Thursday, June 10, 2004

Its Either My-Way or the High-Way

Commentary to the Sabbath School Quarterly Lesson #11

The title of this Sabbath School commentary represents a very common American saying which is somewhat negative. It describes the attitude of a very controlling, narrow-minded individual who always thinks he or she is right. While this attitude is totally the opposite of God's attitude, when read superficially, scripture seems to affirm the above negative perception, and attribute it to Him. In Isaiah 55:9, God says: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Hence the reference to the "High-Way." God's ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours, that we lack the words to actually express or define what He says. We consider the common words or terms, My Way vs. High Way, as meaning one thing, however, God's written and spoken word adds a whole new dimension. His thoughts and ideas are much deeper and higher than what we can ever conceive. Let's consider some of the differences between God's thoughts and ours in this week's lesson through the example of fasting, sabbath observance, and forgiveness. Let's view them through the motif of "self-denial for the benefit of others" or more simply, "God's self-denying love."

First, let's look at the concept of "fasting." To us it means to stop eating for a period of time, which is a good health practice. God is not against it. In fact Christ endorses the practice in the New Testament. But, skipping a few meals does nothing for our Spiritual condition. The fast God speaks of in Isaiah goes beyond what we could ever consider a fast. Consider God's definition in Isaiah 58:

Isaiah 58:6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the
oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Isaiah 58:7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

The fast Christ refers to is self-denial for the spiritual preparation to benefit others. All the food you don't eat while fasting, will mean nothing if you are not asking God to reveal your sins to you, and to give you the gift of repentance. Doing the work He is asking is not truly possible without constantly receiving His forgiveness and cleansing. Hence Christ's words in the New Testament (Matt. 25: 33-36) that when He comes, He will separate the sheep from the goats. Many will think they are sheep when they are goats. Oh, they will have done all the right things, but not from a self-denying, loving, repentant heart. They were not filled with gratitude to Christ and to their fellow human beings. They did not have the servant's heart of Christ. Their motives were those of duty, and fear of reprisal. No, with their service Christ is not pleased, for it does not represent Himself. Christ has said, "By their fruits you will know them." The good works are not the fruit. Love, joy, peace and patience (...) is the fruit, and the work is done through these. Just as Christ was evaluating Israel's spiritual condition in Isaiah's time, so is He evaluating our condition at present.

Another example in Isaiah, and in this week's lesson is that of "keeping the Sabbath." To many of us, "keeping the Sabbath" means leaving our daily job on Friday night at sunset, and then going to church on Saturday. It means spending the afternoon with Adventist family and or friends at a potluck dinner, where we often overeat, gossip and discuss how dissatisfied we are with the pastor, the church, its leaders and its services. How is this self-denial to benefit others? In Isaiah 58, God contrasts our habits with His concept of fasting. He says-

Is 58:13 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasures, nor speaking thine own words:
Is 58:14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee
with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

How is the Sabbath a delight? What does He mean by "doing / finding thine own pleasures" or "speaking thine own words?" We know that Christ came to "seek and save the lost." That has been me, and you. We know that His whole ministry, indeed His whole life was bent to this one purpose, to redeem humanity from sin, and to restore them to what they would have been had they not fallen. If we love Him, if we truly love Him, will not our hearts go out to Him in response? Will we not open the door of our hearts and minds to Him. Will we not hear His spirit even now knocking at our door? Won't we let Him in? Won't we want to know what He thinks, and how He feels about us, and the world in which we find ourselves? To "keep" the Sabbath means to "treasure" it, and to "treasure" the spiritual rest and one-ness He is wooing you to. Won't you listen closely, and catch His voice to your soul?

The last example we wish to highlight from the lesson in Isaiah, is that of forgiveness. The dictionary defines it as: 1.) To excuse for a fault or an offense; as to pardon. 2.)To renounce anger or resentment against. 3.) To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example). Forgiveness implies the explaining of a fault with the hope of being understood or pardoned. And pardon means to release (a person) from punishment. This is our typical understanding of forgiveness. It can be said as giving mercy when what is deserved is punishment. So when we think of God forgiving us this is how we define it. Yet many times we still feel condemned, and even guilty. Yet, aaccording to Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing: "Forgiveness is the setting free from condemnation, and the reclaiming from sin" (TMB 114). Further still, Paul echoes the thought, hence his statement in Romans:

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Unfortunately, subtly below the surface, we feel that we still owe God, and that we can explain it away. Perhaps this stems from the way in which we forgive others. We usually feel they must deserve it, that they must request forgiveness, and feel sorry for what they've done. Even then, we may doubt their sincerity, and almost always hold a grudge against them. The scripture says that the way we forgive others is the way God forgives us. So, perhaps we have such difficulty experiencing God's forgiveness and forgiving others, because we have not allowed Him to free us from the thought that we still owe Him.

In Luke 11:4- Christ teaches us to say, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." In other words, the measure with which we forgive others' sins or debts, is the same measure Christ will use with us. To be forgiven one must forgive. Ellen White says in Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing:

"… Jesus teaches that we can receive forgiveness from God only as we forgive others. It is the love of God that draws us
unto Him, and that love cannot touch our hearts without creating love for our brethren…After completing the Lord's Prayer, Jesus added: 'If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.' He who is unforgiving cuts off the very channel through which alone he can receive mercy from God. We should not think that unless those who have injured us confess the wrong we are justified in withholding from them our forgiveness. It is their part, no doubt, to humble their hearts by repentance and confession; but we are to have a spirit of compassion toward those who have trespassed against us, whether or not they confess their faults. However sorely they may have wounded us, we are not to cherish our grievances and sympathize with ourselves over our injuries; but as we hope to be pardoned for our offenses against God we are to pardon all who have done evil to us."

So, don't think you are justified to hold grudges and remain angry any longer. Instead, choose God's High-Way, embrace His forgiving attitude toward the one who has hurt you and receive His blessing.

Choosing God's "High-Way" is fasting as He fasted. It is treasuring the Sabbath as He treasured it, and it is forgiving others as He forgave. Self-denial for the benefit of others was and is the crowning principle of His life. Through His power, won't you choose it to be yours?

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