“It is no part of Christ’s mission to compel men to receive Him. It is Satan, and men actuated by his spirit, that seek to compel the conscience. Under a pretense of zeal for righteousness, men who are confederate with evil angels bring suffering upon their fellow men, in order to convert them to their ideas of religion; but Christ is ever showing mercy, ever seeking to win by the revealing of His love. He can admit no rival in the soul, nor accept of partial service; but He desires only voluntary service, the willing surrender of the heart under the constraint of love.” DA487 (old version)

Can you imagine a world without external control or manipulation?

It’s good for Jesus, but when it comes right down to it, we have to ply external rewards (grades/praise/promotion) and levy external punishments (grades/shame/power) because we think that true freedom and choice is permissive and leads to unruly intolerable behavior. Maybe it does; after all, God allowed humans to choose sin.  However, it’s still worth considering that God’s permission is better than Satan’s coercion. In fact, I’d guess that most folks just don’t know how to work God’s system of choice and freewill based on love and principles because we have learned too well from the control and manipulation pressed upon us all our lives by well meaning parents, teachers, ministers, spouses and friends. When someone isn’t doing what we want them to, we naturally go to power and control and other options are just too scary or foreign for most folks to think about.

Jesus will seep through our junk if we keep looking at His ways. We should work to clear all that control and manipulation away. This is why I read William Glasser, Jim Roy, Brene Brown, and Ellen White (Education).  I really want to be like Jesus, and I can’t without looking at how I can extend freewill to my students, children, wife, and friends rather than coercion and manipulation.

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“It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour’s matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary’s cross, and the sight of Him, attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice and they follow.” DA517

Freudian psychology teaches that to avoid pain or seek pleasure are the two motivators from which all our actions flow. This “pleasure principle” is subscribed to by many success writers and it has merit if the goal is the greater self-discipline required to get ahead in life. In this mode of thinking we understand ourselves better to our own advantage; selfish gratification is better handled because it is better understood.

Ellen White describes a motivation for following Christ that is expressly not connected to the avoiding of pain or the pleasure of reward. Instead, beholding God’s love stirs within us a heart change that leads us to be naturally attracted and then to follow. Maybe this attraction to God could still be considered by some to be motivated by the pleasure of observing true love and desiring it for ourselves, but it also seems somehow fundamentally different. It is the result of a spiritual change in the very soul rather than just an understanding of a principle of our current soulish nature.

This paragraph is so refreshing because we may all have formerly tried to come to Christ because of our guilt, fear of death, or a desire to go to heaven. These motivations align well with our selfish souls and don’t require a change of heart. Conversion, however, is a change of soul that is not motivated by our selfish needs, but by God’s love.

On that note, here are some very tender quotes from this chapter that describe the love of our Divine Shepherd:

“Every soul is as fully know to Jesus as if he were the only one for whom the Saviour died. The distress of every one touches His heart.” DA516

“The soul that has given himself to Christ is more precious in His sight than the whole world. The Saviour would have passed through the agony of Calvary that one might be saved in His kingdom. He will never abandon one for whom He has died. Unless His followers choose to leave Him, He will hold them fast.” DA518

“He loves us as His children. Reader, He loves you. Heaven itself can bestow nothing greater, nothing better. Therefore trust.” DA518

May our souls be changed so they  follow God naturally. Isn’t this the miracle of unearthly Love?

“To all who realised their need, Christ came with infinite help.” DA510

The spirit of a now seeing blind man is contrasted with the spirit of the Pharisees in this chapter. I think it’s significant that the help of angels and the Holy Spirit in enabling the blind man to speak from out of the wealth of belief. Spiritual sight is always enabled. It was not the healing of the man’s eyes alone that gave him convincing (and condemning) logic to meet the sneering and plotting arguments of the Pharisees. Help was sent to heal the eyes of the man’s heart. Maybe it was easier for him to realise the heart need because he knew so well of the need for physical sight?

What does “infinite help” mean and is it offered based on a realisation of infinite need? I could think about this until my mind spins off my neck and still be delightfully at a loss to fully grasp the significance. I am reminded that “God’s power is made perfect in weakness” which is also a wonderful and perplexing thought. Regardless of whether it makes perfect sense or not, I do believe it and feel that our behaviour and thoughts should endeavour to flow from these wonderfully huge and seemingly contradictory truths. They only seem contradictory because of our cultural wrong headedness and the experience with our puffed up human nature. In reality, recognising need and spiritual weakness binds us to Christ and thus bound we are free to speak and act with power.

What we need in the church today is committed prayer from once blind believers who realise where their infinite needs are infinitely met. Groups of these praying people could thwart evil men and woman to an even greater extent–even to enrage the worldly powerful to such acts that would herald the second coming of Christ.

Chapter 50: Among Snares

December 22, 2010

“Truth must be received into the soul; it claims the homage of the will. If truth could be submitted to reason alone, price would be no hinderance in the way of its reception. But it is to be received through the work of grace in the heart; and its reception depends upon the renunciation of every sin that the Spirit of God reveals.” DA487

We are also among snares. I am guessing my snares are not as tough as the snares set for Jesus, but I don’t know how Satan parcels out temtation. I image that when Jesus was on earth all the resources of hell were constantly spent on him and that the rest of the world was on evil autopilot. I suppose we don’t know Satan’s temptation structure. Maybe there are simply more evil angels than people, and spreading our resources is not a problem…

Regardless, I do know that Satan sets snares and the spiritual seige against the followers of Jesus never ceases. How can we stand against it? There are some principles in this chapter that show us. 

We don’t realize how bad sin is all by itself. Sin is not dependent on God’s punishment for it’s painfull effect. Sin packs it’s own punishment. If we would see how bad sin really is we would also see more clearly that Jesus saves rather than condemns. Many have not seen this. They feel a false condemnation that is to them the pointing finger of God, and it seems that sin itself is more forgiving than He is. Though God always stands in contrast to sin, it is Satan who constantly condemns and sin itself that blunts the Spirit of truth. We forget that sin causes spiritual sickness just as surely as a fever causes the body to wilt and the mind to fog. It is no wonder that reception of truth depends the willingness of the soul to take it in and displace the sickness of sin.

“The priest had that morning performed the ceremony which commemorated the smiting of the rock in the wilderness. That rock was a symbol of Him who by His death would cause living streams of salvation to flow to all who are athirst. Christ’s words were the water of life. There in the presence of the assembled multitude He set Himself apart to be smitten, that the water of life might flow to the world.” DA483

This chapter is different in that it is less of a narrative with commentary and more descriptive. This paragraph of commentary stood out to me because of its link to the story of Moses and the description of what the symbols mean.

Water from the rock happened twice (or is the same event recorded twice).  The first incident is in the Valley of Sin and God told Moses to strike the rock with his rod. Moses did, so no sin there. The second time, this time in the Valley of Zin, God told Moses to “take the staff… speak to the rock… and you will bring water out from the rock.” (Num. 20:6-8).

It has struck me before that jounalistic linear exactitude isn’t the usual intent for the writers of the Bible. I have many questions about why God’s first instruction was to take the staff if He expected Moses to speak to the rock. I also wonder why God said “you will bring water out from the rock” if He was expecting Moses to credit Him with the miracle. Maybe there is more to the story than is written.

Back to the symbols Ellen White employs. I love them. The rock that was struck represents Jesus and the water represents his life giving words (The Word of life according to John).  Recall, however, that Moses was intended only to speak to the rock rather than strike it twice. What would this have symbolized if it has gone as God had planned? My perspective is that it was not God’s first plan for Christ to die on the cross but on the alter in the temple. This flows from my belief that God intended Israel to be chosen and faithful and to finally receive Jesus as the Messiah when He came to earth. I don’t know how this would have played out. Christ would have still died for our sins, but maybe it was not His original intent to be smitten dead by Satan through his chosen people. Maybe it would have been by the word of God through the high priest on the alter where lambs had been offered for hundreds of years.

I know this is a reach that builds from many of the conditional promises of the prophets that seem to point to a very different end to Israel’s calling as chosen people. It builds from the premise that they were not chosen for the purpose of rejection of Christ, but for acceptance of Him as the Messiah. But they did not accept Christ. Moses did strike the rock. Satan struck down Jesus through His chosen people. And we are blessed today with living water gushing forth in the Word of Christ because of it. Will you bring your thirst to this Rock and this Word?

I’ve been away from blogging for a while. Something about marriage, moving 3000 miles, and settling into a new teaching job. There’s another reason. I’ve read this chapter about 6 times and am having a hard time getting past it. Sometimes I think my emotions are parsed out in a way that finding a spare emotion to support writing is difficult. It’s difficult to stop then start–it’s life after all.

“Lucifer had said, ‘I will be like the Most High’. … Had Lucifer really desired to be like the Most High, he would never have deserted his appointed place in heaven; for the spirit of the Most High is manifestd in unselfish ministry. Lucifer desired God’s power, but not His character.” DA467

Look around your heart for this little catch. We may all have a peice of this same crooked desire somewhere inside; and it is what keeps us from bending to every breeze of God’s Spirit. Satan knows how effective it is for destruction since it caused him to lose heaven.

Basically, in some way we only want part of God. We want Sunday morning’s resurection without Thursday evening’s blood sweat and loneliness. We want to be forgiven and still gossip. We want blessings to match our human wish list. We want to put God first when it’s convenient to put God first and as long as it makes us feel good. Do we really just want to feel good? Maybe I didn’t blog the DA because I just wanted to sit in front of the internet on auto pilot these last months.  We bring emotional addiction into spirituality because every fallen nature (Satan’s and mine) want’s more to feel like God without being like God.

I thank God that a fundamental differece remains between the fallen nature of Lucifer and my own nature on this point. Satan will never accept the gift of God. Jesus gives Himself, His character, to His children through the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t offer part of Himself–His power and the miracles–without humilty, faithfullness, perserverance in suffering, sacrifice, and dependence on the Father. In the righteousness of Christ we recieve all of the life of Christ even though we may feel at times like we are about to sweat blood.

“It was not enough for the disciples of Jesus to be instructed as to the nature of His kingdom. What they needed was a change of heart that would bring them into harmony with it’s principles.” DA468

Chapter 47: Ministry

January 23, 2008

“It is faith that connects us with heaven, and brings us strength for coping with the power of darkness. In Christ, God has provided means for subduing every sinful trait, and resisting every temptation, however strong. But many feel that they lack faith, and therefore they remain away from Christ. Let those souls, in their helpless unworthiness, cast themselves upon the mercy of their compassionate Saviour. Look not to self, but to Christ. He who healed the sick and cast out demons when He walked among men is the same mighty Redeemer today. Faith comes by the word of God. Then grasp His promise, ‘The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.’ John 6:37. Cast yourself at His feet with the cry, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’ You can never perish while you do this–never.” DA458

I am hesitant to try and comment because this passage is so complete and beautiful already, so instead of trying to add to it I’ll make 3 belief statements in response.

1. I believe that God’s plan of redemption includes saving us from sinful traits in our life now. In other words, Jesus did not die on the cross so that we should have to continue living in sin. Ellen White affirms that this can only be a reality in Christ through faith. Again, being saved from sin now is a function of being in Christ and is through faith, not grit. This understanding must come first and never be replaced to make any real headway towards living in a righteousness that is not our own. I believe that many Christians try very hard to live correctly, but are trapped by sinful character traits that only conversion can handle. Such efforts may keep one from seeing the kingdom of heaven and delay their rebirth. I pray for continued conversion in my own life that I may function in Christ through faith.

2. I believe that faith is biblically wedded to the Word of God, a connection that is described clearly page by page in scripture. It is why John starts out his Gospel with a major teaching on the Word that was with God and has become flesh. The same teaching begins Genesis, I John, Hebrews, and Revelation. The concept surfaces repetitively in the Psalms and the books of the prophets. Understanding the Word-faith connection has been pivotal to my spiritual growth and the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church starting in 1888. This truth leads to a powerful understanding of righteousness which is key to the plan of redemption both for the individual and for the bride of Christ. I believe that this is the message that will spread to the world in preparation of the second coming of Christ.

3. I believe that there is a poorness of spirit, a brokenness, that is perfectly matched to the saving power of Christ. It is  a weakness unlike others because it draws our focus beyond ourselves to God’s strength, and to this poor spirit His Spirit speaks. It is the lesson of every trial. We truly are blessed to be poor in spirit and by be promised the kingdom of heaven. This is the spirit which Ellen White is so sure will never perish. What a glorious reality.

I usually try to stick with the main event, but a quote early in the chapter was curious. They are on their way up to the mountain after a long and discouraging day.

The disciples do not venture to ask Christ whither He is going, or for what purpose.” DA449

Ellen White expresses the same observation early in chapter 47.

How slow of comprehension even the three favored disciples were, is seen in the fact that notwithstanding all that Christ had said of what was before Him, they queried among themselves what the rising from the dead should mean. Yet they asked no explanation from Jesus.” DA455

Questions bubble to the surface. Should we venture to ask Christ where he is leading or his purpose? Might this betray simply faith? It’s easy to assume a false entitlement that we should know God’s plans because we are trying to do His work. At times our spiritual pride is the the only thing between us and the answers we seek, but maybe all we need to concentrate on is the work of believing in Jesus, not the details of where he is going. Jesus hints that we do not have because we do not ask, and he command us many times to ask even as much as “anything” in His name and He will do it. Blandly my own prayers have been so general at times that God could be exempt from any action on His part other than existing in time and space. We must ask because “please be with all the missionaries” prayers do not lead to the mountain top and conversations with Moses and Elijah.

I have often said that it’s not His custom to tell us His plans ahead of time. But then I remember He did tell Abram about Sodom, and the disciples were told quite bluntly of the mission leading to the cross. Prophecy is sprinkled through out scripture in such a way to reveal His plans to those who are really looking and asking. He may not detail his route into the future in the way we expect, but by not asking we reveal our “discipleness”–the same slowness to comprehend that seems to run naturally in human veins.

“From time to time precious rays of light from Jesus shone upon them, yet often they were like men groping among shadows.” DA439

This reminds me of Keith Green’s Song, “Asleep in the Light.” He says, The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight, ’cause it’s asleep in the light.” 

It’s too easy to wag my finger in condescending disappointment at how others are so dim to the light shining from Jesus. But there is enough of that going on already. I’m going to propose another view–this experience of receiving precious rays of light while acting like men groping in the shadows is normal. There are specific reasons why they are groping–but these only point to a dysfunction of nature that we can’t do anything about. It’s a nature that is cursed,  and I don’t wish anyone to remain in darkness, but it’s normal that many Christians are in darkness. Does it make them lost? Were the disciples lost? They gave up all to follow Jesus. These first Christians were often as men groping in the darkness, why should the system be different for us? Certainly understanding the 2300 day prophecy, the seventh-day Sabbath, and that the dead sleep until Jesus comes doesn’t change our faulty nature.

Never can humanity of itself attain to a knowledge of the divine. … Only the spirit of adoption can reveal to us the deep things of God.” DA439

Carefully consider these thoughts. Never… Only… these superlatives show there is only one way out of normal human spiritual darkness. Do you believe in miracles? A change in nature is the only way out. Thanks to Jesus who revealed to Nicodemus that we can’t even see the kingdom of heaven unless we are born again. Born from the darkness of a preoccupation with self. Born to be a spiritual man, not our own; raised from the dead in Christ.

“Love for souls for whom Christ died means crucifixion of self. … Selfishness is death.” DA445

That last statement keep coming home to my mind. How often my prayers focus only on myself! How often my time and money is spent to satisfy myself! I know this is normal, but God didn’t call us out of our normal human darkness to bumble around in the light. The disciples found it eventually, not of their own knowledge, but by the power of adoption, miraculous change, and a completely different focus that only God can create. I will pray for this continued change.

Chapter 44: The True Sign

November 29, 2007

“What they (the pharisees) needed was not intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renovation.” DA430

How focused have we been on intellectual knowledge to get us somewhere spiritually? Some may call this knowledge “present truth.” While clearly no amount of knowledge can guarantee conversion, it seems that knowledge can tip the scales toward or away from conversion. Not all knowledge is equally valuable, and there are many very religious people promoting their superior variety of intellectual enlightenment. Just recently I encountered a man who was very excited about the 144,000 whom God needs to reach perfection in order to vindicate His saving work.  This teaching presumes that conversion hinges on attainment of a few to guarantee that perfection may be had by all who believe come resurrection day. I assert that conversion hinges on the attainment of One. This idea of the righteousness by faith is knowledge also, and it started an avalanche of conversion in my life. Maybe the greatest of all miracles–a converted life–come in stages. I’ve felt a tremor of the change God has in mind and it shakes me still today.

“The highest evidence that He (Jesus) came from God is that His life revealed the character of God. Such a life is the greatest of all miracles.” DA431

Regardless of the details of how conversion works and the role knowledge plays, I can say with surity that miraculous conversion is possible and available now through Christ. I am against all knowledge (religious teaching) leading away from such a miracle as a changed person.