Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Compatibility cannot happen without glue! .......... Parables 538

December 24, 1996 ?

These days, marriages are not expected to last. Maybe that is why the demise of Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth union was not a significant headline. What gave the story some attention was the unusual settlement demands. Her latest ex-partner, Larry Fortensky, asked the millionaire actress to increase his monthly pay of $5,000. He claimed this amount only covered “bare expenses.”

According to Taylor, she filed for divorce because of “irreconcilable differences.” This usually means neither one of them would bend. Personal likes and dislikes were more important to them as individuals with “rights” than was harmony in their marriage, so they ended the marriage.

Traditionally, insistence on one’s own way is considered a mark of immaturity. Fortensky at a mere 44 years old, and Taylor who is 63 prove that maturity is not something that comes with age. Neither have learned to make personal sacrifices to benefit a relationship. For them, it seems easier to find someone else with whom to be compatible.

However, after eight tries, Taylor should know by now that compatibility is not an accident or a discovery. It takes work. Besides, if another person totally agrees with everything we think, say and do, one of us is unnecessary. Compatibility is not the key to a happy marriage anyway. Genuine commitment has far more “glue.”

However, commitment is not easy either. It requires work and determination. Incompatibility will always rear its wedge-shaped head. It has been a problem from the beginning of marriage. Genesis says God made man and woman, both in His image. They were like God and they loved each other, just as God loved them. However, their relationship did not stay that way.

Along came the tempter in the form of a serpent. He deceived Eve and both she and Adam turned away from God and fell into sin. They immediately realized their guilt and hid from God. When He sought them out, He told them their sin would have consequences. One of these was to Eve; God said that, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16)

This “curse” has been interpreted in various ways but because it has the same wording as something God says to Cain in the next chapter, the best meaning seems to be, “You will desire to rule your husband but he will rule over you.”

Remember, this is a consequence of sin and a curse, not the marital harmony God intended. Some people call it the battle of the sexes. Despite our attraction to each other, there is something about the marriage relationship that proves Genesis 3:16 is a reality and it is actually sin, not gender differences, that is behind “irreconcilable differences.”

Sin makes people want their own way. Sin makes people manipulate and dominate others. For some reason, sin makes us think that we must have our own way or we will not be happy. Therefore, husbands dominate wives and wives resist by trying to have their own way.

How can this battle come to an end? Some don’t bother trying; they just fight. Others agree to disagree pleasantly. Some call a truce “for the sake of the kids.” Others put on a happy face and cover up their war. Liz and Larry ended it by divorce. None of these are God’s way.

God brings peace by dealing with causes. If sin causes wars, then the remedy for the wars is His remedy for sin, His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “God made Him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Liz and Larry could take their irreconcilable differences to the Cross and give them to Jesus. He takes sin on Himself and bears it for us (even though it killed Him) and is then able to give to us His righteousness, a new nature. With it comes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”, the kind of stuff that makes marriages work.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Evaluating Communication Methods .......... Parables 537

December 17, 1996

IBM has developed an astonishing wallet-sized, computerized card called “Personal Area Network” or PAN. PAN emits tiny electrical currents, about one-billionth of an amp, using the human body as a conductor. Using touch, this device can transmit small amounts of information to receivers such as watches, smart phones, pagers and hand-held computers. One prototype sent data from a PAN card in one person’s pocket to another person’s PAN card while they shook hands with each other.

PAN sounds great but I have some reservations. For one thing, what is wrong with the methods of data transfer we already have? With PAN, how can we control who gets our address list or sales figures? Will secrets be traded simply by bumping into a competitor’s sales agent?

Besides, are we that desperate? Don’t we have enough inventions that supposedly enhance communication? Maybe we should simply talk to each other more often. Telephones, computers, pagers and other technology are helpful but making ourselves understood to friends and family members still takes human effort, not more electronic devices.

Thankfully, communication is easier with God. He does not need a PAN to know what is going on in our hearts — He reads minds. For example, in Mark 2, Jesus watched a paralyzed lowered through the ceiling by his friends who wanted Jesus to heal him. To everyone’s surprise, Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees began thinking, “Who can forgive sins but God alone!” Imagine their shock when Jesus questioned their grumbling. John says that, “Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts.”

Once, Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast doing miracles. John writes that “many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” We do not have to open our mouths for Jesus knows all about us before we say anything. He knows whether we trust Him or not.

This has several implications. For one thing, I do not have to worry about explaining myself to God. He knows all about how I think and what I think. Actually, He understands me better than I understand myself. If I am having difficulty with who I am and what I do, He is the best person to explain me to me.

Second, I do not have to explain others to God. He already knows how they think and what they think about. He understands them better than they understand themselves too. When I have difficulty with others, God is the right person to help us understand each other.

Third, God is also able to explain Himself to me. He can put His thoughts into my mind. 1 Corinthians 2 explains that “we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” It goes on to say the things that come from the Spirit of God are spiritually discerned and spiritual people can understand them. While we cannot “know the mind of the Lord that we may instruct him” we do “have the mind of Christ” that we may understand Him—making God’s way of communicating far better than a computerized card.

One consolation about PAN; when it shows up in Walmart, we can be thankful it reads only what is entered into the card and can not read our minds. It is already difficult enough to keep our Christmas list secret without our families finding out simply by giving us a hug or a body check!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Death and Eternal Life .......... Parables 536

December 3, 1996

The American Medical Association reports a study concerning terminally ill patients. According to this study, a majority of people from certain ethnic groups would rather their doctor did not tell them they were dying. They felt this information should go to the family instead. In contrast, people from other ethnic groups were more likely to want to hear it for themselves.

Death is never an easy matter to discuss, much less stare in the face; however, terminally ill people may have good reasons for wanting to be told. Perhaps they want time to get their personal affairs in order or say goodbye to loved ones. Some may dislike playing games with reality. If death looms on the horizon, why hide the fact or pretend it never will happen? Those who would rather not be told may believe their family can make better decisions for them.

The report did not mention belief systems of these various groups, just that African-Americans and European-Americans had the least amount of trouble being told of imminent death. These two groups have lived longer with the American philosophy that stresses personal individuality so may feel they can handle the news “by myself.”

On the other hand, these two groups also have had a longer relationship with Christian beliefs. Their desire to know could be influenced by those beliefs. Death, while still a mystery in some ways, is not a huge threat to Christians who personally know the One who conquered it.

People of all religions speculate what will happen the moment someone dies. Some say nothing — the body goes into the ground and that is the end of everything. This is Nihilism and offers no hope.

Others say death is the entrance into another life, one in which the person who died is reincarnated into another life form. Many eastern religions and some segments of New Age teach reincarnation.

The Bible gives quite another version. It reports that Christ rose from the dead and declares that death is not the end but a transition. It also affirms that “it is appointed unto man once to die...” not several times. Reincarnation, according to the Bible, is a false hope.

Scripture offers hope in the Incarnation — the event of God entering our world, pulling on humanity and offering Himself to us as Savior from sin, and Lord of our lives. He proved death is not the end by bringing others to life and by rising from the dead Himself.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes this: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...”

He then describes what happens to us when we die: “The body that is sown (dead) is perishable, it is raised imperishable... it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power... Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep(die), but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed... then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”

The Scripture also reasons this way: “If Christ has not been raised, then the dead are not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins... those who have died are lost.... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised....”

Terminal illness is not unique in that we will all die. But eternal life is unique. It is found only in Christ—the good news is that He is willing and able to give it to anyone who seeks it in Him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Giving a gift yet keeping it .......... Parables 535

December 10, 1996?

According to a story in “USA Today,” a company called “American Express Gift Cheques” did a survey and discovered that about 1/3 of those who receive unwanted gifts, re-wrap them and give them to someone else. Apparently those in a higher income bracket recycle like this more than those with lower earnings. The article did not mention if these statistics include donations made to rummage sales or charity organizations like the Salvation Army.

Receiving something for nothing is not always as good as it sounds. Boxing Day, many shoppers are not making purchases but returning unwanted items. Most of us appreciate a gift, but if it turns out to be something simply unusable or unwanted, we have few choices.

One option is risky—just give it back to the giver. Doing that could ruin a relationship unless that is less important than keeping clutter out of our basements or garages. Of course, we could keep the gifts and simply store them in a handy place. Sometimes people do that and pull them out for display whenever the person who gave it comes to visit. Others just use it, pretend they like it, and hate themselves for their charade. As the survey says, 30% or more dislike those choices and instead find a way to give their unwanted gifts to someone else.

There is one special gift that someone gave me. I kept it. I wanted it. Furthermore, everyone I know who has this gift, also really wanted it. At the same time, I also deeply desire to give this gift to other people. It is the same for everyone who has ever received it. It is too marvelous; it must be shared. It is the gift of eternal life.

Most who do not have eternal life do not realize it is a gift. They think they must earn it or be very good to have it. They also assume it is something that is available after this life is over, that it describes a duration or length of life. Biblically, this is not so. Eternal life is a quality or type of life. It is the life God enjoys. By its very nature, it is a righteous life. It is also rich and generous, anxious to share itself with others. Perhaps God was even motivated to create us simply so He could share His eternal life with someone else.

Genesis 1 & 2 describe creation. The first person was a combination of the dust of the ground and the breath of God, a living soul, another being who had a vital relationship with the One who gave him life. Genesis 3 describes how sin separated the first two people from God and from the “tree of life.” God calls this separation spiritual death. It includes physical death but goes beyond this life to an eternal separation. As Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death...”

However, human sin did not make God want to stop giving away His life. The same Word that spoke creation and humanity into existence one day became flesh, lived among us, and brought a message of hope. Eternal life is again available to anyone who wishes to receive it. That verse in Romans 6 continues: “...but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ...”

Gifts are free. So is eternal life. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast.” We do not earn gifts nor can we do anything to deserve this gift.

Gifts are received. So is eternal life. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to be called the children of God.” Gifts are immediate. So is eternal life. It starts the moment someone receives Christ as their Savior and Lord. 1 John says: “God has given to us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life but he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

His life is wonderful. It means no death, no separation from Him. It also means righteousness, fullness, generosity. Because we know we cannot lose it, all who have it deeply desire to give it away.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Adding any additions? .......... Parables 534

November 26, 1996
Before Kathy moved into her new, three-bedroom split level house, she painted the walls, added a few accent colors and hung wallpaper in two rooms. After she moved her furniture in place, she added paintings, wall hangings, mirrors and other ornaments. She put some plants on a few sunny window ledges and added curtains and swag valences. She arranged art objects on some of the furniture. Before she decorated, the house was nice but seemed empty. After a few careful additions, she transformed it into an inviting, comfortable home.

Few things are so good that they cannot be made better. When the Model T was built, people were amazed, yet it was not long before someone designed a Model A. In May, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile yet in 46 days, someone else beat his record. In spite of its enormous size, the first computer seemed quick. Today, computers are much faster even though some fit inside a shoe box lid.

In the spiritual realm, the “good thing” is faith. The Bible says faith is necessary for forgiveness and eternal life, because “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” However, as good and as necessary as faith is, it is enhanced by some additions. Peter outlines a few: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”

According to the Bible, goodness does not earn God’s favor but no one can claim to have faith without good deeds. As James says, “faith without works is dead.” If we genuinely trust Jesus Christ, we will change the way we live.

Faith is not ignorance but based on the knowledge of God. However, after we come into a faith-relationship with Him, we soon discover we cannot know enough about Him. It is as if faith becomes hungry to know, and unless we add knowledge, our faith can shrivel and die.

Faith also produces an inner control over personal, selfish I-wants. Far from binding us, self-control is a welcome addition. It sets us free from the tyranny of always needing to have our own way. Besides, without this addition, our “faith” is not real.

Perseverance is another necessary addition. As our faith is challenged, increased knowledge may give it a boost, but it is perseverance that keeps faith strong and growing. We must add it just as we must add godliness.

Godliness goes beyond goodness. It means growing to be more like Him so we think His thoughts, talk as He would talk, and make decisions that are in harmony with His will. Godliness is impossible without faith yet faith is not real without godliness. People of faith are God-like.

Another mark of legitimate faith is a love for other Christians. John says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” In our own ability, we might not have the capacity to love some but with Christ living in our hearts and controlling our lives, we can count on Him to supply His love. If it is not there, perhaps He is not there either.

Faith also means loving people who are outside of the family of God. If we add this powerful love, we find our faith is made truly complete. It is the crowning, Christlike touch.

If a person is saved from sin and receives eternal life “by grace through faith, not deeds,” then why do we need to add all these increased virtues? Peter explains in his next verse: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If nothing else, sitting on our faith renders us useless. If we want to draw others to God from an ungodly world, they must see our faith in our life. To show it, we must make some additions.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Fighting the main monster .......... Parables 533

November 12, 1996

Katy cried in fear every time she heard a noise at her window. Matt couldn’t sleep at night because there was a monster in his closet. Sharon dreamed about wild animals and woke up sobbing. In every case, mommy or daddy came to the rescue and hugged away the fears.

Imaginary creatures frighten children but they are imaginary. We have some power over our imaginations. I recall dreams that took a terrible turn but even in my sleep, I changed the storyline and made a happy ending. The threat in my mind was controllable—in my mind.

Real-life monsters are not so easily manipulated. A few years ago, a monstrous black bear visited our campsite and charged our tent several times. Once a German Shepherd lunged unprovoked at my throat. These four-legged monsters did not hurt me but they had a definite ability to do so.

However, my most serious battles are with a formidable monster that I have never seen, one called Satan or the devil. Many suppose that this too is an imaginary creature yet Christians know he is real. Scripture presents him as a real person and Jesus describes him a “liar and the father of lies.” I have wrestled with his lies. I know he is real.

However, one of his most convincing suggestions is that he does not exist. For those who will not buy that, he uses other falsehoods about his identity. For instance, some think this expert at deceit is God’s counterpart. To them, God is extreme good, but Satan is extreme evil.

While that is an accurate description, Satan is not God’s opposite. God is all-powerful but Satan is limited. God is omnipresent, but the devil cannot be everywhere at once. God knows everything, but Satan is in the dark about many things. The devil is only a created being—one that is in rebellion against God.

In that regard, he is like people. We rebel too, but there are differences. For instance, Satan is not as free to do what he wants to do; he must first get permission from God. The story of Job confirms this limitation. When the devil wanted to damage Job, he approached God with this challenge: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? ...But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

For reasons not explained, God replied, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” With that, Satan was allowed to attack Job.

Satan also attacked Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness yet this too was in the plan of God: Matthew 4:1 says, “Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.”

God had His reasons to allow His Son this test, otherwise Satan would not be able to stay in the sinless presence of Christ. His holiness would simply drive away one who is so evil. For that matter, while Christians are not sinless like Jesus, we are also told that when we yield to God (implying that we keep our lives pure and holy), we can “resist Satan and he will flee from us.”

The Bible’s teaching about Satan applies in many situations. If our world caves in, like Job’s did, we can rest in God’s sovereignty. We may not understand why trials happen to us (God did not tell Job), but we know that nothing falls outside of God’s purposes. He loves us. We can trust Him to be with us, to help us and to see us through the very worst situations. He even promises to “work all things together for our good,” a promise my experience stoutly defends.

We can also trust God when temptations are strong, when Satan whispers, “this is too much for you.” Rather than giving in to his lies, we can firmly declare, “My God is able to deliver me.” With that, we are resisting lies with truth, and truth makes this monster turn around and run.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What does it mean to fear God? .......... Parables 532

November 5, 1996

With it, Halloween brings scary stories, reruns of Friday the 13th movies and unusual store windows dressed in black and orange, or even bones and dripping green goo.

Part of the popularity of this holiday is that people like to be frightened, at least just a little. A high from pumping adrenalin is one thing but excessive, mind-numbing fear is not so welcome. It is too hard on the body, never mind the emotions.

Yet fear is important. It keeps us out of lions’ cages and from walking in front of buses. It is also necessary before we can know God. Scripture says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Does this Bible verse mean we are supposed to be afraid of God? Some think not. They say this fear is more like “reverence” or “awe.” In other words, we are to have a similar feeling for God as we would have for a beautiful sunset or a giant tree.

A closer look at this word in its original language and in the context in which the Bible uses it, agrees that most times, fear means reverence. However, it sometimes means fear is just that: being afraid of God. For instance, Jesus offers this warning in Luke 12: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”

Jesus is giving a warning. Anyone who is afraid of people who can kill them ought to realize that what people can do is really not the most important issue. Death eventually comes to everyone anyway, but what happens after death is more serious. Are we going to fear people (who may want to destroy us) or God, who has far more power?

Some people take God lightly. They are more afraid of what people think of them than God’s opinion. As Paul says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3). The Bible is not critical of people who want to please people, but it does condemn fearing what others can do to us to the point that this fear controls how we live. This is the wrong kind of fear.

Other fears can control us too. The book of Hebrews says Jesus died for our sin to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Fear of death enslaves people in many ways but even death is no longer an enemy to those who believe in Christ. He conquers this fear because He conquered death.

Rather than fear anything besides God, we can “call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially.” What He thinks about us is far more important than the opinions of people.

We can also “live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” The word “strangers” refers to the fact that God makes those who trust Christ citizens of heaven. We no longer feel completely at home here, but when we have an attitude of reverence toward God, wrong kinds of fear do not govern our lives. We are at peace, frightened by no one.

Halloween is a reminder to me that everything in life that looks scary or frightens me is not what it first appears. All I need to do is shine the light of God’s truth on it and remember the genuineness of His love and power. Then I can easily see the scarey thing is really only a charade, just another mask attempting to hide His reality.