Friday, June 17, 2016

Impetuous Living

Impetuous Living

The Queen of England was scheduled to come to America for an official visit. Her assistants thought that it would be good PR if the Queen was to visit a local American resident as part of the royal trip. Consequently, Mrs. Bolton, An African American woman of middle age was selected to have the privilege of the Queen's visit. Naturally, Mrs. Bolton was quite excited about the Queen's visit to her home. She had followed the Queen's life, and remembered her coronation, her wedding, and even when the Queen had children. But never had she imagined that Her majesty would visit her. In anticipation, Mrs. Bolton, who was an excellent cook, set out to prepare the best "'soul food"' she'd ever made. Even her neighbors were saying that her food had never smelled that good.

On the day the Queen was to arrive, Mrs. Bolton, as well as the press, the media, and security personnel were ready early. Unfortunately, no one remembered to teach Mrs. Bolton the protocol for receiving a Royal dignitary into her home.  Upon the queen's arrival at Mrs. Bolton's home, cameras flashed, videos cameras and recorders rolled, and security was tight. The queen, stepping out of her vehicle, began the ascent up the pathway to Mrs. Bolton's home. Upon seeing the Queen, Mrs. Bolton moved quickly through her front door, out onto the step, and down the path. In her exuberance, she both embraced and drug the Queen into her home. Reluctantly, the Queen obliged; yet anyone watching could see the discomfort on her face. The Queen's bodyguards became frantic; this had the unfortunate effect of scaring Mrs. Bolton, and making the Queen even more uncomfortable. Not one of the Queen's entourage was accustomed to a host or hostess behaving in such an impetuous manner. Nevertheless, calm was restored after explanations and apologies had been made. Mrs. Bolton, despite the faux pas, rejoiced that the Queen had spent a few minutes in her humble home. The British however, were loath to let the matter go and were indignant at the treatment received by their Queen. Accordingly, the scandal sheets reported the details of the event for weeks.

The scandalous nature of the Queen's treatment reminds me of the story about the woman who anointed Jesus. Her "impetuous" behavior was no less a scandal in her day. Let's read the account in Matthew 26:6-13 (KJV), 

 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.

In Luke's account of this story -- Luke 7:36-50we notice that the host, Simon, also found this incident reprehensible, "for the woman was a sinner."  Unlike the Queen, who by protocol was not to be touched by the host, Simon refused to have anyone touch Jesus, which went against the etiquette of his day. However, no one expressed disdain for Simon's breach of etiquette. Instead, Mary, the uninvited guest, performed the welcoming ritual that Simon should have done; only she responded not out of protocol but from gratitude.  

In her concern for Jesus, Mary relieved His suffering. Ellen White elaborates in the following quotes,

"The fragrant gift which Mary had thought to lavish upon the dead body of the Saviour she poured upon His living form. At the burial its sweetness could only have pervaded the tomb; now it gladdened His heart with the assurance of her faith and love… And as He went down into the darkness of His great trial, He carried with Him the memory of that deed, an earnest of the love that would be His from His redeemed ones forever" (Conflict and Courage, p. 306).
"The desire that Mary had to do this service for her Lord was of more value to Christ than all the spikenard and precious ointment in the world, because it expressed her appreciation of the world's Redeemer. It was the love of Christ that constrained her. . . Mary, by the Holy Spirit's power, saw in Jesus One who had come to seek and to save the souls that were ready to perish. Every one of the disciples should have been inspired with a similar devotion" (Christ Triumphant p. 252, paragraph.4). 

Although the disciples had privately received teachings regarding Jesus' approaching death, they were uncomfortable with the idea and resisted it, which later left them unprepared for trial. In contrast, Mary, an 'improper' woman, not privy to the disciples' intimate knowledge of Jesus, was informed by the promptings of the Holy Spirit and believed. That kind of inspiration she received can only find an entrance in a broken and a contrite heart. Thus, Jesus commended Mary.  

The heart of Mary of Bethany was a grateful one. She had truly grasped the Gospel as preached by Jesus, which is why she behaved as she did. Yet, someone called her actions impetuous. In the Dictionary, the word "impetuous" is defined as characterized by undue haste and lack of thought or deliberation. Mary's actions indeed may seem impetuous to some, and wasteful, or shameful to others. However, Jesus gives evidence that the Holy Spirit was moving her to do as she did. By Christ's description of her behavior, it's my guess that we can perceive the impetuosity of agape-love as heaven does -- as aptly describing how God loves us, and the manner in which we will love one another as the Holy Spirit moves us. Moved by the Spirit, Mary Magdalene of Bethany gave to Christ her most precious and costly possession.
 
So, the question today, comes to us individually: is there room in your life for Spiritual impetuosity? Have you ever been spiritually impetuous? Have you ever been led by the Spirit to live your life not according to the dictates of others, but purely according to His Word, and His prompting? It's so easy to be impetuous about something we love. If we truly love Christ, let's allow Him to have His way with us. Who knows what that fragrance wafting on the air will do for another?
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Friday, June 10, 2016

Christ, The Good Shepherd: Our Only Protection

Christ, The Good Shepherd: Our Only Protection

When I was a child, I use to love fairy tales.   Often in these tales, wolves were portrayed as cunning and ravenous villains.  But are they that bad?  In the movie "Never Cry Wolf", based on a non-fiction book of the same name, a young scientist discovers that wolves are creatures that are striving to survive just like any other: this is not to say that wolves are not a threat to shepherds and sheep.

Wolves are cunning hunters.   Although they tend to be loners, they hunt in packs.  They are also nocturnal.  They prefer to hunt after dusk under the cover of night.  Wolves test herds for signs of weakness, taking advantage of the very sick and old.  They sniff the air for wounds or the smell of infection.  Once they chose their prey, the wolves travel in the opposite direction from which the wind blows to prevent the victim from catching their scent.  Wolves also observe ravens for finding prey.  Ravens circle in the air, just above sick animals.  Circling birds mean that food is near.  The wolf pack quietly will close in on their target, often in a single line. They seize their prey by the rump or the sides, preferring to attack from behind. 

In the case of sheep, as the wolves try to catch the sheep they are targeting, the rest of the flock scatters.  Now, the shepherd has not only lost the one sheep to the wolves, but they also have to find the other sheep: this can take hours or days.  The wolf will also attack the shepherd if he tries to defend his flock.  However, the only defense the sheep have against the wolf is the shepherd.  As we can see, Paul didn't compare the enemy to wolves for nothing.

Referring to false prophets, Jesus says the wolves that attack us many times will come "to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Mat7:15).  Their disguise is very deceiving, which is why Christ says in Matthew 24:24,

Matthew 24:24  For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

The deception is so great that even the elect could be deceived.  This is perhaps why John was impressed, back then, to warn about the perils of "the last hour."  He says on 1 John 2: 18 – 19,

1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
1Johnn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

What kinds of dangerous teachings could these be?  Are we today confronted with anything, both within and without the church, that if accepted would lead us astray? How can we protect ourselves from these deceptions?

John gives us an idea of the deception. John describes Antichrist as one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:221) and that He is God incarnate (1 John 4:32, 2 John 73)

Very few professed Christians deny Jesus as God and as coming in the flesh.  Could it be that there is more to this than meets the eye?  Could we - in this last hour – profess to believe that Christ is God and came in the flesh, but truly do not?  This is the essence of deception: it is so close to the truth we cannot tell them apart.   It is as a forged object or counterfeit.  How can we tell the counterfeit from the real one?  We study the actual one to get to know it so well, so that when we see the counterfeit we can say, "It is a fake."  The "Truth" is our only safeguard against the deception.  The "Truth" is Jesus.

Our only defense against the wolves is the Shepherd.  Christ says so Himself in John 10: 11 – 15,

John10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
John10:12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
John10:13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
John10:14 I am the good shepherd …
John10:15 … and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Our best defense is staying within the shepherd's eyesight and where you can hear "the Truth."  Because, His sheep, "hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out … and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (John 10: 3, 4).  Any strange voice the sheep will not follow (John 10:5), even if it is a sheep in wolves clothing.   How well do you know the voice of Jesus?

Endnotes

1 1 John 2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.

21 John 4:3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

32 John 1:7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

 -- 
Raul Diaz

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Foundation

Originally published: Friday, July 19, 2013

The Foundation

The contractor hired a few young men to help build a small house in a low-budget residential area.  It was a small budget project.  So, the contractor hired these inexperienced young men – to whom the contractor would pay low wages - to dig the footings rather than renting the power equipment to do the job.  So, on the first day on the job their soft hands were digging a ditch between the yellow nylon twine in the hard red day with a pick ax and a shovel.  Hour after hour as the sun beat down, blisters developed, grew, broke, and grew again as these young men dug this trench, a foot and a half wide with straight sides and a flat bottom. When the foreman returned hours later to inspect and help with his finishing touches and grade stakes, in came a concrete truck to fill in the hard-won space.

What they were working on was called the foundation.  A foundation is an underlying base or support; in other words, a body or ground upon overlays a built structure.  It is the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground level.   This foundation is to be sound. It should rest on firm undisturbed soil or bedrock so that it can provide reliable support for the structure.  The type and quality of the foundation required will, of course, depend on many factors, including the size and weight of the structure to be built as well as the kind and stability of the soil.  Foundations for homes are usually no more than one or two feet deep. But if you build a skyscraper, tower, or massive bridge, the foundation will need to be much more substantial. For example, the twin Petronas Towers soaring above Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were sited on soil that couldn't support the weight of die 1,500-foot skyscrapers, so the foundation had to rest on solid bedrock. Imagine how deep the massive hole for the 394-foot-deep concrete and steel foundation, to date, this is the deepest foundation for any building. For comparison, in January 2010 the world's tallest building, rising 2,717 feet above die desert of Dubai and known as Burj Khalifa, has a nearly half-million-ton concrete and steel foundation that extends down only 164 feet.  While the foundations may vary, they still need to have the capacity to bear the structure's weight, and keep it standing; this implies that the foundation precedes the building. 

The Bible speaks of a "rock" that served as a foundation for the temple of Solomon.  Christ identified with this rock.  Ellen White tells the story,

"In quoting the prophecy of the rejected stone, Christ referred to an actual occurrence in the history of Israel. The incident was connected with the building of the first temple. While it had a special application at the time of Christ's first advent, and should have appealed with special force to the Jews, it has also a lesson for us. When the temple of Solomon was erected, the immense stones for the walls and the foundation were entirely prepared at the quarry; after they were brought to the place of building, not an instrument was to be used upon them; the workmen had only to place them in position. For use in the foundation, one stone of unusual size and peculiar shape had been brought; but the workmen could find no place for it, and would not accept it. It was an annoyance to them, as it lay unused in their way. Long it remained a rejected stone. But when the builders came to the laying of the corner, they searched for a long time to find a stone of sufficient size and strength, and of the proper shape, to take that particular place, and bear the great weight which would rest upon it. Should they make an unwise choice for this important place, the safety of the entire building would be endangered? They must find a stone capable of resisting the influence of the sun, of frost, and of tempest. Several stones had at different times been chosen, but under the pressure of immense weights they had crumbled to pieces. Others could not bear the test of the sudden atmospheric changes. But at last, attention was called to the stone so long rejected. It had been exposed to the air, to sun and storm, without revealing the slightest crack. The builders examined this stone. It had borne every test but one. If it could bear the test of severe pressure, they decided to accept it for the cornerstone. The trial was made. The stone was accepted, brought to its assigned position, and found to be an exact fit. In prophetic vision, Isaiah was shown that this stone was a symbol of Christ. He says:

"Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken." 

Carried down in prophetic vision to the first advent, the prophet is shown that Christ is to bear trials and tests of which the treatment of the chief cornerstone in the temple of Solomon was symbolic.   The prophet declares: "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." Isaiah 8:13-15; 28:16."

So, Christ told the Jews that they were treating Him as this stone was treated.  He says to them in Mat 21:42 Jesus saith unto them, "Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?"

Paul picks up on this theme in Ephesians 2.  He calls us the building and Christ the foundation.  Let us read,

Eph 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Eph 2:21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:

This has two implications. On the one hand, if Jesus is the foundation, then not one of us is as important as Jesus (and we do not have to dig the footings).  The only reason we can stand is because He bears our weight and keeps us standing.  On the other hand, we need not worry about how we can stand and not fall.  Jesus bears and holds us all; if only we let Him.  Both extremes are dangerous.  They are both treating Him as the "stone that the builders rejected."  It is letting the stone fall on you. By, faith bring forth the fruit of falling on the stone and being broken (Matthew 21: 44 - 45).

-- 
Raul Diaz

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sheep In The Mall

Sheep In The Mall
 
Originally published in 2007.

Commentary To The Sabbath School Lesson 

At first glance, the picture in this week's lesson seems to depict a city or town. But, no, upon closer examination, the buildings all have steeples-church steeples. So what is depicted is not a city or town, but a grouping of religious structures or houses of worship. Something about the illustration was unsettling to me, and that's when I noticed that there were no steeples of mosques or temples. Why I wondered is that? Is the lesson trying to suggest that "Christ's Other Sheep" are all Christians, and that they are to found in other churches? Have you ever seen a sheep in a church? 

I haven't. But neither have I seen one in the Mall either. Of course, we know that Christ is using sheep to illustrate human characteristics. He uses several texts to demonstrate our nature, and describe our typical behavior- that of wandering (and perhaps wondering too) away-- to us. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Is. 53:6) So by nature, we tend to go our own way. We wander away from where we're supposed to be, and we get lost. But Jesus says that the one defining characteristic of His sheep, 'whom He knows,' is that " 'they hear His voice, and they follow Him.'" 

So it's possible isn't it, for Christ's Sheep to be anywhere, in any religious organization, as long as they hear His voice, and listen to Him with a willingness to do His bidding. If they do, they will be following Him wherever He goes, and not wandering away. Christ said, "I came to do the will of Him who sent Me." How about us, do we hear His voice, do we listen to Him with a willing heart and mind, or are other pastures greener? 

Christ is calling His human sheep out of Babylon—out of confusion, and unbiblical thinking. After all to be in a false church (synagogue or temple) and hold false doctrines, is to think wrong thoughts. Is it possible to have a false belief system, and yet be in the 'right church'? Is it possible that we, individually, might be in Babylon? 

A secular sociologist discussing World War II stated that it changed the face of America. He stated, "there was a brain drain in Europe, more Europeans migrated to the United Sates, women stayed in the workforce, more people had more jobs in government, and the Religion of America became consumption." Imagine that? The religion of America's no longer Protestant, but Consumption. 

Apparently, the Religion of Consumption is composed of these elements: 

- Hyper-consumption 

- Shopping and Entertainment Centers with a magical element to attract or draw large numbers of people 

- Buildings modeled after churches, synagogues, or cathedrals 

According to the sociologist, more Americans are more likely to go to a mall on the weekend than to church. And thus, Malls are the churches of Consumption. And so the question is, are there Sheep in the Malls? Have we inadvertently become Sheep in the Malls? Through John the beloved, Jesus states in John 9:31: 

Now we know that God doesn't hear sinners (those with iniquity hidden in their hearts- Ps. 66:18): but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does His will, him He hears. 

Jesus also states in John 10:14,15: "I Am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and Am known of mine. And other sheep have I not of this fold, them I must bring, and they shall hear My voice and there shall be one fold and one shepherd." 

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, he asked what he should do to have eternal life. You probably remember the story. He approached Jesus calling Him, "Good Master." Jesus answers him with the question "why do you call Me good—there is none good, save God." Do we often find ourselves saying "so and so is a good person, he does…? The young ruler equated goodness with doing too. But here we see Christ equating goodness with God's character of love. 

Let's look at the text together. In John 19:18-26-- Jesus says, "if you will enter into life, keep the commandments," and then He recites them. The young man says, "this I've done from my youth." Then Jesus says, "if you'll be complete in Me, go and sell all you have, give to the poor, and you'll have treasure in heaven. But, hearing this, the young man went away sorrowful." How about us, do we become sad hearing this message too? Do we find loving others too difficult to do? Are we relying on our strength? 

Jesus said in Matt. 13:22 "… the deceitfulness of riches (and possessions), choke the word, (choke love out of the heart) and the follower of Christ becomes unfruitful (unloving). In Mark 10:22, Jesus states- those who trust in riches shall not enter into heaven. I'm sure that we've all said, then who can be saved? Jesus answers that in Mark 10:27… "With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." In other words, being His sheep, hearing Him speak, following Him, loving as He loved is possible with Him. 

Jesus' Sheep, wherever they are right now, are listening to hear His voice. They are willing to be made willing to do His bidding. They may not have all the truth, but they are following Him, and He is leading them in the paths of Righteousness for His name's sake. All the law hangs on two principles: love to God supremely and to others as He has loved us—Matt. 22:40, John 13:34. In verse 35, Jesus says, " … by this unconditional, self-denying love, all men shall know you are My disciples. Jesus' Sheep hear His voice, and like Him, they depend on their Father for the power, and they lay down their lives in love. Are you in the Mall listening to Jesus? 


Maria Greaves-Barnes 

Ps. Most of us know the unfortunate ending to the story.  What we do not know is what Ellen White says inspired this man to run to Jesus, kneel down and ask Jesus the question. 

At first the rich young ruler was just observing the scene of the disciples, mothers, and children. But the tenderness Jesus showed with the children and mothers touched his heart. "He saw the love that Christ manifested toward the children brought to Him; he saw how tenderly He received them, and took them up in His arms, and his heart kindled with love for the Saviour. He felt a desire to be His disciple. He was so deeply moved that as Christ was going on His way, he ran after Him."—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 518.
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