Most of us know at least a few Old Wives Tales. I came across some doosies. Like if the first calf born in the winter is a white one the winter will be bad. That’s really unfortunate for Charolais breeders. Or that it’s bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same match – likely because you’ll burn your fingers.
Even within my own lifetime I have heard (and believed) certain old wives tales. Like that going outside with wet hair will give you a cold. Or shaving makes your hair grow in thicker and darker. Never pluck a grey hair or thirty will grow in its place. Feed a cold and starve a fever. Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis. If you swallow your gum it will stay in your stomach for seven years. Don’t go swimming for a half hour after eating or you’ll get cramps and drown.
All of these axioms have been shown to be false, but I’d bet many of you not only knew of them but at some point held stock by some of them. You may even be shocked that I’m questioning the veracity of one or two of them.
Whether you believe me or not about these (but I am right) really isn’t too important, but the Bible warns against falling for common myths and old wives tales when it comes to spiritual matters. (See 1 Timothy 4) The trouble is these can be a little harder to spot because they usually contain a grain of truth, or maybe sound spiritual. Sayings like “God helps those who help themselves,” or “God wants you to be happy,” or that “all religions will lead to God.” These are patently false and against what the Bible teaches.
So how is a person able to discern the true doctrines of scripture from old wives tales? (Doctrine simply means teaching so don’t let the fancy word intimidate you.) It may seem to be stating the obvious, but read the bible. Some of you may object, thinking that it’s just too hard to understand. Let me give you two suggestions. First get a hold of a more recent translation that has been written to be more easily read, such as the New Living Translation, though there are other good ones as well. But even more important, ask God to help you understand what you are reading. He has promised he will.
Too many of us for too long have depended on others to tell us what is truth and what is error. But that’s like getting married and only visiting your spouse for an hour a week. You’ll never really get to know someone that way.
For days now I’ve been trying to write a special “Christmasy” article. One that will make everyone who reads it feel the joy and wonder of the birth of Jesus. One that will warm your heart when you consider the love of God expressed to us by taking on human form so that he could draw us to himself.
But it wouldn’t come.
Instead I am compelled to write about the Syrian refugee crisis. What should be the response of the followers of Jesus to impending influx of refugees? This has nothing to do with the political handling of this issue. Regardless of your opinion of how our governments should have handled this situation, the reality is that we will be receiving tens of thousands of displaced men, women, and children in the coming months and we as individuals need to choose how we each will respond.
Honestly, for any of us who claim to be Christian the answer is very plain. Read again the words of Jesus from Matthew 25:31-46. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you invited me in, in need of clothes and you gave me something to wear.” Whatever we do for those in need Jesus said we are doing for him. Equally whatever we refuse to do for those in need we have refused to do for Jesus.
Our response to those in need is motivated by the depth to which we’ve experienced Jesus’ love for us. We love because he first loved us. His love compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave his life for us.
I have no idea how many of you who are reading this will have opportunity to personally connect with and meet the needs of Syrian refugees. But it is important for us to choose how we would respond given the opportunity. In part because there are people in need all around us through whom we can express our love for our savior.
But how you respond in your heart is an indication of whether you have truly understood what Christmas is all about. That God, in Jesus, has come to you to meet your greatest need – the forgiveness of your sin. Before you choose how to respond to refugees, you need to choose how you will respond to Jesus. And when you accept his sacrifice for you, sacrificing for others in need really isn’t a choice, it becomes your nature.
I suppose this is truly “Christmasy” after all.
Well I’ve caught a cold. I almost never get sick and I suppose that’s partly because Wendy almost never gets sick. But last week she started coming down with a sore throat and headache and so on and so now I have it too. I spend a fair bit of time with her (that’s a good thing when you’re married) and so if one of us gets sick the other is likely to.
Picking things up from the people you are closest with is very natural, and I don’t just mean germs. When you spend lots of time with someone you just naturally pick up traits and quirks and even ways of speaking.
I went on a summer mission trip back in ’85 with Teen Missions. We spent the first two weeks in training down on Merritt Island, Florida. To get there they had a bus that I got on in Saskatoon. We travelled for 5 days all down the Eastern seaboard picking kids up at cities along the way. I loved that trip. Every day we’d get new people from places I’ve never been to and nothing but time to visit and get to know them and what their lives were like.
But something funny was happening to me. The further south we got the more I took on the accent of the kids we were picking up. By the time we got to Florida I sounded like Chris Jones. (He’s the head coach of the GREY CUP CHAMPION Edmonton Eskimos!!!– sorry, couldn’t resist.) I finally made a conscious effort to change when I caught myself talking about going up on a “rouf” instead of roof.
There is a spiritual truth in this as well. You will take on the characteristics of the one you are most intimate with. Galatians 5 says that the result of spending more and more time with Jesus, literally under his control, is that you will naturally exhibit in greater and greater measure his characteristics. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no better time than the season of Christmas to begin picking up a divine accent. I encourage you to intentionally seek out places where the birth of Jesus is more than just another aspect of this wonderful time of year, but where it is the focus and center of celebration.
Even better, spend some time in the book of Luke in the Bible getting to know him yourself.
God created us all with a conscience. In fact in a very real sense, particularly for those who are Jesus followers, your conscience is the voice of God. But we need to be careful because the Bible tells us we are able to harden our hearts (picture a dried up, hard old orange). When that happens we are unable to recognize that voice, or maybe twist it to say what we want hear. The Bible says by letting go of a good conscience we can shipwreck faith. So how do we guard against that? Let me tell you what I’ve learned from experience.
My second job out of college was head wrangler at a Bible Camp north of Edmonton. I ran the horsemanship program there. To save on always having to adjust my stirrups I chose a saddle to use from the ones they had there. Almost no one else who’s ever sat in the one I picked has found it very comfortable, but it fit me well and so became the one I always used.
When we moved on from that camp I looked at that saddle and thought, boy I’m really going to need a saddle. No one else likes this one and I’ve used it so long and it’s broke in to fit me it’s essentially mine anyway. Besides, I deserve it. They didn’t pay me very well and I’ve earned it. So I packed it in with our things.
About 18 months and two moves later I was preparing a sermon, and I don’t even remember what the topic was, but in the process my conscience (God) convicted me that I had stolen that saddle and I needed to make it right before I preached the sermon. I called the camp and confessed to the director. He was very gracious and forgave me and even gifted the saddle to me.
From that experience I’ve learned a couple of cues that will warn you that you may be on course for a shipwreck.
When you start to convince yourself you really need this or that you must have your way; when you tell yourself you’re owed or you deserve it; or when you blame someone else for this need your conscience is likely beginning to dry and wither and harden. At that moment stop! Stop and ask God to soften your heart.
One more key thought: A clear conscience is not gained by just not sinning anymore but only by dealing appropriately when you do sin. And that begins with confession to God and forgiveness through Jesus’ blood shed for you.
The astute among you will have noticed that there is a different picture attached to this article. Some may even have wondered who it is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the comment “I didn’t recognize you without your hat.” Well to avoid any misunderstandings about this picture let me be clear up front: No this is not my bike. (But I am looking for one.)
Maybe you’re thinking I must be hitting my mid-life crisis since I just celebrated my first 49th birthday. (Apparently some people have more than one right Terry?) Maybe you’re thinking I’m going through some sort of identity crisis. Do I want to be cowboy, football, farmer or biker?
Well it’s none of that. I’ve seen wannabe’s in all of those genres and I know it takes more than putting on a leather vest with the colours of some organization (Christian Motorcycle Assoc. in my case) and buying a bike to really understand and embrace biker culture, same as wearing a hat and boots doesn’t make you a cowboy.
But it can be one of the steps of identifying with a culture. Why would I want to identify with a different culture? So that maybe I will have the opportunity to say in actions and words this is exactly what Jesus did for all of us and more. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that because we have flesh and blood so Jesus also took on flesh and blood (the ultimate in identifying with another culture) so that by his death he could break the power of death and free us who live with a fear of death.
In a very small way embracing the culture of someone else is following Jesus’ example, and says you are important and valuable to Jesus and to me. I want you to know that your identity does not come from your culture but from Jesus himself. Then that identity in Jesus is expressed in whatever culture you find yourself.
Here is where I find my identity, echoing Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15-16. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”
Because Jesus saved me from my sin, I know he can save you from yours – regardless of what your culture is.
I once rented a car from Jesus. No really. That was the name on his card. Of course he pronounced it Hesus. We were in Merida, Mexico on the Gulf Coast. The little house were staying at was about an hour away of just outside of the port city of Progresso and the only way to get there was to rent a car.
I had heard all the horror stories about how there aren’t any rules when driving in Mexico. So I was slightly apprehensive. And to make matters worse the rental place was right in the middle of the city. So after carefully plotting our route and Wendy in the navigator’s spot with map spread out on her knees, I cautiously eased into traffic.
At first it seemed rather chaotic. The lines marking the lanes were apparently mostly a suggestion, and even then signalling seemed to be on a need to know basis. In Canada we generally only use our horns if we’re mad at someone, but there honking was a normal and frequent means of communication. But I figured they were honking in Spanish because I didn’t have a clue what they were trying to tell me.
After a tense twenty minute commute, where thanks to the grace of God and my navigator’s directions we didn’t make any wrong turns, we made it out onto the relatively orderly flow of traffic on the open highway. But after a few days and some trips into the smaller city of Progresso I began to understand the different rules that governed Mexican roads and even began to appreciate some of the efficiencies of their system. And they weren’t honking in Spanish after all.
In hindsight I’ve realized that by getting to know the laws or rules that govern a foreign culture I gained a greater understanding and appreciation for that culture. I’m convinced this is why over and over in the Psalms David expresses how much he loves the law of God. In Psalm 119:97, for example, he says “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”
Now he’s not just talking about the Ten Commandments, but all the writings of Moses, which make up the first five books of our Bible. By studying and meditating he is getting to know God better because the scriptures are an expression of God’s nature and character.
So I encourage you, start reading your Bible. Maybe even find a small group to study it with. You’ll be amazed at how much better you know and understand God.
Back in the olden days of farming I didn’t have the capabilities to program my GPS. With the current model I just type in the heading I want and it sets it up for me. But in a bygone era I would have to line it up by sight, press a button to set the first mark, drive as straight as I could till the GPS established my heading, and then press the button again to lock it in. I know, pretty primitive huh?
Normally this wasn’t a big deal, but if for some reason I had to work a field that had already been started I would try to line myself up with the already established pass that I knew was true and go through the process hoping to get the exact same heading as the original. This was almost impossible. It may have looked very close to lined up as I began the field, but by the time I reached the far end there was almost always a gap between what I just worked and the original.
A degree or two off didn’t seem make much difference in the first fifty yards or so, but a mile down the field it became very clear that I’d missed the mark.
This is how a person drifts away from God. We allow things of lesser importance to take priority and our alignment with God gets thrown off a degree or two. These things may be “small” sins or even in and of themselves may not be bad and hardly noticeable at first but a month or two or a year down the road something comes up and we realize our intimacy with God is missing.
I’ve found I need to check my alignment with God even more than daily. I need to start every day with scripture and prayer, and then often through the day be in connection with him and consciously dependant on his provision for each situation.
When a person lives this way, not perfectly but consistently, the unthinkable can happen and though everything else in life is shaken, their foundation is not. Please don’t think I’m suggesting life’s heartaches are felt any less intensely. There are dark days where the “if only’s” and “I should have’s” assail and tears are never far away. The empty spaces are acute, and the “why!!??” screamed skyward hangs unanswered in the air.
But in the midst of all that and far more than can be described, a person who has been living in alignment with God will be sustained and still know to his core that God is sovereign, God is faithful, and God is good.