Sunday, February 26, 2012
Friday, February 24, 2012
Creation Care: Why should we care?
This is a different kind of commentary this week. The reason for this is that no matter how I looked at the subject I had no illustration to ponder and expand on the lesson. The title of our quarterly lesson is "glimpses of God." So, each week we are to ask ourselves: what glimpse of God can the subject in question give us? So, what glimpse of God does Creation Care gives to us? Our lesson is not really about how God cares for Creation, but about how we should care for it. In the past lessons we have established that Creation reveals God in many different ways and at many different levels. We know that God sustains His creation. God cares. And, man is included in what God cares. This is evident in Matthew 6:27 – 30.
Mat 6: 27Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Mat 6: 28And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
Mat 6: 29And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Mat 6: 30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith??
God provides all for all of these. The Birds have an expanse to fly and trees to dwell in. The expanse is full of air from with trees, animals and man can breathe from. The trees release waste that animals and man can use, and animals and man release waste that trees can use. God has created an interdependent circle of beneficence. All are suppose to take to give.
However, although man participates somewhat in the eco-system cycle, man breaks away from it, in other ways. Man's selfishness is evidenced by how they make choices that directly or indirectly aversely affects nature. What Ellen White says about man contrasted with nature is disturbing but true: "There is nothing, save the selfish heart of man, that lives unto itself" (Desire of the Ages, p. 20). Almost everything in nature takes to give.
There is an elite group on Earth that has built for themselves plush mansion in large extension of landscape fields. For this they have destroyed the ecosystem of the place where they built, without any concerns for it. This comes at a cost to those who work for them in adverse conditions for virtually pennies. It goes without saying that the living conditions of these workers are very deprived.
In the meantime there are those who are concerned with the relentless destruction and abuse – the environmentally concerned green crowd. They maintain that the world cannot sustain itself if these elite continue with their practices. They offer alternatives that will help preserve the world longer: recycling, carpooling, electric cars, etc. What this environmentally concerned group does not know is that underlying the environmental troubles we face today is a spiritual problem which cannot be solved merely by recycling plastic bottles or using cloth shopping bags; good though these things may be.
The reason our planet is in trouble today is because mankind has lived against the law of agape, or self-giving love. All creatures, plants, flowers, and trees live to give. As established Man alone lives to get without giving back. We are reaping the consequences of a 6,000-year experiment in self-centered living. Even unbelievers recognize this way of living is unsustainable. The only thing that will solve the problem is the redemption of man's heart at the feet of the Cross.
Where should Christians stand? That is the question that the lesson asks. 2 Peter 3:7 says that "… the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." Do we join the destroyers since the World will be destroyed anyway? Or do we join the preservers knowing that there work will in the long run be in vain? On the one hand we know that the earth is cursed, why would we want to preserve a curse? On the other hand, should we let the curse have its way with others, if we can relieve their suffering?
If any life, human or otherwise, exists is because of the grace of God, namely, Christ's redemption at the cross. Then our responsibility is those for whom Christ died, and relieving suffering is part of that.
When the earth is devastated by poor environmental practices, the result is human and animal misery. How can we expect people to hear the Gospel of Christ's cross when so much of the world population is challenged with the simple business of subsisting. To the extent it is within our power, are we entitled to deny any responsibility to "keep" the earth so that people are not so distracted with survival they cannot hear the Gospel? We are to relieve the suffering of those who are afflicted. We are to be good managers of the earth which God has entrusted to us. It is the pure truth of the gospel, however, which brings the ultimate "rest" from sin which human souls so desperately need.
The world believes in survival of the fittest so if an animal's habitat is destroyed, too bad for it. It is true that humans remain most important, but Christians must show the world a different standard. The example that Christ gave while on earth is useful. He consistently focused on bringing people to an understanding of the Gospel. He never became involved in human causes but He did live a simple life. In modern times we would say He left a very small "carbon footprint." His focus remained on the people He came to save and He went around relieving suffering. The fact that the earth will be destroyed and remade cannot be an excuse to increase suffering by careless practices.
Caring for God's creation includes everything from lobsters to rare plants and animals about to become extinct, the earth itself and yes, even people. All are part of God's creation that suffers under the curse of sin. We need to tell the world that because of the Cross, "there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it …" (Rev. 22:3). So, let us remember what Christ told the sheep on right in the judgment, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25: 40).
Friday, February 17, 2012
Sabbath: A Day of Love
A group of young people from the Pentecostal Church in Ethiopia had heard Pastor John a 7th Day Adventist Preacher - and they put his name up to be a speaker at their camp meeting. The leaders of the Church were horrified that the young people had asked a Seventh-day Adventist preacher to be their speaker at camp meeting (this was for the youth department).
There was a little bit of discussion and then the leaders said, "Why don't we let God solve the outcome?" So they agreed to have three days of fasting and prayer. On the third day, while they were praying together, the leader (our equivalent of Conference President) said, "The Lord has impressed me that the answer should be yes." So they called Pastor John and he gave a series on the cross and then some of these young people, mainly university students, began coming to the Adventist Church. And, some of the leaders began coming, and then the Pastor of Church where they had the camp meeting (with a membership of over 800) began coming. In fact, the whole church began keeping the Sabbath and called themselves "Seventh-day Pentecostals."
The Sabbath School Secretary of the Union saw this Pastor coming out of the church and he said to Pastor John, "Why don't you try to bring these people into our church?" And I said, "Why don't you ask him?" (The Pentecostal leader had already told Pastor John why they wouldn't join the Adventist church.). So, the Pentecostal Pastor said to Pastor John, "Now you are putting me on the spot." Pastor John said, "No, I want [the other Adventist Pastor] to hear from your own lips why you are not joining our church." The Pentecostal leader said, "When you Adventists learn to love each other, (like the Pentecostals love each other) we'll join your church." Unfortunately, The Pentecostal leader saw that the church was divided into factions — tribal and nationals. So, during the Sabbath the worship was segregated, because of prejudice and discrimination That is why he said, "When you Adventists learn to love each other, we will join your church." . And, the poor Sabbath School Secretary had no answer to give him.
The Church in Christ day was no different. They had taken Sabbath rest to mean that God stopped working, but that is not what it meant. God rested from creating not working. So, in order to enforce their no working policy during the Sabbath, the Jews had made the Sabbath a burden with their strict rules and requirements. They turned the Sabbath into a curse instead of a blessing.
In Desire of Ages pages 206 and 207 Ellen White elaborated upon the difference between the Jewish Sabbath and Jesus' Sabbath says that Jesus had come to "magnify the law, and make it honorable." He was not to lessen its dignity, but to exalt it. The scripture says, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth" (Isaiah 42:21, 4). He had come to free the Sabbath from those burdensome requirements that had made it a curse instead of a blessing.
She adds that "it was for this reason He had chosen the Sabbath upon which to perform the act of healing at Bethesda (John 5). He could have healed the sick man as well on any other day of the week; or He might simply have cured him, without bidding him bear away his bed. But this would not have given Him the opportunity He desired. A wise purpose underlay every act of Christ's life on earth. Everything He did was important in itself and in its teaching. Among the afflicted ones at the pool He selected the worst case upon whom to exercise His healing power, and bade the man carry his bed through the city in order to publish the great work that had been wrought upon him. This would raise the question of what it was lawful to do on the Sabbath, and would open the way for Him to denounce the restrictions of the Jews in regard to the Lord's Day, and to declare their traditions void.
You would think that the healing of a fellow Jew would have made them rejoice, but the Jews were more interested in their rules than the wellbeing of their neighbor. This hardness of the religious establishment could be seen in the healing of the man blind from birth (John 9). Verse 16 reveals how little mercy they had,
John 9:16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
Talk about law without love!
Ellen White continues saying that Jesus stated to them that the work of relieving the afflicted was in harmony with the Sabbath law. God's angels are ever descending and ascending between heaven and earth to minister to suffering humanity. Jesus declared, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." All days are God's, in which to carry out His plans for the human race. If the Jews' interpretation of the law was correct, then Jehovah was at fault, whose work has quickened and upheld every living thing since first He laid the foundations of the earth; then He who pronounced His work good, and instituted the Sabbath to commemorate its completion, must put a period to His labor, and stop the never-ending routine of the universe. Should God forbid nature from continuing it's never ending work from which all men benefit? In such a case, men would faint and die.
And man also has a work to perform on this day. The necessities of life must be attended to, the sick must be cared for, and the wants of the needy must be supplied. He will not be held guiltless who neglects to relieve suffering on the Sabbath. God's holy rest day was made for man, and acts of mercy are in perfect harmony with its intent. God does not desire His creatures to suffer an hour's pain that may be relieved upon the Sabbath or any other day.
The demands upon God are even greater upon the Sabbath than upon other days. His people then leave their usual employment, and spend the time in meditation and worship. They ask more favors of Him on the Sabbath than upon other days. They demand His special attention. They crave His choicest blessings. God does not wait for the Sabbath to pass before He grants these requests. Heaven's work never ceases, and men should never rest from doing good. The Sabbath is not intended to be a period of useless inactivity. The law forbids secular labor on the rest day of the Lord; the toil that gains a livelihood must cease; no labor for worldly pleasure or profit is lawful upon that day; but as God ceased His labor of creating, and rested upon the Sabbath and blessed it, so man is to leave the occupations of his daily life, and devote those sacred hours to healthful rest, to worship, and to holy deeds. The work of Christ in healing the sick was in perfect accord with the law. It honored the Sabbath.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
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Friday, February 10, 2012
Written in the Heart
Geology is the science that deals with the history of the earth and its life especially as recorded in rocks; it is also defined as the geological features of an area. In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids. The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock.
You may ask yourself, how that can be, there is more dirt than rock? Well, dirt, also known as Soil, is composed of particles of broken rock that have been altered by chemical and mechanical processes that include weathering and erosion. In engineering, soil is referred to as regolith, or loose rock material. Soil differs from its parent rock due to interactions between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and the biosphere. Soil is commonly referred to as earth or dirt; although technically, the term dirt should be restricted to displaced soil.
Man was created out of dirt, which means that man's flesh is part rock or stone. In contrast, the Ten Commandments were written on tables of stone (Exodus 24:12). We do not know if God engraved them on the rock. We do know that the writing was externally visible, as if to be read. The writing was not only visible, but was indelible - it could not be deleted. In the incident when Christ was brought an adulteress to be condemned by Him (John 8: 3 – 11), when Christ traced in the sand, it was also superficial and visible. But, it was not indelible. We could argue that the reason for the tables of stone was to represent the Israelites harden hearts, which could not soften. The writing was to be permanent because God's law is eternal, thus permanent. Christ's tracing in the dirt would not be permanent because sin is not permanent. And, apparently, these men whose sin Christ wrote on the dirt, felt convicted so they had not hardened their hearts beyond the point of no return, at least not yet.
This said, we know that God's original intention was to write the law in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 10:16). But, is it our literal hearts? There are several ways to write on flesh. Tattooing, branding, scarifying are some ways to write on flesh indelibly. The writing would stay permanently. But this is in the skin. To write literally in our hearts would require something like open heart surgery. Once the cavity chest is open then you would have to find a way to stop the heart, so it is stable to write on, without killing the person in whose heart you are writing. Being that is it is God performing this procedure, he can do it in miraculously ways. The question is what will it accomplish?
Well, what did the other writings accomplish? The writing of the law in stone was to be a perpetual reminder of God's intervention at the people's unbelief. It was to be a reminder of what God required of them, and the fact that they could not meet those requirements on their own effort. It was a reminder of God's character contrasted with the people's character. It was to convict them of their Sin, in hopes to lead them to repentance. Instead, the Israelites misinterpreted the law by using it as a means of salvation.
The writing on the dirt served a similar purpose. These people were accusing this woman of sinful behavior, for which they had also been guilty, but no one else knew. Christ brought their sins to the public in the same way that they had brought this woman's fault. In other word's Christ was telling them, "Should we stone you too?" Now those that were condemning stood condemned themselves. But, at the end of the story we find a beautiful twist,
John 8:10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
John 8;11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Imagine how grateful she felt toward Christ. He delivered her from the mob that harassed and assailed her. Jesus delivered her from a certain and impending stoning. He delivered her from the guilt of her actions. There was a change in her mind. Gratitude and love for the Master were now written in her heart. The law that at first condemned her now suddenly was a source of life.
Rather than tattooing the Law in this woman's pumping heart, Christ worked in her mind. (Implied in Mark 7:21, is that the mind is the seat of the heart). He changed her belief system. Now, instead of seeing God as an exacting disciplinarian, the woman saw God as merciful and compassionate. The words go and sin no more must have ringed in her mind forever more. She had no need to Sin anymore. She could count on God to keep her from doing it. Now, she trusted Him. The Law was written in her heart. She became what Paul called in 2 Corinthians 3:3 an epistle of Christ, "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart."
Friday, February 03, 2012
Addi and Holiness
The following study written by Lois E. Johannes was referred to me from a friend who thought it could be used as part of the commentary for this week. To introduce the story the author quoted, Psalms 51:10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew the right spirit within me." The story follows,
"Addi wasn't really her name, but it served to identify our wrinkled, little Aborigine patient. Entering the hospital, Addi straightened her slight shoulders and without so much as a glance toward the registration desk, passed all the patients waiting their turn to see the doctor, then stationed herself just outside his office door. It was evident she understood that no one enters a doctor's office while he is seeing a patient. When the door opened, she darted in, seated herself by the doctor's desk, and began a vivid description of her infirmities.
"An examination suggested that she did have reason to complain but that the difficulty was not life-threatening. The doctor could correct it by a relatively simple surgery without charge to her. She was to go with her nurse to the supervisor to schedule the surgery.
"Addi and the nurse left the doctor's office. Moments later the nurse returned with the information that Addi had gone home, refusing to set up a time for surgery. Before the week ended, Addi, following the same pattern, again sought the doctor's attention and received the same response. After repeating this procedure two or three times a week for a month, the doctor advised her that he was unable to do much more for her until she was willing to schedule her surgery.
"Bristling, Addi left the office in a little flash of fury, only to return shortly, plop her arm on the doctor's desk, and demand, "Well, then, you can take my blood pressure!"
"Her blood pressure duly checked, she left the hospital seemingly happy.
"We all smiled at little Addi's naivete! But as I considered the episode, I realized that possibly I was somewhat like Addi. How many times I've prayed, "Lord, take away my unpleasant disposition, especially my hasty and unreasonable temper. Please take it away, Lord."
"God responds, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you" (Eze. 36:26).
"A new heart?" I ask. "Nothing's wrong with my heart, Lord. Why, a new heart might completely change my personality, and one thing is certain, I do want to be me! No, Lord, no new heart. Just take away this disagreeable temper."
"But God indicates He really wants to give me a new heart and a new spirit to enable me to walk in His paths with Him. Then, He says, I shall be one of His distinctive people, and He truly will be my eternal God (Eze. 11:19, 20). I can become a totally whole, committed, victorious Christian. Yet I've been insisting on a blood pressure check when I could have had restorative surgery!"
In the surface the story has nothing to do with holiness. But, as we examine closer and perhaps deeper, we need to ask ourselves if we had holiness where would it be? To answer that question let us learn more about holiness. Then, we will answer that question.
According to Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; and Hebrew s 12:9, 10, 'God is holy', and He wants us to be holy as He is holy. Thus, we can state with assurance, that holiness is an attribute of God, and that holiness not only belongs to Him, but that it is something tangible He wishes to share with us. Hebrews 12:14 states, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
As you can see, defining holiness is not a simple task. In the context of defining holiness, how do we define God? I John 4:8 says that God is love, His nature or essence is Agape, and that if we do not love, we don't know God. Paul describes this self-denying love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
"Agape suffers long, and is kind; Agape envies not; Agape vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own way, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Agape never fails."
If holiness is what God is, and God is love, then it stands to reason that I Corinthians 13 also describes holiness. We typically think of I Corinthians 13 in terms of performance, but, what God does is always a reflection of who He is. There is no inconsistency between God's essence or character and His performance. Furthermore, God's character is in evidence when you see Him. In other words, when you see God, you see His character (Exodus 33 & 34). However, since the advent of sin, shame and fear are the primary emotions our suspicious and untrusting nature experiences. But when we see, through the scripture, that His work has been to redeem us, to reestablish the pure intimacy He had with Adam and Eve prior to the fall, we will see I Corinthians 13 personified. Holiness and Agape are not separate attributes of God, He possesses them both, and when He inhabits us, we too will embody them both.
How will this happen? The Lord told Jeremiah how this will happen: "I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33). Since, love is the fulfillment of the Law, and what describes love, describes Holiness; we could argue that writing the Law in our hearts is making our hearts holy. Therefore, the essence of God making us Holy is for God to "put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." In other words, He give us a new heart. Our old natural hearts cannot produce holiness nor be holy. Only a new heart from a Holy God can be holy.