Friday, July 30, 2004

True Friendship

Comments to 3rd Quarter 2004 Sabbath School Lesson #5

I know I fall short of the mark. In fact, we all do. Not one of us can say: we are truly a friend at all times. Consider the Biblical description of a friend. He is to be friendly, a sower of harmony and unity, a coverer of transgressions. He is to love at all times, be pure of heart, faithful, wise in counsel, and bear other’s burdens (Prov. 18:24; Prov. 16:28; Prov. 17:9,17; Prov. 22:11; Prov. 27:6, 9;
Gal. 6:2). You may say, “I have a couple of these requirements nailed down.” But, God requires them all. Yes, a true Christian will exhibit all these traits of a friend, as David and Jonathan did. These two men loved each other so deeply, that the Bible says of David, “he loved him as he loved his own soul (1 Sam. 20:17)." After Jonathan’s death, David said, “I am distressed for thee, my
brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women (2 Samuel 1:26)." Could any of us love another human being like this? It is only possible when Christ is actively in our hearts and lives.

Christ wants to call me friend. In John 15:12-15 it says:

John 15:12 - This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.
John 15:13 - Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:14 - Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
John 15:15 - Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

Even when we were His enemies Christ gave us this gift of Himself (Romans 5:8). The knowledge that Christ loved us and gave His life for us, even as we hated Him and were plotting His murder, makes the concept of "great love" (as quoted in John 15:13 above) very special. How could Christ do this? He
embodied the Father’s agape love, and so can we, for provision has been made. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, if we allow Him, our thoughts, feelings and motives are transformed to be like Christ's. Then it is simple to love as He loves, for He makes it possible (& all things are possible to Him who believes
- Mark 9:23).

When we try by ourselves to love as He commanded, we will fail miserably. After all, loving others when you are selfish is terribly difficult, if not impossible--after all self comes first. This is why our society insists on offering a cheap alternative, a counterfeit to God's command. Instead of loving others, our society propagates the concept of "liking and tolerating others." But, the Bible never said we are to like or tolerate anyone. No, friends, the Bible says that we must love others as God loves us. We are to love others even when we dislike their ways. Only God can make this possible. What does this mean? Just this, that if we ask Him, and believe, He will give us the power to withstand our society's counterfeit, and the power to love.

David and Jonathan were friends by providence. God brought them together to comfort each other through the murderous reign of King Saul, and to save the linage of Christ. Although Jonathan's friendship with David was against his father’s will, Jonathan never dishonored his father. He knew that David would take away what was his by birthright, but was not angry because he knew it was God’s will. How many of us would choose to forge a deep and loving friendship with someone we knew would usurp our role, or take away our birthright? In Christ, all things are possible.

How many of us are truly thankful to God for the friends and loved ones we have? How easy it is to think our friendships exist because we have fun with the other person/s, or that we share so much in common. How easy to miss that it is God who gives us the friends, and the unconditional love with which to love them. Yes, by ourselves we all miss the mark of true friendship. But, in Him all things are possible. Will you let Christ fill you with His love, and allow Him to love others through you? He's waiting.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It Starts With A Foundation


Commentary to the 3rd Quarter Sabbath School Lesson #4

Anybody who is in the construction business will tell you that the most important aspect of any construction is the foundation. While the foundation is not seen when the building is completed, a person of experience can examine the building and determine by the look of the building, whether its foundation is good and solid or not. A good foundation almost guarantees good construction. A bad foundation guarantees poor construction.

The foundation of a good marriage is in the choosing of the partner. More explicitly, it is in how you chose your partner. There are many checklist systems, and some of these are better than others. A male friend told me his method is based on: how the woman dresses, how she stands and walks, her conversation, the food she chooses to eat, and how she eats. Some women say:
“I look at his teeth, his fingernails, and his shoes.” After having heard all these methods, and having observed the results thereof, I now boil it down to one question: “Will this person help me enter the Kingdom of God?” My sister told me of a friend who disclosed to her via e-mail the bio of a prospect, “She’s very active in church, wears no make-up, and wears no jewelry.” My sister replied to him, “Does she love God?” Although, my sister’s friend no longer is pursuing the young woman, he still has not answered her question.

The World offers dating as an alternative method for choosing a partner. The two main questions in dating are, “How will this person suit my desires for pleasure, and will I stop being lonely?” This is a very selfish and self-centered way of making a decision on whom to be with. Since it is about fulfilling our own desires by ourselves, we use carnal wisdom to make the decision, and usually suffer afterwards.

In the Bible I see a different model. I see God choosing whom our partner should be. Of course this is a major issue of trust, nevertheless, in Genesis 2, we read:

Genesis 2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
Genesis 2:19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
Genesis 2:20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
Genesis 2:21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
Genesis 2:22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
Genesis 2:23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Genesis 2:25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

What do we see in this passage? God knew of Adam’s need. God knew exactly what Adam needed. While Adam waited for God to bring his partner, he remained focused on the work God gave him to do. God formed a woman just fit for Adam. God brought the woman to Adam. Adam accepted her and became one with her. Christ’s Righteousness covered their nakedness. Further along in Genesis 24, we read how Isaac met Rebekah. In this story we see Abraham using his wisdom to find a spouse for his son, and we find a servant who prays to God to help him chose. Isaac and Rebekah accepted God’s will for each other. So they became one. The Bible says that Rebekah comforted Isaac. This should or could have been our story.

Unfortunately, in dating we tell God, "I assert my right to make my own decisions for my life, (and reject what You have for me), after all, you gave me a brain, and common sense, so there is nothing wrong with exercising it." In letting God choose, I give up the right to choose for myself, and accept by faith God’s will for me. In dating, I rob God of the pleasure and joy inherent in His bringing to me, a person He formed just for me. In dating I am likely to choose wrongly, and may rob myself of: the pleasure and joy of becoming one with someone who is my perfect complement.

In dating I open the door to inappropriate emotional bonding with a person whom, I may later determine, is not for me. This results in either my getting hurt, or the other person getting hurt--and in this sinful world, that's just one more loss to grieve, that didn't have to happen. I also open the door to greater sexual temptation and create the opportunity for pre-marital sex (Fornication) and cohabitation. Of course, both of these are practices that ultimately lead to alienation from God.

Over the last 10 years, I have spoken at length to many separated and divorced individuals. In all cases, without fail, pre-marital sex was a part of their relationship with their former spouse. And in many cases they are unrepentant. They have forgotten that in God's sight inappropriate emotional and physical bonding, as well as fornication and adultery are as murder, therefore they break God's heart. After all, He meant for us to love one another with a pure self-sacrificing and self-denying love as He loves us. He never intended for us to have a cheap substitute. Oh, what a shame that we settle for so much less, and then blame God and each other when things don't work out the way we think they should.

By choosing a spouse for ourselves, we fail to allow God to prepare our betrothed for us. We further forfeit the relational experience He wants to give us, as He sanctifies us, and divests us of sexual impurities and sinful expectations.

Instead of Marriage being seen as a mutual need meeting, it should be perceived as the bringing together of a man and a woman to be a team. God joins them together, for a specific mission. They are to reveal the true character of Christ, as He revealed the character of the Father while here on earth. Therefore, the married couple must learn to know (as in the biblical sense), the character of God, in an ever-deepening way. It is through the Power of the Holy Spirit, as we study, meditate, and ponder the Word separately and together, and through praying with and for each other, that the will of God is known, understood and acted upon. Your spouse / partner is a gift to you from God, the "...Giver of all Good gifts." He desires that you be happy and fulfilled in Him. Will you accept God’s gift to you or will you rather find your own?

If you are already married, God’s grace is abundant enough to cover you and your spouse.
He can and will work a miracle in your marriage. But, you must ask Him to be made willing, and then yield your will to Him. He will give you that unconditional love for your spouse if you let Him. You'll be the happier for it, and so will your spouse.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

On Becoming A Parent

It was always the same kids. They were disruptive during church service. They would speak loudly, scream, and run around. When disciplined they would behave worse. They would show how much of a rotten undisciplined spoiled brat they were. When we approached the parents, they would always say, “When you become a parent you will understand!” Since I was single with no kids, they claimed I did not have the authority to call attention to their kids' behavior. But, I knew these parents. They spent more time watching TV, reading garbage, listening to garbage on the radio, and were indulgent in their eating habits. They spent very little time praying, studying the scripture or the Spirit of Prophecy, finding out God’s will and yielding their will to Him.

If there is something I got out of this lesson it is that as Christians, we have no excuse for not being prepared to parent. We spend time and effort to prepare for everything else. Our careers are well planned out. Some of us go to school and train for years before ever practicing anything we learn. We put more effort in planning and preparing vacations and celebrations (such as birthday parties, weddings, etc.) than in the training and educating of our children. We put more effort in shopping wisely for products that we want than we do in raising our children. Does it mean we will not have challenges raising our children? No! It means we will be ready to tackle them when they arise.

The Bible has specific instructions on how to deal with children. Deuteronomy 4:9 says,

“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons;”

What we learn from God – directly, through His Word, and His servants - we are to teach to our children. I believe here lies the biggest problem. We can only teach, what we know. Do we know God? To know God is to be His friend as Abraham was His friend. Sister White wrote immensely on this subject. Child’s Guidance, The Adventist Home, Mind, Character and Personality, are just three examples of her writing on the subject. It would be well for us to read them even if we not parents. We have no excuse. We also have examples of other parents who have done a good job with their children.

To be parents requires a change in thinking and outlook on life. Living is not just about this life, but about the one to come. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This should be our first priority. This should be what we train our children for. Parenting then requires unconditional love and a willingness to sacrifice self. When the life of our child begins – at conception – ours ends. They become the little one that we do as unto God for (Matthew 25:40.) There must be a willingness to sacrifice self. Just like teachers plan their day for their students, we are to go to God and ask for His guidance in planning our day for our children. If you are not willing to do this, if you do not have the resources to do this, you have no business procreating. Ellen White writes, “Parents should not increase their families any faster than they know that their children can be well cared for and educated.” (E. G. White Notes for the Adult Bible Study Guide: Religion in Relationships: Page 19.)

We are role models for our children. They learn by example. They will do as we do, and not merely as we say. Consider Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” If you live yor life loving God supremely and your neighbor as He loved you, they will learn this too. If you pray in thankfulness to God, by Faith waiting to find out His will, timing and way, if you study scripture, sing hymns, and yield your will to God’s, you will train up a child in the way of the Lord. According to Sister White, the opposite example explains Exodus 34:6,7:

Exodus 34:6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD,The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant ingoodness and truth,
Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity andtransgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

She says: “God did not mean in His threatenings that children would be compelled to suffer for their parents’ sin, but that the example of the parents would be imitated by their children.” (E. G. White Notes for the Adult Bible Study Guide: Religion in Relationships: Page 23.) By imitating their parents the children would suffer the consequences their parents suffered.

In 1st Samuel we have a contrast of two parents. Hannah, who dedicated her child Samuel to the Lord, and as a result, only had him for a few years with her. Samuel later was called to be priest, judge, and prophet of the Lord in Israel. Eli, the High Priest, had his two wicked sons with him all of his life. Consider the evidence. Would you be like Eli or like Hannah?

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Giving Weight by God's Grace

Commentary to the Sabbath School Quarterly Lesson #2

There are times when reading the Bible is not enough. One must study it. But, how should one study this book? Typically we all have various ideas of the ideal way to study. One thing I know for sure, when we are in Christ we look at things differently, because we perceive from a spiritual perspective. I Cor. 2:12 - 14 states in essence, that it is the Holy Spirit who is teaching us, and that when we accept His teaching, it is then that we start to see spiritually; hence the popular phrase, spiritual things are spiritually discerned. In Isaiah, the scriptures teach us that when we study, we are to desire to grow up and perceive as He perceives, and that our learning takes place as we move from understanding in a simple manner, to perceiving and applying more complex principles. These principles are building blocks, and thus by God's grace, the Holy Spirit places block upon block (or principle upon principle), as we by faith, allow Him. (See Is. 28: 9, 10 & 13).

It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit teaches us the principles of Christ and thus of His kingdom. As we ponder the message from the Word, keeping in mind the context, prayerfully considering its meaning, significance, and the Spirit's application to ourselves, we have the mind of Christ. Studying this way gives us not only scriptural knowledge, but experiential knowledge without which it is impossible to see God.

Let's consider this week's lesson on honoring our parents and other elderly persons. This principle is one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God. Many of us tend to perceive the Ten Commandments as divided into two halves (i.e. two tables of stone). We see the first four commandments as God's requirements from us for Himself, and the last six commandments for the second half, as that which specifies God's requirements from us to each other. Someone has said that while the emphasis of the first four commandments is worship, the emphasis of the second half is the ethical treatment of human beings. While this may sound good, considering the ethical treatment of others as secondary to worshipping God, seems to miss the point entirely. Christ has said in the New Testament, that to offend in one is to offend in all. Therefore to dishonor our mother or father, is to offend God.

The summary text for this lesson is found in Ex. 20:12, and states, " Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." It is interesting to note that this commandment was not given to children, but to adults. It demonstrates the value as well as the rights, responsibilities and privileges God places upon parents and parenting. While God expects parents to be honored by their children, He also expects parents to teach their children what honoring means. (see Deut. 6:7).

In Hebrew, the word for Honor is Kabad, and means to give weight to. The commandment to honor our parents then, could rightly be translated as, Give weight to your parents' admonition, counsel and instruction, that you may live a long and blessed life. Of course there are many among us who will say, "but you don't know my parents, they are totally dysfunctional." However, God knows the circumstances of your life, as well as that of your parents, and He has made abundant provision through His grace and His marvelous Holy Spirit for you to know just how to honor, or give weight to your parents' instruction.

Some say, "how will I know what weight to give, after all, its not like I have a scale or anything." Well, the answer to your question is right here in the scriptures. In Col. 3:20, Paul states, "Children, obey your parents in all things for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." What, you say? Didn't you understand me when I said my parents' advice is bad, that they are inconsistent, selfish, self-absorbed...? How in the world am I supposed to honor them, when they don't know if they are coming or going half the time? Well, in answer to these questions, lets look at the word "obey" in the Greek. Surprise, surprise! In Old Testament Greek, the word obey means: to listen attentively, to hear with a willingness to do. In English we translate the word "obey" as "to do," and this is why we get into so much trouble.

The bible tells us to "listen attentively to our parent's admonition, counsel and instruction, to give weight to their words with a willingness to do.” If that sounds like a tall order, take heart, for in John 15: 5, Christ says, "... without Me you can do nothing." And in John 14:23 - 26, He says, " If you love Me, keep (or treasure) My words and My Father will love you, and will come unto you and stay with you.... /... the Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name (with the same character I have-- so you'll know Him), He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your memory, which I have told you (through My presence and Word). In verse 13 & 14, Christ further says, " And whatever you shall ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified (His character of unconditional, undeserving love be revealed to the universe) in the Son.”

Therefore, let us take courage, and ask Christ to help us give the proper weight to our parents' advice. He has promised right here in the scripture that He will help us if we ask, and that He will give us spiritual enlightenment to not only understand our parents, but their admonition as well. By bringing all things to our memory that Christ has impressed us to read in the scripture, the Holy Spirit will show us how to apply it to our parents, that we may take joy and delight in honoring Him, and them.
Friends, by faith in God's abounding, unmerited favor and love of us... let us choose this day to give Him our will in this matter.

Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

A Reason, A Season, And A Lifetime

Commentary to the 3rd Quarter Sabbath Sabbath School Lesson. #1

Of all the junk-email we get, I once received an interesting one that discussed relationships. It said they are all ordained or allowed by God for a purpose. The purpose can fit one of three categories. Those categories are: a) Reason, b) Season, and c) Lifetime. Each has different a timeline. The reason category is the shortest. The person comes in to your life to solve a specific problem. Once they have helped you they leave, and you may never see them again. Those who come in for a season stay longer. Their purpose may take longer to evolve. Sometimes they stay long enough to make you think they are in for a lifetime, then something happens, and the relationship is severed without a clear explanation. The category of relationships that lasts for a lifetime is self-explanatory. These persons never leave you.

Our relationship with God is the most important. Without His presence in our life all other relationships are impossible. God provides for us what is needed to relate to Him as well as others. When He comes into our lives, we see ourselves as we really are and realize how great He is. We realize that He wants to interact with us. He loves us. He would have not given up his Son otherwise (John 3:16.) He sent His Holy Spirit to be in us in the present and prepare us to interact to eternally with the whole Godhead in the future. Without His Spirit we are unlovable and non-relatable. Without His Spirit we carry on fearful, lonely lives, quietly desperate. With His Spirit's presence we become loving and attractive to others, for He changes our hearts and minds from uncaring, selfish, self centered, and egotistical to caring, self-less, other-centered, and humble beings. Not only do others fall in love with our Godly characters, we also become interested in them.

Adam met God before he met Eve. Adam knew God before he knew Eve. God created Eve to be a helper comparable to Adam (Genesis 2:18.) In the Hebrew it says a helper fit for Adam. She was Adam's perfect complement. Where Adam lacked, Eve completed Him. Where Eve lacked Adam completed her. God designed it this way. God made them one – a complete whole. If there is a lifetime relationship the spouse is it. The spouse is the most important relationship anyone can have outside of God. Your spouse is more important than your pastor, friends, parents, siblings, relatives, church brethren, and co-workers. You do not become one with any of those. The man is to leave his home and cleave to his wife. The man and his wife are to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21.) The man is to love her like Christ loves the church. Christ gave His life for the church (Ephesians 5:25.) They are to bless each other, which means that they are to add value and increase each other. Ron Blue, a Christian financial expert, says, "If a couple does not agree, a decision has not been made." You've heard it said, "No man is
an island." In a marriage this means that both man and wife, as a unit, are not an island. They are one. Just ask couples that have divorced. They will tell you that divorce is death compared to any other ruptured relationship. That is partly because marriage is for a lifetime not a season. Notice that when the Bible says it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), God created for man a wife. Had God wanted Adam to relate to a community He would have created one. Does this mean man is to relate to his wife and not to other people? No! It means that if a man does not learn to relate to his wife he will probably not truly learn to relate in an intimate fashion with anyone else. In fact, most problems in marriage occur because men will not listen to their wives.

There are other lifetime relationships: parents, children, and other relatives. There are clear guidelines in the Bible as to the treatment they should receive. Sister White has also written extensively on these matters. God decided we should be related to these individuals for a purpose. It was no accident.

A man or woman who is mature is a steward. He or she will make sure the gifts and resources entrusted to him or her are distributed and shared with others. This will be done according to the guidelines and parameters established by God and in concert with Him. A “seasonal” relationship is not for taking advantage of the person or is it just for merely “hanging out.” A “reason” relationship is not for a one-night stand. A mature man or woman knows that all relationships exist to demonstrate God’s character. A mature man or woman knows that God blesses so that others can be blessed through them. The same goes for single stewards. In fact, God may use single stewards to bless married couples.

Whatever the type of relationship, by God's grace, we are to Love the individual as God would. You say, "I have no love, I don’t even like that person." You are right. It is not your love they need; it is God's love in you. Will you let God love them through you? Your salvation and theirs may depend on it.

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