Friday, July 27, 2012

I’ve Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

I’ve Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

In the late 80 and early 90’s there was a company called LifeCall with a system in which subscribers, mostly senior citizens as well as the disabled, would receive a pendant which, when activated, would allow the user to speak into to an audio receiving device and talk directly with a dispatch service, without the need to reach a telephone.  The dispatcher would then send help.  In 1989, LifeCall began running commercials which contained a scene wherein an elderly woman, identified by a dispatcher as "Mrs. Fletcher", uses the medical alert pendant after having fallen in the bathroom. After falling, Mrs. Fletcher speaks the phrase "I've fallen, and I can't get up!” after which the dispatcher informs her that he is sending help. Many of you will remember that phrase.  While the phrase was subject of much humor, when we take the commercial at its face value, it portrays a dangerous situation for a senior, with perhaps dire consequences: an elderly person suddenly incapacitated at home, unable to get help, perhaps for hours or even days.
Spiritually we are all Mrs. Fletcher’s, we are fallen in Sin and cannot get up from it by ourselves.   God, in this scenario, is LifeCall.  We can call on Him.  He will dispatch “someone” to help us up. According to the teacher’s section of our lesson this process of getting us up is strongly related to Grace.  The word grace, as used in the Bible, which is how Paul understood it, originated from a Hebrew verb that literally means “to bend down.” It conveys the idea of a person bending over to help someone stand up who has fallen and cannot help himself. From this concept, the word grace came to mean the act of extending favor or kindness to another person and often someone who did not deserve it. In the Old Testament, as in Paul’s letters, God is the One who is typically described as extending grace.

At face value we see the act of kindness and think, “that was a nice thing that person did.”  We focus on the compassion.  So, to us it becomes mercy.  But we ignore the act itself, and the person receiving the help.   What did the person do? The person that helped the other get up gave the fallen person what they needed to get up.  Think about it, the fallen person asked for help because they could not get up.  The person helping gave the person what they needed to do it.  This is a result of grace.  When person A is moved with compassion, person A gives to person B what person B lack to complete the task, whether they deserve it or not.  Person A gave person B the power to complete the task.

The closest story I can remember in the Bible of someone falling is when Peter sank in the water.  He saw Jesus walking on water and asked Jesus,

Matthew 14:28 …. Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
Matthew 14:29 And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
Matthew 14:30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
Matthew 14:31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Peter recognized his need, immediately asked for help. Thus, when the Lord extended forth His hand to catch Peter, the Lord had compassion on Peter, and gave to Peter what Peter lacked to get to not sink in the water.  Peter allowed the Lord to pull Him up.  Peter received the grace.   Now, this is just a metaphor of our lives.  We are all in the water of life sinking trying to stay afloat the best we can.   God has compassion on us, and sends us His Son – our Spiritual life guard to rescue us.  We here the call, “You are sinking or about to sink, but I can save you, let me grab you to take you out.”  Will we let Him?  We are all fallen in Sin, and it does not matter how hard we try, we will never be able to get out of it.  We are born in Sin and conceived in I iniquity.  We had neither say over nor choice over that.  The Thessalonians heard this warning, and the good news.  They realized their true condition and that there was nothing they could do to fix it, so they trusted God to do it. 

You see, our biggest problem is not that we are fallen.  Our biggest problem is that we are in denial about it.  Although God did execute Judgment on many idol worshipping nation, His greatest rebuke was to Israel and Judah because they followed after the pagan worship.  Christ greatest rebukes were to the Jews, and most of His commendations were to the faith exercising Gentiles.  And, we are following in the same footsteps of Israel and Judah.  This is why God is so disgusted with us.  God describes us in Revelation 3,

Revelation 3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
Revelation 3:18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

God gives us through grace, what we lack, to bring us back to Him.  He longs for our response.  Yet, we tell Him, “I have need of nothing,” while lying on the floor or sinking in the water.  Christ told Nicodemus that, “… this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil (John 3:19). Our greatest problem is that we reject God’s grace.  We refuse to let Him get us up.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Good News

The Good News

It used to be that most product advertisement was for the products you could purchase at the local store.  But, marketing has taken a shift.  Now we have advertisement for public announcement.  You also have advertisement to enhance public image.  Then there is the kind of advertisement for products that you cannot buy at the counter of the local store.  Many of these are advertisement for drugs of relatively unknown conditions.  The principle behind these commercials is the same: trying to sell you on the benefits of the drug, which is beyond just the physical condition. 

Most of these commercials start by showing a person telling you that they had a problem: a symptom that got in the way of carrying normal daily routines and maintaining healthy relationships.  That symptom was found to be an expression of this certain health condition.  And, now there is drug to help with that condition, so the symptom can disappear, or become manageable, and you can go on living as if the problem was non existent.  However, you cannot just go your local pharmacy and buy the drug; you have to ask your doctor about it. For most of us this advertisement is a waste of air time.  That is, unless we have the condition featured in the ad.  All of a sudden facts or information becomes good news. Good news implies that something is wrong (there is a problem) and there is something to make it right (a solution). 

Most of us that drive complain about the cost of gas. In this case my problem is that gasoline (petrol) is too expensive.  So, hybrid electric cars – which use less gasoline - as an option sound nice.  But, that is not good news.  Good news is to find out that the local gas station is selling gas at $2 a gallon when the running price is $3.50 a gallon.   The latter addresses my need.  That is a solution. 

We know that the word gospel means good news.  It is a translation of the Latin word evangel form which we have to word evangelism.  We typically say, rightfully so, that the Gospel is the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To say that would imply that there is something wrong and Christ’s life makes it right.  So, what is wrong?  We will typically here the perfunctory answer: Sin.  But, what does this mean?  The answers to that are also perfunctory and impersonal. 

We tend to focus more on the Good news part, but often neglect the sad and painful reality that makes Christ’s life, death and resurrection good news.  In the Bible we see two different groups who saw good news in Christ, but misunderstood His real mission, thus ignoring the wrong He came to make right.  The first group is one He talked about in the sermon of the mount in Matthew 7: 21 - 23.  Let us read,

Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Notice that this group did work and in the name of the Lord, but this group was not doing the will of the Father.  This implies that all they did was not of faith (Romans 14: 23); which means that they were not truly hearing the Word (Romans 10:17).  They built their house on sand (Matthew 7: 26 – 27).

The other group is in John 6.  We see here that “a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which He did on them that were diseased” (John 6:2). After a while Jesus performs a miracle to feed this great multitude.  After being filled by this food they reasoned, “…This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. [So] When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone (John 6:14 – 15).  In their hearts they saw Christ as the man with power to heal and feed; so it seemed they asked themselves, “Imagine if he could use His power to destroy the Roman army.”  The next day they searched for Jesus and “And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?  Jesus answered them and said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (John 6:25 - 6:26). 

This group also misses the point.  They wanted Jesus to use His power to give them what they desired.  But, just as the first group, they acted outside of faith.  So, when they realized that they could not get Him as their “Santa Clause,” they said they’d be willing to work for it.  When Jesus explained what the work entailed, they left disappointed.  It was more than they were willing to give. 

There is a third group. This group has understood Christ’s mission.  These are they that “doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7: 21)”.  About these, Jesus added,

Mat 7:24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
Mat 7:25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

They are the ones of which followed Jesus’ words from John 6:27, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”  The non-Jews in Thessalonica that believed Paul's teachings were part of this group.  Which group do you belong to?  

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Narrative

The Narrative

Most Latin American Countries gain their independence during the 19th century.  Puerto Rico was one of the few that did not.  Most Puerto Ricans were afraid of independence; partly because of Haiti.  Early in the 19th century slaves in Haiti revolted against their French masters, and took over Haiti.  Some of those French ended up in exile in Puerto Rico, of course they told their story.  After this, independence was equated with slaves subverting against their European masters and taking control of the territory.  Puerto Ricans, who owned slaves, did not want that happening to them.  This narrative lasted for years.

When I was growing up in Puerto Rico any talk of independence was shut down with, “Do you want us to be like Cuba?”  In 1959, the Cuban revolutionaries entered Havana marking the end of the revolution and the success of Fidel Castro and his forces.  Many Cubans were forced to leave the Island.  Some landed in Puerto Rico.  Soon after that Castro declared Cuba a communist country.  So, somehow independence now became equated with the Cuban experience.  This meant to Puerto Ricans that, the Communist would take over and force everyone else to work in the sugar cane field.  Puerto Rico had long since transformed from a sugar cane economy to more industrial one.  The prospect of going back to cutting sugar cane to Puerto Ricans was terrifying.  This narrative still exists. 

Whether the narrative ended up being true or not, it did not matter.  It accomplished its purpose: to instill fear in the masses so they would not pursue that option.  This is similar to what Paul went through in Thessalonica. 

Paul spent three week in Thessalonica reasoning and proving the Jesus was the Christ from the scriptures.  Many accepted Christ, but his success incited opposition from local religious leaders and from a gang of thugs. Paul was finally expelled by the city council, which also sought to prevent his return. When someone preaches new teachings and people get excited, the leaders and teachers of other religious groups may become jealous.

Attention that was once placed upon them is now directed to others.  As a result, they may behave in irrational ways in order to try to reduce the influence of the new teacher.

According to Acts 17:5, Paul’s success in Thessalonica infuriated some of the Jews who were not persuaded by his message. Jealous of Paul’s success with the Gentiles, and certainly not very happy that some of their fellow countrymen had joined him, they decided to enlist the help of “some wicked men of the rabble” (ESV) to stir up trouble. In Greek the phrase “wicked men of the rabble” literally means “men of the marketplace.” It refers to a group of unemployed ruffians who hung out in the marketplace looking for something to do. 

What a contrast to the people who responded to Paul’s gospel.  According to Luke, these hooligans barged into Jason’s home in order to drag Paul out to the crowd (17:5). The Greek word translated as “people,” or “crowd” (demos), can also refer to the public assembly of citizens who had authority over local legal matters. Unable to lay their hands on Paul, they decided instead to haul Jason and others before the local magistrates. When they arrived, they laid two accusations against Paul: (1) Paul was an itinerant troublemaker with a track record of causing problems in other cities; (2) Paul was guilty of sedition for claiming that Jesus, not Caesar, was King.

According to the Roman historian Suetonius, shortly before the events described in Acts 17, conflict arose among the Jews of Rome over a man Suetonius calls “Chrestus.” This term probably reflects a Roman misunderstanding of the Jewish concept of the Messiah or, in Greek, “the Christ.” Apparently someone’s preaching of the gospel had just split the Jewish community of Rome.  To Roman officials, debate over the Messiah sounded like preparation for the installation of a new king on the throne of Rome (see Acts 17:7). Probably for that reason the emperor expelled all Jews from his capital city (Acts 18:2). Some of these exiles probably settled in or passed through Thessalonica, bringing knowledge of these events to the city. Because the gospel had turned the world of Rome’s Jews upside down, religious leaders in Thessalonica were determined to prevent something similar from happening there.  Notice that it was not their main concern.  They used that story in order to drum up the charges against Paul and gain favor with the rulers of the city.  Sufficiently alarmed by these charges, the magistrates banned Paul and Silas from their city and required Jason to pay some kind of fee in order to ensure that the two men would not return.

Thessalonica itself was ruled by a city council of perhaps five or six “mayors” who made decisions as a group. This arrangement allowed for a considerable amount of independence from Rome, which they would be loath to give up. So, the behavior of the city officials in this matter was quite impressive under the circumstances. The similarity to recent events in Rome could have led to severe physical punishment for the new Christians. Instead, the city leaders responded evenhandedly (contrast Acts 16:22–40). They took a significant amount of money from the new Christians as security so that they would not be the cause of further disturbances. Then the leaders let everyone go.  The narrative worked. 

But, what is disturbing is that it was those who professed to be defending the law of God actually broke it in order to accomplish their goal.  Could we be caught in the same trap?  Not unless we are converted.  So, when we are dealing with accusations, we should ask ourselves: is there something else?  Is the immediate accusation being used to cover the real reason for the attack?  It is how the Jews dealt with Christ.  Could we be fooled into falling in this trap?  Not unless we are converted.  

Friday, July 06, 2012

It Is For Your Sanctification!

It Is For Your Sanctification!

When we say that God is omniscient we mean that He is all knowing. He knows all things in a given moment, and he also knows all the past and future. He knows the end from the beginning. When we say that God loves us unconditionally, it means that God loves us regardless of how we feel about Him. He has our best interest at heart. Add these two together and you have that since God know all things – the end from the beginning – you have a God that knowing how things will end will tell you if the end is bad and how to prevent it. If the ending is good, he will let you know to continue in that path. God will not arbitrarily let us go through something if He knew it would harm us and it would in the end keep us from eternal life. Do we trust Him? What He let’s us go through, “It is for your sanctification!”

Jesus trusted the Father. There many verses to prove this. Jesus said that the Father sent Him. He said that the Father controlled all he said and did. Jesus went along voluntarily. Consider the following verses. When tempted Jesus replied with, “… It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Perhaps John 12: 49 elaborates on what He meant in Matthew, “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” However, it was more than just speech, Jesus also did as the Father told Him. We read in John 5: 30,

John 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

Dying on the cross was included on list of things that Father wanted Jesus to do, and Jesus trusting the Father, obliged. Listen to Jesus’ prayer in John 12: 27,

John 12:27 Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.

The same sentiment is repeated at Gethsemane. Let us read Matthew 26: 39 and 42

Matthew 26:39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Matthew 26:42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

If our all knowing and unconditionally loving God had any other way to redeem man, He would have done it that way. This is why Luke refers to the work of Christ as a necessity. We often see Luke speaking of things Jesus went through as a necessity or necessary. No surprise that He quotes Jesus and Paul in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts speaking in these terms. Jesus, like Paul, studied the Old Testament and drew the conclusion that the Messiah would “have to suffer these things and then enter his glory” (Luke 24:26, NIV). The “have to” of Luke 24:26 translates the same word as Acts 17:3 (NIV), where Paul says the Messiah “had to suffer.”

Ellen White states that Jesus was not alone. The Father was with Him every step of the way. And, so it is with us. Let us read from Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing (TMB) page 71,

The Father's presence encircled Christ, and nothing befell Him but that which infinite love permitted for the blessing of the world. Here was His source of comfort, and it is for us. He who is imbued with the Spirit of Christ abides in Christ. Whatever comes to him comes from the Saviour, who surrounds him with His presence. Nothing can touch him except by the Lord's permission. All our sufferings and sorrows, all our temptations and trials, all our sadness and griefs, all our persecutions and privations, in short, all things work together for good. All experiences and circumstances are God's workmen whereby good is brought to us. (MB 71)

The belief that God would not let us suffer is increasing in popularity, even against all the Biblical proof against that belief. Christ said many times that we would suffer and be persecuted. The issue is will we trust God believing it is in our best interest that we do. Ellen White makes another important statement about this. She says that if we knew the end from the beginning we would choose God’s way. Let us read her statement,

Let God plan for you. As a little child, trust to the guidance of Him who will "keep the feet of His saints." 1 Samuel 2:9. God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him. {MH 479.2}

Next time the thought to ask yourself, “why would God do this to me” or “why did He let this happen,” you have the answer, “it is necessary.” (It is for your sanctification!)