story? We could ask a logical question: How would we know that God conquers sickness if there were no sicknesses for Him to conquer? Would the man have ever discovered the power of Jesus Christ unless he had been blind?

Bring it closer to home. In the above situation, Nancy, her family, and her friends prayed knowing the story about the blind man. We also know that Jesus is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” We know He can do the impossible all over again. He once fixed what medical science was unable to fix, and He hasn’t changed. While we cannot assume to know the mind of God and presume He will heal, we do know He can do it.

Nancy’s father was healed, not by prayer but by God. Even those who believe in God and believe that He hears and answers prayer shake their heads in awe when He does it. We must give Him glory for He is powerful and good.

Sometimes people do suffer as a result of their own foolishness. Sometimes suffering is a punishment for sin. Sometimes suffering is the result of someone else’s sin. But sometimes God allows suffering so He can do a miracle in response to our prayers. The only way to find out is to pray, knowing He has the power to do the impossible, and see what happens.

(* The name is changed, but the situation happened this summer!)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Why persecution? ............. Parables 763

September 18, 2002

Imagine hearing shots as gunmen entered the place where you work. What would you do? What questions would you ask God after seeing your co-workers die?

My friend, Anita, is a school administrator in Muree, Pakistan. A few weeks ago, seven people died as they stood in the way of terrorists determined to kill the “foreigners” inside the school.

Anita’s email emphasizes that she felt amazingly calm when calm was needed, but in the days following, she tells of the aftershock. She, other workers, parents and students (children of missionaries) experienced things they will never forget.

Why did this happen to them? Why should the families of those who died suffer because of human suspicion and hate? Why are God’s people targets simply because they obey Christ’s command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel”?

Obviously, the Gospel and its messengers offend people. Occasionally, our walk does not match our talk, but even if it does, godliness is almost a crime or an ugly thing to those outside of faith. Christian standards are unacceptable to anyone unwilling to admit their sinfulness and yield their lives to God.

Persecution is not new, nor limited to Christians. The Jews were persecuted during WW II, along with other races and nationalities. Early Christians were martyred by the thousands. Finding accurate statistics is a challenge, however one Web site says that at least 400 Christians die for their faith every day. Obeying God comes at a price.

Believers are despised for our message: we claim Christ is the only way to God. The fact is, Christ was crucified for saying the same thing: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

The Apostle Paul’s life was under a constant threat. He knew his persecutors did not like his message, but he also said, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” This affirms that sometimes suffering is not punishment from God but an affirmation that we are living the way we should.

Suffering sometimes leads to a greater good. In this situation, time will tell if the blood of those who died will sow an effective “seed” and bring renewal and growth to the Christian faith. Meanwhile, officials decided to close Muree Christian school, at least for a year. Children should not be made targets for those who hate their parents.

Perhaps Anita and the others are thinking about Jesus’ promise: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Surely God can protect us, yet He warns that people hate godliness; He Himself suffered and died because of that hatred. Jesus said we must be willing to take up our cross also. Following Him means more than bearing a symbolic article of jewelry, or putting up with an annoyance in our life. The Cross was, and continues to be, a place of death.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Will faith take away any consequences of sin? ............. Parables 762

August 21, 2002

Ann (not her real name) was eighteen when she met and married Brad. He was charming and handsome. The problem was that Ann believed in Jesus and Brad did not.

Further, Brad drank too much and flirted with other women. Ann’s parents and Christian friends saw the danger signs and warned her. Deep in her heart, Ann knew they were right, but she married him anyway.

The marriage fell apart two and a half years later. Brad’s roving eye led him away from Ann. His drinking increased and, when he drank, he was verbally abusive. After he slapped her a few times, she decided to leave him.

Ann still asks God, “Why did this happen? You could have made our marriage happy. Why didn’t you change Brad?”

Her questions seem naive to those outside her situation, even those outside the Christian faith. Perhaps believers struggle with this issue more than those who are not. We know that Jesus paid our penalty for sin. God’s wrath was poured out on Him and we are forgiven, no longer condemned. However, sin has a consequence that seems like punishment? This makes our salvation seem not quite what we believed it to be.

The problem comes when we forget that sin’s punishment is about eternity. People who do not repent and turn to God will face eternity separated from Him. The Bible calls it the “second death” and its location is “hell.”

On the other hand, suffering as a consequence of a sin is different. If a Christian sins and gets into trouble like Ann did, the consequence only happens in this life. In eternity, Ann will be with Christ forever, He will “wipe away all tears,” and she will enter eternal joy.

So why should Christians suffer the consequences of sin, even though their sin is forgiven? Ecclesiastes offers a clue by saying, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.”

Any person finds it harder to stop doing wrong if no pain is involved. God chastens His people through consequences so we will learn to hate sin and to stop sinning. His goal is that we are transformed people who are like Him. We cannot continue in sin and reach that goal.

Even when we sin, God is gracious. Consider Old Testament King David. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had a son. That illegitimately conceived child died, but the next son born to him and Bathsheba (by then his wife) was Solomon. From that line, the Messiah was born, an honor to David and a blessing to the world.

David also lived as a warrior. When he wanted to build a temple for God, God would not allow it because of the “blood” in his life. This was a sad and serious consequence; however, God allowed David to write the Psalms — which have endured far longer than any temple ever could.

Remember that suffering does not always imply punishment or lead to a hidden and greater good. Sometimes, it is simply the consequence of sin. Also remember that God takes responsibility for everything that happens. Job said, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

The Bible says God “disciplines those He loves” and explains that consequences are for those who are “accepted” as His children. If someone is not disciplined by God, then they are not a child of God. Far better to bear that label and suffer the consequences of sin for a little while, then to reject God as Father, Lord and Savior, and then bear sin’s consequences forever!