Friday, November 24, 2017

Want to be Significant? .......... Parables 671

May 23, 2000

The child who stabbed his classmates said he did it because he wanted attention. He got what he wanted, but is he satisfied?

Attention seekers feel they are not important, that no one notices or appreciates them. Some attention would take them from a nobody to a somebody. Is this the somebody-status he wanted?

This child is tragically confused about his own identity. To build up himself, he seriously injures others. This may not have happened had he realized even a single benevolent achievement seldom raises one’s self worth for the long term, never mind what one act of violence will do to it.

Can anyone do anything to make themselves more important in their own minds? Perhaps, but first, we need to understand the difference between being and doing. Is who we are established by our actions, or do our actions simply bring out who we are?

Pam (not her real name) wanted to be wealthy and belong to that crowd who has money. She dressed in the finest clothes, bought the most expensive furniture, and frequented the classiest restaurants, doing all the things a rich person does. However, she is not rich. In her desperate desire to be what she is not, she embezzled money and was caught. Doing the actions did not make her rich, it put her in prison, compounded her delusions, and exposed her desperate heart.

The Bible offers a great deal on this topic of who we are. An Old Testament proverb warns us to watch how we relate to people because no matter how they appear on the surface, “as that man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

God never separates our external actions from what goes on inside. If a person is nice to others, God considers their motivation and whether they have personal gain in mind. He sees all our selfishness, no matter how we cover it. Little wonder He can say that “all sin and falls short of His glory.”

Nevertheless, God never condemns us for our desire to be significant. This is part of being created in His image. Because we were intended to reflect the likeness of God, we have this sense of being less significant than we ought to be. Our departure from walking with God created the loss and something in us wants to regain that sense of being more than we are.

God’s condemnation is not against our desire for significance but against our sinful efforts to make ourselves important without Him. We do not live as He intended.

Think of it: we already are, by creation, significant creatures. Our efforts to make impressions, get attention, or be significant simply deny what God did when He made us. Instead of acknowledging Him and what He did, we try to do it ourselves. All our efforts do not change the fact that we are people made in the image of God.

What changed it is our disobedience to God. We cannot reflect His image when we go against Him. Every time we do, we lose something. Stabbing people seems a greater sin yet even a “white lie” pulls us down from the status we could have. Instead of being important, we fall short of what He intended. He wants a significance for us beyond our wildest imaginings.

An eagle was intended to fly. Put it in a cage or a chicken coop and it has lost its glory. Human beings were intended to reflect the image of God. When we resist and rebel against Him, we also lose our glory. Stabbing someone is just one of the many pitiful ways of trying to get it back but the only way that works is turning from our efforts to the One who can redeem and restore us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Understanding God .......... Parables 670

May 18, 2000

Millions of businesses use the Internet to advertise and sell products. Millions of ordinary folks use it to find information and to communicate with friends all over the world.

The Internet started as a convenience for government agencies. Soon other organizations saw its potential. Since the 1994 advent of Internet browsers, the number of web servers who feed information into cyberspace has exploded from a few thousand to over several million. They host uncountable personal and corporate web sites. With such rapid growth, no one has a handle on the actual size of the worldwide web. While most of us don’t care, some ambitious people are trying to draw a map of the Internet. They want to define and catalog it, somehow wrapping their minds around its size and content.

Imagine an even greater challenge: try to figure out God. The study is called “theology” and theology books are filled with finite human attempts to understand Someone infinite, Someone greater than the Internet or even the entire universe.

Theology tries to list God’s attributes and actions, dividing characteristics into those we can share — like mercy, and those that belong to God alone — such as the ability to know all things.

Theologians devote pages describing how God reveals Himself and how we can know Him. They describe and define His names and His triune nature. Some have perplexing titles such as “Essence and Attributes” and “Defenseless Superior Power.”

Besides chapters on His character, theologians describe the way God behaves. They talk of His mercy in sparing those who deserved judgment. They describe how He takes care of His people, sometimes in miraculous ways.

However, the best way to define God is the way He defines Himself. That is, what God is like is most clearly seen in His Son, Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus was a human being. He was born just as we were, grew up, learned, and was subject to His parents and civil law. He got hungry, thirsty and tired. He was just like us in that He had feelings, thoughts, and choices to make.

However, if we study His life, it is not long before we realize He is not exactly like us, or rather, we are not exactly like Him. We make mistakes, talk out of turn, lose our temper, and get annoyed with people. We lose patience with our own sin and the sins of others. But Jesus said and did the right things — always. He reflects qualities that belong to God and God alone. If descriptions do not convince us that He is divine, Jesus also walked on water, healed the sick, turned water into wine, fed thousands with less than what is in my pantry, and raised the dead. He read minds and forgave sins. Only God can do that.

We may not understand words like immanent and eternal, but in Christ we can clearly see that God is loving and merciful. We can also see how He hates sin but cares deeply about sinners. That is, God pulled on humanity like a pair of pants and walked among us. He knew we could not grasp His nature by mere descriptions. He knew we would stumble if all we had were stories of His interaction with Old Testament Jews. Skeptics even discredit God and those miracles by saying they were superstition, coincidences or freaks of nature.

But no one can explain away Jesus. Real people saw, touched, and heard Him. They interacted with a living person who loved them and did miracles. They watched Him give Himself up to death on a cross for human sin. Over 500 of them rejoiced to see Him alive again when God raised Him from the dead. They knew He was God in the flesh.

By studying Jesus, we can begin to understand God as described in Scripture. By putting our faith in Him, we can experience God too. He will live within us and walk beside us. We never again have to struggle with long words and vague descriptions that always fall short because, in Christ, we can not only know who He is but we can know Him as our Savior and personal friend.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The value of a child .......... Parables 669

April 4, 2000

Anne Geddes, baby photographer, says she takes those beautiful pictures because she wants the whole world to take notice that our children are wonderful. Who would argue with her? Yet violence continues to target children. As politicians battle over who is responsible and what should be done about it, a 1993 statistic says in the U.S. a child died every 92 minutes from gunfire.

Things are not much different today. If our newspapers put each event in a headline, we would face 15 - 16 dead children stories every day of the year. No doubt the fainthearted would protest yet, as morbid as it sounds, maybe full coverage of each shooting would produce more than political bickering.

We claim to value children, but not much is said about these 6000 shooting deaths unless they happen to be spectacular or politically hot. For instance, a grown man was murdered because of his sexual orientation and the whole world heard about it but when a child was murdered by those of that orientation, who made a fuss?

Each year, even each day, thousands of children are aborted, abandoned, and abused without much attention drawn to their plight. What does this say about our value system? We North Americans claim to be moral, even religious, adhering to ethical codes based on our convictions. Perhaps it is time to review those ethics, even to take another look at what God says about the value of our kids.

In the Old Testament, God warned His people not to disobey Him. If they did, they could expect horrible calamities upon themselves and their children. These disasters included disease, crop failure and famine, with an emphasis on the suffering brought to the next generation.

God also warned His people that invading armies would come if they did not obey Him. These enemies would ruin their homes and take their children. Risking disobedience put at risk those most precious to them.

Before we think that God values a child only by its potential rather than an actual value, consider this incident from the New Testament. The chief priests and the teachers of the law saw Jesus doing wonderful things. When children shouted in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were not happy and took their complaint to Jesus.

He replied, “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” He rebuked them for thinking children could not be a blessing to God.

Remember also when the disciples considered children an intrusion? Jesus responded with, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

God holds precious the life of a child. We say we do and, as people created in His image, we are capable of His same protective attitude. Yet actions speak louder than sentiment. Statistics and tiny graves mock our so-called values.

Governments want to confiscate guns, pass more laws, take more control of families. They raise objections at every slaying, just as we do. Yet until the value we place on all human life matches the value placed on them by the One who gave life, it is unlikely anything will change.

What gives us the right to say a child matters only after it is born or born without flaw, or only after it does everything it is told, or only after it fits our plans?

Thank God He is not like that. If He was, none of us would have seen the light of day.

Friday, November 17, 2017

What would Jesus say or do? .......... Parables 668

May 9, 2000

Madeline O’Hare, Shirley McLean and Jesus Christ are sipping lattes at Starbucks. To open the conversation, Ms. O’Hare (the most forward of the three), stoutly proclaims, “There is no God.”

Ms. McLean cringes. How can she say that? It simply ruins everyone’s self-esteem. In rebuttal, she sternly declares, “No, that is not right. You are God. I am God. We are all God.”

At that, Jesus leans back in His chair, smiles and then . . . what do you think He would say or do?

One option might be a storm cloud that fills the coffee house with thunder and lightning, stunning these two with His power. The New Testament describes a time He was in a boat with His disciples. He was having a nap while they rowed across the Sea of Galilee. As it was prone to do, the weather suddenly changed. Some of the disciples were fishermen, used to quirky storms but this was the mother of all storms. They were terrified and shook Jesus awake with, “Don’t you care that we perish?” At that, He rebuked their “little faith” and commanded the rain and wind to cease. It did. Certainly if He can stop a storm with a word, He can also start one.

Another option might be a display of His glory. He did that on a mountain with Peter, James and John as witnesses. They were struck dumb by what they saw (only Peter, who had perpetual foot-in-mouth disease, offered a few comments). All three fell to the ground in terror.

Or Jesus might respond with a sermon. He often preached from mountainsides and fishing boats, so a coffee shop is not out of bounds for a pulpit. We could guess a topic, perhaps the demands of His Law that asks for our perfect obedience. He might explain how no human would invent the Law of God because we have no reason to hold up a standard we cannot reach. Surely Jesus would include God’s grace and mercy . . . although “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin . . . when we were still sinners, He died for us.” With that, He would explain how God loves sinners but hates sin and demands it be punished. In love, He send His Son to earth to pay our penalty for sin. Those who believe in Him are spared but those who reject His offer of salvation must themselves pick up the tab for sin.

Then again, Jesus might not preach or do a miracle. He might not reveal Himself, at least not to these people. One is an atheist who denies there is a God. For her, there is no value to faith nor is there need to consider her soul or spirit. She also denies spiritual realities such as miracles. Anything Jesus might do she would attribute to human skill and an FX crew.

The other one believes in pantheism, a belief once held by primitive people but now adopted by the sophisticated westerner. Pantheists believe that “God is all and all is God.” Each level of existence is simply a different level of God, whether it be mind, mosquito, or mud. For her, God is energy not a person. Even though she would agree that Jesus has the energy of God, even agree that He is God, it would not be because He is God but because all of us are. She would attribute whatever Jesus might do or say to the same forces that she herself lives by, but not to the power of a real and holy God. Pantheists prefer a god they can see, touch, understand, control, and that does not require admission of sin. By making “all” into god, they can worship anything they want. They may not stoop to mud and mosquitoes, but only because their favorite “god” is themselves.

Jesus might smile, finish His latte and walk away. After all, He has already spoken to these issues. Psalm 14:1 begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” and goes on to explain that no one seeks God because sin hardens our hearts to the truth of God.

The Bible points out that we know about the Creator in our hearts but if we persist in denying our conscience, we crowd Him out. Then, because we are spiritual beings, we fill the void with lesser gods and the true God becomes an unknown.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Choices for death and choices for what comes after it .......... Parables 667

January 25, 2000

The “Right to Die Society” announced that someone reversed the technology of a rebreather and invented a device called a “debreather.” This new invention allows someone to orchestrate their own death without help or pain. The debreather bolsters the claim that a suffering person should be allowed to “die with dignity,” assuming that pain and suffering are undignified.

How our values have changed. Remember the old western movies when noble cowboys wanted to die “with their boots on” rather than in bed? They would rather be struck by lightning on the job or shot from their horse by a cattle rustler than get pneumonia and pass on lying in bed.

Today’s values are quite different. Instead of putting the glory of our work at the top of the list, many people consider their priority in life is their own personal comfort.

Wanting comfort is okay but what about the assumption that death is better than pain? Is living with discomfort less dignified than being dead? Is it more important to avoid pain than to live honorable with it?

Perhaps the most danger in the right-to-die philosophy is assuming that physical death is all there is. These people do not seem to realize that death comes in two parts.

The Bible talks about it in graphic terms. Hebrews says that we are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” However, the book of Revelation mentions a “second death.” It says that those who die physically will be brought to the throne of God for judgment. Then they will be “thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.”

The next verse alludes to an alternative: “if anyone’s name (is) not found written in the book of life. . . .” It is clear that physical death is not the end. The Bible teaches that everyone will be raised; “some to live and some to be condemned.” Those written in the book of life already have eternal life and will take part in what the Bible calls the “first resurrection.” Revelation 20 explains that “the second death has no power over them.”

The second death is the kicker. But the crucial point is that no one can escape God’s order of things. Those who want to live forever may do so, but it is God who gives eternal life and He offers it to the living. Scripture says, “. . . 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 our choice. Those who want to escape suffering in this life may also make that choice, but it is God who decides what happens next. Anyone who ignores their relationship to Him and does not have eternal life from Jesus Christ, will not find peace and comfort in death, no matter how they die or who helps them.

While it is a popular word, hell is not a popular topic. Yet hell has a purpose; it the eternal abode God created for those who choose to ignore Him and would rather live and die without Him.

Pain and suffering are not popular topics either. Although pain is a signal that something is wrong, we would rather not suffer at all. Yet suffering has a purpose too. The Bible calls it a “light and momentary trouble” compared with eternity. Scripture and the experience of Christians point to its value; suffering can draw us closer to God and a comfort we would not otherwise experience.

We cannot deny the horrendous pain that some people endure. However, compare that with the horrors and finality of the second death. Is not suffering for a little in the presence of God far better than suffering for eternity without Him?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why isn’t the devil as scary as he used to be? .......... Parables 666

April 25, 2000

Halloween costume racks always include one that looks like red underwear with a long tail, a grotesque horned mask, and a fake pitch fork. Yet no matter how frightening it is supposed to be, when this outfit skips down the street, we know that under it is someone’s happy child.

The devil is not too scary anymore. His so-called persona is entrusted to little children and comedians make jokes about him.

For instance, remember Flip Wilson dressed as Geraldine? In one skit, his character explained overspending on a new outfit by saying, “The devil made me do it.”

When asked why he did not respond with, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” Geraldine batted long eyelashes and replied, “I did . . . but he told me it looks good from the back too.”

We know how it works. I have done the same with temptation. I know better but tell myself some reason or other why I should give in to it. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that the devil is a mere twig on my conscience. Scripture does not support the myth that he is only a small guilt that we can easily excuse.

Although some might think the devil is all-in-your-head, he was very real for God’s Son. Jesus mentions him several times. He also went nose to nose with him in two marathon battles, one in the wilderness, the other at the Cross.

Since Jesus taught the devil was far more than a symbol of evil, we would be wise to consider what he can do to us and how we can overcome his efforts.

First, we need to recognize his tricks. They are tiresomely old stuff. For instance, he started his career with a lie to Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say that?”

When Eve listened to his suggestion, she doubted God’s Word, then stepped on a slippery slope into sin. Satan decided that line was a keeper and has been using it ever since.

He slams the Bible, wanting us to think that God did not say anything; it was written by mere men. Or, if God was involved, it has been twisted, or is impossible to understand. This tactic also implies God is powerless since He cannot preserve the purity and accuracy of His Word.

Another trick also started in Eden when Satan told Eve if to eat the forbidden fruit and be like God. He said her eyes would be opened and she would know “good and evil.” That is, she would be a better person with the knowledge obtained by disobeying God, and could rule her own life without His help.

This lie still makes its rounds too. Satan convinces people they are as smart as God and do not need Him. Some buy into this delusion to the point that they consider themselves divine. Remember the actress who loudly proclaimed, “I am God”?

Perhaps Satan’s most appealing lie was when he told Eve that she “would not surely die” because of her sin. He convinced her that disobeying God has no ultimate consequence. Therefore, she could do whatever she wanted.

His fabrication that “you will not die” surfaces in several ways, from complete philosophies (like reincarnation) to the simple notion that we are invincible. Since death “happens only to other people,” we take foolish risks. We also fail to prepare ourselves for death and for God’s judgment. No wonder Jesus called the devil a destroyer as well as a liar, and the father of lies.

Yet Jesus showed us how to fight this enemy. In His wilderness encounter, He responded to every attack with: “It is written . . .” followed by a Scripture quote. Eventually, Satan gave up and left Him alone.

To win any spiritual battle, we must also use the Bible. It enables us to spot the enemy’s lies and resist them. Then, instead of letting him push us around, we can make the devil turn tail (if he has a tail) and run the other way.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Invincible? Or ready to go? .......... Parables 665

April 18, 2000

Pete, a young twenties-something, wobbled home from a party. Missing a turn, he drove off the rural road but didn’t seem to notice. He kept driving until his pickup truck bounced off a barbed-wire fence. Not only drunk but determined, Pete put his truck in reverse, backed up and then took a run at the fence. The wires snapped. He went through, drove about a quarter mile across a pasture, then plummeted off a cliff into the Bow River.

The truck landed on its nose. At that spot, fortunately for Pete, the water was shallow. He crawled up to the top of the cab and slept until morning. Other than a torn shirt, he was unhurt. Pete thought he was invincible and this episode further convinced him. Others share Pete’s conviction; death cannot touch me. These daredevils might break bones by the dozens yet nothing stops their death-defying stunts.

These are not suicidal people, just “invincible” people. They say “other fools” make wrong turns with grave consequences but not themselves. Nothing will happen to them. “Invincibles” push limits yet they are not alone; most of us are just as determined to avoid death. We push it out of mind, refuse to set foot in a home for seniors, avoid hospitals, avoid even the word “death” as if that will make this experience go away. Of course, avoiding it doesn’t work. Everyone dies. Defiance cannot alter the fact. Death is inevitable. Rather than avoid it, we should plan for it.

Death visited our family over the Christmas holidays. My father, died three weeks short of his 91st birthday. It was not a surprise. Invincibility and delusion seldom hang around someone that age. He knew, and we knew, that his years were running out.

At the funeral, the speaker said a person does not have to be old or sick to die. It can happen to anyone. He reminded us of Jesus’ story of a rich man whose farm produced a bumper crop. He decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones so he could store his goods, then “eat, drink and be merry.” This man gave no thought to the future nor considered death. However, God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. . . .”

My Dad was a farmer too, but the resemblance ends there. Unlike the rich fool, Dad thought about the future and even about death. Early in life, he made a will and then kept it updated. In his early forties, he bought a burial plot and grave markers (a practical move considering that today the same package costs ten times what he paid for it).

Dad may have toyed with the idea of being invincible when he was young but as a mature man, he realized he was not. Rather than try to defy death or deny it, he planned for it, even considered life after death.

In 1986, he asked what a person had to do to please God. How can a person be ready for death and be fit for His presence? He was told the answer: “It is by grace you are saved through faith, and that is not from yourself, it is the gift of God — not of works. . . .” We cannot do anything to earn or deserve heaven. All we can do is believe in the promises of God.

Dad understood God’s grace in sending Jesus to die for his sins. He knew Jesus paid the penalty he deserved and that He offers eternal life to anyone who will humble themselves and trust His promises. Dad decided that salvation through faith is a good deal. He simply confessed his sin and asked Jesus to be his Savior, resting in His promise of forgiveness and eternal life.

Occasionally Dad said, “I wish the Lord would come and take me home.” Daredevils and invincibles cannot say that, only people who are ready to go.