Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Saw Barabbas

It's before daybreak. I twist open the backdoor handle. Slip into the crisp, cool air. With Bible in hand, I tiptoe across to the table. Quietly, pull out a chair. Kneel on it. (Sitting on one's feet when cold, helps!) After prayer, I open up to Isaiah. Where I'm up to in my quest to read through the Bible again. Isaiah 53. I'm amazed yet again, but freshly, how unlike human nature it is to be silent when blamed for something you are not guilty of! My selfish nature cries out to defend, justify myself when in the right. Yet He didn't!

The blazing, ball of fire emerges over the horizon. Right in my face. I finish up writing in my journal. The warm rays beckon me to activity. I stick the bookmark in Isaiah in the correct chapter. Close and clasp the Book between my fingers, open to Acts now. I abandon the chair and head down the back steps towards the driveway.

I begin by reciting audibly, what I have memorised. I get to chapter 3, verse 14. "But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired that a murderer be granted unto you."

I picture the scene. The deafening crowd shouting "Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!" in answer to Pilate's question of whom to release. I wonder. What possessed them to make such an irrational choice?! Would it be the same if the scene were to take place again? I shake my head. I don't know whether it would happen today the same way. But, I'm sure I'd never be in that shouting, crazed crowd.

I go on to recite the following, already-memorised chapters, and memorise the day's portion. I get very warm after walking around back and forth so many times. I head back to the house to shed a few layers. To finish off my devotions and join the family in having breakfast.
Evening comes... as does milking time. In the cool, clear air, thoughts resurface. Would I pick Jesus today, instead of Barabbas? I find myself seeing the scenario playing out in a similar way in my everday life. What if every choice I make, is that choice replayed? No way! Surely not! I wonder, horrified at the thought. How would I be choosing between them in the little things? Then, I see it. Early in the morning, when I wake up, it's Christ, calling me to spend time with Him. Or there is Barabbas who is worse than me, making me feel pretty good. He will not bother me in my extra sleep. Which choice? If I choose Christ, I have to be different from the crowd.

I see that choice again in my use of time. In my choice of entertainment and recreation. What if
I did go with the majority? Watched all those movies, read all those books...? Do I want my
choices to scream out, "Barabbas, I'll have Barabbas!"?

The Holy One and the Just remains. Motioning for me to take up my cross, and follow Him. Accept suffering, embarassment, and a life out of pace with this [crazed] world. To stand apart from them. Not conformed to them, but transformed, re-created by Him.

Hating evil. Not putting it before my eyes. Seeking Him in those times instead.

Again, I see the two side by side. There is Jesus, innocent, God-like; on trial like a common criminal. There is Barabbas. Hatred gleams in his eyes. Guilt is stamped on his face. Fiercesome to look at. He's been in prison for killing. He's not sorry. Humanity is that crowd. Why aren't we repulsed by Barabbas? Why? Why can the evil seem so attractive?

I saw Barabbas today. So I chose Jesus.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Heart of Stone or A Heart of Flesh

It frightened me, as the cutting words so thoughtlessly slipped off my tongue yet again. How could I be so un-caring? How could I be so cold and hard hearted? I thought of the many other things I had done to wound and hurt those I loved so dearly; I thought of how I'd slowly lost interest in reaching out to others in love and service and how cold my heart had really become and it cut to my soul. "Why Lord, why?" I cried. This is not what I wanted at all! I was shocked at how far I'd come and how easy it had become for me...

I knew my words and actions were hurting people and yet, I felt my heart getting harder and colder and more uncaring of others feelings. I didn't want that; I didn't want my heart to become as hard as stone but I didn't know what to do. I felt helpless.

I know when it first started - when I chose not to care about something I needed to care about. I didn't want my heart to hurt and I thought that it wouldn't hurt if I didn't care so I refused to care. I refused to allow myself to cry and I refused to even entertain the thought that I could possibly care. At that moment, something happened in my heart and I knew it. I should have gotten on my knees and asked forgiveness. I should have prayed for the tenderness of my heart to be restored, and for strength to endure but I didn't. That was one of the worst choices I ever made.

As time passed, I know God was working in my heart and no, I wasn't perfect but then things began to happen in rapid succession. I had allowed little things to affect me, and allowed little bits of bitterness to rise up in my heart against wrongs. It began to come out of me in hurtful words and actions at the slightest indication of hurt or a crossing of my will. It was like a wall I was trying to put up to protect my heart and to protect my independence but hurting others as well as myself in the process. It was a wall of uncaring, of hardness and coldness that seemed to strengthen in each passing day. I was shocked at the words coming out of my mouth; I was shocked at my heartlessness and I was shocked at how cold and stony my heart had become and was becoming. It frightened me. I didn't want this! I wanted to be kind and caring. I wanted my heart to be soft and tender. I wanted to serve and bring joy and love to others but what I wanted was not what I was living out in my life. "Why Lord, Why?" I cried. I had tried so hard to change - to be what I wanted to be but I couldn't on my own. My heart was heavy... I shared what I could of the longings of my heart with the Lord.

One morning I read this quote in my morning devotions:
 "The soil of the heart, like that of a garden, will produce weeds and brambles unless the seeds of precious flowers are planted there and receive care and cultivation."  ~ Ellen White.
I had to ponder that one for awhile. I thought of the different steps to planting, and one of the first is to break up or till the soil and uproot the weeds. Jeremiah 4:3 says: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not  among thorns.” I wondered what it really meant to break up the fallow ground in my heart and how that was to be accomplished. I read Hosea 10:12 "..break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD.." and another quote by Ellen White: "The garden of the heart must be cultivated. The soil must be broken up by deep repentance for sin." I had the answer. Truly seeking the Lord with my whole heart, and repentance for my sins was how I was to break up the soil of my heart. Uprooting the weeds of my heart go hand in hand with repentance for true repentance is really a surrendering, or giving up of sins. I read a few promises and especially the following and marveled at the power and goodness of God.  “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 God promises to take my stony heart if I'm willing to give it up and give me a soft heart - a heart of flesh! That is an amazing promise for an amazing work.

Once the soil of my heart is prepared, what are the seeds of 'precious flowers' to be planted? Put simply - Christ-likeness. Just as I would water and fertilize the seeds in a real garden, I must water and fertilize the seeds/plants of Christ-likeness in my character with the water and bread of life. I can do that by communion with God through prayer and His word and by beholding Christ, for by beholding we become changed.

As the garden needs cultivation and care, the garden of my heart needs cultivation as well. It needs watching lest a little weed of sin be permitted to grow and spread and take over the whole heart. I must watch for the little compromise to conviction and principle, the little unkind word in joking and jesting, the little grudge, the little seed of bitterness, the seed of selfishness etc. lest these 'little' seeds grow and take over and choke the good seeds of Christ-likeness, for it's not always or only the big dramatic compromises, actions, or sins that ruin. It is not always or only the big dramatic trials, heartaches in life that change the heart and that can make it cold and stony, but also the very little ones and the constant dwelling on them which makes them appear like huge mountains when in reality they are but a golf ball  in comparison to Mt. Everest.

The trials and the heartaches of life don't have to make our hearts hard, cold and stony but can make us more tender, and more understanding of others if we allow our Saviour to work in us. He will give comfort, healing and grace. He will be our courage when we are fearful. He will be our strength when we are weak. He will be our all in all to us - our complete.

“The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me...” Psalms 138:8

What a wonderful God and Saviour we serve!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is Your All on the Altar?

"Don't forget you have special music today" she said.

"No, not today, I don't!" I exclaimed.

"Yes, remember? The weeks were switched."

Oh yeah, she was right and so shortly thereafter I found my self seated at the piano to practice. I opened the hymnal.

You have longed for sweet peace,
And for faith to increase,
And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest,
Or be perfectly blest,
Until all on the altar is laid.

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest,
And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.

Would you walk with the Lord,
In the light of His Word,
And have peace and contentment alway?
You must do His sweet will,
To be free from all ill,
On the altar your all you must lay...

The words to that song, touched my heart. I'm sure we've all had times when we've prayed, when we've sought, when we've yearned and longed for peace and rest, and victory. To feel Jesus near and to know that we have his sweet smile. Yet we seem so far - so out of reach of divinity. No doubt, I have felt this way. I've asked "Why? Why Lord? Why do I feel so far away from you? Haven't I prayed, read my Bible, attended prayer meeting, church, bible studies, etc...? What is going wrong?"

The answer comes: "Is your all on the altar? Have you given your all to the Lord?"

I can't expect God to give me peace, or do for me what He longs to do if I don't give him my whole heart. It's kind of like telling someone to make bread and only giving them flour and salt. They can mix it and stir it and even put it in a pan and bake it in the oven, however, without any liquid, what do they end up with? Just a white or brown powder that's far from being anything even like bread. You have to have all the ingredients to make bread, not just a portion.

The answer is simple: “No servant can serve two masters...Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Luke 16:13

God can't give me a new heart, if I don't give him the old.

He can't give me peace, if I don't give him my cherished idle (sins, dreams, plans, rights, or whatever it may be. It's an idle if I love it to much to give up.).

He can't give me freedom, if I won't leave my prison.

He can't be near to me, if I don't first remove the walls of doubt and unbelief in his promises.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” James 4:8 There is no room for double mindedness, or lukewarmness in my spiritual walk. Either I am wholly the Lords or I'm wholly not. As the rest of the song goes...

O we never can know
What the Lord will bestow
Of the blessings for which we have prayed,
Till our body and soul
He doth fully control,
And our all on the altar is laid.

Who can tell all the love
He will send from above,
And how happy our hearts will be made,
Of the fellowship sweet
We shall share at His feet,
When our all on the altar is laid.
~ Elisah A Hoffman

Have you, have I yielded our whole hearts, our desires, our dreams, our all to the Lord? If you are afraid you will lose too much, look at what God says:

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over...”  “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” 
~Luke 6:38, Psalms 37:4

If we give God our whole hearts He will give us strength and victory. If we believe in His promises, we will have peace. If we seek God where He may be found, He will draw nigh to us. If we give God our dreams, and our desires and delight in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. If we ask God to make us willing to be made willing, He will work in our hearts and give us the strength.

Oh, let us remember, what we give God will not compare to all that He will give to us in return. It will be more than we can fathom. God loves you and me and He longs to do so much for us, if only we will accept the conditions.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

God and Your Behavior

My post, "War" began an interesting comment discussion. Reading these always sparks new thoughts for me. Seeing other people's worldviews has been educational. Before, "different" doctrines and ideas seemed very un-important. That changed when a friend brought up a topic that I'd never heard of before.
"God doesn't love everybody," he informed me.
I was shocked! "What about John 3:16?"
Thus began a debate about God. He lent me a book on this idealogy. I decided to read the Bible the whole way through again, and this time keep my eyes open for clues on "what is the real relationship between God and humanity?"

I learned a lot. I still am. But what I've noticed since, is an intriguing connection between our perception of God, and our behavior. Crazy? Not really. It's pretty consistent.

I don't like to step on toes. But here's what I've observed.

There was a nun. As in most denominations, views on God differ. Some believe that we earn our way to heaven by sufferings. These we are to "offer up to god". Behind the fairy tales about this woman, is a different story that most don't know. One that doesn't make sense. Yet does. Those that were in terrible suffering, she left that way, as she believed they then would be saved. She sent all her money to the man she admired most, instead of using it to relieve the suffering she was in contact with. This un-heard story sounds strange. But she was just following her worldview.

Still another view of god. He is a god that planned from the birth of this world, who would be saved - and who wouldn't. Nothing can happen or has happened, that he did not plan to happen, from the start. Only to these random, special ones who are chosen, does this god love and offer salvation. And nothing they do, from the littlest lie to a murder, can change their guarantee to heaven. It all hinges on whether you feel like you're one of those elect. You can't know for sure. But, hoping is the best way to look at it. The others... well, god does not offer them salvation, but um, they like darkness anyway, so god punishes them for that. These cannot do anything to be saved and everything that they do, god planned that they should. This makes Him the most murderous, tyrannical being in the universe. I mean -- every genocide, and act of a serial killer, he planned. Children from families who believe in this god, often reject him. Those that don't - well, they're another story. And I can understand. If that was really the case, I would be very proud. I mean - special me! I'm saved and I can do whatever I want. Whatever you do however, you cannot escape destruction.

Another god, is an indulgent Santa Claus. He will give you anything you want, whether or not it is good for you. This god takes all to heaven. Even though many would be terribly miserable in that pure world above. With this god, your good outweighs your bad. And once you realise that you want god, you are forever secure. Believers in this god, live a careless, wreckless life, for after all their god is too kind to punish them.

There is another god who inspires his adherents to kill 'un-believers', in his name. And if you do, you will be guaranteed immediate entrance to heaven at death. From this belief stems the cause of many suicide bombers and acts of violence.

The character of the individual is highly shaped by their view of God. As He is the highest standard of everything desirable. Reason dicates that one will not be a better person than their highest conception of Good.

Among the confused crowd of these, stands out some. Different from the rest. One of these was George Muller. He personally was responsible for the well-being of ten thousand orphans. Without any charity. There has only been praise for his genuine un-selfishness and kindness in his life. This was a natural outflow from a man that believed in a God of Supreme Love. A God to whom all are equal and precious. He wasn't the only man who lived out a life consisent with the character of a loving God. There was also the apostle Paul. Abraham Lincoln. David Livingstone. And more recently, Brother Andrew. David Gates. Many others too.

As a child, I imagined God to be Someone intimidating, far away, and critical. Such an idea in turn made me very critical of my siblings in their mistakes. But, I don't think that way anymore. As I've taken the challenge, "And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart," (Jeremiah 29:13) I've gotten to know the Father who is the epitome of the world's best daddy. One who truly knows what's best for me, and plans great things for my life. I've gotten to see that He truly "is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works." Psalms 145:7,8

My journey in getting to know God has prompted some personal questions.
Is my behavior Christ-like? If not... am I getting to know the true God?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I was standing at our stall at Agquip while Mum went to get something. Thousands of people streamed through, some of which stopped to talk. One such lady noticed the free Christian literature on the table.
"Ah, so you're a Christian?" she asked.
I smiled, "I sure am!"
"You know," she told me, "I used to be a drug addict. But then I got saved. It is so wonderful being saved."
I agreed. It really is wonderful to have that constant connection with God.
"But, I tell you," she continued, "I've done all sorts of things. If it weren't that I got saved back then, I would be lost now. I'm so thankful for eternal security with my salvation."
A look of shock crossed my face. "Eternal security? What ever do you mean by that?"
She seemed surprised by my ignorance. I really had never heard of it.
"Oh, well, we are covered with Christ's blood, and don't need to worry about how we live. I'm so glad I don't have to worry about that," she exclaimed.
"But, we have to surrender to God every day, not just once!" I countered, still surprised.
She shook her head. "No, I have eternal security."
"But what about a daily walk with God?" I asked confused.
She repeated it all. Mum came back to the stall.
"Oh, we were just discussing homeschooling," the lady told Mum.
Another surprise! When was that?
"I homeschool my two boys," she added.
The two started a warm discussion on the topic.
I was left to think. Think, I did. What ever did she mean by all that? Can one really do whatever they wish, and still be saved? Is it not possible to turn away and lose salvation?
At the end of the long day, Mum and I looked at it in the Bible together. My questions were answered. I forgot about it.

That was four years ago. Not long ago, as I was reading through my Bible I came across an explanation. It stared me in the face -- cleared all doubts.
Ezekial 18:24 "But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die."

That verse was the answer. Yes, God has given us freewill. What does it say in the NT, I wondered? I found more.

"They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away." Luke 8:13

"Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray..." 2 Peter 2:15

I'm convinced. My salvation is still under threat. I do need God's constant power to overcome and abide in Him. I can lose that. But how?

What can seperate us from God's love?
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39
What do all these elements have in common?
They are all external forces.

So then, what is the one thing that can separate us from God?
1 Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1, 2

I see it more clearly now. If we take the beginning and throw out the end of our faith, we are not going to get there. It is not enough to just become a Christian, we must stay a Christian.

"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, wherunto thou art also called, and has professed a good profession before many witnesses." 1 Timothy 6:12.

"...he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Mark 13:13

If we resist the sanctification process by turning in the opposite direction, or letting Satan subtly turn our eyes off Jesus until we give away our faith, then we give away our right to Heaven.
Revelation 3:11 "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."
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