Thursday, April 28, 2005

Customs and Traditions

Here's a story I heard some time ago which seems to epitomize the value we as human beings place on customs and traditions. Many years ago, a government official taking a walk, spotted a soldier standing by a rose garden, as if he were guarding it. Approaching the soldier, the government official inquired “Why are you standing here?” The soldier, standing at attention replied, “This is my post, Sir, its the place I've been assigned.” Puzzled, the government official asked, “And why you have you been assigned here?” Unable to answer, the soldier replied, “With all due respect, Sir, I do not question my orders. ... I do not know.” Unsatisfied with the soldier's answer, the government official vowed to find out why he was guarding a rose garden. Returning to his office, the official immediately ordered his assistants to investigate. A few days passed, and still there was no answer, so the archival record supervisor was called. Surely he would be able to find out why there was a soldier guarding the rose garden on government grounds outside his office. Irritated that things were taking so long, the official went to see the archival supervisor for an answer, and this is what he found.

"Apparently, and according to the record," said the supervisor, "approximately a century ago, these government office buildings were part of a rather large royal estate. During that time, a sickly princess abode here, and the rose garden was hers." "Apparently she loved roses." Feeling impatient, the official nearly shouted, “What does this have to do with the soldier?” “If I may continue Sir," replied the supervisor, "I assure you, the story will answer your question.” “Very well, continue,” said the official. “Yes, Sir, I shall." "Because the young princess was gravely ill, she and her parents were admonished by the royal physician that she should not to leave the palace for any reason. The princess, overhearing the instruction, was heartbroken as she loved the palace grounds, the sunshine, and the flowers in particular. She felt that she would not survive if she could not see her beloved flowers, and the roses in the middle of the garden in particular. Her parents, the king and queen, did everything they could to comfort her, but she became quite listless, and depressed. Fearing the worst, at last they hit upon a plan. Since the princess was allergic to flowers, and especially to roses, they knew they could not try to grow the flowering plants indoors. "But what if a rose garden could be planted outside of her window," they asked themselves. So the gardener was called, conferred with, and plans were drawn up to plant the most extensive and beautiful rose garden just outside the princess's window. Months later, the garden complete, only one last detail remained; the protecting of the princess and her newly acquired garden. To ensure this, the king passed a law that a soldier must watch the garden day and night.

"So you see Sir," continued the supervisor, "although the Princess died, the law was never repealed, and therefore it continues even to this day.” Speechless, the Official thanked the supervisor and left the records room thinking, “How many other things are we doing that are no longer needed?” Perhaps we might need to ask the same question of ourselves, "how many things am I doing which are no longer

The answer might surprise us. Customs and traditions are hard to break once internalized, because they help define us as individuals, and strengthen our feelings of belonging. As established boundaries, customs and traditions make it easier for us to know how to behave, and what to expect from others. Handed down intergenerationally, and reinforced by friends and society, customs and traditions are not often questioned. Unaware as to why we engage in these pre-approved beliefs, attitudes or behaviors, we often have no idea as to what led up to them, or even who originated them. What's really strange is that so many of us find meaning and purpose in these traditions, and that we feel that we must protect them at all costs. Its sad that we can be so passionately offended and equally determined to protect things which by their very nature are transitory.

This is the situation we find as we read Mark 7. the Pharisees have time honored traditions and customs which are ceremonial in nature having been delivered through Moses to the Israelites in the wilderness. The purpose of this law was manifold, but centered in bringing to the Hebrew consciousness the necessity of cleanliness, purity and holiness. Unfortunately, the meaning of the ceremonial laws were lost sight of, and through human pride and perversity, the leadership made them a stumbling block to the people. The Priests, Pharisees and Scribes found a loophole to find fault with the disciples, through the mechanism of Jesus not honoring their ceremonial stumbling blocks. Thus, when the disciples ate bread without washing their hands, as was considered customary, the Pharisees promoted confusion and unbelief by calling them 'defiled' to Jesus in the presence of His followers (See Mark 7:2 - 5). The Pharisees' questions disclosed their belief that the tradition of the elders was more important and necessary than the Word of God. In Mark 7 verse 6, Jesus answers them saying:

Mark 7:6 Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
Mark 7:7 Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Mark 7:8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
Mark 7:9 And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
Mark 7:10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whosoever curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
Mark 7:11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
Mark 7:12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
Mark 7:13 Making the Word of God of none effect through your tradition,
which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

And many such like things do we. How many times have suggestions to change old customs been met with the infamous, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” And occasionally you may hear, “We don’t want to change.” Yet, those who say they want things to remain the same, are the very same ones who complain of staleness. When we behave like this, its as if we want our cake and we want to eat it too. Just in proportion to our rejection of the True Source of change and growth, will be the strength of our hold onto meaningless traditions. Its just possible brothers and sisters, that in our blindness -- in our inability to see things are they really are without spiritual discernment, we are rejecting the source of light and of life. Without the special work of the Holy Spirit, we may be reinforcing customs and traditions which nullify the Word of God.

The establishment of new practices, traditions and customs to replace the old ways, is not necessarily the answer either. For we may unknowingly establish that which is just as devoid of the Holy Spirit's power and blessing as is what we've left behind. Our real need is union with God, not unity with God (i.e. me and God) but one-ness with Him. And no amount of tradition or custom -- old or new-- can ever facilitate that oneness. It is only found in the yielding of our self-will or self -love to Him. God says, "The Lord is near unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be contrite of spirit," and "...I dwell in the high and holy place with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones (Ps. 34:18; Is. 57:15)).

Sister White has said in Desire of Ages that even when faced with a "Thus saith the Lord..." many will choose their customs and traditions, so deeply are they engrained. Brothers and sisters, we cannot hold to things that are unnecessary and outdated any more than we can establish new means to serve old purposes. The Lord is more than willing to draw nearer, and show us the true principles of His kingdom which our traditions and customs have been hiding. He is even waiting and able, to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Let us choose in humbleness of heart and mind to yield self, and open the door to Him. We shall be ever so glad we did.
Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

The Special Insights web page resides at:

Friday, April 22, 2005

Bearing Fruit, Growing Like Vegetables

Why did Jesus tell us to bear fruit, and not vegetables? (See John 15:8; Gal 5:22, 23). He could just as easily have told us to bear vegetables, after all they are just as nutritious as fruit, and every bit as delicious. So why did He say that we should bear fruit? Is it, perhaps, that fruits are sweeter? No, that can't be, because although many fruits are sweet, citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges and lemons aren't really sweet. (Compare them to apples or mangoes if you don't believe me). And besides, sweet potatoes are vegetables, and they are, well, sweet. So whatever the reason, it can't be that fruits are sweeter than vegetables. It must be something else. What else could the reason be? Let's see if we can find out together. First off the facts, vegetables do not have seeds, are annual plants, grow low to the ground, have shallow roots, and need replanting yearly. In contrast, fruits grow on vines or trees which characteristically have deep roots and do not require yearly replanting, as they are perennials.

So why did Jesus say what He did? Why did He say that we should bear fruit? Well, it seems as if He was using fruit as analogous to His character in this way. Fruit trees don't try to grow, and from what He says, neither should we. Just as fruit trees are fed through their roots from the nutrients deep in the soil, so we should be deeply rooted and grounded, receiving nourishment from the Word. The fruit trees receive chlorophyll from the sunlight, which, converted into energy, helps them grow to maturity. We human beings love the sunshine too, but shouldn't we also desire the energy from dwelling in the Sonlight? It too is essential for our maturation just like the fruit plants. What's left, oh, the rain. How we need the rain to cool off, sweetens the fruit and quench our thirst. Fruit trees depend on all of these elements to grow, and so do we. Without total dependence on Christ, we will stagnate (or as you'll see later, grow vegetables believing they're fruit). Let's look at John 15 and see what it says regarding fruit:

John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.
John 15:8 Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall you be My disciples.

In these texts Christ is telling us that without reciprocity, we won't bear fruit, even though we're likened to fruit trees. Furthermore, He is telling us that He wants to bring forth copious amounts of fruit in us. Imagine a fruit tree laden with fruits, and you are hungry. Per Ellen white, Christ says, "He is waiting with longing desire for the perfect reproduction of Himself (character) in His people (church) then will the end come." (parenthetical comments are the authors). For this to happen, He must dwell in us, and we must dwell in Him. Then the fruit will grow, and be delicious too! It is that simple. Just so we're all on the same page, what character fruit does Christ want to grow in the soil of our minds? Let's look at Galatians 3 for the answer.

Galatians 3:22 For the fruit of the Spirit is Agape love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Galatians 3:23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Which Spirit is this scripture referring to? The Holy Spirit of course. So, is it possible to bear vegetables to the Spirit? Not to the Holy Spirit, no, but to some spirit, sure it is. Trying to bear fruit by ourselves, we are likely to bear the vegetables of liking, happiness, calm, tolerance, niceness, pleasantness, shallow belief, false pride, moderation, and against such is the law. What law is this against, and why? It is against the law of love-- you know, love to God supremely, and love to man as He's loved us-- that law. Why, because that law is the law of Agape love, and not the law of liking. I think its like this, whatever we generate, we'll have to keep regenerating because it doesn't last. Again you say why? Because we have no life in ourselves, that's why.

So far, Christ has specified the type of character He wants us to grow, through the analogy of fruit. But in describing how he wants us to grow, and what it'll look like, He uses the analogy of vegetables. Yep, that's right. He says that we grow "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28). Wow, so simple. How is it that so many of us try to grow up overnight? Oh do we try and try (in the beginning), and then some of us fake it. Then, worst than that, having failed, we somehow expect others to try and grow up by themselves too. How sad.

You know, going back to John 15 where Jesus talks about bearing fruit, He mentions abiding in Himself 10 times within 5 verses. That must count for something important, because He never repeats Himself needlessly. To me, it conjures up the idea that to be fruitful, we must totally depend on Him. And you know, I think that's what the lesson for this week (Mark 4 and 5) was really all about-- depending entirely on Him. Hhmm, take a look and see if you don't see it too.

Maria Greaves-Barnes
The Special Insights web page resides at:

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Misunderstanding the Context

Misunderstandings can be frustrating. Trying to make yourself understood so others will know exactly what you are saying can be taxing and tiring. Just ask parents. Often parents are so frustrated, that they are willing and ready to tell you about the challenges of raising children First there is the constant repetition of what to do or not to do, and when and why and where. And then, although parents often ask, " why did you do... " or "why didn't you do as you were told," the most common response is a shrugging of the shoulders, and an "I don't know" answer. If a parent were to probe, he or she may find that the child really didn't understand what was meant. Sure many children pretend not to understand so they won't have to be held accountable, but there are times when they "just didn't get it." Here's an example. A parent tells his 5 year old son, "don't get off the curb." However after 5 minutes the father has to repeat himself again, "don't get off the curb." Several reminders later, the boy asks, "dad what's a curb?" While the boy knew that he was prohibited from something, he didn't understand what that something was. Furthermore, in his case, the context of the statement was no help. If we were to ask any teenager in the USA, "what is the most frustrating thing about your parents?", many will immediately tell you “My parents don’t understand me.” What is the context here? Hormones and peer pressure.

If we were to ask many women what is frustrating about their relation with the men in their lives, they are likely to respond, "he just doesn't listen, and he doesn't 'get it' (understand)." Why? Perhaps the context in which the women are asking the men to understand them (as if they are women). Ask the elderly what they think about the young people of today, and they will fret, "I just don't understand them." What is the context in which this misunderstanding occurs? Age difference emphasized by a fast changing world. Ask a medical doctor, "what is the most frustrating thing about your patients, "s/he may respond that "many patients just don't get the importance instruction given, no matter how you stress the information." What is the context of the misunderstanding here? Many physicians think their patients want relief from physical ailments, however many patients want a listening ear more than medical advise. Well, I think you get the picture.

You know, many of us are speaking to or are trying to communicate with others who are not our age, or gender or even of a similar background, so you'd expect some misunderstandings to occur, right? Well how about the misunderstandings that occur even among those of us who speak the same dialect or language, and were even raised in the same culture? What is the culprit there? Perhaps poor listening habits are to blame, such as"selective listening." Maybe we are so attuned to what we want to say, that we are only partially listening to the speaker. That is, we are listening in order to respond, but not to understand. That could certainly lead to misunderstanding on our part. It could even lead to confusion on the part of the speaker as s/he struggles to understand how what we are saying relates to what was just said---hmmm. Last but not least, we might already have preconceived ideas about a topic being discussed, reservations about the person discussing it, and conflict feelings about the time we're spending listening to the person speak. All of these reasons may contribute to our misinterpreting, misunderstanding and misapplying what is said. These reasons are referred to as "white noise." White noise is Background interference that may even cause us to misrepresent the messenger to others.

Jesus was born and raised in Judah. As a Judean, He spoke the native language and understood the culture. He also understood the people. The people ,however, did not understand Him. What was the problem? Wasn't Jesus clear enough in telling them who He was, and what He came to do? No, that was not the case, for Jesus spoke in very simple language and communicated simple concepts in every day language, that even a child could understand. It is likely that those who loved Jesus, such as His followers, His disciples and His kin, misunderstood Him because the background noise of their expectations was too loud. The Hebrew leaders misunderstood His purpose because of envy, and all in all, most misunderstood His message and mission because they refused to listen to what He was saying. They selectively listened, and when they heard the beginning of what they feared (that they as a nation needed to repent), they closed their minds, and no longer listened to Him. Sometimes we don't hear because we simply don't want to.

The Scripture says that God’s ways are higher than ours and that spiritual things are spiritually understood. The people chose to listen to Jesus with their carnal minds, but Jesus spoke from the Spirit (I Cor. 11:16.) The carnal mind is at enmity with God, and with His law, therefore it cannot be subject to Him (Rom. 8:5-8). The result of having minds that hate God and His law, means that we will misinterpret Jesus' Words, just as the Hebrew leaders misunderstood Jesus. In other words, behind their misunderstanding was rebellion.

In the passages of Mark 2:23 through Mark 3:6, we find that the Pharisees and Jewish leaders misunderstood the Sabbath. Why? The Sabbath was part of the law, and with carnal minds, they hated the law, and the Son of God. As a nation, the Jews had often been in captivity to foreign powers as a result of their national Sabbath
breaking, and their worshipping of foreign gods. Because of this, the Hebrew leaders decided to create minute rules to keep the people from breaking God's laws. The leaders falsely reasoned that if the people would keep these rules, they would keep the law, and thus would avoid going into captivity again. But the Jewish leaders did not love the law as did David, instead they feared it because in pointing to their inability to keep it, condemned them. This fear of condemnation they hated and reviled, but both it and the desire for what they thought was their reward (national prominence) kept them going. Thus they hated Jesus with a perfect hatred for He drew the people to Himself as He pointed with joy to His Father. He said His Father worked and hitherto He worked (John 5:17), to restore the joy of true union and communion with God. By freeing the people from the yoke of fear of the second death as well as the yoke of self-serving hope for gain, Jesus embittered the leaders.

False pride made the Jewish leaders jealous and envious of anyone who made keeping the law look as though it were a pleasure, for they delighted in making salvation look painfully difficult. In contrast, Jesus made keeping the law look pleasant, and furthermore not only was He was joyful, so were others who accepted His words, and healing. Because the Pharisees saw keeping the law as the means to meet their self-serving ends, when Jesus did not conform, He became a lawbreaker. This is the reason Jesus said to them that "its legal to do Good on the Sabbath.” In their understanding, God was an angry being who needed appeasing. Therefore, they thought that God made man for the Sabbath --- that God created man to keep the law. How twisted was the truth in their minds.

With their carnal understanding, they attributed the work of God through Jesus to the power of Beelzebub. This was a serious charge. It was one that could cost them their eternal life. Again Jesus tried to present to them the true nature of Himself and of His kingdom's principles in Mark chapter 3:

Mark 3:23 And He called them unto Him, and said unto them in parables, How can
Satan cast out Satan?
Mark 3:24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
Mark 3:25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
Mark 3:26 And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand,
but hath an end.

He then warned them, in verse 28 and 29:

Mark 3:28 Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men,
and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:
Mark 3:29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never
forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

Having refused to receive Jesus' words, many, even those of His household, misunderstood his mission. Filled with earthly ideas, even Jesus' family members were concerned about their reputation. And as such, His brothers stated that He was mad, and sought to take Him home. The context of their misunderstanding was their cultural tradition as well as their age, for they were older than Jesus. Again, Jesus sought to teach His hearers that as the Son of Man, and the Son of God, not only were all human kind His brothers and His sisters, but that there was a special familial relationship between Himself and those who did the will of His heavenly Father.

The context of misunderstanding for the Jewish people was that God had taken on the humanity of man to save the inhabitants of the world. He had come to seek and save the lost. All His work was done in the context of seeking to save the lost. The context of many of our misunderstandings concerns the love of Christ. He not only
loves us unconditionally, took on human nature to identify with us, free us from sin, and unite us to Himself, He came to show us that the law is simply the means of leading us to Himself, and that abiding in Him means He fulfills its requirements in us. In the light of this, we are to receive the words of the scripture, listening eagerly, even attentively, staining to hear, understanding that what is communicated is from the lips of love.
Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes
The Special Insights web page resides at:

Friday, April 08, 2005

New Wineskins For New Wine

Those who are familiar with the writings of Karl Marx will probably also be familiar with the concept of dialectics. It formally says that thesis plus antitheses equals synthesis. Informally, it says that two opposite ideas need not fight each other or cancel each other out, because a third and better concept can be formulated between the two. This idea was not originally from Marx. He borrowed it from another German
philosopher, Hegel. Hegel, in turn, got the concept from a Roman Catholic Bishop. It seems that the Bishop was trying to convert a Chinese monk, who as it turns out, converted the Bishop. The concept of dialectics sounds plausible, and when used effectively, it solves issues, and all parties win. This holds out as true, except
when we're deal with Spiritual truths. Yes, God has found a way of combining justice and mercy in the person of our Lord and Savior Jesus, but perhaps they were never really opposites, but merely seemed so to created beings. Truth and falsehood, light and darkness, and, good and evil, cannot be combined, for they never produce
anything other than more falsehood, a different shade of darkness, and another type of evil. Dialectics is not Biblical, unless Christ is the synthesis or third and better alternative.

Putting new wine in old wineskin is dialectic. Nothing good can come out of it. Jesus says in Mark 2:22, “And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.” Sister White says of this parable:

“The skin bottles which were used as vessels to contain the new wine, after a time became dry and brittle, and were then worthless to serve the same purpose again. In this familiar illustration Jesus presented the condition of the Jewish leaders. Priests and scribes and rulers were fixed in a rut of ceremonies and traditions. Their hearts had become contracted, like the dried-up wine skins to which He had compared them. While they remained satisfied with a legal religion, it was impossible for them to become the depositaries of the living truth of heaven. They thought their own righteousness all-sufficient, and did not desire that a new element should be brought into their religion. The good will of God to men they did not accept as something apart from themselves. They connected it with their own merit because of their good works. The faith that works by love and purifies the soul could find no place for union with the religion of the Pharisees, made up of ceremonies and the injunctions of men. The effort to unite the teachings of Jesus with the established religion would be vain. The vital truth of God, like fermenting wine, would burst the old, decaying bottles of the Pharisaical tradition.”

We too can fall in the danger of the Pharisees. If we chose to follow our traditions, and our own interpretations of the law, while ascribing it to God, we could become old wineskins that refuse to accept the simple message of truth. By not rejecting and foregoing old ideas and belief systems we only please ourselves, not God. Sister White continues,

“The Pharisees thought themselves too wise to need instruction, too righteous to need salvation, too highly honored to need the honor that comes from Christ. The Saviour turned away from them to find others who would receive the message of heaven. In the untutored fishermen, in the publican at the market place, in the woman of Samaria, in the common people who heard Him gladly, He found His new bottles for the new wine. The instrumentalities to be used in the gospel work are those souls who gladly receive the light which God sends them. These are His agencies for imparting the knowledge of truth to the world. If through the grace of Christ His people will become new bottles, He will fill them with new wine. The teaching of Christ, though it was represented by the new wine, was not a new doctrine, but the revelation of that which had been taught from the beginning. But to the Pharisees the truth of God had lost its original significance and beauty. To them Christ's teaching was new in almost every respect, and it was unrecognized and unacknowledged. Jesus pointed out the power of false teaching to destroy the appreciation and desire for truth. "No man," He said, "having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better." All the truth that has been given to the world through patriarchs and prophets shone out in new beauty in the words of Christ. But the scribes and Pharisees had no desire for the precious new wine. Until emptied of the old traditions, customs, and practices, they had no place in mind or heart for the teachings of Christ. They clung to the dead forms, and turned away from the living truth and the power of God.”

We know we face solemn times. There are many wolves in sheepskins’ selling us wine that is not heavenly. They claim that by buying their wine we can become new wineskins, but if we truly could see the reality, they are just patching the old wineskin with even older cloth. By not foregoing old beliefs such as: “do your best and God does the rest,” the old gospel of Eros and Agape combined (Caritas), and by accepting concepts like cultural relevance, we have not truly let Christ transform us into new wineskins that can receive his new wine. We also need to realize that sometimes, new wine is merely our new taste buds tasting it for the very first time. Christ says in the book of Mark,

Mark 7:6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
Mark 7:7 Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Mark 7:8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
Mark 7:9 And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

So, our biggest danger today is that we mix new wine with old wine and patch the old wine skin with old material, and think that we are indeed honoring God. But, we deceive ourselves if we think this is true. With our new ways we are still following the commandments and traditions of men. Many believe that by constantly repeating the same worship (or song) phrases time and time again, they are actually worshiping God. Realize that when you mix the new wine with the fermented wine the new wine becomes fermented also. It is like mixing truth with falsehood, light with darkness, and good with evil. The synthesis may be great. But, remember our very best to God is an abomination.

Christ not only gives us new wine. He will do away with the old wine, and the old wineskin, transforming us into new wineskin in the process. Are you willing?

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