Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why does God permit trials?

Sister Grant was distraught and frustrated. She could not understand why her life seemed to be a never ending drama. It seemed like one crisis engendered another. She asked herself, “Why would God do this to me?” Her Pastor said that, “those who are faithful to God will not see so many trials in their life. In fact,” he added, “trials are a sign that God is not favoring you; which means that you are living in Sin.” She met with some co-workers for support and prayer, and told them about her dilemma. Surprisingly, most of them agreed to be in a similar situation. However, not one of them could find what was wrong. They did all the things that their pastor’s said they should do. They were faithful attending church. They tithed and gave offering. And, they were active in church programs. Why was God not rewarding them?

The youngest in the group, Ms. Bradley, waited until all the other ladies finished talking. She asked them a question, “What do Job, most prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and most Apostles have in common?” They all were silent looking at Ms. Bradley, suspecting she had an answer. Sister Bradley understood their silence so she continued, “Were they not faithful?” They all looked in tpward each other murmuring possible answers to the question. After, a few moments, they all agreed and said, “Yes they were faithful.” Sister Bradley, then said, “Then, why did God allow them to suffer? And, many of them died horrendous deaths. Could it be that we have it all wrong? Why would God treat us any differently?”

Good question! Why would God treat us any differently? Job never understood why he suffered. His cry to God was, “Why?” However, Job never stopped trusting God. In the middle of his crisis, Job cried out, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” Job13:15. Daniel’s friends were faithful in all things, yet under threat of being burned they declared, “… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out 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.” Dan3:17, 18.

In contrast we have the people of Israel. God was with the people of Israel. The people of Israel saw how God delivered them from the Egyptians. God accompanied them in the day with a cloud, and at night with a pillar of fire. The pillar probably gave them not only light, but also warmth. With all this the people disbelieved that God would have them drink the waters of Marah. But, did God not sweeten the water when Moses put a tree in the well (Exodus 15: 22-27).

After all this when they reached Rephidim they disbelieved God again. In Exodus 17:1-7 we read how they threatened Moses life accusing him of bringing them out of Egypt to die in the desert. How soon they forgot about God being able to provide for them any and every need they had, including water to quench their thirst. The cried out, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Sister White says of this experience,

It was by the express command of God that the children of Israel encamped at Rephidim. He knew of its lack of water, and he brought his people hither to test their faith. But how poorly they proved themselves to be a people whom he could trust! Again and again he had manifested himself to them. With a high hand he had brought them out of the land of their captivity, slaying the first-born of all the families of Egypt to accomplish the deliverance of his people. He had fed them with angels' food, and had covenanted to bring them into the promised land. Now, when brought into difficulty, they broke into rebellion, distrusted God, and complained that Moses had brought them and their children out of Egypt only that they might die of thirst in the wilderness.

The lesson is for us. Many think that in the Christian life they will find freedom from all difficulty. But every one who takes up the cross to follow Jesus comes to a Rephidim in his experience. Life is not all made up of pleasant pastures and cooling streams. Trial and disappointment overtake us; privation comes; we are brought into trying places. Conscience-stricken, we reason that we must have walked far away from God, that if we had walked with him, we should not have suffered so. Doubt and despondency crowd into our hearts, and we say, The Lord has failed us, and we are ill-used. Why does he permit us to suffer thus? He can not love us; if he did, he would remove the difficulties from our path. Is the Lord with us, or not? {RH, April 7, 1903 par. 2 - 3}

Perhaps this is why Peter admonishes us 1 Peter 1:6-7,

1 Peter 1:6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

This verse tells us that trials are neither random nor chaotic. Trials have a purpose. One of them is to produce genuine faith in those who will persevere through all kinds of trials. In other words, trials teach us to depend on God to overcome temptation and to endure the pain and suffering that Sin brings to us, until we either die or are translated. We can trust that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled. We may not see it now. Only in retrospect, God may allow us to see a glimpse of the purpose of trials. For many of us, it will be until we reach eternity before we see clearly God’s purpose in letting us suffer. We will also see that God was in it with us all the way. We were not alone. And, in fact, our faith grew stronger and our character became more Christ like because of the suffering God put us through.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Distilled Characters

When I read Sabbath’s reading for the Quarterly, I remembered my days as a college student working in the Chemistry Lab. While the memories were still fresh, I read the information on a bottle of bottled water. The company said that they follow nature’s water purification’s system - distillation. In nature water evaporates and as it goes up it forms clouds, that later condense and fall as rain to the ground. I remembered that in the laboratory, we heated the water until it evaporated; we made the vapor go through a pipe that was colder than the original reservoir, and the vapor would condense into water again. But, this time the water would not have the impurities it originally had.

You see this process is possible because each substance has a particular boiling point. This is the temperature in which any substance turns from liquid to gas - evaporates. If the water is mixed with substances has a lower boiling point than water, then when you apply heat to the water these substances will evaporate before water does. The opposite is also true.

Let us use an example of water mixed with alcohol and salt. When we apply heat to this impure water, the temperature will raise until it reaches the boiling point of alcohol, which is 77C, and will stay there until all alcohol evaporates. After this the temperature will rise up to the boiling point of water, which is 100C, and will stay there until all water evaporates. Since salt’s is not even liquid at 100C, it will remain in the container, probably stuck to the edges. The water in vapor form that rises from the container is pure, to covert it back to liquid we must condense it and collect in liquid form on the other side. This water would be pure or distilled water.

It should go without saying that the container, in which the water is heated, should withstand heat of more than 100C (212°F). Otherwise the container would crack and everything in it would be spilled. In my days in college, only one brand of glass containers, called flasks, could do this: Pyrex. Pyrex guaranteed that their glass could withstand heat above 100C.

You are probably asking, what is the spiritual application of this information? I am glad you asked. In this analogy, we are the water. Sin is the impurities in the water. Christ is the Pyrex flask. Heat is the trials. As long as we are in Christ we are guaranteed that all trials will do is purge Sin away from us. Until we learn to trust and depend on God with that trial, and the Sin that was impeding this evaporates, the temperature will not rise. As long as we are in Christ, we are guaranteed that if the trial evaporates us, Christ can condense us into distilled purified people. This may apply to resurrection and translation. Any aspect of Sin that trials could not evaporate will not evaporate with us. We will be freed from Sin and all its implications.

You may ask, why would allow trials to come to us? Why will a loving God allow the heat of trials to make us suffer? The answer is that He does it because He loves us. Just as you rebuke and spank your child because you love them; God sends trials to rebuke us. He says so in Revelation 3:19, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” In Jeremiah 9:7 God says that He allows trials to “refine us.” He allows trials to bring us closer to Him. He allows trials so that we learn to totally trust and depend on Him. So, trials, as hard as they, are in the end blessings. Yes, blessings, because they teach us to love Him above all things and to become one with Him. Are you paying attention?

The Apostle Peter says that in trials God is glorified, let us read 1 Peter 4:12-14,

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
1 Peter 4:13
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
1 Peter 4:14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified.

Trials are not a necessary evil or something we bear just because. The pros of trials outweigh the cons. They are beneficial. We should be thankful for them. While it may not be wise to pray for them, it is neither wise that you are spared from them. Just pray to God that He helps you through them. This in the end is the goal of the trial: that you learn to think of God first and foremost; that you yield to Him the reigns of your life. Will you do this?

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Good Shepherd

Adjectives are type of words that describe nouns. We use them to paint a verbal picture of objects, animals or persons. Among different things that can be described are: color, texture, firmness, position, placement, shape, size, quantity and/or quality. These descriptions can be absolute or relative. For example, we say that bananas are yellow. This is pretty much an absolute description. However, if we ask how yellow banana are, it becomes a more relative description, because some things may be yellower than others. So, we see that to describe something as being more of the one adjective than the other we add “er” to the adjective. We add “est” when we want to say something is so yellow, nothing can compare. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. One example of this is the adjective, “good.” “Good” is the basic adjective, “better” is one step up, and “best” is the highest step.

However, for God there is nothing that is a step above good. Through out Genesis God calls His creation good, including man. In fact, Jesus told the young rich ruler, “No one is good but God.” So God is good, and so is His creation. But, as man insists in trying to be higher than the Almighty God, he calls himself better and best, and also calls his creation better and best. Only to find out that there is always some defect in him or his creation. So man stands in contrast to God. When God says something is good, it is perfect, but when man says something is better or best, it has defects and imperfections.

Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd; which means that despite what men may think, there is no better Shepherd than He. In man’s terms Jesus is the best Shepherd. In John 10, Jesus says why He is the good Shepherd: he enters through the door, His sheep know His voice and He calls them by name, the follow Him, He gives His life for the sheep. In contrast to Jesus are the thieves who do not enter through the door, they come to steal the sheep; sheep that do not follow them for they know not their voice. The thieves come to steal, kill and destroy. Also, in contrast to Jesus are the hirelings, who run away in time of danger, the flock is not their priority, their life is. Because, of them the flock is scattered. In Luke 15, Jesus describes the good Shepherd as someone that willingly puts His life in jeopardy for just one sheep of the flock. The author of Psalms 23 was a Shepherd himself, he knew of the dangers of being a shepherd. David convinces Saul of his qualifications to fight Goliath because of His Shepherd experience. He said,

1 Samuel 17
34And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock:
35And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.
36Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.
37David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine

David put his life in harms way for the sheep. Christ, also, put His life in harms way for us, because He agapes us. A good under shepherd will also go to the lengths David and Jesus went. They can do it because God’s unconditional love (agape) has filled their hearts. They received the Holy Spirit who in turn brings this love of God, so they can love as God loves. It is a gift from God to all those who allow the indwelling Spirit of God to do His work in and through them. A good under shepherd then cares, tends, and feeds God’s sheep, as Christ does.