June 29 Esight, 2008

“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” —Psalm 119:32 NIVWhat does it mean to run? What does it meant to have had your heart set free?

The answer to these questions lies in the nature of the path which David states he runs in. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul states, “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love . . .’”(Romans 13:9) Each and every command given us from the God of this universe is based upon one principle and one principle only—Love! (Matthew 22:40) It’s the path of God’s self-abandoning, other-centered, selfless love that David has been set free to run in. Selfless love. Ponder that. How is one set free to live, move, and breathe in the other-centered love of God?

David stated that it was his heart that was set free. This is more than mere mental assent to a list of doctrinal facts. It is more than the submission of the will to a series of behavioral expectations. His heart was set free! Did you catch that? David had an encounter with something lasting, deep, life-altering, and converting that had radically changed him from the inside out! What is it that does this to a person and how do we experience it?

This quite possibly might be the most important question a soul can ask. It is this experience that the Bible calls Salvation. Paul again states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.” (Romans 1:16) It’s the gospel! The gospel is what accomplishes in us this change. It’s in the gospel the we truly begin to See. It is in the gospel that we encounter a love from God as our hearts have never tasted. (1 John 4:7,8) Would you like this experience dear reader? Do you, like David, desire for your heart to be set free so that you can run in the wide expanse of the love upon which everything in His kingdom is based? Take some time this week to “turn your eyes upon Jesus,” my friend. Look to the Gospel for it is there that we are able to look into His eyes and catch a glimpse of His imploring gaze.

May the things of this world “grow strangely dim.”

I wish you God’s best this week.

June 22 Esight, 2008

“Love is patient, love is kind . . . it does not seek its own.” —1 Corinthians 13:4-5I would like to ask you a very serious question this week and I would like you to ponder it honestly. If there were no heaven to gain or hell to shun, would you still be a Christian? If there were no eternity, just this life and this life only, would you still be a friend of God?

This question is well worth considering because its very heart reveals our innermost motives for why we do what we do. For many, we want to be saved. We want to live forever! But Jesus very clearly stated, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it” (Matthew 16:25). This is alarming to many, as their primary motive for serving God is to “save their life.” Yet, is this really the low level of relationship God intended for us?

First, serving God simply for what we get out of it is very egocentric. Serving God because one does not want to go to hell and die is not conversion, it’s self-preservation. Conversion is where a person’s center changes from themselves to others. With conversion the self dies, without the contingency of immortality.

Second, to paint God as a being who manipulates people through fear of punishment or hope of reward is sick. I’m not saying there is no heaven or hell, but is God holding these up before us to force us into behavioral conformity, or is He holding up His love seeking to win us at a deep heart level to friendship with Him, the Lover of our souls? Meditate on this statement. What does it mean to you?

“The exercise of force [manipulation] is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened.” (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 22)

Hear me. Our God lived for us when He thought there was no heaven in it for Him.

“I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, forsaken among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more….” (Psalm 88:4-5, emphasis added.)

“But now with the terrible weight of guilt He bears, He cannot see the Father’s reconciling face . . . Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal.” (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 753, emphasis added.)

Doesn’t He deserve to have you live for Him even if there was no heaven in it for you? God is so beautiful, so self-abandoning, so other-centered, and so selfless that even if we were to get nothing out of this in return for ourselves, He is simply worthy of being loved the way He loves us!

Would you like to enter into a friendship with God based on these principles, rather than just the egocentricity of what’s in it for you? We have been told what is needed to attain this friendship.

“Love is the basis of godliness . . . But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love . . . what is needed is the love of Christ in the heart.” (Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 384)

We need to know the love that Christ has for us in His heart. Before we can have God in our hearts, we must know, believe, and feel that we are in the heart of God. Then, and only then, will love, by love, be awakened. Only then will love truly become the compelling power in our friendship with this being called God. This is why Paul so desperately prayed that “with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”(Ephesians 3:18-19, The Message) For “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Only then will we be able to say with all sincerity, “The love of Christ constrains us . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

I wish you God’s best this week.

June 15 Esight, 2008

This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.”—Jeremiah 31:15I would like to ask you to pray for some very dear friends of mine who, just this week, lost their ten year old son. I have found that it is important to ask the right questions, in times like these, rather than those which culturally plague us as Christians.

Loss is always hard. There are no words that can comfort when a loved one is “taken” as some say. But there’s something inapt about the word “taken.” We use it so flippantly, especially here in the South. Taken by whom? For what reason were they taken? If you are on this end of the loss, what reason could possibly be good enough? These are the questions we ask when we lose someone we love. These words are especially hard when that person is your child. Parents were not meant to bury their children.

God does not take children. He does not have a higher purpose for such a thing. My God gave up His own child for me. He does not need mine for Himself, yet this is what we feel. “God why did you . . .? ” are the words that roll so easily off our tongues. Even still, “God why didn’t you . . .?” So, what is God’s role when “death, like a gypsy, comes to steal the ones we love?” We read that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:9-11) This is not the activity of our God.

To be honest, the answer is not as simple as we would like it to be. We are living in a world where thousands of millions of free moral decisions have been being made for thousands of years. Those free decisions have set in motion chains of events that are now intersecting with other chains of events that are undoubtedly too complex for us to understand. What I do know, nevertheless, is that God is not up there like the Wizard of Oz pulling levers and pushing buttons to make things happen. Rather, many times, it’s these free decisions that tie God’s hands. Our free will, which He respects infinitely, sometimes gets in the way of His will. Because God grants freedom, there is now an environment created where, at times, even God doesn’t get His way.

What ties His hands? Why does it often feel so arbitrary? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that one day God will pull back the veil and show us, not why He didn’t, but why He couldn’t. The role God is playing is of One who is doing everything possible to prevent and stop as much suffering as we are setting in motion. “Time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) I know this does not comfort our heart, but it does bring not to be blaming God when we need Him the most.

Unfortunately, we cannot be assured that we will never encounter loss, that nothing will ever break our hearts, or that no circumstance will ever wound our innermost soul. That which we hold dear may, in fact, be taken. But God does not do this. God did not create the type of world in which we are living today . . . we did. Yet, even in the midst of this chaos, God does promise four things: First, nothing pierces our hearts that does not also pierce His. It is not simply our wills that are being violated, but His own will as well. Second, He will make an absolute end of all this disarray. One day, we will feel His soft, but strong, hand wiping against our tear stained cheek. Third, He will make such an end that we can be assured that this pain will never surface again in this universe. This chaos will not be repeated. Finally, nothing will happen to us that is larger than what God’s grace can pull us through. Much more, good will be brought out of these incidences in spite of the harm that we have suffered.

We can know that whatever breaks our hearts can also, by God’s grace, become a source of some of the greatest blessings in our lives. Nonetheless, God doesn’t allow these things in order to bless us. God does not need evil to do good. Still, God can come after the fact and, by the miracle of His grace, bring great good out of our deepest pain. For that, at the very least, we can be thankful. We needn’t be thankful for the events that break our hearts, but thankful for the grace of a God whose heart is so much larger, whose arms are so much stronger, whose chest is so much broader than anything that could possibly enter in to touch us with pain.

I close this week’s thoughts with the words of a song that I have found to be a source of consolation and reassurance in my own times of loss.

“You have led me to the sadness, I have carried this pain on a back bruised, nearly broken, I’m crying out to You.

I will sing of Your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy.

When death, like a gypsy, comes to steal what I love, I will still look to the heavens, I will still seek your face.

But I fear you aren’t listening because there are no words. Just the stillness and the hunger for a faith that assures.

I will sing of Your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy.

While we wait for rescue with our eyes tightly shut. Face to the ground using our hands to cover the fatal cut.

Though the pain is an ocean tossing us around, around, around. You have calmed greater waters, higher mountains have come down.

I will sing of Your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy.”

(Aaron Sands, Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Mason,and Matt Odmark)

I wish you God’s best this week. Please pray for my dear friends.

June 9 Esight, 2008

“For you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14I received an email recently from a friend of mine in Australia. He was excited about a study that he had just finished on God’s wrath. His conclusions were truly moving and they reminded me of some of the very same conclusions I had come to a few years ago. I had been puzzled about the Bible’s use of the word “Jealousy” as it pertains to God. My quandary went as follows:

John states that “God is love.”(I John 4:8) Paul states that “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous.”(1 Corinthians 13:4) Yet, Moses states that God “is a jealous God.”(Exodus 34:14) How are we to make sense out of this apparent contradiction? God is love, love isn’t jealous, God is jealous. Hmmm . . . Interesting.

Our first clue is found in Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth. He wrote to them, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.” (2 Corinthians 11:2)

Is there a “godly jealousy” that is the very expression of love and an “ungodly jealousy” of which God would never claim to be? There must be! Again, Paul says in his letter to the Galatian believers, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality. . . jealousy. . . things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21, emphasis added)

So, what is the difference between godly and ungodly jealousy? James gives us another hint: “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” (James 3:14-16, emphasis added)

The difference between the two is simple. One is based on complete, unabbreviated, other-centered concern for the highest welfare of its object. The other is rooted in the self-centered concern for one’s personal loss. In the Hebrew, jealousy can express a very strong emotion whereby some quality or possession for the object is desired by the subject. (Brown Driver Briggs).

Could it be that a soul truly finds its greatest joy and happiness when that soul is loving Him who is Love? If so, then would God have an other-centered motive for being jealous of His competition?

Why is God jealous? Because it’s all about you, dear one. He wants what’s best for you. He knows that the things which your heart may long for above Him are truly self-destructive and will only hurt you. He who sins against God “injures himself.” (Proverbs 8:36) It is not for His sake that He cries out in wrath against His competition, but for yours. He will suffer nothing to hurt the apple of His eye. Your well-being, not His own, is His supreme concern and passion. His jealousy is absolute, yet completely and perfectly other-centered.

This may be hard for us to grasp since the only jealousy we know is that which springs from our own self-centered hearts. God cries out, however, not out of fear of His own personal loss, but because He is jealous for you. I don’t know about you . . . but there have been plenty of times in my life where I needed a God who cares for me more than I have cared for myself.

I wish you God’s best this week.

“Jehovah as a mighty one goeth forth. As a man of war He is jealous, He crieth, yea, He shrieketh, against His enemies He showeth Himself mighty.” (Isaiah 42:13)

June 1 Esight, 2008

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.— Psalm 51:12There are three words that I would like you to ponder this week: Restoration, Joy and Salvation.

The word Restore is defined as “to bring something back to an earlier and better condition, to return somebody to a previously held rank, office, or position, to reestablish or put back something that was once but is no longer there.”

I believe in a God who is a restorer. I know a God who can take things I’ve messed up and bring healing and restoration. Have you ever found yourself in need of such a God? There’s a statement which brings me much hope:

“Nothing is so entangled that it cannot be remedied; no human relationship is too strained for God to bring about reconciliation and understanding; no habit is so deep rooted that it cannot be overcome. No one is so weak that he cannot be strong; no one is so ill that he cannot be healed. No mind is so dull that it cannot be made brilliant. . If anything is causing worry or anxiety, let us stop rehearsing the difficulty and trust God for healing, love, and power.” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, October 7 1865)

The second word, Joy, is what I believe God wants to restore us to. Look back in your memory to an event in your life where you wished, with all your heart, that you could make time stand still in order for that moment to last forever. Was it a moment of joy, accomplishment, or maybe even love? Whatever it was, it resonated within your heart in such a way as to make a lasting impression. For, in this event, there was an echo of what God had intended for you from the beginning. He is still offering that to you today. When you’ve found it, you won’t have to wish time would stand still. You’ll have an eternity of time to bask in its joy.

The final word is Salvation. All of us have “made a fine mess of things.” We have made mistakes, stupid choices, dumb decisions. We have set in motion chains of events that only God can save us from. I’m glad to be able to say that we serve a God of second chances. My God continues to love me even after I’ve managed to completely mess things up. He runs to me when I cry out for help. I long to learn to love Him the way He loves me.

Would you like these three things more fully this week, dear reader? Restoration, Joy and Salvation? They’re yours for the receiving if you will simply embrace the One in whom these qualities are found.

I wish you God’s best this week . . .