Friday, December 9, 2016

Jesus has been there, done that .......... Parables 521

July 30, 1996

Recently someone asked me to teach them how to use a computer spreadsheet program. I declined on the grounds I’d never used it myself therefore was not qualified to teach anyone else. That would be like engaging a wilderness guide who had never left the suburbs or hiring a chauffeur who had never driven a car.

Credentials are very important when enlisting the help of someone else. If the guide or instructor has no qualifying experience whatsoever, the best they can do is cheer for you. Not that cheerleaders are useless, but they cannot replace experts who know their stuff.

In the area of leadership credentials, Christianity is unique. Those who follow Christ have a teacher and guide in the driver’s seat who has “been there and done that” as far as spiritual experience is concerned. Because of Him, our faith is unique.

This uniqueness is not in that we have only one leader. Almost all other religions are the same. Buddhists follow the teachings of Gautama Buddha, their philosopher and founder. Muslims follow Muhammad, an Arab prophet. The Bahia religion was founded by Mirza Husayn Ali Bahaullah. Taoism dates back to Lao-Tzu in the 6th century B.C. and at the same time, Zoroastrianism began under a Persian prophet named Zoroaster. Smaller cults and sects also have individual leaders, both those that mimic Christianity and others that are more like Eastern Mysticism.

Neither is our faith unique because of our commitment to our leader. In fact, we follow Jesus Christ for many of the same reasons others follow their religions. For instance, we believe His teaching is true, just as others believe in their leaders. We find peace in trusting Him, which others also claim regarding their leaders. The precepts of Jesus work for us, just as others claim the teachings of their leaders works for them.

However, there is one thing about Jesus Christ that sets Him apart — a unique claim made by Him and applauded by those who know Him. No person has ever made the same claim and been able to substantiate it. Not one religious leader or teacher has ever dared to say this about themselves. The claim is that Jesus Christ never, ever did anything wrong. Although He “was tempted in every way, just as we are — He was without sin.”

Sin is much more than murder, lying or envy. Those who sin are acting against God’s will because they have a God-resisting heart. Jesus did not have any such resistance. Instead, He claimed, “I came to do the will of my Father.” His life shows complete obedience to God’s law and complete trust in every area, no matter how difficult the trial.

Perhaps His greatest test occurred when His Father asked Him to go to the cross. Sending Him as a substitute to die for sinners was God’s will. His intention was to “make (Jesus) who had no sin, be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

As the Bible says, some will die for family or friends or good people, but God asked His Son to die for people who were opposed to Him, sinners who resisted Him. Furthermore, He was the only one who could bear our sin and pay its penalty because He had no sin of His own. If He sinned, He would need to be punished Himself.

The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Since Jesus was sinless, He did not deserve what He received on the Cross in our place. Therefore, once the penalty was paid on our behalf, the grave had no power to hold Him — He rose from the dead and lives forever.

That is the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity. We can conquer sin and death because our Leader has not only been there and done that, but also offers the same victory to us!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

True Self-worth .......... Parables 520

July 23, 1996

She is slim, fifteen, with a deep tan and the face and form of a model. She stands every day before her mirror hearing inner voices tell her she is unlovable, unacceptable and incapable. She believes what she hears and is utterly convinced she is ugly.

Unless people feel loved, valued and competent, good looks will not make them feel like “beautiful” people. A low opinion of one’s self goes far deeper than what is seen in a mirror. On the surface, being loved may be counted by how many friends a person has or how many lovers, but most who measure themselves that way still feel unloved, even if they have many friends.

Others measure personal value by the size of their bank account, house or car, or by educational credits or other forms of accomplishment. These standards, while perfectly acceptable as goals, have a fatal flaw toward giving a sense of personal value. They are based on comparison. The savings account has to be larger than . . . or the car newer than... or faster than some other one.

If achievement is the measurement, any athlete will tell you that any ultimate award, gold medal, or trophy loses its glitter. The soul is soon dissatisfied with whatever mark was set or whatever record broken. Either new heights must be reached or self-esteem suffers.

Some say a positive self-worth is simply a decision to like yourself. Perhaps that works for a time, but any personal decision must involve changing one’s values. Self-image must be based on something more substantial than personal opinion.

From God’s perspective, a healthy self-esteem includes balance. Christians know two things. One, we are created in the image of God and have potential to be like Christ. Two, that image has been marred by sin, but through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, sin can be forgiven, cleansed and conquered. It is in being as God intended that we find our true self-image and enjoy a positive, healthy, yet balanced attitude about ourselves.

In regard to attaining self-esteem through godliness, it is important to understand what godliness is and what it is not. Godliness is not a holier-than-thou lifestyle. Rather, it is refusing to make one’s self the center of all things. Instead, the needs and concerns of others are the priority, just as they are a priority for God.

To be like that, a person needs to understand and experience the love of God. It is unearned, undeserved, and unconditional. Further, it lasts. He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

When we know His love through faith in His Son, our self-esteem is bolstered. We are set free from trying to win the love of others and then become able to love them as God loves us.

Second, we need to understand our worth. Simply put, we are worth the price God was willing to pay for us — the live of His only begotten Son. This worth is established forever because it is based on an event fixed in history and apart from anything we do or have done.

Third, we need to understand our competence. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Those who trust Christ can make the same claim. Our competence is not in ourselves but in the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. We need not compare His capabilities with others because there is no comparison. Our sense of adequacy in Him dissolves our fears of failure and defeat.

The girl who hates her image in the mirror can learn to love it and herself by finding a true sense of worth in Christ. She needs to take to Him her fears of being unloved, unworthy and unable because only He can give us a deep sense of pleasure in who we are and who we can be.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Defiance .......... Parables 519

July 16, 1996

City officials might be tempted to add sporting event surcharges just to cover damages caused by post game riots. The problem is that some say rioters are not even fans — they are merely looking for an excuse to damage property and get themselves a new television set or VCR.

With alarming frequency, cities in Europe and even North America are scenes of violence after soccer or other games. Police break up the mobs with riot sticks, horses and tear gas but not before windows are broken and property stolen or damaged. A common attitude among those arrested is general defiance toward authority.

Perhaps this is a negative spinoff from a currently-prized rugged individualism. People like the taste of independence, of “no one is going to tell me what to do.” But, some of them are taking their attitude too far. To them, “freedom” means no laws, no authorities, even no God.

We are shocked by their behavior but such unconstrained, fist-in-the-face defiance does not shock the Lord, who is the ultimate authority figure. Several hundred years ago, He inspired Isaiah to write about us: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way....”

This verse is only one of many in the Bible that explains human nature apart from God. It says we are universally inclined to do our own thing and to resist authority that says otherwise. From the cradle, we begin making demands. For some, those demands increase into a selfishness that rules their lives until the second ultimate authority, death, finally demands and gets full submission.

Those who turn away from God also defy His commands regarding external controls. Some even say there is no God, nor any ultimate laws or principles by which to live. The Old Testament describes it as “each person does what is right in their own eyes.” When that happens in our day, news headlines testify there are drastic and tragic consequences.

Rioting is only one example. Resistance to authority, even without clenched fists, can hide behind a smile. Children sometimes do it by standing up when told to sit. All sorts of seemingly agreeable people refuse to buckle their seat belts, run red lights, or walk when the sign says wait. Are all declaring: “I will do what is right in my own eyes.”

God’s laws for us include obeying these civil laws and giving political leaders our respect. The Bible says we should even pray for our leaders. Imagine the difference respectful prayer would make in our own emotional state compared with the inner agitation that accompanies our grumbling!

The fact that we disobey law and complain instead of obeying and praying suggests that we do not trust or believe in the sovereignty of God. At least one ancient king, Nebuchadnezzar, had trouble with this. God allowed him several years of insanity until he acknowledged that, “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes.”

Ordinary people and kings resist God but so did the “religious” elite of Jesus’ day. They accused Him of being demon-controlled and would not obey Him. Jesus described their attitude in a parable: “We will not have this man rule over us.”

Today, people are discouraged from believing in Jesus and in a sovereign God who has the ultimate say-so over our government and our lives. If that is the way we want it, then we ought to be prepared for the consequences. Even if we ourselves do not succumb to senseless rioting, we may need to start wearing bulletproof vests and building bomb shelters to protect ourselves from others who have decided “there is no God” or “even if there is, He will not rule over us.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

Miracles? .......... Parables 518

July 9, 1996

I got out of bed the second morning of June’s three-day downpour and when my foot hit the carpet on our second-story bedroom floor, it made a splash!

Our condominium is on the highest ground in a complex called “The Summit.” Obviously, it is not a place anyone would anticipate a flood, but we had a flood. The property management people arrived, rolled back the carpet and pulled up the underlay. There was water standing about a quarter inch deep over nearly three square yards of sub-floor.

Of course our “flood” is nothing compared to those that wash people out of their homes or the messes of backed-up sewage that fill some basements. The point is, this was a first-hand example for me of an event that crossed the boundaries of ordinary circumstances. When that happens, some even call it a “miracle” but finding yourself floating when “ordinary circumstances” equate with “high and dry,” is not a miracle — it’s more a nuisance.

Today the floor and carpet are dry and the underlay replaced. The cause of this “miracle” turns out to be poor workmanship and improperly installed flashing on a section of a roof overhang. God’s out-of-the-ordinary (but not miraculous) heavy rain and driving wind managed to find the hole made by human error and produce an unnatural event, one that hardly could be blamed on God.

In fact, people are quite skilled at making unnatural events happen all by ourselves. For instance, remember the man who trained a squirrel how to water ski? The photograph was on the front page of a national magazine. There was another one (or maybe the same person) who taught a squirrel how to ride in a little boat. Both go beyond the normal laws of nature but neither qualify as miracles.

Granted, a miracle does cross the boundaries of ordinary events but there is a vast difference between second-story floods, skiing squirrels and true biblical miracles. For one thing, human beings cannot duplicate them.

For instance, Jesus walked on water. The last person to try that is still drying out. Moses parted the Red Sea to let the Israelites pass over to dry land and then called the waters together again and their enemies were drowned. All this happened within an hour or two. Today, we can stop rivers or divide oceans but we need months or years, tons of earth-moving equipment and a great collection of machines and workers.

The miracles in the Bible were unique in that they were by God’s design. He used them to point to His own glory and character. In the case of the Red Sea, God promised He would deliver His people from their bondage in Egypt and take them to a land He would give them. For God, a body of water was not an obstacle but an opportunity to show both the Israelites and the unbelieving Egyptians that He would not let anything prevent Him from keeping His promise.

Jesus walked on water to demonstrate to the disciples, and to us, that He controls the forces of nature — because He is their Creator. As Paul said in Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.”

By a great miracle, Jesus proved our world is not a closed system with a fixed set of rules. As the God who created it, He stepped into it, allowing us to see that He is in control, even over the laws of nature that He put in place. If human ingenuity or even error can make unnatural events happen, God who is infinitely wiser and without error can perform miracles.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Value of Silence .......... Parables 517

July 2, 1996

The husband comes home complaining, “There are people on my committee that never say anything. When we are supposed to brainstorm ideas, they never talk. It drives me crazy.”

His wife replies, “I have the opposite problem. My new boss is a nice person, but I can’t get even a ‘Yes, Sir’ in sideways. Talk! He must have once been an auctioneer.”

The Bible says, “There is a time to speak and a time to be silent....” Don’t we all sometimes find ourselves confused about which is which?

Sometimes people think actions have greater power than words or silence yet when a father tells his children, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” they don’t copy his words but his actions.

Learning how to behave properly includes learning how to keep one’s tongue. Simple silence can prevent many problems. Proverbs 21:23 says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Another proverb adds, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:27-28).

A wise person is one who says the right thing at the right time. As one lady put it, “My grandfather was one of those people who did not talk very much, but when he did, everyone turned their head to listen.

Certainly Jesus Christ was not a person to mince words yet whatever He said showed His great wisdom. When He spoke, people not only turned to listen but came in droves to hear Him.

Jesus was also the only person with perfect knowledge of when to speak and when to be quiet. During the last days of His life on earth, as He was taken before the men who would eventually order Him crucified, He choose silence. As Isaiah 53 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth.”

The silence of Jesus was not a sign of ignorance or weakness. Because He was the Son of God, He could have opened His mouth and ordered legions of angels to rescue Him. He could have defended both His character and His innocence with great eloquence. Instead, He said nothing, perhaps because He considered His life purpose. As God’s Son, He came, “not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

In that case, what would be the point of self-defense? His accusers had seen Him do miracle after miracle and still didn’t believe He was anything but an ordinary man. One more sermon would not convince them nor would any effort to verbally justify Himself. Even if speaking would change their minds, in light of what He came to do, the only option He had was silence. Because He choose this, sinners can choose life.

For those who do, silence is often more powerful than words. Peter wrote that Christians needed to trust God and submit to the rules of people in power. He explained in 2:15, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” Later on, he adds a note to wives of husbands that are in rebellion against God. He exhorts them to live such gracious, trusting lives that their husbands may be won over, without a word!” (Italics mine)

Learning when to speak and when to be quiet is one of life’s toughest lessons. My father loves to talk but also knows when to keep his tongue. It seems he learned this lesson from eighty-seven years of experience but then again, maybe he also read the Bible — his favorite expression mirrors Proverbs 17:28, “Better to be quiet and thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Most Influential Person of all Time .......... Parables 516

June 25, 1996

A recent issue of TIME magazine features an article identifying twenty-five of America’s most influential people. The lead person is Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics and a man with a vision of what the Internet can become and who developed of a software program (Netscape) that is making that vision a reality.

Others on the list include comedian Jerry Seinfeld, jazz musician Wynston Marsalis, talk show host Oprah Winfrey and author-speaker Stephen Covey. A shorter article goes on to describe the most powerful people in America. That list includes Bill Clinton and Bill Gates.

Unfortunately, TIME left someone off their list. Thousands, perhaps millions of Americans know Him as the most significant change-producer, not only in their lives but for all eternity.

For example, Franklin Graham would put Jesus Christ at the top of the list. Franklin is the son of Billy Graham (who should have been on TIME’s list too). While growing up, his parents tried to influence him to choose Christ but Franklin had a mind of his own. For years, he resisted them and resented countless people who assumed he would take over his father’s ministry.

Franklin’s attitude was changed while running an errand in the Middle East for his father. He met two missionary women and through them, was encountered by Jesus Christ. From that time on, the direction of his life changed. Franklin now preaches the Gospel he resisted, even in the pulpit of his father during a recent Billy Graham Crusade in Australia.

Christ definitely has power to change lives in a way no other person can. Without Him, we are helpless to make God-pleasing changes. Romans 3 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Without Christ’s influence, we would not even seek God.

The Bible can make such strong condemnations against humanity because God’s standard of goodness far exceeds anything we call good. Sin has damaged our perception. We do not know God nor have the capacity to reflect His image as we should. We may think we can do it alone, but we cannot. We need a power outside ourselves and stronger than our resistance. We need an influence that tugs at our hearts and draws us away from our independence, pulling us to God.

For that, we must have a power that can give us new life through a spiritual birth. We need to be new creatures. Only Christ does that. When He influences a life, He enters the heart and mind, sufficiently and permanently changing the way we think and act.

2 Peter says: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

As individuals who supposedly have minds of our own, we are pushed and pulled from all directions. There is no end to influences. TIME left out art, music, media, advertising and a host of environmental and social factors. They also left out the inner pressure, that which 2 Peter calls “evil desires” within our own hearts.

Powerful men and women, our environment, and sin are tremendous shapers of behavior. However, Christians have another choice. We are influenced by our Lord and Savior. For us, the power of people like Jim Clark, or sin, or any other thing is not nearly so compelling. We know by faith and by experience that Christ alone can influence us for good and for God. He take us in a positive direction and can even make us a positive influence in the lives of others.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The best kind of communication .......... Parables 515

June 18, 1996

E-mail (short for electronic mail sent through computer modem) is revolutionizing communication. This week, I received messages from friends in Edmonton, Camrose and Papua New Guinea, a company representative in Toronto and several people and organizations in various places in the United States.

Some of these people I know personally but even though we have a face-to-face relationship, e-mail is more convenient than a telephone. Our schedules seldom match so rather than interrupt each other’s work, we can read and answer messages as time permits.

Some who send me e-mail are also members of the same writing group, or they work for a company with whom I do business. For instance, one e-mail was from a person who responded to my order for a software upgrade. She said it would arrive soon and it did.

Sometimes people connect through e-mail, develop a relationship, eventually meet face-to-face and get married. Intimate relationship building by e-mail would be risky by itself (too much can be masked) but such marriages illustrate e-mail can be used for more than business.

Obviously, e-mail has limitations. We do not use it for everything nor can we use it by itself to verify the reality or integrity of someone on the other end. Perhaps that is one good reason God did not wait for electronic inventions like e-mail, telephones or fax machines in order to reveal Himself to us. Instead, He worked through real people. Hebrews 1:1 says, “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways...”

God spoke and the prophets wrote; one reason why the Bible is called the “Word of God.” While some say the Bible is written by men only, God ensured these authors were godly men who obeyed the His revelation and faithfully recorded it. Through them, generations have received His message and the Bible remains number one on best seller lists.

God did not reveal everything in written form. Hebrews 1:1 finishes, “...but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” Jesus is the ultimate communication from God, “...the Word made flesh.... the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”

In recent years, some argue that Jesus is only an idea, a representation of the truth about God, a nice thought but He did not really exist. Others say if He did exist, He was only a man and the stories are exaggerated; no one could have done the deeds attributed to Him.

However, as the written Word survives and thrives, so Jesus also outlasts those who deny Him. He remains the central figure of history, the one whose name and deeds are told and retold over and over. If what He did was mere exaggeration, why do the stories persist? In contrast, will the amazing stunts of modern illusionists be retold two thousand years from now? Could anyone eventually reverse these stories claiming elephants actually did vanish? Hardly.

I must admit that once I was not so sure about the reality of Jesus. Sometimes He seemed a myth, but in time, He convinced me, not with arguments but with a combination of His written Word and my own experiences.

His Word says, “I (Jesus) am returning to Him who sent me...(the Father) and I will send Him (Holy Spirit) to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin...”

Jesus promised that God’s Spirit would convince each person of their sinfulness. No sane individual would invent such a conviction, particularly because it includes personal and eternal condemnation. Only a higher authority can override our insistence on our own goodness.

Then, just as Jesus promised, the Spirit came and convicted me. This event plus His promise convinced me that Jesus is an actual person. God did exactly what He said He would.