Tuesday, October 26, 2010

“Abigail: No Victim of Circumstances”

Abigail: No Victim of Circumstances”

What is a peacemaker? The dictionary says, “a person, group, or nation that tries to make peace, especially by reconciling parties who disagree, quarrel, or fight.”
When I looked up the phrase “Peacemaker in history” on Google, I came upon an interesting article. Someone had asked who people thought where the ten best peacemakers from history. The answer included men like the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa and even Santa Clause.   Of course we know that the greatest peacemaker is Jesus Christ. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). And one of the names given for Jesus in Isaiah is Prince of Peace. The story of Abigail beautifully illustrates how the spirit of a peacemaker transforms potential victims into victors. The story is found in 1 Samuel chapter 25. 
After the death of Samuel, and while the people were still in mourning for the prophet, David took the opportunity to find greater protection and security in the wilderness of Paran. While there, he was among the flocks of a very rich man named Nabal. David and his men were good to the shepherds. They didn’t hurt them, or take anything from them.
At shearing time, David sent a few of his men to Nabal to ask for some provisions. Nabal treated the young men badly, calling them run-away servants, and acting as if he didn’t know who David was. He sent them away empty handed. When David heard this he was very angry. Taking two-thirds of his fighting force, he set out for Nabal’s house to show him a thing or two. Meanwhile one of the servants ran to Abigail, Nabal’s wife and told her about the young men’s request for help. He also told how her husband had treated them. Quickly she took a large amount of food, loaded it on donkeys and set out to meet David and his army.
“She met them in a covert of a hill.” And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience” (1 Samuel 25:24). Abigail addressed David with as much reverence as though speaking to a crowned monarch. Nabal had scornfully exclaimed, “Who is David?” but Abigail called him, “my lord.” With kind words she sought to soothe his irritated feelings, and she pleaded with him in behalf of her husband. With nothing of ostentation or pride, but full of the wisdom and love of God, Abigail revealed the strength of her devotion to her household; and she made it plain to David that the unkind course of her husband was in no wise premeditated against him as a personal affront, but was simply the outburst of an unhappy and selfish nature.”
--Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, page 666
Abigail admitted that what Nabal had done was wrong and yet still pleaded for his life. We, too, should always hate the sin and yet love the sinner. 
Abigail met David with respect, showing him honor and deference, and pleaded her cause eloquently. While not excusing her husband’s insolence, she pleaded for his life. She also revealed the fact that she was not only a discreet woman, but a godly woman, acquainted with the works of ways of God with David.                                                      --Ellen White, Manuscript 12, 1891
“A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).
Abigail did not take to herself the credit of this reasoning to turn David from his hasty purpose, but gave to God the honor and the praise. She then offered her rich provision as a peace offering to the men of David, and still pleaded as if she herself were the one who had so excited the resentment of the chief.   These words could have come only from the lips of one who had partaken of the wisdom from above. The piety of Abigail, like the fragrance of a flower, breathed out all unconsciously in face and word and action. The Spirit of the Son of God was abiding in her soul. Her speech, seasoned with grace, and full of kindness and peace, shed a heavenly influence.
--Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 666
Here is the secret to how Abigail could be a peacemaker, how she could speak words of peace and wisdom in the face of conflict. “The Spirit of the Son of God was abiding in her soul.” This peace is for us as well. Letting Jesus live out his life within us, we can be peacemakers. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). A cup filled with sweet water cannot spill one bitter drop, no matter how violently jolted.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Would that there were many more like this woman of Israel, who would soothe the irritated feelings, prevent rash impulses, and quell great evils by words of calm and well-directed wisdom.
 --Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, page 667
He who has the meek and lowly spirit of Christ will be a peacemaker. Such a spirit provokes no quarrel, gives back no angry answer. It makes the home happy, and brings a sweet peace that blesses all around.                                                                         --Ellen White, The Story of Jesus, page 62
A story told by Arthur Maxwell illustrates our point. A young boy attended evangelistic meetings. He gave his heart to Jesus. He went home and told his mother what he had heard, and how wonderful Jesus was. He begged her to go with him to the next meeting. His mother became angry and slapped him hard across the face. The boy remained respectful and kind, though he was shedding a few tears. The mother marked the ongoing changes in her son’s life, and decided that she wanted what he had. She went with him to the meetings and eventually gave her heart to Jesus also.
“Christ’s followers are sent to the world with the message of peace. Whoever, by the quiet, unconscious influence of a holy life, shall reveal the love of Christ; whoever, by word or deed, shall lead another to renounce sin and yield his heart to God is a peacemaker” (Ellen White, In Heavenly Places, Page35). Let us choose, with Jesus’ help, to be peacemakers today.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

“Jonathan: Born for Greatness”

 “Jonathan: Born for Greatness”

This week we study the life of one of the Bible’s great characters. It is difficult to find fault anywhere in the recorded life of Jonathan, son of King Saul. He was a young man of great affection and of great courage. Friendship was very important to Jonathan. He was not afraid of perishing in the cause of right. He inspired others join him in the fight against evil, even against great odds. His trust in the Lord is almost unparalleled in Scripture. 

Perhaps the most admirable trait in the brief life of Jonathan was his genuine, humble spirit. He was willing to accept unnecessarily difficult circumstances even though he knew those in authority were wrong. He carried this unusual spirit to an early grave while supporting his erring father to the end. He never wavered in his fidelity to the God-ordained authority figures around him even though they were clearly of lesser character. He would not consent to do wrong, but short of that, he remained in submission to his earthly father. Jonathan, like Christ, emptied himself even unto death. Jonathan is the rare Bible character who fits this description: “Who thought it not robbery to be equal ... but made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant ... he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death ... wherefore God hath highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:6-9). Oh that this could be said of all Christians everywhere at all times. 

During Jonathan’s life Israel was in crisis. The people lived under constant threat from their arch enemies, the Philistines. Israel’s soldiers were poorly armed, outnumbered and mocked. The Lord used Jonathan to show that the glory of God shines brightest during impossible times like these. “Who can be against us when the Lord is for us?” is the victorious battle cry of faith. Jonathan’s great demonstration of faith need not seem unusual to us. The Bible tells us that “God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). 

Some people are tempted to feel some sense of pride in their own “unwavering” faith, while others feel despair because they realize that their faith is weak.  Men who believe that they have great faith eventually find their faith shattered when real tests come. Only those who accept and use the faith of Jesus are able to exhibit Jonathan’s steady, unwavering, faithfulness.  

Righteousness by real faith – the faith of Jesus, is a key component of the good news. “By the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men” (Romans 5:18). This free gift of God’s forgiving grace and “the measure of faith” levels the field so that everyone can make an intelligent decision about whether to believe and receive or reject and spurn the gift of faith. Jonathan made use of the gift of faith sent from above, and in exercising it, was strengthened to walk in yet greater faith. 

Paul understood this, although most Bible translators have missed it completely. We have to go to the KJV to hear it straight: “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis mine). Faith, correctly understood, is the mission statement of the SDA movement: “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). The math is simple – I need to make use of the free gift of the faith of Jesus. If one fails to grasp this point, then men like Jonathan are Bible heroes from afar, their incredible feats unattainable to the common rank and file. They take on a status that is iconic rather than exemplary. 

Ellen White talks about the dangers of placing stock in our own personal faith:

Every member of the human family is given wholly into the hands of Christ, and whatever we possess…is placed in our possession as God’s treasure…every gift is stamped with the cross … all things come from God … Now, not a soul can give God anything that is not already His. Bear this in mind. We can not offer anything in faith which we have not first received of God. Discern with astonishment the utter worthlessness of creature merit to earn the wages of eternal life. If you were to gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man, and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be regarded as treason. The idea of doing anything to merit the grace of pardon is fallacy from the beginning to the end. Where is the merit in the man to earn his salvation? Impossible! There is danger in regarding justification by faith as placing merit upon faith. There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all, than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works.”  –Ellen White, 1888 Materials, page 811.

I want the powerful faith that Jonathan plugged into. This faith of Christ has never lost a single battle and it never will. There is no sin so large that will not crumble before the faith of Jesus. Though the Philistines outnumber you on all sides, though you are friendless, though your own closest family members turn against your cause, though you be alone facing certain death – faith is the victory, the glorious victory that overcomes the world. When I feel I am too much of a sinner to even go to church it is time to cry out “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” I must follow on, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Of the final generation the Bible says, “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion and sound an alarm in My holy mountain ... a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like ... as horsemen, so shall they run ... they shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways and they shall not break their ranks ... and the Lord shall utter His voice before His army: for His camp is very great” (Joel 2: 1-11). 

Jonathan chose to take the servant’s role in dealing with those whom God had placed in authority. Only the faith of Jesus can transform a man into this heavenly condition. One day when we meet in heaven, I want to see Jonathan coming to meet this people of the final generation. I want to live so that he can honestly call me Brother. 
--Glen Striemer

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Hannah: Learning to Be Someone”

"Hannah:  Learning to Be Someone”

This week’s lesson asks the question: “What am I worth?”  Modern psychology encourages people to have a high esteem for themselves.  Some even think the Bible teaches this in the words of Jesus: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Mark 12:31).

Jesus is not teaching that an individual should have high esteem for the self.  In fact, it says, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Philippians 2:3).  The Bible teaches that we should love and protect our neighbors and even our enemies as naturally as we love and protect ourselves.  Our sense of self-worth should be based on God’s opinion of us.  He values us so much that He gave Jesus to this world to save our souls.  Jesus, the Savior of the whole world, would have died for me even if I were the only sinner in the whole world.  He feels the same way about each of the other humans He has created.  Everything comes into perspective when we realize that He wants us to treat each of His other children with the same tender care He feels for us. 

Christ died for me because I cannot do anything to save myself.  Beginning to grasp the magnitude of the good news of the gospel, we will begin to have a true sense of our real worth.   The foundation of our salvation (the gospel story) is God’s unconditional love.  As we learn to know this love, and allow it to flow through us, we will develop a healthy sense of self worth that is humble and teachable.  “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.  We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:17-19).

The story of Hannah indicates that she must have had an understanding of God, and of His love toward her.  Circumstances and environment caused her severe emotional pain.  She did not become bitter, or blame God for her misfortune.  She did experience deep, genuine grief because she did not have any children, especially a son.  Along with many others, she must have cherished a hope that she would be the progenitor of the promised Messiah.  For an extended period of time; that hope was denied her.

Monday’s section mentions two characters that made Hannah’s life miserable.  The narrative indicates that Elkanah was a devout worshiper of the true God.  He offered sacrifices as required by God’s law.  Yet, in my opinion, he comes across as a very insensitive husband.  He seems to have no understanding of nor empathy toward Hannah’s grief.  His relationship with Peninnah resulted in much pain to Hannah.  This story should encourage every husband to examine his conduct and attitudes toward his wife.  As husbands, we need to pray for God’s grace and love to motivate every act which affects our wives.

The narrative indicates that Peninnah was not filled with the love of God.  She did not act as a genuine “Christian.”  Her words and actions added to Hannah’s grief.  We need to note that Hannah did not repay “in kind.”  She took her troubles to the Lord in deep, heartbroken prayer.

“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12).

Because of His great love for us, Jesus was poured out as a sacrifice for us.  Because Hannah was filled with God’s love, she could “pour out her heart” in prayer to God.  It is my prayer that each of us will learn to pray like that.  The key is to be filled with God’s unconditional love.  Until we see Jesus poured out on the cross for us personally, our prayers will not be that “deep.”  “This pouring-out prayer is perhaps the most intimate kind of prayer.  In involves being absolutely honest with God, expressing our deepest pain and fears.  Hannah was so absorbed in her prayer that she became oblivious to those around her, and to what they might think of her.  She was, in fact, clinging to God the way Jacob clung to his nocturnal assailant” (Adult SS Bible Study Guide, p.25).

When Hannah finally “poured out” her heart to God for a son, she was no longer selfish in her request.  She was asking for something that really belonged to God, and she covenanted to return it to God.  God saw to it that Hannah’s request received an immediate and favorable response.  When we recognize God’s ownership of everything surrounding us, our prayers will be less selfish.  When we receive God’s love and share it with others, our prayers will become more powerful and we will receive amazing answers.

Faith accomplished what nothing else could. And let it be remembered that there is good reason for this. Perfect faith implies perfect worship. Faith and humility are inseparable. The greater one's faith in another, the lower his opinion of himself. So that perfect faith in God, such as Abraham (and Hannah) exhibited, implied perfect willingness to do whatever God required of him. Such faith is as powerful to-day as it ever was. It suffices to secure pardon for sin, even as it did for Abraham, and nothing but such faith will secure pardon. The cleansing of a sinner from the defilement of sin is the greatest of all miracles, and it is one that is daily being performed in response to faith. Whenever God sees such trust and submission in the heart of anyone, nothing that that one can ask for can be denied. Then who would not pray, "Lord, increase our faith"?  --E. J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, December 8, 1887  746.3

Hannah’s song reminds us of  the song of Mary which is recorded in The Gospel of Luke.  It was a response of true joy and thanksgiving.  The response was born of total surrender to God’s will and action.  We can experience this joy and thanksgiving when we surrender to the gospel – the cross of Christ.  A deep heart appreciation of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ brings about such a faith response.  When we see the totality of God’s act and discover that we cannot contribute anything to our salvation, we will fall on our knees and say a genuine heartfelt thank you to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Then Hannah’s song will be our song.

Hannah’s example of child training rates with that of Jochebed and of Mary.  Hannah had Samuel for only a few years.  He grew up in the same dysfunctional household that caused Hannah’s grief.  By God’s grace, Hannah instilled heavenly virtues in the growing mind of her son.  We all can benefit from a study of these examples of child training.

What the parents are, that, to a great extent, the children will be. The physical conditions of the parents, their dispositions and appetites, their mental and moral tendencies, are, to a greater or less degree, reproduced in their children.…It was Hannah, the woman of prayer and self-sacrifice and heavenly inspiration, who gave birth to Samuel, the heaven-instructed child, the incorruptible judge, the founder of Israel's sacred schools.  Would that every mother could realize how great are her duties and her responsibilities, and how great will be the reward of faithfulness. The mother's daily influence upon her children is preparing them for everlasting life or eternal death. She exercises in her home a power more decisive than the minister in the desk, or even the king upon his throne”  (Conflict and Courage, p. 139).

J.B. Jablonski

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

“Caleb, Living With the Wait”

Caleb came to the Jordan River with high hopes and great expectations – twice. So it is with God’s last-day Remnant. Whether we realize it or not, you and I walk beside the 80-year-old Caleb on his second journey across that wide plain next to the surging, muddy flood of the Jordan . The time has come when we will show to the world and to men whether we have learned the lessons of the wilderness wandering. It is time to go home. Let us be sure that we understand what Caleb has to teach us about making a successful crossing of the Jordan .

The first time Israel of old came to the Jordan River, God told Moses to make up a list of spies to “search out” the land of Canaan . The list contained twelve names: Shammua the son of Zaccur, Shaphat the son of Hori, Caleb the son of Jephunneh, Igal the son of Joseph, Oshea (Johua) the son of Nun, Palti the son of Raphu, Gaddiel the son of Sodi, Gaddi the son of Susi, Ammiel the son of Gemalli, Sethur the son of Michael, Nahbi the son of Vophsi, Geuel the son of Machi. 

All of these men were believers. All were leaders in the true Church. They shared common ancestry, education, strengths, weaknesses, religious affiliation, goals, and moral standards. All observed the Sabbath and refrained from eating pork. All ate of the manna. All longed to go in and possess the Promised Land

Could we have stood on a rise overlooking the Israelite camp, we would not have seen any distinguishing mark to predict which of these chosen men would prove to be valuable assets, and which would prove traitorous.  Canaan ’s high-walled cities and its giant men with massive spears did not cause the rebellion of the ten, nor inspire the faithfulness of the two. The challenging circumstances merely revealed that which had been planted and cultivated in the hearts of these men through preceding days and weeks and months (See Christ’s Object Lessons, page 412.1).

At the first “General Conference” at the Jordan , as at the “General Conference” at Minneapolis , the characteristic which distinguished the two faithful spies from the numerous rebellious ones was  
righteousness by faith. It was a deep, strong heart appreciation of the fact that God is everything and man is nothing. It was believing that the word of God can and will accomplish what that Word says, and the depending upon that Word to do what it says. 

Caleb could say with confidence, “We are well able,” because he was in the habit of letting God be his strength. He knew by experience that “little is much” when God is in it. With Paul he could say, “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Caleb and Joshua did not quail before the physical giants in the land for two reasons. The first is that they remembered God’s working in their past history and knew that He was quite able to continue empowering and sustaining them in whatever He directed. 

The second, and equally important source of their courage was this: Caleb and Joshua had chosen to allow God’s power to conquer the larger and more virulent giants which seek to hold the territory of each heart as a fortress against God’s complete ownership there. They had received “the love of the Truth” – the love of God in the heart – and by His power they had been gaining the victory over the giants of fear, dishonesty, gluttony, pride, greed, etc. By experiencing these victories, they had been empowered to eat, to drink, and to do whatever they did “to the glory of God.” As these men daily lived lives of victory, their minds were filled with thoughts of gratitude and love to God. The crisis only revealed what the man had been thinking in his heart. (See 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 10:31, and Proverbs 23:7)

The Israelites (and the ten spies) who retained control of their own lives still preferred that Moses talk to God and bring back a list of rules for them to obey (or not, as their own natural inclinations dictated). At the crucial moment, these found themselves helpless against the giants of Canaan and the rebellions of their own hearts. The few who step by step allowed the living Word of the living God to crucify the natural man along with its affections and lusts were already living in the power of the Spirit. Those who live in the Spirit are “bold as a lion,” intimidated by nothing. They are able also to walk in the Spirit, even in the land of the visible giants (See Proverbs 28:1, Exodus 20:19 & Galatians 5:24 & 25).

 We are in the position of the children of Israel upon the borders of the promised land; let us profit by their experience…. The high walls that seemed to reach up to heaven represent to us the walls of doubt; the giants are the giants of unbelief. And as those walls and those giants fell then before the advance of faith, so they will fall now, however high and strong they may seem to us. Let us put on this helmet and move resolutely forward, knowing that… the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6, 7).
 –E. J. Waggoner, Present Truth ( UK ) October 19, 1893

Caleb’s fearless testimony to the faithfulness of God in the face of the anger and denial of the multitude is not any greater testimony to the power of God in his life than was the quiet, patient, loving spirit he manifest throughout the forty long years of wilderness wandering. The whole sad pilgrimage would have been prevented had the Israelites listened to him and Joshua on that fateful day, but Caleb did not leave the church. He did not rail against the wickedness of those who had opposed him. He quietly and faithfully labored as a servant-leader, seeking to prepare his own heart and the hearts of his people to have a different experience when they next came to the borders of the promised land.

What about you?