Saturday, February 28, 2015

Words of Truth

Proverbs 23

1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler, 

Consider carefully what is before you; 

2 And put a knife to your throat 

If you are a man given to appetite. 

3 Do not desire his delicacies, 

For they are deceptive food. 

Originally published on Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Unshakable Faith

The story is told of a group of Christian refugees praying in a church during a time of civil upheaval. Storming the church property, a group of soldiers discovered the people praying. Not wanting to alert the people to their presence right away, they quietly searched the church for anything of value. Unfortunately, they found nothing but a picture of Jesus on the wall. Angered, the commanding officer decided to take it out on the praying Christians. Ordering all those present to come forward, the commander insisted they approach the picture, spit on it, and renounce Jesus by stating, "You are worthless, and I don't need you!" If they failed to do this, the commander threatened to shoot them on the spot. The elders of the Church were the first to come forward. Boldly they stood up, approached the picture, spat on it, and repeated the heinous words. Others, one by one, followed the example of the elders. After a few moments, and several persons later, a young girl stood up. Walking to the picture with her scarf in her hand, the young girl wiped away the saliva, softly uttering the words, "Jesus, I need You for I am worthless." All were silent, wondering what would happen next. The girl, apparently unafraid, stepped before the Commander and said, "You can shoot me now." Falling to his knees, the now contrite commander began to cry inconsolably; his heart broken, he gave it to Jesus. This true story of courageous faith occurred in Rwanda during the bloody massacre of its people. We all need to ask ourselves this question, "in the moment of truth, will we have 'the faith of Jesus' " as this little girl did? 

Although frightening, we often wonder, "how can I develop this type of unshakable faith--and do I want to?" To these questions, let's add the question, "is wanting to enough?" Let's begin by looking in the book of Daniel, to see if there is an answer. Scripturally, the story in Daniel chapter 2 follows consecutively the one in chapter 3, as would be expected. Thus both stories seem to have occurred relatively close in time, yet they did not. Ten to twelve years intervened between the King's dream of the image and his golden construction of it. How easy it is to forget the impression made on the mind by the Holy Spirit, and the response of faith, when we do not abide in Him. The time in between chapter 2 and chapter 3 provides a test for King Nebuchadnezzar-- namely, will he after accepting the interpretation of the dream as from the Lord, wait on Him for its fulfillment. All of heaven and earth were 
waiting to see, "will the Babylonian King surrender his will -- along with its attendant pride and ambitious plans -- to the King of Kings, or after a time of delay, will he be found building a monument to his own dreams?" 

In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar is confronted with the choice to exercise faith. Brought to the point of decision at the revelation of his dream, the king honors the Lord by saying in Daniel 2:47-"Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret." Hearing this, we would say that the King believed Daniel, and God. But His response, while a heart response, was not made by a broken, contrite heart. It was made by a heart still prideful and boastful, thus allowing Satan control of this stronghold in his life. The disciples also found themselves in this predicament when they could not cast out the demon-filled child (Matt. 17:14-21) and again when they were almost capsized in the squall on the lake (Matt. 14:22-33). Vacillating between the "pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes," they were unprepared to hold on to the Word of promise -- their living Savior. 

In Daniel chapter 3, the three Hebrew youth are also confronted with the choice to exercise faith. They too are brought to the point of decision when it is declared that if they do not bow down and worship the golden image they are to be burned alive. Imagine, the peer pressure to conform. It was worse than when they refused to eat the King's food from his table. After all, the King has his pride to lose if these Hebrew youth refuse to follow his orders this time, and that will make him extremely hostile and angry. All the dignitaries of every land of importance are there, ready to oblige the King's decree. There is no mention of Daniel's whereabouts, so we must assume he is absent, but everyone else is present. The statue itself is 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide--in plain view--in the plain of Dura. It was not to be missed. So, how do the Hebrew youth stand up to that pressure? How would you stand? In Daniel 3:12, we note that they did not yield--bow down. The pressure to yield to doubt and disbelief increased greatly, as they were called before the king. In verse 14-15, the King gives them another chance to obey his decree because he liked them. What is their response? Let's view Daniel 3: 15-18: 

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us our of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." 

Their response is one of belief and trust in the God who delivers. According to their statement, they believed that God would do right by them whatever the outcome was. Yet they had determined to stand steadfast without regard to whether they were delivered or not, for they were representing Him --and He changes not. Their will was to do the will of Him who sent them there, which was to demonstrate His character to Babylon, as well as the surrounding nations. Israel and Judah's kings had been proud and boastful. They lacked the humility that comes from a contrite and broken heart, and so they led the people and their nation into captivity. 

In captivity, how did the Hebrew youth get to this place of faith? The answer is in Daniel chapter one. Remember, they refused to eat the King's food-- because they knew that it was God who fed them (with manna in the wilderness then and in captivity now) to make them know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live (Deut. 8:3). Although captives, their hearts were contrite and broken over the wickedness that led to their national ruin and captivity. Yielding their will to God in the little things, they were counted faithful, and God blessed them further. By remembering God's goodness and mercy, they continued to be faithful. Through prayer and fasting, they were prompted to join with Daniel as he beseeched the Lord to reveal the dream and with its interpretation (in chapter two). Thus, Christ developed these youth from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. By the constant yielding of their will to Christ, they were dying daily, and thus were prepared to state that fact under great pressure. 

The three Jewish youth were like Job who said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him:" (Job 13:15). There was in these three – and in Job – a total dependence on Christ. Such a life of yielding, Christ lived, remaining faithful to the end by depending on His Father completely. This constant dependence on God for everything enables us to conquer, as He conquered. It is through dependence on God that we receive the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us, enabling us to be willing to hear and to do all of His good will. This is what gives us unshakable faith. 

The King of Babylon did not yield his heart. He yielded his emotions, and intellectually assented to the truth. Thus he had no root in himself, and as the great tree, could not stand. Had his feelings and thoughts been constantly bound up with the truth, had he like the King of Nineveh, who repented by faith through grace, his pride would not later have driven him mad. Lessons of those who with contrite and broken heart demonstrated the faith of Jesus are among the pages of inspiration and we would do well to hear them. Listen well, for our willingness to attentively hear and to do is at the foundation of heart obedience without which it will be impossible to endure. 

According to Sister White: 

"Important are the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Hebrew youth on the plain of Dura. In this our day, many of God's servants, though innocent of wrongdoing, will be given over to suffer humiliation and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. Especially will the wrath of man be aroused against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment; and at last a universal decree will denounce these as deserving of death. 

As in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so in the closing period of earth's history the Lord will work mightily in behalf of those who stand steadfastly for the right. He who walked with the Hebrew worthies in the fiery furnace will be with His followers wherever they are. His abiding presence will comfort and sustain." (Ellen White Notes, page 25.) 

As unpleasant as it may seem, let Christ break our hearts upon Himself, let Him wash us and make us contrite. It will be natural to yield to Him then, and we will have that unshakable faith we so desperately need. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Froward and Adultery

Originally published on Friday, July 24, 2009

The Froward and Adultery

A lesson from a few years ago opened with the following story:

 "A pastor had been counseling a husband and wife. The problem? The husband had been having extramarital affairs. That's not an extramarital affair but, in fact, many of them. The husband tried to calm the situation by telling the wife that although he had been with other women, it didn't mean that he didn't love her. In fact, he said, he loved her more than any of the others.

As could be expected, his words—far from solving the problem—only made it worse. Why? Because if you love someone, you show it by your actions, by your deeds, not just by what you say."

The story is troubling for more than the obvious reason.  First, let's deal with the obvious: adultery is Sin.    It says in Exodus 22: 14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

We also read in Proverbs 22:14:  "The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein" (KJV).  This text in Proverbs 22:14, , seems to say that any man who commits adultery is "abhorred of the Lord."  Obviously, it sounds very serious!  The Revised English Version says, "... is like a deep pit, he whom the Lord has cursed will fall into it." Sounds even more serious!  The Goodspeed Version says, "He with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it."

It does not say that if a man falls into adultery then the Lord will "abhor" him or be angry with him; no, the idea is, that the anger and abhorrence of the Lord comes before the man falls into the pit of adultery.  Sounds even more serious still!  This man apparently abhors God so much, God has no choice but abhor him.  Before falling in adultery, this man harbored sin in his heart.  

 Why would the Lord "abhor" or be "angry" with any man?   We find the answer in Proverbs 3: 32.  "The froward is abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 3:32).  The key word here is "froward."  The word in Hebrew means to depart or turn aside.  It has a similar meaning of the word for apostasy: backsliding or departing.  It reminds me of the verse in Isaiah 53:*  "all we like sheep have gone astray."  Those who are recklessly going on in their own way, are the "froward" people whom the Lord cannot help but "abhor."

We dealt with the obvious. Then there is the not so obvious in the story.  Assumptions are made; for example, that the man is wrong, and she is right.  A Pastor was once preaching on the implications of all members of the Body of Christ being one (1 Corinthians 12: 20, 27).  He then used as an example married couples, since "The two become one."  The Pastor said that he had counseled many couples with problems.  In his experience, Most of the time, she blamed him and he blamed her.  However, it did not take long to figure out that they both were to blame.  After all, the two are one. 

In situations like this many assume that she is right. But, what if she has behaved in a way to provoke him to be unfaithful?  It would not lessen his guilt.  But, she would not be the victim she portrays herself to be.  (It does not mean that she should have not sought intervention).  We should also ask if she cheated in the past?  Even if she has not been with someone else, has she committed adultery in her heart as stated in Matthew 5, 

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Can she actually say that she has never lusted consciously or subconsciously after a man she is attracted to?  We do not know this.  To whom did she direct her affections?  Human love only seeks after its own.  The heart that harbors it will lie and cheat in order to please itself or escape terrible consequences.  Jeremiah 17: 9 says that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

 In contrast, we have God's love.  Let's see what 1 Corinthians 13 says about it,

4 Agape suffereth long, and is kind; agape envieth not; agape vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
 8 Agape never faileth:  (Italics for emphasis supplied by author)

How different would the story be if the woman's concern was not for herself, but for her husband's eternal life?  In other words, that her main concern would be not that he is unfaithful to her, but that his unfaithfulness to her shows that he does not have fellowship with God, that he is not walking in the Light, and does not know God (1 John 1:6, 7; 1 John 2: 3). This man's behavior shows what he really thinks of Jesus and the Cross.  Knowing this about Him, would give her sorrow, because He is missing on so much and she wants him to know Jesus as she does.  How different would it be?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wise versus Fools

Wise versus Fools

In the first week of our Quarterly lesson we discovered that Wisdom cries out.  We read from 
Proverbs 1.

Prov 1:20 Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:
Prov 1:21 She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,
Prov 1:22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?
Prov 1:23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.
Prov 1:24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;

Notice that wisdom in this passage is personified.  Who could wisdom be? Can wisdom be a person?  Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1: 30).  It is Christ who cries out, "come unto me all ye who are burdened and heavy laden, … I will give you rest" (Matthew 11: 28 - 30).  Who are the wise?  Let us read, Prov. 1: 5,

Proverbs 1: 5  A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:

What is then wisdom in human terms?  A disposition or attitude of willingness to hear, understand and hearken to the Word of God.  Wisdom starts not when we acquire knowledge and experience, it starts when we choose hear and understand the source of wisdom.  Wisdom, then, is a practice, a behavior or habit.  Now, to hear the Word of God is also the road to faith.  So, true wisdom is only found in those who live by faith.  The just live by faith, therefore the just are wise. The wise see things how God sees them.  The unwise do not.  

Now notice the similarity between proverbs 1 : 5 and 4: 1, 

Proverbs 4:1 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.

Both call for hearing and understanding.  While Proverbs 4: 1 is a call to hear for instruction and know understanding, Proverbs 1: 5 says that it is those who are wise that do this.  And, in fact, the wise will continue to do that.  

What our lesson points out is that wisdom will find expression in our daily affairs.  The way we treat others and carry ourselves in our daily events will be a reflection of the kind of wisdom we practice and acquire.  A true wise person, a just man, will treat others with as Christ treated others.  "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."  The Bible is full of examples of wise and unwise being contrasted.  Many parables are about this.  The good Samaritan was wise. The priest and the levites were not wise.  The young publican crying for mercy in the temple was wise.  The Pharisee was not wise.  The son that repented and did his father's bidding was wise. The prodigal son in going back to his father was wise.  The elder brother was unwise,  although he stayed.  

What happens to the wise? Let us read from Matthew 25,

Matt 25:21 …enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Matt 25:34 Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

What happens to the unwise or foolish?  What happens to those who refuse to hear and hearken unto the Call of Wisdom?  Let us read Proverbs 10: 21,

Proverbs 10:21 …fools die for want of wisdom.

In rejecting Wisdom, fools reject Christ, Who is Life and the source of Life.  The sad part is that fools are not those who've never heard, fools are those who continually refuse to hear Jesus.  In Matthew 7 we find out that they are active church members.  They thought that they were in good standing.  But, Christ said, "I never knew you, depart from me you evil doers."  They thought in there foolishness that they were wise.  But, the wise man says,

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

In the end, the fools do not get what they see.  But, the wise get what they do not see, for faith is the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11: 1).