Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Lasting Effects of Sin

Lonely, forgotten, Joseph sat in jail for no reason at all. He had done the right thing -- so why was he here?

His friend, Pharaoh's chief butler, had promised to remember Joseph when the butler was reinstated. But he completely forgot.

How often do we forget to keep promises that we made? I know I do, and there is a terrible feeling of guilt. The butler's words express this sort of guilt when, on Pharaoh's birthday "two full years" later, he introduces the king of Egypt to God's dream interpreter (pun not intended).

"Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, 'I do remember my faults this day: Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the captain of the guard's house, both me and the chief baker: And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged' " (Genesis 41:9-13).

How terrible it is that we so long delay blessings for others' because of forgetfulness and neglect!

Joseph, upon hearing the dream, interprets it precisely, all by God's power. He furthermore gives the Pharaoh suggestions that would combat the approaching famine. The great ruler, impressed by Joseph's wisdom, appoints him to be in charge of the food collection and makes him the second ruler in Egypt.

By his Egyptian wife, Asenath, Joseph fathers two sons, whose names reflect a resurfacing pain in his heart. His firstborn he named Manesseh, which means "causing to forget." His reason? "For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house." In that order: toil in Egypt, all his father's house (namely his cruel half-brothers, much-loved full-brother, and dearly beloved, but deceased mother). What happened to him in Egypt, though unfair, was bearable. But what happened among his own flesh and blood took much longer to overcome and move on from.

Ephraim, meaning "double fruit"; "For," he said, "God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." Why is this a double fruit? Why did he not simply name his second-born Ephrath, "fruitfulness"? Because God had not only helped Joseph to forgive and forget the horrible events of past years, but had also overturned Joseph's situation in making him governor of all Egypt, this was to Joseph a double blessing.

Within a few years, Joseph's brothers came down from Canaan into Egypt to buy food. When they arrived, they were treated with hostility and accused of being spies. The usually amiable Joseph was anything but nice to the ten family men. After suffering a three-day time in ward and being warned not to come into Egypt again without meeting certain requirements, the brothers communed among themselves.
"And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required" (Genesis 42:21-22).
Joseph could hardly hold back tears both here and on other occasions. His cruelty was not of a broken and unforgiven heart, but of a searching one: Have my brothers changed? To hear them express their immense guilt all these years later answered his question in part -- they actually recognized the badness of the deed they had done. It also poked his scars and made him remember the "anguish of his soul."

Seventeen years later, the brothers consulted again. Their father was dead, and they feared that Joseph would finally retaliate for the terrible deed committed decades ago. They petitioned the lord of Egypt to indeed forgive them and gave themselves to be his servants.

Joseph wept. How could they not understand that he had forgiven them long before he saw them again? He spoke kindly to them and tried to reflect on them his immense love and mercy toward them.

That is what sin does to us. On both the criminal and the victim are inflicted wounds that are hard to heal. Guilt eats at us; words and stories trigger awful memories; fear paralyzes us from moving on; doubts create a wedge in regenerating relationships.

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)."* We do not have to be afraid. We do not need to hold on to guilt or doubts. We do not have to be stuck in the past. When Jesus declares, "Behold make all things new," He means it. And we are to have full faith in the assurance of His forgiveness, His love, His grace and mercy, and His strength to overcome past weaknesses -- whether those weaknesses be the propensity to hurt others through wrong doing or the tendency to dwell on past hurts.

"And [God] hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6-7).

"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" (Revelation 3:21).

The effects of sin do not have to last forever.

*Ephesians 2:4-5

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Devil's Playground

"The tarry of Jacob and his sons at Shechem ended in violence and bloodshed. The one daughter of the household had been brought to shame and sorrow, two brothers were involved in the guilt of murder, a whole city had been given to ruin and slaughter, in retaliation for the lawless deed of one rash youth. The beginning that led to results so terrible was the act of Jacob’s daughter, who “went out to see the daughters of the land,” thus venturing into association with the ungodly. He who seeks pleasure among those that fear not God is placing himself on Satan’s ground and inviting his temptations."
--Taken from Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 204

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Add to Your Faith

We are living in the perils of the last days. All heaven is inerested in the characters you are forming. Every provision has been made for you, that you should be a partaker of the divine nature,having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. Man is not left alone to conquer the powers of evil by his own feeble efforts. Help is at hand, and will be given every soul who really desires it. Angels of God, that ascend and descend the ladder that Jacob saw in vision, will help every soul who will climb even to the highest heaven. They are guarding the people of God, and watching how every step is taken. Those who climb the shining way will be rewarded; they will enter into the joy of their Lord.

How completely gratifying is that thought!

As I prepared to "pen" this blog post, I was pondering and praying as to how to start it. I knew what the topic was: Jacob's ladder and the ladder of grace (found in 2 Peter 1:5-7, but vv. 1-12 provide the bigger picture of what that ladder does for us). But how to begin was a question to which I had no answer.

God directed my eyes to a blue book called Messages to Young People, sitting on the bookshelf beside my bed. I hesitated, then recognizing His voice, I proceeded to pick it up and open it, falling to page 39, from which the above quote was taken. Imagine my amazement when the paragraph precisely correlated with what I intended to write about! Happy to know that I was not the only one who came to such a conclusion as Jacob's ladder referencing how Christian character develops, I began to copy the quote...

The beautiful thing about climbing the ladder of Chistian perfection is that it is not in our own strength at all. While we are to "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling", we are assured that "it is God which worketh in you, both to will an to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

In fact, the first rung of the ladder of grace is faith, which is graciously bestowed to us through the righteousness of God and through our Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).

The next rung, virtue or right-doing, is also dependent on the power of God alone. Paul shows us this in Ephesians 2:10 when he says that God prevously odaned the good works which He wanted us to walk in. If God planned it, He will make provision for it to become reality.

The third rung is knowledge, for in order for us to do right, we need to know right and thus grow in our right-doing. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth." On this rung also, God is needed.

The rung that follows is temperance. In Ephesians 5, Paul admonishes those who believe to "be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Ghost." Again, it is not my abstinence that keeps me temperate: it is the power of the Holy Ghost.

The fifth rung, patience, can only be attained to when I am fully strengthened with the might of His glorious power (Colossians 1:11).

The sixth rung is godliness. To the Corinthians the apostle wrote, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. My work is to look; God's work is to transform me by His Spirit.

The seventh rung is brotherly kindness. In the context of Philippians 2:1-4, verse five's admonition to have the mind of Christ is speaking of this brotherly kindness. "Let each esteem other better than themselves" (v. 3). But Paul does not just tell me to be like Jesus: he tells me to have Jesus in me.

The final rung of the ladder of grace is love. God is love, and he who loves must abide in God (1 John 4:8, 16). Shifting back to Jacob's dream, who is at the top of that ladder? God Himself; and from that top rung, He gives the promise of inheritance (Genesis 28:13-14). Notice 2 Peter 1:10-11...
"...Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
Yet even here, God never gives the idea that we are on our own, that it is our strength or power which will help us to attain. To Jacob He said, "And, behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither tho goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of" (Genesis 28:15).

And to this generation God says, "...He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

Be confident of this very thing, and add to your faith.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ultimate Love - Pictures of Jesus

On a hill long ago, Someone died for doing nothing at all. In being obedient to his Father's will, He showed His Father's love.

And thousands of years before His arrival to our dying planet, God painted a picture of what that love would look like. You see, His Son would become flesh and dwell as Deity among humanity. But the Father -- His losses would be less tangible in the eyes of His creation. So rather than using reams of paper and additional doctrinal points to show us His side of the sacrifice, He gave us a story.

Abraham was another father; Isaac another son. The mother in this story is distant, almost nonexistent. There was another mountain far away from their home. It was a new place. There was another pile of wood, another willing son tied to it; another group of two men on the same journey, yet not called to the same fate. There were another father's tears; another son's prayers; another story of love and self-sacrifice.

And it started in the beginning*... "...the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. ..." (Rev. 13:8).

The following analogies are based on Genesis 22.

Verse 2
"Thine only son:" In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9). See also Hebrews 11:17.

"Take now thy son, ... whom thou lovest:" This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Mathew 3:17).

"Get thee into...:" And the Word ... dwelt among us... (John 1:14).

"For a burnt offering:" ...He offered up Himself (Hebrews 7:27).

"One of the mountains I shall tell thee of:" The mountain on which Christ died (Calvary) is not named until the Gospels.

Verse 3
"Rose early in the morning:" And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed (Mark 1:35).

"Saddled his ass:" Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zechariah 9:9).

"And took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son:" And there were also two other ... led with Him to be put to death (Luke 23:32). The modifying phrase "to be put to death" can apply to either the "two other" or to "Him." In context, both "the two other" and "Him" are punished with death. But in this analogy, we may say "Him to be put to death" (or "the One to be put to death").

"The wood for the burnt offering:" And He bearing His cross... (John 19:17).

"Rose up, and went unto the place of which God has told him:" ...The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11).

Verse 5
"Abide ye here ... and I and the lad will ... come again unto you:" But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee (Matthew 26:32).

Verse 6
"And laid it on Isaac his son:" And He bearing His cross... (John 19:17).

"And he took the fire:" Our God is a consuming fire... (Hebrews 12:29).

"And a knife:" Who whet their tongues like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: that they may shoot in secret at the perfect... (Psalm 64:3-4).

Verse 7
"Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father:" My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Psalm 22:1).

"God will provide Himself a lamb:" Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh the sins of the world! (John 1:29).

Verse 9
"And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order,and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar:" He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

Verse 10
"And Abraham stretched forth his hand ... to slay his son:" For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

Verse 13
"Ram caught in a thicket:" They platted a crown of thorns... (Matthew 27:27).

"In the stead of his son:"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:28).

*Genesis is the Greek word for "nativity."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Jacob, Esau, and the Birthright

 This is a little devotional thought that I gave during a kid's cooking school at our church this past summer (2013). It is based on the story in found in Genesis 25 & 27 of Jacob's deception and Esau's birthright. Feel free to share this story with the younger members of the family of God.

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.

31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.

32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?

33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.

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.
(Genesis 25:30-34)
How many of us have said a lie before? How many have cheated on a test? Was it right or wrong? What does God think of lying?
Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are His delight. (Proverbs 12:22)
God hates lies. We must not lie. The word “abomination” means “anything greatly disliked”, “something that is immoral, disgusting, or shameful”.

Why does God feel so strongly against lying? It is because Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He brought sadness to heaven because he lied to all the angels and cause one-third of them to distrust Jesus. He brought sin and wickedness to this world because he lied to Eve (Genesis 3). And he lies to us today! The enemy tells us that if we cheat on our test, that no one will know. But God knows. The enemy lies and tells us that if we steal a cookie, no one will see. But God says, “Be sure your sins will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

When we listen to the Devil’s lies, we are not trusting Jesus. And when we lie, it reminds Jesus of the awful war in heaven, and we make Him sad (Revelation 12). Jesus hates lying because it is the reason for sin on this earth. We want to only make Jesus happy; so let us only say and hear truth.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Do I Trust Him?

She would not leave her possessions. She had heard the angel's instructions; but as she observed her husband's hesitation, she dwelt on her own doubts. Her heart clung to Sodom, and the thought of leaving behind all she loved was too much. So she looked back...

He had stepped out in faith. Yes, he had doubted along the way, but as he saw the fulfillment of divine promises, he was learning to love and trust God more. But, there was only one thing he did not yet trust Providence to take care of -- her. She was the apple of his eye, the joy of his life. She was a beauty, and he knew that other guys would think so too. Please, Beulah*, he said, if you love me, just please call me your brother. He would rather lose her than lose his life...

Relief flooded over him as he reached the promised haven. As he entered the city, he turned to see the intense firestorm raining about six miles behind him. Heaven's judgment had come. He noticed his two daughters in the city with him, but his wife was not. Whether he knew of her monumental death on the path to safety is unclear. But as moment of wavering flashed back in his mind, he was overcome with remorse. Running to the mountains for fear of the destruction happening all around him, he wondered why he had not done this when God had first spoken...

Whisked away to the king's palace - twice! Why do I do this for him? Does he even love me? Would God hear her after she had willingly put herself in a dangerous situation? Would God still accept her as the mother of the promised one? Lord, please do something. Please get me out of this mess I have made. 

And so the Lord sent a dream...


How often am I like Abraham or Lot or Sarah or Lot's wife? How many time do I retract my faith and take matters into my own hands despite the fact that God is faithful? How often do I use other people's doubts as an excuse for my own? How many people use my doubts as an excuse? Do I lead others astray by questioning? Do I jeopardize lives - physical or spiritual - to satisfy another person's faithlessness?

Oh, that I would learn to trust in God in all ways, at all times, and in full faith! He has plans for me which are abundantly above what I could ever ask or think! Imagine if I fully gave my life to Him -- in choices for school, courtship and marriage, friendships, occupation, residence, personal finances. All of the "little things:" for he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much (Luke 15:10). Imagine what God is willing to bless me with if I do according to His will. :-)

Do you trust Him?

The following is a beautiful song entitled "Do You Trust in Me?" by my friend Tiana Oliver (voice and guitar).

 *Beulah means "married."

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Rainbow

God is a keeper of His word. What He say, He will do. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness" (2 Peter 3:9).

To Noah and his sons the promise was made that never again would the earth be destroyed by water. As a token of that vow, God said, "I do set My bow in the clouds..."

His bow?

In the Revelation, at the beginning of chapter 4, John relates this scene:
"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald" (verses 1-3).
No matter how bad the rain gets, God will never destroy the entire world with a flood. Every time I see clouds, I should by faith look for a rainbow. If I can't see it, someone can. And even when there are no clouds in the sky and not a drop of rain is falling, I can be assured that God will keep His promise: for a rainbow surrounds His throne.

This promise stands true even during life's storms. No matter how dreary the day; no matter how heavy your sorrow; no matter how imperfect you are; no matter how much of your life is crashing in on you -- it will never get so bad as to swallow you up; for a rainbow surrounds God's throne.
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Look by faith into heaven, and see the rainbow around the Father's throne. 

For He is faithful.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

By His Blood

"By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts: and through it he being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4).

Since the earliest years of this earth's history, the blood of martyr's has been the seed that spreads the truth of God's character and influences the living to trust in Him. 

Abel was a steadfast adherent to the will of God. More than anything else, he wished to exalt his Maker as the Supreme One, as the Master of all that is. By sacrificing one of his choice lambs for a burnt offering to the Lord, this younger son of Adam was looking ahead to both the Father's immense pain in separating from His Son in a gift to the world; and Jesus' immeasurable sacrifice. 

Though an imperfect reflection, it was indeed "a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." It was heart service. Abel believed in his heart that a Messiah would come and save the human race. And by this faith, he proved was what in his heart -- righteousness.

Yet for this righteousness, for this full belief in God and His gospel, for this distrust in self, Abel was slain. Through jealousy and broken pride was this deed done. But "he being dead yet speaketh."

How, since the dead know not anything? By his blood. Coming to the murderer, the Lord said, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground."

Every drop of blood slain for the great cause speak in favor of the blood of Jesus Christ. He was the greatest martyr; and every casualty of the cross following His will be a witness to that sacrifice and what it bought for mankind.

In apostolic days...
"In the providence of God, Peter was permitted to close his ministry in Rome, where his imprisonment was ordered by the emperor Nero about the time of Paul’s final arrest. Thus the two veteran apostles, who for many years had been widely separated in their labors, were to bear their last witness for Christ in the world’s metropolis, and upon its soil to shed their blood as the seed of a vast harvest of saints and martyrs."*
...and in the days of the Reformation.
"The work of these missionaries began in the plains and valleys at the foot of their own mountains, but it extended far beyond these limits. With naked feet and in garments coarse and travel-stained as were those of their Master, they passed through great cities and penetrated to distant lands. Everywhere they scattered the precious seed. Churches sprang up in their path, and the blood of martyrs witnessed for the truth. The day of God will reveal a rich harvest of souls garnered by the labors of these faithful men. Veiled and silent, the word of God was making its way through Christendom and meeting a glad reception in the homes and hearts of men."**
But as the time approaches that Jesus should come, the blood of martyrs will no longer bear fruit unto righteousness. Every case would be decided; every soul would have made his choice. It will be too late. The voice of martyr's blood will cease their crying, and those who have made their choice against the truth will be without hope. Then, God's people will be spared from the sword.
"The eye of God, looking down the ages, was fixed upon the crisis which His people are to meet, when earthly powers shall be arrayed against them. Like the captive exile, they will be in fear of death by starvation or by violence. But the Holy One who divided the Red Sea before Israel, will manifest His mighty power and turn their captivity. 'They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.' Malachi 3:17. If the blood of Christ’s faithful witnesses were shed at this time, it would not, like the blood of the martyrs, be as seed sown to yield a harvest for God. Their fidelity would not be a testimony to convince others of the truth; for the obdurate heart has beaten back the waves of mercy until they return no more. If the righteous were now left to fall a prey to their enemies, it would be a triumph for the prince of darkness. Says the psalmist: 'In the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me.' Psalm 27:5. Christ has spoken: 'Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.' Isaiah 26:20, 21. Glorious will be the deliverance of those who have patiently waited for His coming and whose names are written in the book of life."***

 *Excerpt from Acts of the Apostles, p. 537
**Excerpt from The Great Controversy, p. 71
***Excerpt from The Great Controversy, p. 634