Friday, February 16, 2018

‘Til death do us part? ............. Parables 704

February 20, 2001

Marriage has its problems but when they come, the most popular solution these days is simply ending the relationship. Another one could be dumping it on your mother.

Consider this story. A certain mother has one daughter who is divorced. This woman had her son-in-law staying in her home rent-free while he sent support to his wife, the woman’s daughter. When he moved out, the daughter decided she wanted to move in, rent-free. Not only that, she wanted her mother to raise her two children, ages twelve and fourteen, “for the Lord.” This daughter also was in the middle of an affair with a married man. She disclosed he was the father of her oldest child.

Despite tangled stories like this one, people in our society continue to mock nuclear, two-parent families and the concept of marriage-for-life. Instead, the numbers of single parents are increasing. It is not too uncommon for a single person to adopt children. Two people of the same gender and living together also demand that privilege. It seems anything goes.

Marriage and family were not intended to be so fragmented and diverse. At the very first marriage ceremony, God joined one man and one woman. The Bible says, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

God promotes this unity throughout Scripture. He intended marriage as a sacred relationship of two people under His protection and authority. Human beings have trouble with this concept. From the beginning, we disobeyed God. Adultery and multiple marriages began right after the first family fell into sin. “Unnatural” relationships between men and men, human beings and animals, and other perversities were not far behind.

The problem is not that marriage is just one choice among many but that a biblical marriage seems impossible. It may begin well but after the glow dims and faults begin to appear, most couples separate, each looking for a mate that will forever remain shiny in their eyes.

These days, some men reason that one woman is not able to satisfy the appetites of one man. Some women, fed up with that attitude, drop men out of their lives altogether. What most do not realize is that marriage can last and be fulfilling — with help from the One who designed this relationship.

Withing the past six months, I’ve met couples who have been married to each other for sixty years or more. This seems an amazing feat but it must be noted that these are not perfect people. Their common and distinctive quality is that they made a commitment to each other and determined to make that commitment stick. They took their marriage vows seriously because they repeated them both to each other and before God.

My parents were a few days shy of their sixty-seventh anniversary when my dad died. Mom told me that for them, divorce was not the thing to do. They determined to not fight but settle their differences. They were happy together because they worked at it.

I did not follow their example. My first husband was an alcoholic and we had other problems. I thought the only way to resolve them was by escaping the marriage. Now I realize and admit this was a selfish attitude. Since then, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible with God. He has helped me through far greater difficulties than those I ran away from and proved His power to help me overcome my selfishness.

Still, I have to say that staying married is not just tough — it is impossible. In our humanness, when the going gets tough, we will bail out. We do not know how to resolve the issues or we do not want to. Yet God promises that He can “work in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure.”

Oh Lord Jesus, thank You for working to make us want a strong marriage, for giving us Your unconditional love for each other, and offering Your wisdom regarding any problems that threaten to separate us. While the challenges may be huge, so are You, our wonderful God.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Honoring Mom ............. Parables 703

February 13, 2001

It was a difficult week. We received a call from Home Care saying my mother must be moved from her home in a senior’s manor to a long-term care facility in another city.

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She cannot remember the names of things, like her clock or her lamp. For her, change is most stressful. If moving were not confusing enough, she would be in a different kind of space, cared for by people she had never known.

For me, the physical effort to move her was challenging but nothing compared to the emotional pain of watching her struggle with another adjustment. To add to that stress, I recently heard a woman from an advocacy group for the elderly describing incidents of elder abuse and how helpless family members are to combat it. How would this place take care of my mother? Would she be safe? Could she tell me if she was not?

After interviewing the staff in her new situation, it became obvious that my fears were groundless. They understand her needs and have adequate staff to meet them. The other seniors enjoy being there. The staff instantly began showing Mom affection with a loving and kind attitude. She was soon smiling and taking notice of the new things around her.

At the same time, my mom is often on my mind. God commands that we honor our parents. Sometimes I falter at knowing how to do that even though my mother is not at all a “cranky old lady” but an easy-to-please sweetheart.

The command to honor parents runs throughout Scripture, even to include that we must also honor and protect all senior members of our society. The Lord makes no distinction between strong and healthy, weak and infirm. In His sight, they are to be cared for and respected.

Honoring aging people makes sense. It is in them that we find our history and the wisdom of experience. They have the stories of our past and even if we have heard them many times, we need to encourage the telling. Without it, we lose a sense of our place in history.

While age does not necessarily bring wisdom, it should. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.” Some versions insert an “if” in the middle. Righteousness is an integral component of becoming wise.

As I visit my mother, I sometimes chat with others of her era. For the most part, these older people have picked up many insights. They have a humor about life, a casualness that almost mocks the way this generation runs its rat race. They have learned that life is short and some things are not nearly as important as we think. Yet even if they are unable to share their stories and wisdom, aging people still have great value. Those who cannot talk or care for themselves offer us opportunity to take care of them.

In my situation, having guardianship for my mother (and my father before he died) brought me to a deeper reliance on God. Their needs pulled from me a compassion and kindness that I might not otherwise have developed. Through them, God is working on my ability to care.

The New Testament says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

A widowed mother could bring me distress if I forgot that she herself is in distress. She needs me to take my faith seriously. While this is not an easy assignment, it does keep my hands from being idle. Who knows, could this task be God’s way of filling my life with so much to do that I don’t have time to meddle in the world’s pollution?

Lord, You know my prayers for my mother. May Your Spirit continue to nurture her and give her joy. May that same Spirit grant me grace and energy that I might be a part of how You answer those prayers.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A good listener ............. Parables 702

February 6, 2001

One of my Christmas gifts was a set of walkie talkies. Our children hooted with laughter as they questioned the wisdom of this purchase, but my husband thought they might come in handy.

Sure enough, he was right. Over the holidays, a virus or two attacked my system and sent me to bed for a few days. While Bob worked downstairs or in the garage, I was too wobbly to manage, so if I needed anything, he had me call him on the walkie talkie. Later, I told a neighbor about this handy gift. He laughed then quipped, “Don’t tell my wife about those things. I’m not sure I want to be that accessible!”

I discovered something while using “those things.” I’ve often noticed that my husband talks to himself while he works. When I hear him, I am never sure if he is talking to me or not. Also, if he is busy and I talk to him, he sometimes does not answer me, at least not immediately. It didn’t work like that with the walkie talkie. As soon as I beeped, he was right there.

Like many wives, I used to say, “You never listen to me” but the walkie talkies showed me that is not true. He simply needs to know that I am talking to him. In his mind, I could be talking to myself just as he does, and not expecting anyone to listen. Instead of a beep, saying his name gets his attention and helps him know that want him to listen.

On the same note, most of us rank “being heard” up at the top of our list. We get discouraged when we have something to say but no one wants to hear it. Most of the time, friends and family listen, but sometimes they are absent or wrapped up in their own problems. When that happens, we can take heart that God listens to what we have to say.

The Bible offers hundreds of verses and commands about talking to God and how He makes Himself accessible. As the psalmist says, His ears are open to our cries. He says we can ask Him for help when circumstances overwhelm us, just as the Israelites did when they were attacked by their enemies. God told them to, “Call unto me and I will answer you.”

Our problems might be perplexing but no matter how inadequate we feel, we can ask God for wisdom. He says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who give generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Notice, God never ridicules our requests or puts us down. If we are unable to do things by ourselves, we honor him by asking because He delights in helping those who call out to Him. The line to Him is always open, well, almost always.

The psalmist also says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sin separates us from God. If we choose to rebel against Him, He shuts His ears to our demands. What can we do then?

There is one prayer that He will still listen to; it has been called “the sinner’s prayer.” This is a prayer of confession. The Bible says if we confess our sin to Him, He hears and is “faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all our unrighteousness.”

That kind of prayer or any other prayer needs no expensive equipment or technology. We can talk to God without email, telephones, Morse code, signaling devices, or walkie talkies. All we need is a humble heart that is willing to ask Him into our lives to help us, to bless us and to give us what we need in life’s situations.

Lord, so often I charge ahead and do not call to You unless I get into trouble. Help me remember to bring my day, with all its challenges, to You first. Thank You also that I don’t need a beeper because You hear me when I simply whisper Your name.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Laughter from a cheerful heart ............. Parables 701

January 30, 2001

Doesn’t a chuckle make you feel good? Over the holidays, we laughed for hours at a time playing games and enjoying family. Everyone said how good it felt to laugh. In fact, an American research team recently “discovered” that laughter may be the best medicine. Apparently, laughing releases natural chemicals into the bloodstream that can prevent heart disease.

We knew that, at least instinctively. We didn’t know about the chemicals or the heart disease, but we knew that “laughter is the best medicine.” Or does that sound like folk lore or a cliché? Maybe we needed to have a scientific “discovery” to help us. It’s funny, but the people of God have known it for centuries.

About a thousand years BC, King Solomon wrote the following proverb, “A cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). He also noted that “a heart at peace gives life to the body” and “a happy heart makes the face cheerful.”

While this seems like common sense, God did inspire Solomon to write this. What comes from the mind of God is not the same as “folk lore” and should not be considered outside the field of science or opposed to it. It is more like the “wisdom of the ages.”

As Creator, God knows more about people than we know about ourselves. He gave us our capacity to laugh and created that laughter for a reason. He placed helpful chemicals in our bodies and wanted us to experience their benefits.

While we agree that laughter is good, notice that neither folk lore nor science tell us exactly what kind of laughter works the best. Does this latest discovery mean that we will get well if we laugh at crude jokes? Or will laughing at the misfortunes of others make us healthier?

The Bible says not. From this proverb of Solomon’s, we get clues about the exact kind of laughter that is good for us. It is laughter that is tied to the inner person, mirth that is not outward behavior. He says a “cheerful heart” is good medicine. This means a sustained disposition rather than an outburst of delight. While external laughter usually requires our funny bone to be tickled or a peculiar situation to occur, a cheerful heart just is.

Throughout the Bible, a cheerful heart is defined as that which belongs to the people who fully trust God. This kind of heart is full of the Holy Spirit and with Him, that person is content. The Spirit gives a steadfast attitude through the twists and turns of life. Rather than complain or become impatient or upset, a cheerful heart enjoys life — without it having to be funny.

This cheerful heart also sees good first, another quality that comes from the Holy Spirit. It does not focus on the worst in people or the downside of events. People may be nasty and life’s ride may be a roller coaster, but rather than hating folks or having white knuckles, a cheerful hearted person loves people and raises both hands to enjoy the ride.

Because this disposition is based on faith, people with a cheerful heart can laugh at troubles. Nothing upsets them for long because they know that God is more powerful than any trial. He will see His people through life with all its ups and downs.

A genuinely cheerful heart has a mysterious “peace that passes comprehension” (Philippians 4:6-7). This peace is related to trust and is part of the “fruit of the Spirit.” Along with it, the Spirit gives love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That joy is for those who rejoice in Him and who brings all their troubles to Him.

Our society applauds the latest discoveries and exalts scientific endeavors, and so we should. These honest efforts to unfold the mysteries of creation should reinforce our faith. But there are times that modern science seems so backward and far behind that it is laughable.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What is greater than God? .......... Parables 700

January 16, 2001

Harper’s magazine features an “Index” of unusual, startling, or simply weird statistics. In a recent issue they included a survey that showed how American school children rank important people. The results? Bill Clinton is first. ‘Myself’ stands in eleventh place and lagging at nineteenth is God.

This survey reflects their value system. It is taught and modeled to them, more by media and example than pedagogy. Who has dominated the U.S. news in the last few years? By hearing more about President Clinton than any other person, children naturally think he is the most important. If children equate the most news to what is the most important, maybe God should get more press coverage. Instead, the media seems to think He is “politically incorrect.”

Our nation is pushing God out of its value system but we need to beware; the former Soviet Union did that too. For seventy-five years and with systematic determination, they declared God did not exist and tried to destroy all evidence of Him or faith in Him. Did it work?

Even that powerful nation could not get rid of God but they almost obliterated the moral integrity of their people. They have fallen into social, economic and spiritual ruin. Now, over eighty percent of Soviet banks are owned by the Russian mob. The average person lives in fear and poverty. Crime and alcoholism are rampant. Marriage and birth rates have dropped and suicides are up.

Christian missionaries report that the average Russian has little or no discernment in spiritual matters. In their hunger for truth, they grasp at anything ‘religious’ and many fall victim to exploitive cults. They miss the good news of Jesus Christ that can bring them deliverance. Some think this once atheistic nation will never pull out of the depths to which it has fallen.

While North America seems a long way from that same downward spiral, our nation does not need to become communist to neglect the spiritual life of its people. How can any thinking person not connect the immorality in our part of the world with the neglect of both God and morals? Our apathy, materialism, and busyness are just as effective as communism. We spend our days going to school or work, running errands, watching television, playing games or sports, doing activities not necessarily harmful, but exclusive. We lift up the dollar, our comfort, our personal wants and wishes, and push God out. Our spirits are becoming atrophied.

We need to talk about God again, but a vast majority frowns on those who freely discuss the Lord. We want our children to know about God but who will teach them? Their school teachers are forbidden to teach morals never mind lessons on God, and their peers are more apt to curse Him than intelligently and seriously discuss Him.

Is our society on a slippery slope? Can our downward slide be thwarted? Perhaps. God says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Note, God asks His people to call on Him, not those who neglect Him but those called by His name. He wants Christians to recognize our shortcomings, our neglect, our sinful attitudes. If we do, and if we turn from them, His promise seems to cover far more than just us.

Dear God, how can a child put you first without any teaching or a good example? My granddaughter asked this riddle: What is greater than God and worse than Satan? What do the rich want and the poor have? Her answer: Nothing! May my words and example demonstrate to her how true that is: there is nothing or no one greater than You.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Soul Food .......... Parables 699

January 9, 2001
My daughter tells me she is often so busy at work that she does not have time to eat. To me, that is almost incomprehensible. No matter how much work I have to do, if my stomach is growling, food moves to the top of the list.

At least it did. After this year’s Christmas turkey and holiday parties, a day or two without food almost seemed like a good idea. Then an ugly cold virus closely followed by an uglier flu virus put my appetite totally out of commission. I might never say I am too busy to eat but I can now say, “Food? Ugh!”

The delights of eating sometimes lead to the rigors of dealing with the consequences of eating too much. Still, as boring as exercise is, exercise is a far more appealing way to deal with overeating than is fasting. Besides, everyone needs to eat. Our mothers told us so.

Some cultures talk about soul food as another necessity for life. The Bible says eating is important but spiritual food is vital. In fact, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” God’s Word is a Christian’s daily bread.

Before I became a Christian, I copied my mother’s example. Every morning right after breakfast, she read and studied her Bible before she did the dishes. When I was thirteen years old, I decided that being a woman meant doing the same thing so began the same daily practice. Although I did not understand what I was reading then, this started a habit that has continued for several decades.

The Word of God has all sorts of benefits. For one thing, it produces faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Reading the Bible is how we hear God speak. His voice awakens faith in our hearts as He uses the Bible to “make us wise concerning salvation.”

The Bible is also able to purify our lives; Jesus cleanses us “by the washing with water through the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). This is not magic. As we read and hear God speak, we begin to think and act differently. Instead of being motivated by sinful impulses, we begin to obey God.

Paul wrote this to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As good food enables us to be strong workers, spiritual food nourishes us to godly living.

The Bible is also a well-known comfort. Psalm Twenty-three is often read at funerals or at the bedside of ill people. It and other portions bolster our spiritual and emotional well-being as the words give us encouragement and hope, lifting our thoughts above life’s problems.

Psalm Nineteen says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

Yet despite all these benefits, a person can read the Bible every day and still be spiritually starving. Jesus told religious people, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These Scriptures testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

The key to getting spiritual food is not simply reading Scripture (I did that for sixteen years before I was “fed”) but hearing God speak through the words. The Bible presents Jesus, the Living Word who said, “I am the Bread of Life.” He promised that anyone who comes to Him will never hunger or thirst again.

Lord, even now I sometimes read Your Word carelessly, almost by rote. I’m only looking at it, not tasting, chewing or digesting what I read. The words are powerful but unless my ears are open to hear You, I miss my meal. Please deepen my hunger for You and my appetite for Your Word. I know I would starve unless You feed me the truths that I need to hear and apply to my life. Amen.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Finishing Well .......... Parables 698b

January 2, 2001

Aunt Bessie’s funeral was December 27th, four days before the end of this year, a year to the day from my Dad’s funeral and two months after her husband’s burial.

For me and others in my family, questions about endings lurk in our minds even more than they normally do this time of year. We started 2000 with a list of dreams and now end it looking at the results. Few people want to end a year poorly and as we buried Bessie, we realized it is the same with our lives.

In a poem entitled “Exit,” author Luci Shaw asks these questions: “When you go will you go with a sizzle—a spiteful spitting on a hot plate? . . . when you leave will you leave with a bang—exploding like a far star, kicking your hot cinders in God’s eyes?”

I know that I do not want to finish anything with a sizzle, a spiteful spitting or any defiance toward God. Instead, I prefer an exclamation mark, a humble reliance, and a sense of hearing God say, “Well done, my child.”

It is this need to feel significant, to matter, that comes into focus during the last few weeks of December or at funerals. We evaluate, resolve, check off our lists, and set new goals.

I used to be big on New Year’s resolutions but ignored factors that are out of my control, like the limits of a twenty-four hour day. About five years ago, I shifted my to-do list toward a “to-be” list. The Bible says God wants me to be like Jesus and so I selected that as a worthy goal.

Worthy goals give meaning to life. As Spanish composer and musician Pablo Casals said, “The capacity to care gives life its deepest significance.” One part of what it means to be like the Lord, one part of having a significant life, is deeply caring for other people.

Bessie was like that. She knew Jesus. She was not a perfect person (like He is) but she deeply cared about others. She took care of her ailing husband. She drove other women to their appointments and events, women fifteen years younger than she but who had stopped driving in their ‘old age.’ She loved her children and grandchildren, and as one of them said, she leaves a huge hole in the family. Jesus and caring about others gave her life meaning.

Caring about others expresses itself in different ways. My aunt had a servant heart that moved her to practical action. My father cared about people too yet his way of showing it was by helping them build things. Others might lend their leadership skills, or teach, or offer uplifting, encouraging words or a hug of compassion. If the heart is right, the actions will be also.

The minister at Bessie’s funeral said that her life went full circle. She began by helping her mother care for her father and ended by caring for her husband and others. When her tasks were done, she was done also. Her death was at the right time; her work was finished.

Just before Jesus left this earth, He prayed, “Father, the time has come. . . . I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” As He died on the cross, He shouted, “It is finished.”

His life was not long as long as Bessie’s, only thirty-three years. His ministry was very short too, only three years, yet Jesus did all that God wanted Him to do. He finished well, even perfectly, a model for Aunt Bessie and for all those who love Him and give their lives to Him.

Lord, the year is nearly over and I’m thankful for the life of my aunt and the example she set. She was not a perfect person in her lifetime, yet because of Your promise, “when we see Jesus we will be like Him” — Bessie is perfect now. She gazes on Your glory for eternity. Thank you for that hope; it belongs to all who trust in You. Thank You also for another year—the one just past and the one that lies ahead. Help me evaluate honestly, trust whole-heartedly, obey quickly, and when my turn comes, to also finish well.