“Take Me to You…”

Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

–John Donne, Holy Sonnet 14

Let’s be blunt, and say that there is no middle ground. There is no “Self” that thinks and acts on its own initiative and has no Master. The truth is that you are either a slave to Christ or a slave to Satan—that’s it.

As a slave to Christ, you are—indeed—free. But you can’t be free until he storms the castle of your cherished self, demolishes your ego, and enthrones himself in the seat of your heart. As a slave to Christ, you live day by day dependent on him, looking daily at his pure, holy, and loving character and by his grace the chains of sin that bind you are torn. The key to this freedom is the outright possession of your life by God. Apparent slavery. Are you willing to give up the control of your life?

On the other hand, as a slave to Satan you are under the impression that you have the greatest freedom imaginable (after all, isn’t the crummy Decalogue and the word of God nothing short of a yoke meant to keep you from all you really want to do?). The longer you’re under this regime, however, the more confined and debased you become. Apparent freedom is nothing more than self-destructive slavery that degrades you and your view of self, God, and the world around you.

I’ve come to realize that freedom is simply a matter of perspective, in which I must take into account whatI’m being freed from, and what I’m being freed to do. The good news of it all is that YOU choose what master you want to serve. No one can ever take that choice from you. So choose wisely.

May you choose the Master that frees you from degradation and confusion and frees you to be the person you were meant to be—free to do what is both great and fulfilling.

“For You have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” Gal 5:13

Wings

How much faith do you have? And when you ask for things in prayer–with “faith”–is it to proclaim the goodness of God? Or is it just to satisfy needs? This is a Bible Study based on a sermon I heard a year or so back, that brings some more truth to what faith really should be.

* * *

There is a peculiar word whose meaning I would love to share with you.

It is the Hebrew word for “corner [of garment]” = ḵânâp (Strong’s number: h3671). It is used many times in the OT (Old Testament). Such as in the following verse:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart…so you shall be holy to your God” (Numbers 15:37-40)

In the text above, God instructed the Israelites to trim or edge their robes with blue, and at the corner (extremity) of their robes add a tassel. This was for the purpose of remembering the Lord’s commandments.

One thing of interest is that the word ḵânâp is the same word is used to denote wings, either literal (like for birds and angels) or figurative, like the border or edge of a tunic or robe, as is used in the passage.

As the OT is about to come to an end, the word appears again. This time it is part of one of the most beautiful promises pointing to the coming of the Messiah.

But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. (Malachi 4:2)

And the word for “wings”? Yes it is ḵânâp.

  • How would you interpret the meaning of this verse?
  • Would you take the literal or figurative meaning of the word ḵânâp?

Now if we take the word’s literal meaning, we could say that Messiah would rise like a (figurative) bird, with healing in its wings. It’s poetic and lovely, and I think most people would interpret it this way.

But here’s an alternate way of looking at it. For that we need to go to the NT, and read about a particular event in Jesus’ life.

While [Jesus] was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” (Matthew 9:18-21)

Obviously the language changes to Greek in the New Testament, but the word used for fringe still carries the meaning. “Fringe” used here (Strong’s number g2899), also means the same as ḵânâp “wing” “corner”, and “tassel.” Furthermore, Strong’s  emphasizes this connection between the word as found in the NT and its OT counterpart ḵânâp.

* * *

But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. (Malachi 4:2)

  • What happens if we take instead the message of Malachi as it comes: that is, the Messiah rises, and healing can be found at the corner of his garment?
  • How does that throw new light into the motivation of the woman who touched Jesus’ garment?

The woman’s act of bending down to ground level and touching the corner of his garment was not borne out of her timidity or shame at her situation (well, obviously there was some of that—but she could have also touched his back, his long hair, or his sandal if it only came to that). Her choice of touching the edge of his robe was far from arbitrary, for she remembered from the promise that the Messiah would bring healing in the corners of his garment.

Her act of faith is now seen for what it really was: It was her way of proclaiming to the world that Jesus was The Messiah which the prophets had spoken of.

Not many people in his days easily made the connection between prophecy of the coming Messiah and Jesus. In fact, most people missed the point. Is it any wonder Jesus wanted to stop and find her—and give recognition for what she had done? Is it any wonder that she is the only one of the women for whom it was ever recorded that he called “Daughter”?

For if we ask for miracles, shouldn’t their main purpose be to proclaim the goodness of God?

Based on a sermon by Pastor Garrett Speyer

The Warning

“Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion…”(Ezekiel 2:8)

Ezekiel’s calling is quite interesting to me.

After his vision of God, he was given precise instructions as to what he had to do. He was entrusted with a mission: to be a prophet for the people, a light-bearer in times of spiritual darkness. Next, he was empowered to do his work, as the people he would speak to were hard-hearted and would not easily accept him or the message he had. Then, he was warned not to give in to the people and join them into their rebellion. Finally, he was given the word of God to eat.

* * *

It was interesting to me to note that God warned Ezekiel not to join the rebellion. Is that even possible for someone who saw a Vision of God? If so. . .  then maybe there is more to this rebellion business than I thought at first glance.

There existed the danger that, in the face of such a terrible outlook, Ezekiel would shirk his responsibility. If he let fear get the best of him, then he would become identified with the same rebellion that the Israelites were guilty of—the same rebellion he was responsible for speaking up against. There was always that danger that he would be influenced by the apostasy around him and that he would lose notion of the real gravity of sin. There is a subtle poison in the atmosphere of a sinful society. It is difficult that a person hold on to his faith when he is among people who have no faith, especially when those same people pretend to have the same hopes and aspirations which he holds. For that same reason, the church’s greatest danger comes from within, not from without. If those who are called to be leaders are themselves “rebellious”, just as the “rebellious people”, What else can be expected but widespread godlessness? The history of the apostasy of Israel reveals the terrible result of what happens when human beings look to other human beings, and place their trust in impious leaders. [1]

* * *

There are two things to note.

  1. The rebellion was not so much an open attitude against God—a worshipping of idols, or other such outright refusals to worship him. Instead it consisted of a lifestyle that on the outside had the semblance of goodness but without making the necessary changes that consisted in total surrender to God.
  2. The spiritual leaders were in large part responsible for this. Ezekiel’s calling and the warning contained within is for us today as well. No matter what you do in life–what your vocation or job you have, you are a light for others—hence, you are a leader.

Have you accepted the call to serve God? Consider the message found in Ezekiel 2.


[1] Comentario Biblico Adventista del Septimo Día. Vol 4. (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1985) p.612 Translated from Spanish by Paula

God’s Hand

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. (Proverbs 3:27 NLT)

The ropes dug painfully into his armpits as he was lowered down into the dungeon. The air was damp and foul, and very little could be seen by the wan light of the late afternoon that entered in through the small opening above—an opening that kept getting smaller and smaller the further down he was lowered.

They said this dungeon had been a cistern that was now emptied of water…just how deep was it? Jeremiah did not know. At last he felt his feet touch the bottom. Well, there was no danger of him drowning—What his feet touched was not water…but mud: thick, cold and viscous into which Jeremiah sank.

Complete darkness engulfed him when they closed the cistern. At last he understood—he had been left to die there: Buried alive in mud and darkness, alone, and in the silence of the grave.

He must have struggled against panic. His heart and even his faith could have failed him with the realization that the evil men’s intent was that he should die in that pit of mire. To cry out for help was useless—had not king Zedekiah himself delivered Jeremiah to the hand of enemies? Besides, no one would be able to hear the feeble cries coming up from the pit. And if that wasn’t enough, the unpopular prophet had few friends, and none who could overturn the order of a king. Only one could help—and to him did Jeremiah cry out

But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit. You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!” Yes, you came when I called; you told me, “Do not fear.” (Lamentations 3:55-57 NLT)

***

But Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, an important court official, heard that Jeremiah was in the cistern. At that time the king was holding court at the Benjamin Gate, so Ebed-melech rushed from the palace to speak with him. “My lord the king,” he said, “these men have done a very evil thing in putting Jeremiah the prophet into the cistern. He will soon die of hunger, for almost all the bread in the city is gone.”

So the king told Ebed-melech, “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.”

So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to a room in the palace beneath the treasury, where he found some old rags and discarded clothing. He carried these to the cistern and lowered them to Jeremiah on a rope. Ebed-melech called down to Jeremiah, “Put these rags under your armpits to protect you from the ropes.” Then when Jeremiah was ready, they pulled him out. (Jeremiah 38:7-13 NLT)

***

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person. (Proverbs 3:27 MSG)

God could have easily sent an angel and delivered Jeremiah. God can use angels to feed the hungry, rescue the oppressed, speak up for truth, and spread the message of hope to the nations. But he gives us the opportunity to do this work, to be his hands, his feet, and be the means by which he gives blessings to others. That is why we are in the world. We are not told to be hermits and be holy by ourselves. The biggest blessing we can receive is that of being an agent—an ambassador—of God.

If Ebed-melech the Ethiopian had not heeded to the call of God and been brave enough to approach the king to plead Jeremiah’s cause, he might have ended up the way all the other king’s officials did: Taken captive by Nebuzaradan, dragged to Riblah in chains to face Nebuchadnezzar, and then put to death. But God had a special message for him; a promise that any of God’s children can claim if they do God’s bidding and are faithful to their trust.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I will do to this city everything I have threatened. I will send disaster, not prosperity. You will see its destruction, but I will rescue you from those you fear so much. Because you trusted me, I will give you your life as a reward. I will rescue you and keep you safe. I, the Lord, have spoken!”(Jeremiah 39:16-18 NLT)

Have you claimed the privilege of being God’s hand for someone lately?

Reboot–Notes

Last week was the last in a month-long series of sermons at my church dealing with the issue of renewal.

We used the analogy of when your computer stops working and it crashes. Nothing you do can make it alright again. The only solution left is to reboot. This is what we need to do in life too.

1. Don’t despair when your life unravels and gets out of control. Because this needs to happen first before you can become the instrument of God. The only people God can use are broken people.

2. There is a beautiful analogy in the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). When, after his resurrection, Jesus met two disciples and walked with them on their way to Emmaus. He was invited for supper, took the bread, blessed it (gave thanks for it), broke it, and gave it to them. This is a metaphor for whAt Jesus does to us.

  • Jesus takes you
  • Blesses you — Do you remember when you first converted and accepted Jesus that great, happy time when you felt so connected to Him? Do you remember how you felt so joyful to be alive, and all around you saw evidences of his love and care for you? Maybe you began writing a blog, or composed happy music to share with others what Jesus has done for you? Yes. That is the blessing stage.
  • Breaks you — Your happy life begins to unravel. God reveals his glory to you and you see how you really are. Sinful, weak, inept. You’ve always been broken, it’s only now that you realize it. You lose your self-sufficiency.
  • Gives you a calling to serve others — Peter’s calling and Isaiah’s calling are just a few examples of this truth. Both were called to serve immediately they recognized how human they were.

3. God uses our messes to reach other people. He uses those things in the past that we had no control over, and those things we willingly walked into, to reach other people. Our scars and old wounds become channels for his grace to touch people whose lives we would not have been able to touch if we had been pristine. Satan’s plans are frustrated because he can’t knock you down.

4. Never forget that it is when you are weak that you are strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

God’s grace is enough; it’s all you need.
His strength comes into its own in your weakness.

– – –

Notes from Sermon by Pastor Ritchie Pruehs (1/25/14)

Video by Yours Truly 🙂

The Resurrection

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

Liz and I came back home from a long trip, to find that the house was eerily still with a cold, vacant feel to it. Mom and dad were not there.

We set the house in order. Then I think I made some tea while Liz warmed up something for us to eat. After we ate, we sat in the living room, both of us feeling just like the house—silent and sad in the cold afternoon light of a cloudy November afternoon. Soon the door opened, and dad appeared. He looked haggard, and we were so aghast at his doleful air and the way he had aged at least twenty years since we had seen him that we failed to rise to go meet and greet him.

I don’t know how it came out, but he told us: They had had an accident on the 405. He had walked off fine with a few scratches—but mother. Mother had died.

The days after that were a blur. I know that Liz was the stronger of the two, and she had to be strong for the three of us. Father was worse than I’d ever seen him, racked with guilt because he’d been the one driving. I stayed outside of the house, walking around, mad with grief, mourning the death of my warm, beloved, joyful mother.

* * *

I woke up toward dawn. I wondered where I was. Had I not been sobbing in the stairwell of my house refusing the comfort of my distraught sister?

No. It had been a dream.

A dream.

Praise God it was only a dream.

Involuntarily I began to sob in my pillow, first softly, but as my relief intensified with the conviction that my mother was, indeed, still alive, my cries only grew louder. This woke Lizzy up, and she was soon next to me soothing me and comforting me while running her little fingers through my hair.

After we prayed together and she went back to sleep, something told me to read back to what I had last read last night. I reached for my iPod, unlocked it, and saw that the last thing I read before drifting off to sleep had been the book of 1 Kings 17. Yesterday night I as I was drifting off to sleep I had been asking myself what new message—besides that of trusting God and having faith—could the story of Elijah and the widow have for me today.

I re-read the story of the widow. From the time Elijah finds her gathering sticks before cooking her last meal to when Elijah resurrects her dead son. The passage took new life—and I read these familiar passages it with new eyes.

I felt the widow’s grief; it was vivid, it was real. I could see her falling apart on the floor before Elijah, with her limp son in her arms. He had to wrest the body of the boy from her hands, because even so it was precious to her and all that remained in this world that was of any value. As she cried out to him, complaining why he had brought sorrow to the house, I knew that her throat was hurting, and the voice came out only with much, much effort, the way mine had done in my dream when I  cried out to God to do something and save my mother. Finally, I lived first-hand the rush of relief, the overwhelming joy of the resurrection, when I woke and knew that my mother was alive, after all.

God condescended to answer my question in the most amazing and vivid way possible. It was clear and direct. I’ve never had such an experience, and I am humbled by it. Of course, daylight is trying to play off this lesson a bit. The terrors of the night seem to dim a little when the sun is out, but I will not forget. I cannot. I leave it here for you and for me.

Jesus is the life and resurrection. This holds such sweet hope to me for those dear ones that have gone before me—and who may go if he doesn’t return in my lifetime. I thank God that Jesus rose victorious because that means we can all have hope of life even after we die. Until this morning, I never was so thankful for it.

When I awoke again, the first thing I did was run to the kitchen where my mother was rushing about getting ready for work. In that fierce hug I prayed to God. I thanked him she was alive, that she was my mother, and prayed that he keep us all safe. I ask him now that though we have this sweet hope of life everlasting, that He will not tarry.

I don’t know if I could bear parting with my loved ones. So please. Please don’t make us wait any further.

Come, Lord Jesus.

The Unseen

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)

He was a philosophy major and he wanted me to tell him how I—a rational, intellectual person—believed in God. He caught me off guard (spiritually speaking). At that time I was ill prepared to counter his arguments, and though I spewed out all manner of things (which I still don’t remember) in a valiant effort to prove to him that Christians are not the mindless and anti-science lot he made us out to be, it was a dismal failure. Ultimately I had to fall back on faith: You believe or you don’t.

He rolled his eyes at me, “Well, that is what I want to know. You believe—have this faith that you call it. How did you come about to have that faith?”

I could not answer that then. The basic explanation of faith in the Bible still confounded me, how could I explain that which I never really knew of? I simply believed, and I figured that was the same as having faith, right?

Now I am inclined to think otherwise.

Belief—like I’ve said in one of my previous posts—is nothing special . It is essential to faith, but it is not faith. Belief will only carry you as far as the limits of your comfort zone, that is, up to the point where certainty ends and where faith must begin.

Ok, so I believe. How do I make the leap from believing to having faith so small (the size of a mustard seed) that I get to move the mountains? That, O my soul, is the work of God!—and it’s up to you to let him do his work or not.

God brings us into circumstances in order to educate our faith, because the nature of faith is to make its object real. Until we know Jesus, God is a mere abstraction and we cannot have faith in Him…Faith is the whole man rightly related to God by the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ  –Oswald Chambers [1]

My mercenary self always missed the point of faith. Before feeding the prophet—so to speak—I wanted to know for sure that God would replenish the jar of flour and the jug of oil. In short, I wanted to have the certainty of something happening (of my leap of faith being effective) before I acted upon my faith (before leaping). That, of course, is missing the point altogether. I was a mere believer—seeking certainty and not faith—what else was to be expected?

The ultimate goal of faith is to know and love the Father. Hebrews 11;1 talks about faith being a certainty of what is unseen. For me, the only unseen that matters most (indeed, the only thing I should seek to be certain of) is the Father–the great Unseen– whom one day we all hope to see face to face.

That is the crowning glory and the goal of having faith: to reach the point of not needing faith. To reach Heaven. Healing the sick, moving mountains, having free refills comes as a happy bonus. It’s extra.

 


[1] Chambers, Oswald, My Outmost for His Highest “Faith” (October 30)

Milk

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. (Hebrews 5:12-13)

“How long have you been a believer?” They ask me
“Oh, I was born in the faith” I reply “I’ve been a Christian all my life”
“Oh that’s nice!”

So it should be, right? I mean it’s 26 years. Fancy that!

If I was born in the faith 26 years ago—and I had grown and grown slowly but steadily (experiencing joys and sorrows, trials and triumphs—all holding fast to the word of God), I should be much deeper in my relationship with God than I am at the moment. Indeed, the contents of this blog would be radically different. I would not be gleaning from the writings of others and putting them here. Instead, I would be an Oswald Chambers, or a Mark Finley, an E.G. White or a C.S. Lewis, publishing something inspired that others would quote and put on their FB pages.

Being a believer is not the same as being/growing in the faith. So while I have believed in God for 26 years [and that’s nothing fancy: even the devils believe—and shudder! (James 2:16)], my time as a person who is trying to get closer and more intimate with God—a person in the faith—is much, much less than that.

So there are many who feed on milk; surface truths, accepted meanings of a certain passage, and what the Pastor or the doctrine of their fathers says. People who give the Bible a quick reading a few times a week, and pray three times a day the same prayer they have prayed for years. That is not enough to make us grow.

God is calling us to attain in him something more excellent than we ever thought possible. He wants us to go beyond the milk stage of Christians who are young in the faith and get to the solid food. He wants us to be deeper and to get to a point of a relationship that is more intense than we can imagine. He wants us to have spiritual discerning that will make us see right from wrong with clearer eyes. This is done by getting more acquainted with spiritual things and living at a higher, spiritual level.

Until we are deep in God, and have really walked with him, until we give deep thought and much research to the word of God there is nothing that we can share to others. I can post innumerable quotes from my favorite writers here or on FB, but if I don’t seek to go beyond the surface truths how am I to ever bring to you something that is original, God-inspired, and that will inspire you?

Stand Firm

…unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm (Isaiah 7:8)

In the time of prophet Isaiah, king Ahaz of Judah was threatened by the kings of Syria and by the king of Israel. Those two forces allied and hoped to take the city, overthrow the king, and set up a new dynasty. The account tells of how when the news went to the royal court that their enemies were marching towards Jerusalem, “the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm” (Isa 7:2)

Among such fear and such gloom, Isaiah presented himself to Ahaz and delivered a message of hope to the king—to not fear the power of the armies because Jerusalem would not be captured. The message from God concluded:

…unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm (Isaiah 7:8)

* * *

Conditional promise or general advice? Can God work mighty miracles on behalf of people whose faith is lacking?

It is generally known that it is in one’s head that the battle is won. Our attitude dictates how we will meet a challenge, and that will determine our victory or defeat. God does not ask us to fight the battle alone, but to work together with him while believing that with Him we are already victorious.

King Ahaz could not believe. How could he trust and commit his everything to a God he had rejected and offended for so long? But God in his mercy did not allow the city to be taken, though a huge amount of plunder was taken from his country.

The importance of faith is that in our everyday lives it is being continuously tested in small ways. It is a living, growing thing. Major crises will come—ordeals in which we will be put through the fire. On that day may our faith be firm. God will see to it that we stand firm through it all.

When it Rains

If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit…and I will walk among you and be your God, and ye shall be my people. (Leviticus 26: 3-4,12)

My mother grew up in a small Mexican pueblo out in the middle of nowhere at a time when there was nothing much to be found there but poverty and dust. There was a long drought at that time, and when she was growing up there the crops often failed; there was hardly any money or work to go around. It was a difficult time.

But much later when I got to visit, the drought had long gone, and the rains would come on time, bringing joy to all. I liked it when it rained there. It got very cold, then you would suddenly breathe in that loamy, dark, scent of damp earth. Soon, there would be thunder and lighting creating such a marvelous show with the rain and the sun that you would not know whether to run for cover inside one of the window-less houses or stay out under the rain.

We stayed out because nothing could beat seeing that display.  My sister and I, being city girls, would marvel at double rainbows or even triple rainbows as we huddled like two little sparrows under the eave of some abandoned house. The rain would go on its way to water the crops up the mountain, leaving behind a green and vibrant landscape, lush with tender vegetation which sparkled by the slanting light of the afternoon sun.

* * *

Today it rained. It made me very happy. It reminded me of how rain is a great blessing that we take for granted. If we need to drink or to make tea or coffee we simply open the tap. If we need to water our vegetable gardens, or keep our lawns looking their best we simply get the hose out or turn on the sprinklers. There’s plenty of water, plenty of food, plenty of everything good. Thank you, God.

Now, if we were living in a third-world country, the blessing of rain in its due time, abundant–or even dependable–harvests, would seem to us a rich blessing indeed. More so than it would be to someone living–say–in Southern California. Still, the promises of God to those who follow him and obey him are far from being irrelevant to us. Because it is by his grace that everyone who has in abundance can enjoy it, for he allows the rain to fall on both good and bad. We receive myriad blessings from his hand, sometimes we don’t even recognize it.

But the greatest blessing is that of belonging. The promise of Him belonging to us and us belonging to Him is absolutely wonderful and peace-filling. Because His presence itself is the rich rain that allows you to grow in him, be prosperous, and produce much fruit. With him there is no despondency that comes from spiritual or material poverty. There is no hunger, or thirst, or need apart from him.