Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nurture as God nurtures ................ Parables 553

April 22, 1997
The Ontario deputy coroner says that at least six children were murdered in recent months while under the care of children’s aid agencies. The same source also says there is a higher rate of child homicide for children cared for by these organizations than there is in the general population.

Children’s aid societies are supposed to protect children but this story reveals there is grave danger in some of that “protection,” at least in Ontario. Perhaps more children would survive if more effort went toward teaching parents effective methods for raising their families.

The most effective teaching comes from the parenting lessons offered by our heavenly Father. Up front, He challenges us to raise our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” In other words, it is His plan that we care for them like He cares for us.

“Nurture” and “admonition” mean that we instruct and discipline our children with the noble goals of improving their character and of helping them become all that God intends for them. In the Bible, nurture and admonition are never negative actions but are described as positive activities and an important responsibility.

God’s nurture of His children includes care for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. He corrects us when we go wrong and instructs us in the right way. He also equips us for each responsibility He gives us.

Human parents must do the same for their children, including correction. However, many people object to Scripture’s mention of “sparing the rod” and if we do, we will “spoil the child.” They wonder how a loving parent could use a rod on a child? It seems contradictory to the nurturing command to be like our divine parent.

Actually, in Bible times a rod was used in several ways. One was to count sheep, another to protect them. In the familiar 23rd Psalm, God is likened to a shepherd. If sheep stray into barren or dangerous places, the shepherd uses his “rod and staff” to guide them home. The shepherd never used his rod with intent to harm the sheep, but rather to protect them. The psalmist even says that God’s rod comforts him.

Taken with other passages, it is fair to conclude God encourages parents to use their authority to guide and direct, not to beat their children. A child without guidance, without respect for authority and without standards by which to measure their life, is indeed a “spoiled” child.

Putting a rod in the hand of an angry parent is not what God has in mind either. No one can use this passage as excuse to harm their children. Instead, parents need to untangle their motives. God corrects for His child’s good, not because the child is annoying Him.

Our Father does not admonish us with the thought that, “I will have my own way,” but rather He wants the very best for us. He knows that His way will bring us the greatest joy and lead us in our way to eternal life with Him. Therefore, His discipline is never selfish.

If more parents had that in mind with their children, children’s aid societies, and the abuses within them, would be obsolete.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pass the dictionary! ................ Parables 552

April 18, 1997

Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, said if he could make the world right, he would do it by “insisting on the exact definition of words.”

What a task that would be! Many words and their meanings come to us unconsciously while we are growing. Each carries with it shades of understanding depending not so much on an exact definition but on such criteria as who first presented it, how it has been used, and the circumstances we associate with that word every time we hear it.

For instance, someone asked me if I had “met any Arabs on the beach recently?” He was referring to an incident in a novel, “L’Etranger” but my first thought was a story of the Godolphin Barb, one of the three stallions in the lineage of English thoroughbreds. My connotations for Arab did not match his mental pictures for the same word.

Another example is how we describe snow. Canadians use adjectives such as wet, dry, white and powdered to explain how a particular type of snow looks. However, Inuit who live in far more snowy conditions, have over twenty words for snow. For them, being precise is important. Their survival may depend on it, while ours does not.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for finding an exact definition would be the word “God.” How do we define Him? Do we use the concepts we were taught as children? Do we stick to what Webster says? Or does the Bible describe God in a meaningful, exclusive way?

Some would be quick to say that it is impossible to use mere words to define someone so huge, so complex, so much “other” than we know or can understand. That may be true, but the Bible does give us words and collectively, they do paint a picture of God. By themselves, they are not quite so complete.

For example, one of the most familiar is “Father.” Anyone raised by loving parents will attach positive mental pictures to this word, but where abuse is found, people may draw back from God simply because He is sometimes called our Father.

Adjectives sometimes help. One is “holy.” It means apart, separate, distinct, and carries connotations of being pure, wholesome, good beyond description. Yet there are segments of our culture that hear this word and think “holy rollers” or “holier than thou” and are turned off.

Another adjective is “Almighty.” This word describes a God that can do anything, a God of power that cannot be overcome. While this is true of God, some think of earthquakes and other violent natural disasters. If these are associated with an Almighty God, some will pull away from Him in fear or anger.

A third category for defining God is in His titles. One of them is the word “Jehovah,” a name reverenced by the ancient Jews to the point they feared pronouncing it lest they blaspheme Him. Because of that, the actual vowels between the letters and proper pronunciation have been lost. By its biblical usage, Jehovah refers to the “self-existing One” who is Lord of all, a sovereign God. However, some groups have adopted this name for their own title and thereby limited our mental associations when we hear it.

Perhaps the best way to describe God is referred to in Hebrews 1:1-3. It says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”

If we take a good look at Jesus, we will know how to define God.

Friday, February 17, 2017

He is Alive! .......... Parables 551

(published date unrecorded)

“There is only one bit of evidence for life after death that is convincing to Christians. It is not philosophical arguments for the immortality of the soul. It is not supposed spiritualist conversations with loved ones who are ‘on the other side.’ It is not medical testimony from those who have experienced near death experiences. It is that Jesus was dead and lived again.”

Stephen T. Davis, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Claremont McKenna College gives reason for the Christian faith in that one short statement: “Jesus was dead and lived again.”

Some people reject the Bible as a historical document yet other ancient writings speak of Jesus and His resurrection. For instance, the Roman historian Tacitus quotes Roman Emperor Nero in A.D. 115. A fire had destroyed most of Rome and they blamed Nero. He tried to pass the guilt to Christians and called them people named after “Christus” (Christ). He went on to say Christ had “suffered the extreme penalty . . . at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition (Christ’s resurrection) . . . again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome . . . “

Untrue stories fade away and become non-threatening, non-issues, but Nero was upset that nearly one hundred years later, people were still saying “Jesus is alive.” He scorned the resurrection as superstition, yet was sufficiently threatened that he killed many who believed it.

The Apostle Paul at one time did not believe it either. Called Saul of Tarsus, he was on his way to Damascus to kill Christians when the risen Christ confronted him and changed his life. He became Paul the Apostle, a great preacher of the Gospel who risked his life to tell others about the One he once denied. Seeing Jesus alive made the difference.

Later, Paul said more than 500 people saw the risen Christ after He had been crucified and buried. Seeing Jesus changed them. Before that happened, they were terrified of Jewish and Roman authorities. When Jesus was arrested, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” While in hiding, they did not expect Him to return and were startled, even terrified, when He appeared. At that everything was different.

After seeing Jesus, the disciples feared nothing and no one. They became a band of bold-hearted, unstoppable men and women who turned the world right-side-up with their goodness and righteousness. Why? Because they knew He was alive again, and they were not afraid to die!

Paul said the resurrection is the proof and the power behind our faith. He argues, “If Jesus has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . you are still in your sins . . . if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

How futile to believe in the resurrection if it were not true, yet millions have been backed to the wall over this issue. Those convinced it is true have given their lives rather than deny it.

Today, Jesus continues to changes lives. We cannot see Him with our eyes, yet by faith we read and believe the testimonies in the Bible of those who witnessed His life, death resurrection. Our faith uses our eyes but it is not a faculty of the eyes.

Faith is deeper, more powerful than sight. It is a conviction and determination of the heart to turn from ourselves to God, trusting Him with everything. It is relying on the inner voice of the Holy Spirit that aligns itself with the written words of Scripture. While it is based on hearing and reading, faith is more about putting our lives in the hands of the One who conquered death. We trust Him because He is alive!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Combating deception .......... Parables 550

March 18, 1997

Imagine going to your bank to make a night deposit and later discovering someone built a replica of it and attached it to the side of the bank. Now they have your money. In effect, that is the latest scam on the computer communication system known as the World Wide Web.

This electronic con game is called “Web Spoofing.” Users connect to what appears to be the home page of their bank, enter information such as password or card numbers, and disconnect. They never realize they were not connected to their bank but an electronic replica of their bank’s homepage. Security experts may already have solved this problem, but this is one reason many people continue banking in person. Who needs another deception to watch out for?

Deceptions abound and along with them, an increase in human capacity to be deceived. Not that this is a new thing. The first book of the Bible tells how God made both man and woman: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

God placed them in a perfect garden with only one command: they were not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Along came a serpent and said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Get that? He suggested God may not have given the command, but Eve knew better. That trick didn’t work, but the serpent had another one more subtle. He suggested she was not like God, a remark much like saying to someone, “You would be good looking if you dyed your hair.”

Eve fell for it. She was already created in God’s image, but assumed she needed more. In taking the bait, what she hoped for did not happen. Instead, she became less like God. His image in her was now marred by sin.

In the New Testament book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes to a church that had fallen for a lie about their salvation. They had started thinking they had to keep it, if not earn it, by keeping the Old Testament law. Paul said, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” He warned them and us that many try to deceive us about how a person can have eternal life.

In 1 John and other places, the Bible warns us to “test the spirits” for many would also try and deceive us about the identity of Jesus Christ. He is uniquely God the Son, fully man and fully God. A lesser being is powerless to save, yet some trust an imitation Christ — to their eternal peril.

How can a person avoid spiritual deception? We have only one source of information that gives truth in a black and white format: the Bible. Acts 17:11 gives us a good example of what to do with any spiritual claims we hear: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

The Apostle Paul stood the test because what he said matched the rest of Scripture. The same will not be true about the deceptions of spiritual spoofers.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What can be done with guilt and shame? .......... Parables 549

March 10, 1997

Certain pro-choice advocates claim that women who have had an abortion suffer less trauma than those with an unwanted child. This argument supposedly comforts anyone who struggles with the emotional aftermath of the choice they made to terminate their pregnancy.

It seems to me that comparing the degree of trauma people experience depends more on individual personality and maturity than it does on the differences in their experiences. However, actions that people take after a trauma can indicate the measure of hardship they personally felt.

Statistics provide information in this area. For instance, one country reports women who undergo abortion have a suicide rate three times higher than normal and six times greater than the amount of suicides associated with childbirth. According to those statistics, trauma after an abortion seems very high.

Those who experience this say their feelings include guilt, a sense of shame and even grief over the loss of their child. It is important to remember that feelings like this are not restricted to women who have had abortions. Mothers who cannot take care of their children also feel a certain sense of guilt and shame. All parents in the process of raising children struggle with difficulties and sometimes feel guilty about their performance.

Guilt, shame, grief, sorrow and pain are part of the human experience, as are poor choices. Even if we could perfectly choose our experiences, sorrow and pain would not be avoided. Next best to avoiding negative situations is learning how to deal with them and the consequences. In the case of emotions like guilt, shame and loss, they can be overcome but not by denying the degree to which they are felt.

It is normal to feel terrible when we violate our own standards, never mind God’s laws. Denial of those feelings prevents us from discovering guilt’s remedy. Acts 13:38 says, “Therefore, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”

Like guilt, shame is also a natural emotional response to behavior that violates our conscience. We feel embarrassed and humiliated before other people and before God. Again, to deny its reality or its severity also prevents us from finding God’s remedy. The Bible says, “Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame” that we might know the freedom of sins forgiven.

It also says that “anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” Forgiveness not only clears our hearts of guilt but wipes away shame’s pain and protects us from any further threats of shame.

In one sense, loss has no cure. A dead child cannot be restored to life, nor will having more children fill the emptiness or assuage the grief. This is one horror of abortion. It is so final. However, God also has an answer for grief and even a reason. Jeremiah wrote: “Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.”

We experience grief because we are designed by God to feel loss and the consequences of our destructive choices. However, He intends that those feelings draw us closer to Him. He knows He is the only one who can give us comfort and peace.

Abortion critics need to recognize that guilt, shame and grief can bring a woman into such deep despair that she may commit suicide. After-the-fact judgment is not going to help her. It may even push her deeper into that pit.

Instead, women, or anyone in despair, needs God’s protection from the dark powers of suicidal depression and the good news of His love, forgiveness, comfort and hope.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Time: wasting it or using it? .......... Parables 548

March 3, 1997 ?

In a lifetime, the average North American will spend six months sitting at stop lights, eight months opening junk mail, and five years waiting in line. We might be able to shorten the time on junk mail but what can we do to make the time we wait for other people seem more productive?

Before offering suggestions, maybe waiting is not as bad as we insists it is. Always hurrying can be unhealthy. Taking a breather, even in traffic, can keep some of us from losing our senses. In fact, the bigger problem could be impatience. Inner agitation at whatever puts us on hold is more destructive to mental and physical health than spending a few minutes paused at the mercy of machines, traffic lights or the slow clerk at the other end of the line.

However, life is short enough as it is without filling it with years of do-nothing, waiting-for-someone-else-to move minutes. Demands for increased productivity and for more attention to personal development make us impatient with delays. Instead of allowing those delays to fill us with anxiety or resentment, we can use them wisely.

Standard suggestions for sit-down waiting include writing thank-you notes, reading, planning with a notebook and calendar, and knitting or other crafts. Be sure to include the children if that is your situation. My daughter reads to her younger daughter in waiting rooms, while the older one does her homework.

Some people talk to friends or business associates on their cellular phone. Obviously that works for them, but for some reason, it makes me feel like my privacy is being invaded. Those who would rather keep their business and personal affairs private can dispense with a cell phone but use a laptop computer to write letters or outline a business proposal. More than one person has threatened to bill their doctor for the hours spent waiting; however, in our electronic age, we do not need to put work on hold while someone makes us wait.

Personally, I usually take a notebook with me and plan my shopping list, read and take notes for homework assignments, prepare short speeches, outline a Sunday School lesson or design quilt blocks. I also write in my journal, work through relationship snags and rehearse what I want to say to someone I may owe an apology or explanation.

The best idea is using waiting time to draw closer to God. The Psalms are filled with verses referring to waiting on Him but my favorite passage comes from Isaiah 40:29-31: “(God) gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Waiting on God is not the same as being stuck in a hospital waiting room or at the end of a long lineup for tickets. Instead, it is simply refusing to think (worry) about other things or focus on anything else but Him. It is approaching Him as a listener, waiting for His commands and His inner encouragement. It is eagerly standing or sitting still, watching for the signs that He is coming or doing something on our behalf. It is setting aside all the chores and cares of the moment to focus on Him, to hear His voice and be refreshed.

Waiting on God requires time. It takes time to learn how and time to perfect. It also takes time to just do it. If our schedules are already full and making an appointment with Him is difficult, then the best time might be while we are waiting and unable to do anything else.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Stories of Grief .......... Parables 547

February 25, 1997

Blank faced, Dorothy asked, “What if a person never grieves?” When pressed, she explained that when her husband died two decades ago, she went into shock. She cannot remember the funeral or the events months after it. Since then, she has not visited her husband’s grave side or experienced grief.

Death and loss are realities for everyone. Grief is the normal response. Some describe it as a process that begins with shock followed by various stages of emotional release. A grieving person sometimes experiences depression, panic, anger and guilt. Healing involves time and effort. Emotions and pain need to be faced, named, felt and talked about. All these help the grieving person to break ties with the past and begin reinvesting their emotions in new areas.

If a person refuses to grieve because they are not willing or able to face their pain and emotions, the internal stress usually comes out in other ways. For instance, repressed grief can cause physical and psychological difficulties. I wondered if that had anything to do with Dorothy’s many ailments over the past twenty years.

The Bible relates stories of grief that can help us with this difficulty. King David lost a newborn son. Before the baby died, he pleaded with God for the child, fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. When the child died, his servants were so concerned about his reaction that they were afraid to tell him.

Finally, he noticed them whispering and asked if the baby had died. Then he got up, “washed, put on lotions, changed his clothes and went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.”

This seemed odd behavior to his servants, especially in light of how he had been acting. They asked him about the change and he replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought the Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Some interpret this statement as reference to the grave, but others believe that David knew the child had gone to be with God and he would someday join him in heaven.

The most familiar New Testament passage about grieving is often quoted at funerals. It comes from 1 Thessalonians 4: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”

Notice that Christians do not need to grieve as others do. The difference is the hope that Christ gives. Because He conquered death, we who believe have assurance of eternal life. That means that our grieving is different. It is mixed with a deeper hope that holds us up and helps us through the grieving process. This undercurrent is impossible to understand much less describe other than to say hope and inner peace are evidences that the Holy Spirit is in a person’s life.

Besides the Spirit, God also gives all people various means to deal with the pain of loss. Emotional shock is one. However, God intends that when shock is over and emotions rise, we experience those emotions. Repressing or denying them is unhealthy and can even cause depression. Exploding in anger may seem like a release but we are far better to face our pain and feel it, calling it by name. Telling others and God what is happening to us opens our hearts for comfort. Comfort can come to us through people or directly to our spirits from God Himself.

God loves us and wants to help. With shock as a buffer, tears as a release, hope for eternity as an anchor and the Lord Himself as our consolation, we can survive loss and become stronger people even through deep loss and its painful aftermath of grief.