The Grace of the Longing Heart
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 11 May 2002
Last week we looked at the challenging phenomenon called failure and how Yahweh is able to use it for His own purposes. We looked at the prophet Jeremiah and the thankless mission this prophet of God was called on. We understood, I hope, that failure is not only part and parcel of life but that it can be a very useful way to build character.
One of the most famous and popular books of the 19th century was Self-help by the Scottish writer, Dr. Samuel Smiles. The fascinating parts of the book are those in which he tells the true stories of people who had to try, try, and try again before they achieved the results they were aiming at - such as the French potter, Bernard Palissy, who spent 16 apparently fruitless years until he finally mastered the art of enamelling earthenware. Smiles himself writes: "We learn wisdom much more often from failure than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery."
As you look through the Bible at the great men and women of God you are at once struck by the fact that, with the exception of only Christ Himself, that they all make mistakes and learned from their experiences. Abraham lied to save his wife Sarah's life ... twice. Isaac showed favouritism to the least worthy son. Jacob was a trickster until he found the better way that Yahweh intended all along. Judah had a weakness for women. Joseph had a tendency to brag. Moses lacked self-confidence. Miriam wanted the boss's job and disapproved of her brother's marriages. Solomon let power go to his head. Peter was outspoken and rash. John sought honours. And so the list goes on. But they all learned and became better men and women, after a time of humiliation and repentance. Of all the religious books in the world the Bible is, I think, the most human, showing weaknesses and strengths, failures and successes without whitewashing. The truth - the good, the bad, and the ugly - is told ... just as it is. But more than that, it shows how Yahweh is more than able to change people if they will but trust Him and follow the spiritual program He has revealed in His Torah.
I think we all know deep down that no matter what our ugliness that we are capable of becoming radiant beings of spiritual beauty if we submit ourselves to Christ. I have also taught, many times, that in order to achieve this desirable goal (because such a goal brings not only glory to Yahweh but great happiness to ourselves), that people need each other. But getting modern man and woman to appreciate this truth becomes increasingly more difficult as the philosophy of witchcraft, whose focus is on self and what every individual can get, becomes more and more dominant in society. And, not surprisingly, those who have a spiritual sense find such a philosophy an ugly one.
A Swedish doctor from Stockholm whose hobby was photography recounted an interesting experiment he made. He took photographs of human faces and found that if he superimposed 14 or more photos on top of each other, the resulting face was always beautiful. However many times he tried his experiment the result was always the same - beauty!
We don't need a camera to work this experiment, however. If we look at individual people with individual experiences, we often find unpleasant things, but when we add all our experiences together, when we see life as a whole, what beauty and goodness is there! It is very easy to be put off by a bit of unpleasantness here and there but the overall picture of life is truly beautiful. Look into every life, no matter how awful that life may have been, and you will find beauty somewhere. The art of building bridges with people is to find that beauty, acknowledge it, and focus on it until it fills the whole scene of your relationship with that person. It may not always be easy to do this, but it may be the only way in some instances of holding out to them the Word of Reconciliation that Christ offers all of us.
We live in a cynical, careless and uncaring world where people will rarely do anything for you unless they first think you are going to do something for them first, or in return. The message of Christ is that we are not to think in that way at all. We are to give and not count the cost; we are to forgive and keep no records of resentment, bitterness or hatred; we are not even supposed to think about what we may "get" at all.
Dr. Frederic Loomis of Canada spent a lifetime in obstetrics and gynaecology. During the years he helped many women with different problems, but he never forgot one little old lady who arrived in need of surgery but without any money to pay for it. He made the necessary arrangements, and after her operation spent several hours by her bedside. Six months later he received from her a package - a pair of fine gloves which she had made herself, and of better quality than any he had ever owned before. With them was a note: "To warm the hands that made me well." And I have no doubt that they did warm his hands, but I think also that the touching note warmed his heart as well.
We often remember Yah'shua (Jesus) as the great physician who healed without cost. He often healed people with unspeakable illnesses but rarely did those who were healed come back to thank Him. Nevertheless He did not complain. He kept on giving, and giving, and giving, setting the example that His disciples were expected to imitate. Whatever we have been blessed with by Heaven, we are supposed to share.
Once, you will remember, a blind beggar asked Peter for alms. The apostle replied that he had no money to give, but what he did have, was his, and proceeded to heal him in the name of Christ. Whatever your giftedness, be it wealth, or talent, or time, give it freely as it is needed for the blessing of those less fortunate that yourself. Yah'shua (Jesus) said that in our giving we would not, however, let our left hand know what our right hand was doing, meaning that we should not be keeping secret "accounts" of our giving. Our blessedness ought to be like a river that continuously supplies the waters of love to others, because rivers are continually replenished. The law of giving, explained in many places in scriptures, operates on the principle that in giving we are constantly given back more.
As we further meditate on this principle we come to realise an astonishing thing: namely, that what we have was never ours in the first place. Where does our individual giftedness come from? Our talents and our abilities? True, we need to invest time and effort into them to cultivate them to the point where it may be said that have come to full fruition and perfection, but the original gift was not something we earned. Accordingly, if we have a gift, we in truth have nothing particular to boast about. All we can say is that we received something which was not ours in the first place and put it to good use or neglected it altogether. Thus a man who is an artist may well claim that the quality of his art work was a result of a lot of effort and practice, but he cannot claim that the artistic gift was something he created himself. Indeed, the gift is not strictly speaking "his" - it is a stewardship or a responsibility, and the way we use it will determine what rewards we receive in the next life. The parable of the stewards told by Christ, who were given different amounts of money to invest whilst their boss was away, is to remind us that the money or the stewardships we have are not our own to do with as we please. They are tools which we have been given with which to build, in concert with others, the Kingdom of God. They were not given to us for our own personal glory.
Someone blessed with great wealth can either spend it frivolously on worthless self-gratification or he can fulfil his stewardship and bless those who are starving or homeless through no fault of their own, or build up the Kingdom of Christ. The gifts we have, used correctly, have as their sole purpose to make us better, more caring and more loving human beings, and to aid others. Someone blessed with the gift of leadership should be using such skills not to create personal political or business empires but to help organise the Kingdom of God. Someone blessed with a beautiful singing voice shouldn't be using it to glorify sinful lifestyles but to praise God, like the Christian lady I know on the Internet who simply sings to Yah'shua (Jesus) and uplifts all who listen to her.
And do you know, the most satisfying and warming experience we can ever enjoy in life is actually seeing others blessed by our wisely used gifts? I will never forget the story of the man who was, so he thought, a failed evangelist. He went abroad and he witnessed for Christ and in all those years he converted only one soul - a boy who lived on the streets. He returned home dejected and feeling the kind of failure that Jeremiah did. And then, many years later, when attending an evangelical conference, a man stood up and related how an evangelist had come to his country and brought him, a street orphan, to Christ, and went on to relate how he had himself become an evangelist and brought thousands to the Lord. Well, that old evangelist who only made one convert, and that single convert who made thousands, met during that conference and the older man, who had thought he was a failure because he was measuring success in terms of numbers, discovered that he had simply fulfilled what he had been called to do, and done his work gloriously. He realised that his success was to be measured only in terms of the success of the team and not his own personal accomplishment; for as the Body of Christ, we are a single unit, a team, a family, working together. Our individual accomplishments merge together at that great Wedding of the Lamb, like the Swedish photographer's pictures, to create a work of art of immeasurable beauty. But we can't do this if we are focussed on self and personal ambition and fail to think "us" instead of "me". We will miss the glory of the overall accomplishment if we ever do that.
The apostle Paul said that some plant, some water, and some harvest; but whoever we are, and in whatever part of the spiritual agricultural labour we may find ourselves making our contribution, or at what time, we all matter, but ultimately only as a team. Families, local congregations, and the Body of Christ as a whole are spiritual corporations whose success is measured not in the contributions of each individual but in the finished work of everyone's efforts combined. Our ultimate worth is derived from the participation, just as playing together in sport is more important than who wins. The real accomplishment is in working together and sharing in harmony.
I am obliged to a brother who sent me the following short article which I would like to share with you because it reminds us that the heart of happiness is not so much in what we do in, of, and for ourselves, but in how we receive and redistribute the undeserved loving kindness of Yahweh which is called grace. This is what Ed Miller wrote:
"In Galatians 3, Paul referred to the beginning and the end of the Christian experience. "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" It was by God's pure grace that we began our union with the Lord. We were saved by faith ... There was not a drop of human contribution in the way we began. He offered Himself to us and He enabled us to receive Him. By pure grace we were born again.
"The apostle also has a great deal to say about the way our salvation will be consummated. A very glorious day lies before us when our mortal being shall put on immortality ... The final day will be as the first day. It will be a day of grace.
"Why is it that we struggle so in the middle? It cannot be grace at the beginning, and grace at the end, but works in the middle. It must be pure grace all the way ... Our part in union with Him is to allow Him to do His part ... Our entire Christian lives must be a series of receivings ... we learn to live by pure grace. All of the changes that we so desire to take place in our lives will be realised as the fruit of our union with Him by grace.
"Grace is the bud; glory is the bloom. Here we move from strength to strength, from faith to faith, from grace to grace, and from glory to glory. It begins with Jesus, it ends with Jesus, and it is Jesus in between. 'For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen!'" (God's Dawn for Every Darkness, Grace All the Way, pp.50-52).
Yesterday the children were all out in the garden in the lovely sunny weather we've been having and turned the hose pipe on each other. It was fun for a while but presently they became tired and irritated as they got cold. Afterwards, every one joined together and began filling up a small pool in which to swim. Whereas before the hose could only be pointed at one person at a time, now it was filling a pool which all could share and enjoy together, as well as come and go as they wished.
I think our lives are rather like that hose pipe. We can either indulge ourselves with the gifts we have by getting kicks out of personal achievements for self or we can point our gifts at and for something greater than ourselves, like our families and the Body of Christ. And if we all "pool" our gifts together, imagine what can be accomplished! Suddenly life becomes a lot easier and a lot more pleasurable as we see the joy that results from our giving and can in our turn bless others by receiving what they find joyful in giving to us.
The goal of the New Covenant Church of God (B'rit Chadashah Assembly of Yahweh) has always been two fold: (1) To build strong, nuclear families, and (2) To encourage families to come together to serve the Lord and each other in a wider family of fellow believers. People are often put off by many people coming together and it is a carnal tendency in us all to retreat to be alone by ourselves or with just one or two select friends to supposedly meet our needs and match our interests. But there can be no creative impulse either alone or in small groups of people who are of a "sameness". It's our differences that not only give us potential for creativity but, when joined together serving a common Lord, bring to pass much beauty and glory. And if the truth be known, this is what our hearts secretly yearn for. We know, deep down, that our own best efforts always yield less than best. We know, deep down, that co-operative enterprise yields much better results and deeper, more satisfying relationships. We need, in order to realise these deep spiritual yearnings, to learn to let go of personal fears of loss and de-individualisation when people work together as a group, and to trust in that river of grace with begins and ends all worthwhile endeavour both here on earth and in eternity. The only requirement Yahweh makes of us is that we open wide our hearts and receive the gifts He wishes us to pass on to others and to receive from others in return. And even those who fear groups will usually acknowledge that when a member of that group goes away for a shorter or longer period of time that they lose something precious.
We were designed to be touched by one another, not to hibernate alone in a corner. Like prisms through which Yahweh's light passes, we are all able to channel grace in such a unique way as to bless everyone who comes to share our lives. No two people are alike. Nobody can ever replace someone else. We all sing a unique inner spiritual melody. That is why it is so important not to turn away anyone Yahweh has ordained for us to share our lives with, whether we initially like them or not. For many there are who I initially detested who have since become precious brethren and sisters in Christ. Again, we have to seek the best in people and try not to be disturbed by what we do not like. "Love covers a multitude of sins". Let us embrace, therefore, the grace which God so much desires to give to us no matter who the channels may be, and so be pleasantly and wonderfully surprised. Amen.
This page was created on 11 May 2002
Last updated on 11 May 2002
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