Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blessed - Exchanging My Will For His

What does it mean to be “blessed?” We all want God’s blessing – most of us anyway, but what is it? It is God’s favor. Do you want God’s favor? How bad do you want it?

Do you remember the TV game show, “Let’s Make A Deal?” Monte Hall would select contestants who had dressed in rather interesting and provocative ways to gain his attention; and as a result of gaining his favor, they were given opportunities to select prizes behind either door number one or door number two. Behind door number one was a toaster, a barbeque set and a lifetime supply of Windex. Behind door number two was a luxurious car, a boat and a cruise to the Bahamas. Which contestant was “blessed?”

To make it clearer, at the end of the show, Monte would go to the “big” winners and offer them one last deal. They could trade their prizes for something else – something unknown – hidden behind a curtain or in a box. What if the exchange was for either $10,000,000 or God’s favor? Which would you take? Be honest.

Looking around this room, we see those that have come here for this meeting – some of them may give us pause – we never expected to see them in a gathering like this, because we knew them in days past under much less sanctified circumstances. The point is that no one here is here against his or her will. God has made each one of us with the ability to choose. He has bestowed upon us freewill. Created in His image we were designed to be free agents with the power of choice just like our Creator. Whatever we as His created people decide, within certain constraints, is binding – and God, who we have proclaimed is not limited in His abilities; though He may be able technically to violate your will – has determined that whatever your desire is, He will honor it. But think on this - if He is able to violate the freewill He made you with whenever and however He wants to – then you never really had a “free” will in the first place. If we cannot really choose Him if we want to, our response to Him is nothing but a programmed response – our love for Him, technically speaking, means nothing – it is merely software, properly following the logic prescribed by the code writer. The strict adherence to this sort of intelligent fatalism is called Calvinism. Goodness, i.e., doing good things, is a program – but then so is badness also. Of necessity, we must attribute God with the creation of evil because we have proclaimed Him to be the creator of all things. Following this line, all are predestined to heaven or hell per the logic of the program. The outcome has been determined. But is the truth so simple? The real truth, it would seem, is deeper still.

If our choices are illusory, blessing is not God’s favor for those who have chosen Him – it is only God’s favor for those whom He has chosen. This is teaching is commonly called “predestination” and presents a doctrine describing a God who has made everything and prescribes the movements of all things. He is responsible for life and death and is the determinate cause of all things. While I see the necessity of ascribing the characteristic of “omnipotence” to the Almighty, I also see that, as presented, predestination is only half the truth. The biggest trouble with this doctrine is that it systematizes and theologizes what we know about God and makes it stiff, boring and impersonal. It abandons experience as a formulating factor in understanding truth and builds it purely to dogma. When you add personal experience I believe you find the real truth. Our relationship with God has certainly been established as a result of His choosing us, but perhaps even more importantly, our decision to accept His invitation and choose Him back. Without this freedom to choose, God cannot experience what the redemption of mankind was reaching for. God needs our choice to bring about glory for Himself. Robots cannot give Him glory. Our relationship with God is a love story not systematic theology. In choosing Him we bless Him and the blessing from Him is made complete. It’s the most precious deal of our lives. Those who choose Him may not get $10,000,000, but they will receive His favor and His promise to neither leave nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:5).

Something else happens when we receive God’s favor, something really cool – He causes us to suffer (Acts 9:16). Doesn’t that sound fun? Since God is our Father, His desire is that His children should receive the abundance of all things. While He has purposed to lavish us with His blessing, it is not without cost. Everything worthwhile provided by God for us can only be fully appreciated through suffering. In this way we will be able to share not only in the suffering of Christ, but also in His glory (Romans 8:17). God wants us to fully understand Him by gaining a perspective of His character incorporated into our character. This can only come about through suffering. This “suffering” is not punishment, but a privilege (Acts 5:41). The early church understood this. Upon actualizing on “what God has done,” the proper response can only be suffering. That word seems abhorrent. No one wants to suffer. But is this true? In a relationship with another person, in order for love to be actualized, suffering must happen. It is the yielding of the will in submission to the will of another that suffering is best understood. The freewill of each individual is not violated, but each is influenced to do something they would not have chosen to do otherwise. Selfish desire is set aside for the benefit of the other; a benefit that the other person did not necessarily earn. This unearned benefit is called “grace.” Suffering then is the fulfillment of what it means to be blessed because it allows grace to flow in both directions. Both parties are beneficiaries.

The initial encounter with God seems to be the most exciting. In his first encounter, Moses saw a burning bush on the slopes of Mount Horeb. The bush burned and yet was not consumed by the flames (Exodus 3:1-6). God spoke to him there for the first time. Moses had to set aside his agenda in favor of the plans that God had for him. Moses did it because he wanted to, not because he had to. The promise he had from God was that God would be with him (Exodus 3:12). And even though there would be many trials through the years, God would never leave him. This important truth has been compromised in our time. We have been taught that God does not go with us into a bar or into the arms of a prostitute. We have been lied to about the nature of the relationship we have with our Father God. To many it is unimaginable that God would be with us while visiting a pornographic theatre of having sex with a stranger in a dark alley. But this is exactly the kind of relationship we have with God. Though during these altered moments we may not be able to receive the full benefits promised – His attending presence with us is not predicated on the basis of our waywardness – He stays with us while we wander; patiently waiting for us to return to His blessing. His love is not only unmerited, it is unchangeable and unconditional. Our deviations are real and the consequences for our wanderings could be fatal, but nothing can ever separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). We can by an act of our freewill through faith at any moment return to His arms of blessing, and He will give us the comfort of His love. He is aware of our sins, but they do not separate us from Him any longer. At Calvary, conditional relationship was obliterated by the blood of Jesus and God’s wrath was finally appeased.

Rev. Bob Ellis

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Returning To Earth

I just got back home. What a weekend! I have not been to a Christian conference in a while and decided to go to Austin and be a part of the Eagles Nest School of Worship and the Arts (ENSoWatA). I admit that I went not really knowing exactly what to expect. I went to relax and I did. It was so great. I got to see old friends and rest in a very comfortable hotel; and the Lord was there too. That's always nice. But I got a double blessing. At first I was not going to minister, but just be ministered to. Then the Lord convicted me of this and so I decided to offer to do a couple of artistic sign expression presentations, which the organizers graciously allowed. So I got to both rest and minister.

God has called me to teach. I have known this for over twenty years, but to the group in Austin I am a sign interpreter. At my home church, they of course know that I do sign interpretation, but they call me Teacher Ellis. To them I am first and foremost a Bible teacher, not a sign interpreter - but to the group in Austin I am the master of artistic expression. I have tried to change this image and bring a more balanced view of my credentials, but have been unsuccessful so far in disueding them from this view of things. Perhaps I should stop trying to do this. Evidently the Lord wants me to wear two hats. My mission is "to reveal the truth." This is, of course, what I am doing in either role. "I just want to be used mightily for you, Lord!"

At any rate, I went back to work yesterday morning - what a drag! After that fantastic weekend high, going back to my job seemed like shear drudgery. But I am glad to be back on earth, and back to the work of serving the Savior. The weekend at ENSoWatA was wonderful and about as close to heaven as I'll get here on earth: seeing old friends and praising the Lord - and if you were there, you know what I'm saying is true.

Rev. Bob Ellis

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Finding The Word of God

I'm excited! Bible study lately have been so cool. It really makes a difference when the Lord Himself shows up. I teach two groups each week using the exact same materials, but the two groups could not be more unalike.

One group is composed of people who know each other well and at first they seem to be interested in understanding the scriptures. But there is a hint of "let's learn stuff, but not get too close" kind of attitude. They do want to be educated (i.e. head knowledge) but not for the purpose of really applying the truth pragmatically. Without practical application, discovering the Living Word seems fairly useless. There have been some issues with gossip and the people just don't seem to genuinely want to get serious about making Jesus Lord. They are a lot like the stony ground Jesus speaks of in the parable of the sower.

The other group generally is presented with the same material, but their response is like Jonah's message to Ninevah. They are quick to see the Word and are cut to the heart. They respond with repentance. Instead of trying to point the finger at others, they realize that it is them that needs changing. There is expectation of the presence of the Lord Himself and guess what, He is there. They seem a lot like the fertile ground in the parable of the sower.

I am amazed. The Truth I am getting from this situation is the realization that it is the combination of the message with the expectation of the people that brings about the true Word of God. I teach that the Word of God is our goal, but in the parable of the sower, it is represented in two parts. First there is a broadcasting of the word (represented by the seed). This is what is meant by the Greek word "logos" meaning Word of God. The seed is given to the soils, but only when it is able to get into the fertile soil is it able to germinate, sprout roots and grow. When it is received by the soil and begins to grow is what is meant by the Greek word "rhema" meaning Word of God. These two must come together for the true Word of God to be made known.

Clearly this is what is happening. Thank you Lord for letting me see!

Rev. Bob Ellis