Friday, December 30, 2005
I like swords. Even as a child swords fascinated and filled me with awe as I viewed their workmanship and ornamentation -- oh how they shone, drawing me to them. Consequently, fencing completely captured my attention, and I watched it every chance I got. It's amazing how such a potentially deadly game could be composed of such elegant and graceful movements, almost like those of a dance. Yet, despite these attributes there is a swiftness and an aggressiveness to fencing, and to sword use in general.
No matter how often as a child I watched sword-fighting films, I always came away with the same impression, swords are not merely weapons of offense, and they are also weapons of defense. For while your opponent is attempting to disarm, maim, and perhaps kill you, you may often only be attempting to keep his sword at bay. In the old days when swords were used to handle disputes, those who were better skilled, lived; while those who were not, died. How appropriate that Paul calls the word of God the Sword of the Spirit, for it too is both offensive and defensive. Individuals who are skilled and empowered by the (Holy) Spirit to handle the Word of God, not only possess a superior weapon with which to defend themselves against Satan’s attacks, but also with the same weapon will come off the victor against the attacks or clamoring of their own sinful nature.
Lest you protest, we are not talking here about those who have an incredible ability to memorize scripture. We are not talking about those gifted with the eloquence to preach. We are talking of those who allow the Holy Spirit to teach them how to use the Word of God as a great warrior uses his sword. Not so sure you agree? Let's look at what the writer of Hebrews says in the 12th verse of the fourth chapter:
For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Notice that in this verse, Paul says nothing about attacking the devil. It's not that the Word cannot be used to attack the enemy of souls, it can, such as when we go into his territory, and take souls prisoner to Jesus Christ. However, Paul in Hebrews, is saying that the Word of God goes deep into our inner minds where our most hidden thoughts and desires dwell-- yes folks, sometimes hidden even from ourselves -- and that the Word of God exposes us to ourselves as we really are - sinners. In essence, the Word serves as a judge of our ideas, thoughts, motives and feelings, as well as our actions. But, and this is the great part, the Word doesn't leave us languishing in the prison of discouragement, under accusation and despair; no, it sanctifies (meaning purifies) the mind, if we consent (John 17:8, 14 & 17). The Word of God cuts through the hard and stony heart of pretense, taking away the Sinfulness of self, with its lustful desires, pride, and childishness. Unlike a physical sword, which is brandished outwardly, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, must be taken internally (eternally). Jesus said He had meat to eat that the disciples knew not of. He also stated that He is the Word of God, and that we live by every Word that “proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (John 4;35; Matt. 4:4; John 6).
Thus those who carry the Sword, are living by every Word, and pray living prayers. If you happen to find yourself in the presence of a pray-er who prays living prayers, listen closely, for the Words are with power. "I don't see or hear anything special," you say? Well, though these prayers are simple, yet they are profound. Haven't you noticed they move the hand of omnipotence? Haven't you ever read the scripture that says, "... The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."? Filled with the righteousness of Christ in God, these prayer-ers manifest humility, and heartfelt devotion and gratitude to Christ their Saviour. Consequently, their prayers are non-repetitive, vain, proud, or superficial. To wield the Sword of the Spirit is to pray living prayers; for it is the Spirit through the Word, which actually informs the prayer.
Scripture has said that by obeying the truth (of the Word) through the Spirit our souls (minds or consciousness) are purified. Furthermore, it says that we become born again or renewed in mind by the Word of God, which lives and abides forever; and that the Word is the Gospel preached unto you (I Peter 1:22-25). There are only one or two purposes of the sword in a fight, one is to preserve life, and the other is to take it. Satan's plan is that when we're attacked, our sword will be rendered useless, and that he'll come off the victor, having stolen our birthright. On the contrary, Christ has come that we might have life more abundantly. Furthermore He has stocked His arsenal and left it at our disposal with an expert Teacher at hand (who can never be separated from us unless we consent). Folks, the Godhead intends that we may have life now and in the Kingdom to come. In light of the victory already won on behalf not only of the human race, but also specifically for you and me, doesn't it make sense then to live by the Word? It did to Jesus 2000 years ago as He fought with Satan, and it does to me. The battle is raging, let's not be caught unprepared!
Maria Greaves-Barnes & Raul Diaz
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Thursday, December 22, 2005
Recently, a uniformed local police officer walked into a supermarket to buy a few items. As the officer paid for her groceries, she was frantically accosted by a civilian shopper. "The bank down the aisle is being held up, you've got to do something!," the civilian shopper yelled. The bank was on the premises of the supermarket. Unaffected by the civilian's plight for help, the officer responded sarcastically, "and, why are telling me?" The civilian answered, "Aren't you a police officer?" Scoffing, the officer replied, "call 911, I'm off duty." Astonished, the shoppers looked at the officer in dismay, as she walked away. "How could she be so callous and unconcerned?," they asked one another in disbelief, while the bank robber fled the scene.
Has a situation like that ever happened to you, where you thought the person in charge should have helped, and instead they left the scene? How did you feel? Do you think the officer's response was correct? Or were the shoppers wrong to assume she would help because she was uniformed? What if she had been wearing civilian clothes, do you think she would have identified herself as an officer of the law? Is she under obligation to do so, and anyway, how do we know when a cop is off duty? Is there even such thing as an off duty cop?
Our lesson tells us that each Roman soldier wore a belt around his waist, mainly to hold his flowing robes firm to his body lest they get in his way during a fight. An off duty Roman soldier was easily identified because he was not wearing his belt. As a private citizen, yet an employee of the government, he was allowed off-duty time. But, and I say this gingerly, can a Christian soldier ever take off his belt of truth and go on a weekend pass or vacation? Is there such a thing as an off duty Christian? Is it possible that a Christian can loosen his belt of truth and still remain a Christian? Perhaps he can, but each time he does, he runs the risk of never being able to put it on again. For each time the Christian ventures out without the truth, he is in the camp of Satan; in that moment he is believing -or causing others - to believe in a lie. Thus returning to the pure, unadulterated belt of truth becomes more difficult, precisely because other belts have become more attractive.
If Paul says the belt of truth should be put on, before any other part of the armor, it must be important. In actuality, the truth is the undergarment of our experience. As a part of our amour, truth is so important, that God commands us to know it: "And ye shall know the Truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:23). Furthermore, the scripture not only says that we should only know the truth, but that Christ Himself is the truth, "... I Am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). So to study 'truth' is to study Christ. In the 1st three chapters of Ephesians, we learned that the Father put us all in Jesus, making Jesus the last Adam. Consequently, in Jesus we live, have died and are resurrected. Thus when we accept the Gospel by faith, the Father puts Christ in us. This process which is called Justification / Sanctification, means that as we focus on the glorious truths 'in Christ,' our minds progressively become infused with His mind, and as a result, we are progressively cleansed from Sin, and enabled to reach the fullness of the measure and stature of Christ. What wonderful and powerful truth to us has been made known! Let's keep the belt on folks!
In conclusion, a Roman soldier was known to be on duty because he wore the belt. By the same token, a Christian soldier is known to be on duty because he / she wears the belt of truth, and goes forth to the fight filled with the Agape love of Christ (John 13:34, 35). This Christmas season it is my prayer that we will not forget this scriptural belt of truth, and tie up our garments instead with a flimsy cord of rope.
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Thursday, December 15, 2005
War is a frightening prospect, even if you've been assured that you'll win. Most of us would avoid going to war unless we were forced to do so. Yet there are ambitious, driven individuals who look forward to war. Not so much because they want to fight to prove their physical prowess, but because there are vast fortunes to be gained by those who are in the know, and are looking. "How can such a wicked thing take place," you say? Well, who do you think funds wars? There are merchants, arms dealers, and business owners who know how to make a killing, financially speaking of course, on the business of war. Never thought about it that way? All you have to do is look at the film Schindler's list -- and not the whole film either, to visualize that for the very select few, war is profitable.
What place does this admission have in the light of this commentary? Just this, for Satan -- war is profitable too. And by profitable, we don't mean the spoils of war, no friends, what is meant is that the profit by which he enriches himself, is your soul, and my soul. This is why the scripture says, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world -- which lies under the condemnation of sin -- and lose his soul" (Mark 8:36)?
Our lesson highlights the twelfth verse in Ephesians chapter six, which reads thus:
Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.
And from this text we glean that like it or not, we are at war -- or in the very least we are in the midst of war. Furthermore, the war is not with individual human beings per say, such as that miserable colleague, that thoughtless family member or that driver who just cut you off in traffic and proceeded to drive slowly in front of you. On the contrary, the war is with our thought life, and our verbal or behavioral response to the wickedness that has been displayed. This concept is not only believed by Christians, there is even a popular saying which non Christian businesses use to encourage their employees to consider that the problem is usually attributable to their thinking: "It's not what happens to you that matters, it's your attitude about what happens that matters; for your attitude can determine your altitude."
If you remember, when Adam sinned, he plunged the whole world into sin, and bequeathed to us a sinful nature incapable of living by the law of love. Instead our greatest drive is to preserve the flesh at all costs, which entails living by the law of sin or selfishness. Satan our adversary, knows not only the history of our fall -- as he caused it, but he has also studied us for thousands of years, knows our weaknesses and frailties as human beings, and as individuals. Even Paul confronts this issue personally, and shares his struggles with us in Romans chapter 7, verses
Romans 7:15 For that but what I hate, that do I.
Romans 7:16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Romans 7:17 Now then it is no more I that so do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Romans 7:18 For I know that in me (that is in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
Romans 7:19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Romans 7:20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
Romans 7:21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
Romans 7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
Romans 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of
my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in
Romans 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this
Romans 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I
myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Why such a long passage on Paul's struggles? Because it is the struggle of all who have accepted the validity of the holy law, and who are trying to keep it in their own strength. This includes those of us who in discovering some very unpleasant little habit or way of dealing with a situation that we have, try to stop it by will power. The struggle is not only with Satan, our outward foe, but with ourselves and the law of sin that reigns in us. Satan's war with us, his attacks on us are not merely to make our lives difficult, but to cause us to choose our own way instead of God's. His goal and determined effort is bent to cause us to pull away from Christ even while we think we are yielding to Him.
According to the scripture, the battle is not to the swift, nor to the strong, but to the man (or woman) who puts his /her trust in Christ; for it is "... Not by might (or army, per marginal reference), nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts" (Zech. 4:6). Folks, the war between Christ and Satan has been won! The victory is assured us, let us enter in by faith, and receive not the spoils of war, but the beautiful, peaceful, eternal life with Jesus Christ our Lord, Saviour and conquering King!
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Thursday, December 08, 2005
Kevin was concerned about his car. Recently he'd noticed, that after starting his car, and putting it in gear, the car would not move. Mildly alarmed, he would depress the accelerator to the floor, and still nothing would happen. "What is wrong with my car?" he thought. "I can hear the motor roaring as the engine revs, I see the tachometer needle rise, and still, this car won't move -- I've got to get to work -- what am I going to do?"
After a few minutes of this, the car would suddenly jerk and abruptly move forward. Because the car would eventually move into gear and take off, Kevin was lulled into doing nothing about his situation. Day after day he drove his car like this, until one day there was a grinding sound from under the hood. "What in the world is that," he thought. "Man it sounds like metal grinding against metal -- I'm going to have to take this car in, and I don't have the money or the time." "Life sucks." Now he was really worried, so he hurriedly took his car to a mechanic. Puzzled and concerned about the cost, Kevin met with the mechanic, and briefly described the sounds and jerking motions his car made. Just by the description Kevin gave, the mechanic immediately knew what the problem was. Nonplused, the mechanic pulled the car into the garage, opened the hood and pulled out the transmission dipstick to measure the fluid. With the noise that the car was making, the mechanic was not surprised to find that the transmission was bone dry with no fluid. Incredulously he asked Kevin, “When was the last time you put oil in your car, and checked the transmission fluid?” Kevin not being mechanically inclined, sheepishly responded, “I really don’t know anything about that -- uh, I just got the car.” In disbelief, the mechanic explained to Kevin, “your transmission is what transmits the power of your engine to the wheels, and inside the engine are metal parts called gears." "These gears mesh well with each other when the oil flows between them." "Without the oil between those parts, your gears grind, become noisy and overheat." "Eventually this will cause your transmission to break down -- man are you lucky you came here when you did, but it's gonna to cost you $150.00 to fix your problem though." Humbled and broke, but wiser, Kevin agreed to have the mechanic fix his car.
After hearing this story, it dawned on me that human relationships are like the gears in a car transmission. We are constantly meshing against (or rubbing up against) one another. This meshing causes friction between us, which if left un-lubricated, grinds and causes relationships to breakdown. Just as Kevin's transmission required oil for the smooth flowing between parts, we too need relationship oil to flow in and between us. Thankfully God has provided the perfect oil -- the oil of the Holy Spirit. So how does the Holy Spirit prevent the friction from occurring between our neighbors and us? It is chiefly through the gifts He brings when He indwells us (Gal. 5:22, 23), such as agape, peace, joy, long-suffering, patience, meekness, goodness and gentleness. Chief among these gifts is Agape -- God’s unconditional love -- for the Holy Spirit is not only the source of Agape - He Himself (& the Godhead) is Agape. Consequently, whatever may have caused the fracture in the relationship between others and us, whatever may be the source of the alienation, and the inflow of agape is the solution. It alone eliminates the friction. An enlightened man of God had this to say regarding the transmission illustration, “Now we ‘mesh’ one with another like well-oiled gears in a transmission, with this “oil” of the love of Christ making it possible for us now to “transmit” the blessings of heaven to the needy people of the world (your transmission is what transmits the power of your engine to the wheels!). Think of our vehicle as the world’s only “ambulance.” That’s what Christ has called His church to be; Paul says that “the gospel of Christ” is the powerful “engine” of the vehicle (the church), “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
What is it about agape that causes human friction to cease? Let’s go to I Corinthians 13: 4-8, for the answer.
I Corinthians 13: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
I Corinthians 13: 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
I Corinthians 13: 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
I Corinthians 13: 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I Corinthians 13: 8 Love never fails…
In this text, we see a description not only of the Character of God, but also of human beings when they are filled with His love. While it is not the nature of human beings to agape God or others, our minds, when under the well-oiled control of the Holy Spirit, function as His does. This means that His love -- the love of Christ as demonstrated in I Corinthians chapter 13, and as demonstrated on the cross, is embodied in us, and makes it possible for us to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). How do we submit to each other? Well, the process is twofold.
In John 13:4-12, we have an example of both processes functioning side by side. Let's take a look at verse 4 and 5, where Jesus arises from the supper table, girds Himself and washes the disciples' feet. In verse 6, He comes to Peter, and Peter doesn't want Christ to wash his feet. Note him saying in verse 8, "... Thou shalt never wash my feet." How did Jesus respond? By saying, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part of Me." And in verse 10, and 11 we have the first process of submission: "Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head." To which Jesus replies, "... He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean...” So what is the first process? It is allowing the Lord to wash you and me from the sludge of turning to our own way to preserve self.
For the second process of submission, let's look at verses 12 through 16.
John 13:12 …He said unto them, “Know ye what I have done to you?
John 13:13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
John 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
John 13:15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
John 13:16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.”
In this set of verses, we see Christ humbling and submitting Himself unto His disciples through washing their dusty, dry feet. This as we well know, was the task of a servant and as such, none of the disciples intended to carry it out, for in their minds, it was beneath them. Instead, they had been quarreling about who would get those coveted cabinet positions in Christ's kingdom. In their self-serving frame of mind, they were unprepared to enter into His sufferings, as well as into His kingdom, for their hearts were hardened to one another. Are we guilty of striving for the chief seats in the kingdom (or board room)? Are we guilty of attributing to others the motives upon which we operate? Oh, where is the oil of the Holy Spirit in your heart? If we are guilty in any way of seeking to preserve self at the expense of another, then our transmission is dry -- without oil.
Paul's admonition in Philippians 2:3 is that we, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” What we think and how we feel impacts how we treat others. If our minds are uplifted in gratitude to Christ, the oil of the Holy Spirit will ease the friction we experience relationally. Friends, let's allow the Holy Spirit to prepare a table before us in the presence of our friends and enemies, and anoint our heads with the oil of gladness. We'll rejoice with the Savior that we did.
Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes
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Friday, December 02, 2005
In the last few years the term "ethics" has become very popular. The concern however, is not for the philosophical study of right versus wrong; no, that dear friends is not the focus of our current societal emphasis. To the contrary, ethical conduct has become the popular focus precisely because it proscribes how people should behave. In a very real sense, the concept of ethical conduct has arisen from our societal attempt to rid ourselves from the very idea of right and wrong. So instead of viewing an official as a wrong doer because he utilized his position for personal gain, we refer to what he did as unethical. As a consequence, there has been an outcry from the masses, with a clear, clarion call for a code of ethics consisting of a list of rules and regulations for ethical conduct. Furthermore, "the masses" want this code to be instituted now, with grave legal penalties for those who abuse it. How sad that fallen human beings usually insist on an external list of do's and don'ts to control behavior. How much better it would be, if we were controlled by the principle of love dwelling in us through the Holy Spirit.
The selfish grasping mentality of those in leadership positions should not surprise us. For we all bear the same human nature which yields the same fruit -- and without a vital abiding union with God, we will do no less. According to Sister White, the nature of the Pharisee --which is self-righteous and self-exalting, is the nature of all human beings. The Pharisee like the Romans utilized external means of force or coercion to maintain control of self, as well as control of the masses. Unfortunately, when we are not under the influence of the Holy Spirit, even though we are Christians --we too tend to rely on external means of self-control. In this state as we read Ephesians 5, we are likely to think that Paul has written a sort of Christian code of ethics. And while Paul did write a list of behaviors that we should not engage in as Christians, that was not his primary purpose in drafting this letter to the Ephesians. On the contrary, Ephesians 5 is a word picture of how the life of Christ would look, if we allowed the Holy Spirit to make the mind of Christ, a reality in us. Ephesians 5 portrays in a written manner the final product of restoration and renewal of our hearts by the Indwelling Spirit of God (Titus 3:5).
Unfortunately, many of us are still tempted to believe that by striving to follow Paul's list to the best of our ability, we avoid eternal death, and gain life forever. This assumption is not only incorrect, but if followed, will lead to boasting and self-exaltation (Romans 3:27). Even the idea of "with the Holy Spirit's help, I can do it," is a fallacy. Because the focus is not about you doing something -- for instance, behaving ethically, rather, the heavenly focus is on you having the mind of Christ-- the mind of unconditional love, through union or oneness with Him.
Apostle Paul encourages us to walk in the Spirit. But what does this mean? Well, when the Spirit dwells within, He prompts us to listen and yield to His leading. As we hear and follow, moving at His prompting, we are enabled to walk in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit, we walk in Love, for the scripture says, that God is love. Not that one of His characteristics is love, but that He is love. An hereby we know that we have the love of God, we keep His commandments, and they are not grievous, we bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of love; and we love our neighbors as He has loved us. Folks, to walk in the Spirit, is to walk in Love (John 13:35), and to be prompted from within as to Christ like-behavior. Ethics does not conquer greed, it merely sets outward limits as to it's _expression. Only the love of Christ, abiding in the soul vanquishes greed and desire for personal gain at the expense of others.
Good behavior only comes from a heart that is good. Jesus Himself stated this point when He said to the young ruler, "why callest Me Good, knowest thou not that only God is good?" Ultimately, only those persons in whom the Spirit dwells will manifest Good behavior. Motivated through Agape, these persons will follow the Spirit's leading that the character of Christ and His Father may be vindicated in the controversy. For such persons, a Christian code of ethics would merely be a prescription to alleviate the symptoms of Sinful desires manifested in greed, selfishness, lustful satisfaction, and self-exaltation. Actually, the only thing a code of ethics could be 'good' for, would be to let its adherents know the way in which society finds it acceptable to quench the thirst and satisfy the need to glorify self. Walking in the Spirit is so much more satisfying to that for which your soul yearn. Which one would you rather be, satiated, controlled and walking in the Spirit, or hungry, lustful and lean, walking in the flesh controlled by the changing standards of human ethics?
Maria Geaves-Barnes & Raúl Díaz
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