Thursday, August 26, 2004

Being or Doing: That Is The Question

Commentary To The Sabbath School Quarterly Lesson

Matthew 12:41-44 related a story we’ve probably all heard. It says,

Matt. 12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the
people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
Matt. 12:42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
Matt. 12:43 And He called unto Him His disciples, and saith unto them,
Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all
they which have cast into the treasury:
Matt. 12:44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
What a lesson for us about witnessing. The poor widow's humble witness still carries until this day the message of the Gospel. She loved God supremely, and her neighbor as Christ loved her, and that is why she gave all she had to the treasury. She gave quietly. Not one word was said. No announcement was given. No press conference held. In fact, had it not been for Christ pointing out her action, it would have been dismissed. She gave witness to those who heard the story then, and to those who hear it now.

So is it our actions which give witness, or is it our words? Is it possible to really give an accurate witness of what we've seen, heard and understood, without both? Our fast paced and driven world loves the doers. Yet, if you are an accurate witness, would you not be able (or enabled as we shall see) to relay your experience in such a manner that others too will see, hear and sense it? After all, what is the use of a witness without a judicial system to utilize the testimony given?

Christ calls on all His sheep to give witness, a testimony as it were, to His benevolence, and goodness, as well as to His character of Love-- to the Universe. As well we know, the Godhead is the "One" on trial. If you were in His cosmic shoes, would you not desire the truth to be told about you? Of course, the master strategist, and "accuser of the brethren" desires a false witness to corroborate his view of things, and so the battle ensues. In order
not to be deceived into testifying to a lie, the believer--the true witness-- needs power, for he is no match for the adversary. Hence Christ advises His disciples (and us) in Acts 1:8:
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Notice the phrase as it is written. It does not say that we are to do witnessing
activities, such as hand out tracts, knock on doors or ingather. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with these particular activities. Instead, notice how the scripture stipulates that it is with the Holy Spirit's power coming upon us that we shall be witnesses. Notice, in the following verses, that the disciples were to wait together, in prayer, for the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence, and power.

You know, there is a big difference between the concept of being -which is an inside job, and that of doing which merely implies taking action. Today there is such an emphasis on methods, techniques and numbers that we may have forgotten how Christ won people to Himself. According to Sister White as
quoted in our Sabbath School lesson recently, Christ mingled with men as One who desired their good. It was not His method to make them feel good, which is what is often interpreted from the quote, but instead desired that they might be with Him eternally (John 14:1-6, John 3:16).

When we try to witness to others with our activity, most of the time they will feel something is missing. Unless we demonstrate unconditional, self-denying love for them -not to be confused with acceptance of their ungodly attitudes and behavior- we shall be branded phony, insincere and hypocrititical. Haven't you ever met someone whom you sensed had an agenda, and whose motives
were ulterior? Didn't you just want to get away from that person as quickly as possible?

As much as we'd like to view Apostle Paul as the driven, go-getter disciple, outside of John the beloved, it is he who discusses in depth the love the follower of Christ will have through the indwelling Holy Spirit. He not only describes it, he implores us to allow the Spirit to give it to us by faith. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul was enabled to be all things to all people, and win them to Christ.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
1 Cor. 9:19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
1 Cor. 9:20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
1 Cor. 9:21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law.
1 Cor. 9:22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
1 Cor. 9:23 And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker
thereof with you.
He did not mean by this that he was an Oscar winning actor. Ellen White
says that he shaped His message to the person and the particular circumstance, just as Christ did. The Spirit enabled Paul to be aware of each person's needs, and prompted him with the content of the message (gospel) as well as when and how to deliver it. Sister White adds that we should be many-sided men (and women), not just having one approach for everyone we meet. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean negating the study of various
methods and techniques to win souls. On the contrary, it means being led by the Spirit as to our target audience as well as what sources and timing to use.

The Holy Spirit coming upon, and abiding in us bears fruit. Then we become witnesses of what we have seen and heard, rather than a group of individuals merely engaged in "doing" witnessing activity. While this does not guarantee conversion, the truth about the character of the Godhead as that of
unconditional love, mercy, justice and grace will have been told by those of us who love Him. The scripture says, " and they will know we are His disciples because we embody His love." The question now is, will you let the Spirit come upon you so you can become a witness?

Raul Diaz and Maria Greaves-Barnes

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sheep In The Mall

Commenary To The Sabbath School Lesson

At first glance, the picture in this week’s lesson seems to depict a city or town. But, no, upon closer examination, the buildings all have steeples-church steeples. So what is depicted is not a city or town, but a grouping of religious structures or houses of worship. Something about the illustration was unsettling to me, and that’s when I noticed that there were no steeples of mosques or temples. Why, I wondered is that? Is the lesson trying to suggest that “Christ’s Other Sheep” are all Christians, and that they are to be found in other churches? Have you ever seen a sheep in a church?

I haven’t. But neither have I seen one in the Mall either. Of course we know that Christ is using sheep to illustrate human characteristics. He uses several texts to demonstrate our nature, and describe our typical behavior- that of wandering (and perhaps wondering too) away-- to us. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Is. 53:6) So by nature, we tend to go our own way. We wander away from where we’re supposed to be, and we get lost. But Jesus says that the one defining characteristic of His sheep, ‘whom He knows,’ is that “ ‘they hear His voice, and they follow Him.’”

So its possible isn’t it, for Christ’s Sheep to be anywhere, in any sort of religious organization, as long as they hear His voice, and listen to Him with a willingness to do His bidding. If they do, they will be following Him wherever He goes, and not wandering away. Christ said, “I came to do the will of Him who sent Me.” How about us, do we hear His voice, do we listen to Him with a willing heart and mind, or are other pastures greener?

Christ is calling His human sheep out of Babylon—out of confusion, and unbiblical thinking. After all to be in a false church (synagogue or temple) and hold false doctrines, is to think false thoughts. Is it possible to have a false belief system, and yet be in the ‘right church’? Is it possible that we, individually, might be in Babylon?

A secular sociologist discussing World War II stated that it changed the face of America. He stated, “there was a brain drain in Europe, more Europeans migrated to the United Sates, women stayed in the workforce, more people had more jobs in government, and the Religion of America became consumption.” Imagine that? America’s religion could no longer be classified as Protestant, but as Consumption.

Apparently, the Religion of Consumption is composed of these elements:

- Hyper-consumption

- Shopping and Entertainment Centers with a magical element to attract or draw large numbers of people

- Buildings modeled after churches / synagogues/ cathedrals

According to the sociologist, more Americans are more likely to go to a mall on the weekend than to church. And thus Malls are the churches of Consumption. And so the question is, are there Sheep in the Malls? Have we inadvertently become Sheep in the Malls? Through John the beloved, Jesus states in John 9:31:

Now we know that God doesn’t hear sinners (those with iniquity hidden in their hearts- Ps. 66:18): but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does His will, him He hears.

Jesus also states in John 10:14,15: “I Am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and Am known of mine. And other sheep have I not of this fold, them I must bring, and they shall hear My voice and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.”

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus he asked what he should do to have eternal life. You probably remember the story. He approached Jesus calling Him, “Good Master.” Jesus answers him with the question “why do you call Me good—there is none good, save God.” Do we often find ourselves saying “so and so is a good person, he does…? The young ruler equated goodness with doing too. But here we see Christ equating goodness with God’s character of love.

Let’s look at the text together. In John 19:18-26-- Jesus says, “if you will enter into life, keep the commandments,” and then He recites them. The young man says, this I’ve done from my youth. Then Jesus says, “if you’ll be complete in Me, go and sell all you have, give to the poor, and you’ll have treasure in heaven. But, hearing this, the young man went away sorrowful.” How about us, do we become sorrowful hearing this message too? Do we find loving others too difficult to do? Are we relying on our own strength?

Jesus said in Matt. 13:22 …the deceitfulness of riches (and possessions), choke the word, (choke love out of the heart) and the follower of Christ becomes unfruitful / unloving. In Mark 10:22, Jesus states- those who trust in riches shall not enter into heaven. I’m sure that we’ve all said, then who can be saved? Jesus answers that in Mark 10:27… “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” In other words, being His sheep, hearing Him speak, following Him, loving as He loved is possible with Him.

Jesus’ Sheep, wherever they are right now, are listening to hear His voice. They are willing to be made willing to do His bidding. They may not have all the truth, but they are following Him, and He is leading them in the paths of Righteousness for His name’s sake. All the law hangs on two principles: love to God supremely and love to others as He has loved us—Matt. 22:40, John 13:34. In verse 35, Jesus says, … by this unconditional, self-denying love, all men shall know you are My disciples. Jesus’ Sheep hear His voice, and like Him, they depend on their Father for the power, and they lay down their lives in love. Are you in the Mall listening to Jesus?

Maria Greaves-Barnes

The Special Insights web page resides at:

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

We Will Even Pray For Them

Commentary to the Sabbath School Lesson

We read in the gospels that Jesus was taken to meet with the High Priest and Pilate. We read how they publicly mocked, humiliated, and made a spectacle of Him. Despite the ridiculous trial, Jesus never once disrespected any one of them (John 18:21-23; 19:11.) He never did disrespect them even during His ministry for three years, although they disrespected Him, and plotted His murder. Contrary to the High Priest and the Pharisees, Jesus practiced what He preached: by turning the proverbial other cheek (Matthew 5:39), relying on the Spirit to bring to His mind what to say (John 14:26). We read these passages and we wonder: Could I do as He did? He said in His word that if I remain in Him I would, but do I believe that? Do I believe Him?

As we take stock of our societal issues, America's policies, both foreign and domestic, we expect those we've elected to do their jobs, and handle these problems. (While in many of your countries there are no elections, so the checks and balances on those in government are minimal.) We in America, look to our politicians and government officials to provide affordable schools, medical treatment, housing, protect our workers and so forth. Oh, how
disappointed we often are, and human they all are! We expect and hope for so much, only to find out how corruptible, greedy, fickle, self interested, and self-flattering they are. Over the years, we've learned how ineffective their methods are to deal with the real ailments in of our society. We at times feel betrayed, hurt, and angry with them. We lose all trust in them and their system. Growing cynical, we are tempted to criticize, accuse, and gossip. Oh, how human we are!

God says He raises and puts down Kings (and other rulers). Both Paul and Peter state that God appoints leaders for His purposes, and we know that His dominant objective is to "seek and save the lost." Since leaders are ultimately appointed by God to their posts, we would do well to submit to their authority. How difficult this is for us, because as human beings our sinful nature, presses for control. We want to be in control. While God does allow for civil disobedience, He stipulates that we are to obey the laws of the land unless the law or legislation goes counter to His royal law. Even then, we are to pray for the leaders, that they may have a change of heart, and not "be found wanting in the judgment." Today, many Christians think, that the above mandate "may have worked well in Paul,and Peter's lifetime, but does God still require that from us today? Paul and Peter never met the leader of my country.”

Sister White says of Jesus,

The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses-- extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually and must regenerate the heart.

Jesus’ focus was His Father’s law and will. When it agreed with the law of the land, no problem. When it disagreed with the law of the land, then He fasted and prayed. Many times He simply escaped from the mob which wanted to kill Him or make Him king (John 6:15). When Mordecai confronted Queen Esther with the pending crisis (the murder of all the Jews living in that region), she asked him (and the people) to fast and pray (Esther 4:16). She did not take action until having been purified from every sinful motive, she heard from the Lord. Notice that there were no rallies, no picketing, no marching, and no strikes. It is not to say that God will not use these methods, it is just that it was not God’s will, or the solution for Esther’s dilemma. Esther went to God first, and then proceeded to act according to God’s plan. Our sinful nature wants to act immediately. Like Peter we draw our sword to cut off the soldier's ear
(John 18:10), or offer to pray for fire from Heaven to burn them all (Luke 9:54). It is not uncommon for us to presumptuously pray for God to bless the plan of action we've chosen, and then proceed as if it were His plan. Yet, God condemns presumption. How did Esther do it? How did Jesus do it? How did they refrain from taking matters into their own hands, and yet still respect those in authority?

There is only one answer. The Bible says that Jesus was full of the Spirit (Luke 4:1). The Spirit empowered and enabled Him to unconditionally love (agape) those in political power who oppressed Him. The Spirit empowered and enabled Jesus (and Esther) to respect and honor those whom His Father had appointed to lead the people, even when they misused their position. Jesus has promised the Spirit to us. And, if we accept Him not just intellectually, but truly let Him into our hardened hearts, He will empower us also. Through His power, we will love others unconditionally, as well as respect and honor those in positions of power, even when they misuse their authority. We will even be able and willing to pray for them. Will you allow the Spirit to make that change in you?

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

this is an audio post - click to play
this is an audio post - click to play

The Question And The Answer

Have you ever been in a situation where you thought you would get the information you wanted, only to find out that not only was your question not answered, your question was never asked? This is the situation in which I found myself this week. The author of this lesson focused on very pertinent information about Christian behavior in the workplace, such as the ethic of hard work. He noted that Christians will not cheat, take advantage of others or play favoritism. He further noted that Christians will be hard working, fair, and will demonstrate integrity.
While this infromation is great, the one question he did not ask, nor answer was, "how to get along with your co-workers." Yet this is the area where most of us have difficulty. More people are fired because of difficulty getting along with others, than because they don't know how to do their job. Christians too, fall in this category. How unfortunate, since as Christians, we have not only the ethics manual of the scriptures, but the power of God Himself at our disposal.

Nevertheless, most people I talk with, whether Christian or not, have one common complain about their workplace. Most say, “I don’t mind the job, it is my coworkers and supervisors I have a problem with.” Amazing how our problem is with others' expectations and not with the work at hand. When I went to college I thought that if I studied sciences I would not have to deal with many people. I forgot about my coworkers, who indeed are a challenge. And, I suppose in all fairness, that I am a challenge to them. The scripture is not direct in its treatment of the subject of co-worker relationships, and apparently neither is
Sister White. So, Are we to assume that this topic is not worthy to be dealt with? Are we to take it for granted that the scripture and Sister White mean for us to just figure it out? Is this one of those situations where the Lord would look at us pitifully and say, “O, ye of little faith. How long must I be with you before you learn?” I believe we can glean some principles regarding relating to our
co-workers from examples given us in the Word, that will give us understanding.
Through a prayerful study of these scriptural examples, and the illumination
of the Holy Spirit, we can have the mind of Christ in this matter.

One thing for certain, the Lord never meant for man to be idle. He meant for Adam to work even in Eden. Of course, Work in the garden was pleasant, and fulfilling. God planted the garden and gave it to Adam and Eve as their home. Their work was to dress or tend the garden, train the plants and trees to provide beauty and shade. They were to cultivate the flowers, name the animals, and learn the character of each. As they did this, their hearts would go out to their creator in gratitude and love. This was nature of their work.

After the fall Adam and Eve were to plant their own Garden. In order to reap the benefits of its growth, they were to utilize their understanding of the character of each plant and tree, as well as the skill they had gained in tending the perfect garden. Because of their disobedience--their un-willingness to listen to, and ponder the Word of the Lord, the ground was cursed. No longer would the work of tilling the land be simply delightful. Instead, only diligent ongoing, seemingly unceasing seasons of sweaty watchfulness and backbreaking or mind bending work now yield results.

Thankfully, God sent His son in the form of a man without the law to save those under the condemnation of the law. Through the act of giving His life's blood to right the wrong of Adam the first, We have been released from the condemnation inherent in breaking the law of love. In Christ, we have not only been redeemed, but are being restored to what we would have been had the human race in Adam never sinned. We are having the mind of Christ which Adam and Eve were no longer able to transmit to us after the fall. In short, we are being transformed from the inside out, so that our thoughts, and desires, our dreams and goals, yes, our plans become those of Christ, and through His Spirit, the Godhead's. Christ's one over-riding goal: "to seek and save the lost," becomes ours. Our workplace becomes the garden of our mission. God places us there, and through His spirit and power, we along
with Him, "work the land, sow the seed, water, weed, and watch for the harvest."

In the book of Genesis, we find the example of Joseph. He is forced through very adverse circumstances to work outside of his home. Just as we do, Joseph had periods where he flourished. There were times he was recognized, rewarded and promoted. Like us he had periods where he was lied about, betrayed, back-stabbed, ignored, and taken for granted. The Bible never says that Joseph returned in kind the evil he received. He continued, by faith, to love everyone unconditionally, was careful and discreet in his conversation, and treated everyone with respect and dignity.

I know what you're thinking, "I don't think I could do that, that's asking a little too much." "At least it was with his family, there is no way I'd could do that if my co-workers treated me like that--I'd file a grievience, maybe even a lawsuit or quit!" "There is no way I'd put up with that... ." Isn't it amazing that if we work 35-40 plus hours a week, we are actually spending more hours with those at work than with those we profess to love? Perhaps, God placed us where we are to learn to love others unselfishly. Afterall, "greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15),and all the law hangs on these two principles, love to God supremely, and love to others, as He has loved us (John 13: 34, 35).

While loving others as He has loved us is not an easy feat, it merely requires
a simple decision. Yet due to our sinful nature, most of the time we do not want to love others, and thus we complicate matters. But, it is not impossible to love as He loved, if we choose to let Him love through us. Yes, it is the same Godly, unconditional, agape Love that He gives us to love our parents, spouses, children, and friends. And yes, He also provides the necessary guidelines and boundaries to express this love toward our coworkers. Will you let Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, enable you to work wisely, and love your coworkers as He's loved you?

Ps. This article, Get Along Better With Coworkers, offers some tips about: How to get along with coworkers. Prayerfully consider its advise.

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