Friday, March 23, 2018

Have We Been Persuaded?

The following insight is to illustrate the importance of listening.   We all understand the importance of forming habits.  The habit of listening is also very important.  Have we formed a habit of listening to God?  Is He pleased with our listening?  Let us read to learn more about listening.  

Have We Been Persuaded? 

Remember the story of Peter Rabbit? You know, the one where Mother Rabbit encourages Peter and his siblings to go outside and play, but cautions against two things: losing or destroying their clothes and entering into Mr. McGregor's garden. Mother Rabbit had her reasons for warning against entering Mr. McGregor's garden, as Mr. McGregor had killed Father Rabbit in that very garden. (Father Rabbit had also gone there to eat some of Mr. McGregor's vegetables). So, off Peter Rabbit and siblings went, with Mother's warning ringing in their ears. Peter's siblings were determined to follow Mother's advice, but Peter wasn't. He decided to go into the garden anyway. And at first, all was well as he feasted on all sorts of fresh produce such as carrots, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, and the like. Munching happily away, Peter sniffed the cucumbers and boy did they smell good. Allured, he hopped over to the cucumber patch, when all of a sudden, he and Mr. McGregor came face to face. Surprised and irritated, Mr. McGregor immediately picked up his rake and pursued Peter round and round through the cucumbers, the tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and the carrots. What mayhem they caused in the process. But try as he might, Peter could not find the entrance to the garden, nor a place to hide from Mr. McGregor. Frantic now, Peter kept looking, until just up ahead, he saw a light.  Al last, he found the garden entrance. Hopping as fast as he could, Peter squeezed through the small opening and was free. Momentarily relieved, Peter sat down to catch his breath, and that's when he noticed that he had lost his clothes hopping madly through the garden. "Now, I'm in big trouble," he thought, "mother is going to be so mad at me." "Why didn't I listen?" he asked himself.

Did Peter really not listen? Did he not hear his mother's words? Of course he heard, after all, he could repeat what she said. So what went wrong? Apparently there is a difference between hearing and listening. In our story, it is evident that Peter did hear his mother, but since he desired to do other than his mother admonished, he did not actively listen to her, lest he be persuaded to change his mind. That Peter resisted being persuaded is evident by his cavalier attitude. 

It is evident that the theme of this story is obedience. In the English language (and in many others), the word obey is typically translated "to do what you're told" (despite dictionary references stating the contrary). When did Peter disobey? According to the conventional definition, Peter Rabbit was disobedient the moment he did not do what his mother told him to do. But is this really getting at the heart of obedience? The word rendered obey originates from a compound word meaning to listen actively. You cannot do "as you are told" unless you have listened carefully as to what to do. And furthermore, you cannot do so cheerfully and joyfully unless you trust the person you are listening to, implicitly. You see, Peter trusted himself more than his mother. He trusted his knowledge of his abilities while underestimating that of Mr. McGregor's. This distrust of His mother led to his unwillingness to listen to her.

At its core, obedience is about hearing from the one who has your heart; it will not matter if the One communicating with you speaks to you with an inward, silent persistent thought, or an audible external voice. What matters is, will you, through trusting and confiding love, choose to heed what you have actively listened to? A wise man has said, "First there is the mental creation, (the mind involves the emotions) then the action is taken." So obedience involves not only our outward actions, but our motives and attitudes before the doing. Interestingly, a literal translation of the word "obey" in the Hebrew and Greek, is to listen willingly, eagerly, attentively, leaning into the speaker, straining to catch the slightest nuance. Its opposite meaning would be, hearing while preoccupied, resisting the one who is speaking, reluctantly paying attention, and finally, listening to find the disagreeable. The latter are all things Peter Rabbit engaged in.

The Apostle Paul says, "Faith comes through the hearing and hearing through the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).  The Greek term used for 'faith' means to be persuaded. Referring to our story, Peter Rabbit heard his mother's words; but he did not actively listen. Furthermore, he refused to be persuaded by them. In contrast, his siblings chose to be persuaded by those very same words. Their respective actions revealed their respective choices. Paul knew what this meant. He, too, lived for a long time refusing to be persuaded by the Word of God. And, his actions revealed his choice of resisting persuasion. Ellen White speaks of Paul's experience.  She says:

The Saviour had spoken to Saul through Stephen, whose clear reasoning could not be controverted. The learned Jew had seen the face of the martyr reflecting the light of Christ's glory--appearing as if "it had been the face of an angel." Acts 6:15. He had witnessed Stephen's forbearance toward his enemies and his forgiveness of them. He had also witnessed the fortitude and cheerful resignation of many whom he had caused to be tormented and afflicted. He had seen some yield up even their lives with rejoicing for the sake of their faith. All these things had appealed loudly to Saul and at times had thrust upon his mind an almost overwhelming conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah. At such times he had struggled for entire nights against this conviction, and always he had ended the matter by avowing his belief that Jesus was not the Messiah and that His followers were deluded fanatics (Acts of the Apostles, p. 116).

It was not that Saul did not hear the Word. It was that he did not make space in his heart for it, and therefore refused to be persuaded. After, Saul's conversion his actions revealed his persuasion. The same could be said of the disciples. Christ told them many times of His impending death and resurrection, but they refused to be persuaded. Ellen White elaborates thus:

"After the death of Christ the disciples were well-nigh overcome by discouragement ...Jesus had several times attempted to open the future to His disciples, but they had not cared to think about what He said. ... When Christ was crucified, they did not believe that He would rise. He had stated plainly that He was to rise on the third day, but they were perplexed to know what He meant. This lack of comprehension left them at the time of His death in utter hopelessness. ...If they had believed the Saviour's words, how much sorrow they might have been spared!" (Acts of the Apostles, p. 26)

Three times in Luke 24 the disciples and others were reminded, "remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again" (Luke 24: 6 -7). The disciples had all the evidence they needed to believe, but, preoccupied with who would be the greatest among them in the kingdom, they reluctantly paid attention to Christ's words, resisted considering them, and thus refused to be persuaded. Yet, Mary Magdalene, with less evidence, believed, and, her later action of anointing Christ, revealed her belief.

In our day, those who profess Christianity believe in Christ's resurrection. But, do they believe in His soon and imminent return? In Luke 12, Christ tells the Parable of the Unwise Servant. This servant believed his master would take a long time to return. So, this servant said, "… in his heart, my lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken" (Luke 12:45). This parable references those who, in our time, having heard the Words of Jesus regarding His return, refuse to be persuaded that His coming is imminent. How do we know they believe that Jesus is not coming soon? Their actions reveal what they believe. They are preoccupied with eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage; they buy and sell, plant and build (as if there is no eternity to reckon with -- Matthew 24:37 – 39; Luke 17:28 – 30). With hardened hearts, they think highly of themselves, and look down on others, and consequently abuse and mistreat each other. These have heard the Words of God, but they resist their import and refuse to be persuaded by them. Friends, let us not be resistive to God's Words, but joyfully receive them, letting them persuade us while there is still time. Let the world see by our agape-ing others that His Word has found its home in our hearts. As the scripture says, "those with ears, let them hear" (Revelation 3:13, 22).

Friday, March 16, 2018

Let Go Of The Nuts

Let Go Of The Nuts

People in India catch monkeys by taking a pot that has a narrow neck and burying it in the ground under a tree where monkeys are jumping and dancing in the treetops. They leave the mouth open, sticking out of the ground four or five inches. Then they put nuts in it. The monkey finds them, puts its hand in the jar, gets a big fist full of nuts, and then tries to pull it out. But the fist won't come out because it's full of nuts. The monkey would be sitting there all night long trying to pull his fist filled with nuts. In the morning the monkey catcher walks casually and putting a noose around the monkey's neck, taps on his hand and drags him away. The monkey, whose nature is to be completely free, to be playing on the treetops and walking around carefree, ends up in a cage, just because the monkey didn't let go. All the monkey had to do was, let go of those nuts.

You may find it easy to scoff at these creatures for not being wise enough to let go of what is entrapping them. Are we any different than they are? Are we allowing those things that we love trap us, and by doing so we not only lose our freedom but our lives and our salvation? Just as the monkeys, appetite is a big issue for us. 

Let's consider Esau. Let us read from Genesis 25: 29-34

Genesis 25: 29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:
Genesis 25: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
Genesis 25: 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
Genesis 25: 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
Genesis 25: 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
Genesis 25: 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

To satisfy his hunger, Esau despised and sold to his cunning brother what could have been the source of a future filled with blessings and plenty. Instead, he chose to fill his belly at that moment. This type of action showed how Esau lacked principles and instead lived a life full indulging in whatever pleased him at that moment. We shall see that the "the fruit does not fall far from the tree." Esau probably learned this from his father, for you see, " Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison" (Genesis 25: 28).

So much he loved his favorite son's venison that he chose to rebel against God's word that Jacob should be the one to receive the birthright blessing (Genesis 25: 23). We read in Genesis 27: 1-4,

Genesis 27:1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I.
Genesis 27:2 And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death:
Genesis 27:3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;
Genesis 27:4 And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.

Isaac offered his blessing to his favored son in exchange for a venison stew; a blessing that Esau had despised earlier, when he sold his birthright to Jacob. Isaac was not as soon to die as he said. As we read further in Genesis, it must have been more than twenty years before his death. Thus, although we cannot prove it, we could conclude, that this was a ploy from Isaac to eat venison: this was a little indulgence that ends up going awry, since Isaac ate goat, not venison, and gave the blessing to Jacob. (This does not excuse Rebekah and Jacob's actions. Although they had good intentions – fulfilling God's will - they did it using their methods, instead of depending on God to do it.) Isaac's unwillingness to obey God's word ended in a disrupted family: two siblings separated by hatred and fear and a mother in sorrow for her son's departure. 

Indulgence in appetite was the first battle Jesus won against the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-4). By allowing the Holy Spirit to conquer His appetite, Jesus was able to live a life of discipline, principle and in line with the will of God; this is where Adam and Eve failed. On the contrary, this is where Daniel and his friends were victorious. Unlike the monkeys, Daniel, his friends, and Jesus did not go in the jar. Adam, Eve, Isaac and Esau did go in the pot, and would not let go of the nuts. You may be saying to yourself, "my hand is already in the jar, and as much as I would like to, I will not let go of the nuts, I do not want to." You have no power to do this on your own. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that you can let go of the nuts and release your hand from the jar. The question is: will you choose to let Him? 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Spiritual Metamorphosis

Spiritual Metamorphosis

Do you like butterflies? They are beautiful. However, I bet if you answered yes to the previous question you would respond, "no," to the next question, Who likes caterpillars? No one would believe that such a beautiful insect could come from that ugly looking leaf eater. But, upon carefully observing the life cycle of this insect, we realize that the creator formed the larva to enclose itself into a cocoon. There it metamorphoses or is transformed into a butterfly. Thus the reviled becomes something beautiful. 

The word metamorphosis means: 
1. A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function; also known as transformation. 
2. A change in the form and often the habits of an animal during normal development after the embryonic stage. Examples of Metamorphosis include the transformation of maggots into adult flies, caterpillars into butterflies and, the changing of tadpoles into frogs. 

Meta is a Greek prefix for beside or after. Morph is a suffix which means form, shape or structure. So, in essence, the word metamorphosis points toward the form an object will take after the transformation. The word trans is a prefix that means across, on the other side or beyond. It can also mean to go through a Change or make a transfer.  So, in the case of the caterpillar, it changes form and structure, so much so, that its appearance and function change beyond recognition; how like Christ when He assumed nature 4,000 years after the fall. 

Isaiah 53:2 says, "For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." When Jesus became a man, it was a big change for Him, and perhaps for others who had seen Him before the incarnation. Whatever physical characteristics God has, Jesus no longer had. He was transformed into a human being, small and weak, in comparison to God. He had the same frailties, needs, and weaknesses we have. Accordingly, He covered His divinity with sinful humanity, yet did not sin, and according to Ellen White, "He was afflicted in all the afflictions of humanity." It is this combination of natures that qualifies Christ to be our Saviour. 

Furthermore, Ellen White says of Him: 

To save fallen humanity, the Son of God took humanity upon Himself, laying aside His kingly crown and royal robe. He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. One with God, He alone was capable of accomplishing this work, and He consented to an actual union with man. In His sinlessness, He could bear every transgression ... Christ did in reality, unite the offending nature of man with His own sinless nature, because by this act of condescension, He would be enabled to pour out His blood in  behalf of the fallen race. (E. G. White Notes, page 29.) 

Christ assumed the human nature of sinful man.  Sin can be defined Sin as self-love. This human nature, united with His divine nature of selfless-love did not Sin in Word, thought or action. In Him, the battle was fought, and selfless love won out on the cross. In Himself, He redeemed the corporate life of humanity. What a wonderful Saviour, willing to condescend to the depths of degradation to save fallen human beings. 

In Philippians chapter 2, from the NASB we read: 

Phil. 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 
Phil. 2:6 Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 
Phil. 2:7 But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 
Phil. 2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

So when Paul says, "Let this mind be in you" or as it is said in the NASB, "let this attitude be in you," He meant that we should we be willing to submit to the authority of God's indwelling Holy Spirit just as Jesus submitted to the Father.   As Christ submitted to His Father even unto the death, so should we die to the death of self. 

The mind of Christ or the attitude of Christ was that of self-denying love. The principles of God's kingdom are those of His nature and character: that of unconditional, self-denying love. This form of love (agape) is the only true love. With this love alone man would be willing to lay down his or her life for another.  It is the desire of the Father for us to have the mind of Christ, and He is more than willing to give it to us. Will we accept it?

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Sabbath School Insights: Walking with Gratitude

Walking with Gratitude


Matthew, Luke and John tell the story of the anointing of Jesus.  Apparently, a Pharisee called Simon wanted Jesus to have dinner at his house.  Jesus obliged him and went with His disciples.  Jesus had healed this Pharisee of leprosy.  So, the dinner was a token of gratitude.  A woman if ill repute – whose name was Mary - walks in the house uninvited.  She brought with her an alabaster box filled with spikenard ointment.  She broke the box and poured the ointment over Jesus.  She also washed Jesus' feet and dried them with her hair. Jesus had healed this woman of demon possession seven times.  This was a demonstration of heartfelt appreciation.  This incident was considered scandalous by most in the house, including the host.  With disdain and indignation he thought to himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39).  By the way, Sister White says it was Simon who drew this woman – his niece- to sin.  Luke then relates how Jesus responded to Simon.  Let us read from Luke 7:40 – 47, 


Luke7:40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.

Luke7:41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.

Luke7:42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

Luke7:43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

Luke7:44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.

Luke7:45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.

Luke7:46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

Luke7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.


Because of the fall, we are all deserving of death.  But, John 3:16 says that, 


John3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.


Because God loves us, instead of what we deserve God gives us a gift.  1 John 3:1 says that, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God …" The author of our lesson says that this verse stresses that in Jesus we are already God's children. God has taken the initiative to do this for us. The new birth is His work, not ours. We can bring about neither our own birth nor our adoption as God's children.  Given the size of the universe in contrast to our planet, much less to each of us individually, how can we not be astonished that the God who created all this loves us and has made us His children? What a wonderful perspective this should give us on what our lives mean! What hope, what assurance, what confidence we should have for the future, regardless of whatever difficult circumstances we now face? God, the Creator of all that is, loves us, cares for us, and calls us His children.  Have you ever dwelt on the implications of the notion that not only does Godexist but He loves us, cares for us, and even died for us. How should this reality impact how we live?


If we are like Simon, we will host a little get together pot-lock to honor Jesus.  We would do it after church.  One dinner should be sufficient to thank he who loves us so much He died the death we deserved.  If, in contrast, we are like Mary we will give everything we have in order to continually thank Him.  Our gratitude shows how much we love, which in turn shows how much we believe we are forgiven.  Do we live grateful lives?  How grateful are we that God has in Jesus restored us as His children?  Will we gratefully let Him - through the work of His indwelling Spirit - transform us into the likeness of His Son?