The Power

There is something incredibly romantic about Elijah the Tishbite.

He was the fearless, brazen, wild man of God who, jealous for the honor of His cause, “did not hesitate to obey the divine summons by proclaiming the judgment of God in the form of a national drought, though to obey seemed to invite swift destruction at the hand of a wicked king”[1]. A solitary man, he stirred the fears of the royal house and the hearts of a nation in his appeals to return to God. An audacious man, who dared to taunt the gods in a public showdown on Mount Carmel. A man of prayer who called fire down from heaven and afterwards, and afterwards had no room for pity in his ruthless slaughter of hundreds of false prophets in a move to initiate reform.

This same Elijah, for all that he seems to us as such a legendary character today, was a “man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17). So then what was his secret? What did he have that we need in order to work for God on earth in a manner that will be as effective and as stirring?

He was a man of prayer, and his life he had dedicated to the purpose of bringing about reform. But all his deeds were driven by a deep and abiding faith in God. And this is what is needed in the world today. “Faith that will lay hold on the promises of God’s word and refuse to let go until Heaven hears. Faith such as this connects us closely with Heaven, and brings us strength for coping with the powers of darkness. Through faith God’s children have ‘subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the strangers.’ (Hebrews 11:33,34) and through faith we are today to reach the heights of God’s purpose for us. Faith is an essential element of prevailing prayer. ‘He that cometh to god must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.’ (Heb 11:6)”[2]

As we begin our week, let’s remember that God, the source of power that was available to Elijah, is still ours for the claiming.

Have a blessed week.


[1] E. G. White, Prophets and Kings, Elijah the Tishbite

[2] E. G. White, Prophets and Kings, From Jezreel to Horeb

Return to Me–My Testimony

Say you have appendicitis.

Your suffering is intense. You are sick, feverish, you are groaning and whimpering in your bed as your body is raked by sharp pains (Ok, so symptoms vary by person, but just bear with me).  You know that if you are not treated you could risk your appendix rupturing inside you, leading to internal infection and inflammation. You shiver in horror. You know that, should this happen, the infection will spread inside you, pollute your internal organs, and you will die after having suffered untold agony.

You reach out for a Tylenol, and hope that it does the trick. After all, you have decided to wait until you are little better—maybe even healed—before betaking yourself to the ER.

* * *

You understand my little analogy. It’s ridiculous to wait until you are better to turn to God, because the only hope of a cure lies in him and not in us. And yet, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed: Why do people think that they have to be better (and holier) before they can return to God?

Why did I?

About a year-and-a-half ago I was a specter Christian. I haunted the halls of the Church without actually having a real experience with Christ. I was (what people might call) a good—excellent!—Christian. Little did people suspect that I was spiritually dead.

I’d struggled since my teenage years, trying to come to terms with a way of life and a way of thinking I hated but couldn’t give up. Sadly, however, once my twenties rolled around I had come to a point of resignation. While I was convinced that I had to clean up my act, I simply had no overwhelming desire to give it up. I did not feel disgust and horror at my sin.

It goes without saying that I did not like to pray—really pray, much less study the Bible. I wish I had done so, then I would have been able to read Isaiah. I would have found several gems in it; passages that describe a loving God who is just but who longs for the restoration of his people:

15This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…18So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. 19You will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries21Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go.” Whether to the right or to the left. 22Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance!” (Isaiah 30:15,18-22 NLT)

And summarized a little later:

 Though you are such wicked rebels, my people, come and return to the Lord. I know the glorious day will come when each of you will throw away the gold idols and silver images your hands have made. (Isaiah 31:6-7 NLT)

* * *

What makes these passages so wonderful?

It describes in clear detail the transforming process of a human heart when we turn to God.

The Holy one of Israel is calling his children (wicked rebels though they may be) to return to him and rest in him. It’s not saying anything (yet) about abandoning sins. He is just saying “Turn to me just as you are. Seek me, wait on me, and trust me. I will give you strength to overcome” (30:15).

Our faith is exercised in this process of waiting. Waiting is relying on God DAY BY DAY. It’s baby steps, and sadly here is where most give up. They think that by seeking God they shouldn’t fall, and when they do they say “forget it.” Imagine if babies gave up just as they are starting to walk because they fell? You might say at this point, “I can’t feel or hear God” or “What happened to that exhilarating experience from before?” Well, you can’t hear him clearly yet because you have for years shut out the voice of the Holy Spirit. And you can’t rely on feelings or emotions. Have faith, and live it. How? Seek him in his word daily—it will be hard some times. It will be hard most times. Your inclinations and desires will rebel against you and the monster of self will scream in protest—but God is always reaching out to you and in the moment of weakness he will be with you and hold you (30:19,21). And even if you fall, it’s still ok, as long as you get up and once again take grasp of his hand.

God guides you in the path of righteousness, and the more you behold him, the easier it is to know his will and which way to go (30:20). Then comes that day—you may or may not be able to pinpoint it out—that you see your life and sins for what they really are, because you have gazed upon the holy purity of Jesus, and you now eschew everything that could ever mar joy of his salvation. Here is where the whole-hearted repentance comes in, and it is at this point where you willingly and gladly get rid of your idols, and every thing that you used to cherish and be addicted to (30:22)

So to return to my question, Why do people think that they have to be better before they can return to God? The answer is because they simply don’t know any better! I mean it! I, at least, did not understand it at all, and I’d been hearing at least 52 sermons a year for more than 20 years! Some churches preach only fire and brimstone sermons, while others preach only Grace. Is it any wonder that you can’t find truth if you see things from the point of view of one or another extreme? Someone had to break it down for me, and I will never forget the moment I understood that it was okay if I went to God even if only a hundredth of my heart was in it.

So this is my testimony. I’m still a work in progress. God is winning back the rest of my heart, and has much more of it than simply a hundredth. And while I’m not fully there yet, this can’t stop me from telling you—return to him. Today. Just as you are.

God bless you.

 

 

Acceptable Attire

For all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes (Galatians 3:27 NLT)

I grew up in a very conservative church. I loved it, love it even now, but looking back, and remembering some unpleasant episodes experienced within the bosom of that venerable institution, I can say that there are some aspects of church life I wish had been a little different.

The majority of “kids” of my generation are MIA when it comes to church, fed up with the numerous rules of conduct, dress, behavior, and all the various do’s and don’ts that were hammered into us during our formative years.

For example, there was a very beautiful girl in our church. The sixth-grader me was a little envious and not a little awed at the sixteen-year-old beauty with the angel voice, pretty figure, and the gorgeous wardrobe. The fellas were, of course, attracted to her—and the adults would regularly feel called upon to scold the young pariah for not being a little more modest. And for goodness’ sake, could she not wear so much make-up?

We eventually moved, so I don’t know what became of her. My hope is that she did not feel discouraged by the continual disapproval of the adults and, instead, hung on to Christ. I know, however, that few are able to get to that point. It is by a miracle that I am hanging by a thread!

Others still remain inside church, but their spiritual experience is non-existent. They go to church because of habit; sad specters that haunt the church halls and limp about under a heavy load of church-imposed rules.

I am now an adult—a young adult—but still, I find myself in a position of some leadership in the church. I look at myself and I wonder what kind of Christian I have become. What attire do I enforce by the way I treat others—especially the younger, (and as they are at times called) “wilder” youth?

I hope that I may never forget the simple truth. Above all regulations of skirt length, trouser fabric, hair style, or body adornment is the one supreme requirement for all Christians. We must put on Jesus Christ.

Because all of us who have been baptized and born in Christ are clothed in Christ. And with that attire we have to privilege of putting on his humility, purity, and—above all—his love.

And that is the only attire that we Christians should really care about.

Galatians 3:27

Gift Wrap

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

I’m going to a birthday party this afternoon. I don’t really like going to parties, but it’s for someone I really love, so I am going to gather my energies on this sunny day and go. I am determined to enjoy myself.

I have just finished preparing a gift. It was rather troublesome when it came to finding the perfect gift and wrapping it up nicely. And once you have the gift, how can you wrap it up nicely and in inside it include your heart and sincere wishes?

Gift giving seems like a fairly straight-forward thing, right. Buy it, wrap it, give it.

Sometimes, it is not as simple as we think. Take for example the following gift-giving traditions from Japan, Brazil, Egypt and Russia:

japanIn Japan, you are expected to bring a gift for your host. However, be prepared to have it politely refused. Insist nicely but firmly, if necessary several times, until they accept it. Oh, and another thing, the recipient of the gift will not open the gift in front of you. It is a very discreet business, and as such will only be opened once everyone goes away.

brazilIn Brazil DO NOT wrap a gift in purple. It is a color associated with death! Also, if you’re going to give flowers, make sure you give an odd number of stalks, because even numbers are reserved for funerary purposes.

egypt In Egypt, double-wrap your presents. The first wrap is a simple paper, not too attractive. The inner paper is the showy, nicer one with bright colors.

russia Finally, in Russia, it is acceptable to give your gifts late. And don’t try to send your gift early either!! Russians consider an early gift a thing of bad luck (figures). And the wrapping? Strangely, even an unwrapped gift with its original store packaging falls within acceptable gift-giving etiquette.

* * *

Funny isn’t it? Sometimes the manner of giving a gift matters so very much, that the gift inside can be overlooked in some instances, and other times the wrapping of the gift is so very deceptive as to the content inside–as I have learned to my chagrin in White Elephant gift exchanges.

Jokes aside, have you noticed how often we humans lose the greater picture of THE gift?

The Lord God of heaven collected all the riches of the universe, and laid them down in order to purchase the pearl of lost humanity. The Father gave all His divine resources into the hands of Christ in order that the richest blessings of heaven might be poured out upon a fallen race. God could not express greater love than He has expressed in giving the Son of His bosom to this world. This gift was given to man to convince him that God had left nothing undone that He could do, that there is nothing held in reserve, but that all heaven has been poured out in one vast gift. E. G. White, Youth’s Instructor

Think of Jesus. The savior of this world came in humble packaging. He didn’t come wrapped in glory and thunder, or in power and might. He came as a defenseless babe, and the wrapping on such marvelous gift was the swaddling cloth Mary put on him. That was how the shepherds met the savior of the world. As time went on, most people overlooked the savior because of the simple wrapping. What I’m trying to say is don’t overlook the greatest gift you have ever received because of the way it was presented to you. The more you look into the gift you received, the more amazing, wonderful and real it will become in your life.

Have a great week.

Sources:
Images by Shaw Nielsen

Polishing the Jewel

In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee,…and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:23)

 

We are Christ’s jewels. We are to shine brightly for Him, shedding forth the light of His loveliness. The luster of a Christian depends on the polishing they receive. They may choose to be polished or to remain unpolished. But every one who is pronounced worthy of a place in the Lord’s temple must submit to the polishing process. Without it, they can’t reflect more light than a common pebble.

Christ says to man. “You are mine. I have bought you. You are now only a rough stone, but if you will place yourself in my hands, I will polish you, and the luster with which you shall shine will bring honor to My name. No man shall pluck you out of my hand. I will make you My treasure. On my coronation day, you will be a jewel in My crown of rejoicing.”

This polishing process, however, is severe and trying; it hurts human pride.

Christ cuts deep into the experience that man in his self-sufficiency has regarded as complete, and takes away self-uplifting from the character. He cuts away the surplus surface, and putting the stone to the polishing wheel, presses it close, that all roughness may be worn away. Then, holding the jewel up to the light the Master sees in it a reflection of Himself, and He pronounces it worthy of a place in His casket.

In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee,…and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:23)

Blessed be the experience, however severe, that gives new value to the stone, and causes it to shine with living brightness.

 

E. G. White, The Review and Herald, December 19, 1907

 

Unpardonable Sin

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden our hearts as in the rebellion. (Hebrews 3:15)

What is the unpardonable sin? The sin against the Holy Spirit. It consists in willfully attributing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit.

Sounds rather preposterous, doesn’t it? But it’s very possible for alleged Christians to commit this sin and not know it.

Suppose that in your life you observe the workings of the Holy Spirit. It convicts you of your sin, and shows you the truth. Were there had been darkness in your life there is now light. This is the special work of the Spirit of God, as it is written

And when [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.(John 16:8,13 ESV)

“The Holy Spirit witnesses in you that the work being done is of God. Afterward, however, you fall under temptation: pride, self-sufficiency, or some other evil trait, controls you; and rejecting all the evidence that you had had before of the convicting power being of divine character, you declare that that which you had before acknowledged to be the power of the Holy Spirit was not real after all [You, in short, deny the evidence which God had shown you, and attribute it to something—anything—else]. You shut out the light which had been shining in your heart leaving you in darkness.”[1] And so you continue in your sin, stifling the still small voice inside you.

Why is this unpardonable? Is it that God is especially appalled at us when we deny his work or ignore his advice? No. God isn’t petty. The problem lies in us.

“It is through the medium of His Spirit that God works upon the human heart; and when men and women willfully reject the Spirit they cut off the channel by which God can communicate with them.”[2] If you reject the Holy Spirit, will you be able to repent of your sin? How is God to continue to work in your life?

 

The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time

While the life of Jesus and his mission to save us is depicted with vivid clarity in the Bible, a dark story line threads throughout the gospels: the story of a group of people who willfully rejected their savior. The Pharisees and the other religious leaders of the Jewish nation rejected Jesus even after he performed miracle after miracle. Where common uneducated folk acknowledged his divinity, the Jewish leaders could not accept that the savior would come in such humble guise, and that the promised one would find fault with them. They could not accept his claim to divinity, and willfully thrust aside the convicting evidence aside as the work of Satan (Matthew 9:34).

“Jesus, who was touched by human woe, who healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and speech to the dumb, who fed the hungry and comforted the sorrowful, was driven from those he had labored to save. He who walked upon the heaving billows, and by a word silenced their angry roaring, who cast out devils that in departing acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, who broke the slumbers of the dead, who held thousands entranced by His words of wisdom, was unable to reach the hearts of those who were blinded by prejudice and hatred, and who stubbornly rejected the light.”[3]

As for us, let us not harden our hearts against the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, but ask day by day for the strength that is needed to resist the enemy. If we do, God—though the Holy Spirit—will work in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:3).

 


[1] E.G. White, Counsels for the Church: “Christians to Represent God”

[2] Ibid.

[3] E. G. White, Desire of Ages: “Priestly Plottings”

 

Palm Tree

The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psalm 92:12)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; And on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That bringeth forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also doth not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

One summer when my cash-strapped friend Felix was in High School, a lady paid him $50 to remove a small palm tree squatting smack in the center of her lawn. The palm was quite small; still, at the end of the day, Felix had had to do more work than he ever thought was necessary because the little palm tree was insanely difficult to get rid of. He had dug a ditch around the tree. Then with an axe hacked away at the roots, only to find with great dismay that the palm tree has a very very very extensive network of fibrous roots. He got through most of them (except a few tiny ones that seemed too insignificant). Still, even when he pushed and pulled with all his might he found that just those few remaining strands of that root system were enough to resist him.

Researching around the net on tree roots, I learned that the root system of a palm tree is unique. Most trees have branching roots that grow smaller and smaller the further they are from the taproot, whereas the palm roots are the same size at the stem or base. This makes the tree difficult to pull up. It also means the roots will grow deep into the ground, getting nourishment that is not available on the surface.

The text above likens the the righteous to a flourishing palm tree. Notice that what is so essential to a palm tree are its roots which help it get nutrients and water in arid climates, or keep it safely anchored when it is bound to be whipped about by a furious hurricane in tropical climates.

How are you doing? Are you anchored safely and securely on Christ just the palm tree is? Will the enemy of souls find you insanely difficult to uproot?

May you thrive and flourish in all areas of your life this week and may you find your delight to be in Christ and in the meditation of his word.