Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stewardship -- Its True Meaning

A child, attending church one Sabbath found himself strangely stirred by the speaker's words and uplifted by the music. So deep was his internal disequilibrium, that he called on God, and received Jesus as his personal Saviour. His decision was unknown to anyone but himself. Shortly afterward, a tithe and offering call was
made. Wanting so much to give something, he looked in his pocket and found only a white blank piece of paper. Not knowing what to do, he prayed. Immediately the thought to mind to borrow a pen from someone near him. Borrowing the pen, the child scribbled something on the paper, and folding it, placed it in the basket. With shining eyes and a sweet smile, the child, who now wore an _expression of peace, returned the pen to its owner and thanked him. Puzzled, the gentleman who loaned him the pen thought, “I wonder what he wrote -- after all he didn't have any money-- I wonder if he wrote an IOU to God?”

At the conclusion of the service, the pen's owner mentioned the incident to his friends. Curious, they went to the treasurer’s office and after amusingly telling him the story, asked to see the paper. The treasurer, not usually inquisitive, nevertheless obliged. Locating the tithe and offering baskets, he looked until he found the folded paper. Pulling it out, he opened it, and grew quiet. Wordlessly, he handed the paper to the inquirers, and turned to stare out of the window. Silently and somberly they looked at the paper, and at one another. One by one, each left the room in deep thought. On the paper, was no IOU. No, instead, the boy had drawn a heart, and in it he had written his name.

This story reminds me of the story of the poor widow and her two mites. Let's read it in Mark chapter 12.

Mark 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.
Mark 12:42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites,
which make a farthing.
Mark 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:
Mark 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.

Sadly, although this passage belonged in this week’s lesson study, it was not addressed. I say sadly because, this story is in essence the heart of the gospel. Here in Mark chapter 12 verses 41-44, we find Jesus making a “simple observation regarding the sincerity of a poor widow’s gift of love, contrasted with the disingenuousness of the supposed righteous” (Collegiate Quarterly, page 85). In giving her two mites, this woman gave all that she had to God. This is the essence of true stewardship. Habitually, we misunderstand stewardship as a matter concerning finances, and the giving of our money (to the church). But more than his, stewardship is a heart issue which is demonstrated through total surrender of the will by faith, and is played out in every facet of our lives. In giving her mite, the widow gave her all to God. This demonstrated her unselfishness in that she thought less of herself and her needs and more of others. Christ approved of her gift worth merely fractions of a penny, because in it was the outworking of the principle of self-denying love versus the love and preservation of the self. On the other hand, He did not look favorably on the gifts of the wealthy Jews because they gave out of their abundance, and what they gave was pittance in comparison to their actual wealth. In other words, they did not give their hearts, but only sought to impress others with their status.

Naturally, God is not moved by all of our outward ceremonies and practices, while inwardly we have a hard, miserly spirit. God is benevolent. He does not measure His gifts to us, and demand a return with interest. In giving us eternal life, He has given and is giving all of heaven in the gift of His Son. Yes, He desires a return of our hearts, minds and strength with interest, but the key here is that He desires, He does not demand. And what do we possess that He has not given us? If we have given ourselves to Him, does not all that is in our possession likewise belong to Him? How then could we withhold anything from Him?

God is not a human being, He does not think like we do. He does not compare our actions, possessions and willingness to give with the attitudes and actions of others similar to us in means, skills, abilities and talents to determine how giving we are. He evaluates us not by our profession but by our stature "in Christ." Scripture has said that in Christ we are a new creature, old things have passed away and behold we are become new. That means new attitudes, and new motives for following Christ and for giving. Everything we possess (or develop) has been given from His hand. And Christ has said that for every advantage we possess (whether in education, talents, skills, abilities or finances) we are in obligation to those who possess less, for we have gotten these gifts on their backs. So, although we think hard work entitles us to a reward, in all actuality it entitles us to results, not a reward.

Do we, like the little boy in this story, ever deeply desire to give something as a token of our love and affection to Christ? Do we view others as belonging to Him, so that when we give gifts to them (birthdays, graduations, weddings or anniversaries)we really see ourselves as giving to Christ? Do we see ourselves giving of our time, energy, talents etc. as gifts to Christ, or do we merely perceive ourselves as carrying out the burdensome tasks involved in daily living? True stewardship is the giving of our hearts, souls, minds and strength to Christ, and loving our neighbor as He loved us. Nothing less will do. Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart to His promptings, after all, He deserves no less, don't you think?
Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

The Special Insights web page resides at:

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Freely Receive, Freely Give

A young woman had just given birth to a baby. After the required 6 week waiting period, she again attended church, this time with her baby. In between the lesson study and the 11 o'clock hour, there was an opportunity for the congregation to meet and greet each other. The members were so pleased to see the mother and her baby, that they flocked to her side. All too soon, the call to be seated for the 11 o'clock hour was given, and the service began. But within just a few minutes, the once contented baby began to cry. His mother however was not alarmed, for this was the baby's scheduled meal time. Pulling his blanket out of the diaper bag, she carefully placed it over her shoulder, arm, and baby. With her free hand she cautiously and discreetly prepared herself to feed him. In just a few minutes, the baby was fed, burped and placed in his seat. Pulling out a notepad, and pen, the mother began to write as she glanced at her watch. "How curious," thought the pastor, as he observed her unusual behavior. Not wanting to be distracted, he did not continue to look in
her direction.

At the end of the service, the pastor, as was his custom, positioned himself by the main door to greet the exiting congregation. Seeing the young mother approach, the pastor hoped he'd be able to discretely ask what she been writing. Quietly, he asked her how she and the baby were doing. Not quite satisfied with her answer, the pastor then queried her as to her note taking in church. "Oh," she responded, “I'm keeping an account as to how much milk the baby drinks and how long he feeds." "What
ever for?" questioned the pastor now thoroughly intrigued. "Well," she answered, "I intend to bill him when he grows up.” Thinking that she was joking, the pastor laughed. She however remained serious, and added, “I have worked out a formula whereby I can calculate how much he will owe me for the next few years of breast feeding, as well as wear and tear." "At the rate he's going, he already owes me a
few thousand dollars." "I'm actually planning to add interest, but since he's my son, I want to keep the rate low, so I haven't decided how much, but I do know that it will be compounded, after all, I think its only fair, don't you?" Speechless, the pastor stood there in amazement, his mouth open. The young mother, taking that as a her opportunity said, "good-bye, I'll be back next week." And with that she left.

“Preposterous!” you say. "How can a mother be so ridiculous as to bill her baby for services of love that should be free?" "How could she even think to charge him interest, after all he didn't ask to be born." Say this, and you'd be right. That young woman's actions should be considered outrageous. And if she actually goes through with her plan, it would be scandalous. How, we wonder, could anyone be so foolish as to think that it is good to sell something as a commodity which was received freely. It may be profitable, yes, but good? No way.

The Jewish priests in Jesus time were selling to the people, that which should have been given to them free of charge. This was especially true of the animals slated for the sanctuary service. Why? Because, the animal sacrifices and the gift of salvation had literally been given to them of God by grace. Sister White says,

What was it that He saw as He looked upon that temple court converted into a place of merchandise? They were selling oxen and sheep and doves to those who would offer a sacrifice to God for their sins. There were many poor among the multitude, and they had been taught that in order to have their sins forgiven, they must have an offering and a sacrifice to present to God. Christ saw the poor, and the distressed, and the afflicted, in trouble and dismay, because they had not sufficient to purchase even a dove for an offering. The blind, the lame, the deaf, the afflicted, longed to present an offering for their sins, but the prices were so exorbitant they could not compass it. It seemed that there was no chance for them to have their sins pardoned. They knew that they were sinners, and needed an offering, but how could they obtain it? (E. G. white Notes, page 59).

The Sadducees controlled the temple business and they profited immensely. They had money- changers exchanging the Roman coin for the temple coin, this exchange was done at a profit to the Sadducees. When the people were to buy an animal for the sacrifice, it was sold at an exorbitant price so that only the wealthy could afford the purchase. This kept the poor believing, as is said above, that they could not ask for forgiveness and that therefore God did not favor them. The pain and misery of the poor, along with the greed and malice of the wealthy, broke Christ’s heart and angered Him. Forgiveness of sins, iniquities and transgressions was to occur through the living sanctuary parable. It was the only place where sinners could find refuge, peace and rest. The Sadducees, through their avarice, effectively closed the door of hope to poor. This is why Mark 11:15-19 states,

Mark 11:15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and
began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and
overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that
sold doves;

Mark 11:16 And would not suffer that any man should carry [any] vessel
through the temple.
Mark 11:17 And He taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house
shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it
a den of thieves.
Mark 11:18 And the scribes and chief priests heard [it], and sought how they
might destroy Him: for they feared Him, because all the people were
astonished at His doctrine.
Mark 11:19 And when even was come, He went out of the city.

“Outrageous! Scandalous!” you say. “You wouldn’t see that happening now.” You are right, not in the same manner. We can all go to the temple, but how about the education centers. Many families cannot afford to have their children attend, so they find other options. They either send their children to the local public school, or if they can afford it, they find a parochial school of another denomination, and send their child there. What happens to the children of parents who fall behind in their school payments? The children are asked not to return, and depending on how old the child is, he or she may be sued. (This happened to someone I know personally, but goes against what Christ teaches in the scripture through the Apostle Paul).

“Outrageous! Scandalous!” you say. But by assimilating to the world's standards and practices regarding education and the accumulation of possessions, we have driven up the prices of our own literature, speakers, singers, vegetarian products and acute health care, till it is barely affordable.

Christ says in Matthew 10:8, “freely ye have received, freely give.” This is merely another portal through which to view the gospel, which is "love to God supremely-- with your whole heart, soul, body, strength and mind, and your neighbor as I have loved you." But, many of us don't want to practice this, because we want to profit as did Elisha’s assistant, Gehazi. Just as he converted God's blessing (the healing of Naaman's leprosy) into his personal financial commodity, we too as a group, do the same. We've unwittingly adopted the belief system of the world regarding our commodities, " Whoever can afford what we are selling, and will pay for it, can have it." How pitiful. The poor brother who truly needs the blessing is often kept in the dark, and on the fringes, because he cannot afford the repackaged blessing. Yes, you may say that many who are employed by the denomination are not wealthy. But as an institution, the Church is rich. It believes it is in need of nothing, for it has this message and that message, and this program, and that evangelistic thrust. "The world church is growing, can't you see?" Yet, while we as a group are pleased with our condition, Christ is not. We have yet to have the soul temple cleansed again, and its sins blotted out for the time of the refreshing. Christ has given us, freely, the gift of repentance and forgiveness. He has simply asked us to believe and receive it, that the blessing may rebound to others. Freely He has given! Freely are we to receive and give again-- that our collective joy may be full!

Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

The Special Insights web page resides at:

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Cause of Divorce: Hardness of Heart

Roger* as a Seventh Day Adventist, who quite frequently visited the church that I attended. One day he approached me, and requesting a listening ear, began to tell me of his marital woes. According to Roger, his wife had lost respect for him, and although he was frustrated and angry, he didn't know what to do. Further, it seems as if most of his friends and family were counseling him to divorce her. Roger, however, didn't agree and after much reflection on his part decided divorce was not the way to go. Wanting to vent his frustrations, and perhaps find a way to salvage his marriage, he turned to me. As I listened to him, I knew he needed more help than I alone could give him. So I suggested that it would be better if I took some time to pray over the matter and then we could meet during the following week and talk again. Not wanting to give him a pat answer or solution to his dilemma, I diligently inquired of the Lord to enlighten my mind that I might both see Roger's situation as He sees it, and respond as He would have me respond.

Sadly, I was strongly impressed that Roger and his wife, I'll call her Julia*, had been sexually involved with each other prior to their marriage, and that their marital troubles stemmed from their guilt at breaking His law, as well as the low level of genuine intimacy they had cultivated with one another. In short they didn't know one another
well in the areas that counted most. Feeling uncertain of how to go about handling this new found information, I requested some of my Godly, trusted friends to pray also. Together in prayer, we intercede before the Lord as to the course of action Roger should take with Julia, and how I was to advise them. I touched base with Roger during the week, and suggested we meet Sabbath. He agreed. The next Sabbath right after church, Roger and I met in a private room. Naturally I was uncomfortable, but I asked him anyway. "Roger, were you and Julia sexually
intimate with one another prior to marrying? With a puzzled look Roger admitted, "yes, we were." When I asked him why he looked puzzled, he indicated that while he understood the question, he didn't understand what it had had to do with the trouble he was having now.

Roger, like many of us, did not understand that there was a relationship between his choice to Sin and the suffering that followed. To explain, I spoke metaphorically but that did not work. Determined, I tried a different approach and at last saw understanding reflected in his face. Despite this, he was having a hard time acknowledging and accepting his mistake. Instead, Roger blamed Julia for their problems. As he told me this I said, "God sees you as the problem too." But Roger wasn't having any of this. No, he just wanted a way to 'fix' his wife, and was blind to the fact that he also needed 'fixing'. Determined to show me that it was Julia's fault, he brought the following Sabbath. Unfortunately, what was more evident was the hardness of his own heart. Lamentably, I don't think he ever accepted the light he saw.

Over the years, I have listened to many individuals who've expressed alienation from their spouse, and dissatisfaction with their marriage. The marriage didn't usually start out that way. It began with hope and plans for a good future. But for one reason or another they give themselves permission to engage in pre-marital sex with one another prior to marrying. Often they tell each other "I love you" and thus reason that the step they are taking is all right. No one could possibly tell them that their heart is not tender toward one another. Yet just a little time later, you know, when the
trials and burdens of everyday life and disappointments come, so does the hardening of the heart. In fact, in some cases, it just grows downright cold, and everyone wonders what went wrong.

According to Jesus, divorce was allowed because of "hardness of heart." Let's take a look at Mark 10:

Mark 10:5 “And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of
your heart he (Moses) wrote you this precept.”

What I am submitting is that hardness of heart was always present - sex merely camouflaged it. This hardness of heart does not go away once a couple marries, on the contrary it worsens. Let's read Paul’s advice in Ephesians.

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto
the Lord.
Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is
the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Ephesians 5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the
wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the
church, and gave himself for it;
Ephesians 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of
water by the word,
Ephesians 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not
having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Ephesians 5:28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He
that loveth his wife loveth himself.
Ephesians 5:29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and
cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
Ephesians 5:30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his
Ephesians 5:31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and
shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
Ephesians 5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and
the church.
Ephesians 5:33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his
wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence
her husband.

Why does Paul advice this? Because, when the male continues to be hard hearted, selfish, self-centered, and immature, his wife loses respect for him. And when she loses respect for him, he stops loving her. And, the cycle continues until Divorce is seen as the last resort. Not surprisingly, even after divorce some still fight. So, what is the solution? A new heart that is soft, serving, humble and loving -- and only God can provide that.

If you are single – never married, divorced, or widowed – follow Adam and Isaac’s example. They waited for the woman (person) the Lord had for them. If you are married, by all means, let the Lord soften your heart. Who knows, through
you, He may also soften your partner's heart as well.

Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

The Special Insights web page resides at:

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Double Booking Beliefs

David, an imaginary person, needed to see his primary care doctor, so he made an appointment. Writing down the specifics regarding date and time on a piece of paper, he promised himself he'd note the information on his calendar as soon as he arrived home. Later that day, his wife Jane called, and reminded him that their daughter, Lisa, was to play the piano at a recital. "Can you make it?" Jane asked. Excitedly David answered, "When is it, I'm pretty sure I can." He was excited that Lisa was now able to play well enough to be in a recital. As Jane relayed the information, David wrote it on a piece of paper. It was then that he remembered the doctor's appointment, and mentioned it. "It's about time!" Jane responded. (Jane had been requesting David to have a checkup for some weeks). "When is it, I'll go with you." "Sounds good, I wrote it down an a piece of paper and put it somewhere," David replied. Listening, Jane could hear the shuffling of paper over the phone as David looked for the information. "At last I've found it, here it is." replied David. As he read the paper, Jane's smile disappeared, and then she said quietly, "Darling, your doctor's appointment is on the same date and at the same time as Lisa's recital." David looked at both papers, and with a sickening feeling in his stomach, agreed, "yes, you're right, it is." Disappointed, David knew he'd have to miss his daughter's first recital. He also knew that his wife wouldn't be able to accompany him to his doctor's office, yet he simply could not reschedule his appointment. Frustrated, David vowed he would never double book his schedule again. He'd be more careful in the future.

How many of us have been in that situation at one time or another? We've double booked events because we couldn't find the paper where we wrote the initial information. This is one reason agendas and organizers are so handy -- they help prevent double booking. Once we write an event on a calendar, we are immediately able to see if there is a conflict. Unfortunately, sometimes the conflict isn't in our schedule, but in what we believe. We double book what we believe. Wouldn't it be simple if we could just write down our beliefs on a calendar of sorts and see where the conflict is? That way we could take our argument to its logical and final conclusion, and see the conflict in our beliefs before we carry them out. Because it's not until we're confronted by apparent inconsistencies, that we start to seriously ponder what we truly believe. Sadly, not only are we often blinded by untrue beliefs we hold dear, but these same beliefs hurt others as well. Without the special lenses of the Holy Spirit, we remain in blissful darkness.

In Mark 8, Jesus questions the disciples' belief regarding Himself. Consider the answer that Peter gave to Jesus.

Mark 8:29 And He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto Him, Thou art the Christ.

Peter's response reveals a lot more than what was said on the surface. Peter believed what the Pharisees refused to believe. He believed that although Jesus was in human form and nature, was a carpenter's son of dubious parentage, and was raised in Nazareth, yet He was the Son of God-- the Christ. The Pharisees, having observed Jesus over the years, knew that He was the son of Mary, not of Joseph, that He was a carpenter by trade, and that He was poor and uneducated at their schools. They believed that anyone who ate, drank, slept, smelled, and grew tired as they did, could not be the Son of God. Never would the majority of them accept Him as the Messiah. Even John the Baptist, who heard the voice of God as He spoke at Jesus' baptism saying, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World," had trouble believing that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah (and he understood that Jesus was the way to salvation). We on the other side of the cross have no trouble believing in Christ's divinity. We merely have trouble believing that Jesus took upon His divine nature, a sinful nature, just like ours, 4,000 years after the fall. Instead, many of us would like to believe that yes, Jesus hungered and thirsted (after all the scripture clearly says this-- see the woman at the well, and the disciples' story in John chapter 4) and that He was weary. But to accept that He was subjected as a male human being to sexual temptation, and yet did not sin? To believe that He was tempted to lust, pride, envy, jealousy, in the same way we are, and yet did not sin, sounds to us preposterous. The concept that He did not engage in the desire to exercise self-will, although tempted strongly as a human being to do so, seems untenable. Yes, we know that He did not fall and instead remained submitted to His Father's will, but we don't, and since we don't, we can't see how He could.

Yes, brothers and sisters, our dilemma is essentially the same as it was two centuries ago, when Christ walked the earth. Do we choose to believe the word as it is, or as it seems it should be to us? Of this paradox concerning Christ's nature, Ellen White says,

To human eyes Christ was only a man, yet He was a perfect man. In His humanity He was the impersonation of the divine character. God embodied His own attributes in His Son--His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His purity, His truthfulness, His spirituality, and His benevolence. In Him, though human, all perfection of character, all divine excellence, dwelt. The strong denunciation of the Pharisees against Jesus was, "Thou, being a man, makest thyself God" (John 10:33), and for this reason they sought to stone Him. Christ did not apologize for this supposed assumption on their part. He did not say to His accusers, "You misunderstand me; I am not God." He was manifesting God in humanity. Yet He was the humblest of all the prophets, and He exemplified in His life the truth that the more perfect the character of human beings, the more simple and humble they will be. He has given to men a pattern of what they may be in their humanity, through becoming partakers of the divine nature. (E. G. White Notes)

Now the question is posed to us: Whom do we say that He is? We believe that He is God. But, can we see what Peter and the Pharisees saw, a Human Being, subject to the our same temptations and frailties? We cannot simultaneously hold the belief that He is our Saviour and our example, but that He had some of our flesh after the fall, and some of Adam's before the fall. For if Christ did not take on fallen human flesh, then what example could He be? Adam did not need redeeming before he fell, of what value then could it be for Christ to take on his unfallen flesh? All humanity after Adam's fall (including Adam and Eve) needed not only a saviour, but an example of the life of righteousness in one, that is Christ. Furthermore, we needed His righteousness, for without it we would still be lost. Christ conquered Sin and death in His flesh, precisely because He was both human, having taken on our corporate human nature and divine. Without this combining of natures in His body, our salvation would be null and void. And although we don't participate in saving ourselves, we also have access to this combination of natures by cooperating with heaven. We are human, and when we accept Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. Our characters then, come to be formed after the divine mind from the inside out, and we too begin to resist temptation to sin. Thank God for Jesus Christ!

C.S. Lewis' assertion as stated in the lesson is true: He (Jesus) was either who He said He was, or a lunatic. That quote, originally written for unbelievers, applies to many of us today. We would do well to consider Jesus' claims as made by His servants the Patriarchs, Prophets and Apostles. For the Jews, the issue was and still is Christ's divinity, for us who believe Christ is God, the issue at hand is His humanity. Ultimately, our answer determines our destiny. And fortunately, a prayerful, thorough study of the subject is still timely. Let's no longer double book our beliefs.

Maria Greaves-Barnes & Raul Diaz

The Special Insights web page resides at: