Friday, April 29, 2011

Commentary: The Common and The Simple

 The Common and The Simple


The teacher's section of our quarterly makes the following statement:


In 1972, journalist David Halberstam published The Best and the Brightest, a book on the architects of U.S. policy in Vietnam in the early 1960s. The title of Halberstam's book referred to the fact that these individuals had received the best education in the best institutions of higher learning, and most had achieved—prior to their involvement in the emerging U.S. Vietnam strategy—notable successes and triumphs in business, govern­ment, and academia. Why then, Halberstam asked, did the policies they formulated and put into place prove to be disastrous?


If you look at biblical history, God rarely chooses the "best and the brightest." And when the "best and the brightest" do stumble into the sacred story, they often prove not to be so bright and good after all. Examples include King Saul, Judas, and Solomon. His best servants often don't start out so well. Moses committed murder on impulse, fled into the desert, and tried to talk his way out of his mission. Jonah fled in the opposite direction to avoid confronting his own fear and bigotry. Paul was a persecutor and an enabler of mob violence.  King David was a shepherd.  The prophet Amos was a farmer.  Many of the Apostles were fishermen.  They were not exactly the best and brightest.  They were common and simple people. 


Was Aaron any different?  He was very likely a former slave just like the rest of the Israelites.  Aaron was given many privileges and gifts.  Aaron was right there with Moses from the start (Exod. 4:27–30); Aaron was Moses' spokesman before Pharaoh (Exod. 7:1); Aaron cast down the rod that became a serpent (vs. 10); Aaron smote the waters that turned to blood (vs. 20); and Aaron was part of a select few who were able to approach the Lord in a very special way (Exod. 24:9, 10). In short, the man had been given privileges that few in history ever had, and yet, when a great test came, he failed miserably.  Let us read the story,


Exodus 32 

1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

 2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me."

3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.

4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD."

6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.


We see how Aaron messed up, big time.  But here's the amazing thing, God not only forgave Aaron his sin, the Lord eventually allowed Aaron to wear the sacred garments as the covenant nation's first high priest, a type for the high priestly ministry of Jesus Himself (Heb. 8:1). In other words, although Aaron was guilty of a terrible sin himself, he was also the recipient of God's redeeming grace; grace so great that it not only forgave him but allowed Aaron to assume a sacred office that, at its core, is all about God's grace and mercy and forgiveness. Thus, Aaron's life is a spe­cial example of mercy and redemption available to all in Christ.  But, now Aaron could sympathize with others who like him were not the best and the brightest and would err as he did. 

We too are chosen of God.  None of us are the "best and brightest." And if we are, it's only because the standards are so low.  God's royal priesthood is made up of repentant sinners and recovering "best and brightest" who realize that they need the garments of Christ's grace and righteousness. 


Friday, April 22, 2011

Commentary: Carnal versus Spiritual

Carnal versus Spiritual

Many brothers and sisters refer to the contemporary church as spiritual Israel as opposed to literal Israel.  The idea is that the promises made to the Biblical Kingdom of Israel which they call literal - now applies to the modern church, which although is not an actual kingdom with political structure and dominion of land.  In other words, the modern church be the recipients of the fulfillments of these promises.  Spiritual Israel, they argue, is not united by land and politics but by a Spiritual bond, hence Spiritual Israel.  This arguments, however, has terrible flaws.   One of which is that not all of the Kingdom of Israel were Israel (Romans 9:6); only those who live by faith were Israel.  This is still true today.  Only those who live by faith are Israel.  To say that the modern church at large is Israel is a lie, since we know that many do not live by faith. 

Now, the word literal can mean real, but the opposite of literal is figurative, fictional or symbolic, not spiritual.  The collective of modern believers is not fictional or symbolic; it is as real as it was in the past.  It is however, a spiritual collective; always have been and always will be.  In the Bible the opposite of spiritual is carnal.  The word carnal refers to things of the flesh.  Carnal are those who do not live by faith.  Carnal Israel would have been those who although subjects of the territorial domain of the Kingdom of Israel they did not live by faith.  It is still true today. 

One of the most evident characteristic of carnal believers is contention and division (1 Corinthians 2).  We see this in the disciples.  They were always arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom (Mark 9:34).  The Corinthians Church is another example.  Paul tackles every contention they have in 1 Corinthians.  This was not new.  Even in the infancy of the Kingdom of Israel carnality showed it ugly face.  Joseph's brothers were carnal.  Joseph and his father were Spiritual.   Contrasting Joseph with the his other brothers Ellen White says,

"There was one, however, of a widely different character—the elder son of Rachel, Joseph, whose rare personal beauty seemed but to reflect an inward beauty of mind and heart. Pure, active, and joyous, the lad gave evidence also of moral earnestness and firmness. He listened to his father's instructions, and loved to obey God. "—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 209.

Paul says the carnal is always at war with the Spiritual (Roman 8: 6-8).  So, as disconcerting as it sounds, it should be no surprise that Joseph's brothers hated Joseph; even to the point of wanting to kill him (Genesis 37: 18).    The Bile says that he who hates in his heart is a murderer (1 John 3:15).  Ellen White describes the incident when they saw Joseph coming toward them.  Notice the contrast between Joseph and the brothers,

"Joseph, unsuspicious of what was to befall him, approached his brethren with gladness of heart to greet them after his long, wearisome journey. His brothers rudely repulsed him. He told them his errand, but they answered him not. Joseph was alarmed at their angry looks. . . . They accused him of hypocrisy. As they gave utterance to their envious feelings, Satan controlled their minds, and they had no sense of pity, and no feelings of love for their brother. They stripped him of his coat of many colors that he wore, which was a token of his father's love, and which had excited their envious feelings."—Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, pp. 128, 129.

The Church of the day conspired to kill, abducted and sold as a slave own of their own.  To cover their crime they lied and deceived their father – the church pastor.   We are not beyond doing what these brethren did.  We, in fact, do it in our hearts.  Given the right circumstance and opportunity we would do the same or worse.  The Holy Spirit is trying to show us what we are capable of, before it turns into action.  It would behoove us to heed now.  Ignoring Him now will only make things worse for us and others. 

Raul Diaz

Friday, April 15, 2011

Commentary: The Test

The Test


There are different kinds of test, therefore there are different definitions.  In the context of education (perhaps the most popular one) it is a series of questions, problems, or physical responses designed to determine knowledge, intelligence, or ability.  Another popular one is the medical test, which is a kind of medical procedure performed to detect, diagnose, or evaluate disease, disease processes, susceptibility, and determine a course of treatment.  Other definitions are very similar to these.  For example, in quality control and quality assurance it is a procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something, esp. before it is taken into widespread use.  In chemistry, it can be a procedure employed to identify a substance or to reveal the presence or absence of a constituent within a substance.   Sometimes the word test is used to define an event or situation that reveals the strength or quality of someone or something by putting them under strain.  This last definition is used in many circles to define events in life that are stressful in nature and that reveal our character. 


Implied in testing is the anticipation of expected results.  For example, we know whether the student being tested passed or failed depending on their answers.  We expect certain answers.  It is similar in other kinds of testing.  For example, pregnancy tests are designed to detect a hormone in the woman's urine that would only be present if the woman is pregnant.  Depending on the kind of test the results may show up as a line, a color, or a symbol such as a "+" or "-" sign. (Digital tests produce the words "pregnant" or "not pregnant.")


We read in Genesis 2: 15 -17,


Genesis 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

Genesis 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

This was to be a test.  You see, unbeknown to Adam, the Son of God was embroiled in a great cosmic conflict with Satan over good and evil. Satan put God on trial. If Satan could have one try at tempting Adam and Eve, they would put God to shame. God does not forcibly push Satan aside in front of all the cosmic intelligences.

God grew "the tree of life" and "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" "in the midst of the garden" (Gen. 2:9). Since God is only good, the source of evil for the tree of knowledge was the serpent (Gen. 3:1).

Satan asserts that holy beings,--both angels and man--do not need to obey God's law. "He [the rebel] reiterated his claim that angels needed no control, but should be left to follow their own will, ...  He denounced the divine statutes as a restriction of their liberty, and declared that it was his purpose to secure the abolition of law; ... Satan has continued with men the same policy which he pursued with the angels" (The Great Controversy, pp. 499, 500).

In order to disprove Satan's charges God needs Adam and Eve,--in their innocence of the cosmic conflict,--to make the right choice "not [to] eat of it," i.e., the tree, for "thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Their unfettered love for the God of all truth will lead them to worship and obey Him alone.

It was a simple test.  It was a transparent test.  Implied in it for the whole universe was the anticipation of an expected result.  There will be no doubts either way the testers go.  You cannot say God manipulated the process or the results.  Either they ate or not. Either they believed God or believed Satan.  Either Adam chooses to love God above all or Eve above all.    Ellen White says that "The sinless pair wore no artificial garments; they were clothed with a covering of light and glory, such as the angels wear.  So long as they lived in obedience to God, this robe of light continued to enshroud them" (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 45).  So, if they obeyed they would still have the light covering, but if not they would lose it. 

It is the same for us.  Who will we believe?  Who will we choose?  Mankind has not been placed in the same circumstances as Adam and Eve, but we have been given the same standing.  Our sins are forgiven through the blood of Calvary's cross and we are given these hours of probation in which to choose which side we shall take in the great controversy.  We may choose to accept and wear the robe of Christ's righteousness to cover our nakedness.  Yet as free moral agents we are also free to reject it.  Apart from that robe of perfect righteousness, the covering from the supernatural source, we shall be ashamed at His coming when we shall have no choice but to stand in our inadequate robes of self-righteousness.  By God's grace let choose the gift of righteousness now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"A Garment of Innocence"


"A Garment of Innocence"

Sabbath School TodayWith the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Garments of Grace: Clothing Imagery in the BibleLesson 3: "A Garment of Innocence"

God created Adam and Eve "in the image of God ... male and female" (Gen. 1:27). They were given "dominion" over all creatures (vs. 26). "God blessed them" (vs. 28), and they were "very good" (vs. 31). "This sinless pair wore no artificial garments. They were clothed with a covering of light and glory, such as the angels wear" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 45). Adam did love God and his wife. A holy God created them in holiness.

Unbeknown to man, the Son of God is embroiled in a great cosmic conflict with Satan over good and evil. Satan puts God on trial. If Satan could have one try at tempting Adam and Eve, they would put God to shame. God does not forcibly push Satan aside in front of all the cosmic intelligences.

God grew "the tree of life" and "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" "in the midst of the garden" (Gen. 2:9). Since God is only good, the source of evil for the tree of knowledge was the serpent (Gen. 3:1).

Satan asserts that holy beings,--both angels and man--do not need to obey God's law. "He [the rebel] reiterated his claim that angels needed no control, but should be left to follow their own will, ... . He denounced the divine statutes as a restriction of their liberty, and declared that it was his purpose to secure the abolition of law; ... Satan has continued with men the same policy which he pursued with the angels" (The Great Controversy, pp. 499, 500).

In order to disprove Satan's charges God needs Adam and Eve,--in their innocence of the cosmic conflict,--to make the right choice "not [to] eat of it," i.e., the tree, for "thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Their unfettered love for the God of all truth will lead them to worship and obey Him alone.

God only wants them to know the good and not evil. The serpent's enticement is: "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5); "ye shall not surely die" (vs. 4). The lure is the autonomy of man as god with inherent immortality.

Eve ate the "apple." She is bitten by the serpent. He injects her with the poisonous venom of self-love.

Evil is the sin of unbelief. To dis-believe God is to make man god. The essence of sin is to plot the overthrow and murder of the Son of God. Man is now totally alienated from God. He gives the "dominion" over to Satan.

The unconscious function of the human mind was begun in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first sinned. Their sin was far, far greater than merely eating an "apple;" deep inside was the guilt of deicide. That guilt would have killed them then and there if they had fully realized its dimensions. They were crucifying the Son of God, but didn't comprehend it! Therefore their human minds began a function of repression--"they did not like to retain God in their knowledge" (Rom. 1:28). All of us humans therefore share the corporate guilt of the crucifixion of Christ, but it's our great unconscious sin.

The dark machinations of evil begin their corrosive work in the human psyche. The self-destructive thoughts of murder haunt the conscience. The awful seed planted in their imaginations of deicide turns against them with instant self-loathing and thoughts of suicide. The human mind can only protect itself from evil forebodings by burying its plot in the deepest recesses of the unconscious. "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7).

Adam and Eve lost their garments of innocence. "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" (Gen. 3:7). Undoubtedly the leaves were beautifully woven and looked good from the outside, but they couldn't camouflage the ugliness that now resided within.

Only God could devise garments for them which required the shedding of blood. Adam must have been horrified as he witnessed the death of the first lamb. He now saw firsthand what his unbelief had caused. "... Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, ... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:18-20). It was only by beholding that blood that Adam's heart could be changed.

Having lost his garment of holiness, Adam is incapable of loving Eve, and vice-versa. "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20). After sin came in, man/woman became unfaithful by their very nature. And now a new definition of love is necessary--agape, a love that loves sinners, bad people, ugly people. Now sinful "Adam" loves sinful "Eve" with the same love wherewith the Savior has loved him in his unworthiness and sinfulness. Now both Adam and Eve can love. In the Garden, Adam loved a perfect Eve; now, because of Jesus, he loves an imperfect spouse, and vice-versa.

The good news of the 1888 message is that the Everlasting Covenant was originally given to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15). God promised to "put enmity" where there would be no desire for good and right if God did not put it in the heart of everyone to some degree. When God made the promise to Adam and Eve it was Christ who was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). Christ became the Surety for the entire human race. He put Himself on the line to bring about all that He promised to Adam and Eve. God did not require from Adam and Eve a promise to obey Him; there is no record of any such transaction. All their power was gone. Adam, with his eyes wide open, in full knowledge, knew that eating the forbidden fruit would be sin (James 4:17). In unbelief he stepped out on forbidden ground. His very nature was changed by his willful, choice. At that moment he was no longer capable of doing good. He was condemned to eternal death. Adam had sold out to Satan.

Satan was fully aware that Adam had given over his right of dominion to him. In the temptations of Christ, Satan reminded Jesus that all the "power and grandeur" of the world was his by Adam's choice, "for it has been made over to me. ..." (Luke 4:6, Moffat translation). It was impossible for Adam to right himself again because sin had entered the world. "By the offense of one, judgment came upon all men," resulting in condemnation to an eternal grave (Rom. 5:12, 18). No hope of life, no hope of even one bite of food, or a breath of air, or a glass of cold water. Not one single thing was ours by Adam's one choice.

But thank God that "by the righteousness of One," the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, who became the Surety for a lost race, by His one righteous act, "the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Rom. 5:18). The 1888 message "presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God" (Evangelism, p. 190). Because of Jesus Christ's one righteous act we can eat food today, breath the air, and drink the water. If we do not refuse this gift of life we already enjoy, we will live forever in eternal life. We will be ever thankful that He saved us from the eternal grave that was ours by Adam's disobedience. He did it all by His own promise. He invites us simply: "harden not your hearts" (Heb. 4:7).

--Paul E. Penno

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Commentary: The Seven Steps

The Seven Steps

Stairs are so common now many of us take them for granted.  They have been around for so long we cannot think of them ever being invented.  But, stairs are one of the oldest buildings in architectural history; they have always played a central role in the history of humanity, although it is difficult to tell exactly in which year they were "born," it is believed their appearance was thousands of years before Christ. Like everything else, the design of stairs seems to change with the change of architectural eras, reflecting the trends used in different ages and revealing the talent of those who designed them.

Apparently, the first stairs were created accidentally.  Allegedly, the first stairs in the history were wood trunks fitter together; these kinds of stairs were used to acquire strategic positions for survival. In a basic sense, the first use which was given to the stairs was to overcome the difficulties presented by the terrain, such as valleys or mountains, the goal was to be able to pass these difficulties as soon as possible; to move up often meant moving to a place of greater security, therefore this could have meant at that time the difference between life and death.  It was very important to move quickly, hence the importance of the stairs.

So, like many other inventions, stairs first emerged as a solution to a problem, although, years later it was found in China the first granite staircase leading to the sacred mountain in Tai Shan, this indicates that one of the utilities that were given to the stairs in his story was for religious purposes. Confucius in one of his stories said to have gone up this ladder to the top in the year 55 BC.  The ladder was used in a metaphorical way to describe reaching the divine height and establishing a connection between earth and sky. Other examples of stairs built for religious purposes are: the biblical Jacob's ladder, the tower of Babel, which was a helical tower, the pyramids of Egypt that had stairs, the celestial ladder of Shantung in China, the stairs in India (a peculiarity of the stairs in India is that they had also scientific utility). All these stairs have something in common; they symbolize the rise of the light, the sun, and a way in to the God's path.

Some say that Lucifer's six fold assertion of becoming like God is like a metaphorical ladder.  We read this statement in Isaiah 14: 12 – 15,


Isaiah 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Isaiah 14:13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

Isaiah 14:14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

Isaiah 14:15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.


God tells Lucifer the reality of his existence, and contrasts it with what Lucifer had purposed in his heart.  Again, Lucifer's statement is six fold, making it six steps in the metaphorical ladder.  The seventh step is where Lucifer falls, being "brought down to hell."


We see a contrast with Jesus in Philippians 2: 5 - 9.  Let us read the passage,


Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Philippians 2:7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Philippians 2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name:


Paul uses six statements to describe what Christ did as a man.  All six statements are about Christ descending, so the seventh step is the Father exalting the Son of Man above all.  What a complete contrast!  The Devil ascended six steps up the ladder only to fall.  Christ descended six steps down the ladder, to later be exalted.  Paul exhorts us to be like Christ (Philippians 2:5).  Will we?

Raul Diaz

Friday, April 01, 2011

Commentary: Do Clothes make the man?

Do Clothes make the man?

There is an Italian folktale that talks of a man called Giufà.  Giufà was half a simpleton, so no one showed him any kindness, such as to invite him to his house or give him anything to eat. Once Giufà went to a farmhouse for something, and the farmers, when they saw him looking so ragged and poor, came near setting the dogs on him, and made him leave in a hurry.

When his mother heard it she procured for him a fine coat, a pair of breeches, and a velvet vest.

Giufà dressed up like an overseer, went to the same farmhouse, and then you should see what great ceremonies they made! They invited him to dine with them. While at the table all were very attentive to him. Giufà, on the one hand, filled his stomach, and on the other, put into the pockets, coat, and hat whatever was left over, saying: "Eat, my clothes, for you were invited!"

The same man dressed differently was treated differently.  Nothing had changed, but the clothes.  Sadly, people do look on the surface and determine by what they see how they believe the inside should be.   They probably assume that the inside and the outside should be consistent.  An old Puerto Rican expression comes to mind: dress a monkey with silk, it is still a monkey.  However, when people dress differently they tend to behave and carry themselves differently; which could explain, at least partly, why they are treated differently.   But, behaving a certain why does not mean you are that certain way.  To use another popular expression, just because you look like a duck, quack like a duck or walk like a duck does not mean you are a duck. 

The Bible speaks of : wolves in sheep clothing, many claiming to work in His name and knowing Him, many having a form of Godliness but denying then power thereof, and many claiming having work for Jesus while Jesus says I know you not.  These do works that seem Godly and righteous but are not.   So, there can be distinction between what we do and what we are.  God is looking to make it consistent.  He wants righteous people to do righteous works. 

So what is righteousness?  It is the condition and result of being righteous.  Righteous in turn is a word to describe someone that is and does right.  Righteous is acting in accord with divine or moral law.  It is to be or act free from guilt or sin.  But, only God is like this.  As Paul says, "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10).  Most of us are unaware that we are either naked or our garments are nothing but filthy rags (Revelation 3: 17; Isaiah 64:6).  For us to be righteous we must be made righteous.  So how does God make us righteous?  There are many ways the Bible explains this, but let us continue with the garment symbol.  Revelation 3:18 gives us the answer: "I counsel thee to buy of … and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear…"  Buy from God His robe of righteousness and wear it. 

By connecting the process of us becoming righteous to Christ's own righteousness Ellen White explains what wearing the robe is,

"By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God's commandments. When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness" (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 312).

This garment or robe is His character.  "This robe, woven in the loom of heaven, has in it not one thread of human devising. Christ in His humanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us" (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 311).  Ellen White explains in Desire of Ages,

"The law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can 'be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.' Rom. 3:26."—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 762.

So, character makes a man, not the clothes.  Godly character makes Godly men.  Will we allow Christ to clothe us with His robe?  Will we allow Him to give us His righteousness? 


Raul Diaz