Friday, October 21, 2016

Sabbath School Lesson # 4 |"God and Human Suffering"

Faith versus money

Faith versus money

The word was out. A particular prison was highly successful in bringing inmates to Christ. An investigation was made, to find which prison ministry was responsible. After months of inquiry, they found out the prison ministry itself was wondering what was happening. At the end of the investigation, they discovered that it was the warden who was responsible for turning the prisoners around. The warden was a man who feared God. He shared the gospel with his inmates and even prayed for them and with them.

Immediately, a Christian radio station arranged for an interview. The man shared his testimony giving Christ the glory for his success in turning these inmates around. When asked about a budget and planning, the warden almost exploded, "What are you talking about, Budget? Planning? Do you realize that budget is the biggest excuse people give not to do the work of whichGod is convicting them? Budgets are also the excuse to do work we have no business doing. We do not have a budget. We have the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit." Speechless, the interviewer, sheepishly went to a break.

What does God's work need to move forward: money or the Holy Spirit? In today's world, all things require money. Even, church activities and programs run because there is money; hence, the need to always ask for money in our services. The dependence on money has replaced our reliance on the Holy Spirit. Time spent praying is now spent developing ways to acquire funds and planning activities and programs.  Doubt or presumption have taken the place of Faith.

There is no wonder the author of the lesson asks the questions, "How should we understand this saying? ("Sell what you have and give it to the poor" Luke 18:22.) Was Jesus advocating a redistribution of wealth for all Christians in all times and places? What practical problems would arise if we carried out His injunction? Take any given community, in which all Christians have sold all their property and given the proceeds to the poor, what now is the economic status of those Christians? How do they support themselves and their families? And how,  for example, do they now get the means to carry forward the rest of Jesus' mission to take the Gospel to new frontiers?

The answer to that clearly is that if we live by faith as those in apostolic times did, we would not worry about money. As Christ told the disciples in Matthew 6:31-34,

Matthew 6: 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
Matthew 6: 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
Matthew 6: 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Matthew 6: 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

In their case, God provided through others. They learned to live by faith. God spoke; they listened and believed His promises. They trusted that God would provide. They lived by the definition of faith that says, "Faith is the expecting the Word of God to do what it says and the waiting and depending on that word to do what it says."

On some occasions living by faith meant for the brother or sister to work for money. Notice Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla. They were tentmakers (Acts 18:3). Paul was very candid about why he worked. He did not want to burden the brethren. Selling what you have and giving it to others does not preclude working. If indeed, it is what God wants you to do. In other words, running a business or having a job may require as much faith as not working and depending financially on others. Working or running a business may expose you to others who need to hear the gospel.

David concluded in Psalms 20 that "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." (Psalm 20:7 NIV). Zechariah reached a similar conclusion, "So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6). Many men trust in things this they have or have acquired. But, those who "truly" love God will trust Him.
Raul Diaz

Friday, October 07, 2016

The importance of context

The importance of context
A man dressed as a pilot and sporting dark sunglasses is seen leaving the airplane into the tarmac with a dog walking by his side.   Someone inside the terminal waiting to get on the same airplane sees this man with what seems to be a guiding dog and frantically yells out, "The Pilot is blind!"  In an instant, most of the crowd, also waiting for the same airplane went to the window, where they saw the man dressed as a pilot sporting dark sunglasses with a guide dog by his side.  Suddenly the eyes of the waiting crowd turned from the window to the airline employee; fearing for her safety she calls her superior, who immediately dispatches security and launches a frantic investigation. 
Security struggled to calm down the crowd, but it succeeded with minor difficulties.  As soon as the crowd was quiet, an airline employee showed up with the news.  "The man you saw is our pilot.  He is not blind.  The dog is not his.  The dog belongs to a blind passenger in our plane.  Our pilot offered to take the dog for a walk." 
When we do not have the complete and or correct information, we can reach the wrong conclusions which can lead to bad choices leading to severe consequences.  The same thing happens when we have incorrect and or incomplete information about God.
Let us use the story of Job as an example.  The author of the book of Job introduces Job in verses 1 through 5 of the first chapter,
 Job 1: 1There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
 Job 1: 2And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.
 Job 1: 3His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.
Job 1: 4And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.
 Job 1: 5And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
Job was a fortunate man, and he seemed to credit God for it.  He also constantly interceded with God for others.  Starting in verse 6 there is a switch in scenes where we are made privy to background information that neither Job nor anyone else in the story has.  The Devil attacks Job while God permits it and seemingly observes and waits.  The rest of the story shows us how this moment in Heaven plays out on earth, specifically in Job and his acquaintances. 
Without the context we have, Job struggled to understand why God would do this to him.  Job's friends, also lacking this background, reached the wrong conclusions about Job and accused Job of suffering the consequences of his iniquity.  Job defended himself while pleading to God for an answer.   But, at the end of the story, we find that because of this experience Job knew God better and trusted Him more. 
It would behoove us to remember this story and what we learn from it when we go through our struggles in life. 

What does James 1: 2 – 4 tell us about trials,

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and com­plete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2–4, NKJV).

'The Greek word for "trials," sometimes translated "temptations," is the word peirazo, which has the broader significance of "proving" or "testing." The devil tries us or tempts us to do evil. The tests and trials that God allows to come into our lives are for the purpose of developing our characters.'  Ellen G. White talks about this,

"The trials of life are God's workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our character. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only His precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace."—Ellen G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 10.

However, not every trial is in God's providence. Often we bring suffering upon ourselves through disobedience; often, too, trials and suffering are just the results of what it means to live in a fallen, sinful world where we have an enemy who hates us (1 Pet. 5:8). What this does mean, however, is that through a complete surrender of ourselves to the Lord, to grasping hold of Him in faith and obedience, no matter what we go through, we can come out better or more refined if we allow God to work in us. No one said it would be fun. Life here often isn't fun, but Paul gives us this incredible promise: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

Job never understood why he suffered. His cry to God was, "Why?" However, Job never stopped trusting God. In the middle of his crisis, Job cried out, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" Job13:15. 

The lesson is for us. Many Christians think that they will find in the Christian life freedom from all difficulty. But everyone who takes up the cross to follow Jesus comes to trial in his experience. Life is not all made up of pleasant pastures and cooling streams. Trial and disappointment overtake us; privation comes; these bring into trying places. Conscience-stricken, we reason that we must have walked far away from God, that if we had walked with him, we should not have suffered so. Doubt and despondency crowd into our hearts, and we say, The Lord has failed us, and we are ill-used. Why does he permit us to suffer thus? He cannot love us; if he did, he would remove the difficulties from our path. Is the Lord with us, or not? {RH, April 7, 1903, par. 2 - 3}

Perhaps this is why Peter admonishes us 1 Peter 1:6-7,

1 Peter 1:6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
1 Peter 1:7 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:

This verse tells us that trials are neither random nor chaotic. Trials have a purpose. One of them is to produce genuine faith in those who will persevere through all kinds of tests. In other words, trials teach us to depend on God to overcome temptation and to endure the pain and suffering that Sin brings to us until we die (or are translated). We can trust that God's will fulfill His promises.  We may not see it now. Only in retrospect, God may allow us to see a glimpse of the purpose of trials. For many of us, it will be until we reach eternity before we see clearly God's purpose in letting us suffer. We will also see that God was in it with us all the way. We were not alone. And, in fact, our faith grew stronger, and our character became more Christ-like because of the suffering God put us through.

Raul Diaz

Friday, September 30, 2016

Staying The Course

Staying The Course

Out recently is a film entitled, "Simon Birch." It is about a 12-year-old boy who was tiny and deformed at birth. In fact, he never grew taller than 3 feet, the size of, well a young boy. Because of his physical and emotional peculiarities, he was disliked and rejected by many. Even his parents hardly paid any attention to him at all. In the town, only a few liked Simon, and sadly, he killed one of them by accident. To make matters worse, it was the mother of his best friend, Jake. What made Simon different, is that he dared to ask questions and to expect answers, even from adults. He was unafraid. Above this, Simon believed that all human beings had a purpose in being alive, a purpose that God designed them to fill. Simon not only believed this about others, he believed it about himself and would share it whenever he felt the conversation prompted it. Simon wanted to please God. So to say that Simon was an odd fellow was, definitely, an understatement.

For most of his short life, Simon searched for his purpose. Waiting and watching, he spoke of it always. When Simon discovered that Jake was attending church with his mom, Simon asked to visit with them. Enjoying church fellowship, and being close to God, Simon was unafraid to rebuke the Reverend out loud when he was wrong-- even in the middle of the service. Naturally, the Reverend was embarrassed and humiliated and therefore didn't like Simon for this.  Also, Simon got into trouble for the childish pranks his classmates pulled.

Simon and Jake used to go swimming together where they would practice holding their breaths and of course they competed with one another to see who could hold his breath the longest. Simon had the uncanny ability to hold his breath for a long time under water. Each time they went swimming, Simon tried to hold his breath longer than he did the last time. This ability proved to be an asset, for one day, it saved lives. While on an outing with four and five-year-olds, the bus they were riding in swerved to avoid a deer. Out of control, the bus careened off the road, down the embankment, and into the river. The force of the current drove the back door open, and the bus began to sink. Panic-stricken, children started rocking themselves out of fright, banging on the windows, and crying. Some were even screaming. Pandemonium reigned, as the bus driver opened the front door and escaped underwater. All thought they would drown. Only Simon remained calm. Standing on a seat, he shouted to the children "shut up, and listen!" And they did. Because Simon had been kind to them and was about their height, they trusted him. Stronger than they were, Simon was able to force open a window, get under them, and push them out one by one. At last, one boy remained.  But, his foot got stuck between the seats. Holding his breath, Simon finally freed the boy but began to sink with the bus in the icy cold winter waters of the river. The children told the adults arriving on the scene what happened and that Simon was still on the bus. Swiftly they took action, rescued him and took him to the hospital. Simon did revive and was able to talk, but was far too weak. One by one his classmates and best friend Jake visited. Simon told them that he was ok and ready to die, that he was at peace because he had fulfilled his purpose and could now go. Trying to reassure them, Simon told them not to be afraid and sad, because God had a purpose for each of them too, and that when it was time, each one would know it. Bidding them good-night because he was tired, he died.

The moral of the film is that God used Simon.  God prepared Simon and that Simon was willing to be used by God. Like Simon, John the Baptist, although awkward, was willing to serve the Lord.  And, God prepared John, also.  Being a Nazarite, John lived by strict lifestyle principles. According to Mark 1:6, "And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey." Unfashionable, John did not partake in the trendy styles of consumption. "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" Mark 1:4. John, of course, lived in the desert and was not frequently seen in the towns or cities. He seemed to be like what we would refer to as a cave man. He may have been unpolished and unmannerly, and was probably dusty and sweaty, to say the least.  

Both John and Simon were forthright, but not only was John straightforward, according to Mark 1:7, he was humble. He preached: " cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." He understood that Christ's mission would supersede his, and responded by saying, "... I indeed have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1: 8). 

The book of Mark says that John the Baptist was unafraid to preach the truth to whoever would listen, and that included the wealthy and the powerful.  The people throughout Judea knew John as one who defied the authorities with a message of righteousness and truth.  John called Sin by its name and was unafraid to do so. Obviously, he was politically incorrect, not that there existed such a thing at that time, but just the same had we heard him, we might have found him offensive. Needless to say, straight truth is usually unappreciated. So perhaps like our film character Simon, he was tolerated by the religious types.

God filled the Baptist with the Spirit From John's birth.  John was the one of whom it was said, "As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Mark 1: 2, 3).  Christ said of John in Matthew 11:11 (KJV) "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist..."  Yet, we know that when John was imprisoned not once did Christ visited Him.  
Ellen White gives us the reason,

To many minds a deep mystery surrounds the fate of John the Baptist. They question why he should have been left to languish and die in prison. The mystery of this dark providence our human vision cannot penetrate; but it can never shake our confidence in God when we remember that John was but a sharer in the sufferings of Christ. All who follow Christ will wear the crown of sacrifice. They will surely be misunderstood by selfish men, and will be made a mark for the fierce assaults of Satan. It is this principle of self-sacrifice that his kingdom is established to destroy, and he will war against it wherever manifested. { DA 223.4} 
Jesus did not interpose to deliver His servant. He knew that John would bear the test. Gladly would the Saviour have come to John, to brighten the dungeon gloom with His own presence. But He was not to place Himself in the hands of enemies and imperil His own mission. Gladly would He have delivered His faithful servant. But for the sake of thousands who in after years must pass from prison to death, John was to drink the cup of martyrdom. As the followers of Jesus should languish in lonely cells, or perish by the sword, the rack, or the fagot, apparently forsaken by God and man, what a stay to their hearts would be the thought that John the Baptist, to whose faithfulness Christ Himself had borne witness, had passed through a similar experience! {DA 224.2}

Those who serve Christ will suffer.  But, though suffering, they will give glory to God.  
Raul Diaz