Friday, March 30, 2012

Commentary: Ransom


Mark goes into a shop and buys a refrigerator.  Why does he do that? Obviously, because, he wants the refrigerator.  He agrees with the merchant to pay for the refrigerator and the merchant will deliver it.  If Mark has paid the price for it, having examined the refrigerator so as to know what he was buying and that what he is buying was worth the price he paid, does the merchant need to worry that Mark will not accept it once delivered?  Not at all; the merchant knows that it is his business to get the goods to the purchaser, in this case Mark, as soon as possible.   Again, Mark is expecting the refrigerator to be delivered.  If the merchant does not deliver the refrigerator to Mark, the merchant is guilty of fraud.  Any buyer, Mark included, will not indifferently say, "Well, I have done my part, and if he doesn't care to do his, he need not—that's all; he may keep the things if he wants to."  No; he will visit the shop, and inquire, "Why have you not given me what belongs to me?"  He will take vigorous measures to come into possession of his property. 

Let us say the merchant is really a criminal that abducted the man's child.  This abductor wants fifty thousand dollars in exchange for the man's son.  Why does the father pay the $50,000?  Because he wants his son back and probably thinks his son is worth more than that.   So when he pays the $50,000 the father expects the criminal to keep his word and his side of the bargain: that is to release the child back to his father.  

In this case the money paid is called ransom.  A ransom is a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity.  It is associated to the word redeem.  There are differences between the two however.  Although redeem and ransom both mean to buy back. Redeem  is wider in its application than ransom,  and means to buy back, regain possession of, or exchange for money, goods, etc.; for example, to redeem one's property.  To ransom is to redeem a person from captivity by paying a stipulated price; for example: to ransom a kidnapped child.  Spiritually, to ransom is to redeem from sin by sacrifice. 

Since slaves are held against their will, they are also captives. So, a ransom must be paid to free slaves.    In John 8: 34 Christ told the Jews, "…everyone who sins is a slave to sin."  Since, we are all sinners, and therefore Sin, we are all slaves to Sin.    This concept of slavery to Sin is found in the Old Testament when the Ten Commandments were read, both readings in Exodus and Deuteronomy make reference to it, "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6).  The ransom paid for their freedom was symbolically the blood of Christ, since they sacrificed a lamb and put the blood on the door posts (Exodus 12: 3 – 7).  Since we are all slaves to Sin, then it follows that we are all in need of redemption.   What was symbolically done in Egypt, we all need literally.  How can we be set free?  Christ said that the Truth sets us free (John 8:32), and the Truth is Jesus (John 14:6).  Jesus is the ransom, "… the Son of man came … to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). 

At the cross, Jesus paid by His death, the ransom for our souls; a ransom that was full, complete, and once and for all.  If Jesus by His death pays the ransom for our souls, then He must be expecting to receive the product He paid for.  After all, what good is paying a ransom if you don't come and get what was ransomed? The paying of the ransom isn't the end of the story.  Just as a human parent would come get the child he or she ransomed back, so, too, Jesus will come back to get what He paid such a great price for. Hence, Christ's first coming gives us the greatest assurance possible for the second.  He wants to have in His possession what He purchased.

Raul Diaz

Friday, March 23, 2012

Finding a Wife

Finding a Wife


A group of college seniors students were asked what was they're greatest concern that year (While the survey never happened, the conclusions are probably accurate).  Most of them answered, "Having enough credits and good enough grades."  Thos who were going into grad school added the entry exams (GRE, MCAT, etc.) and school admissions applications.  Those who were hoping to find jobs, getting a resume ready.  Seminary senior students concern: wives! 


Without a wife a seminar graduate will not likely be considered for a pastoral appointment or ordination.  So, the greatest effort that last year is to find a prospect for a wife.  What do most do to find them?  They do as most men do.  They look to see which one they like (lust is probably a factor), and then study her to see if she is material for a Pastor's wife.  What else does she need besides being physically attractive?  She needs to be good with children, and / or play piano or organ.  The idea is a woman that will be supportive of his ministry.  Of course, good reputation, appropriate behavior and dress code are a must. 


So, while these senior students claim that God has called them to be ministers, in other words, they trust God with the career decision, when it comes to finding a wife, they trust themselves.  God is good for the choice of a career, but not for the choice of a spouse.  Does this not sound inconsistent?  If I trust God for what I will spend doing the rest of my life, should I not trust Him for with whom I will spend the rest of my life? 


They choose someone to get a job.  Think about how this woman will feel when she realizes she is just an entry in a resume; a needed convenience.  The priority is the job, not her.  It is impossible to become one with someone when her main role is to improve my chances of getting hired.  How can these men teach "we live by faith and not by sight" when sight is what they chose to find a spouse?    Less you think I am being unfair, how many Pastors have you heard bragging about how "good" their wife looked when he met her, as oppose to, "the Lord revealed to me, she was the one?"  (While I am pointing out Pastors, the same is sadly true of many Christians).


The sad story about this is that many view Pastors as their Spiritual models.  So, when it is time to choose a partner, they do as their Pastors did, they choose by sight who is supposed to be their spiritual partner.  Those in the world do it the same way.  It is no wonder we end up with the same kind of statistics that the World has. 


In the Bible God shows a different way.  His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). His foolishness is greater than our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25).The happiest couple in the Bible trusted that the choice of the Lord; and, seemed not to regret it.    Some of these marriages are featured in our lesson.  In each of these memorable marriages (or "romances" as our quarterly puts it) there is a key principle, which, if we will receive it, brings healing and stability to every marriage.


Let us start Adam and Eve. Beginning in Genesis we read: "… the Lord brought [Eve] to the man [Adam]." This is not suggesting that one should go to sleep and then the Lord will— presto—bring you a wonderful spouse all ready to be yours. The common sense idea is that you ask for, you trust, you expect, you wait for the Lord to lead the two of you together. The lesson from Adam and Eve is that the Lord God takes an active, personal interest in your life. Let Him do the leading and your union will be lasting.


Believing that God loves you is an important first step. You can't live if you think He is mean or unfair or cruel; believing Satan's lie about Him is the sure path to eternal sorrow. Jesus comments on their marriage when he says, "What God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt. 19:6, NKJV). The "glue" that will hold a married couple together is their conviction, their faith, that "God has joined [us] together." God is a loving heavenly Father who above all else has in mind your true happiness; and in His infinite wisdom He sees and knows that such happiness lies with your being faithful to the "wife [husband] of your youth" (Mal. 2:14).  The Bible story about marriage from the beginning is love; God created us to love and to be loved in devotion that lasts forever. So, thank you, Adam and Eve, for this lesson in happiness.


Isaac and Rebekah deserve at least a little comment. There was no dating in this marriage.  God brought them together.  Abraham sent his servant to find a wife from the land where he came from.  The servant essentially prayed for a woman who would not only be beautiful, but also industrious and generous.  The Lord led her to this woman, and all in her family agreed that the matter was from the Lord.  So, our lesson mentions this couple, the happiest marriage we read about in the Bible, which culminates in a tantalizing glimpse of their lasting love, when we read, "he [Isaac] loved her" (Gen. 24:67).  Like Adam and Eve they both accepted that God had put them together.


It is unfortunate that the lesson makes no mention of Ruth and Boaz.  Ruth comes all the way from Moab with her mother in law Naomi.  Ruth was converted to Naomi's God, and trusted God and Naomi.  God rewarded her faith.  We can assume that since Boaz was the chosen one for Ruth, that Boaz was also a man of faith.  Out of this marriage descended King David, and of course, many generations later Joseph and Mary. 


The story of Hosea and Gomer is strange, to say the least.  God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute.  At first, the woman despises her husband.  But, Hosea did not stop loving her.  And, eventually he won her over.  God rewarded Hosea's faith.


We have these beautiful examples of marriages put together by the Lord.  The question is will we allow the Lord to do for us as He did for them.  I pray that we may follow the examples of these couples that trusted God to put them together.  

Raul Diaz

Friday, March 16, 2012

Commentary: Spiritual Pipettes

Spiritual Pipettes


In every field of work there are instruments and devices to perform that work.  Each of these has their proper names and what they are used for also may have a name.  In the laboratory where I work most of the tests are performed with automated and computerized instruments.  There is no need to do make reagents.  All that the instrument needs is pretty much supplied by the manufacturer; typically in plastic containers.  One of the tests we do, however, is still performed the old way.  We have to make our own reagents.  This requires weighing solids, measuring volume and mixing.  So, we still use the old kind of containers for the preparation of these reagents.  There are many kinds of containers with different shapes and sizes and made out of different materials.  Each of them has a purpose. 


Unlike what many people may think, our tests are not really experiments.  There are procedures that have been tested and have been found to reproduce a constant, accurate and precise result.  So, when preparing the reagents we pretty much follow a recipe:  you weigh so much of this and add so much that.  It always has to be the same amount.  So, for weighing we have a balance.  For measuring volume of liquids we have graduated cylinders and volumetric flasks.   If I need to transfer a certain amount of liquid from one flask to another, we have pipettes.  With a pipette you suction a certain amount of liquid inside the pipette from one flask and dispense it in another flask.  Manual pipettes are graduated so you know how much you are suctioning inside and how much you are dispensing.  Now we have electronic pipettes where the amount suctioned and dispensed can be programmed.  Either way, the pipette has but one principle: they are filled with a liquid to later be emptied.  Unlike, many of the other flasks that can be used for storage, pipettes have only one function: transferring liquid.    They are filled to be emptied; just as a pot from a potter.


In Jeremiah 18, the Lord tells Jeremiah to "arise and go down to the potter's house . . . to hear [the Lord's] words" (Jeremiah. 18:2).  Let us read the rest of the story. 


Jeremiah 18:3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.

Jeremiah 18:4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

Jeremiah 18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

Jeremiah 18:6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.


In case we miss it Isaiah tells us who the potter and the pot represents, "But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand" (Isaiah 64:8). 


We learn from this parable that we are a "vessel" the Lord has been forming on the potter's wheel. He has a happy purpose for you to be useful in His great work of lighting the earth with the glory of His "everlasting gospel" message.  But, no matter who you are, as a vessel you have in some way been "marred," because "all" of us "have sinned, and [do] come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The only "vessel" the Potter has succeeded in turning on His wheel that has turned out perfect is Jesus Christ Himself. His experience on the "wheel" is illustrated in Isaiah 50:4, 5, where the Father awakened Jesus "morning by morning . . . to hear as the learned." The Father taught Him during those early hours. He constantly resisted our temptation to be "rebellious" and "turn away back."


 In His mercy the Divine Savior-Potter never throws any marred vessel (us) in the trash, no matter how lowly it may have become in its being "marred." There's always a useful purpose left that you and I can serve. There is the "good news" encouragement. So, the Potter always takes the marred vessel to "[makes] it again into another vessel, as it seem[s] good to the Potter to make" (v. 4). This is redemption in action. 


As a pipette, every "vessel" is made to receive something, from which it can be poured out in some act of service to others.  It's a container to be filled and emptied continuously.  However, since we are talking spiritually remember that the "vessels" in this parable are living beings that have been given freedom of choice that can "resist God's will." So, unlike the real vessel we can resist the Potter's work.  Paul seems to consider this foolishness, "But who are you, my friend" asks Paul, "to talk back to God? A clay pot does not ask the man who made it, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (Rom. 9:19, 20, GNB).  Remember that in this context Paul thinks of himself as the chief of fools (1 Timothy 1:15).  Just as Paul reconciled with God, it is obvious that the "clay pot" needs to be reconciled in heart to the Potter! This is accomplished in an amazing way.


The Potter Himself has become clay; the Son of God Himself has emptied Himself in those seven steps of condescension in Philippians 2:5-8, "even [to] the death of the cross" which involved enduring being "made" the "curse of God" (cf. Gal. 3:13). Tried and tempted, feeling "forsaken" by God, He has known to the full what no other human being in history has known to the full—what it feels like for the Potter to throw someone into the trash. He "took" upon His sinless nature our "sinful flesh" that He might "in every way be tempted that we are, but did not sin" (Heb 4:15). Then He died the world's "second death" for every man (2:9), so that no one of us might have to feel what it's like to be thrown in the eternal trash heap (cf. Rev. 20:15).  Christ is the greatest vessel, for He tells us all come get living water from Him (John 14: 10 – 14; 7:38), He will never run out (be exhausted). 


Each of us is an empty vessel each new morning of life. But "God has poured out His love [agape] into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God's gift to us" (Rom. 5:5, GNB). He fills each empty, willing vessel.  We empty our vessels on others, and Christ refills us as needed.  

Raul Diaz

Friday, March 09, 2012

Prayer as Breath

Prayer as Breath


Breathing is the process that moves air in and out of the lungs of many vertebrates. Air breathing organisms -- such as reptiles, birds and mammals -- require oxygen to release energy via respiration, in the form of the metabolism of energy-rich molecules such as glucose.  Breathing is the only one process that delivers oxygen to where it is needed in the body and removes carbon dioxide.  This leads to another important process which involves the movement of blood by the circulatory system. Simply put, gas exchange - oxygen for carbon dioxide - occurs deep in the lung.  Once the gases are in the blood, the heart powers their flow around the body (via the circulatory system).


Air flows in and out of the body, through inhaling (breathing in) and exhaling (breathing out).  For this the lungs contracts and expands with the help of muscles – such as the diaphragm.  Each contraction and expansion cycle happens when the muscles contract and relax.  The expanded lung has more volume, letting air in and the contracted lung has less volume forcing air out. 


Breathing is one of the few bodily functions which, within limits, can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously. Conscious control of breathing is common in many forms of activities such as: swimming, cardio fitness, speech or vocal training.  In these activities one learns to discipline one's breathing, initially consciously but later sub-consciously, for purposes other than life support.  (Human speech is also dependent on conscious breath control.)  Unconsciously, breathing is controlled by specialized centers in the brainstem, which automatically regulate the rate and depth of breathing depending on the body's needs at any time. Our body counts with a sophisticated electro-chemical system that controls our involuntary breathing cycle.  This system will adapt our breathing to what our body requires.  For example, when we are exercising it will cause a higher rate of breathing, and when at rest a slower one.


It should come as no surprise then that if we cannot breathe our bodies will be affected.  Depending on how severe the problem, it can be lethal.  For example, sleep apnea and snoring are breathing impediments that affect adversely your sleep, brain and body metabolism.  These in turn can cause other complications, when awake, that can be harmful and even lethal.  So, breathing well - not only breathing - is essential.


Ellen G. White says that "Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. No other means of grace can be substituted, and the health of the soul be preserved. Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Well-spring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience. Neglect the exercise of prayer, or engage in prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God. The spiritual faculties lose their vitality; the religious experience lacks health and vigor" {GW 254.4}. 


It is no wonder that the Bible puts so much emphasis on prayer.  If we can draw parallels between breathing and praying, with prayer we let the Divine in and Sin out.  Selfless love comes in and selfishness goes out.  As we inhale the Divine, it in turn fills our heart, which in turn pumps it through our whole being.  We are thus spiritually invigorated. 


We could also draw parallels with the breathing effectiveness.  Just like not breathing well will affect our body adversely, not praying well will affect us spiritually.  "The effective prayer of the righteous avails much" (James 5:16). This means ineffective prayer does not avail much.  Living unrighteous lives, believing wrong things about God, among other things, nullifies the power of prayer.  In fact, these can cause or be caused by neglecting prayer.  Ellen White says of neglecting prayer,


"The darkness of the evil one encloses those who neglect to pray. The whispered temptations of the enemy entice them to sin; and it is all because they do not make use of the privileges that God has given them in the divine appointment of prayer… Without unceasing prayer and diligent watching we are in danger of growing careless and of deviating from the right path. The adversary seeks continually to obstruct the way to the mercy seat, that we may not by earnest supplication and faith obtain grace and power to resist temptation" {SC 94.2}.


The fact that we are enjoined to pray without ceasing tells us that this kind of prayer should be unconscious or second nature.  Just like we breathe involuntarily, it would be nice to reach a point where we just pray, involuntarily.  Yes, we would have our moments when we choose to pray (as controlled breathing), but for the most part, we would be so in tune with God, that we never stop communicating with Him.  Our Hevanl;y Father would be thrilled.  This is something the Father would want from us,


Our heavenly Father waits to bestow upon us the fullness of His blessing. It is our privilege to drink largely at the fountain of boundless love. What a wonder it is that we pray so little! God is ready and willing to hear the sincere prayer of the humblest of His children, and yet there is much manifest reluctance on our part to make known our wants to God… God's heart of infinite love yearns toward them, ready to give them more than they can ask or think, and yet they pray so little and have so little faith?... Why should the sons and daughters of God be reluctant to pray, when prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence? {SC 94.2}


We have not because we ask not.  He is waiting to hear from us.  

Raul Diaz

Friday, March 02, 2012

Commentary: Interrelationship in History

Interrelationship in History


The reputation of Professor Menas preceded him.  If you came in the class room when he was closing his roll book, he would not reopen it to mark you as present.  The other thing he did was that only the highest score had an A, all others had B and the rest.  But, he was a great teacher.  He made history interesting.  When he got excited about what he was teaching us he kind of dramatized what he was narrating.  As when it came to describing wars he stood up from his desk made bomb noises and air boxed.  More importantly, perhaps, to Professor Menas history was not just a collection of names, dates and events, but a series of interrelated events.  Each meaningful event in History was a reaction or response to a previous one.  


For example, there is a reason why Spanish royalty gave to Columbus their support for the trip across the ocean, Spain was one the first monarchies with a united kingdom in Europe.  No longer concerned with inner-territorial issues, they decided to look outside of Spain.  No event is isolated from others.


This view of History also applies to the Biblical view of History; even when we factor in God's continual involvement in human history.  As our lesson states God sometimes caused events to happen, and sometimes He allowed them to happen to achieve His purpose. 


We consider the Babylonian army's invasion of Judah.  This was not an isolated incident without historical context.  The Babylonians wanted to invade Judah because, Judah had precious objects they liked and wanted.  To understand this we have to go back in Judah's history to King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah's time.  When Hezekiah ruled, he purposed in his heart to reform Judah so that Judah would be in harmony with God's law.  In moments of crisis he prayed to God and consulted with the prophets (Isaiah 37).  He wanted to do God's will.  But, in older age he got sick, and God sent a message to King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah: "put your affairs in order" (Isaiah 38:1).  Hezekiah refused to do God's will this time (2 Chronicles 32:25).  He pleaded for healing and extra time to live.  King Hezekiah felt entitled because if his long years of faithfulness to God (Isaiah 38: 2 – 3).  The Lord granted Hezekiah's petition and as a sign to Hezekiah the Lord made the Sun would turn one hour back. But, this unleashed a series of events that proved to be the beginning of the undoing of Hezekiah's reform.


Puzzled by the strange phenomena of the Sun going backwards, the Babylonians studied this event wanting to know what happened.  They inquired and found out about Hezekiah's petition to God.  So, they set out to meet Hezekiah and really to find out what kind of God can control the Sun's movements.  When the Babylonians showed up, Hezekiah made no mention of God, but "shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not" (Isaiah 39: 2).  The Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to rebuke Hezekiah. We read in verses 3 through 7,


Isaiah 39:3 Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon.

Isaiah 39:4 Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them.

Isaiah 39:5 Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts:

Isaiah 39:6 Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.

Isaiah 39:7 And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.


In taking all the glory to himself, Hezekiah had peak the interest in the Babylonians for all they saw.  The Babylonians coveted what they saw.  The Babylonians set in the hearts to return one day and acquire them.  It seems a record was kept about what these Babylonians saw, because when Nebuchadnezzar invades Judah he not only brought captives from among the Jews to Babylon, but also some of these sacred objects his predecessors had seen.  From among these objects were the ones that Belshazzar used that fateful night when the Medo-Persians invaded Babylon (Daniel 5:3). 


In the surface we could say that what we learn from this story is to be careful who you let in your house, and once they are in, what you let them see.  On a deeper level we learn that today's mishap has farther repercussion than just our immediate lives.  The adverse consequences will be felt generations after.  Just look at Adam and Eve.  We are still paying for their mishap.  Doing God's will and giving him the glory can save us from undue suffering.  It will not spare from suffering altogether.  It will save us and others from the suffering that could have been prevented. 


Raul Diaz