Friday, November 25, 2005

Grieving the Holy Spirit

In Ephesians 4:30, Paul admonishes us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. But what is it meant by grieve, and why are we urged so strongly against engaging in this behavior towards the Holy Spirit? You know, the dictionary is quite handy when it comes to discerning the most accurate meaning of a word. So I looked up the definition and this is what it says: 'grief' is distress caused by loss or disappointment, which often leads to intense sorrow. Ok, well intense anguish and pain is not what we consciously want to cause anyone, let alone the Holy Spirit. But is it possible that while caught up in difficult circumstances over which we feel we have no control that we might revert to our old way of behaving?

The scripture says that we are like the children of Israel, in that the proclivity of our human nature is the same. Let's look at their story as recorded in Exodus 17, for clues as to the way in which they grieved God. According to verse 1, the children of Israel journeyed according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched their tents in Rephidim, were there was no water for the people to drink. Now just consider, how would you behave if you arrived home after having a long day dealing with traffic, and were hot, tired, and thirsty. Just imagine, the only thing on your mind after such a trip home, is a glass of cool, refreshing water. Walking into your kitchen, you turn on the faucet, only to discover that your water has been turned off. Not to worry you think, "I can get water from the water dispenser on the fridge door.' So with glass in hand you approach the fridge, push the lever, and out comes brown liquid. Uugh! The water dispenser is not working. Disappointed, but not terribly discouraged, you opt for juice or milk instead. Opening the fridge, you remember you meant to go to the store but didn't and now you have nothing to drink. If you can imagine how you would feel, and what you would say to yourself in the recesses of your mind, then you have an understanding of how the children of Israel are likely to have felt. So, what did they do? Why, they silently accused Moses of course. And when, after sharing their private thoughts and feelings with one another, they found that they all felt the same, they murmured and complained loudly. Their discontent finally reached its zenith, in accusing Moses of taking them into the wilderness to kill them with thirst, and steal their goods (Exodus 17:2, 3). The Lord was displeased, but told Moses, take this rod that you used to smite the river (the Red Sea) and go to the rock in Horeb. Smite the rock there and water shall come out of it, so the people may drink (Exodus 17: 5, 6).

This is what is written in verse 7: "And he (Moses) called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, 'is the Lord among us, or not?'" Guess what Massah and Meribah mean? According to the reference in the margin, they mean -- respectively -- contention and chiding or strife. Now, if this lesson is not enough -- remember that the children of Israel had experienced a miraculous deliverance from Egypt. They did not suffer the plagues, the Egyptians did. They did not suffer drowning in the Red Sea, it was parted for them, not so for their enemies -- the Egyptians who drowned. In addition, God even went before them by day in a cloudy pillar, and protected them by night with a fiery pillar. So they had ample evidence that God not only could but also would provide for them, if they trusted Him. But what did they do? Instead of choosing to trust, they looked at and magnified their difficulties until they were led to murmur, complain and tempt God. Is it possible we are guilty too of tempting God?

Now you would think the Israelites had learned a lesson in trust, but it was not so. A repeat performance is found in Numbers chapter 20. The people are again without water while in Kadesh, and again they chide Moses (Miriam has died) and accuse him of bringing (us, the people) 'of the Lord out into the wilderness so that we and our cattle should die here.' So they did not learn, and Moses and Aaron were led to sin because of their tempting. This is what the Lord had to saying Hebrews chapter 3.

Hebrews 3:7 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear His voice,
Hebrews 3:8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
Hebrews 3:9 When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years.
Hebrews 3:10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known My ways.
Hebrews 3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief ...

As we can see from the above texts, God not only feels deep anguish, disappointment and intense sorrow, but also suffers greatly because of the hardness of His children's hearts. So what was it that grieved God? Well according to scripture, it was the unbelief of the people (see Heb. 3:6, 8, 12, 15, 19; 4:2, 3, 6, 7 & 14). Our choice not to believe God's word -- not to trust in Him for the fulfillment of His promises to us is so painful to Him that He is grieved beyond what we can comprehend. And while we cannot understand the depth and magnitude of His sorrow, we can understand this, if we who are finite can experience such intense sorrow, how much greater must His sorrow be, since He Himself is immeasurably greater than we?

Now that we have looked at what the children of Israel were doing that caused the Holy Spirit (the Godhead) pain, now let's look at Paul's exhortations to the Ephesians to prevent them from falling into the same trap. According to Paul, after having accepted Christ, they were as God's children, to receive the Spirit's wisdom, revelation and acknowledgment of Christ (Eph. 1:17); and were not to defile their body, which is God's dwelling place (Eph. 2:22). Furthermore, they were to nourish and cherish the members of the church, and not disrupt its unity (Eph. 5:29, 30), by returning to the life of the old man (Eph. 5:3-8). The old man naturally indulges in lying, resentment, thieving, and corrupt speech (Eph. 5:3, 4). Why would someone who had received the Holy Spirit engage in the behavior of the old man, when he or she had such power at hand to overcome? It is because of unbelief.

This thanksgiving season, let us be willing to follow Paul's admonishment in Ephesians 4:30 that we ... grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, for He's sealed us unto the day when we shall at last receive redemption in full. In other words, let's allow the Holy Spirit to remind us with Psalms -- of His goodness and mercy which endure forever (Ps. 107:1); through hymns and spiritual songs -- of His steadfast love and kindness, so that we may give thanks to God always, for all things, with a melody in our hearts (Ephesians 5:19, 20).

We're wishing you all a Happy Thanks Giving folks -- and while you are being thankful and grateful today, if the Holy Spirit convicts you of unbelief, respond as did the father in Mark 9:24, who cried out with tears, and said, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." You'll be glad you did.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Body is not a Community

There is an amusing story that says that different members of the body got together to talk one day. As normally happens when individuals get together, they start bragging about who is the best. Each member of the body spoke very highly of himself and gave reasons why he was the most important part of the body. After each member had spoken, all were at odds. (The Brain was not mentioned in this story) Through all the bragging, the colon remained silent. Appealing to the colon as to a referee, the other members of the body decided that the colon should decide who was the most important. Much to their surprise, the colon answered, "I am the most important part of the body." Stunned, they all burst into spontaneous laughter, and began deriding and humiliating the colon. "You only deal with waste," said some members. Others cried out, "You are in the darkest part of the body." Confident of his claim, the colon remained calm. After a moment or two, the other members became silent, and only then did the colon speak. Still unruffled, he said to them, "I will show you." So, for the next three days, the colon closed itself off, so that no waste would leave the body. Of course, the excrement backed up, the digested food had no place to go, and the other members started complaining that they were not getting their nutrients, so they too had to shut down. By the fourth day, all the body members clamored, "please, open up, we agree with you, you're the most important part of our body." After this, the colon opened up, and the body returned to normal in a short time.

I submit to you that this scenario could only happen if the members of the body talked only to each other, and stopped communicating with the head (the brain or mind). The members of our body seem to cooperate rather well with one another, however, upon closer inspection, it is apparent that they really work together only in cooperation with the brain. The brain is the headquarters, where each of the members sends his concerns. The mind is the one that gives instructions which, if carefully followed, alleviates the concerns. The hands do not talk to the eyes or legs. When the stomach is hungry, it signals the brain. The brain in turn tells the legs, “go to the refrigerator,” and then tells the hands, “open the door,” and so on. The stomach did not talk to the legs or any other part of the body. Not one member of the body consulted with another, instead, all concerns (and desires) go to the brain. The decision to eat is not a community decision; it is the brain's decision. The brain is the one that is in charge of the bodily system. The community (of bodily members) is not. This is the system that God has designed, and it works effectively and efficiently to carry out the tasks that He has designed.

The Apostle Paul very aptly compares the Christian Church with the body of Christ. In this metaphor, we -- the believers, are the different members of the body, while Christ is the head. Christ sends His Spirit to our minds, and in conjunction with the Godhead, He controls the mind (if we allow Him to). As a consequence of receiving the Indwelling Holy Spirit, we receive the attributes of "lowliness and meekness (humility), with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2, 3). And the Holy Spirit gives to each of us, spiritual gifts according to His discernment. As Ephesians 4 says:

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

You see, as long as we remain connected to the Head, the Spirit remains in us. As long as the Spirit remains in us, we have the attributes (love, peace, long-suffering, patience, meekness, humility, etc.) and the gifts. However, when we start consulting with one another as if we were a community, than we lose the attributes, which is what brings cohesion among us, and we lose (or misuse) the gifts. The attributes and the gifts come from the same source, and they are part of one package. You cannot have one without the other.

For the church to function as a body, we need to behave more like a body, by communicating with the Head (through prayer, devotions, and bible study). As long as the church acts like a community, it ignores the Head, works in its own strength, and loses the blessings of the attributes and the Gifts, and fails. For the Church to be an effective body, it must stop behaving like a community, and it starts by allowing Christ - the Head - to coordinate and order all things.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Divine Mystery

George Orwell's story, Animal Farm, paints an accurate but disturbing picture of Human nature. The tale delineates what happens when those entrusted to serve believe that the privilege given to them is theirs by natural right. Early in the story, the animals, disgruntled by their treatment at the hand of the human farmers, band together, run off the farmers and take over the farm. Excited by their easy conquest, the animals realize that they must organize themselves and complete the various chores that need to be done. To carry out these tasks in an orderly manner, all of the animals meet and request a particular type of animal take charge of running the farm. The motto chosen by the animals in charge and agreed upon by all is, "All Animals are equal." As soon as the animals in charge become comfortable in their positions, they begin believing they are better than the rest of the animals, and that the other animals owe them homage and respect. Late one evening under the guise of darkness, the animals in charge re-write the motto to say, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Needless to say, the rest of the animals revolt, and chaos and death ensue.

God chose Abraham to be the messenger of His good news to the world. He told Abraham that in Him all nations would be blessed (Genesis 18:18). Because Abraham overcame by the faith of Jesus -- by seeing Him who is invisible, he qualified to become the Father of the faithful. He represented those who accept the promises of God, and are faithful by and through the faith of Jesus. It was God's desire to fulfill His promise to Abraham - of being a blessing to all nations - through the Israelites. However, the Israelites, * who were to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6) - hoarded the blessings God had given them. They not only failed to share the Light, but hated anyone who even suggested that the Light should shine upon the Gentiles. After the Israelites were separated from the Jews, the privilege of being a Light to the Gentiles was given the Jews. But like their predecessors, the Israelites, the Jews hoarded the gift and never shared it. In fact, the Jews began to believe that Salvation was for the Jews only. And the term Gentile, which meant 'dog' and purportedly referred to unbelievers, became a term for anyone who was not a Jew. Of course, the Jews with money, land, political connections and power believed that they were elite, and therefore entitled to the special privileges given to the elite. Thus, not only did the Jews block the light from the Gentiles; the elite also blocked it from the lower strata Jews. Into this proud and boastful people came the Saviour, illuminating the character of His Father and setting forth as a bright gem, the principles of His law.

Although, Christ ministered to individual Gentiles (unbelievers) during His ministry, predominately His ministry was to the Jews. Through Peter and Paul, Christ taught the other disciples and we who were to follow, that Salvation is for the Gentiles (Acts 10; 13:46). This apparent new direction, was not an afterthought, but had been intended from the very beginning. In Isaiah 42:6, God had promised Christ to His people, "I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light to the Gentiles." In Christ, God saved not only the Gentiles, but the whole world.
Many Jews believed that the only way for a Gentile to be saved was for the Gentile to become a Jew. This meant baptism, circumcision, and other Jewish religious rites of passage. This belief also continued with some of the Christian Jews (Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to correct the matter. After prayerfully considering the matter under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the brethren decided that circumcision was not only not a pre-requisite for salvation, but that to require it actually nullified salvation by grace. Consequently, the hidden truth that Christ came to redeem the world (which included the Gentiles) was revealed, and confirmed. This is one of the Divine mysteries of which Paul spoke, that God gave his Son to save the World, and in Him we die, are resurrected, and live. Thus by default, the Gentiles are included. Paul tells the Ephesians in chapter 3 --

Ephesians 3:1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
Ephesians 3:2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
Ephesians 3:3 How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
Ephesians 3:4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
Ephesians 3:5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
Ephesians 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel:

It's obvious to most Christians, that the Jews were wrong in thinking that to be saved one must become a Jew. Yet, do we believe the same way? To Seventh - Day Adventists has been given the Divine privilege of being a Light to the World, reflecting the light of the Character and law of God. Are we allowing Christ's light shine in and through us? Are we allowing others to see the Divine mystery as revealed to us, by the Holy Spirit? God put us all in Christ, and through His merits we were justified. We keep the Sabbath, because we are led by the Spirit to do so, not to be saved, but as a demonstration of the salvation already won in Christ. Do we believe that the sheep in other folds must become 'Seventh day Adventists' to be saved? Pleasing to God? Have we been guilty of teaching others that to be saved they must keep the Sabbath, or become not only vegetarian but vegan? Unfortunately, some of us have thought this way, and in so doing, we've forgotten that God's grace applies to all the same. His sheep in other folds hear His voice and become Seventh Day Adventists not in order to be saved, but because the Spirit leads them to do so. God sees no distinctions in the human family, ultimately there are only those who choose to believe and follow, and those who don't.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

No Distinctions

Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard? Christ told it to illustrate that God the Father is not only fair, but impartial in His dealings with mankind. The story opens with a householder hiring day laborers to work in his vineyard. Typically, the men were hired early in the morning and worked all day for the agreed upon day's wages. However this householder deviated from the typical custom in that he had not only hired workers at varying times during the day, but had promised to pay each of them the same standard wage. At the end of the day, the workers gathered together to receive their pay. When the workers who arrived early realized that they were going to receive the same pay as the latecomers, they became angry. Confronting the householder, they accused him of fraudulent and unfair practices. Let's read the householder's reply in Matthew 20:13-16:

Matthew 20:13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Matthew 20:14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Matthew 20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
Matthew 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Let's make application of our story, first to the ancient Jews, and then to ourselves. The Jews felt entitled to a greater position in the Kingdom of God, than the Gentiles, because they had been chosen to 'bear the oracles of God.' Furthermore, the Jews felt that their religion was superior to the religious beliefs and practices of the Gentiles. After all, they believed in the one true living God, were circumcised, kept the Sabbath, had the temple, and the best sacrificial system, all unlike the Gentiles. As a result of their first comer status, the Jews felt that their reward should exceed that of the Gentiles. In the book of Ephesians chapter 2, Paul indicates that he is aware of this attitude.

Let's read Ephesians 2:11, "Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;" Here, Paul is saying, although you Jews are boasting of your circumcision and belittling the gentiles because they are uncircumcised, know this, circumcision is of no value if it is merely in your flesh and not of your hearts. Although in the next verse Paul describes the Gentiles as: "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:" (Ephesians 2:12), he does not attribute this condition to them alone. Instead, he tells the Jews, you too were once aliens and strangers from the covenant and without hope. You see, although the Jews, thought themselves righteous, they were still in need of Christ just as were the Gentiles. In Romans 3:23, Paul states that all have sinned and come short of the glorious character of God. As we continue reading in Ephesians chapter 2, we see him saying, 'you Gentiles, it's true, you were far from God, (and so were we), yet now, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have all been drawn into union with one another -- we've been made one.' Let's look at Ephesians 2, verses 13-22 to see the full picture.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:14 For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
Ephesians 2:15 Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
Ephesians 2:16 And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
Ephesians 2:17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
Ephesians 2:18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Ephesians 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone;
Ephesians 2:21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
Ephesians 2:22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

As can easily be seen, it is only 'in Christ' that the Jews became truly close to God. It is 'in Christ,' that they became "fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." And, it is 'in Christ' that they "have access by one Spirit unto the Father." 'In Christ,' they became "an habitation of God through the Spirit." Objectively, 'in Christ,' they had all of these things, and so too did the Gentiles. Thus they became one with each other. Yet, many of the Jews and Gentiles probably never accepted this great truth. And unfortunately, many of us fail to accept this truth as well. Because of our status 'in Christ,' we have all been made equal in God's sight, we have become one. As such, there are no discriminating or distinguishing negative differences-- no distinctions between male and female, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, black and white; for objectively, 'in Christ,' we've become one.

Are there any of you out there that feel superior? If so, then you've not accepted the 'in Christ,' idea. If you find yourself saying, 'well I would never,' or 'how could he (or she),' then you've not believed the truth as it is 'in Jesus.' Of course accepting this truth doesn't mean you won't be tempted, because the enemy knows our human nature which is sinful, naturally he'll tempt us on this point. However, if you find yourself constantly giving in, or with a mindset of prejudice, then perhaps you're missing the wonderful and joyous truth, that Christ has already made us one in Himself.

As Hymn #587 says,

'In Christ' there is no East nor West, 'in Him' no South nor North;
But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.

This great truth can also be found in Galatians 3:28, which says, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one 'in Christ Jesus.' Join the heavenly host today in the sweet knowledge and experience of that fellowship, and watch your '-isms, and prejudices melt away.

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