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“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.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The unknown God

“For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.” (Acts 17:23). It wasn’t only the Greeks who had an unknown God. The Jews had one, as well.

“He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.
He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (Jn. 1:10,11). “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (vs. 5).

This was a sorrowful statement, calamitous. It meant the sad woes of the loss of the one Person who was good and worthy to be loved. The Lord, who brought Israel out of slavery because He loved them, went unrecognized from the manger to the cross. Him in whom every Jewish song gloried, and on whom every Jewish hope clung, was overlooked.

The Jews expected someone else. “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Isa. 53: 2,3).

Their rejection deeply grieved their God. His woeful tones of their coming desolation came from a broken heart. The day of reckoning was fast approached for them, and, knowing His Father’s terror, He sought to dissuade them away from their evil end. He came to the nation that had been the apple of His eye, the one object of His supreme regard for two thousand years.

“How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? [Admah and Zeboim were destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah.] Mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together,” was His scripture-filled appeals to the Jews. (Hos. 11:8,9). Their probation was almost finished; Daniel’s seventy week prophecy of final retribution on them hastened on to its sure fulfillment.

How could they miss their Messiah? Did He not give enough evidence to overthrow their preconceptions? Did He correctly and fully present His case before Israel well enough? Could He be chargeable in a subsequent trial by His adversary the devil?

Prophet after prophet rose up and described for us, the jury, the condition of Israel’s character flaws and blatant disregard to the most fundamental principles of truth and mercy. They describe the thievery of the poor by the powerful rich, the lying, the marital infidelity, the idolatry and spiritualism, the murdering. The written word of the prophets have built a seamless case against Israel in God’s eyes. Yet He gave them 600 more years. Now, their God, in person, “came down to see the [apostate religion], which the children of men builded.” (Gen. 11:5). There remained no lawyer to deliver them. It had been pure mercy toward them that they were not destroyed then, while their response was yet fully engaged toward “the daughter of a strange God.” (Mal. 2:11). “They have not known nor understood: for He hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.” (Isa. 44:18). “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” (Isa. 5:4).

They didn’t strive to know Him, therefore He came to them as a thief in the night. (Lk. 13:24,25). Some had strived with God before His appearing. As Gideon hid during the Midian occupation, disillusioned and distraught, and, in faith, complaining to God for the dismal conditions, these forlorn Jews had wrestled with the Holy Spirit with regard to the condition of Roman subjugation, the obvious disfavor of heaven; but they wrestled in a humbled attitude, recognizing that their troubles were well deserved. They had been broken, and would not suffer the punishing wrath as those who would not be humbled, but who would bristle under the Roman yoke until they were ground to powder. (Matt. 21:44).

Thus, the Baptist’s preaching struck a chord of harmony with the hearts of the humbled, and it came as the gracious communication from the God they had offended. And when John pointed to Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, these humbled ones were ready to look into His claim as the Son of God. They were open to the truth, and daily found this new Personality to fulfill exactly what they had heard from John’s expounding of scripture. These fulfilled the scripture which was a time sensitive prophecy, and which Christ could not finish for the whole nation, “I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee.”

But from the very beginning of His work to gradually introduce Himself to His unacquainted nation, the leadership remained prejudiced and made this “Man an offender for a word, and lay[ed] a snare for Him.” (Isa. 29:21). In their minds they twisted His plain statements so that His truths to them, like the seed on the hardened pathway eaten up by the fowls, were dissolved by Satan before the seed of truth and grace could germinate in the hearts and minds of the priests and Pharisees. They could not strive to know Him while they resisted Christ’s every overture. Therefore He remained the unknown God to them.

“I am sought of them that asked not for Me; I am found of them that sought Me not: I said, Behold Me, behold Me, unto a nation that was not called by My name.
I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;
A people that provoketh Me to anger continually to My face.” (Isa. 65:1-3).

Is not scripture written for reproof, correction and instruction? What can the church learn from Israel’s failure in history? We have a Savior, as Israel had a Deliverer. Would not it be wise to examine our faith in Him? Should not we be revisiting our conceptions of Him, as the Jews failed to do during the centuries leading up to their Messiah? Can we honestly believe we can safely navigate the way of salvation without rethinking our understanding of the character of Jesus, when we know the way is full of the devil’s sophistries and spells? Is Christ really who we think He is? Might we have subconsciously “married the daughter of a strange god” as Judah had, and now walk down a path far diverted from His true will? (Mal. 2:11).

Are we not afraid of repeating the same devastating experience of ancient Israel in these last fearful days when the hour of His judgment is come? If He must use recourse to scattering the church’s power, as He foretold He would in Daniel 12:7, then we must warrant His punishment. We must be doing just as Israel did, who ended its favored history in total divine disdain. “[Because of] the overspreading of abominations He shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” (Dan. 9:27). To the church He is saying, ‘Thou must be due thy consuming desolation because “because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” (Lk. 19:44).

If Jesus is not a God of truth and justice because the church will not give Him the authority to command them and expect their obedient fear, from the bottom to the top of the church structure; in short, if the church does not tremble before His word with a contrite spirit, then they are not His. They have left their husband and lain with another god whom they mistakenly believe is their original Master. Their original God is unknown to them.

The church’s unknown God has gone silent since 1915, when His faithful servant finally passed into the grave. Yet, He will make one last appearance before His judgment on the church. The Latter Rain of the Holy Spirit will be full of peace and grace, but unfailingly mingled with the straight testimony of the True Witness.

Watch out, Laodicea. As many as He loves, He rebukes and chastens. Be zealous therefore and repent.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

“I did my best”

The mother recounted the troubles she endured while raising her daughter from a baby to young adulthood. Being a proud, self-confident woman, all she could see in her methods of training and discipline were only good. There was no room for improvement for her; no instruction or correction need bother her conscience. The final statement ended all discussion on the matter, “I did my best. (End of discussion.)” Thus, she deceived herself.

It sounded unarguable. What more could she have done? Nothing. Humanly speaking (apart from God) that kind of mentality is so rife throughout the world that most people accept it with no further question. This person has also used this argument toward high expectations of her employers. But they weren’t very sympathetic.

It should be no surprise that employers, managers, and supervisors are unlikely to let “I did my best; don’t judge me” be good enough whenever “my best” results in less than perfect performance, and even less so, if work related problems were the byproduct of poor performance, and must be dealt with.

If the motto, “I did my best” does not satisfy a supervisor, would God be Ok with it? Imagine the Day of Judgment, and the hosts of the wicked standing before Him. And He says, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41). But, in one accord they all lift up their voices in self-defense, “But I did my best!”

What would God say? Would that leave the King speechless? I think He would say, “Make hell seven times hotter,” before throwing them into it.

“My” best isn’t good enough, and never was. The problem with fallen humanity since, Adam and Eve, is our propensity to make ourselves the standard and then coast to its easy attainment. This is the motive behind righteousness by works. It is the act of substituting my own easy standard and accomplishments for God’s sky-high requirements. It results in doing other than what God asks; our selfishness in the place of perfect unselfishness.

And to build some credence for our brand of morality, our own works are often ostentatious so that no one will suspect us of disobedience. We blow a trumpet to proclaim all our good acts. And then no one has recourse to doubt our sincerity or innocence and bring it up for peer review. This method is very effective, especially if everyone is doing morality this way.

My best is good for nothing when it comes to righteousness. The Bible describes our own righteousness as a suit we’ve sewn together to clothe ourselves and hide our nakedness. But it says a suit of our divising is like filthy rags, suitable only for the dunghill—the public latrine. Would you even go around wearing an outhouse? Ever go to a public outhouse like the kind they have at state parks? Until the invention of air sanitizers, they were p-r-e-t-t-y smelly! That’s what a dunghill was in biblical times. Everyone in the city always knew when the wind shifted. Nothing about public sewage has changed over time. As long as sin continues in this world, human waste reeking from public outhouses will remain the perfect object lesson for our righteousness, as God sees it. Righteousness that God didn’t give; my best.

“I did my best” will never fly before God, not for a moment; and it doesn’t fly today. Relying on an argument for self-defense and self-recommendation is the whole cause of God’s judgment day. Why does sin grow from an evil thought to gargantuan exhibitions of evil? Why does it come up out of nowhere and surprise us with horrendous acts of barbarity and atrocity? Because it is not dealt with at its inception. Why is it not dealt with? Because it is excused.

What is the excuse used? “By my standard, compared to Mr. So-and-so or Mrs. So-and-so, I don’t need to be corrected. I’m doing my best. Leave me alone.” By such subliminal strategy, a person will never warrant shame and guilt. So the sin divides and multiplies exponentially.

Paul referred to this thought pattern and said it turns people into fools. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2Cor. 10:12).

No; through comparing and measuring by a human standard, whether I set myself up as the standard, or, I am persuaded to use another human as the model of morality, we descend into foolishness and depravity.

God has given us His program. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5). “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph 2:8,9). God has already made the provision for His mile-high standard and the way to attain that standard. It all comes as a gift package. Bowing to His grace will get us to His righteousness, through His gift of our simple trusting in Him as our friend. It’s not our doing, except in response to His doing, for us and in us, through a lifetime commitment to spend time and effort sitting at His feet before His word. So, pride and confidence in self goes out the window.

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” (Rom. 3:21,22,27). For the people who can’t live without proclaiming to others their talents, ability, power, et al, or rehearsing it all in their own mind, this may come as the worst news possible. But it's all God has to offer, with wonderful results in the way of reclaiming a life in the toilet.

The proud heart strives to earn salvation; but both our title to heaven and our fitness for it are found in the righteousness of Christ. The Lord can do nothing toward the recovery of man until, convinced of his own weakness, and stripped of all self-sufficiency, he yields himself to the control of God. Then he can receive the gift that God is waiting to bestow. From the soul that feels his need, nothing is withheld. He has unrestricted access to Him in whom all fullness dwells. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15. Desire of Ages, p. 300.

Only through grace can a sinner ever acknowledge the existence of God’s standard. Subconsciously we deny it; it just doesn’t seem possible to live in the presence of a mile-high standard which we can never, without God’s grace, attain in this lifetime. That would entail a lifetime of shame and guilt and defeat, with no room for telling and retelling our great feats of morality and goodness. How could any sane person live like that?

Many are deceived as to their true condition before God. They congratulate themselves upon the wrong acts which they do not commit, and forget to enumerate the good and noble deeds which God requires of them, but which they have neglected to perform. It is not enough that they are trees in the garden of God. They are to answer His expectation by bearing fruit. He holds them accountable for their failure to accomplish all the good which they could have done, through His grace strengthening them. In the books of heaven they are registered as cumberers of the ground. Yet the case of even this class is not utterly hopeless. With those who have slighted God's mercy and abused His grace, the heart of long-suffering love yet pleads. "Wherefore He saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, . . . redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:14-16. Great Controversy, p. 601.

And so rejecting God’s offer, this world goes on living apart from God, oblivious to His love for it, and even as it watches its lofty framework of morality collapsing all around. Like the twin towers, 10 years ago, came tumbling down in 10 seconds, we are witnessing the demolition of the human fabric, as the world relies on the argument to end all self-examination, an argument that is threadbare and hoary with age, “At least we did our best.”

It is never safe for us to feel that we are possessed of virtues, and that we may congratulate ourselves on our excellences of character and our present state of purity and piety. David often triumphed in God, and yet he dwelt much upon his own unworthiness and sinfulness. His conscience was not asleep or dead. “My sin,” he cries, “is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). . . . As he saw the depths of deceit in his heart he was deeply disgusted with himself, and prayed that God would keep him back by His power from the presumptuous sins, and cleanse him from secret faults. That I May Know Him, p. 242.

There are many who congratulate themselves upon having a kindly feeling for men generally. They sometimes supply money to the poor, and contribute to public funds; and when they have done this, they consider their duty performed. Wherein, they argue, can I be deficient? They perform a part of their duty; but not all. Self stands supreme. Their neighbor is not loved in the way that Christ would have his children regard each other as members together of the family of God. Signs of the Times, January 7, 1897.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Any who want better may come and call out to the Unknown God for His help. Without blinking He will dispense His grace and immediately touch you.

“The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Scattering the power of the holy people

I once watched an episode of a certain TV sitcom of the 60’s where the main character, Tim, met a famous actor on a news program. Tim was impressed and awed by the famous man of this storyline only to discover that the charm, self-confidence, and handsomeness of the news man was all a put-on. His hair wasn’t even real—he was actually bald with a toupee and he looked tall only because he wore elevator shoes!

His image was of a bold, gregarious man with everything going his way. But, in actuality, he was lonely, very unhappy, and depressed. The episode reveals the reality of being a modern celebrity. Their public relations campaign gives them a persona that looks bigger than life—because it is. Truth be told, their public image is a ruse.

Recently I watched some musical videos on the internet. They were of religious songs sung by well-known and practiced recording groups. Their voices harmonized beautifully. But then I watched their expressions and couldn’t refrain from thinking that they were forcing themselves to smile. The words they sang were for the glory of God, and it just wouldn’t do to sing them without looking heavenly and victorious over sin. But the eyes really show the joy. A smile with a scowl does not indicate happiness.

They looked like angels singing in heaven. And their smiles never slipped; it was like the Joker’s smile that was pasted on! I’ve seen other religious shows on cable TV sometimes if I’m visiting someone who is watching it when I arrive. The forced smiles are so profound that it’s almost sickening. I can’t be the only one to notice this. Of course, they might call it their camera face, or their game face, that the broadcasting industry requires. But what does God think of the charade? Really, what does God think? Here’s what God thinks of it.

“Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.” (Ps. 39:5). The best choirs the church can produce are a far cry from the 144,000 who will stand on the sea of glass singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, truly joyous and oblivious of self.

“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee.” (Rev.15:2-4).

Referring to the religious elite who were just acting their part in the service to God, Jesus coined a new usage of an old Gentile word—“Hypocrite”. “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matt. 6:2).

Hypocrite was Greek for an actor in a Roman play. The Roman hypocrites each used several masks so that one hypocrite could act the part of several characters in the play. Today “hypocrite” is normal vocabulary for us, but 2000 years ago Christ gave a new connotation to the word. If Jesus were to live among us today, the modern religious elite that look God-entranced but are not, Jesus would call “actors”—they are acting a part, just playing church.

The masks assisted the Romans or Jews with their imaginations, to take the spectators off into a fantasy world. And the on-looking audience would applaud and shout their praises to the hypocrites. Idols were also used to assist worshippers into a fantasy world. We may conclude, then, that hypocrisy and idolatry are the same in principle.

Hypocrites. Masks. Applause. Public image. Idolatry. Imitation of heaven. Everything that Jesus saw 2,000 years ago was all there on my YouTube videos.

Babylon means, “Gate of the gods.” It was their way of say, The gate of heaven. Babylon represents a nation of hypocrites, some pretending to be in heaven and others applauding them for being there.

But, you might say, those Christian songs on YouTube were performances for Jesus. Those concert artists were acting godly for Christ. Its service to the King.

Still, it was simply a performance and theatrics.

Is Christianity today full of actors performing? When are we going to wake up to the finger of Revelation pointing to us as Babylon? All of us! Babylon the Great! Christianity, the Great! Gate of the hypocritical gods!

Paul saw this in his day while the church had not yet lost all of its purity, as he said it eventually would after the passing of the apostles.

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31).

So Paul rejoiced that the gospel was being preached; but he did so not without also his confession of one group of preachers, “The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds…in pretence.” (Phil. 1:16,18). “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” (2Thess. 2:7). He wasn’t going to let the pretense get him down or discourage the Philippian believers; yet, the reality was that the preachers were not preaching from hearts 100% consecrated in love to Jesus or from 100% faith. And this condition would spread and finally became almost all-consuming in the church.

The 7th and final condition of Christianity’s lifespan is also represented in Revelation by the city of Laodicea—lukewarm toward Jesus. They are hot on the outside, but cold on the inside. They/we have lots of good behavior, but it’s all a show. Babylon is all for show, its worship is only for effect. The personal religion of the Christians is all show.

We put all our effort into looking good and none of it in seeking a valid faith in Christ. We have all the ear markings of victory over sin, and we even expend token effort in the warfare against self. But the battle to know Jesus gets sidelined. It’s rare for anyone to be truly surrendered; no one is what they claim to be. “We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.” “Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.” (Is. 59:10,9). It’s all a put-on. As long as they have the willpower to behave themselves, Christians will never know surrender or true conversion and reconciliation with God. As long as they remain at the levers of their power of choice, they will continue to use it to make a token effort toward Jesus and a token effort to overcoming sin.

What the Christian needs is to lose his or her choice. They need to experience a backward, hair-raising free-fall into the deep, dark oblivion of total loss of control. And this will be provided for them through a study of the Bible as they give up their will to its influence, or the disorienting oblivion will be thrust upon them in the last great world chaos if they will not now voluntarily surrender to God.

And as time marches down to the very end, the stress of trying to act godly without the friendship with God and total loss of self will become unbearable. The pressure to refrain from the temptations that are closing in on, and overwhelming, mankind will drive many to break away and dive headlong into depravity. Even the most christian of the Christians will surprise their followers who held them in much high esteem.

The smoke of their torment will ascend continually in their grinding under the work of looking good without full heart to heart communion with the Savior. Those Christians will have no rest, day nor night. Rev. 14:11.

And Christ will finally have fulfilled His promise—to scatter the power of the holy people. Dan. 12:7.

At that point some—a very small remnant—will admit that their strength is but weakness and a liability when it comes to overcoming sin; all of their self-proclaimed righteous works are but filthy rags and worth nothing. They will fall at God’s feet by faith and plead for His grace and help. Their power is gone. Satan has chained them to his car, and they desperately plead for mercy from heaven; their faith is real and strong. They are heard and transformed, justified by their faith.

God scattered the power of His holy people in order to save them all—them all—but, this remnant were the only ones to respond to the work of God. To them He will say, “They shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.” (Rev. 3:4).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grace

What is it? When somebody was good to us and we didn’t deserve it. Do we get tired of hearing about grace? Have we heard the word so much that it has lost its sparkles? Probably, if we are tired of hearing about grace it is because we haven’t gotten any lately, or never did.

Grace is so good that the recipients of this form of love always talk about it. We talk about what we think about. We think about what we love. So we talk about what we love.

A super wealthy man pays off your car loan, thus relieving you of that stress. That’s grace. Wouldn’t you talk about it to others? He may never do it again, but that one time was enough. It was such a shock that it stuck deep into the halls of your memory for the rest of your life.

Grace is always a surprise. A powerful man, let’s say, the president of your company, selects you to receive a bonus and also the seat next to him at this year’s company picnic.

A father or mother invites a grown child over for dinner to try to patch up a difficult relationship, to apologize for mistakes done during childhood and to initiate a reconciliation, to ask the child forgiveness and bring relief to alienation and disconnection. Or, maybe, the roles are reversed and the child is asking forgiveness from the parent.

A well-off couple has put a lot of money into their home, but the market falls through just before they want to sell it, and you get it at a price that’s affordable, and it’s a really nice house. You never dreamed of having such a nice place.

All these are examples of grace.

Won’t they be the topic of many conversations from now on? Recipients have told me of these very experiences. And they spoke of them with a big smile. It was not a forced smile; no one told them they better rejoice, or should because it was their duty. Their joy was automatic, spontaneous, natural.

We expect Christians to be happy. Why? Because they have good, decent friends at church to hang out with? Because of human fellowship? Isn’t this what the secular world uses for happiness?

Is human friendship enough? No. That may be a secondary cause of Christian happiness and joy, but as soon as it becomes the primary cause, then all the joy goes away, and any appearance of Christian joy is then forced and fake.

Why are some Christians not as naturally happy as should be expected? It must be because God’s grace is not recognized and being experienced; it’s not in the forefront of their mind, not written in their forehead. The personableness and warmth of Jesus is not being exalted. His mercy and love are not being lifted up. I’ve heard of pastors who encourage their congregations to show love or to act happy, but the pastors never preached to them Jesus’ love. “This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

True, the congregation has a personal responsibility to study the grace of Christ, but if they have that duty, even more so does the pastor, and to share with them what he finds. True, he is only human, but he shouldn’t scold his flock for failing in his same failure. I would say, generally there is a pervasive ignorance concerning God’s grace and our life-or-death need to search it out.

So, can decent friends at church be the source of our happiness? No, God is the one sole primary source of joy because His grace never fails. His love is perpetual; a human’s is not. No matter how good the person; he is only a creature, not the infinite Creator and eternal Father.

Our Father’s love is a well that never goes dry; He is infinite and so is His love. But human love is finite and can never stand in the place of the primary source of anything. Only “Agape never faileth” (1Cor. 13:8). How many marriages run dry of love and end in unhappiness or divorce? They were not receiving of God’s eternal grace, and thus expended all that they had and became dry as the hills of Gilboa, which have neither dew nor rain.

The faultiness of human grace compared to the eternal nature of God’s grace is the reason Jeremiah exclaimed, “Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” But, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.” (Jer. 17: 5,7).

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:8). The angelic hosts not only talk of God’s holiness, they talk of His grace. “The four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps...
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy .... for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” (Rev. 5: 8,9). And they don’t just talk about God’s grace, they sing of it—constantly. “They rest not day and night,” singing this. (Rev. 4:8).

“And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” (Rev. 5: 11-13). God’s grace and mercy, forbearance and patience and kindness, form the glue that binds God’s kingdom to Himself, the foundation of the law of His government.

But what is this compared with the hereafter? There “are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Revelation 7:15-17. Desire of Ages, p. 331.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jesus, the God of temperance

Jesus always mingled truth with grace. He never strayed far from either aspect of His Father’s character, these two cornerstones of love. He never dispensed grace, but that He expected an equal obligation from the recipients. “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” (Lk. 17:17). Yet, He did not withhold His goodness until He might wrench from their lips an agreement to be grateful to Him; nor did He use His benefits to enslave people to His will. Though He did desire their appreciation, He would not bicker and bargain before blessing people. Neither does God, who sends the sunshine and rain on those who worship Him, and on those who act like He doesn’t exist. But the Father desires our expressions of thanksgiving for all His wonderful benefits to us. Like an earthly father desires his children’s love and attention, He “inhabit[s] the praises of Israel.” (Ps. 22:3).

Christ never spoke truth without grace. Even to the Pharisees and priests. What made them so angry with Him was that He wouldn’t speak only unvarnished truth without grace. They didn’t like that because that’s all they could do—Truth without grace. They didn’t know God, an so they couldn’t give anyone any of His grace. They could only give Satan’s grinding spirit, either very harshly or “nicely”. “Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner,” or they “by peace shall destroy many.” (Jn. 9:24;Dan. 8:24,25). But either way, rudely or nicely they misrepresented God, and Christ’s methods presented a stark but quiet and constant rebuke to their ways.

“Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever.” (Ps. 45:2).

Jesus never met a man He didn’t like. Scripture says in one place, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him.” (Mk. 10:21). We can infer from His encounter with this young ruler that very often, if not every day, He did this to people. But though He loved everyone, He hated sin with perfect hatred. He came “for sin,” His one purpose in every thought, word, act was to condemn it. (Rom. 8:3). To Him sin was the existence of the recognition of self. Total self-forgetfulness was the condition of life in the Garden of Eden, which the Savior came to restore in man. The Son of God became flesh to be the second Adam; and He was a greater than Adam. Therefore when Peter grabbed Him and tried to shake some self-filled common sense into his Master, saying, “Pity Thyself, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee,” then the Lion of the tribe of Judah came out of Jesus. (Matt. 16:22,margin).

Peter brought a full-faced, frontal attack on his Master’s campaign against sin; and his Master threw back on Peter a full, frontal, blunt message, brighter and more blinding than He had ever before done to any of His disciples. Jesus must have waited patiently for the day when His Father would work the conditions for Him to be able to make His standard of selflessness perfectly clear, and when the time finally presented itself, He utilized it for a blitzing promotion of the reality of His Father’s kingdom. Right in Simon’s face and in the hearing of the other disciples, “He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matt. 16:23). His words were not a confusing yea and nay. No duplicitous speech ever left His mouth.

Peter snapped back into attention as if he were hit by a stun gun, or given a big shot of penicillin in the hind quarters. Mouth shut, eyes wide open, he must have thought, like Job, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer Thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.
Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4,5).

Both Job and Peter were reminded of where they stood in contrast with the Lord of truth. “Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O most mighty, with Thy glory and Thy majesty.
And in Thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things.
Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under Thee.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.
All Thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made Thee glad.” (Ps. 45:3-8).

Peter and Job were Jesus’ favorites in their days; they had received His full compassion and blessedness. But that gave them no right to presume upon His Law and His propensity for righteousness. He would not budge a millimeter or allow even a micron of Satan’s advances into His kingdom. He told Peter what Eve should have told the serpent or what Adam should have told Eve, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

Yet Job and Peter and all His children were dear to the Lord. He spoke to Israel as to a man, in admonition and in rebuke. After punishing Israel with 70 years of captivity and permitting the difficulties of reestablishing their homeland, He sent messages to encourage their heart through the youthful Zechariah.

“And said unto him [an angel], Run, speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein:
For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.
Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the Lord.
Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon.
For thus saith the Lord of hosts; After the glory hath He sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.” (Zech. 2:4-8). “And the Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.
So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” (Zech. 1:13,14).

The mercy of the Lord might not have appeared to be forthcoming to Israel, so lately encumbered with temptations and troublesome neighbors, flinging Israel’s past failures in their face, being burdened by shame and guilt. So Christ sent messages to them through Zechariah and Haggai. They were strong messages, but had their softer parts. They were full of instructions and reminders to no longer do as their fathers had done which led to the subjugation of the nation to pagan powers; but the word of the Lord was also full of precious promises.

Christ’s spirit of grace mingled with promises of judgment.

“Then he [the angel] answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.
Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.” (Zech. 4:6,7). “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:
And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.
But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. …
Therefore it is come to pass, that as He cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts:
But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.” (Zech. 7:9-11,13,14).

Jesus’ great jealousy for His people, but great fury also.

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.
Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age.
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in Mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will save My people from the east country, and from the west country;
And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.” (Zech. 8:2-8).

His love for peace mixed with truth.

“For thus saith the Lord of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked Me to wrath, saith the Lord of hosts, and I repented not:
So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not.
These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates:
And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.... Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.” (Zech. 8:14-17,19).

Mercy and justice; patience and correction; grace and truth; precious promises and faithful warnings; jealousy for and fury against. These are not character traits of a dysfunctional, bipolar God. They are both the constant elements of balanced love, even extreme love, wound together. Neither grace without truth, and never truth without grace; both entwined into a cord of love that “is as strong as death.” (Song 8:6 NIV).

“I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.
I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” (Hos. 11:3,4). This two-fold divine cordage “is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:12).

Christ was the same Son of God in both Old and New Testaments—the very same divine Person with the same personality and same goals and methods. He was the goodness of God personified; God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:1,14).

Friday, April 15, 2011

God scattering our power

“And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when He held up His right hand and His left hand unto heaven, and sware by Him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when He shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” (Dan. 12:7).

According to Daniel 12:7, the scattering of the power of Laodicea has been God’s plan since 538 B.C., well before the church was born. It was His prescience that declared that He would need to do the scattering, or allow it to happen after 1798; and that the church age couldn’t come to an end until its scattering was completed to the very dregs. Then Jesus would come.

When we hark back to Job we see that the Lord authorized the scattering of Job’s power, just as we read of Him promising to do to the church, but that Satan actually did the scattering. Yet, since the Lord authorized it, and the elements and the laws of nature used by Satan all belong to Christ, He took full responsibility for what happened to His servant. (Job 2:3). Therefore, the Lord scattered Job’s power, as we see throughout the book of Job. And we can transfer this same behind-the-scenes transaction to the Lord’s threat against Israel as a nation.

“They have moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
For a fire is kindled in Mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend Mine arrows upon them.
They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.
The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs.
I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men.” (Deut. 32:21-26).

The Lord spoke all this before Israel even entered Canaan. Could He already see cause for their desolation? Was He just trying to scare them, or did He do as He threatened? As we saw on the previous post, yes, He was being serious.

And does this also apply to His church? Isn’t all scripture profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction for righteousness?

The Lord was taking responsibility for the destruction against His beloved people, a destruction that Satan would bring; Jehovah would have to give them up because they would give Him up. His reason for this: “I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very forward generation, children in whom is no faith.
They have moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their vanities.” (Vs. 20,21). Spiritualism: Vanities? Pride?

Why did He scatter them? Because at Sinai they had accepted the covenant that every newly wedded husband and wife make—that He would protect, provide for, and love them, and that they were to obey His guidance and to love Him in return. But they ended their relationship with Him and placed their love and intimacy and vain emotions into the worship of the devil. “They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they Him to anger.
They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.” (Vs. 16,17).

“Nevertheless they did flatter Him with their mouth, and they lied unto Him with their tongues.
For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they stedfast in His covenant.” (Ps. 78:36,37). They feigned love to Him, but He read their hearts. “All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13).

Job’s scattering by Satan was due to the patriarch’s self-sufficiency and secret self-exaltation. (Job 31). “So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” (Job 32:1).

From ancient times to the present, self-justification leads us from any need for a Savior and opens the door wide to Satan’s control. In every age, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18). Israel’s leaving their Husband translated directly to self-sufficiency and spiritualism related directly to righteousness by works. Abraham’s warm, confiding friendship was considered righteousness by the Lord because He saw its results were love and righteousness; so, conversely, cold forgetfulness of God He detests, because it results in self-love, self-indulgence, and mistreatment of others.

Satan had control of their lives by the control he had of their emotions and loyalties to him through his false religion. It may have at first looked innocuous. “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.” But, in the end, “they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.” (Deut. 32:17;Ps. 106:37,38).

As long as they had their natural strength which they had inherited from the clean diet Jehovah gave their culture, they spent that strength on Satan. And as long as they had some willpower, before spiritualism had robbed them of it all, Satan kept dangling before them pride of their accomplishments and self-congratulation for all their morality and God-bequeathed power. Great was their religiosity and ethics, while their “hands [were] full of blood.” (Isa. 1:10-15).

All their right-doing was devoid of Christ, His person and His self-sacrificing love; thus it was full of self. Therefore it was wrong-doing in essence at the start, and later on, was full of gross depravity and cruelty. Loveless, Christless morality resulted in the most grievous atrocities. Therefore, from its infancy, God sees its whole dark future. He rejects dead, empty righteousness by our own works as the blackest sin. Because He knows that this was all that false religion can ever offer.

Close acquaintance with the person of Christ is righteousness; as God calls it, “the righteousness of faith.” (Rom. 4:13). A cool regard toward to Christ, a lack of a warm, confiding friendship with Jesus translates to faith in self; and faith in self is sin. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil. 3:3). “For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.” (Isa. 30:15). Our strength to do good and to stand in the face of temptation comes from spending quiet time with our Creator, the Holy One, the Lawgiver and Master Teacher.

“But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.
One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.
And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him.” (Isa. 30:16-18).

Is the church of Christ today reliving Israel’s whoredom? Is she as pure as she looks? If so, then why the Second Angel’s message? (Rev. 14:8).

God waits and sends trouble on His church which wants to manage without Him. They have no time to spend a thoughtful hour with Jesus each day. They spend all their time and energy on just being moral, and living life. Now Satan has full control of the people called by God’s name and their nations are in a shambles. Christ waits to see their end and then to boldly ask them how their idolatrous religion which excludes Him will save them from their miserable cup of Satan’s wrath, with restless days and sleepless nights, the “smoke of their torment” ascending up continually because they have no peace. Rev. 14:9-11.

“For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter:
Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
Is not this laid up in store with Me, and sealed up among My treasures?
To Me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
For the Lord shall judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants, when He seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left.
And He shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted,
Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection.
See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand.
For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.” (Deut. 32:32-40).

Eventually, His people will do as the prodigal son did, who, “came to himself.” (Lk. 15:17). A remnant will surrender and renounce their self-sufficiency. They will come to the end of trying to live their life and their religion without knowing Him personally. “Your strength shall be spent in vain,” promises Jehovah. (Lev. 26:20). They will turn to God again only after He scattered their power by letting them spend it all on Satan’s bitter “wine” of gall until their nerves were in a constant jangle, stress and anxiety overwhelmed them, and their strength was spent.

“And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.” (Lev. 26:36). In weakness and humiliation, laying in bed like a lump of clay, they will look to God for help. He can work with them now; He is there for them immediately and surrounds them with His arms of love.

Righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works is not just a theoretical doctrine; it is a matter of life and death. To know God is life eternal; with communion and trust in Him alone come that gift of God, the pure river of life, a “well of water springing up” forever. (Jn. 4:14). This continuous hope and joy through fellowship with Christ, which He spoke of, have been this world’s illusive pot of gold and holy grail since the exodus from the Garden of Eden. Today, the ache in the human heart for that ongoing happiness has driven the world far from Christ, to satisfy it through every vice imaginable.

But only in accepting our Creator’s invitation to unite with Him in communion will that ache be healed. “The law worketh wrath…. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” (Rom. 4:15,16). “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Rom. 4:13). Not by righteousness, but by faith can we be reconciled to God. And once reconciled, love will flow out, and true righteousness with it. This is what Abraham discovered. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:2,3).

God took 25 years to give Abraham a son. During that 25 years of walking in prayer with his best Friend, trust grew inside of Abraham; “who against hope believed in hope,” (Rom. 4:18) “and being not weak in faith,” (Rom. 4:19) “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God,” (Rom. 4:20) “being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:21). All self-sufficiency was finally boiled away with his troubles and, at long last, only simple trust in God remained. Then God could act and give him Isaac; “And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:22). Imputed righteousness didn’t come to Abraham overnight. And this is good news for us today.

As it was with Israel, God has a big work to do in His church to bring us to fully renounce our self-sufficiency. Before Paul could say of the apostolic church, “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” (Phil. 2:13) the Lord had to bring the world through a long arduous period of incarceration by four idolatrous empires. After six centuries of subjugation and restricted freedoms, and the increasing influence, wretchedness, and misery of spiritualism, the world was finally prepared to receive its Messiah. “Before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” (Gal. 3:23). And a very small remnant received Him.

The final church awaiting the second coming of Christ has been through its own period of subjugation by idolatry and spiritualism in the 1840’s. And the corruption will worsen through the up-coming great time of trouble. All of our self-sufficiency needs to be boiled away so that we can stand before the Son of man, free of sin. The world-wide trouble is part of God’s work to scatter our confidence in self, so that we will rely wholly upon the Savior. It is a terrible ordeal to let go of self; nevertheless, it must take place if our faith will survive the time of Jacob’s troubles when we lose the sense of Jesus’ presence until He appears personally, audibly, in glory and power, and we “see Him as He is.” (1Jn. 3:2).

He will finally, after 6000 years of sin, have fully scattered His church’s chilling self-sufficiency toward Him. His scattering will result in what He has promised, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” (Isa. 13:12).

Says the prophet: “Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” Malachi 3:2, 3. Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon earth. Great Controversy, p. 425.

We must begin today striving to receive victory over every known defect of character. But the victory will only come proportionate to the quantity and quality of time and effort spent getting to know Jesus, warming up to Him and trusting in Him, and thus gradually being reconciled to more and more of His Father’s Law which we see exemplified in the Son.

“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13). “And be found in Him, not having Mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;
If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Phil. 3:9-15).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How long, Lord?

“And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders? And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when He held up His right hand and His left hand unto heaven, and sware by Him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when He shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” (Dan. 12:6,7).

Daniel was a righteous man of God, moved by the Holy Ghost. And he had a great depth of wisdom. 2Pet. 1:21;Ez. 28:3. He could comprehend the meaning of older prophets, from Jeremiah all the way back to Moses. He could even recognize their fulfillment in his lifetime. Dan. 9:2. Yet, future prophecies were beyond him. His faintest imagination couldn’t decipher them.

His inquisitive mind tried to grapple with his prophecies from the Lord, as have many Bible students, since. But the pattern seen by of all prophetic study is that prophecies are not understood until after they are fulfilled. God’s servants do not stand up and spout the distant future. His prophets can have an idea of what to expect, yet judging by their language compared to the actual events which fulfilled the prophecy, the prophets sound greatly challenged regarding the prophecy’s actual meaning when fulfilled. 1Pet. 1:10-12. Read Daniel’s 11th chapter language and Zechariah’s, and in fact all the Old Testament prophets, as well, and you will find them sounding strangely different from their actual fulfillment, according to the New Testament writers.

God doesn’t need fortune-tellers or heroes, He needs humble and submissive mouthpieces to say what He needs spoken, even if they have little concept of what they are saying all the time or their depictions apply better to their day than with the details of life that change with the times. Jehovah doesn’t normally explain His interpretations to the prophets when He inspires them to speak for Him. They are not spiritualists who claim to have the power to predict the future, nor does He want to tempt them with that. So, He often leaves them in the dark. “That no flesh should glory in His presence.” (1Cor. 1:29).

“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1Cor. 1:19,20,29). God alone can withstand Satan’s prowess. His human messengers are holy, but still potential victims of His wily adversary, the devil. Therefore He protects them in ways that they are not aware of. They remain ignorant of the meaning of their powerful prophecies.

“No flesh should glory in His presence.” All the great and proud prognasticators and wizards He sets aside. But those who just want to wait on the Lord, who thrill to sit at His feet and learn of Him, eventually are chosen to receive more light, even new light into God’s hidden mysterious work of redemption. All the time they spent thriving in the grace and truth of Christ, trying to share what they learned and working to correct misunderstandings, meeting opposition and persecution, and weeping for the abominations done around them, was training and discipline in preparation to responsibly deliver the new light when prophecy is finally fulfilled.

“How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?” the angel asked. “The angel here states the unexpressed question that must have been uppermost in Daniel’s mind.” SDA Bible Commentary, 4BC p. 880.

The totally incomprehensible answer came, “When He shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” (Dan. 12:7). When He. He who? God? Satan? Who would want to scatter the power of the “mighty and the holy people.” (Dan. 8:24). It must be Satan, right?

200 years prior to this, concerning an identical judgment sentence, this same question Isaiah begged of the Lord. “And He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Then said I, Lord, how long? And He answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.” (Isa. 6:9-12).

Isaiah had the unpleasant task of informing Israel that what God had unequivocally warned them of centuries before was about to take place. Their disregard of His truth and their presumption upon His mercy had reached the limit of divine forbearance. Through Moses, seven hundred years before, the Lord had foretold of the nation’s eventual and certain demise.

“But if ye will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments;
And if ye shall despise My statutes, or if your soul abhor My judgments, so that ye will not do all My commandments, but that ye break My covenant:
I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.
And I will set My face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.
… And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass: … And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.” (Lev. 26:14-17,19,33).

But Israel would not be faithful to their covenant, even after the Lord punished them in Babylon. A century after returning from captivity they were weaving the age-old paganism back into the Hebrew religion passed down from Abraham. From the last prophet God would ever send to the Jews: “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 2:11,12).

The Messianic prophecy had stood as their final probationary period, and its outcome had a grim ending. “After threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations He shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” (Dan. 9:26,27).

When the Messiah came He personally warned them Himself to awake out of their stupor; but they paid Him no heed: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and He shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets.
But He shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.
There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” (Lk. 13:24-28). A.D. 70 finally ended Israel’s long career of resistance to God’s covenant of love and Law. Now the new guardianship of truth and salvation would pass to the Gentiles, Christianity.

But, within 30 years, the Gentile church received a stern warning from Paul: “If some of the branches [of Israel] be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” (Rom. 11:17-22).

Has Christianity performed any more faithfully with the everlasting gospel than Israel did with the everlasting covenant? Look around and you see in our day a perfect duplicate of ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness. The 2000 years following Christ has been no less inglorious, and probably worse, than was Israel’s chance at it during their 2000 years leading up to the Messiah. The New Testament church as been just as weak and enfeebled as was the Old Testament church. So the prophecy of Isaiah applies especially to us. We need to fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is on the way.

Reread Isaiah’s prophecy. Put yourself into it and let the Holy Spirit help you interpret it as relevant to your case. “And He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Then said I, Lord, how long? And He answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.” (Isa. 6:9-12). Are we listening to this? Or are our ears dull and our eyes heavy because of modern idolatry and paganism which we have mingled with God’s standard of righteousness, in doctrine and in the life? Did God foresee us today and our miserable repeat of Israel’s failure? Yes He did, as attested to in Daniel 12:7, a Church-age application, that He would scatter the power of the holy people.

We may not want to hear the bad news, and may wholly reject the idea; but Israel historically did the same when they heard anything negative toward them. Regardless; God predicted that Christianity’s power would be scattered, just as He had threatened against Israel by Moses in Leviticus 26. He even used the same language in Daniel 12:7 to describe the church’s departure from their service to Him as He used for Israel in Isaiah 6 and Leviticus 26. “How long?” “Until I scatter their power and there shall be a great departure from the Lord throughout the land.” Will we hear this? Like Israel, the church has great difficulty in believing that its Lord would ever punish it and give it over to Satan’s hands.

And Revelation says that this scattering of the might and holiness of the people of the Lord would not be complete until the seventh trumpet sounds at the end of the Latter Rain. “In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets.” “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.” (Rev. 10:7;Rev. 11: 7-11).

“Isn’t the church holy?” think Christians. “Isn’t it called by Christ’s name? Isn’t it doing good works around the world and at home, and praising and worshiping Him like He wants? Isn’t He prospering us, especially in this great land of plenty, Christian America, the home of Bible religion?” The Jews were convinced that God was happy with them; so much so that even after Nebuchadnezzar conquered them, taking two massive groups into captivity, yet, they continued to think their Lord was with them. The words of Jeremiah were completely disregarded as falsehood.

“Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth.
And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the Lord; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.” (Jer. 15:1,2).

Neither could they accept Ezekiel’s message. “And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the Lord.
Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.
And they that escape of you shall remember Me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from Me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
And they shall know that I am the Lord, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them.
Thus saith the Lord God; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.
He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish My fury upon them.
Then shall ye know that I am the Lord, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols.
So will I stretch out My hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath, in all their habitations: and they shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ez. 6:7-14). Until God would raze the temple to the ground and scatter its stones to the winds, could they finally accept the reality that God had left them.

They were expectant of the Lord’s battling in their behalf against the Babylonians. But, His answer to them was: “Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.” (Amos 5:18). They were the cause of their punishment. They would only get death and pain from Him.

What about the Christian church waiting for the day of the Lord, which is to come as a thief in the night? We must take an honest assessment. Will that day be to us a day of darkness and fear? Will we run when we experience the crashing down of our atmosphere, the noise and sight of millions of meteors pummeling to the ground every house and every building and bridge and shopping mall? Will we run at the deafening scream, as of a falling bomb which every ear will hear as the Lord approaches Earth many times faster than the speed of sound, and comes to a halt as our planet rotates before Him shuddering at His presence?

Are we really His children, or of the multitudes, as in Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s day, who lived in opposition to God but still thought they were obeying Him, and that He would never abandon them? Are we really part of His “very small remnant” who keep commandments of God and the faith of Jesus? (Isa. 1:9;Rev. 14:12). Or will we be the person who will kill people for Jesus thinking “that he doeth God service,” joined with the whole world who have “wondered after the beast”? (Jn. 16:2;Rev. 13:3).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Witty Savior

“Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24).

How was Jesus’ public speaking? Prior to the movie, The Passion, two movies on the life of Christ had come out, both representing Jesus with diametrically opposed personalities. In Jesus of Nazareth, the first actor depicted Him as proper and cordial, but sullen, melancholic, morose, and somewhat self-absorbed. In Matthew, the second actor was winsome, loving and kind to the sick and down-trodden, but, buddy-buddy with His disciples, carefree and even careless. The first had too little fellowship of hearts between Jesus and His followers; and the second had too much. Until recently I never thought I would say that it’s possible to have too much fellowship among friends. But my drive for friendship has since been misplaced which has led to misunderstandings.

I still want to give and receive sympathy and laughter with them, and join in faith and love to God; but carefulness is in order so that no one be tempted away from God. Wasn’t undue familiarity Solomon’s downfall? And Samson’s? And wasn’t undue charm and personal magnetism Lucifer’s and Absolom’s device to steal the people’s hearts from their king? We don’t need to tempt ourselves of anyone else.

Jesus drew the people to Him “with cords of a man, with bands of love.” (Hos. 11:4). To the multitude, starving for spiritual food and rest, He said, “I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.” (vs. 4). “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” (Prov. 18:24). Jesus was the personification of true friendship. “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” (Prov. 11:13). “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:6). “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” (Prov. 12:18).

He was the quintessential master of assemblies. His lessons met the intellect and soul of both old and young, male and female. Whole households hung on His words for days. In Him all the families of the earth were blessed. Solomon’s servants rejoiced in his lessons and thrilled at his warm, jocular and respectful delivery. He understood the importance of all this for driving truth home to the heart and conscience. “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.” (Ecc. 12:11). Yet, Christ, the Master Teacher, far exceeded Solomon. “The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” (Matt. 12:42).

Did Jesus say anything funny? Did He make the people laugh? Was He trite? Ever? I’ve seen this done in the pulpit, some with bad results and some with good. Elder Morris Venden often resorted to a funny quip or story or parable and his hearers greatly appreciated his light-heartedness. But he also wove in a serious message of God’s love, Christ’s love, and the necessary truths of righteousness by faith. Even in his light-heartedness he was reverent and kept the meetings’ laughter under control. It was not disrespectful in the least; it did us a service. We didn’t have to work hard to listen or stay awake; he did that work for us. It was a joy to hear him. I am sad to see his voice go silent due to old age.

He is not the only minister to make use of laughing together with the congregation. I’ve also heard other preachers who use jokes to rally the dying attention of the people, but it did not result in a vibrant church. How come? What was the difference between them and Elder Venden? The laughter was there, but the love of God wasn’t. The light of God’s love shining from the Bible and through the Lord’s messenger gives life that simply laughing does not. Without agape love—grace in word and action—a sermon descends into oblivion; a loveless, Christless preacher, however funny, is no different from a stand-up comedian.

I am careful now to say this because I’m not a preacher or a public speaker, and far from a master of assemblies. But I am hungry for Christ-filled sermons. “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (Jn. 1:4). Jesus did use some catchy phrases that made the people smile. The first verse at the top of this post was probably delivered in all seriousness, but His construction of the line must have introduced some levity that should have broken down the prejudice in some of the priests and scribes. And it must have created subject matter for the people for the rest of their lives.

How about Jesus’ somewhat exaggerated comparison of a camel and the wealth class? “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24). Saying this doesn’t detract anything from Jesus’ dignified mien; it adds warmth to His appeals. His ministry testified of both truth and grace, and I believe His overtures to the nation and individuals expressed both seriousness and joy.

On this occasion Christ was heart-broken and distraught at the man’s rejection of the infinite life that comes with disinterestedly giving away wealth to help others. He spoke these words in earnest appeals to the young lord and to the crowds. Yet, while He was pouring out His heart and addressing issues of eternal importance, Jesus tempered His response with a common phrase that cut any sound of ire and softened His condemnation. Maybe offering a tinge of the absurd, while maintaining the same solemn tone, would hold out the invitation before the man left earshot as it bounced around in his head, and He could change the ruler’s heart and mind. Christ would use anything to turn the young fellow around to the salvation he had just begged to have. The Master of persuasion wasn’t back-pedaling on His original conviction for the man, but He was blending truth and grace.

“I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” “Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1Cor. 9:22;1Cor. 10:33).

Then there was His cheeky answer to the Samaritan woman’s evasion of His intrusion into her private life. “Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.” (Jn. 4:17,18). That must have both shaken her out of her cunning and let her see herself as an amateur con artist before a master of sleuth. Yet, I think His gentleness disarmed her and put a gleam in her eye. Her reply was quick and half honest, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.” (Jn. 4:19).

She began to sense the seriousness of this strange Jew, but also His use of wit to soften the tense atmosphere and His desire to continue the exchange. Jesus was able to keep her attention long enough to make His deep, convicting thrust and her whole mind set was altered to one of convincing urgency, and she won the whole village to the gospel. With a new look and voice about her, a powerful new persuasiveness, she brought the old customers of her disreputable business to Jesus.

The Son of God, the Word of God, the heavenly Master of angelic assembles, graces His earthly messages with the same wit and solemnity, poise and reverence, that He used in the courts of heaven. “His doctrine,” “the law from His mouth,” was “full of grace and truth.” (Matt. 7:28;Job 22:22;Jn. 1:14).

“The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” (Ps. 119:72).

“And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isa. 6:3).

Why so little of the grace of Christ??

Why are Christ’s rebukes so detailed and get first billeting, but His acts of mercy are so generalized? So much of His teachings were condemning, and those that were warming and welcoming were lightly passed over. Even when the prophecy of His gentleness was quoted in Matthew 12:20, it was in the context of a controversy over Sabbath-keeping between Jesus and the Pharisees, and more strong language by Jesus. So, where was the gentleness? It got up-standed, and therefore, by contrast, played down. The verse said,
“A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory.” (Matt. 12:20). Just before this, “He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” (Mk. 3:5). What did He just do and say to the Pharisees that was so gentle??

Should we just assume that Jesus was nice? Or can we have some hard evidence? So much space has been used in the gospels for His controversies that it leaves any kindness by Christ as a short side note. The main course has been His harshness. Why would the Holy Spirit inspire the apostles to write the Messiah’s story like this?

It can leave a person bewildered and wondering if this is why the Christian church became so dead after the apostles died and violent during the Dark Ages. It seems to answer the question why there are so many atheists and agnostics in the once Protestant countries of Europe and America. It explains why the Catholics adore children but ignore adults. “Jesus loves the little children...la la la...” they sang, and enslaved the grownups. Children don’t test our flagging Christian fortitude like adults do. Children naturally make us rejoice and fill the void in hearts that never experience divine love. This may be typical of every false religion around the world since its beginning.

Where is the friendship in the gospels that Abraham received from God as they walked and talked together? Where’s the peace? Where’s the love in the gospels that I might rest my heart there? “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them!” (Jer. 9:2). “For thou art the God of my strength: why dost Thou cast me off? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Ps. 43:2). My people, the servants of the Lord who wrote the Bible; and my enemy, the clouds surrounding Christ’s love.

After being scooped up by the Lord in 1995 and brought back to the church, I studied and studied the Bible to know it again after being away from it for 13 years. The Book became my favorite companion. It was a curiosity to relearn, but also a source of hope that took me away from the present evils of this world.

But after a while it didn’t supply me with joy and happiness. I couldn’t put my finger on why that was, but I continued to pursue all that the Bible had to offer me. I was convinced the holy scriptures had the answers for all of life’s problems and was dismayed by how few Christians talked about it. It seemed they only spoke of the Bible in Sabbath School or Sunday School class for 45 minutes each week. Even the rest of the Sabbath was spent talking of common things, or even foolishness. Also, I would hear people say things that contradicted the Bible and I would try to correct them. But they kept telling wrong things about scripture. Some even got angry with me when I would correct them.

Then one day the Lord implanted the thought, “The love of God.” As I though about it I realized that I didn’t know the love of God. I challenged myself at that point to recall any scripture that explicitly revealed God’s love. I didn’t count the verse, “God is love” (Jn. 4:8), because it showed no action. I needed to “see” His love. Grace is love in action. I needed to see God’s acts of friendliness and grace.

That moment showed my glaring ignorance God’s love. The only verses I could think of were, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” (Matt. 11:28) and, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” (Jn. 6:37). Those were friendly, welcoming words, open and explicit. But they are the only friendly ones that I could remember. I challenge you to find others equally as inviting throughout the Old and New Testaments. I believe you will find it a real challenge.

What’s going on here? Isn’t the Bible a book of grace and hope? This is what was getting me down but I didn’t know why. I wasn’t meeting a gracious Friend every morning and evening. I wasn’t daily finding a friend in Jesus, being convicted and humbled by His love. A friend, even by faith, would have done wonders to my paltry frame of mind. This is why movies full of love-sick sentamentalism, love songs, and novels replaced the family Bible reading and personal Bible study. These fictional stories offer some exhibition of love, even though it is all imaginary.

But wouldn’t non-fiction, real-life love be more powerful? When you can say, “This is real love; it really happened;” wouldn’t that fully grab a hold of your heart and bring it peace? Isn’t this what the Bible has to offer, with real people in real trouble in need of real forgiveness and love?

But if the greatest Book apparently doesn’t demonstrate grace and love (I speak for the agnostic), and the preachers don’t reveal it from their study of the Bible because it has eluded them too, then what can we expect of die-hards who insist on reading the Bible? Coldness? Harshness? Condemnation? Hopelessness? Hypocrisy? Pharisaism?

Doesn’t this characterize the churches today? Self-indulgence of earth’s blessings is at an all-time high in order to satisfy the apparent lack of a God who has denied them His love. Fellowship dinners are more about the dinner than fellowship. The people and preachers are getting pretty hefty. This should indicate that they are living by bread alone and not by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Paul said it right when he warned, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Heb. 12:15). When agape love waxes cold, iniquity will automatically abound. But if they don’t see His love, what can you expect them to do?

So we need to see love; we need God-sized agape care. We need to witness it and be thunderstruck and awed by it. Not cupid’s arrow, but the Holy Spirit’s arrow of love needs to convict us. So we need to study and dig and search love out, with all our hearts. We need to engage not just the intellect as we read, but the soul, the heart, with prayer. We must engage hope, faith, and yearning with learning. Every nerve and faculty must be utilized as we look for a knowledge of God’s love.

“My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of His mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: He is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of His saints.
Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.” (Prov. 2:1-9).

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.” (Prov. 3:13-18).

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and He shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are.” (Luk. 13:24,25).

Hear the love coming through the reproofs of apostles and prophets, and especially from Christ, Himself. If you perk up your ears, you will hear it.

“Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” “For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.
Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me.” (Jer. 31:20,25,26).

It’s only as the infant sucks and feeds that its sucking muscles become strong. They already have the sucking reflex at birth, but the child must put it to use. And if we are to glean the goodness of God out of the Bible, we must use our sucking reflex and our sucking muscles, i.e. our understanding of Bible language and our heart that yearns for our Father’s attention. And if we will do this, our comprehension of Bible usages will grow fuller, our appetite for more divine love will intensify and our faith and hope in Him will deepen and grow stronger. Don’t make the mistake of only looking in the New Testament. With so apparently little to go on, you need the whole Bible record.

“He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.” (Deut. 32:13).

Let us assume nothing about Christ’s love? Let us obtain all the hard biblical evidence, and there is so much there that this will be a lifetime project, and a good project. We don't need to be a theologian to do it; all we need is a need for God’s love. The door is going shut. The time is coming to an end for striving to know God, before the great tribulation that puts our comprehension and acceptance of God’s love to a huge test. When the big winds start blowing, only the rock-solid children of God will keep their faith.

What repentance is and is not

“And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6).

I hear many people say that to be justified, and to have Christ’s imputed righteousness, we must repent. But, while repentance is a preliminary requirement, it isn’t the initial element in the formula for peace with God.

All of Paul’s ruminations on justification begin with Abraham in Genesis 15:6. But what was Abraham doing when righteousness was credited to him? What characteristic of his faith do we see that permitted, and even compelled, the Lord to justly and legally count Abraham’s faith instead of righteousness?

What we see going on is communion between Abraham and the Lord, grappling with the earlier terms of their partnership. It wasn’t enough to Abraham to be made great and be the cause of blessing to every family on earth, as God’s original covenant declared. (Gen. 12:2,3). So there’s discussion between them both. Then we see the Lord leading His servant out under the clear night sky and making a promise to His friend. “And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” (Gen. 15:5).

It was a new and renewed pact, a covenant between best friends, albeit the Creator with His favorite creature. In childlikeness, Abraham’s faith caught the reality of what his Master was offering, and he accepted the covenant and the terms—a son intensely longed for and love for his God. The Lord God was offering nothing less than that which would bring the greatest earthly happiness to His friend. He was conceding to His friend’s complaint; and Abraham was accepting His God’s solution.

This trust in the God who makes promises, and who loves those who work at a relationship with Him, this faith was considered by Christ to be comparable to righteousness. So with Abraham we have the first example of Pauline justification. It was based on relationship, and the love and trust and peace that come out of friendship. What it wasn’t based on, was repentance.

Down in Egypt the Egyptians were living moral, upright lives, humanly speaking. They made sure not to mingle with crude and vulgar and smelly shepherd/agrarian outsiders. “And they set on for him [the prime minister] by himself, and for them [Joseph’s brothers] by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” (Gen. 43:32).

But God’s justification wasn’t for the Egyptians, and He gave them no peace because of their relatively clean living. His justification was going to a shepherd nomad who owned no place to lay his head or to put down his roots. It was a relationship God was looking for, not a clean, moral, exclusive life. And that relationship was surely rewarded by a promise.

So Abraham was justified, not by repentance, but by relationship—by faith in a covenant that God had initiated, and the beautiful terms which He proposed.

But the world is snagged on one gigantic trip hazard: the belief that God only accepts us and blesses us if we will first repent. This runs rampant throughout Christianity and forms the whole cause of departure from their Maker, in every God-given religion, since the days of Cain. But, repentance is not the primary basis of our acceptance or of our justification and peace with God.

Yet we see 1.5 billion Muslims trying to propitiate God by repentance. We see a billion Catholic people trying to do the same by observing the Mass and by doing penance. We see millions of Protestants falling in it, too. And, yes, now even Adventists. Prayer becomes corrupted into the medium for appeasing God, crying out to Him like the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel.

We see the Jews at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem trying to get God’s heart and ear, instead of examining themselves by God’s law given through Moses. And Judaism, the admixture of Hebrew righteousness by faith and pagan righteousness by their own works, was teaching the Jews this 2,500 years ago.

“Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange God.
The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master [the conference leader] and the scholar [the theologian], out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts [the pastors].
And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out , insomuch that He regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.” (Mal. 2:11-13). “We have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:14). It was faked and not of a pure heart; it was not “with good will.” The Lord saw through it all and could not accept it.

After all the open rebellion and licentious paganism Israel had committed and for which they then suffered retribution in Babylonian captivity for 70+ years, they fell right back into it again 100 years later, this time under the appearance of the original Hebrew religion and ceremonies.

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.”

“Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread My courts?
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.” (Isa. 1:2-5,10-13).

Maybe they thought their penance was good enough for God. But, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). It was coming from an unrepentant heart. They were deluded because sin deludes. Our natural hearts which are tainted with sin and love sin can never be a fountain of repentance and sorrow for sin. Unless we come to Jesus and His Spirit is invited in to create in us a heart that hates sin, we cannot repent; we cannot sorrow for our sin and turn away from it.

There are many who have erroneous ideas in regard to the nature of repentance. They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance prepares them for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait until he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour? Jesus has said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." Christ is constantly drawing men to himself, while Satan is as diligently seeking by every imaginable device, to draw men away from their Redeemer. Christ must be revealed to the sinner as the Saviour dying for the sins of the world; and as he beholds the Lamb of God on the cross of Calvary, the mysteries of redemption begin to unfold to his mind, and the goodness of God leads him to repentance. Review and Herald, April 1, 1890 par. 1.

Just here is a point on which many may err, and hence they fail of receiving the help that Christ desires to give them. They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance prepares for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait till he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour?
The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28. It is the virtue that goes forth from Christ, that leads to genuine repentance. Peter made the matter clear in his statement to the Israelites when he said, "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." Acts 5:31. We can no more repent without the Spirit of Christ to awaken the conscience than we can be pardoned without Christ.
Christ is the source of every right impulse. He is the only one that can implant in the heart enmity against sin.
Steps to Christ, p. 26.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” (Ps. 51:17). Without a relationship with God, a friendship which Christ has already established with a needy sinner, any weeping that sinners do is not a gift from Christ through that friendship, and comes not from a heart that God can commune with. “The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26,27).

Without surrendering to the work of the Spirit on our heart, we serve a different god, even if we live in a Christian setting and sit in a Christian church. “He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do.
Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.” (Ez. 8:13, 14). Self-generated penance is an abomination to God. He hates it with perfect hatred.

Yet, because it is done in a church setting, it appears to be connected to Christ. This is the oldest trick in Satan’s book, and he has been succeeding at it for six thousand years. He keeps people from surrendering to the Spirit of God, yet, keeps them in the church. It’s an age-old method of the devil’s. “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Rom. 10:2,3).

Israel departed from the Hebrew religion, passed down from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Their continued backsliding into paganism finally led them to fall away from the last revival of true religion under Ezra. That gone, there was not another revival until John the Baptist, but his was more like the nation’s judgment day for all their previous rejections of the truth.

There is only one true test of repentance.

From the very mouth of the Son of God, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (Jn. 3:20, 21). “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa. 8:20).

And there is only one foundation for repentance: a friendship with Christ.

“The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Ex. 33:11).

“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).