Monday, June 26, 2017

What size are your ears? .......... Parables 606

August 4, 1998

Remember Pinnochio, the wooden puppet who wanted to be a real live boy? In the story, every time he told a lie, his nose grew.

A news item reports that our eyes are always the same size from birth but our nose and ears never stop growing. Having tried portrait painting, I am aware that a child’s eyes are huge compared to other features. I’ve also noticed when you look at a person’s profile, the length of the ears is the same as the nose. Age doesn’t matter.

That ears and noses never stop growing is a surprise. I suppose if they have to be the same size as each other, it makes sense if one grows, the other must grow also. At least this would keep our features looking somewhat balanced. What a curiosity. Why would we need continual growth to our nose and ears? When we get older, is there a need for increased nasal passages? Does our hearing improve if our ears keep getting bigger? There seems no reason for it.

From another angle, it would be interesting if we had the same type of affliction as Pinochio – only applied to hearing the wrong things, like gossip. Imagine our ears becoming larger whenever we listened to stories better left unheard. How helpful. We could easily identify those who can keep secrets and those who should never be told anything!

This news story makes me think about gossip. Idle talk is a universal activity. People in every culture and for centuries have been swapping stories about others, particularly those not involved in the conversation and who have not given permission for the telling.

As much as people like to gossip, no one wants others to gossip about them. Most of us agree that it is wrong and Christians know God says we should not do it. Before I read about it in the Bible, my grandmother said, “If you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Sometimes gossip begins innocently. We tell someone about another person’s troubles and ask them to pray for that person. If we stopped and prayed at that point, all would be well. However, talk easily slides to semi-disguised put-downs, ridicule or a judgmental evaluation. Job’s friends even did this to his face.

God does not take this universal activity lightly. It is listed with sins like jealousy, anger and arrogance. Slander (a closely related relative) is classified with greed, idolatry, adultery and sexual immorality. The Bible says, “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.” (A variation says, ‘ . . . and the words of an obedient man will live on.’)

Gossip is wrong yet breaking the habit is seldom easy, especially if everyone else is doing it. My sister says she gets caught too, but sometimes stops herself with a little trick. She says, “I gossip about myself.”

Actually, she shows great insight. We need a certain core attitude before we can resist both gossip and slander. If we can tell stories about ourselves, particularly highlighting our weaknesses, mistakes, or short-comings, we usually have a healthy self-image. People with a strong sense of their own value do not need to tear someone down to build themselves up.

A healthy self-concept is rooted in deep confidence that God loves and accepts us and will meet all our needs. Since His opinion is primary and His care is certain, there is no need to prove anything or compete with others, much less tear them apart with gossip.

As for the ear/nose thing, I could check it out by measuring them every year. However, God says “life and death are in the power of the tongue” so that means another priority. By His grace, I’m working on putting a stop to the growth of gossip.

Friday, June 23, 2017

God’s wisdom might seem odd . . . .......... Parables 605

July 28, 1998

What would you do if you owned a business and your customers complained continually that your parking lot was full of kids on skateboards? Most businesses put up signs. There is one at our local mall that says NO SKATEBOARDING IN THE PARKING LOT.

Signs like these make customers and shoppers happy, but what about the youngsters who like to skateboard? After meeting with his church board, a youth pastor in Florida came up with a novel solution. A local youth staged a protest demonstration about off limits signs that kept them from having fun. This pastor in Dunedin, Florida showed up and invited them to use the church lot. Thus began “Live Wire,” a program for skateboarders and their friends.

Each Tuesday, the church parking lot is open from 6:00 to 7:00 for skateboarding, skating, and pickup basketball. Then the church offers food and a short Bible study, followed by more games. Because they feel welcome, young people are attending the study and learning that Jesus loves them too.

Christians soon discover that the Holy Spirit is quite willing to give wisdom and creative solutions to all who ask Him for it. I recall one of our sons being threatened by two older and larger boys at school. I prayed for wisdom and God gave me an interesting idea.

I told my son to tell those two boys he would be in big trouble with his parents if he got into any fights. Instead, why not come over to our house and they could don boxing gloves and have it out in our garage?

Our son was puzzled. What if they came? I said, “Before you have your fight, I will serve milk and cookies.” He laughed and left for school. When he came home, he was laughing again. The boys decided they should be his friends and the conflict was over.

James 1 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

That sounds easy but there is one catch to it. James goes on: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

God gives wisdom to those who believe in Him, to those who trust that He will. We are not given the option of asking then when we get an idea, second-guess it or wonder if it is from God or if it will work. In my son’s situation, we could have let the idea “what if they come” grow into real doubt that the plan would work. Instead, we trusted that God gave the idea and since His idea’s are good, it would work. We could go ahead, placing our confidence in Him for the outcome.

God also gives practical wisdom. He knew that skateboarders need to use their skills in an appropriate place. He also knew that these young people needed to know that someone cares about them and that He also cares about them. He gave a good idea to a youth pastor who saw the problem as an opportunity to seek God’s wisdom.

Whatever the problem, our God is wise enough to give us answers. The problem may not be quickly solved, but if we trust Him, He will lead us through to an amazing resolution, one that we would not have thought of without His help.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Speaking His words, not mine .......... Parables 604

July 21, 1998

David Prowse wore the Darth Vader suit in the Star Wars movie and spoke all of Vader’s lines but in the final version, all his words were dubbed over by James Earl Jones. Prowse must have been disappointed. Even though he was playing the role of an imaginary person, he expected to hear his own voice in the theater.

Prowse was playing a role, but saying someone else’s words could also be plagiarism. I once heard a speech that was almost identical to another one delivered by a more famous speaker. Because I recognized it, the second speech was a great disappointment.

Sometimes people say someone else’s words because they are delivering a message for them. For instance, we send one child to tell the others that “it is suppertime.” We expect them to deliver the message promptly and repeat it as it was given.

I’m not sure how we can define what James Earl Jones was doing. He delivered Vadar’s lines (an imaginary person) using Prowse’s moving lips (without his permission). In some ways, he was delivering a message but imagine words coming out of your mouth that are not your words and someone else is saying them!

Being a “mouth” for another person’s words is not a far-fetched idea for a Christian. When the first disciples of Christ came together for prayer, Acts 4:31 says “they prayed and the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

These men and women were talking — but their words were not their words. They were not actors playing a role, nor were they committing plagiarism. They were delivering a message, given to them by God, a message He wanted them to pass on to others without changing or adding to it. Further, passing on a message from God is a more incredible responsibility than telling someone supper is ready. The destiny of the listeners depended on fidelity to the original.

Besides that, giving God’s message has an added twist. Merely reciting verses from of the Bible, even reciting them accurately, does not necessarily do it. God did inspire the writing of Scripture, but delivering a powerful message for God is not reading — instead, it is God-driven.

God-driven describes a person controlled by the Spirit of God rather than by personal motivations. This person is usually willing to speak, however God is not restricted by human resistance or indifference. If He chooses, He can speak through whoever or whatever He wants (even a donkey (see Numbers 22).

God informs His people, even commands us, that we can say His words: “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). Imagine the difference in our speech if we knew God was using our mouths!

Most importantly, speaking for God is a type of service for Him. Peter goes on to say, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.”

Speaking for God is not for self-aggrandizement. In fact, selfish motives must be put aside. When a person (or a donkey!) actually does it, God is using them in a living and active way. He is present and very intentional; these words are important to His plan.

In the minds of Star Wars fans, no one thought about David Prowse’s lips moving, or that they were hearing sounds made by James Earl Jones. For them, Darth Vadar was speaking. It is like this when God speaks through His people. The voice may be a preacher, a Christian neighbor or whoever He decides to use, but those willing to hear God will know it is Him.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dealing with stress? .......... Parables 603

July 14, 1998

A commercial shows a young man in the company of beautiful, alluring women. The words tell of his struggle to resist temptation as sweat drops from his brow—but it isn’t the women that are enticing him—it is their cigarettes. He is trying to quit smoking.

A friend tells me that he started smoking on a dare, but it soon became his main source of relaxation. As his life entered the fast lane, his habit grew to over a pack a day. He now claims he needs this much nicotine to calm his nerves.

What can a person do for a stressed body and frenzied minds? In 1984, over 100 million prescriptions were written in the United States for tranquilizers and related drugs. Some prop themselves up with alcohol. Others crash in front of a television set. Nothing seems to have a lasting effect because that fast lane soon demands they come back.

Because of our hectic pace, North Americans suffer in epic proportions from “sleep-deprivation.” Instead of cutting back, our to-do lists get longer. Instead of taking mini-vacations, we add pep with pills, chemicals, multi-vitamins, and all sorts of related pick-me-ups. Amid the pressures, our limping bodies demand a bigger and better boost to keep us going.

The problem with our props and crutches is that even if they do work, the relief they give does not last long. It is like dieting; we lose weight but soon go back to our old eating patterns and the pounds return. We need a permanent change in the way we live, not a short-term boost.

One bonus: the body is sometimes smarter than the mind. It will fold up on its own if we refuse to willingly take a rest. Illness forces us to do what we knew we needed but were too busy to allow ourselves the time for.

Jesus knows all about our tendency to go too fast without taking time to refuel but His solution was not necessarily more sleep. Even though stress and the tensions of life eventually affect the body, they begin their toll in the inner places, in our hearts and minds and souls.

On one occasion, crowds pressed Jesus for greater miracles but He noticed those who refused to believe in Him, religious leaders who preferred their own hectic efforts at pleasing God. To them (and to us) He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus knew their fast-lane living came from efforts to be all they could, but they were trying to do it in their own strength and by their own rules. Without God’s help, they were becoming weary, beating up themselves with impossible rules and demands. They missed out on God’s help because they refused to put their trust in Him.

On another occasion, Jesus visited Mary and Martha, sisters who loved the Lord. It was mealtime. At first, both women sat and visited with Jesus. Then Martha became anxious about the meal and sped to the kitchen. Soon she grumbled that Mary was not helping her but instead sitting at Jesus’ feet. Martha complained to Jesus. He told her she was over-anxious, then added, “. . . only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better. . . .”

The meal was important but so was spending time at His feet. Without it, Martha did not have the strength (or the right attitude) to do the work. She railed at Mary and even tried to tell Jesus that He didn’t care. She thought Mary was lazy but Mary knew her source of strength. The work could wait until she was fueled up and ready to do it. Jesus said this was “better.”

Notice, Jesus does not promise a work-free life. He just promises to lift anxiety and be our ultimate crutch. With Him, we can find strength for life, even for the fast lane, but we have to slow down to get it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Faith is about who God is .......... Parables 602

July 7, 1998

I used to argue with my mother about evolution. She believed in a six-day creation by God and I thought horses used to be the size of small dogs.

One day, after a few major failures, I invited Jesus Christ into my life. I wanted His forgiveness and help with what I had ruined. At that point, the creation/evolution conflict was not an issue. Sometime later, I realized that I no longer believed the horse thing. I had much the same belief in creation as my mother. My mind had somehow changed although no one had tried to convince me with various points from either theory. I had read the Bible, trusted God, and despite so-called scientific evidence to the contrary, my position changed without any effort on my part.

Descriptions of experiences like this cause some people to think Christians “park their brains” when they embrace faith. They wonder how a thinking person could possibly believe that there is a God or that He created the world. This especially includes the scientific community.

Several years ago, someone researched this issue. They discovered that many founding fathers of modern science were Bible-believing Christians. This includes names like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur, Francis Bacon and German astronomer, Johannes Kepler.

For instance, Kepler reasoned that since the universe was designed by an intelligent Creator, it should function according to some logical pattern. In his day, other non-believing scientists thought the universe was a product of chaos, therefore had no order. Kepler countered that a chaotic universe was inconsistent with God’s wisdom. Because of his faith and thinking, we now have a better and more accurate understanding of the consistency in planetary motion.

In more recent research, it has been noted that 40% of the scientific community professes a belief in God. The writer who reported this number seemed surprised. The percentage turned out to be the same as statistics before this century. He thought that since more “scientific evidence” had been discovered, more scientists would dismiss God and embrace evolution.

In my experience, faith seemed to sidestep the creation/evolution debate, yet I realize that faith is not about believing something without evidence. Nor is it believing in spite of evidence to the contrary. Instead, faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” based on a deep trust in God and in what He says. If it opposes other theories, who is right?

In relation to how the world was formed, God says “what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Believing that God created all things is not based on what I can see or not see or figure out by my own reasoning. My faith is based on what God has revealed about Himself and my trust is in Him. When I ask “Is God telling the truth?” — faith says, “Yes, He is.”

Faith is reasonable. If God is the God described in the Bible, God can make a universe out of nothing. He can do whatever He wants, even form a spiritual dimension or reality that is totally unlike those things we can see, yet exists parallel to them.

The Bible says sin has flawed human reasoning. We cannot always depend even on our own common sense. Gideon is one example. He went into a battle against a Midianite army of more than 100,000 but God told him his army of 32,000 men was too big. God thinned it to only 300, then instructed Gideon to use a battle tactic that was absurd.

Gideon’s faith saw both visible and invisible realities. He knew he was hopelessly outnumbered. However, he did not allow what he could see to detract from what God said. His faith went beyond what his common sense told him. He believed in the unseen God — and won the battle.

Faith is not blind but accompanied by inner vision. Faith sees past theories and suppositions because it is focused on God and His Word.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Patience pays off ............. Parables 601

June 23, 1998

My impatience shows up in many half-finished craft projects. Sometimes I excuse them by claiming boredom. If I am honest, I must admit I move from one thing to another because the current one is taking too long to finish. For me, persevering to the end is often a challenge.

Patience and its twin, perseverance, form the crown of virtue and maturity. If a person can persevere under all pressures and temptations to quit, they are mature and able to overcome great challenges. John Wesley, a famous Methodist preacher, was a patient man. Consider this page from his diary:

  • Sunday morning, May 5, preached in St. Ann’s, was asked not to come back anymore.
  • Sunday p.m., May 5, preached at St. John’s, deacons said, “Get out and stay out.”
  • Sunday a.m., May 12, preached at St. Jude’s, can’t go back there either.
  • Sunday p.m., May 12, preached at St. George’s, kicked out again.
  • Sunday a.m., May 19, preached at St. somebody else’s, deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
  • Sunday p.m., May 19, preached on the street, kicked off the street.
  • Sunday a.m., May 26, preached in meadow, chased out of meadow because a bull was turned loose during the services.
  • Sunday a.m., June 2, preached out at the edge of town, kicked off the highway.
  • Sunday p.m., June 2, afternoon, preached in a pasture, 10,000 people came to hear me.
Wesley’s patience paid off. He decided that anything worthwhile was worth waiting for, even worth enduring opposition and setbacks. The difficulties did not stop him but seemed to affirm that his goal was worth pursuing.

Our generation is not like that. We have instant breakfasts, fast food lunches, heat-and-serve dinners, no-iron clothes, jump-to-the-pump service. Television, with problems solved in 30-60 minutes, makes us impatient with our own problems. In our minds, all challenges should be quickly and neatly wrapped up in, at most, a day or two.

The problem with quick solutions is that we miss an important step in the development of our character. Trials make us patient.

James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, put it this way, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Perhaps most people do not see a trial as a test of their faith. However, all challenges, particularly difficult ones, are opportunities to trust God. Easy problems do not test our resources to the limit. Tough situations bring us to the end of our abilities and, hopefully, to God.

Faith in God means trusting Him to supply whatever we need to make it through our tough situation. First, we may need wisdom. For that James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all. . . .”

During trials, faith also keeps us from bailing out or running away. Instead of turning to drugs, booze or other numbing “solutions,” faith keeps us from despair. By faith, we know that God hears our cry for help and His help is on the way.

Faith also knows that God uses all things, even trials, for our good, to make us more like Christ. Part of being like Christ is being patient, being able to persevere, to finish what we start.

Hmm. Now where did I leave that half-finished cross stitch?

Monday, June 12, 2017

The ‘why’ question ................ Parables 600

June 16, 1998

U.S.A. SCHOOL SHOOTING -- WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING?

If the question is not added after newspaper headlines, people do ask it after hearing tragic events such as young students bringing guns into their school to shoot classmates and teachers.

Without intending to diminish the horror of recent events, a cartoonist attempts to answer that huge question. His drawing shows a man shouting at God, “Why do you allow injustice?” A voice comes back, “I might ask you the same question.”

In another attempt to answer this question, an eighty-year old friend says we are foolish to confuse God with life. In life, we experience evil, helplessness and things that seem senseless. However, God is always good, powerful and wise. While we may not understand His reasons for staying out of certain human activities, we cannot blame Him when people do evil things.

Who do we blame? The psychologists debate back and forth; is it nurture or nature? Is the environment at fault or is this a genetic problem?

Those who blame nurture say something is wrong with a bad person’s environment. That could include parents, the school system, their neighborhood and society at large. Accordingly, if children were properly raised, rightly educated, and lived in the right part of the world, they would not do evil things.

Others think genetics determine character and intelligence. Certain people are simply prone to unacceptable behavior. In this theory, kids who shoot other kids are genetically predisposed to be anti-social (or however the current lingo describes them). We are simply “programmed” and our behavior is a natural outflow of that programming. We have no real choices in what we do because our decisions flow out of predetermined factors set at birth.

The Bible does put some responsibility in both areas. Because our environment does have influence, parents are told to raise their children to know and obey God. Social structures are encouraged to be just and moral, upholding righteousness and punishing those who do evil. Of course failure of families and other social systems to uphold godly values can result in children without those values, kids who shoot other kids.

As for genetics, Scripture does say that we are “born into sin.” This means that although human beings were created to reflect God’s image, sin has marred our ability to do it. Our propensity to go our own way, opposing and ignoring God, permeates the entire human race. A huge reason kids shoot kids is inherent in what the Bible calls our “sinful nature.”

However, the Bible makes it clear that God does not allow anyone to blame their nature or their environment for their behavior. Our sinful nature is neither an excuse nor a reason for despair. God will forgive us and give us a new nature. With this transformation, we can choose good and rely on Him to give us the power we need to overcome our sinful nature.

We are not stuck with externals that “program” us either. Despite the lawlessness around us, with God’s help it is possible for us to choose to obey Him. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” Through faith in Him, we can overcome the negatives that life throws at us.

God clearly says no one is a helpless victims of their genes or their environment; we are personally responsible for our choices. Nature and nurture can be negative or positive but God gives freedom from both by giving us the ability to choose — and that will influence how our life turns out.

God’s key to the nurture/nature debate is choice. He may permit evil but He also puts the ball back in our court. He says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . .”