Friday, September 28, 2012

Growth and Change

Growth and Change

Typically we look at the word growth as positive.  But, there time when growth is negative.  Consider our current economic status.  Many people say that the national debt is growing and also the deficit.  That is typically not good news.  In terms of health, cancer tumors grow in the body.  That is not good growth.  So, when we apply this to the church setting, does it correspond?  Church growth is not always good, especially if the new members are not willing to abide by the doctrinal views of the organization.  That could have adverse consequences. 
Another word that is typically seen as positive is change.  But, change can be negative, too. 

Our lesson says that a church that resists change will not grow and therefore die.  Anything that grow changes, but so does anything that dies.  Consider a plant that is dying.  It may be resisting growth, in terms of expanding the space it occupies and increase its strength.  The moment this happens changes occur that will reveal that it is dying. The color of the leaves changes, they shrivel up and fall.  The stem will most likely bend.  The plant grows when it has water, nutrients and sunlight.  When one of these is missing the plant dies.  All three of these ingredients have a spiritual equivalent in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Without them we die.  Hence, it is important to be connected to where we can receive the resources. 

The question is can a church seem to be alive- it is expanding in numbers and strength - but still dying?  Many churches are like gangrenes and cancers.  They grow but it is nothing more than death taking over the body.  Tumors are often extirpated, and gangrened body part is severed.  The same will happen with those churches. 

In Matthew 7: 21 Jesus said that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven…”  They will beg to get in the Kingdom.  Let us read verses 22 and 23,

Matthew 7:2-23
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?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

They will say to Christ but we did many things in your name.  Christ will probably answer, “You used my name in vain.  Your works were not mine.”  But, we went to church together, we sat in the same pews, we sang from the same hymnals, and red from the same Bible.”  Christ will sill probable say, “You sure it was me?”  They will answer, “Yes, it was.”  Then they will claim the fact that they gave tithes and offerings, served in the Church in different capacities.  Christ will answer, “That money never came to me. And, I do not recall you ever serving.  As, I said, I do not know you.”  They have been severed from the body.

So, whatever these people did was not pleasing to Christ.  Since, without faith it is impossible to please Him(Hebrews 11:6), these church members had no faith, so all they did was Sin; since, whatever is not of faith is Sin (Romans 14: 23).  This means that there will be church administrators, pastors, evangelists, and laity that were hard working and successful in this group.  You can imagine how it will feel to these people to find out that all they did amounted to nothing.  What they thought was a sign of God’s favor, was actually a sign of their rebellion. 

So, those who resist change and those who embrace it can be wrong.  Resisting the right change and embracing the wrong one will have the same dire consequences: eternal death.  I can just imagine the complaints.  “I can see why this one is out.  He was a sinner/legalist.  But, why me? This is not fair!” 

So, who will enter the kingdom?  Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “… he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  We could say that those that did His will pleased Him; this means they lived by faith (Hebrews 11: 6).  Which means that they are just; since the just shall live by faith (Romans 1: 17).  So, a just person is a righteous person.  The word for just in the Greek is the root word for righteousness.  A righteous person is one that performs the law (Romans 2: 13).  But, notice that Abraham believed and he was accounted righteous (Genesis 15: 6).  So, this kind of righteousness – performing the law - comes through believing the word of God.  To believe we must first hear what is said.  And, faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of God (Romans 10: 17). 

This is more than giving ascent to God’s existence.  This kind of faith is dependence on God’s word.  “Man shall live out of every word that comes out God’s mouth” (Matthew 4: 4).  Paul says in Galatians 5: 6 that in Jesus, works avail nothing, but faith which works by love does.  Works of love – self-sacrificing other-centered love – show true faith.  This is what God wants to produce in us.  This is what would please Him.  Will we allow Him to do this in us?

Friday, September 21, 2012



There are two trends in our denomination that has many people puzzled.  One is why our evangelistic efforts are no longer effective; why is it that we cannot bring more people in.  The other trend is that of losing so many people.  In their quest for an answer they blame others.  Pastors blame the laity; the laity blames the Pastors.  They say of each other, “they are not trying hard enough,” or “they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.  A few of them ask themselves, “why did we stop doing things the way we se to do them?  It used to work.” The answer they get is, “it no longer works.” Some even blame the status of our society.  They are too busy for church or God.  People are more interested in shopping and entertainment than they are in spiritual things.  Could it be that the problem is what we preach?  Or could it be the way we preach?  How about the worship service?  Is it a matter of making it interesting; of engaging people more? 

So, many are tempted, as many other denominations have, to use entertainment and marketing techniques to attract and retain people.  They see these large church buildings that can sit thousands of people.  The Church services are full.  The church programs are well attended.  Participation is high. But, in the end very few are truly satisfied.  And, many remain worldly while calling themselves Christians.  So, what shall we do?  Rarely does any one of them look at themselves and ask, “Am I the problem?” 

Let’s take a step back and consider how Jesus worked.  Jesus never tried to fill up a building.  But, He did try to bring all to follow Him.  He was not effective in this.  However, He was effective in bringing the people to a decision.  The decision was many times a sowing of a seed that would germinate later.  Christ never forced nor manipulated anyone to make a choice.  The apostles after Pentecost also were effective in bringing people to a decision.  Why were they effective?  No one will deny that Jesus and the Apostles were the real deal.  They had authenticity.  And, it showed.  Are we authentic? 

Jesus said He finished His work (John 17: 4).  No doubt the Apostles did too.  Since, Christ will not return until the Work is done - the Gospel preached in the whole world (Matthew 24: 14), - it follows that we have not finish our work.  Considering the points made above, are we doing the work at all?  Are we truly preaching the Gospel? And, if we are, are we preaching it the right way? 

In the book of Revelation it says that there will be a generation that will finish the work.  They are described in Revelation 14: 4 – 5, 11.  Let us read,

Revelation 14:4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth…
Revelation 14:5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
Revelation 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

There is another characteristic in Revelation 12: 11.  Let us read,
Revelation 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

I doubt that anyone of us can honestly say that this describes us perfectly.  Yet, it is the kind of authenticity that it will require to finish the work.   It is not only a matter of preaching doctrines.  It is a matter of living them.  And, the only way that can happen is that we let the Holy Spirit dwell in us and transform until Christ is perfectly formed in us.  Ellen White concurs.  She says,

Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation oh Himself in His church.    When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, the He will come to claim them as His own.  (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69)

It could just be that this last generation is the one to preach the Gospel into the whole world.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stand Down

Stand Down

Michelle was about to get married.  So, she asked Tom for advice, since he had been married more than 30 years.  Tom took a long and deep breath before he answered.   He said, “I’ll tell you one thing that has made a difference in my marriage.  If something she does bothers me, before I react I ask myself, ‘Is this something that will bother me all the time or is it just now?  Because, if it bothers me just now, then I need to let it go.  If it is something that will bother me all the time then it is something that needs to be addressed.  You cannot live the rest of you life upset about something.  So, you need to learn to pick your fights.  There are times you need to stand down.”  Tom was in essence saying that there are times you put up with things because if you do not, if you react, the damage caused is more than what you perceive was done to you.

Now to stand down means to withdraw from a state of alert or readiness.  This means more than you stop from pursuing your course of action, which was to harm your opponent; it means that you are not expecting to be provoked.  So, even if provoked you do not react by defending or attacking the assailant.  So, you “put up with” whatever is done against you.  This is akin to what Christ talks about in the Sermon of the mount. 

Matthew 5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
Matthew 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5:40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
Matthew 5:41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Matthew 5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
Matthew 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

To do this consistently and continually is humanly impossible.  But, is Christ admonishing us to do something we cannot do?  That would be unfair.   How can we reconcile this?  It is only when we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and transform us into the likeness of Christ by the renewal of our minds that we can do this - by writing His laws and statutes and in our hearts and mind: essentially giving us a new heart (Romans 12:2 ; Jeremiah 31: 33; Ezekiel 36: 26).  

We have no doubt that this is how Christ lived.  He came in the likeness of Sinful flesh, was tempted in all things as we are (yet sinned not), and conquered Sin in the flesh (Romans 8: 3; Hebrews 4: 15).  Christ was totally and continually dependent on the Father – He only said and did His will (John 5: 30).  And, Scripture says that Christ was full of the Spirit (Luke 4: 1).  The same Spirit also dwells in us, if we allow Him, and gives to us what Christ had.  Thus, we can live as Christ lived.  In fact, we live Christ’s life (Galatians 2: 20).

Paul is saying in 2 Thessalonians 1: 3 - 5 that the Thessalonians lived this way.  Let us read the passage,

 2 Thessalonians 1:3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
 2 Thessalonians 1:4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
 2 Thessalonians 1:5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:

Paul thanked God because the faith and love of the Thessalonians was growing.  This was revealed in how they treated one another, and in the patience they exhibited through all the persecutions and tribulations they endured.  Now, the word for endure in the Greek is anechomai.  It means to endure or to bear.  Based on the context of the use of this word in the New Testament, the closest definition is really the expression: to put up with.  But, in this context it is more then mere tolerance – as we define it: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own; and, the act of allowing something. 

The word anechomai refers more to a God given capacity to endure pain or hardship.   When assailed, you stand down; you know that God is in control.  The love of God, which is spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is not easily provoked, but bears all things (Romans 31 Corinthians 13: 7).  So, God makes you able to bear the attacks or tribulations.  And, they weigh heavy on you, because the person assailing you is not aware of what is at stake.    They either do not know who they are really hurting or do not know the extent of the pain inflicted.  You feel for them, wishing they knew what you know.  This could be the reason why Jesus was able to utter the words, “Father forgive them for they now not what to do” (Luke 23: 34).  When Peter drew his sword to attack the mob, Jesus answered,

Matthew 26:52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
Matthew 26:53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
Matthew 26:54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

In other words, “Stand down; I must endure this to complete my mission.”  So, we can conclude that the Thessalonians were enduring as Christ did.  Are we?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Church Life

Due to extenuating circumstances there will be no commentary this week.  But, here are a few notes borrowed from other authors that I thought may be helpful..

About Leaders (From Tom Cusack)

Our attitude towards our leaders, as well as towards all, is based on the truth that
Jesus Christ died for all, and desires all to repent, to experience an abundant life, and
unity in the body of Christ. While w e hold leaders accountable, we ought more to
intercede in prayer for them, to assist them in their important work, to blend our
spiritual gifts with theirs, and to learn the important lesson of learning to live under
authority, as we are obviously all under the authority of God.
Leaders are to truly lead, to admonish, exhort, to discipline, to make spiritual
decisions, to listen carefully to God, and to maintain the standards and integrity, as
well as bear witness of the Christian Church.
Leaders are to work carefully with people, to study them, to find effective methods, to
“bathe” all that they do in the Gospel and the character of God’s “agape” love.
Leaders are to understand that their work is largely a personal work. Leaders are to
examine themselves, and to keep the goal before them of disciplining people into the
fullness of the Christian experience.
Leaders are to provide ministry to all types of people, because the Gospel is
applicable to all kinds of people. Discouraged people need mild treatment; the weak
and defenseless need support and encouragement. Leaders need to handle
disagreement and criticism in such a way that it reflects that they were rightly
motivated by unselfish love and a deep concern for others.

About Prayer:

Pray without Ceasing

     In the work of heart-keeping we must be instant in prayer, unwearied in petitioning the throne of grace for assistance. Those who take the name of Christian should come to God in earnestness and humility, pleading for help. The Saviour has told us to pray without ceasing. The Christian can not always be in the position of prayer, but his thoughts and desires can always be upward. Our self-confidence would vanish, did we talk less and pray more.  {YI, March 5, 1903 par. 3}
     We give evidence of the sincerity of our prayers by the earnestness of our endeavors to answer them, to overcome the sins which strive for a place in the life. Our prayers will be ineffectual unless we continually strive to correct that which is wrong and unlovely in our lives. If we ask God to work for us, and then make no effort to conquer self, our prayers will rise no higher than our heads. God helps those who co-operate with him. We can obtain forgiveness only through the blood of Christ. His atoning sacrifice is all-powerful. But in the struggle for immortality we have a part to act. Christ will help those who pray and then watch unto prayer. He calls upon us to use every power he has given us in the warfare against sin. We can never be saved in inactivity and idleness. We might as well look for a harvest from seed which we have not sown, and for knowledge where we have not studied, as to expect salvation without making an effort. It is our part to wrestle against the evil tendencies of the natural heart.  {YI, March 5, 1903 par. 4}

About Testing Prophecies:

Beware of False Prophets.-- In these days of peril we are not to accept everything that men bring to us as truth. As professed teachers from God come to us declaring that they have a message from God, it is proper to inquire carefully, How do we know that this is truth? Jesus has told us that "false prophets shall arise and shall deceive many." But we need not be deceived; for the Word of God gives us a test whereby we may know what is truth. The prophet says, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."  {7BC 951.7}
     From this statement it is evident that it becomes us to be diligent Bible students, that we may know what is according the law and the testimony. We are safe in no other course of action. Jesus says, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits" (RH Feb. 23, 1892).

  In these days of delusion, every one who is established in the truth will have to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. Every variety of error will be brought out in the mysterious working of Satan, which would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect, and turn them from the truth. . . .  {7BC 952.1}
     There will be false dreams and false visions, which have some truth, but lead away from the original faith. The Lord has given men a rule by which to detect them: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." If they belittle the law of God, if they pay no heed to His will as revealed in the testimonies of His Spirit, they are deceivers. They are controlled by impulse and impressions which they believe to be from the Holy Spirit and consider more reliable than the Inspired Word. They claim that every thought and feeling is an impression of the Spirit; and when they are reasoned with out of the Scriptures, they declare that they have something more reliable. But while they think that they are led by the Spirit of God, they are in reality following an imagination wrought upon by Satan (BE Sept., 1886).

About Sanctification (From Paul Penno):

What does Paul mean “sanctify you wholly”? (1 Thess. 5:23). Obviously, the initial
experience of conversion or of justification by faith, is good in itself; but it must deepen
and extend throughout the mind and heart until there is no hidden portion that is left
unaffected, uncleansed. This is why sanctification is a daily work of the Holy Spirit,
requiring a daily surrender to Him, until every nook or cranny of the heart is exposed to
the merciless light that shines from the cross of Christ, and every egocentric motivation
is made painfully distinct, so it can be repented of.

From Ellen White:

The Whole Man to Be Sanctified.--The truth must sanctify the whole man--his mind, his thoughts, his heart, his strength. His vital powers will not be consumed upon his own lustful practices. These must be overcome, or they will overcome him (Letter 108, 1898).  {7BC 909.6}
     Clearing Away the Miasma of Sin.--Sanctification--how many understand its full meaning? The mind is befogged by sensual malaria. The thoughts need purifying. What might not men and women have been had they realized that the treatment of the body has everything to do with the vigor and purity of mind and heart.  {7BC 909.7}
     The true Christian obtains an experience which brings holiness. He is without a spot of guilt upon the conscience, or a taint of corruption upon the soul. The spirituality of the law of God, with its limiting principles, is brought into his life. The light of truth irradiates his understanding. A glow of perfect love for the Redeemer clears away the miasma which has interposed between his soul and God. The will of God has become his will, pure, elevated, refined, and sanctified. His countenance reveals the light of heaven. His body is a fit temple for the Holy Spirit. Holiness adorns his character. God can commune with him; for soul and body are in harmony with God (Letter 139, 1898).  {7BC 909.8}

 Jesus asks us to consecrate ourselves to Him. He has placed signal honor upon the human race; for He says, "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." Shall we not, then, give to Christ that which He has died to redeem? If you will do this, He will quicken your conscience, renew your heart, sanctify your affections, purify your thoughts, and set all your powers at work for Him. Every motive and every thought will be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ.  {7BC 909.10}
     Those who are sons of God will represent Christ in character. Their works will be perfumed by the infinite tenderness, compassion, love, and purity of the Son of God. And the more completely mind and body are yielded to the Holy Spirit, the greater will be the fragrance of our offering to Him (RH Nov. 24, 1896).  {7BC 909.11}