Friday, February 05, 2016

Immanuel-- God with us (The Trajectory of Intimacy)

Immanuel-- God with us (The Trajectory of Intimacy)
In Daniel chapter 2, we find King Nebuchadnezzar troubled with a dream. Part of what troubled him was that he could not remember it. He asked his 'wise men' to recall the dream and interpret it. But his wise men answered by saying what the King was asking for, only God could give, and that He (God) does not dwell among men. Therefore, they inferred, King Nebuchadnezzar's request could not be granted even by God Himself. It is here they laid down the gauntlet to God. What a challenge! God heard, and demonstrated that the belief held by these men was both correct and incorrect. Truth and error were mixed together. The 'wise men' rightly understood that only God could reveal the dream and give the interpretation. But they lacked knowledge and awareness – indeed they did not know that God longs to dwell with men.

Through this strange set of events, God used Daniel to show that only He could reveal both the dream, and its interpretation. Surprisingly, God also used this situation to bring to light one of the fallacies of unbelievers: that God does not dwell with mankind. Through Daniel God proved that He indeed dwells among men.
In fact, His name is Immanuel – God with Us. God has always made it His business to dwell among men. Even when the children of Israel were in the wilderness, He wanted to dwell among them. That was one of His reasons for the earthly Sanctuary. The Lord said to Moses, "… let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8). 

To demonstrate His presence in the sanctuary, God gave His Shekinah glory to shine right above the mercy seat, which covered the Ten Commandments in the most Holy Place of the tabernacle or 'Tent of Meeting.' Ellen White says, "In the holy of holies the great I AM took up His abode…. There, above the mercy seat, overshadowed by the wings of the cherubim, dwelt the Shekinah of His glory, the perpetual token of His presence" (That I May Know Him p. 95).
Furthermore, God was with them day and night, leading them, as seen in Exodus 12:21, 22--
"And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people."
Not only was God with the Hebrews as they wandered in the wilderness, but God dwelt among them after they became established as a nation in the Promised Land. Just read 1st and 2nd Kings, as well as 1st and 2nd Chronicles for evidence of that fact. But this 'closeness' through dwelling among the people was still too far away. From the foundation of the world, God purposed to come even closer still, and close the gap of intimacy. In the book of Isaiah we find this prophecy:
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isa 7:14. He did not want us to miss it, so He said, "I'll give you a sign." "This is how you'll know it's Me…" So although He was initially Spirit, He became flesh and blood, born of a woman, born under the law, like all of the sons of Adam, to be with us. (Gal. 4:4; Rom. 8:3)
We know that Jesus' birth was the fulfillment of this prophecy, because we read in the Gospel of Matthew:
"But while he (Joseph) thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Matt 1:20-23).

Jesus left the royal courts of heaven, and laid aside His (Shekinah) glory, and clothed His divinity with humanity that He might come into close connection with humanity, and by precept and example uplift and ennoble humanity, and restore in the human soul the lost image of God. (Temperance p. 40)
Immanuel is God manifested in the flesh, partaking of our nature for the sole purpose of our redemption and restoration in this divine rescue operation.  Ellen White elaborates,
"Emmanuel, God with us," this means everything to us. What a broad foundation does it lay for our faith? What a hope big with immortality does it place before the believing soul. God with us, in Christ Jesus, accompany us every step of the journey to heaven." (ML 290.2)
But not only did He want to be with us, one of us, but His intention from the beginning was to become one with us. "I in them, and Thou in Me, that we may be one" (John 17:21, 23).

The Holy Spirit was sent to be the means to fulfill this prophecy. Immanuel gave Him to us, as can be seen in John 14:16-- "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever." And in 1 Corinthians 3:16 it says, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is … "a guide in our perplexities, to soothe our sorrows, and shield us in temptation." O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (ML 290.2)
God with us means such closeness, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the Agape- love of God [and Apostle John has said, "God is Agape-love"-- 1 John 4:8] which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39). So we are in Him, and He is in us.

When we receive and understand this concept, then like David we can say, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me" Psalm 23:4. There is no need to live in fear and be overcome by Sin. God with us means that whatever difficulties we experience, He will love us still and neither leave nor forsake us! Oh may we remember this beautiful truth. Amen.

Friday, January 29, 2016

David vs. Henry

Originally published Friday, August 05, 2011
David vs. Henry

At the Reformation, the Western Church became divided between those who continued to accept Papal authority and the various Protestant churches that repudiated it.  The Church of England was among the churches that broke with Rome. The catalyst for this decision was the refusal of the Pope to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

Henry VIII became king of England in 1509. In 1502, his older brother, Arthur, had died. Their father Henry VII decided that Henry should marry Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon.  Henry and others thought this was prohibited by Leviticus 18 and 20. But the Pope gave permission, and after Henry VIII's coronation, he married Catherine. By 1514, they had born no child, so Henry asked the Pope for an annulment. However, the Pope refused to annul the marriage.  A daughter, Mary, was born in 1516.  But, by the middle 1520s, Henry still had no son. He began to think God was judging him.

Henry started to look for a way to end his marriage to Catherine. (He was already in love with Anne Boleyn.) He employed teams of scholars to find good biblical reasons why his marriage to Catherine should end.   One of the ideas the scholars had was that the King should be the supreme head of the Church in England and not the Pope.

In 1533 Thomas Cranmer – one the scholars instrumental in developing the idea of the King being the head of the church - was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. That same year Parliament passed an Act that prevented English people from appealing to the Pope for a legal or church decision.  This Act was passed partly to stop Catherine of Aragon appealing against her divorce. In May, the marriage was annulled by Archbishop Cranmer. The King had already married Anne Boleyn, who was pregnant at the time.  She was crowned Queen at the end of May.  In 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which declared that the King was the supreme head of the Church of England.  Thus, the Church of England – the Anglican Church – was born out of adultery.

Imagine if David would have done as Henry V111.  To make legal his involvement with Bathsheba he would fire or kill the prophet and priest unless they went his way.  King David would establish that he would be the head of the established religious order.   Therefore, his relationship with Bathsheba and subsequent killing of Uriah would be justified under the new religious regime.

Thankfully, David admitted his wrongdoing and repented.   In Psalms 32 David described how it felt to come clean with the Lord,

Psalms 32:1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Psalms 32:2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Psalms 32:3 When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.
Psalms 32:4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.
Psalms 32:5 I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

And, the fact that it was a Psalm made David's repentance public.  Ellen White says,

"Thus in a sacred song to be sung in the public assemblies of his people, in the presence of the court—priests and judges, princes and men of war—and which would preserve to the latest generation the knowledge of his fall, the king of Israel recounted his sin, his repentance, and his hope of pardon through the mercy of God."—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 725.

Though David had initially tried to cover up his sin to the point of murder, once he was convicted, he sought to prevent others from falling into the same pit. He loathed the defilement caused by sin and longed for purity that only God could provide.  David recognized how far-reaching the loss of respect would be and how devastating now his influence for evil was among his people, especially among his sons. This acknowledgment broke his heart, and as his songs portray, he realized that his only hope was to cling to God and humbly accept the judgments that followed from God's loving but thoroughly just hand.  David should be an example to us

Friday, January 22, 2016

Commentary: Samson versus Joseph

This Commentary was previously published to deal with the issue of temperance.  I believe it is very appropriate for this weeks lesson.  

Samson versus Joseph

This week's lesson is about "self-control."  The term used in the Greek for this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is Egkrateia (ἐγκράτεια), which means:  Continence, temperance, the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions especially his sensual appetites.  Our lesson uses the term used by many Bible translations which call it, self-control.  But, self-control in this context is a misnomer.  "Self" control cannot be produced by "self" as long as the law of our nature (bent to self) is at war with the law written in our minds. Only the indwelling of the Holy Spirit from Christ can accomplish the resolution of that war.  So, instead of Self-control, it should be called: Spirit–control.  It is God who does the mastering of our carnal desires, passions, and sensual appetites.  We have two examples from our lesson: one which allowed God to control his carnal desires, passions, and sensual appetites and the other which did not. 

The first one is Joseph.  Betrayed by his family and sold into slavery, Joseph had reasons to doubt the love and care (even the existence) of the God that he learned about since childhood. That's not, however, what he did.  Let's read how he handled a temptation in Genesis 39: 7 – 9,

Genesis 39: 7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.
Genesis 39:  8 But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;
Genesis 39:  9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Joseph revealed that he had allowed the Holy Spirit to control his carnal passions and desires.  We know the rest of the story.  Joseph remained faithful to God and went to prison for it.  He chose humiliation and imprisonment rather than give in to temptation.  Now, let us look at a contrast. 

In Judges 13-16, the Bible gives us the story of Samson.  If we read the texts, keeping in mind the idea of temperance, we would discover there, plenty of powerful lessons that we can learn from Samson's example. How tragic that someone with so many gifts and so much promise could get so easily sidetracked.  God had great plans for Samson.  We read about them in Judges 13,

Judges 13:24-25 (King James Version)
24And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.
25And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.

The lesson asks, "Considering what we know about Samson, what important message, and warning, do we find in those two texts?"  The following Ellen White quote sheds light on this subject,

"The divine promise to Manoah was in due time fulfilled in the birth of a son, to whom the name of Samson was given. As the boy grew up, it became evident that he possessed extraordinary physical strength. This strength was not, however, as Samson and his parents well knew, dependent upon his well-knit sinews, but upon his condition as a Nazarite, of which his unshorn hair was a symbol. Had Samson obeyed the divine commands as faithfully as his parents had done, his would have been a nobler and happier destiny. But the association with idolaters corrupted him. The town of Zorah being near the country of the Philistines, Samson came to mingle with them on friendly terms. Thus, in his youth intimacies sprang up, the influence of which darkened his whole life. A young woman dwelling in the Philistine town of Timnath engaged Samson's affections, and he determined to make her his wife. To his God-fearing parents, who endeavored to dissuade him from his purpose, his only answer was, "She pleaseth me well." The parents, at last, yielded to his wishes, and the marriage took place."—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 562.

Despite his great promise, Samson allowed his passions and lusts to overcome everything good. Who hasn't struggled with the reality of this conflict? The great controversy isn't just a symbol; it depicts the battle between Christ and Satan that is waged, not simply as some cosmic conflict in the heavens but in every human being, as well. Though Christ paved the way for all people to share in His victory, the battle for our hearts and flesh is being fought, indeed, in our hearts and our flesh. Christ won it all for us, and because of His victory we can choose to claim His victory as ours all the time.  By the choices we make, we are deciding for one side or another in the great controversy.  The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts and renews our mind if we let Him.  Samson and Joseph display how both sides – accepting and not accepting – works. 

"Samson in his peril had the same source of strength as had Joseph. He could choose the right or the wrong as he pleased. But instead of taking hold of the strength of God, he permitted the wild passions of his nature to have full sway. The reasoning powers were perverted; the morals corrupted. God had called Samson to a position of great responsibility, honor, and usefulness; but he must first learn to govern by first learning to obey the laws of God. Joseph was a free moral agent. Good and evil were before him. He could choose the path of purity, holiness, and honor, or the path of immorality and degradation. He chose the right way, and God approved.  Under similar temptations which he had brought upon himself, Samson gave loose rein to passion. The path which he entered upon he found to end in shame, disaster, and death. What a contrast to the history of Joseph!"--Ellen G. White, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 1007.

Whether we end up like Samson or Joseph is our choice.  There is a warning to heed.  Following Samson lead does not mean you can repent in the end as Samson did.  Many will not have that opportunity.  Let us not harden our hearts.  Let us respond to God's loving call, now and continually.


Friday, January 08, 2016

Insight: The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character

The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character

In Matthew 25: 14 – 30, we find the Parable of the talents.  We read that two of the servants improved on what the Master gave them.  But, the last servant hid the talent and did not improve on it.  This man based his action on what he thought of the Master,

Mat 25:24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
Mat 25:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

We could imply that the other two servants thought the opposite of their master.  Ellen White seems to tell us that Eve had a similar problem,

The tempter intimated that the divine warning was not to be actually fulfilled; it was designed merely to intimidate them. . . .  {CC 15.5} 
            Such has been Satan's work from the days of Adam to the present, and he has pursued it with great success. He tempts men to distrust God's love and to doubt His wisdom. He is constantly seeking to excite a spirit of irreverent curiosity, a restless, inquisitive desire to penetrate the secrets of divine wisdom and power. In their efforts to search out what God has been pleased to withhold, multitudes overlook the truths which He has revealed, and which are essential to salvation. . . .  {CC 15.6}
Eve really believed the words of Satan, but her belief did not save her from the penalty of sin. She disbelieved the words of God, and this was what led to her fall. In the judgment men will not be condemned because they conscientiously believed a lie, but because they did not believe the truth, because they neglected the opportunity of learning what is truth.  {CC 15.7}

Eve doubted God's integrity; thus, judged God's character incorrectly.  Her thought of God provoked her downfall.  She now needed to restore her trust In God. 

Did you notice that Ellen White says that Eve's experience applies to all men?  What lie are men choosing to believe that leads them away from trusting God? We read from Ellen White,

In the opening of the great controversy, Satan had declared that the law of God could not be obeyed, that justice was inconsistent with mercy, and that, should the law be broken, it would be impossible for the sinner to be pardoned. Every sin must meet its punishment, urged Satan; and if God should remit the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice. When men broke the law of God, and defied His will, Satan exulted. It was proved, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed; man could not be forgiven. Because he, after his rebellion, had been banished from heaven, Satan claimed that the human race must be forever shut out from God's favor. God could not be just, he urged, and yet show mercy to the sinner. {DA 761.4}

Our lesson has made it clear throughout the quarterly that this is what our denomination believes: Sin must be punished.  And, it is God who must punish it.  Is it not disturbing that we think of God what Satan says of Him? 

If this is what we believe, then we believe that something must be done to avoid the punishment.  God needs appeasement.  The previous statement states the core belief of every pagan religion; hence, the practice of sacrifices.  Only "the smell the blood" would appease the angry god.  Christians have adopted this understanding of God.  Christians understand that "Christ died to reconcile the Father unto us."  You will find no such thought anywhere in the Bible.  The Bible is very clear,

2 Corinthians 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

We read in John 3: 16 that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son – the Lamb slain from the beginning of the World to away its Sin (Revelation 13: 8, John 1: 29). It was the Father Who wanted – and still wants - reconciliation.  We read from Romans,

Romans 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

In Christ, while we still saw God as the enemy, we were reconciled to God and not God to us.  Christ says in John 14,

John 14:7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
John 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
John 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

Many read the story of Jesus and realize that their concept of God differs from Jesus.  Jesus Himself tells us that He and the Father are One.  Jesus is a perfect representation of His Father.  Any concept of God that differs from Jesus is wrong.  Ellen White says,

There stood in the world One who was a perfect representative of the Father, One whose character and practices refuted Satan's misrepresentation of God. Satan had charged upon God the attributes He himself possessed. Now in Christ he saw God revealed in His true character—a compassionate, merciful Father, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Him in repentance, and have eternal life. (1 SM, p. 254).

A good surgeon cuts into the body of its ill patient (thus inflicting pain), not to punish her for having a harmful health condition, but to get rid of what is ailing the heart.  God intervenes in our life, not to punish us, but to get rid of the Sin, which will kill us otherwise.  Those whom He loves, He chastens.  "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (Hebrews 12:11).  "…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning"(Psalm 30:5).
Raul Diaz