Thursday, November 29, 2007

Praising God Is Reflecting His Character

Many Christian churches have been incorporating in their worship service a style of singing that some call praise and worship. Some of the songs are based on scripture, many of these on Psalms. David as we know praised God in the psalms for God’s goodness and mercy toward him. David was grateful to God. However, many of the other songs are repetitive and limited to phrases, such as: “we worship you,” “we adore you,” and “you are worthy of my praise.” These songs are accompanied by shouts of “Hallelujah,” “Praise Him,” and “Glory to God.” The congregation stands to sing, while their eyes are closed, and their arms and hands are raised in the air. Caught up in the enthusiasm they seem to reach a stage of euphoria and ecstasy; as if they were in drugs. This practice gives them a rush or high, when they finish singing the ecstasy is gone, and they return to the sadness of their existence. The singing, it turns out is a mere form of escape from their empty realities; a life devoid of God. This is ironic; because the God they claim to sing to is the God they do not have in their hearts. It is nothing but lip service. (Careful when you judge the people doing this. Many are sincere brethren who do not know any better.)

We would all agree that Praising God is giving him glory. But, what glory can we give Him. It is sinful, at its best. The Worship He would accept from us is nothing more than us returning from He what gives to us. So, the glory we offer Him comes from the Glory that is His to begin with. What is His glory? Let us read from Exodus 33:18 – 23,

Exodus 33:18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.

Exodus 33:19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.

Exodus 33:20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

Exodus 33:21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

Exodus 33:22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

Exodus 33:23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

When Moses asked to see the great I Am, God replied that he would pass all His glory before Him. Then God proceeded to tell Moses what His glory is. As we read we realize that it was the attributes of God’s character. The Glory of God is His character. And, His name proclaims this glory or character.

In our sinful condition none of us have His character. This is something the Holy Spirit produces in us, as He converts our hearts from “hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.” He converts our hearts from selfish and sinful to righteous and Christ like. He purges our hearts from Sin and turns it into a heart that is Holy. So, only Humans with converted and grateful hearts can truly praise God; because, they reflect His character, which is His glory. A Godly character is true praise toward and to God.

For what are these converted men and women grateful? They are grateful for what God has done, is doing and will do: Salvation. They are grateful for the conversion that is taking place in their hearts. A person that is grateful rejoices. As God is always working, and in all things He works, they give thanks in all things and always. Because they are always grateful, they can always rejoice.

Imagine these people singing to God. There is a difference. It is not lip service. You can tell it comes from the heart – a converted heart. It moves you to know the God they serve. The difference in their singing is consistent with the difference in their life. It is this difference that makes their singing so inspiring and powerful.

Such was the case of Paul and Silas in the prison dungeon. Their singing - praises to God - influenced the jailer to give his heart to Christ. While in Philippi Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching the truth. Then, “…at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts16:25). And, so it seems did the jailer. After an earthquake opened the cell gates the jailer presumed all the prisoners gone. He took his sword to commit suicide, but Paul detained him, by assuring that none had left the prison. The jailer and his family gave their life to Christ that night.

Was it the singing that made a difference? The Bible does not say so. But as Paul and Silas were men who reflected the character of Christ it must have. Despite the persecution, beating and imprisonment they seemed to be grateful God. They were full of the Holy Spirit, so they were rejoicing in the Lord. And, their singing must have reflected Jesus in them. Remember, Paul considered it a privilege to suffer for Christ. He counted all for joy. His singing was no lip service. It projected what was in His heart already, a crucified and resurrected Christ. Is Paul’s experience ours.

Friday, November 23, 2007

When His Answer Is Imperceptible To Our Eyes

Similes are very effective ways of describing something in a visual way. When something is slow it means that it takes more time than what we expect to go from point A to point B. But, that definition does not mean much, unless you can visualize it. This is why simile’s are effective. A simile shows to us what slow means. With expressions like “as slow as a turtle or molasses,” give us an idea of how slow something is.

Some things are so slow they do not seem to move at all. It seems that nothing happens for a long time. We stop looking and when we look back we find it has moved along considerably. Take for example the leaves on trees in areas with cold winters. They start growing in the spring. We may see at first some flower buds on the tree. And, that is all we see for awhile. So we stop looking. Then a few weeks later we happen to look and we see that leaves are starting to grow. For a dew days that is all we see. A few weeks later we happen to look, and the tree is full of leaves. We ask ourselves when did this happen? It seems imperceptible to our eyes.

The moon is very similar. When we look at it every night we do not see much change in its size and shape. But, if we look at it every 8 to 10 days, we will find it is in a different phase altogether. Its movement is not perceptible to our eyes.

Expressions like, “it is so slow it is like watching paint dry, or “it is like watching water boil,” are very common. The more we look the longer it seems to take. Nothing seems to be happening so when we see the final result, we believe it was sudden. These processes are imperceptible to our eyes.

God’s answers to some prayers are similar. Nothing seems to happen; sometimes for days, and sometimes for years. But, God is always working. Sometimes God’s answer to prayer is obvious, as when Jesus calmed the sea. But, sometimes it is not obvious, even unnoticed, as when God’s power sustained Jesus in Gethsemane. The same power is used for both occasions, but in different ways. Just because something dramatic may not happen, it does not mean that God is not at work.

Creation was a dramatic event. God’s Word took a place that was “without form, and void” (Genesis 1:2) and in six days He converted it into a living paradise. It was so perfect that God “saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God spoke and the thing happened, immediately. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells the woman of ill reputation which anoints Him, “Thy sins are forgiven” Luke 7:48. Now, Jesus is God. Therefore, His word has power. We read in Colossians 1:16

Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

When He spoke to the woman it was no exception. When He spoke the thing happened. Her sins were forgiven, immediately. Yes, she probably got up and looked around. To her and to everyone else in the house nothing seemed to change. It was imperceptible to their eyes. However, something changed in her heart. She believed the words of Jesus. She suddenly had a “Philippians 4:7” type of peace,

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus

Her faith, “…hath saved thee” Luke 7:50. Do we have that kind of faith? The kind of faith that believes that when God speaks the thing happens, even if we do not see it. The Bible says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:17. So we first must hear God’s Word then believe it. But, believe it how? Someone defined faith as “…the expecting the word of God to do what it says and the depending upon that word to do what it says” (Review and Herald, Dec. 27, 1898). This is how we must believe if we truly have faith. Even when His word seems not to accomplish anything, we believe that it has, it is and it will because God said so. We believe His word to be true, even when the results of His Word’s seem imperceptible to our eyes. You can only have this kind of faith when you receive it from God Himself.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Word Picture

A few years back, Dr. Gary Smalley published a book called, The Language of Love. The premise of Mr. Smalley’s book is that when communicating with someone we love we should do it in such a way that they not only here the words, but feel the emotions we want to share. He suggests using what he calls word-pictures. Mr. Smalley advises his readers to use similes, metaphors, allegories or parables. In other words, use a little story or vignette that will get the message you want to send across to the person listening.

Such was the method that the prophet Nathan with David (2 Samuel 12: 1 - 15). It was effective, because David convicted himself. You could say that the parables of Jesus were also word-pictures. Paul also used word pictures with the metaphor of the church being a body and Christ the head (1 Corinthians 12:12). We all have different functions in the church, but when we communicate with the Head – Jesus Christ - we work in unity.

The author of the lesson presented a very effective word picture in the last paragraph of Tuesday’s lesson. Let us read it,

“Imagine walking along a narrow path to the Shepherd's home. Along the way there are many paths leading in different directions. Some of these paths go to places that we would not want to visit. Others look tempting; they appeal to our feelings, our emotions, our desires. If, though, we take any one of them, we get off the right path and go in a way that might be exceedingly difficult to get off” (The Refiner’s Fire. Tuesday, November 6, 2007).

It requires discipline to not stray from the road that will take us to the Shepherd’s home. The road to the Shepherd’s home may not seem as exciting as other roads. But, the other roads may take us far away, and we may not want to get off the road that is taking us away from the Shepherd’s home. Besides, getting back to the Shepherd’s road may be dangerous and may require many sacrifices. For many it is hard to make that choice. And that is all that we need to do. Make a choice to not leave the road, or make a choice to return if we have not left. Or, make a choice to go back, if we leave the road.

Why is it so hard? Because, it goes against our selfish sinful nature. Without the power of Christ it is not only hard, but it is impossible. The roads to this world appeal to our senses and reasoning. Even when our hearts may tell us the other roads are the right way, we should not trust our heart, for “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). Many of them have things that appeal to our eyes, but it is pure lust and covetousness. Yes, they take us far away from God. We must choose to let God keep us in the road. Sister White puts it this way,

“God has given us the power of choice; it is ours to exercise. We cannot change our hearts, we cannot control our thoughts, our impulses, our affections. We cannot make ourselves pure, fit for God's service. But we can choose to serve God, we can give Him our will; then He will work in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus our whole nature will be brought under the control of Christ.

Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in the life. By yielding up the will to Christ, we ally ourselves with divine power. We receive strength from above to hold us steadfast. A pure and noble life, a life of victory over appetite and lust, is possible to everyone who will unite his weak, wavering human will to the omnipotent, unwavering will of God” (Ministry of Healing, p. 176.)

There is no panoramic or scenic route, there is no shortcut. Don’t let yourself be deceived with shuttle services or 10 lane highways. There is only one way to the Shepherd’s home, and that is the Shepherd’s road. It is the path that Christ our Good Shepherd followed. It is the path that those mentioned in Hebrews 11 followed. Those who love God will also follow this path. It is in His strength that they will follow the Shepherd’s road.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Learning of God in Hardship

The parable of the prodigal son tells of a wayward spindrift son of a farmer, who after spending his inheritance in licentious living ends up working for someone else taking care of animals’ that were an abomination to him. Where once he was favored now he was the least, even less the animals he cared for. The Prodigal Son remembered how well he had it home. He remembered how much his father loved him. He remembered that the servants in his father’s home were better off than he was there. He now missed it. He desired those things he used to have. He thought to himself, “I will go back home, and ask for my father’s forgiveness. Perhaps he has mercy on me, and let me be as one of the servants.” Without the hardship the prodigal child would have never learned his lesson. He learned to appreciate what he had before: his father’s love and care. He learned first hand the old adage that goes, “No one knows what they have until they lose it.” Ultimately, The Prodigal Child learned he could trust and depend on his father.

It seems that God put Gomer in a similar situation. We know that after marrying Hosea she went back to her sinful life. And, it seemed that at first she profited immensely. But, God had plans to bring her back. Let us read in Hosea chapter two what God did. In verse three God says he would, “strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.” God adds in verse 6 and 7, “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them…” God continues with His plan on verses 8 through 12,

Hosea 2:8 For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.
Hosea 2:9 Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.
Hosea 2:10 And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand.
Hosea 2:11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.
Hosea 2:12 And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them.

In the end “shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now” Hosea 2:7. God made it hard for her to succeed in her life of harlotry. She had to admit that she was better off with Hosea. She recognized Hosea truly loved her, since after all she did to him, Hosea bought her back and brought her back to him. Word is she stayed with him for the rest of her life. She learned she could trust and depend on her God given husband. Furthermore, she learned could trust and depend on God.

Just as the prodigal son, without the hardship she would have never recognized how good she had it before. She knew not what she had until she lost it. Just like the prodigal child, she learned that her own efforts were not enough to give her what only God could.
The Apostle Paul learned this lesson well. He believed it is better to be with God regardless of the tribulation than, not be with God at all. He knew that without the hardship, He would have never experienced God’s goodness. Yes, it would have been easy for Paul to doubt God’s providence when trials and persecution continued after His conversion. But, Paul understood that God had a purpose for the trial. As we read in 2 Corinthians 8-9,

2 Corinthians 1:8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
2 Corinthians 1:9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:

Paul still saw God’s love and mercy in all things he went through. It seems he could not fathom not having that in his life.

Can the same be said of us? Without the hardship God puts us through we will not know and experience the goodness and mercy of God. The heat of trials and tribulation is God’s way of showing He cares for us. It is His way of disciplining us. We may not understand His providences now, but as Paul says, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God…”” For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 4:5, 1 Corinthians 13:12). In time we will see that the hardship God put us through was the best that could ever happen.