Friday, February 22, 2019

Authenticity

Authenticity

There are two trends in our denomination that has many people puzzled.  One is why our evangelistic efforts are no longer effective; why is it that we cannot bring more people in.  The other trend is that of losing so many people.  In their quest for an answer, they blame others.  Pastors blame the laity; the laity blames the Pastors.  They say of each other, "they are not trying hard enough," or "they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  A few of them ask themselves, "why did we stop doing things the way we see to do them?  It used to work." The answer they get is, "it no longer works." Some even blame the status of our society.  They are too busy for church or God.  People are more interested in shopping and entertainment than they are in spiritual things.  Could it be that the problem is what we preach?  Or could it be the way we preach?  How about the worship service?  Is it a matter of making it interesting; of engaging people more? 

So, many are tempted, as many other denominations have, to use entertainment and marketing techniques to attract and retain people.  They see these large church buildings that can sit thousands of people, The Church services are full, The church programs are well attended, and Participation is high. But, in the end, very few are truly satisfied.  And, many remain worldly while calling themselves Christians.  So, what shall we do?  Rarely does any one of them look at themselves and ask, "Am I the problem?" 

Let's take a step back and consider how Jesus worked.  Jesus never tried to fill up a building.  But, He did try to bring all to follow Him.  Jesus was not victorious in this.  However, He was effective in bringing the people to a decision.  The decision was many times sowing of a seed that would germinate later.  Christ never forced nor manipulated anyone to make a choice.  The apostles after Pentecost also were effective in bringing people to a decision.  Why were they effective?  No one will deny that Jesus and the Apostles were the real deal.  They had authenticity.  And, it showed.  Are we authentic? 

Jesus said He finished His work (John 17: 4).  No doubt the Apostles did too.  Since Christ will not return until the Work is done - the Gospel preached in the whole world (Matthew 24: 14), - it follows that we have not finished our work.  Considering the points made above, are we doing the job at all?  Are we genuinely preaching the Gospel? And, if we are, are we teaching it the right way? 

In the book of Revelation, it says that there will be a generation that will finish the work.  They are described in Revelation 14: 4 – 5, 11.  Let us read,

Revelation 14:4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth…
Revelation 14:5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
Revelation 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

There is another characteristic in Revelation 12: 11.  Let us read,
Revelation 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

I doubt that anyone of us can honestly say that this describes us perfectly.  Yet, it is the kind of authenticity that it will require to finish the work.   It is not only a matter of preaching doctrines.  It is a matter of living them.  And, the only way that can happen is that we let the Holy Spirit dwell in us and transform until Christ is entirely formed in us.  Ellen White concurs.  She says,

Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church.    When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.  (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 69)

It could just be that this last generation is the one to preach the Gospel into the whole world.  

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The world: Hate it or love it?

The world: Hate it or love it?

Words and their various meanings are fascinating to me. I have always been intrigued by them and take pleasure in tracing their usage in diverse languages. It is amazing how words mean something to one group of people and something else entirely to another group. We receive a very different perspective on a word when we discover its original meaning, as well as how that meaning has changed. The same goes for translating words or phrases from one language to another. Mono-linguistic persons often express surprise when a word in English sounds like a foreign word, but has an entirely different meaning. Words and phrases in one language may not translate into another language readily, so a new word must be coined. Its so easy to think we understand a word in our own language, after all, we use it frequently. And yet, if we become just a little curious, work backward, and trace the word to its original language, we may discover a more profound meaning which heretofore eluded us. That's why I am so thankful for dictionaries and am particularly grateful to God for the Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. Without them, I would be lost. These dictionaries shed light on an entirely different picture of God's requirements for us. Take the word obedience, for example. In the English language, we translate it, "do as you are told." In the Hebrew, the word we translated to obedience means, "Listening closely and attentively-- to hear, with a willingness to do." In other words, God does not just want us to take action, He wants us to know Him, know His voice, and in the process, understand what He wants us to accomplish in His power. 

This week's lesson presents a similar situation with the word: World. At first glance, it seems that the Bible contradicts itself. In 1 John and in Romans, it appears that we are being told to hate the world (1 John 2:15; Rom.12:2). Yet, later on, it says that God loved the world (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:18,19) and that's why He sent His Son. What an apparent contradiction! In Matthew 28, we are told that God even commissions us to go out to the world. What are we to believe? Some say that John 17:14 - 18 explains the paradox, but to someone not versed in scripture, this text just seems to provide more confusion. Let's take a look at John 17:14-18: 

John 17:14 I have given them Thy Word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 
John 17:15 I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that 
Thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 
John 17:16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 
John 17:17 Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth. 
John 17:18 As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them 
into the world. 

This scripture gives the impression that we are to be in the World but not of the World. To someone new to the Christian life, comes the question, "how can I be in something, but not be part of it? "After all, if you're in something, doesn't it stick on you? So, how could I be in-- it but not?" "I'm either in something, or I'm not -- right?" The New Testament was written in Greek, so let's look up the word -- "world," in a concordance. Upon examination, the word -- "Kosmos," from which we get the word "cosmos," has several meanings, and is revealed as the word we're looking for. To determine which definition is correct for the passage in question, we must 1st establish the context of that passage. 

To the Hebrew mind, the word Kosmos can mean several things, a few of which are: the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family; the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ. It could also mean: worldly affairs, the aggregate of things earthly; the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments, riches, advantages, pleasures, and the like, which although hollow, frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ; any aggregate or general collection
of particulars of any sort. In summary, the word-- "world," can refer to Sin or the Sinner. Perhaps Sister White sheds a little more light: 

The Followers of Christ are to be separate from the world in principles and interests, but they are not to isolate themselves from the World (E. G. White Notes, page 92). 

Wow, at least for those who've been baffled, we got that cleared up. The "world," used in this context of scripture is referring to the customs, traditions, and expectations of sinful humanity. The apostles, through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, are telling us that we are not to be like the wicked inhabitants of the world, worrying, fretting, and concerned with the cares of this life, for they root out the Word (Matt. 6:25-33; Matt. 13:3, 22, 23). If these counsels seem an impossible feat, remember that Christ only asked us to listen carefully, with a willingness to hear, and a desire to do. When we are in Christ, nothing shall be impossible, for all things are possible to him who believes, and abides (Mark 10:27; John 1:3-5; Phil. 4:13). 

It is said that God hates the Sin but loves the Sinner. When we are in Christ, we too will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and will- agape - love the Sinner unconditionally and hate the Sin. You cannot admire both, the Sinner and the Sin, and possess the love of God. When there is no love or burden for the sinner's ultimate eternal destination, there is no doubt, love for Sin. But, when God places in our hearts, His love, and passionate burden for the salvation of the Sinner --- we will hate Sin; and -- we will love our brother unto the death. For Christ's sake, let's be willing to allow God to do this work in us. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Spiritual Wicks

Spiritual Wicks

For the most part, much of matter exists in three phases: solid, liquid, and gas (vapor).  On which phase does the matter exist depends mainly on the property of the material and temperature to which it is exposed. So, for example, in warm to cool weather water is liquid.  In very hot weather water is gas or vapor.  On the other extreme, in very cold weather, water is solid – what we call ice.  

There are terms for the temperature at which matter changes from one phase to another.  For example, there is the melting point, the temperature at which a solid becomes liquid.  These vary depending on the material's property.  So, it is that a material with a low melting point will be liquid where one with a high melting point will be still solid. Another example of these terms is flashpoints: This is defined as the temperature at which a particular organic compound gives off sufficient vapor to ignite in air when exposed to flame. If you have two different substances with two different flashpoints, the one with the lower flash point will burn before the one with the highest flash point. An excellent example of this is the wick of an oil lamp.  Let us learn more about these lamps to illustrate this point.  

In the past lamps where very simple utensils: it was nothing more than a small reservoir filled with oil and a wick coming out of the reservoir saturated with the oil from the reservoir.  Through capillary action, the taper would draw the oil up. If you looked closely, you would notice a charred bit along the top, and sometimes it gets hard and crusty, this is like lacquer from the oils and should be trimmed up from time to time.  When you light the candle wick, the small burnt bit of wick heats the oil traveling up, and the vapor ignites. The oil vapors have a lower flash point than the cotton, so they ignite before the wick does.  Kerosene, for example, has an autoignition temperature of about 220 °F with a flash point of 33-36 °F and Cotton needs about 630 °F to flash.   If you look closely on a candle, the wax does the same thing, you will see a space between the flame and the wick, and it is not the wax but rather the vaporized wax that is burning.  To reiterate, this means the vapors – which only need 33 °F heat to ignite with a flame source - burn before the cotton can burn. So you see, as long as there is oil to burn, the cloth just acts as a wick!  The wick will burn when the oil is gone, and the flame is still does burning; the cotton becomes the fuel.

We will see that there is a spiritual application to this when we study the vision in Zechariah 4. This vision is full of imagery, symbols, and meaning.  Let us read it,

Zechariah 4:1 And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.
Zechariah 4:2 And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:
Zechariah 4:3 And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
Zechariah 4:4 So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?
Zechariah 4:5 Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
Zechariah 4:6 Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah 4:12 And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?
Zechariah 4:14 Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the LORD of the whole earth.

This vision is an obvious reference to the lamps in the sanctuary.  According to Leviticus 24:2, the Lord said to Moses to "Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually."  We read from Ellen White writings that by the lamps is represented the word of God. The psalmist says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Psalm 119:105. The oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  [We see this as we read the narration as to how the Spirit is represented in the prophecy of Zechariah.]  (PK 594.1; COL 408.1)  

In this vision, the two olive trees which stand before God are represented as emptying the golden oil out of themselves through golden tubes into the bowl of the candlestick.  From this, the lamps of the sanctuary are fed, that they may give a bright, continuous light. So, from the holy ones that stand in God's presence, His Spirit is imparted to the human instrumentalities who are consecrated to His service.  (PK 594.1: COL 408.1)  Then the heavenly fire, when applied, makes them burning and shining lights. Our hearts cannot reflect light until there is a vital connection with heaven; this connection is established when the Holy Spirit dwells in us. This alone can make them burn steadily with holy, unselfish love for Jesus, and for all who are the purchase of His blood. And, unless we are regularly replenished with the golden oil, the flame will die out.  (TDG 98.3)  If the fire of the Spirit is not burning, we then become "spiritual fuel.  Ellen White explains why,

The prophet Isaiah had declared that the Lord would cleanse His people from their iniquities "by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning." The word of the Lord to Israel was, "I will turn My hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin." Isaiah 4:4; 1:25. To sin, wherever found, "our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 12:29.  In all who submit to His power, the Spirit of God will consume sin. But if men cling to sin, they become identified with it. Then the glory of God, which destroys sin, must destroy them.  (DA 107)

As we can see we are the wicks, and without the Holy Spirit oil we burn out.  The Holy Spirit is thus a preserving agent.  It is He that burns, and as long as He is present, He will burn but not us.  So, spiritually we are to be "human torches" "… letting our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).