Monday, August 29, 2016

You have to have been there! .......... Parables 477

July 18, 1995

The woman on the plane sounded Scottish so I asked her where she was from. She replied, “I live in Liverpool, but I belong to Scotland.” What charming words!

A few hours later, we landed in Glasgow and spent two weeks traveling through Scotland. Now, those words are more than charming. Now I have been there myself. Now I feel her heartbeat. I also feel as if I belong to Scotland. It is everything I imagined and more.

Perhaps my love affair is due to my grandfather being born near Aberdeen. There is something about family roots that draws a person back to the land of their origins. Whatever it is, I dream about Scotland nearly every night since we arrived back here in Alberta.

Mind you, there are drawbacks. It rains a great deal there (but I like rain). The roads are narrow and everyone drives on the wrong side of the road (but it never hurts me to slow down or learn a new skill). The prices are double or more what they are here in Canada and it is hard to make a living (so that is why Scots are so thrifty — but I am too). Still, I would go back tomorrow, if I could. And while I am dreaming, I would buy a castle ruins and have it restored. I even have the castle picked out. But then, you would have had to have been there.

“You have to have been there...” How true! Remember telling funny anecdotes but somehow they lost some of their magic in the retelling? The event was better “first hand.”

What about when children finally grow up and become parents... don’t they now better understand the joys and sorrows of being parents after they have “been there” themselves?

The same holds true in the Christian experience. Most people know at least something about God, but hearing about Him and is not the same as having “been there,” as having a personal relationship with Him. Try as we might, our glowing words, praises for God, and stories of answered prayer all sound flat to people who have not “been there.” Perhaps one way to explain is like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and trying to describe its color to a blind person.

The question is: How can a person know God? According to Scripture, we do not know God through hearing eloquent words, magnificent descriptions, and glowing testimonies about Him. They may help but the difference is like reading about Wayne Gretzky in the newspaper compared to playing on the same team with him.

Neither does being smart guarantee that a person knows God. The Bible explains that God (in His wisdom) decided no one in the world would know Him through wisdom. Being powerful or wealthy does not automatically make a person know God either.

How then can a person know God? Paul says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit...”

A “been there” experience of God is a revealed thing, and God has to do the revealing. He hides Himself from those who are proud, uninterested or simply playing games. Therefore we must come to Him with a “humble and contrite spirit” and “believe that He is and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” We have to look for Him and desire to know Him for ourselves.

The lady on the plane could have described Scotland. She could have told me about the flawless fresh air and the bend-over-backwards hospitality — but being there made the difference. Scotland showed me Scotland... and now that I have been there, I’m not sure I understand why she lives in Liverpool.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Seeing and believing .......... Parables 476

(no date for original)

My mom wears bifocals. Actually, that is not exactly true. She has bifocals. She wears them on a cord around her neck — most of the time. Whenever she tries to read, or watch television, or look out the window, she narrows her eyes and squints.

One day I asked her why she didn’t wear her glasses. Couldn’t she see better with them on? She put them on, looked at the TV, took them off and said, “Yes, I can, but most of the time I don’t want to look at anything.”

I understand that. Some days I don’t want to look at anything either. The news is frightful or repetitive. The day outside is gloomy. Television is nothing but reruns. I’ve read all my books. Why wear glasses?

As my mother grows older, she is becoming less and less interested in life’s confusion. Keeping her eyes off the world is one way to cope with a decreasing ability to make sense of it. Although I understand and even sympathize with her, her attitude reminds me of another type of refusing to see. This one is far more serious, even deadly.

Jesus talked about people “having eyes but seeing not.” He told His disciples that He spoke in parables or stories that would be not be understood by these people because, “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

Jesus added “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”

Confused? The Bible explains. When someone hears spiritual truth but ignores or rejects it, their heart (mind) becomes hardened. As the process is repeated, a callous forms and soon that person can no longer hear or understand the truth Jesus proclaimed.

In contrast, those who follow Jesus have a responsibility to both hear and repeat the truth Jesus told. For instance, God gave the Apostle Paul a special mission. He related to King Agrippa what God had told him: “I am sending you to (the Gentiles) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

Then Paul added, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”

As Paul obeyed what God showed him, he was given increasing revelations. The Lord even allowed an “infirmity” or weakness to prevent him from taking pride in that he had seen. Without this “thorn in the flesh,” Paul may have boasted about himself and his knowledge instead of doing the job God sent him to do.

The Pharisee’s illustrate the other end of the matter. They refused to believe anything Jesus said. Before long, even the simplest truths illustrated in parables confused them. Their deliberate choice at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry did them in. That choice was refusal to see the most basic reality: all have sinned (including themselves, the most religious Pharisees) and all need God’s forgiveness and the redemption He offers through faith in His Son.

“Use it or lose it” can be applied to muscle tone, eyesight, and skills — yet the most important application is to spiritual understanding. Whenever anyone refuses to see their own need of God, God politely makes Himself fuzzy, if not invisible, to their sight.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Smell, then taste and see .......... Parables 475

July 25, 1995           

According to a recent article in “Health Watch,” smell has more influence on our lives than taste. For instance, the odor of vanilla reduces anxiety. According to one experiment involving three thousand people, the scents of banana, green apple and peppermint together encourage weight loss, up to 5 pounds a month.

People who lose their sense of smell also experience depression or anxiety. Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of smell and taste research in Chicago says often smell is craved, not food. Perhaps that is why those smells produce a weight loss; smell alone satisfied those three thousand people in the experiment.

If people are truly more interested in “smelling” than eating, that could explain why people do not like Christians “shoving religion” down their throats. I will explain. . . .

The metaphor is this: in the Bible, prayers and obedient lives are called “pleasing odors” to God and the “sweet smell” of Christ to others. Being forced to ingest or accept a doctrine or theological viewpoint without really wanting it is like being force-fed. Seeing someone live it out is far more pleasing. Thus, “smelling” is better than “eating.”

The metaphor holds true from the opposite perspective too. If someone is spiritually hungry and fortunate enough to observe a pleasing Christian lifestyle, their hunger will be satisfied, but only for a short time and only in a minimal way. The “sweet smell” of another person’s life cannot replace spiritual food to satisfy a deep and genuine spiritual hunger. Those who are hungry need to “taste and see” for themselves or they may perish.

Jesus called Himself “the Bread of Life who came down from heaven” and claimed, “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

People who heard him were confused. Before they could understand the metaphor, they had to accept that He came from heaven. This they were not willing to do. To them, He was merely the son of Joseph, the carpenter, so He responded to their confusion with, “Stop grumbling among yourselves . . . Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only He has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.”

As Jesus explained that his flesh was the bread, which He would give for the life of the world, the Jews began to argue even more. They thought He was cramming an unwanted theology down their throats. Although He had lived a sinless, “sweet smelling” life before them and although He had told them this “Bread” would save their lives for eternity, they were not interested in either eating or smelling.

The Apostles experienced the same response: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”

Some cannot imagine anyone enjoying life in submission to Christ; to them, Christians “smell” like death. They assume whatever we offer is poison. Others see the aroma of Christ and to them, the Christian life is pleasing, like fresh baked apple pie. That sweet smell draws them to the Source and eventually to “taste and see that the Lord is good” for themselves.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Cry for Justice .......... Parables 474

July 11, 1995

As the horror of the Oklahoma city bombing unfolded on television, many people began expressing their hopes that justice would soon prevail. A few angry citizens even sounded like Old West style lynch mobs crying vengeance and saying, “Those who did it should be hung on the spot.”

Some simply think any who would do such a thing do not deserve a fair trial; those are only for cases where there is reasonable doubt of guilt or that innocence needs to be proven. Others seem to fear that judicial “fairness” will result in less punishment than warranted by the magnitude of the crime.

While no one wants to see criminals go unpunished, insuring a fair trial for even the obviously guilty is a freedom we need to protect. The concept of justice and a fair trial goes back a long way with foundations in the legal system of the Roman Empire and even beyond to ancient Biblical history in the Middle East. In fact, right after Noah and his family stepped off the ark, God told them “From each man, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Many nations developed civil laws but those of the Jews were unique. Around 1450 B.C., after Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, God gave them specific commandments. We are familiar with the Ten, including “Thou shalt not murder,” but many other laws defined justice and ethics further. God told them, “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. Do not deny justice to your poor people. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death . . . .”

God’s laws also included protection for the accused by decreeing trials that are as fair as possible; the prosecution must produce “two or three witnesses” whose statements agreed. God repeatedly warned that it was the responsibility of governing officials to punish lawbreakers, not angry, vengeful citizens. Even murderers in those days had “cities of refuge” where they were protected from private revenge.

Human justice systems are not always as fair as that which God designed. Innocent people are sometimes condemned and the guilty set free. When justice is perverted, fear and anger are normal responses. On the other hand, those who know God take reassurance from His promise of a final justice: “Do not fret because of evil men . . . The wicked plot against the righteous . . . but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows their day is coming.”

Even if someone escapes human courts, God Himself eventually deals with those who deserve punishment. His judgment is far more serious than the light tap implied by Maude (from the television show by the same name) when she warned, “God will get you for that.”

Should American courts be too lenient toward the people who used the bomb, we know that God is fully able to render justice to whom justice is due. However, that should never be an excuse for civil leadership to slap wrists only. God established authorities here on earth as agents of wrath to punish wrongdoers (Romans 13). His justice demands that the full horror of what they have done be brought home to the hearts of the guilty.

On a personal level, an eternal perspective tells us not to be too quick to condemn even the most brutal acts of terrorism with a smug, self-righteousness. Pride and even small sins produce guilt before God too. We need to pay attention also to our own lives.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Is the past a drag? .......... Parables 473

June 20, 1995

We decided to go after our excited daughter’s phone call. “The dishes are just like Grandma’s and they have toys just like we had when we were kids . . . “

It was the biggest garage sale anyone could imagine. Stuff people usually buy and sell from tables set in driveways filled all three pavilions at Northlands Agricom. Some of it was for sale. Much of it was on display. No matter what side of the table they were on, everyone seemed to enjoy the “1995 Antique & Collectibles Show.”

Memories and old things are held together with string, yarn and wallpaper paste. Unfortunately, after twenty-seven moves, either across town or across the country, we have tossed out many objects that might evoke the good old days. That I regret. Memories are important. Good ones bring warm emotions and draw us closer to each other. Even the painful are revived, either for their good learning experiences or for their funny side.

The Bible make a great deal of remembering, both for present need and future choices. God says, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past . . . “ and “Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles and the judgments He pronounced.”

During Israel’s history, God did wonderful things that stirred faith and hope with their memory. He also gave commands to learn and obey. Without some reminders, even these who directly received them were apt to forget what He said, just like we do.

For that reason, God said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.’”

Throughout history, believers have used objects like these tassels and blue cords to remind them of their spiritual history. The Orthodox Church had their icons. The western church had paintings, carvings and statues. Crosses endure as another familiar reminder of the sacrifice of Christ and the love of God.

Personally, I often put a note on the edge of my computer screen to remind me of God’s goodness or His commands, especially those I have trouble recalling. Sometimes I print Scripture verses on cards and put them above my sink or in other frequented places.

Some people go overboard and live in the past as a way to avoid the challenges and pain of the nasty here and now. Instead of occasionally reminiscing for enjoyment or instruction, they painfully dwell on their past mistakes. Others live in the “good old days” as if nothing worthwhile happens now. Both extremes wrongly use memories.

The Apostle Paul had a word for Christians who struggle with their past: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul made mistakes, learned from them, then moved on. He had successes, praised God for them, then moved on, always toward his goal. The past was fine, for a season, like an afternoon of antiques and collectibles, but I’m with Paul — the past was fine, and so were its treasures, but I would rather be moving in traffic with the little I need, than spending time, money and energy at a garage sale collecting things that will only hinder me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

God’s Creation Reveals Him .......... Parables 472

June 6, 1995 & July 4, 1995

According to Michael McIntosh, author of an article about doves in “Wildlife Art,” male doves are the only males in the animal kingdom that excrete milk for their young. A few days before the eggs hatch, the walls of daddy dove’s crop thicken and his glands secrete liquid. It is whitish, creamy, and rich in calcium and vitamins A, B, and B1. The female doves also produce milk but not as much as the males. McIntosh does not explain it.

Research into the realm of living creatures reveals all kinds of perplexing oddities. Certain spiders that breathe oxygen can live underwater by taking a bubble of air down with them. Skunks are totally defenseless yet survive because of a powerful spray-on scent.

Even more novel is the platypus. It has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, a flat tail like a beaver, thick fur like a mammal and lays eggs like a reptile. This marsupial’s bill is not hard like a duck’s but soft and rubbery and used to feel around in the mud for food.

Getting back to the male dove, perhaps the Creator made this bird with the unique ability to produce milk because He intended to use it as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The dove feeds his young with milk from its body; the Spirit feeds His newly-born children with truths that the Bible calls “milk.” 1 Peter 2:2 tells us, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”

Animal and plant life, and even inanimate natural objects, often illustrate spiritual truths that the Bible describes. God shelters the helpless under His wings or speaks with a roar like thunder. Little wonder David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19)

All of creation bears the signature of the Creator. The psalmist says everyone can see His glory in what He has made and therefore concludes: “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard (that is, the voice of the heavens). Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

David recognized how God’s creation demonstrates that God can be known by openly observing what He has made, at least in some measure. The Apostle Paul agreed. At the beginning of the New Testament book of Romans, he wrote: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

That last phrase means we are accountable for what we can see in nature’s revelation. Paul says it should cause everyone to honor God as God and be thankful. This implies exalting Him. Whenever and whatever God speaks, we should listen and do what He says.

However, many people do not want to honor God as God, never mind obey Him. Our ingratitude and our sinful natures pull us away. Like Isaiah says, “We like sheep have gone astray. We have turned each to his own way.”

Unfortunately, just knowing there is a God by observing creation is not enough to turn us back. It may be easy to feel “spiritual” out in the great outdoors, but God says feeling spiritual will not satisfy Him. Instead, He asks that we look at and submit to One who is a greater revelation, His Son. Peter wrote of Jesus: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”

Baby doves benefit more from dove’s milk than we do. For us, His use of a dove as a symbol for His Spirit is somewhat helpful, but God’s ultimate revelation goes beyond creatures, rocks, trees and even symbols. We get a fuller picture when we see Jesus.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Best-selling Book .......... Parables 471

June 27, 1995

Our new encyclopedia takes up less space than a pocketbook. This latest version of Grolier’s features information on thousands of topics, has colored photographs, movies, animated drawings, even sounds. We can read about doves but also watch their flight pattern. We can see how an eagle catches a fish and watch a butterfly emerge from a cocoon. With multimedia computers and a library of CDS, one picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

Even though the industry is evolving from paper and ink, the ability to publish words remains valuable. Where would schools, universities and other learning centers be if we had no books, historical records or written wisdom from the past?

Publishing, CD or otherwise, also has strict standards. For instance, encyclopedias must be accurate because readers depend on them. Not only are details checked and rechecked by editors, errors are spotted and reported by critical readers.

Publishing is an old art. It is mentioned throughout the pages of the Bible. Kings published decrees on animal skins, papyrus, or stone tablets. For them, putting important laws in writing added a sense of authority and permanency over mere oral commands.

The Word of God in its printed form also carries a sense of authority and permanency. In spite of many attempts over hundreds of years to discredit or destroy it, the Bible has survived. Since mass publication started in the 1400's, it has been number one worldwide in sales. The psalm writer probably did not know how prophetic his words were when he penned: “The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it” (Psalm 68:11).

If there were no printed records of God’s activities among men, could Christianity survive or even exist? If it had been passed on by word-of-mouth, would its accuracy remain intact? For that matter, do people believe in any philosophy or creed without an unchanging text? Publishing is a vital part of our spirituality.

God could have used other methods to convey and preserve His word and His will but He choose to use a Book. It was a good choice. We still have thousands of ancient copies, with variations of less than 5%. However, many people insist the Bible cannot be true to the original manuscripts thus is unreliable, or it is a collection of fables. Perhaps a verbal telling and retelling would never survive those accusations, but the printed version stands firm, just as God promised. Lives are still changed by reading and applying it.

On that vein, God’s Book is not a volume of scientifically verifiable data like Grolier’s and for that reason, attempts to “prove the Bible” vary in success. Instead, God offered another argument for the validity of His Word. He challenges those of us who believe it to prove it by our lives. We are supposed to be as open and honest about ourselves and God’s message as God is. This “proof” is not a demand for perfection but a call to “tell it like it is.”

In other words, people are more apt to believe the Bible when there is a match between what God says and how His people live! The Apostle Paul put it this way: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Similar to Grolier’s CD version, Christians are “living letters” from Christ. Our lives should be “moving pictures” that speak volumes about the truth in God’s Word. However, we must remember that critics also evaluate our lives. We want to be sure we do our part to keep the Bible on the best-seller list.