“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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A person God turned around many times.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Living off of love

The brain is protected by the skull. Imbedded in the brain lives the mind; and even deeper still within the mind dwells the soul. Deep within that maximum security encasement is where highly vulnerable emotional intercourse takes place, the most secret, most sensitive sentiments between us and the master of our choosing. Here, the soul communes with God through His word. In the protected privacy of this place the soul says to righteousness and peace, “Ah, good. Very good!” There the Spirit of God is able to enlist our trust, engage our love, and cultivate our intellect, nurturing our deepest needs. Or, if we so choose, there Satan bribes the conscience and then destroys it through intellectual spiritualism and sensual idolatry.

The one leads to rest and peace; the other to constant excitement and agitation, work and unrest.

“When the soul surrenders itself to Christ, a new power takes possession of the new heart. A change is wrought which man can never accomplish for himself. It is a supernatural work, bringing a supernatural element into human nature. The soul that is yielded to Christ becomes His own fortress, which He holds in a revolted world, and He intends that no authority shall be known in it but His own. A soul thus kept in possession by the heavenly agencies is impregnable to the assaults of Satan….We must inevitably be under the control of the one or the other of the two great powers that are contending for the supremacy of the world….The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness.” The Desire of Ages, 324.

I’ve heard it lamented that we can talk all day but we can’t pray for even 5 minutes. But why is this? I wonder if it is because when we talk with our fellow humans we have a two-way conversation and we all love to have that; but prayer is usually a short lived one-way soliloquy. We can converse with each other all day long with great ease and enjoyment, but to many, prayer is speaking into the air. And how cool is that? No wonder multitudes pray and study the scriptures so little, and have so little faith.

Although never having met Martin Luther, I feel certain that he could spend 4 hours at the beginning of each day praying as he did, because prayer with him wasn’t a one-way conversation. Unlike the typical Pharisee, Luther didn’t pray with himself. (Lk. 18:11). There was a two-way thing going on in Martin Luther’s closet between him and the Spirit of God. Far behind him were his one-way conversation days—a long, afflicting torture.

And while I never met H.M.S. Richards, Sr., I feel confident that the reason he could spend 4 hours each day studying the Bible is because there was a back and forth going on in his private study between his soul and the Holy Spirit, a two-way conversation facilitated by the Word. There in the quiet of his soul, he was free to ask the Lord his most embarrassing, childlike questions, or peruse a vast library of truth found in those intricate and complex sacred pages. There he could dare to tread new, untried thoughts and ideas about the Savior he loved.

It’s like what a woman said in Sabbath School last Sabbath, “The important thing about the Word is, that you must feed on it.” While she couldn’t seem to elaborate, she saw something there, and what a jam-packed statement it was. The breast-feeding infant doesn’t just take from the mother, it gives back more than it is aware of. And out of that back and forth arrangement, that giving and taking of love, a bond is created for life that no amount of abuse in life can destroy. How it must thrill God to have that heart to heart, mind to mind exchange of intimacy with His children of Earth.

It was that very emotional interaction which Solomon had with the Son of God that enabled him to be a fortress for righteousness. “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” (Song of Solomon 2:16).

This same experience the antedeluvian patriarchs had. “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.... Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” (Gen. 5:24; 6:8,9).

This love Abraham had with the Lord Jesus. “But thou, Israel, art My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend.” (Is. 41:8). “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”(Jas. 2:23).

Moses knew that same heart to heart communion. “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Ex. 33:11).

Zechariah knew it by experience and prophesied concerning it. “And one shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in Thine hands? Then He shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends.” (Zech. 13:6).

Jeremiah tasted of it and rejoiced. “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.” (Jer. 15:16).

The apostles saw Christ’s offer of a close friendship and they gladly ate it up! “And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the Bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” (Mk. 2:19). And they proclaimed it everywhere they went.

“He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” (Lk. 19:7). “The Son of man is come eating and drinking;… a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Lk. 7:34).

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a Man lay down His life for His friends.” (Jn. 15: 13).

“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.” (Jn. 15: 15).

“For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” (Lk. 10: 24). It was the Spirit that brought that deep heart communion and put tongues of fire on each head of the early church.

It is compared to the love between Solomon and his Shulamite wife. “His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely. This is My beloved, and this is My Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song 5:16).

“I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please. Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee. Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” (Song 8:1-7).

And we can have that same communion as all the holy men of old; a communion which I hear is so sweet that it causes “the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” (Song 7:9). And when the seal of God is put in the foreheads of His people, they only will receive it who found in Him the most faithful Friend and the most gracious God. (Matt. 7:23;Rev. 7:2;9:4;14:1;22:4)

I will sing, I will sing, of Jesus’ love;
Sing of Him, sing of Him, who first loved me.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Red lights

There is an intersection close to the house where I live. Only one house sits between the intersection and mine. When I come to that intersection and the traffic light is red, I must sit and wait for a longer than normal light cycle. My house is so close, it is in sight, yet I must wait for the long, long red light to turn green before I can get home—especially painful after long trips.

In America, traffic lights are everywhere. Red means stop, green means go, amber is supposed to mean slow down and prepare to stop. In the Washington DC area where I’ve been staying for over a year, traffic is very heavy. Rush hour lasts several hours, every morning and every evening. People can get pretty impatient with each other. When they sit through 2 red light cycles before finally passing each intersection, it makes for a long ride home. I know how they feel, having grown up in this area.

But there are ways of making the long drive better. Let each red light be an opportunity to rest and recuperate from the previous jostling and competition of the traffic. Resting can be a tall order for someone who is anxious to get home. But we don’t reflect on the day enough. We don’t commune with God enough either. Couldn’t a red light be a good chance for reflection and meditation and prayer? We should be grateful for red lights.

On a larger scale, life has other red lights and obstacles to progress. Failed expectations and hopes, disappointments and tragedies, plans that fall through, plans to finally get ahead financially or in a career, —all make us stop in our pursuits. Will we choose to sit and squirm in total anxiety while we are stopped, or will we use that opportunity to go back to the drawing board, back to the throne of God?

Will we view these red lights as challenges needful for a healthier life of faith? After all, if all resistance were removed and we had free travel through life, wouldn’t we turn out to be full of pride and dangerous? Obstacles and disappointments in life are the best thing for us. We don’t naturally go to God if everything is smooth sailing, according to our faulty standard of smooth sailing. God is all wise and is in control. He says that He creates the good and the evil. But He does so only for our good. “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it.” (Is. 45:7,8).

Even if I am a Christian, should I expect no red lights in my life? If I live right, should God only give me good things, as self-centered people judge good? Should I get better treatment than the atheist next door? Should the child of God get preferential treatment from Him?

Who wants special treatment, even from God? I don’t. I want Him to love me and to let me know He loves me. So long as I have that, I’m happy. I want to be able to look into His word and Him point out to me how and how much He loves me. And He has done that many times. What else do we need than love? Just the basics. They say you can’t live off of love, but I disagree.

Moses lived off of God’s love for 40 days up on Mt. Sinai. No food. No water. Christ did the same in the wilderness. In fact, He spent His whole life and finally went to the cross, living off of His Father’s love. His disciples always worried that He had gone insane for spending so much time working for the uplifting of humanity without eating. The paralytic, dropped down from the ceiling, lay in a dream-state, caring less if he lived or died because he heard the wonderful words of the Messiah, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Matt. 9:2). Accepted! Accepted by God! Nothing else mattered! Nothing.

So let’s start looking at stopping in a different way. Let’s enjoy our trip through this life. Life is a journey, not just a destination. It’s not just a job it’s an adventure!

I saw two girls walking and talking. I asked them how far they had traveled. One shrugged her shoulders and the other said, “A half a mile, I guess.” But I had seen them walking when I was a mile away from them going the opposite direction to the store to get something. I don’t know exactly how far they had walked, but what struck me was that they were taking their good time as they walked. School was over, the day was cool, they had each other, and they were talking together the whole way, enjoying their travels. I asked them, “Are you tired?” They both chimed in nonchalantly, “No.” Respectful and in a humble way, it was like, “Sir, what’s the big deal?” Yet, they had walked many miles to the shopping center and back home again.

So can be our walk in this life. Together with Jesus, good company and nice conversation, going places together and doing things together in the witnessing for Jesus and in Christian service, making our way over many miles, through many varied experiences, some nice and some difficult, yet hardly fathoming where the time has gone. Walking together with Him, the yoke is easy and the life burdens are light. Each tragedy is hard but manageable. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. And each blessing is icing on the cake.

And in the end we will lay our head down for the last time and say, “The red lights were many, but not one do I regret. God was good to me.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Picking Mulberries

You can learn a lot from a mulberry!

I’m staying with my sister while we work on her house. We have a large, mature mulberry tree in the back, and its mulberry season here!

I love mulberries. They are so sweet, almost too sweet! They must have some sodium in them and low acid. But whatever they have, I love them to death!

But one thing I’ve learned, you must be careful how you pick them. Their skin is very soft and fragile. And another thing is that just because they are pitch black and look ripe doesn’t mean they are ready to let go of the branch. Some berries have stems that are still too strong and if you force the berry off the tree, it smushes in your fingers. When that happens, neither do you get to eat the berry because it is ruined, nor will it be available the next day or whenever the stem is weaker.

No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born within him a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus. The saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut in his heart. The most earnest desire is to let others share in the most wonderful gift, that is, a better life. And as others come to trust the Savior, we find a great joy in fellowshipping with them.

Yet our zeal for something better for our loved ones cannot overlook the importance of giving them the freedom to think about it before deciding to accept or reject it. Our effort in fruit picking must be gentle. We don’t know the minds of people. We don’t comprehend their attachments to the world around them. So we must tug at their heart, and they must know it; we must make the invitation plain—but gently. Roughly handling the word of God as His representative breaks His third commandment. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”

Roughly leading a person to Christ runs contrary to the spirit and method of Jesus, of whom it was beautifully prophesied, “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” (Is. 42:3) And it receives the gentle rebuke He gave James and John, “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” (Lk. 9:56).

Oh, how our Savior must sorrow when He loses a soul because we were in haste and unnecessarily overexposed them to truth. Oh, how difficult it must be for Him to bear with our ineptitude at gathering fruit for His kingdom. He loves us and forgives us, but He also loves those candidates for heaven that we prevent from entering into a most wonderful relationship with Him. It isn’t easy work being Intercessor for a confused world of sinners.

“Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation: and Thy right hand hath holden me up, and Thy gentleness hath made me great.” (Ps. 18:35).

It is when we see His gentleness toward us, despite the damage we’ve done in working contrary to His methods, that we begin to change into His marvelous image and lose our childish, irresponsible ways. And then we work hard to undo all the tragedies we created toward our neighbor during our bad attempts to serve Jesus while not abiding in Him. By His grace are we saved from ourselves.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I saw God's hand

I had an amazing experience a couple of Sabbaths ago. A couple of sisters from the church and I needed to finish a set of apartments where we had started giving out tracts months ago, so I wanted to park on the far side of the complex. But we drove around for about 5-10 minutes and couldn’t find a spot that wasn’t marked “reserved” for the residents. We finally ended up parking next to the main road where we always have parked.

Back up with me for a minute. One hour previous, at the church during the fellowship dinner, I sat next to a young woman from Trinidad. We chatted and I remarked that I had an old friend from Trinidad, named Richard Thomas. We were friends in high school, but I hadn’t talked with him for decades. I asked her if Thomas was a common name in Trinidad, to which she replied that it was pretty common.

Fast forward again to the apartments. As we began to walk across the parking area from the street we saw a man putting his little boy in the car-seat of his car. Since I speak a little Spanish and he looked foreign I waited to give him a tract while the ladies walked on. I stood there waiting for him to finish buckling in his son, which seemed like a long time. Finally he stood up and our eyes met, which was my cue to ask him if he wanted a tract. As I got closer to him, he looked vaguely familiar to Richard Thomas! Then I said, “Sir, you look so familiar. Is your name Richard?” He answered, “David! Praise the Lord!”

We talked for about 10-15 minutes trying to catch up on the past 30 years. He told me that he still had a Bible I had given him so many years ago (which I don’t remember ever doing) and that he had given his life to God about 15 years ago. He said he loved that Bible so much and had marked it all up. What a thrilling experience!

I still can’t believe it happened. After we exchanged email addresses, he got in his car and drove away and I went to the ladies who were waiting for me. Liz, one of them, told me, “You know, we spent a long time trying to find a parking spot, and if we had found one in the back parking you never would have seen your friend. And if we hadn’t wasted that time before parking on the street, you would have missed him also.”

I’m telling you, the timing was perfect for that to happen. It wasn’t a mistake or accident or luck. I saw providence happen. And I like being part of it!