Monday, September 26, 2016

Caring for my mother .......... Parables 489

October 24. 1995

The poem starts like this: “When I’m a little old lady, then I’ll live with my children and bring them great joy, to repay all I’ve had from each girl and each boy. I shall draw on the walls and scruff up the floor: run in and out without closing the door.”

After more of the same, it ends with: “What fun I shall have, what joy it will be, to live with my children like they lived with me.”

Someone sent it for a laugh but instead I cried — because this week a specialist told my mother she has a form of dementia called Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s is both mysterious and cruel. Those who have it know not that they know not. My mother is aware her short term memory is sluggish but has no knowledge of the other tricks her failing mind plays on her. Sometimes we can laugh together but too often there is little to laugh about.

Even if parents are unable to behave as adults, God intends their children to honor and respect them. In the past year, I realized how often I based my “honoring” on expectations. When mom moved in, I hoped for comradery but was quickly disappointed. For weeks, I found it difficult to honor her because I felt let down, but God reminded me of a verse in the Psalms: “When your father and mother let you down, the Lord will pick you up.”

God also intends that my expectations are in Him. He created us as social beings who interact with each other, yet we are bound to be disappointed if we expect too much from other mere mortals. Expecting my mother to be different is unfair. She cannot rise to the challenge of an incurable disease that makes her unaware her faculties for relationships are deteriorating. She no longer knows how to meet needs.

It is also unfair to God if I depend on something or someone else for my fulfillment. He promises to meet all my needs. While He may use people, the choice is up to Him. Besides, if I put people first, I am guilty of a form of idolatry.

Watching mom deteriorate is difficult and sad. Other families struggle with similar heartaches and feel overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility and the weight of decisions that they must make. Many also struggle with guilt.

Someone gave me this threefold and timely advice: “One, you cannot do everything.” Aging people need physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual care. I cannot be nurse, counselor, pastor and program planner. I have learned to depend on God for strength and to follow His leading to wonderful resources available in the community for my parents.

“Two, you have done what you could.” There is nothing more debilitating than regret and false guilt. If I can do what I know God wants me to do, that is enough. It may not cover all the bases, but He knows my limitations and will not condemn me for them.

“Three, you are doing what you do out of love.” When I tell my mother she needs help with certain things, or when I take her to the doctor, I do it because I love her. I am not trying to make her life difficult, do for her what she can do herself, or make sure she “keeps me in her will.” I do it because she needs help. Doing it is a sacrifice of sorts, not a personal gain but it also includes joy. Genuine love, like God’s love, has both elements: sacrifice and joy.

Love also does not act out of a sense of “duty” or an obligation or discharge of a debt. In a way, caring for my mother is a return on something she invested in me. She raised me with respect, treated me as someone precious and never complained that I was a burden to her. That is a debt I can pay back, in full and with interest.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fire as a force .......... Parables 488

October 17. 1995

The National Fire Protection Association publishes booklets on fire safety tips because even careful people can find themselves in emergencies. These booklets deal with the importance of planning ahead in case a fire occurs.

The rules are simple. Know the house, know all the exits and how to unlock them. Know two ways out of each room. Arrange a meeting place outside and discuss this plan with those in the household. Carry emergency information numbers with you always so you can call for help from any location.

Floods and storms are different. A rescue raft or even a piece of wood may save someone in a flood. Suitable shelters may protect potential victims from high winds. A sturdy roof diverts torrential rains — but fire consumes anything and everything. Saving yourself from raging flames requires water, other suitable extinguishers or putting distance between yourself and danger.

Fire is frequently used as a metaphor in Scripture. For instance, Proverbs 6 warns men to avoid immoral women. The passage adds, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” In other words, sin is like fire — it burns anyone who plays with it.

An uncontrolled tongue is also like fire. James 3 says, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

The process of purification also is like fire. For instance, Peter compared going through that process was something like being in a refinery or smelter. However, he pointed out that refined gold will eventually perish but faith proved genuine by “fiery trials” will never perish.

Fire is also used to describe God’s judgment. Scripture says someday “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Further, when God judges individual lives, those whose names are “not found written in the book of life” will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Fire purifies, scorches and destroys. On the other hand, when fire is under control, it provides light in darkness and warmth in the cold. Can we control those negative, uncomfortable “fires” in the Bible?

We learn the hard way that we cannot control the fire of sin. For that we need a Savior. The fire of an untamed tongue also needs supernatural help so we can obey commands like: “Let no unwholesome words come out of your mouth...” and “Let your speech be full of grace and seasoned with salt...”

For this power, we need a special fire that God alone provides. As John the Baptist said of Christ, He “baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This is a fire we must not “quench,” a fire like the amazing bush Moses encountered, “on fire but not consumed.”

Through the fire of the Spirit of God, we have power to say no to sin and its destructive force, endurance to grow and become more godly in trials, and most important of all, that fire is His escape route from that final fire of judgment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What do sheep eat? .......... Parables 487

October 10. 1995

According to the March 1995 issue of the Financial Post, it costs $250 a year or about $21 a month, to adopt a sheep at the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo. According to Hope International, a development agency that uses donations to support needy families, it costs $312 a year or $26 a month, to support an entire family. I wonder what sheep eat?

Quality of family life equivalent to the lifestyle of an urban Toronto sheep does not mean being locked in a cage, fed hay and having zoo patrons stare at you all day. For about the same price, that family probably gets one meal, basic clothing and clean water.

I wonder how long the average Torontonian would last on $21 - $26 a month? Personally, I would not do well. Shelter, utilities, food and even a minimal wardrobe exceed ten times that amount in less costly sections of Canada. Hope International families must live without central heating, electricity, running water or denim jeans.

What is more amazing is the high cost people are willing to pay for animal care. My cousin “boards” a few angora goats for a wealthy lady who pays her one dollar per day per goat — plus the cost of their feed. My cousin does not have to build fancy cages, hire zoo employees or pay city taxes so is able to take holidays every year on her “goat” money.

North Americans also spend millions on zoos and pets. Sometimes those in need go without because those with money would rather give it to a sheep than offer help to those less fortunate. This twisted attitude is a prominent target in Scripture. God condemns those who ignore needy people, and even offers Himself as their helper. “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.”

We are made in His image and ought to have His compassion. He expects us “to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed; rescue the weak and needy; and deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82).

Why don’t we? Too often we look down on them rather than help, but it is not a sin to be poor. Furthermore, God does not necessarily want everyone to be rich. He emphatically says wealth can be a snare. The pursuit of money can draw people into all sorts of evil behavior.

God says we should use our money to help people, not abuse or neglect them. This includes employees for example: “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

The way we help poor people is an individual matter. Some will give food. Others will donate clothing or furniture. Some give their time and skills. Others give cash. One person cannot do everything and some have more to offer than others. Nevertheless, if each person obeyed God and did their part, we would see drastic changes in economic imbalances.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” He also said that God would reward any act of kindness done in His name. Therefore, when we do anything to help others, we ourselves will eventually benefit. On a global scale, it only follows that the lot of humanity would improve.

And I am certain there would be enough left over for the sheep in the zoo.

Monday, September 19, 2016

“I know so” faith .......... Parables 486

September 26, 1995

My brother tells a story on himself about tearing apart cupboards during renovations and finding some money. It was paper, marked and dated prior to the American Revolution. He thought he was rich.

Of course he took the bill to a reputable coin dealer. Since it was so old, it must be worth a considerable amount. Can you imagine his chagrin when the dealer told him it was not real — it had been made by a cereal company during a promotional campaign!

His story reminded me of another I heard years ago about a man who belonged to a well-known religious group with headquarters in Utah. His daughter told how he had committed his life to the teachings of this group but on his death bed he said, “Now I will find out if what I believed is really true.”

My brother’s story was funny; the second story made me weep. An uncertain hope for increased wealth based on counterfeit money is far less serious than an uncertain hope for forgiveness of sin and eternal life based on teaching that may or may not be true.

Granted, life is full of uncertainties. Who can predict what will happen tomorrow? Who knows for sure which teams will win the game or who will win the next election? Who knows if anyone will be sick or healthy or how long they will live? On the other hand, the Bible says we can be absolutely sure of what will happen to us after we die.

In the Bible, faith is described as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith that merely wonders if something is true, is by definition not faith at all. It is simply wishful thinking, an “I hope so” belief rather than an “I know so” faith.

The reason true faith gives certainty is very similar to the reason my brother knew his find was worthless. Someone reliable and who had accurate knowledge told him. Furthermore, based on the coin dealers credibility, he choose to believe his words.

Biblical faith stands on the same ground. God reveals truth to godly, credible people. We are given the choice whether we will believe or reject it. When we choose to believe, “the Holy Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are the children of God.” Deep in our hearts and minds, we know that what He says through Scripture is true.

This is not the same as making up something and telling ourselves it is true. Just as the coin dealer was important regarding what my brother believed about his money, so revelation from God is vital regarding what we believe about Him and eternal life.

His revelation has two sides, one is objective, the other subjective. God revealed Himself to the prophets of Israel, then through the person of Jesus Christ. His truth continues to be revealed through the written record of those disclosures in the Bible. This is objective revelation in that it can be examined, even tested to some extent. It shows us Christ is the Savior.

Subjective revelation is what the Spirit of God does in our hearts. People can read the Bible, pray and perform religious ritual, but only when the Spirit touches and opens the inner person, do they realize that “Jesus is my Savior.”

Revelation makes us dependent on Him. On our own, we distort and wrestle with the message of the Bible. With Him, it becomes clearer. We can believe it because we are absolutely sure of what it says. The Apostle John said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.”

Scripture promises a certainty so that anyone who believes in God’s Word has assurance throughout their life. No one has to wait until they die to know the truth.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Astonishing Providence .......... Parables 485

October 3, 1995

My father lamented that his advancing age made him unable to go to Scotland with us to the Leslie Clan Reunion last June. However, about two weeks after we returned, providence brought a little bit of Scotland to him.

One evening, my husband and I decided to run some errands. As we left our condominium complex, Bob spotted two men walking up the hill towards a small playground area. He said, “Would you look at that!” They were carrying bagpipes.

By the time we stopped and walked up the hill, they were facing each other, toes tapping and playing their pipes. We waited until they finished, then told them about our trip and my dad. I asked if they would like to give an old Scot a real thrill. They obliged and in a few minutes my parents enjoyed bagpipe music under their bedroom window.

Some people would say it was a remarkable coincidence — which it was. Who ever “happens upon” pipers in a city the size of Edmonton? However, it was also an example of the loving providence of God. He knows my dad’s heart for the pipes and He knows how to let an elderly man know that He loves him and wants him to enjoy his old age.

Job, a familiar Old Testament character, said: “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.”

God sometimes uses strange means to show kindness and demonstrate His care. Years ago in Banff, our youngest son, then a preschooler, followed a costumed character down the street. When he turned to come back to the family, he missed our location and became lost. We went the direction of the man in the costume not knowing Scott was going the other way.

In our search, we spotted a young man with orange hair done in a huge, curly Afro ball. We asked if he had seen a small, blond boy. He hadn’t, but took pity and started looking. He searched until he found him and returned him to us.

Another time, we were camping in Jasper and a black bear wandered into our site at night. The bear began rushing up to our tent, growling threats and terrifying our family. Within minutes, we were rescued by four men returning to an adjacent campsite. They had been drinking that evening, enough to be braver than we were, and chased the bear with rocks and loud threats of their own. Both incidents showed God’s providence.

The Psalms are filled with praises for the Lord’s loving nurture and protective care. He may use ordinary circumstances or situations some people call chance, fate or luck. In fact, the dictionary uses terms like that to define providence, but these concepts miss the biblical idea.

God’s providence is more like foresight and prudence. God sees the end from the beginning, just like the pilot of an airplane can see highway #2 from Edmonton to Calgary. He looks at what lies ahead and, in sovereign power, brings in other elements that suit His purposes. He can influence pipers to choose a playground to practice in at 7:00 p.m. on a certain night. He can influence an unconventional looking young man to search places that frantic parents do not think to look. He can also influence night time revelers to go back to their campsite just when they need to be there.

God can also use angels to protect His people. Some will scoff but those who experience unusual acts of divine care sometimes see no other explanation. Besides, who says angels wear halos and play harps? While I’m not suggesting they drink beer, but maybe they have orange hair and occasionally trade in their harps to play bagpipes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Perfect Contentment .......... Parables 484

September 12, 1995

A wealthy employer once overheard one of his workers exclaim, “Oh, if I only had a hundred dollars, I would be perfectly content.”

Knowing something about having money and feeling discontent, he surprised her. “Since I would like to see someone who is perfectly content, I am going to give you a hundred dollars.”

He handed her the cash but before he was out of earshot, he heard her remark, “Why didn’t I say $200?”

Contentment is like stepping into your own shadow. It certainly is not part of the package we call success. Wealthy people wish they had more money. Autocrats crave more power. Models want wrinkle cream and facelifts. Famous people worry about the few who never heard of them.

What is perfect contentment? Is it being happy and totally satisfied all of the time? If true, no one would come to the table for lunch! Some would say it is life without distressing or uncomfortable concerns; hunger but not starvation, earning a living but not staying below the poverty line.

Even defined that way, contentment is still elusive. Who can ensure their circumstances will be somewhere between great and favorable? Working hard does not guarantee financial independence. Living carefully does not guarantee healthy bodies and intact bones.

Another definition comes from Webster’s dictionary. It says contentment is “limiting one’s desires or expectations.” In other words, if steak is not on the menu tonight, a contented person will be just as happy to eat hot dogs. This is not resignation but a true attitude of acceptance. A contented person has a sense of well-being that does not depend on “having it all.”

The Apostle Paul displayed this kind of contentment, but he had to learn it. In his letter to the Philippians, he told them how glad he was that they could care for him, but added, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

This great man of God was not exaggerating when he said “in any and every situation.” He had known extremes. He had adoring followers and spiteful persecutors, great moments with God and terrifying hours at the hands of men. If we lived as he did, we would find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster, nevertheless, Paul learned how to remain level.

His secret? He said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul knew that no matter what happened to him, Christ was with him, giving him the power he needed to handle the situation. It is like walking through a dark alley with Joe Fraser or Mike Tyson. Who cares what danger lurks in the shadows!

Paul also had a philosophy about money and contentment. He realized “men of corrupt mind . . . think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” He said “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

For him, food and clothing was enough. There is a life beyond this one and that was far more important. Besides, he had seen “people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires.” Paul was smart enough to look elsewhere for his contentment. He firmly believed “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

One hundred dollars or one million dollars cannot buy lasting peace of heart or total satisfaction. However, to those who are willing to seek out their true source, both are available.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The greatest war .......... Parables 483

September 5, 1995

During the First World War, a young French soldier’s arm was so badly smashed it had to be amputated. His surgeon, regretting the necessity, waited beside his bed to convey his sorrow personally. When the soldier’s eyes opened, the doctor said, “I am sorry — you have lost your arm.”

“Sir,” said the soldier, “I did not lose it; I gave it — for France.”

From every country in the world, thousands of soldiers have given limbs, even their lives, for victory and freedom. For some, the sacrifice was in vain. In either case, those soldiers would be the first to say that war has no winners.

They are right, except one war. This one is not a political battle nor an ideological conflict, but does involve a kingdom and ideals. It is a far greater and a far more important power struggle than any war ever fought. It is the unseen war for spiritual victory over sin.

The battle began eons ago in Eden. The enemy of God, an angel He created to serve Him, determined to usurp God’s authority. His first tactical maneuver was deceit. He lied to persuade the crown of God’s creation, Adam and Eve, to disobey God. With one bite, they said no to God and yes to sin.

People have been shaking their fist in God’s face ever since. Some of that is strong defiance, out-and-out rebellion. Some is subtle — rebellion often puts on religious robes and pretends to honor God. Nevertheless, they do not fool Him, nor was He stymied in His desire that people become all that He created us to be. He fought back.

However, God is not our enemy. The actual opponent is the one who suggested to Eve that God did not want the best for her. When she believed that lie, she disobeyed God. Believing the same lie continues to draw people away from His love and into sin.

To win this battle, one person needed to overcome sin by refusing to disobey, by being sinless. Because no one fits that description, God pulled on humanity like a pair of pants and became a man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The sinless Christ constantly faced many challenges. By being born as a baby and becoming a man, He limited Himself to a body and to human life with all its temptations. He suffered hunger, thirst, fatigue, loneliness, ridicule, betrayal and pain.

Finally, He hung on a Cross, convicted of blasphemy for claiming to be God. The crowds taunted, “Come down from there; you saved others but you cannot save yourself.” Behind them, the Liar cheered and urged Jesus to give in.

Yet this incredible Warrior fought back. If He saved Himself, He would be disobeying His Father. If resisted, He would die — but His death would prove that truth, righteousness and godliness prevail over sin. Not only that, His death would pay the penalty for all our sin. Out of incredible love, He give His life — for His “enemies” — and established a Kingdom which He alone rules. He won the war, and true to the great mystery that is God, He did it by losing.

What does His victory mean for us? If a person does not feel any guilt because of sin and is without concern about their separation from God, then His battle and triumph mean absolutely nothing. However, His victory condemns their apathy and neglect. If we do not have a serious need, why did Christ bother to die?

For those who are concerned about this holy war, His victory is our victory. Because sin and death did not win, our battle against sin is like shadow boxing and death is merely a dark valley. From it we pass through to the next life — where forever we will be winners with Him.