Friday, October 21, 2016

Overcome Worry .......... Parables 500

January 16, 1996

A wise person says worrying in your recliner chair is more difficult than singing in your garden on the business end of a spade.

According to my dictionary, worry is mentally gnawing, like a dog worrying a bone. Another definition says worry is “a complete cycle of inefficient thought revolving around a pivot of fear!” Because worry is non-productive, even destructive, maybe worry is like a dog gnawing but the results are more like what happens to the bone!

Most of us do not define worry as “fear” but use softer words. We say, “I am not worried, but I am concerned.” The difference is merely in degree. Besides, not all fear is destructive. Fear keeps us from drinking poison, driving too fast, or walking into a den of snakes. However, fear is a curse when it prevents us from enjoying our family, riding a bus, or walking across the front yard.

Fear also swings its club whenever something new challenges us. Fear threatens failure, ridicule and loss of self-esteem then hits us again on the back-swing suggesting every effort we make to prevent failure will also fail. Fear says we will eventually suffer. Whatever we fear will be the worst thing that ever happens to us.

Perhaps worry is a feeble attempt to control things we cannot control. A family member misses curfew — but does watching the door make him come home sooner?

Worry is folly and although Christians affirm faith and say God has the power to control everything, we still worry. Fear nags with “God will not do anything.” We worry that whatever happens, it will not be the thing we want done.

People with faith can trust God — but faith is not “don’t worry, be happy, shut your eyes to reality.” Faith sees the problems but trusts God because the person with faith knows God. Faith understands that God can use circumstances constructively, even negative circumstances. Romans 8:28 says “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.”

The next verse defines God’s purpose. He is in the process of changing me into the image of Christ. It is His intention that I respond to all things in Christlikeness. Instead of gnawing on “inefficient thought” or let it gnaw on me, I have something to do.

For Christians, productive thinking begins with confessing fears and worry to God and telling Him we are sorry for thinking so little of His love and power. As He dissolves those fears into trust, we begin thinking differently about our situations. Our attitudes become more like Christ’s attitudes. We may not always know how to solve every problem but we are at peace instead of wasting energy and time fussing about what to do.

Faith’s productive thinking soon rolls up it sleeves and gets to work. We usually know what to do next. It may not be the solution to our problem but something more simple, like taking pencil and paper in hand to plan or reorganize, or washing a sink full of dishes. Faith uses energy to produce results, not headaches and ulcers.

Philippians 4 explains both our part and God’s part: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That unfathomable peace produces singing — both in the garden and the recliner chair!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tests for a true prophet .......... Parables 499

February 6, 1996

A friend was offered a $5000 advance just before Christmas. Amazed at this unexpected source of generosity, he wondered if God was telling him he would soon need some cash. The phone rang again. This time it was a sales pitch for a funeral plot!

This amusing story suggests we need to be careful about interpreting life’s situations as special messages from heaven. While God is involved in history, interpreting each of life’s daily events as prophetic messages can lead us astray.

Nevertheless, thousands of people want a handle on the future. Some plan their day around their horoscope. Some seek out fortune-tellers for predictions on everything from vacations to Vatican decisions. Few consider the fact that false prophets abound. Fewer realize there is a test to determine the legitimacy of prophetic claims.

In the Bible, the prophets and seers proclaimed the will of God. Sometimes their messages followed a pattern: If you do this... God will do this.... making it clear that God’s plan included conformity in the lives of those who heard it. Sometimes their utterances included accurate predictions of future events, events that always came to pass.

Not all who called themselves prophets loved and served God. Some were “false prophets.” They were in the fortune telling business but their messages were not from heaven. They claimed otherwise but God’s true prophets challenged their claims.

Jeremiah writes, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.’”

Jeremiah explains to the people: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.”

According to God’s Word, false prophets tell those who despise God that He will give them peace (inferring that their attitude against Him is okay). False prophets also say no harm will come to those who stubbornly follow their own way instead of His. Jeremiah says none of them seek the will of God or hear His word. Instead, they tell people reckless lies that will not “benefit them in the least.”

When the people asked how they could discern true prophets from false, God gave them these answers. First: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” A false message will be inconsistent with one basic truth of the Gospel — that we are under bondage to sin unless we turn to God and His saving power.

Second: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams... announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.” This test acknowledges false prophets sometimes make predictions that happen but we need to test if their message will lead us toward God or away from Him. If it leads us away, then the messenger is not from God.

Third: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.” This is the major test: EVERYTHING a prophet predicts must happen. Otherwise, he or she is a false prophet.

Our friend decided God was not talking to him through his unusual windfall. He didn’t buy a funeral plot. Instead, he paid his bills and purchased some special gifts for his family.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Where is God when life hurts? .......... Parables 498

January 2, 1996

A teenage girl is beaten by her dad and screams, “There is no God.” A purse snatcher robs a senior of her savings and she sobs, “There is no God.” A man befriends a young couple, convinces them to invest in his company, then disappears with their funds. They cling to each other and cry out there is no God.

Sometimes unthinking Christians respond to these tragedies with a line from Scripture that declares, “Only a fool says in his heart there is no God.” We don’t know what is in their heart. Perhaps a kinder and wiser option is speaking and living in a way that demonstrates to them that there is indeed a God.

People can do it. According to Genesis, God created us in His own image. In some ways we are like God. We are not reflections of His physical likeness (He is spirit) and we cannot be everywhere at once nor do all things. We are like Him in our creativity, emotions, capacity to think, to love and to make decisions. Also, He intended we reflect something of His wisdom, goodness and generosity. He created us so we would magnify His glory.

It is not that people are blind to God’s glory from other revelations. The psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Nature reveals God’s power and creativity. If cats and dogs and grass and thunderstorms can declare the glory of God, why can’t humans?

God also revealed Himself to the prophets of old. They recorded in books what He showed and told them — compiled into what we call the Bible. Scripture is a written record of everything God has revealed about Himself. Reading its pages with an open mind opens our eyes to the truth of Who He is. If we can see God in a book, why can’t we see Him in each other?

The point is, whether people believe in God or not, all are image-bearers — but not all are doing the job. The mirror is dirty. God’s image is muddied by abuse, greed, power trips, stealing, extortion, adultery, gossip, hatred, murder, jealousy and selfishness. When we look at the downside of humanity, we are almost justified in saying, “There is no God.”

Even if we take an honest look at the positive or good things people do, we have to admit the goodness in people points to a higher good. Yet we fail there too. We prefer to give ourselves credit for our goodness. In doing so, we contribute to the notion that there is no God.

With all those ways we mar the image of God, I am glad God gave a greater revelation of Himself: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son... the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being....”

The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s perfect revelation of His love and holiness. As He said, “He who sees me sees the Father.” Yet take note, God chose to reveal Himself in a human being. Jesus needed sleep, food and drink and was tempted by sin just as we are. He had all the limitations of being human but was different in that He did not sin. He proved that sin is not essential to being human because it was in being human that Jesus accomplished what we fail to do. He perfectly reflected the image of God.

Through this remarkable God-man, we are offered forgiveness and cleansing of our sin. He can polish our mirror and restore the image of God in us.

Everyone, including people who suffer and those who torment them, need to see that God indeed exists. The compelling evidence may not be a lecture, sermon or thunderstorm. They might see Him in someone who thinks, talks, and acts like Jesus.

Friday, October 14, 2016

And He will give you rest .......... Parables 497

January 9, 1996

My husband and I begin this year with a rest. For us, it is not only a new year, but a new beginning. Just over a year ago, my parents moved in with us; just three weeks ago, they moved into a residence for seniors.

All four made the transition with mixed emotions. My parents were excited yet apprehensive about another change in their lives. Would this new home be a place of rest, peace and security for them? Would they make new friends? Would their old friends visit them? Would their health continue to be stable? We hoped so.

Bob and I have a different adjustment. We are long-term tired. Although mom and dad are easy to get along with, being care-givers is time and energy consuming. A long rest is important right now. Not only do our bodies need it, so do our emotions and our souls. God did not intend that we stay on the fast track indefinitely. Rest is part of His plan for us.

God’s plan for rest considers high stress situations. When a wicked queen named Jezebel threatened the prophet Elijah, he ran several miles then fell under a tree utterly discouraged. He cried out to God but God did not respond with lofty revelations. Instead, He made sure Elijah was fed and had some sleep. After rest, God encouraged his spiritual life.

God’s plan also places work before rest. The Genesis account of creation says God worked for six days then rested on the seventh. He proclaimed this a special day for the people of Israel. They also worked six days and rested on the seventh.

The pattern changed slightly in the New Testament. The Scripture writers said the Sabbath days were a “type” or a shadow of a greater rest to come. After Jesus was crucified for our sins and rose again, people could enter His rest. Then they would “cease from their own work just as God did from His” and enjoy life in His kingdom.

This was a rest (and a kingdom) for both now and in the future. Anyone who labors to please God and then discovers “salvation is not by works of righteousness we do” but by “grace through faith” also discovers an inner rest in their soul. They no longer feel the stress of pointless behavior. In the future, they will also enter an eternal rest where they will enjoy God forever.

It seems New Testament Christians no longer held the seventh day as their day of worship. This external “shadow” Sabbath was swallowed up by its internal fulfillment. Because of their deeper, inner rest, believers began to celebrate the victory of Christ over the grave on the first day of the week, Sunday.

This placement in the week has a practical side. Many of us realize that our work and all that we do is blessed whenever we pray before we begin doing it. We realize that our week is blessed also — whenever we begin it with praise and worship. Starting with God brings renewed focus and commitment. We take time to ask for wisdom and grace for each coming situation.

Our hope is to begin the year with rest and worship. We want to praise God for His goodness in 1995 and renew our focus for the year ahead. We want to recommit our future to Him, asking for grace and wisdom in the multiplied choices that lie before us.

Whether others can take a vacation or not, we hope those who know and love God will start their year with Him. Resolutions are okay but depend too much on our own strengths. A commitment to follow and obey the Lord brings the added benefit of much higher resources!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

War and/or Peace? .......... Parables 496

December 19, 1995

“If those who want peace are just as interested in success, popularity and power as those who want war, what then is the difference between war and peace?” (H. Nouwen)

Good question. It interests me that Jesus Christ offered both war and peace. He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” but also said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.”

Why the contradiction? Was Jesus interested only in results and not at all concerned with the means used to get them? Did it matter to Him whether He became popular with promises of peace or powerful with promises of a sword? What was He trying to say?

Some think Jesus enjoyed popularity but when it leveled off, He and His disciples concocted a plot — if He “died” and “rose from the dead” no one would ever forget Him. In other words, Jesus was no different than anyone else who seeks personal success, fame and power. Securing a name for Himself and a following was the most important thing.

If Jesus was interested only in success, popularity and power, He had to be mentally warped. Nothing He did secured any of those three. The world, even in His day, measures success by wealth and position. Jesus was a mere carpenter and an itinerant preacher who died without owning any land or houses, only the clothes on His back. He was penniless.

Popularity is measured by the number of people who like you and stick with you. It is not the same as notoriety. If Jesus wanted only to be popular, why then did He make decisions that caused even His closest friends to misunderstand Him and eventually desert Him?

Power was measured in His day by the size of a man’s army and the number of His weapons. Jesus had no army. His power was kindness and forgiveness, with which He gathered a following of fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “low life” of society who hardly fit anyone’s idea of an army.

Even the “power” He had had no influence on Jewish leaders, except a few who were too afraid to let anyone know they followed Him. He also had no influence over political leaders. Herod tried to kill Him as a baby, and subsequent Roman leaders willingly allowed the Jews to crucify Him. Even on the cross, Jesus did not choose power. The crowds mocked Him saying, “You saved others... come down... save yourself” but He refused to call out for help, either to His Father or to “legions of angels.”

Was Jesus’ idea of success twisted? No, but His concept was different. He knew the Scripture said, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” To Him, success was obeying everything God said. He was successful at doing that.

Jesus did not have a twisted idea of popularity either. He simply was not as concerned with the applause of men as He was with pleasing God. The Apostle Paul later wrote, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God....” Of Him, God said, “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was popular — with the One Person who counts.

As for power, the Bible says Jesus had no human armies and even though He could have called on angels to deliver Him from death, He instead affirmed that spiritual might is not in swords and spears. The Bible says the “weakness of God (in becoming a vulnerable man and dying) is stronger than men.” His death accomplished the purpose of God in providing redemption for sinful man. However, His “weakness was not permanent. Jesus also has the “power of an endless life” — and He lives and reigns forever at the right hand of His Father.

Rather than challenge the difference between those who want war and those who want peace, Nouwen would be wise to inquire about different views of success, popularity and power. He might discover it is possible, even in the midst of conflict, to have peace.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Messiness is not always a bad thing .......... Parables 495

December 12, 1995

The poster says, “A clean desk is a symptom of a sick mind.”

Whether my mind is hale and hearty is debatable, but one thing is certain, my desk is never clean. At the moment, one side hosts a stack of research for something I am writing, two magazines, a calculator and three letters. The other side is buried under a pile of receipts, two cassette tapes, a glass of water, a book, reminder notices of events, my cordless phone (the cradle is somewhere) a box of diskettes, a basket of pens, memo paper, some business cards, and an open notebook stuffed with loose pieces of “to do” notes to myself.

The mess bothers me enough to clear it off about once a week but in no time it is messy again. Actually, according to a verse in Proverbs, I should be proud of the mess. The verse says, “Where there is no oxen, the stall is clean.”

Solomon, who wrote most of Proverbs, knew if a living, working animal was around, a mess could be expected. If nothing else, my messy desk indicates I am alive and working.

Also, my mess has a redeeming quality — it is never the same. This morning, the pile included two boxes of tissue, a cross stitch kit, three magazines and an invoice for my mother. By tonight, the contents of the mess will change again. To paraphrase that Proverb: “Where there is life and activity, there will be a mess to clean up!”

Active living creates debris of all kinds. There would be no “messes” if we never did anything, never took risks, never created, never involved ourselves in work or play. Desks would be clean — as would homes, garages and life — clean, but uneventful and boring.

The risk takers in life endure fatigue, physical harm, emotional downturns, ridicule, and failure. Those things can be “messy.” But without risk, there would be no exploration, no conquests, no inventions, nothing new. So along with adventure, risk takers usually have to clean up — the first man to use fire had to carry out the ashes — but his cave was warm.

As far as taking risks goes, God qualifies. Imagine the angels when they first heard His plan to redeem the world: “What? Risk Your only Son in a virgin birth? Have Him raised by ordinary parents? Why have Him become something so vulnerable as a human being?”

Maybe they added, “You mean Your plan for Him includes only three and one-half years of preaching and teaching? And it will climax with everyone deserting Him? And the religious leaders hating and killing Him? Oh, what a mess that would be!”

Even riskier were three days in a grave, a resurrection, then returning to heaven leaving a handful of astounded disciples to manage the message of redemption. How could God trust the greatest story in the world to mere sinners, stubborn and slow to learn? Would they do the job and take the message that Jesus died and rose again to the whole world?

Perhaps God said to the angels, “This is my plan. If the disciples do not succeed, it is the only plan I have. I am willing to risk it.” So He did.

The disciples took a risk too. When they took the Gospel to the world, most of them were persecuted and killed. Only John lived to old age and he died in exile. Some would call them failures yet generations later, other risk takers have heard and passed it on, taking the risk of fatigue, persecution, ridicule and physical harm. By God’s grace, the power of the Gospel continues to transform ruined lives and mend broken homes.

Christians who avoid the cost (sometimes very messy) of sharing the Gospel will discover that not working might give them “clean stalls” but tied to their safe, no-risk choice is boredom, spiritual lethargy and a vague sense of wondering if they are in the right place.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Electing Leaders .......... Parables 494

December 5, 1995

Every election, disgruntled Canadians (and Americans) look for a special leader. They want improvements in every area from employment to Medicare — without increased personal cost.

The Israelites living in Egypt had the same wants. Joseph, their previous special leader, saved them from famine in their own land. He moved them to the fertile Nile delta where they enjoyed a lush lifestyle.

A few generations later, a new leader decided to make slaves of them. Although God blessed them with increased numbers, they continued to pray, sacrifice their lambs and look to Him for deliverance, both from forced labor and from this new Pharaoh who was ordering all their male babies tossed into the Nile.

One baby escaped. The Pharaoh’s daughter found little Moses, took pity and without knowing it, hired his own mother to nurse him. He was trained to be the next Pharaoh but God had other plans; Moses became the next special leader of Israel.

God’s people were excited. This man was going to take them out of bondage and back to the land God had promised them. Their excitement quickly faded when they faced the cost of freedom: a terrifying escape from Pharaoh and his armies, a dry trip across a barren desert with only manna to eat, and finally a need to battle “giants” before repossessing their land.

They provoked God’s anger by looking for another leader. They complained, “We sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you (Moses) have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Out of that entire generation, only two made it to the land of promise.

Hundreds of years later, their descendants were again looking for a special leader. They had experienced another exile and another bondage, this time in Babylon for seventy years. Their captors restricted their sacrifices and made rules against their praying, yet God heard their cries. With leadership of men like Ezra, they were able to rebuild their homeland.

By 400 B.C., the nation entered yet another bondage. God was silent. No prophets were on the scene repeating His promise of a great Deliverer. The Greeks arrived and changed their nation. Then Rome ruled with an iron hand. The people longed for deliverance from political oppression, prayed and sacrificed their lambs, but saw no sign of a special leader.

Finally, another baby was born. The shepherds found Him first. The magi (Persian king makers) gave Him gifts, but the Roman leader tried to kill Him. The child escaped and grew to manhood. One day, John the Baptist declared Him the promised One, the great Deliverer, “the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.”

This was their special leader, sent by God to save them from their greatest bondage — not the rule of Rome but the tyranny of personal sin.

This freedom comes at a price too. Jesus called for repentance. People must turn from sin and from ruling their own lives, and embrace Him as their Lord and Messiah. Most of them said, “We will not have this man rule over us.”

Israelites or not, people are still looking for a special leader — who can produce paved roads, free medical care, and all the benefits of high living without the cost of tightened belts and self-discipline. Many still reject Jesus because they would rather have free indulgence in their sin (and be in bondage to it) than serve Him.

Perhaps today’s leaders can find comfort in the fact that even the Son of God could not please disgruntled people — who want heaven on earth without cost or without change to their lifestyle.