Friday, December 29, 2006

A Man of Character

Character is defined as the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person as someone of moral or ethical strength. So a man or woman of character is a man or woman of moral or ethical strength. We read in our history books about people whom were described as having moral or ethical strength. We may wonder, why does it seem that in our time there is none? It seems as everyday the news media has a new scandal of someone whose reputation was above reproach, and suddenly they fall from grace. They have allowed a moral or ethical weakness to destroy their character. This happens at all levels and in all areas of our lives. The cry of all who listen to the news is, “Who can we trust?” There is always a fault, an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda, a conflict of interest and or an unethical behavior. Why do they go wrong?

There is a saying that goes: "Sow a thought, reap an action; Sow an action, reap a habit; Sow a habit, reap a character; Sow a character, reap a destiny." What starts as a little indulgent thought, ends up destroying your life and that of those around you. That is perhaps why someone rephrased this saying as “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” This is a nice thought. However, which one of us can say that we can do this on our own strength. The Bible is clear that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and there is no one righteous, not even one;” Romans 3: 23; 3: 10. Christ said to His disciples “All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean’” Mark 7: 23. Every single one of us is shapen in Sin and conceived in iniquity. Is there any hope?

We look at Joseph? He never stole anything from his boss. When the opportunity to sleep with a beautiful woman arose, he chose to go to jail, rather than sleep with her. While in jail, he was a model prisoner, in fact he was the warden right hand. After he was made prince of Egypt, he was married to the daughter of a pagan priest. He lived among the pagans. He chose not to avenge himself of the treachery made by his brothers. When he revealed his true identity to his brothers he made certain his implicit trust in the God of his father Abraham. Joseph was a man of character. But, how can a man like you and I have so much moral and ethical strength?

Joseph continually chose to yield to God his whole being. He surrendered all to God. God in return gave Joseph a pure mind. God gave to Joseph a heart full of positive attributes, virtues and qualities. God sowed a thought in Joseph’s mind which reaped an action of obedience (listening with a willingness to do), which reaped a habit of listening and yielding, which reaped a virtuous character, which reaped a life that glorified God by displaying moral and ethical strength. Joseph did not have to watch his thoughts, God did that for him. Joseph listened to the Spirit’s prompting and yielded to the Spirit’s leading. Joseph followed Christ advice in John 15,

John 15: 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

The Ethical and moral strength Joseph displayed was the fruit the Spirit bore in him, as he abode in Christ. Where did all these other men who fall from grace go wrong? They tried to do it on their own strength. They did not abide in Christ. They did not yield themselves to the Holy Spirit. They did not depend and trust God as Joseph did. They could have, but chose not to. So, the question for us is this, what are we going to continually choose to yield as Joseph or will we choose as many other men that have to try in their strength?

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Ocassionally, I may skip a week because I am too busy. That is what happened last week. So far, I have not skipped two weeks in a row. I regret to say I have to skip this week also. I am very sorry about this. Two persons that were very close to me died last weekend. This has thrown my whole week off. I deeply regret how this may affect you, who are expecting this weekly commentary. I hope to resume next week. In the meantime, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for the privilege of writing for you every week.

I do have a few thoughts on Joseph. I hope they help. Joseph decided when he was carried away to be faithful to God. But, this was not a one time decision. He continually, decided to follow God and be faithful. He depended on God, and waited for God to fulfill His will in His time and in His way. I pray that Joseph may be an example to us: that we may learn to totally depend on God.

Another, thought is that Joseph was a microcosms of Jesus. He was favored by his Father as Jesus was. He was rejected by his brethren as Jesus was. He was sold for as a slave for money, as Jesus was sold for a few coins by Judas. Joseph forgave those who wronged as Jesus did. You get the picture.

God bless all of you.
Raul Diaz

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Friday, December 08, 2006

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 us 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 letting those things that we love entrap 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.

In order 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 in the moment. This type of action showed how Esau lacked principles and instead lived a life full indulging in whatever pleased him in the 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 own 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 jar, 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?
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Friday, December 01, 2006

Unequal Yoke

Unequal Yoke

Richard stayed in school after work very late to study for his test on Marriage and Family.  His classmate, Hank, was their also.  They talked for a few minutes about their class and decided to leave.  Hank realized that Richard was on public transportation, so he offered Richard a ride in car.  Richard readily agreed.  The conversation continued in the car and eventually it shifted into the importance of avoiding unequal yokes.  ("Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14.)  Richard, feeling very strong about it said, "Under no circumstance should any Christian marry someone outside of their faith – that is what Paul is talking about."  Hank looked at Richard with a mischievous smile, and said, "You do not have any clue, do you?"  Puzzled, Richard answered softly, "what?  What are you talking about?"  Hank continued to smile quietly, as in deep thought.   Then he started to speak, "I will tell you a story.  A friend of mine, who also goes to my church, bought a radio station.  He wants to use it for ministry purposes.  He bought it with a partner who wants to use it to make money.  My friend now is at a quandary."  Richard asked in amazement, "What is your friend going to do?"  Hank answered, "He has been trying to convince his partner.  But, his partner won't have it.  He said the money is an investment, and he expects a profit.  They have fought over this.  My friend can barely sleep with stress.  This dilemma is driving him to depression.  In fact, it is now affecting his marriage.  His wife is starting to question whether she married the right man."  Richard asked, "What?"  Hank nodded and continued to say, "So you see, unequal yokes are more than just about marriage."  Richard replied, "Wow, I have a lot to think about."

In simple terms a yoke is something that connects or joins together.  However, the expression is derived from farming.  In this context a yoke is a crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of oxen or other draft animals working together*.  The idea is that they will go in the same direction at the same speed.  The two beasts work together doing the same job.  The job requires the two; one cannot do its own.  But, what happens when the beasts want to go at different speed?  What happens if one beast will not walk and the other will?  What happens when one beast wants to go in a different direction?    Not only will they both suffer, but also the job that brought the two beasts together will not get done. 

Abraham wanted to make sure Isaac was equally yoked.  So he sent his servant Eliezer to find an equally yoke wife for his son.  He wanted someone for his son that was willing to walk by Faith with the Lord as he and Sarah did.  We read in Genesis 24: 2-4,

Genesis 24: 2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
Genesis 24: 3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:
Genesis 24: 4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.

Notice that Abraham sent someone he trusted, from among his own people.  He sent someone equally yoked with him to find an equally yoked wife for his son, Isaac.  Abraham also did this when he rescued Lot from those who invaded Sodom.  He did not entrust or recruit anyone from the surrounding pagan communities to rescue his nephew.  He mounted and armed his own equally yoked men to go on this rescue mission (Genesis 14: 14-16). 

Abraham trusted God in providing men for war.  Abraham trusted the Lord in providing a good "match-maker."  Abraham trusted God that the woman God chose through Eliezer would be equally yoked with Isaac.  Are we also praying and trusting God to provide equally yoked partners for all of our life endeavors?  Maybe we should. 

Raul Diaz

*When Christ says in Matthew 11:29 "Take my yoke upon you…" He means that one of the U-shaped bars is on His neck, and you are to put the other U-shaped bar on your neck.  So you walk in unity with Him.