Friday, April 13, 2018

Unshakable Faith

Unshakable Faith

In a time of civil upheaval, a group of Christian refugees were praying in a church. Storming the church property, a group of soldiers discovered the people praying. Not wanting to alert the people to their presence right away, they quietly searched the church for anything of value. Unfortunately, they found nothing but a picture of Jesus on the wall. Angered, the commanding officer decided to take it out on the praying Christians. Ordering all those present to come forward, the commander insisted they approach the picture, spit on it, and renounce Jesus by stating, "You are worthless, and I don't need you!" If they failed to do this, the commander threatened to shoot them on the spot. The elders of the Church were the first to come forward. Boldly they stood up, approached the picture, spat on it, and repeated the cruel words. Others, one by one, followed the example of the elders. After a few moments, and several persons later, a young girl stood up. Walking to the picture with her scarf in her hand, the young girl wiped away the saliva, softly uttering the words, "Jesus, I need You for I am worthless." All were silent, wondering what would happen next. The girl, apparently unafraid, stepped before the Commander and said, "You can shoot me now." Falling to his knees, the now contrite commander began to cry inconsolably; his heart broken, he gave it to Jesus. This true story of courageous faith occurred in Rwanda during the bloody massacre of its people. We all need to ask ourselves this question, "in the moment of truth, will we have 'the faith of Jesus' " as this little girl did? 

Although frightening, we often wonder, "how can I develop this type of unshakable faith--and do I want to?" To these questions, let's add the question, "is wanting it enough?" Let's begin by looking in the book of Daniel, to see if there is an answer. Scripturally, the story in Daniel chapter 2 follows consecutively the one in chapter 3, as would be expected. Thus, both stories seem to have occurred relatively close in time, yet they did not. Ten to twelve years intervened between the King's dream of the image and his golden construction of it. How easy it is to forget the impression made on the mind by the Holy Spirit, and the response of faith when we do not abide in Him. The time in between chapter 2 and chapter 3 provides a test for King Nebuchadnezzar-- namely, will he after accepting the interpretation of the dream as from the Lord, wait on Him for its fulfillment. All of heaven and earth were waiting to see, "will the Babylonian King surrender his will -- along with its attendant pride and ambitious plans -- to the King of Kings, or after a time of delay, will he be found building a monument to his dreams?" 

In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar is confronted with the choice to exercise faith. Brought to the point of decision at the revelation of his dream.  The king honors the Lord by saying in Daniel 2:47-"Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret." Hearing this, we would say that the King believed Daniel and God. But His response, while a heart response, was not made by a broken, contrite heart. It was made by a heart still prideful and boastful, thus allowing Satan control of this stronghold in his life. The disciples also found themselves in this predicament when they could not cast out the demon filled child (Matt. 17:14-21) and again when they were almost capsized in the squall on the lake (Matt. 14:22-33). Vacillating between the "pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes," they were unprepared to hold on to the Word of promise -- their living savior. 

In Daniel chapter 3, the three Hebrew youth are also confronted with the choice to exercise faith. They too are brought to the point of decision when it is declared that if they do not bow down and worship the golden image, they are to be burned alive. Imagine, the peer pressure to conform. It was worse than when they refused to eat the King's food from his table. After all, the King had his pride to lose if these Hebrew youth declined to follow his orders this time, and that would make him extremely hostile and angry. All the dignitaries of every land of importance were there, ready to oblige the King's decree. There is no mention of Daniel's whereabouts, so we must assume he was absent, but everyone else was present. The statue itself was 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide--in plain view--in the plain of Dura.  All could see it.  So, how do the Hebrew youth stand up to that pressure? How would you stand? In Daniel 3:12, we note that they did not yield--bow down. The pressure to yield to doubt and disbelief increased greatly, as they were called before the king. In verse 14-15, the King gives them another chance to obey his decree, because he liked them. What is their response? Let's view Daniel 3: 15-18: 

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us our of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." 

Their response is one of belief and trust in the God who delivers. According to their statement, they believed that God would do right by them whatever the outcome was. They had determined to stand steadfast without regard to whether God delivered or not, for they were representing Him and He changes not. Their will was to do the will of Him who sent them there, which was to demonstrate His character to Babylon as well as the surrounding nations. Israel and Judah's kings had been proud and boastful. They lacked the humility that comes from a contrite and broken heart, and so they led the people and their nation into captivity. 

In captivity, how did the Hebrew youth get to this place of faith? The answer is in Daniel chapter one. Remember, they refused to eat the King's food.  Because they knew that it was God who fed them (with manna in the wilderness then, and in captivity now) to make them know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live (Deut. 8:3). Although captives, their hearts were contrite and broken over the wickedness that led to their national ruin and captivity. Yielding their will to God in the little things, they were counted faithful, and God blessed them further. By remembering God's goodness and mercy, they continued to be faithful. Through prayer and fasting, they were prompted to join with Daniel as he implored the Lord to reveal the dream and with its interpretation (in chapter two). Thus Christ developed these youth from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. By the constant yielding of their will to Christ, they were dying daily and thus were prepared to state that fact under enormous pressure. 

The three Jewish youth were like Job who said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him:" (Job 13:15). There was in these three – and in Job – a complete dependence on Christ. Such a life of yielding, Christ lived, remaining faithful to the end by depending on His Father entirely. This constant dependence on God for everything enables us to overcome, as He overcame. It is through dependence on God that we receive the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us, allowing us to be willing to hear and to do all of His good will. This is what gives us unshakable faith. 

The King of Babylon did not yield his heart. He yielded his emotions, and intellectually assented to the truth. Thus he had no root in himself, and as the great tree, could not stand. Had his feelings and thoughts been constantly bound up with the truth, had he like the King of Nineveh, who repented by faith through grace, his pride would not later have driven him mad. Lessons of those who with contrite and broken heart demonstrated the faith of Jesus are among the pages of inspiration, and we would do well to hear them. Listen well, for our willingness to attentively hear and to do is at the foundation of heart obedience without which it will be impossible to endure. 

According to Sister White: 

"Important are the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Hebrew youth on the plain of Dura. In this our day, many of God's servants, though innocent of wrongdoing, will be given over to suffer humiliation and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. Especially will the wrath of man be aroused against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment; and at last a universal decree will denounce these as deserving of death. 

As in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so in the closing period of earth's history, the Lord will work mightily on behalf of those who stand steadfastly for the right. He who walked with the Hebrew worthies in the fiery furnace will be with His followers wherever they are. His abiding presence will comfort and sustain." (Ellen White Notes, page 25.) 

As unpleasant as it may seem, let Christ break our hearts upon Himself, let Him wash us and make us contrite. It will be natural to yield to Him then, and we will have that unshakable faith we so desperately need. 

Friday, April 06, 2018

The World Has Heard

The World Has Heard

We read in Acts 4: 12,

12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

A previous lesson stated: 

"The words of the Scripture here are very clear: salvation is found only in Jesus Christ and in no other name under heaven. It's important, however, not to read into these words more than they specifically say."

Imagine a man in a building that is on fire; before being able to escape, the smoke overcomes him and collapses unconscious. A firefighter finds him on the floor, grabs him, and brings him outside, where the medics take over.  The medics rush the man to the hospital, and a few hours later he regained consciousness.

The point is that this person, who was saved, had no idea who had saved him. In the same way, anyone who is saved—either before Jesus came in the flesh or after—will be saved only through Jesus, whether or not that person had heard of His name or the plan of salvation.

Many will be saved that did not know the Gospel.  But, somehow knew the law and kept it.  Paul speaks of them in Romans 2: 14 – 15,

14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 
15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

Ellen White says of these,

Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God.—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 638.

Paul here declared that there are some outside of Christianity who will receive eternal life as a result of an obedience-unto-life principle (cf. Lev. 18:5). For those Gentiles who show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts because their consciences also bearing witness (Rom. 2:15 NIV), it will make a difference on Judgment Day because these people have responded to the work of the Spirit in their hearts.

This verse – Romans 2: 14 – 15 - says that it is possible to do the law, without knowing the law.  For the Bible student, this should not come as a surprise.  As we read in Galatians 3:6, "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  The word used for righteousness in Greek is the same word for justice.  So, the righteous are just.  The "just" are doers of the law, and they live by faith (Romans 1: 17; 2: 13).  Now, faith comes through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10: 17).  Abraham heard God's word, Abraham believed it, therefore, was reckoned a doer of the law.  Did Abraham know the Ten Commandments?  No, he did not.  Abraham knew the Gospel, but not the Ten Commandments.  These were not given more than 400 years after.  It begs the question, what Law did Abraham keep?

Even angels did not know there was a Law until they learned it from God.  Ellen White says, 

But in heaven, service is not rendered in the spirit of legality. When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory, dwells, His words are re-echoed, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart." Psalm 40:8. {MB 109.2}

No one will deny that the angels are doers of the Law.  But they were also doers of the Law even when they did not know there was a law.  So then why was the Law given?  Paul says in Galatians,

Gal 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, …

Here the word added has a connotation of being spoken, declared.  The word transgression in Greek has a connotation of stepping aside from the path.  So, the Law is declared because of our stepping aside from the way of Christ.  The quote above is evident in the following Ellen White's quote,

"If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. {PP 364.2}"

The Ten Commandments were given - declared = because the people failed to cherish God's covenant.  Anytime the Ten Commandments are lifted up is a reminder that the belief in the Covenant has been abandoned.  Should we then keep the Ten Commandments or the rest of the law hidden? 

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

When I was growing up, a 15-year-old had to wait until he was 16 to take the driver's license test.  Should he hate the law because he is 15?  Or, should he wait a few more months until he turns 16?  Even those who are displeased with the law will likely wait until they fulfill the requirements.  What does the Law require?

"The law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can 'be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.' Rom. 3:26."—The Desire of Ages (1940), p. 762

Since the righteous are doers of the Law and love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13: 10), then it follows that the righteous are loving.  Even if these righteous are Gentiles, who have never heard of Christ.  

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Cross For Vision Correction

The Cross For Vision Correction

Many of us are visually impaired. While we are not precisely blind, we do not see things as they are. Instead, we see objects in a blurry haze. Some of us, being nearsighted, have astigmatism, while others are farsighted. Whatever the case, to compensate for our lack of visual acuity, we squint, move closer or farther to the object or the light. How frustrating it is not to see clearly. To alleviate our misery, many of us go to professionals who will diagnose our impairment, and either prescribe corrective lenses or surgery. Even though we may not always see things as we want to see them, it is still great to see--clearly.

Spiritually, we are all visually impaired. The principle and power of Sin have marred the way we see things. According to the apostle Paul, even at our very best, we "see through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). What are the shadows and mists
of Sin which prevent us from seeing clearly? Well, what veils our eyes is a preoccupation with self. We see ourselves, others and the world, by nature, through our interests, pleasures, desires, and pains (selfishness) and are self-centered. So, we need corrective work to help us see things as they
indeed are. The prescription is the eye-salve of the cross.

The Cross helps us see God as He truly is. John 3:16, and 17 says, 

"For God so unconditionally loved the human race - whoever lived or would ever live - that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever lived, if he or she believed in Him, would not die the second death, but have life everlasting. For God sent His Son into the midst of the human race, not to condemn its inhabitants, but that everyone through Him, might be saved." 

The scripture says that "God is Love" (1 John 4:8,16). And in 1 John 4:10 it says, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." In other words, whatever thoughts we have of God  - being unfair, of judging everything we do, and waiting for us to fail -- all fade away when we see Him through the eye-salve of the cross. For through the cross of Christ, the Godhead displayed their unconditional, self-denying love that would rather die the horrors of the second death than let us go.

The cross demonstrates to us and the universe the nature of sinful human beings, and just of what we are capable. When we look at ourselves through the Cross, we see ourselves clearly. According to 2 Timothy--

2 Timothy 3:2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
2 Timothy 3:3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
2 Timothy 3:4 Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
2 Timothy 3:5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:

The previous text describes the lifestyle that human beings lead who have not chosen Christ. However, Paul wrote the letter to Galatians to "Carnal Christians" who had forgotten that the Law of the Spirit of Christ had set them free from the Law of Sin and Death (Romans 3:2), and they were trying in the flesh to keep the law of God. They were ignorant of the fact that the Law of the Flesh lusted against the Law of The Spirit.  Christ has said, he who keeps or cherishes hatred in his heart is a murderer.  So, Paul in the Galatian letter appeals to the Galatian followers of Christ, telling them that in those who profess Christ certain things should not be found.  In Galatians 5: 19 - 21 Paul gives us the list of those things.  Let us read,  

Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication,uncleanness, lasciviousness,
Galatians 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
Galatians 5:21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

What did Paul say was the solution? For himself, he said that "I determined not to know anything ... save Jesus Christ, and Him CRUCIFIED" (1 Cor. 2:2). To the Galatian Christians he said, we "that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts..." (Galatians 5:24). By being crucified with Christ, Paul says, we live in Him and walk in His spirit. Therefore we demonstrate the power of theHoly Spirit in us and thus bear His fruit (see Galatians 5:22, 23).

You see, the Cross demonstrated to the watching universe and us more than one thing. First, it exposed the ultimate goal of Sin -- to live eternally for self. Secondly, it demonstrated the unconditional, self-denying love of Christ for mankind. The only way for Satan-- the father of sin--to accomplish his goal, was to murder God; this Satan attempted to do to Christ by seducing the Jews and the Romans to condemn Him to death on the Cross. Furthermore, He incited the mob to chant "crucify Him, crucify Him." And since Satan has more than one plan and method, he actively encouraged Christ to come down off the cross and save Himself. By doing this, Christ would have forfeited the plan of salvation, the human race would have turned upon itself, and Satan would be the victor. The Cross of Christ illuminated Satan's character as the hideous vector of evil that it was. It simultaneously demonstrated his venomous hatred and anger toward God. Of this Sister White says,

Satan saw that his disguise was torn away. His administration was laid open before the unfallen angels and before the heavenly universe. He had revealed himself as a murderer. By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he had uprooted himself from the
sympathies of the heavenly beings. Henceforth his work was restricted. Whatever attitude he might assume, he could no longer await the angels as they came from the heavenly courts, and before them accuse Christ's brethren of being clothed with the garments of blackness and the defilement of sin. The last link of sympathy between Satan and the heavenly world was broken (E. G. White Notes p. 160).

As human beings, we don't see clearly, because the haze of sin clouds our vision. To see as He sees, we need the eye-salve which He has so willingly prescribed for us. Just as Moses, urged the people to look to the cross and live, so today Christ, the great ophthalmologist is urging us to do the same. According to the corrective measures He's prescribed, looking - a response to listening, believing and hearkening to God - is the cure. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Have We Been Persuaded?

The following insight is to illustrate the importance of listening.   We all understand the importance of forming habits.  The habit of listening is also very important.  Have we formed a habit of listening to God?  Is He pleased with our listening?  Let us read to learn more about listening.  

Have We Been Persuaded? 

Remember the story of Peter Rabbit? You know, the one where Mother Rabbit encourages Peter and his siblings to go outside and play, but cautions against two things: losing or destroying their clothes and entering into Mr. McGregor's garden. Mother Rabbit had her reasons for warning against entering Mr. McGregor's garden, as Mr. McGregor had killed Father Rabbit in that very garden. (Father Rabbit had also gone there to eat some of Mr. McGregor's vegetables). So, off Peter Rabbit and siblings went, with Mother's warning ringing in their ears. Peter's siblings were determined to follow Mother's advice, but Peter wasn't. He decided to go into the garden anyway. And at first, all was well as he feasted on all sorts of fresh produce such as carrots, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, and the like. Munching happily away, Peter sniffed the cucumbers and boy did they smell good. Allured, he hopped over to the cucumber patch, when all of a sudden, he and Mr. McGregor came face to face. Surprised and irritated, Mr. McGregor immediately picked up his rake and pursued Peter round and round through the cucumbers, the tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and the carrots. What mayhem they caused in the process. But try as he might, Peter could not find the entrance to the garden, nor a place to hide from Mr. McGregor. Frantic now, Peter kept looking, until just up ahead, he saw a light.  Al last, he found the garden entrance. Hopping as fast as he could, Peter squeezed through the small opening and was free. Momentarily relieved, Peter sat down to catch his breath, and that's when he noticed that he had lost his clothes hopping madly through the garden. "Now, I'm in big trouble," he thought, "mother is going to be so mad at me." "Why didn't I listen?" he asked himself.

Did Peter really not listen? Did he not hear his mother's words? Of course he heard, after all, he could repeat what she said. So what went wrong? Apparently there is a difference between hearing and listening. In our story, it is evident that Peter did hear his mother, but since he desired to do other than his mother admonished, he did not actively listen to her, lest he be persuaded to change his mind. That Peter resisted being persuaded is evident by his cavalier attitude. 

It is evident that the theme of this story is obedience. In the English language (and in many others), the word obey is typically translated "to do what you're told" (despite dictionary references stating the contrary). When did Peter disobey? According to the conventional definition, Peter Rabbit was disobedient the moment he did not do what his mother told him to do. But is this really getting at the heart of obedience? The word rendered obey originates from a compound word meaning to listen actively. You cannot do "as you are told" unless you have listened carefully as to what to do. And furthermore, you cannot do so cheerfully and joyfully unless you trust the person you are listening to, implicitly. You see, Peter trusted himself more than his mother. He trusted his knowledge of his abilities while underestimating that of Mr. McGregor's. This distrust of His mother led to his unwillingness to listen to her.

At its core, obedience is about hearing from the one who has your heart; it will not matter if the One communicating with you speaks to you with an inward, silent persistent thought, or an audible external voice. What matters is, will you, through trusting and confiding love, choose to heed what you have actively listened to? A wise man has said, "First there is the mental creation, (the mind involves the emotions) then the action is taken." So obedience involves not only our outward actions, but our motives and attitudes before the doing. Interestingly, a literal translation of the word "obey" in the Hebrew and Greek, is to listen willingly, eagerly, attentively, leaning into the speaker, straining to catch the slightest nuance. Its opposite meaning would be, hearing while preoccupied, resisting the one who is speaking, reluctantly paying attention, and finally, listening to find the disagreeable. The latter are all things Peter Rabbit engaged in.

The Apostle Paul says, "Faith comes through the hearing and hearing through the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).  The Greek term used for 'faith' means to be persuaded. Referring to our story, Peter Rabbit heard his mother's words; but he did not actively listen. Furthermore, he refused to be persuaded by them. In contrast, his siblings chose to be persuaded by those very same words. Their respective actions revealed their respective choices. Paul knew what this meant. He, too, lived for a long time refusing to be persuaded by the Word of God. And, his actions revealed his choice of resisting persuasion. Ellen White speaks of Paul's experience.  She says:

The Saviour had spoken to Saul through Stephen, whose clear reasoning could not be controverted. The learned Jew had seen the face of the martyr reflecting the light of Christ's glory--appearing as if "it had been the face of an angel." Acts 6:15. He had witnessed Stephen's forbearance toward his enemies and his forgiveness of them. He had also witnessed the fortitude and cheerful resignation of many whom he had caused to be tormented and afflicted. He had seen some yield up even their lives with rejoicing for the sake of their faith. All these things had appealed loudly to Saul and at times had thrust upon his mind an almost overwhelming conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah. At such times he had struggled for entire nights against this conviction, and always he had ended the matter by avowing his belief that Jesus was not the Messiah and that His followers were deluded fanatics (Acts of the Apostles, p. 116).

It was not that Saul did not hear the Word. It was that he did not make space in his heart for it, and therefore refused to be persuaded. After, Saul's conversion his actions revealed his persuasion. The same could be said of the disciples. Christ told them many times of His impending death and resurrection, but they refused to be persuaded. Ellen White elaborates thus:

"After the death of Christ the disciples were well-nigh overcome by discouragement ...Jesus had several times attempted to open the future to His disciples, but they had not cared to think about what He said. ... When Christ was crucified, they did not believe that He would rise. He had stated plainly that He was to rise on the third day, but they were perplexed to know what He meant. This lack of comprehension left them at the time of His death in utter hopelessness. ...If they had believed the Saviour's words, how much sorrow they might have been spared!" (Acts of the Apostles, p. 26)

Three times in Luke 24 the disciples and others were reminded, "remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again" (Luke 24: 6 -7). The disciples had all the evidence they needed to believe, but, preoccupied with who would be the greatest among them in the kingdom, they reluctantly paid attention to Christ's words, resisted considering them, and thus refused to be persuaded. Yet, Mary Magdalene, with less evidence, believed, and, her later action of anointing Christ, revealed her belief.

In our day, those who profess Christianity believe in Christ's resurrection. But, do they believe in His soon and imminent return? In Luke 12, Christ tells the Parable of the Unwise Servant. This servant believed his master would take a long time to return. So, this servant said, "… in his heart, my lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken" (Luke 12:45). This parable references those who, in our time, having heard the Words of Jesus regarding His return, refuse to be persuaded that His coming is imminent. How do we know they believe that Jesus is not coming soon? Their actions reveal what they believe. They are preoccupied with eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage; they buy and sell, plant and build (as if there is no eternity to reckon with -- Matthew 24:37 – 39; Luke 17:28 – 30). With hardened hearts, they think highly of themselves, and look down on others, and consequently abuse and mistreat each other. These have heard the Words of God, but they resist their import and refuse to be persuaded by them. Friends, let us not be resistive to God's Words, but joyfully receive them, letting them persuade us while there is still time. Let the world see by our agape-ing others that His Word has found its home in our hearts. As the scripture says, "those with ears, let them hear" (Revelation 3:13, 22).
 RR

Friday, March 16, 2018

Let Go Of The Nuts

Let Go Of The Nuts

People in India catch monkeys by taking a pot that has a narrow neck and burying it in the ground under a tree where monkeys are jumping and dancing in the treetops. They leave the mouth open, sticking out of the ground four or five inches. Then they put nuts in it. The monkey finds them, puts its hand in the jar, gets a big fist full of nuts, and then tries to pull it out. But the fist won't come out because it's full of nuts. The monkey would be sitting there all night long trying to pull his fist filled with nuts. In the morning the monkey catcher walks casually and putting a noose around the monkey's neck, taps on his hand and drags him away. The monkey, whose nature is to be completely free, to be playing on the treetops and walking around carefree, ends up in a cage, just because the monkey didn't let go. All the monkey had to do was, let go of those nuts.

You may find it easy to scoff at these creatures for not being wise enough to let go of what is entrapping them. Are we any different than they are? Are we allowing those things that we love trap us, and by doing so we not only lose our freedom but our lives and our salvation? Just as the monkeys, appetite is a big issue for us. 

Let's consider Esau. Let us read from Genesis 25: 29-34

Genesis 25: 29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:
Genesis 25: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
Genesis 25: 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
Genesis 25: 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
Genesis 25: 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
Genesis 25: 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

To satisfy his hunger, Esau despised and sold to his cunning brother what could have been the source of a future filled with blessings and plenty. Instead, he chose to fill his belly at that moment. This type of action showed how Esau lacked principles and instead lived a life full indulging in whatever pleased him at that moment. We shall see that the "the fruit does not fall far from the tree." Esau probably learned this from his father, for you see, " Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison" (Genesis 25: 28).

So much he loved his favorite son's venison that he chose to rebel against God's word that Jacob should be the one to receive the birthright blessing (Genesis 25: 23). We read in Genesis 27: 1-4,

Genesis 27:1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I.
Genesis 27:2 And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death:
Genesis 27:3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;
Genesis 27:4 And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.

Isaac offered his blessing to his favored son in exchange for a venison stew; a blessing that Esau had despised earlier, when he sold his birthright to Jacob. Isaac was not as soon to die as he said. As we read further in Genesis, it must have been more than twenty years before his death. Thus, although we cannot prove it, we could conclude, that this was a ploy from Isaac to eat venison: this was a little indulgence that ends up going awry, since Isaac ate goat, not venison, and gave the blessing to Jacob. (This does not excuse Rebekah and Jacob's actions. Although they had good intentions – fulfilling God's will - they did it using their methods, instead of depending on God to do it.) Isaac's unwillingness to obey God's word ended in a disrupted family: two siblings separated by hatred and fear and a mother in sorrow for her son's departure. 

Indulgence in appetite was the first battle Jesus won against the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-4). By allowing the Holy Spirit to conquer His appetite, Jesus was able to live a life of discipline, principle and in line with the will of God; this is where Adam and Eve failed. On the contrary, this is where Daniel and his friends were victorious. Unlike the monkeys, Daniel, his friends, and Jesus did not go in the jar. Adam, Eve, Isaac and Esau did go in the pot, and would not let go of the nuts. You may be saying to yourself, "my hand is already in the jar, and as much as I would like to, I will not let go of the nuts, I do not want to." You have no power to do this on your own. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that you can let go of the nuts and release your hand from the jar. The question is: will you choose to let Him? 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Spiritual Metamorphosis

Spiritual Metamorphosis

Do you like butterflies? They are beautiful. However, I bet if you answered yes to the previous question you would respond, "no," to the next question, Who likes caterpillars? No one would believe that such a beautiful insect could come from that ugly looking leaf eater. But, upon carefully observing the life cycle of this insect, we realize that the creator formed the larva to enclose itself into a cocoon. There it metamorphoses or is transformed into a butterfly. Thus the reviled becomes something beautiful. 

The word metamorphosis means: 
1. A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function; also known as transformation. 
2. A change in the form and often the habits of an animal during normal development after the embryonic stage. Examples of Metamorphosis include the transformation of maggots into adult flies, caterpillars into butterflies and, the changing of tadpoles into frogs. 

Meta is a Greek prefix for beside or after. Morph is a suffix which means form, shape or structure. So, in essence, the word metamorphosis points toward the form an object will take after the transformation. The word trans is a prefix that means across, on the other side or beyond. It can also mean to go through a Change or make a transfer.  So, in the case of the caterpillar, it changes form and structure, so much so, that its appearance and function change beyond recognition; how like Christ when He assumed nature 4,000 years after the fall. 

Isaiah 53:2 says, "For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." When Jesus became a man, it was a big change for Him, and perhaps for others who had seen Him before the incarnation. Whatever physical characteristics God has, Jesus no longer had. He was transformed into a human being, small and weak, in comparison to God. He had the same frailties, needs, and weaknesses we have. Accordingly, He covered His divinity with sinful humanity, yet did not sin, and according to Ellen White, "He was afflicted in all the afflictions of humanity." It is this combination of natures that qualifies Christ to be our Saviour. 

Furthermore, Ellen White says of Him: 

To save fallen humanity, the Son of God took humanity upon Himself, laying aside His kingly crown and royal robe. He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. One with God, He alone was capable of accomplishing this work, and He consented to an actual union with man. In His sinlessness, He could bear every transgression ... Christ did in reality, unite the offending nature of man with His own sinless nature, because by this act of condescension, He would be enabled to pour out His blood in  behalf of the fallen race. (E. G. White Notes, page 29.) 

Christ assumed the human nature of sinful man.  Sin can be defined Sin as self-love. This human nature, united with His divine nature of selfless-love did not Sin in Word, thought or action. In Him, the battle was fought, and selfless love won out on the cross. In Himself, He redeemed the corporate life of humanity. What a wonderful Saviour, willing to condescend to the depths of degradation to save fallen human beings. 

In Philippians chapter 2, from the NASB we read: 

Phil. 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 
Phil. 2:6 Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 
Phil. 2:7 But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 
Phil. 2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

So when Paul says, "Let this mind be in you" or as it is said in the NASB, "let this attitude be in you," He meant that we should we be willing to submit to the authority of God's indwelling Holy Spirit just as Jesus submitted to the Father.   As Christ submitted to His Father even unto the death, so should we die to the death of self. 

The mind of Christ or the attitude of Christ was that of self-denying love. The principles of God's kingdom are those of His nature and character: that of unconditional, self-denying love. This form of love (agape) is the only true love. With this love alone man would be willing to lay down his or her life for another.  It is the desire of the Father for us to have the mind of Christ, and He is more than willing to give it to us. Will we accept it?

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Sabbath School Insights: Walking with Gratitude

Walking with Gratitude

 

Matthew, Luke and John tell the story of the anointing of Jesus.  Apparently, a Pharisee called Simon wanted Jesus to have dinner at his house.  Jesus obliged him and went with His disciples.  Jesus had healed this Pharisee of leprosy.  So, the dinner was a token of gratitude.  A woman if ill repute – whose name was Mary - walks in the house uninvited.  She brought with her an alabaster box filled with spikenard ointment.  She broke the box and poured the ointment over Jesus.  She also washed Jesus' feet and dried them with her hair. Jesus had healed this woman of demon possession seven times.  This was a demonstration of heartfelt appreciation.  This incident was considered scandalous by most in the house, including the host.  With disdain and indignation he thought to himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39).  By the way, Sister White says it was Simon who drew this woman – his niece- to sin.  Luke then relates how Jesus responded to Simon.  Let us read from Luke 7:40 – 47, 

 

Luke7:40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.

Luke7:41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.

Luke7:42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

Luke7:43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

Luke7:44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.

Luke7:45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.

Luke7:46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

Luke7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

 

Because of the fall, we are all deserving of death.  But, John 3:16 says that, 

 

John3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

Because God loves us, instead of what we deserve God gives us a gift.  1 John 3:1 says that, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God …" The author of our lesson says that this verse stresses that in Jesus we are already God's children. God has taken the initiative to do this for us. The new birth is His work, not ours. We can bring about neither our own birth nor our adoption as God's children.  Given the size of the universe in contrast to our planet, much less to each of us individually, how can we not be astonished that the God who created all this loves us and has made us His children? What a wonderful perspective this should give us on what our lives mean! What hope, what assurance, what confidence we should have for the future, regardless of whatever difficult circumstances we now face? God, the Creator of all that is, loves us, cares for us, and calls us His children.  Have you ever dwelt on the implications of the notion that not only does Godexist but He loves us, cares for us, and even died for us. How should this reality impact how we live?

 

If we are like Simon, we will host a little get together pot-lock to honor Jesus.  We would do it after church.  One dinner should be sufficient to thank he who loves us so much He died the death we deserved.  If, in contrast, we are like Mary we will give everything we have in order to continually thank Him.  Our gratitude shows how much we love, which in turn shows how much we believe we are forgiven.  Do we live grateful lives?  How grateful are we that God has in Jesus restored us as His children?  Will we gratefully let Him - through the work of His indwelling Spirit - transform us into the likeness of His Son? 

https://sabbathschoolinsights.blogspot.com/2009/08/walking-with-gratitude.html

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Brand New Seed

A Brand New Seed

Some farmer's from the same area decided to have a business meeting. Of particular issue in the discussion, was a group of fruit trees which had failed to yield the expected crop. It wasn't that the trees produced pears or even apples instead of peaches. No, the trees yielded peaches alright, but they were consistently sour. Nope, nobody was happy, and everybody wanted something done -- right away. So, the farmers were all meeting this day, to decide the fate of their peach trees. You see, they were all concerned because collectively, year after year the farmers had attempted various things to remedy the problem with their trees but to no avail. Now, every farmer was fed up, and each came to one conclusion -- they had all purchased the seeds of sour peach from the same shop. 

A traveling consultant, having heard of the farmers' dilemma offered his services. He indicated that if allowed, he would study the situation and present his findings at the end of a specified time. Hopeful, all of the farmers agreed, and the consultant began his analysis. Today, however, was presentation day and the farmers were eagerly awaiting the results of the study. 

At the opening of the meeting, the consultant stood to speak and said, "after analyzing your situation I have determined that all of you have utilized sour seed." Irritated because they knew this, the farmers urged the consultant to tell them something they didn't know. Unfazed, the consultant continued, "there are a number of remedies available, and each is pricey." "One is to treat the trees with additives to increase the fruit size which will probably change its taste." "Another is to uproot the trees, and sow new seeds." At this point, one of the farmers asked, "If we go for the first solution, would we have to do this every year?" The consultant nodded and answered, "Yes, sir, you would." Looking at their copy of the report, the farmers silently estimated how much the intervention would cost them. Then another stated, "but, if we uproot the trees wouldn't that mean we would have to replant?" "And if we do that, there won't be a harvest for several years -- that doesn't sound good to me --you know what they say, 'no harvest, no produce, no produce, no money." Frustrated, the farmers began talking amongst themselves. After they quieted down, the consultant answered, "Yes, what you've said is true -- but.." Just then another farmer asked the question they had all been thinking. "What guarantee do we have that the new seeds will not be sour?" Simultaneously, all of the farmers started talking again. After they quieted down, the consultant responded, "unfortunately, there are no guarantees -- you know about that more than I do." "Apparently, not as much as we should," said another farmer joking. They all laughed. Suddenly one of the quietest farmers said softly, "I think what we need is brand new seed -- from another source." Slowly the laughter subsided, and all agreed, a brand new seed is just what was needed. 

In this story human beings are the trees that produce sour fruit, having come from bad seed. The seed's name was Adam. When God created Adam, He created all of us in him. The Bible says in Genesis 2:7, "And the LORD God formed man of the
dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." In the original, the text says that God breathed the "breaths of life into man." Surprisingly, the plural form of the word is used, and not the singular. So, the text reads "breaths" and not "breath," as is written in most of our bibles. From this we can understand that God breathed into Adam the breath of lives -- all of mankind's lives. So the lives of the whole human race were created in one man: Adam. (Adam in Hebrew means mankind.) Acts 17:26 confirms this thought: "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." So it is no surprise that if God created all human beings out of one man when this man sinned, we all sinned. Romans 5:12 says, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" This is the basis of the biblical principle of "Solidarity" or "corporate oneness."  The book of Hebrews illustrates this principle is when Paul speaks of Levi paying tithes to Melchizedek, despite the fact that Levi was not yet conceived (Hebrews 7:1-10.) How did unconceived Levi pay tithes to Melchizedek? Let's take a look at Hebrews 7:

Hebrews 7:9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes to Abraham
Hebrews 7:10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedic met him.

How does this fit our situation today? How does the concept of "corporate oneness," or "solidarity" affect us? Well, although we were not yet conceived -- we were in the loins or in the body of Adam -- so when he (Adam) sinned, and his nature changed, all he could bequeath to us was his nature of sin. Therefore we created sinners. Because of this we suffer the consequences of Sin and must pay the penalty of the second or eternal death which as we know is not sleep. This death is eternal separation from God. 

Unlike the characters in our story, God is neither a farmer nor a consultant. He foresaw our Adam's sin and therefore ours, and before there was a need, he formulated a solution. We needed Brand New Seed in the form of Adam the 2nd. Among the many places in the Bible in which we find the answer to Sin, Romans 5:18 is one of them. It reads: "Therefore as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." God solved the Sin problem by putting us, all human beings, in Christ. The whole of the human race, you and I and every human being from Adam to the last person, were put into Christ. Christ became the second or the last Adam. Just as we were in Adam, God by His act of incarnation through the Holy Spirit, put us into Christ so that we were corporately in Him. In bearing us -- our corporate human nature, He bore our Sin /s.

How does this help us? Since we are in Christ, all that He did we did. His life's history has become our history. So when He died the second death, we died with Him, and as He was resurrected on the third day, so were we. Christ has accomplished Salvation complete and final and has given it to us. This salvation is God's gift to Mankind. Why? So that none would perish. For in John 3:16 it says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God the Father desires that none should be lost.  He has made Abundant provision, and if we at the end are lost, it will be because we have fully and finally rejected His gift of love. So yes, Christ objectively justified and saved the whole world, but only your and my full and personal acceptance His gift (subjective salvation) will allow us the reward of being the new fruit from the incorruptible seed. Receipt of this Truth (by faith) sanctifies us from Sin's consequences and fits us for Eternal Life. In the personal knowledge of truth is power, for "you shall know the truth, and it shall set you free." (John 8:32)

This expression of "In Christ," is used in Hebrews 1:3-14 approximately ten times. Let's read this passage: 

Hebrews 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 
Hebrews 1:4 According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: 
Hebrews 1:5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 
Hebrews 1:6 To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved. 
Hebrews 1:7 In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace; 
Hebrews 1:8 Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 
Hebrews 1:9 Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: 
Hebrews 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: 
Hebrews 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will: 
Hebrews 1:12 That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ. 
Hebrews 1:13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, 
Hebrews 1:14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory. 

Based on this passage we can conclude that in Christ were are not: cursed, left to ourselves, to prove ourselves worthy, we are not lost and forlorn, hopeless, aimless, and excluded from God. On the contrary, we are in Christ: blessed, chosen, predestined to adoption, redeemed through His blood, forgiven of Sin, given wisdom and understanding, purposed to know the mystery of His will, first to hope, and included. Christ has justified all mankind and qualified us for eternal life. So, Jesus is near us -not only in proximity and in sympathy but - because He has chosen us in Himself. Now, He wants to be "in us," to make us fit for Heaven. If we decide to accept Him, one day we will be living with Him eternally.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Stewards of Service

Stewards of Service
 
The Bible says that nature speaks of the Glory of God, which is His character. Ellen White stresses the importance of this by telling us to study the lessons in nature. She says in Our High Calling, page 253: "Everything about us teaches us from day to day lessons of our Father's love and of His power, and of His laws that govern nature and that lie at the foundation of all government in heaven and in earth." Let's take a tree as an example. A mature tree uses precious earthly resources: it occupies space, utilizes air (Carbon dioxide which we exhale), water, and absorbs sunlight. In turn, we use the oxygen the tree exhales, and we take advantage of its shade. Is this a fair exchange? Many trees yield fruit that when consumed, are not only tasty, but are good for our health. While trees cannot consume their byproducts (fruit), we can. There are other parts of the tree, which we utilize as well, such as its leaves and its wood. It seems that human beings benefit more from trees then trees do from us. Apparently, all of the resources that trees use end up benefiting mankind as well as the animals.  Based on this observation we could say, that if trees were stewards, they would likely manage God's resources better than we.
 
Our analogy of the tree is really about stewardship and serving others. When a steward is filled with the faith of God, his service is selfless. But, in our natural sinful state, we are selfish. We think only of ourselves, our plans, our concerns. When we give to others or do for them, often it is because we expect the service to redound beneficially to us. Often, we anticipate a tangible return such as money or other favors - tickets, a meal, a gift certificate, etc. Other times we derive an intangible return, such as favorable appreciation by others. Not infrequently, we serve out of feelings of guilt, coercion, or fear; hoping to be relieved from condemnation. Thus, we misuse Gods resources for our benefit even though we claim using these to serve others. 
 
A true Christian at whatever level is a Steward who operates by faith. Just as a mature tree yields fruit, he or she will yield fruit (Galatians 5:22-25).  The Spirit of God that dwells in him springs forth this fruit because the fruit is the character of God Himself. 
 
Therefore, service is not proffered by guilt, coercion, or fear. The true Christian does not expect to gain absolution, freedom, or even peace. The service of a true Christian, in whom the Spirit dwells, is motivated by Agape - God's unconditional love - and the driving force is gratitude. A faithful follower of Christ gives and serves freely, for he has received freely (Matthew 10:8).
 
Typically, we do not equate stewardship with the selfless serving of others. But, a steward serves his Master by caring for his assets, identifying with the Master and doing as the Master wishes. What is it that the Master desires "But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8). Perhaps the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25 will illustrate the meaning further. Although the passage is lengthy, reading will refresh our memory. Matthew 25: 31-46 reads--
 
Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory:
Matthew 25:32 And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
Matthew 25:33 And He shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Matthew 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Matthew 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in:
Matthew 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.
Matthew 25:37 Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?
Matthew 25:38 When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee?
Matthew 25:39 Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?
Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, 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 25:41 Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
Matthew 25:42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink:
Matthew 25:43 I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in: naked, and ye clothed Me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not.
Matthew 25:44 Then shall they also answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?
Matthew 25:45 Then shall He answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.
Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
 
Faithful stewards are sheep who identify with their Lord and unknowingly serve Him by helping those in need.   Unfaithful stewards are the goats who served others but for personal gain.  What is the motivating difference between the two? It is Agape – God's unconditional love. The sheep possess the type of love that the Father possesses.  This love which is His essence is that which led Him to give to all human beings "…His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This love caused Jesus to weep because of the harm Sin had done to His creation (John 11:35). This is the same love that will be found in us as we permit the Holy Spirit to have His way with us (Romans 5:5). Christ Himself has said that by this all men will know that ye are my disciples (John 13: 34 – 35).  Today, while it's day, will you let the Spirit transform you into a faithful steward that you may serve others as He wishes?
 
~Raul Diaz

Friday, February 02, 2018

Stewards of Reconciliation

Stewards of Reconciliation

The year 2003 saw the release of a film about South-Africa entitled, "In my Country." Based on an autobiographical book written by journalist Antjie Krogg entitled, "Country of My Skull," the film fleshes out the White South-Afrikaner author's personal experience with the vestiges of Apartheid. Accordingly, the film depicts the author as a journalist assigned to report on cases brought before the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," or TRC, which was established by the government. The film, which could be described as somewhat of a docudrama, tells the story of the journalist's struggle with her White South-Afrikaner family as she provides news coverage of the controversial commission, but the story of an African-American journalist who struggles with his anger, and skepticism regarding this new form of justice. While the TRC's appointment and task was documented in newspapers around the world, it seems that not many outside of Africa followed the trials. The commission's principle method for bringing about peace and harmony between Black and White South-Africans was reconciliation. Hearing each case before a room full of Black South-Africans and reporters, the commission asked each Black South-African to sit in front of the room facing the panel with a counselor by his or her side and describe how the victimization took place. As the victim spoke, the audience listened intently but did not cry, although they groaned audibly. Occasionally the victim cried out in pain as the offending police officer or guard recounted his story of torture and death. You see, to receive amnesty, the guilty White South-Afrikaner officer must tell the absolute truth. He and his partner -- if there was one, must describe how they committed the torture, abuse, or murder. Furthermore, the perpetrator was expected to disclose all participants involved in the crime and to name the authority figures ordered the work done. If it was determined by the TRC that the crime was not politically motivated, the guilty parties were forced to stand trial for their crimes.

One particularly moving story which the film highlighted, occurred when an eight-year-old boy walked into his parents' bedroom one night. As he entered the room, he witnessed two police officers murder both of his parents, while he stood still, speechless. The TRC counselor had to tell the boy's story for him, for he had not spoken since. There he sat, wide-eyed and tear-less as he heard the officer tell his story. Listening with hushed and bated breath, the audience awaited the officers' story -- and told it they did (the story is too graphic to recount). At the end of his story, the first officer requested amnesty, as if he felt it was his right - as if he deserved it - because he had now cooperated with the commission. The second officer, however, was clearly of a different mindset.  He told of his participation in the crime and added that he was to have shot the boy, but that he could not. "I aimed my gun, but he just stood there calmly looking at me, silent, and I could not." "I disobeyed a direct order in not shooting him, but I just could not." Jumping up from his seat, this police officer said, "at night I see his face, looking at me -- saying nothing." "I can't sleep, I can't eat." At this admission, the officer approached the area where the boy sat facing him.   and said, " I would do anything to take back what I have done -- I'll pay in anyway I can -- I'll send him to school and pay his fees, I'll even pay for him to go all the way to college -- I am sorry, so sorry." With that the officer began to sob, as the audience was silent, waiting. The little eight-year-old boy who had been listening stood up and approached the kneeling officer, and after looking at him for a moment, threw his arms around him, hugging him. The audience and panel seemingly through their tears approve. Although the means of forgiveness and amnesty have been provided through the TRC by the government, it is the eight-year-old boy who is the steward of forgiveness, and reconciliation that day. 

How many of us consider ourselves stewards of reconciliation? Unfortunately, not many of us. The sad truth is that only a few of us would choose to forgive a wrong of such magnitude as has been experienced by the Black South-African victims. Yes, as Christians we've professed Christ, but we still but seem to have difficulty forgiving even minute injustices. However, Christ wants us to be His ambassadors or stewards.  In 2 Cor. 5: 20, the scripture calls us "ambassadors for Christ," and "ministers of reconciliation" (see verse 18). It seems that just as Christ has been an ambassador or steward on behalf of the Father to us, that He wants us to follow in His footsteps. Let us read what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. It reads as follows:

2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 
2 Cor. 5:18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 
2 Cor. 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

Friends, although forgiving and reconciling seems impossible to us -- our natures finding it extremely distasteful -- yet "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners" ( Rom. 5:8). So, if we are "in Christ," He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure, and His commands are not grievous (Phil. 2:13, I John 5:3). What is God's command? He commands that we dispense His grace, and tell the world that Christ has already reconciled them to Himself at His death on Calvary. 

As Christians, one of the first things that we learned is that God created the world, so it all belongs to Him, and that He is the rightful owner. We also learned that since He paid for us back (redeemed us), we are to be His stewards or managers, and this is where the concept of tithe and offering comes in. But, how about thinking about stewardship in a new manner. How about considering ourselves not only as stewards of the material or tangible goods - such as land, money, and talents - that He gives us but as stewards of the fruit of the gospel. What is the fruit of the gospel you say?  It is reconciliation and forgiveness. 

God has said as our lesson quotes, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights... (James 1:17 NKJV). He is offering you and me the work of perhaps a higher order than we've previously thought -- stewardship at a higher level than we've yet known. I don't know about you, but I think the offer is worth the risks. So, how about you, will you take it? 

Maria Greaves-Barnes