Friday, August 28, 2015

Did Peter know he was wrong?

Did Peter know he was wrong? 

One Sabbath School class was discussing the life of Peter.  Emphasis was given to Peter before conversion and after conversion.  Before conversion, although Peter was boisterous and short tempered, he denied the Lord.  After conversion Peter was the opposite.  After this, they briefly discussed Paul confronting Peter about his prejudice behavior as recorded in Galatians 1.   The teacher then asked the class, "With which Peter do you indentify: the one before conversion or the one after conversion?"  There was murmuring in the class.  Tony, who was sitting in the back raised his hand and said, "I identify with Peter."  The teacher and some of the students turned around and asked him to clarify, "which Peter, the one before conversion or the one after?"  The student referring to the event of Paul confronting Peter, answered, "I identify with Peter in that even though I know, as he knew, that the crowd is wrong, I see myself following them."  The class hushed for a few seconds, and then there was murmuring again.  Tony looked around and saw people nodding.  The teacher sighed, but did not speak.  A sister in front of Tony smiled and nodded at him.  Another sister, walking down the aisle, smiled and touched his arm.  It seemed that many agreed with him.  They saw themselves drifting the wrong way knowingly.  Now, just because many people do this does not make it right? 

Paul found that this was wrong, which is why he confronted Peter.  Did Peter know He was wrong?  He should have.  Peter was present at the Jerusalem Council when it was declared that circumcision was not necessary to salvation and therefore not to be made an issue (Acts 15:1-24).  He had encountered this situation before when God had clearly revealed to him that he was not to consider any one class of people as "common or unclean" (Acts 10:28).  He had even declared that he understood "that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34, 35).  Clear testimony had been borne by the Holy Spirit, the other apostles, and the corporate church body that there was to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and that righteousness is by faith alone in Christ Jesus.  In light of all this, Peter and others withdrew themselves from the uncircumcised Gentile believers.  This discrimination was in effect saying, "Except ye be circumcised... ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).  This action on the part of Peter and the others was not only a denial of the gospel, but it was a virtual denial of Christ.  So, we can conclude that Peter knew better.  But, he allowed himself to be carried away by the influence of the other Jews, "fearing them which were of the circumcision" (Galatians 2:12). Peter's attitude grieved God.  Ellen White says, 

"Even the best of men, if left to themselves, will make grave blunders. The more responsibilities placed upon the human agent, the higher his position to dictate and control, the more mischief he is sure to do in perverting minds and hearts if he does not carefully follow the way of the Lord. At Antioch Peter failed in the principles of integrity. Paul had to withstand his subverting influence face to face. This is recorded that others may profit by it, and that the lesson may be a solemn warning to the men in high places, that they may not fail in integrity, but keep close to principle."—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1108.

 As Ellen White said, this incident should be a solemn warning to us.  We too can fail in integrity and violate the principles laid out by the Gospel.  Even so, Peter should still be an example to us in that he was humble.  The fact that Peter died a martyr for Christ tells us that Peter repented.   In that sense, we should be like Peter after conversion. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

"In Spirit and in Truth"

Here is another look at the Woman at the Well.

"In Spirit and in Truth"

Originally published on  September 4 - 10, 2011

"To be filled you must be emptied" - this may sound like a contradiction but it is true.  The opposite is also true.  To be emptied you must be filled.  Even when a bottle is emptied of liquid, it is still full of air.  If I fill a jug with water, and close the lid tight, the water stays in and the air stays out.  The moment the lid is opened, the water can flow out, but only as long as air can flow in.  Air must displace the water in order for the water to move out of the opening.

Let us say that, for some reason, I want to fill the jug with air.  The lid must be opened to let the water out, or the air cannot come in.  This concept applies in other contexts as well.  For example, to fill a truck with boxes and furniture, the truck must first be emptied of its previous load.  Your stomach needs time to digest one meal before you fill it with another.  The concept then, is that you cannot fill something that is already full.  So it is in the spiritual realm.

St. Augustine once said "We must be emptied of that which fills us, so that we may be filled with that of which we are empty."  Many pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  In order for God to answer this prayer, we must be emptied of self.  But, we cannot do the job ourselves.  

"No man can empty himself of self.  We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work.  The language of the soul will be, Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it.  It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee.  Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self.  Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul.  It is not only at the beginning of the Christian life that this renunciation of self is to be made.  At every advance step heavenward it is to be renewed" (Ellen White, Christ's Object Lessons, page 159, 160).

This idea of being emptied to be filled can be illustrated by the story of the Samaritan woman.  In John 4, Jesus meets her at the well, and asks her for a drink of water.  Surprised by a Jew who would ask a favor of a Samaritan, and a woman at that, she questions Him.  In response, Jesus introduces Himself and His mission by using water as a metaphor for what He has to offer.  Failing to understand, she questions Him again.  His response is in verses 13 and 14 --

"Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."

This woman was all too aware of the moral indiscretions of her past life.  She was empty, and she knew it.  When she believed Christ's revelation of Himself, the Samaritan woman's heart was warmed and filled.  What she thirsted for was not merely water, but a reservoir of spiritual water springing up into everlasting life.  This flowing, filling water which represents the Holy Spirit displaces all the ugliness of self.   Holy Spirit inspired truth, believed and received into the heart, dislodges self from its throne.  We want to worship God in a way that pleases Him.  In order to do this, we must worship in the Holy Spirit.  We want to be filled by Him, and emptied of self.  In His dialogue with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says that genuine believers worship the Father in both Spirit and in Truth.  Are the two things different?

Jesus states in John 14 verses 6 and 17, that both He and the Holy Spirit are truth.  In verse 17, Jesus elaborates further by saying that "the world cannot receive Him (the Spirit of Truth) because the world doesn't see or know Him."  Then Christ says that "we know Him; for He dwells with and in us."  It is in this manner that Jesus equates the Holy Spirit's character and essence with His own. 

Jesus was also called, Emmanuel, God with us.  John 1:14 states that the Word (Jesus) was made flesh, and dwelt among us.  It is the Truth – the Word of God – Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, that displaces the lies of self.

Jesus not only reassured the Samaritan woman that He was the Christ, the long awaited Messiah, but He implanted the seed of Truth and love in her heart.  This seed would later be watered by His blood, and would bear fruit in righteousness.  He made it clear that the Father wants worshippers who will worship by accepting and receiving the Holy Spirit and by believing the Truth.  He was reassuring her and the whole Samaritan nation that the Father would receive them as His children.  After seeing and understanding Christ's death on the cross for them, the believers among them would receive the Holy Spirit as a Guide to lead them into all truth, thus displacing the corrupt self.

We can experience the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit as long as we allow Jesus Christ, the Fountain of Life to be the One who indwells us through that Spirit.  God has promised us an abundance of spiritual water – His truth.  We may believe His promise, ask for His gift, receive and "drink" the refreshing water of life which we find in His Word.  His life then becomes our own.

In the book Desire of Ages, on page 671, Ellen White writes some powerful good news about this topic:

"The Holy Spirit was the highest of all gifts that He could solicit from His Father for the exaltation of His people. The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. The power of evil had been strengthening for centuries, and the submission of men to this satanic captivity was amazing. Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world's Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church."

Let us not reject the highest gift of living water that the Father could bestow on us through Christ.  The very quenching of our thirst depends on it.
--Raul Diaz


Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Most Important Choice

Jesus said His mission was to "seek and save the lost."  We take a look on how choice is involved in Mission.  (Originally published on Friday, December 28, 2007).

The Most Important Choice

According to the Bible the decision to save man was done long before we ever existed. Three passages come to mind on this topic: Ephesians 1:3,4; 2 Timothy 1:8,9; Titus 1:2. Let us read all three verses.
Ephesians 1: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
Ephesians 1: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

2 Timothy 1: 8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;
2 Timothy 1: 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;

These verses all say that the plan of salvation was in existence before the world began. In other words, before this planet existed as man's home, Christ made a choice that He would die for anyone who would sin. Knowing how God works all the particulars of the plan had been designed and decided long before. It was a contingency plan that was put in effect once man sinned. Christ would come as a baby in the likeness of Sinful flesh. Not only would He have to suffer Satan's persecution and punishment, Christ also had to endure God's wrath against Sin. The wages of Sin is eternal death, which meant eternal separation from God; hence the prayer, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46.

Being that God is omniscient, Christ knew what He was getting into. However, in Gethsemane, we find Christ as if trying to find a way out. It is as if the sacrifice was unbearable. Mark describes it in these words,

Mark 14: 33And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;
Mark 14: 34And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.
Mark 14: 35And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
Mark 14: 36And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

Christ, in fact, prayed this three times. The Father seemed to be silent. It seems that although He made the decision to die for fallen man as God, now he had to make it as a man, because to save man he had to endure the wrath of God against transgression as a man (Desire of Ages p. 686). Sister White adds later in the same chapter

Three times has He uttered that prayer. Three times has humanity shrunk from the last, crowning sacrifice. But now the history of the human race comes up before the world's Redeemer. He sees that the transgressors of the law, if left to themselves, must perish. He sees the helplessness of man. He sees the power of sin. The woes and lamentations of a doomed world rise before Him. He beholds its impending fate, and His decision is made. He will save man at any cost to Himself. He accepts His baptism of blood, that through Him perishing millions may gain everlasting life. He has left the courts of heaven, where all is purity, happiness, and glory, to save the one lost sheep, the one world that has fallen by transgression. And He will not turn from His mission. He will become the propitiation of a race that has willed to sin. His prayer now breathes only submission: "If this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done." Desire of Ages p. 692-3

This should not discourage us. Christ, as a man, made the choice to finish the work. Christ successfully and effectively paid the penalty for Sin. Also, no one can say Christ cannot sympathize with suffering and feeling tempted. This makes Him a better High Priest, intercessor and helper. 

What kind of a high priest was Jesus? One who was made like the ones he intercedes for, He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He was One which was tempted in all things as we are, yet never Sinned. He was One who suffered as we suffer - and perhaps even more. Because of this, He can make reconciliation for the Sins of people and is able to succor those who are also tempted. Because of this He can sympathize with us, save us to the uttermost when we come to Him, and live to make intercession for us (Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:15; 7:25). 

Christ made His choice; because of this we are able to make our choice. The choice is very simple; accept His work of intercession and help for you or reject it. I pray that you make the right choice.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Esther and Mordecai

Esther and Mordecai
There was once a child of a wealthy European family that became gravely ill. This family, fortunately, had access to the best medical care in the world, however,  the doctors said they could do nothing for him. The only thing left to do was send the child home to die. Unbeknownst to the parents, employed in their home was a maid who was familiar with holistic remedies, and believed in the God who answers prayer. Seeing the parents anguished state, she sympathetically shared her desire to help and suggested the use of hydrotherapy, dietary changes, and prayer. Feeling that they had nothing to lose, the parents agreed. Initially, progress was slow, and at times they felt as if they were wasting their time. But at the maid's gentle encouragement and under her skilled hands, the child began to improve, and thus the parents allowed her to continue with the treatments. Over the course of a year, their son fully recovered. Filled with gratitude, his mother accepted Christ as her Savior and became a Seventh Day Adventist. His father, however, who was a nominal Catholic, did not. As a result of the religious conflict in his home, the child pursued his own way, but his mother's prayers prevailed. In answer to her prayers, the son not only became a Christian Seventh Day Adventist but preached to thousands of the mercy and love of God. This story serves to illustrate how God used a simple maid whom He placed in an affluent home in order to reach not only an entire family, Yes!,  however, more specifically, a sickly child who one day would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel around the globe. In other words, God used a maid to be a missionary, at the right time, to the Rich, Authoritative, and the Influential.

The idea of reaching this category of the rich, authoritative and influential, is not new, and was dealt with in a previous quarterly, titled, "Making Disciples". For many weeks, the lesson's title was how to "Disciple the …" This was true of all but two categories, the "Rich & Famous" and "the Powerful & Influential."  Thus, the sad and unfortunate impression was given that these groups of individuals are not "disciple-able." The Bible clearly says otherwise and the lesson itself offered several examples of many such who converted to Christianity. In addition, Ellen White in Christ Object Lessons refers to this group as the Highways: the wealthy, the teachers and leaders of the people, and those who are in business and high positions or ranks of society. She continues by saying there is a work to be done for this group. Because they too often trust in their riches and sense no danger, they need to be awakened to their responsibility as those entrusted with the gifts of Heaven.  

Often people in these positions are difficult to reach, not as a result of hard-heartedness, but because they aren't easily accessible, have time constraints and are accustomed to dealing with others based on agendas, hidden or otherwise. 

Interestingly, although this quarter deals with Bible characters being missionaries, thus far the examples of the mission field have been of those who are rich, powerful and influential. This is contrary to our view of mission today. We often only think of the byways and hedges needing missionary work-- those in abject poverty and in dire conditions.  But, in the Bible the first missionaries were sent to the rich and powerful. This week's missionary is no exception.

Thus far, we have studied Abraham, who witnessed to the kings of his day.  We also observed Joseph and Moses witness to the Pharaoh of Egypt as well as the unnamed captive girl of Israel who witnessed about Gods character and that of his prophet Elisha to the wealthy and powerful of Syria.  Jonah, the reluctant prophet-missionary preached a message of destruction for three days in Nineveh, but the King heard the message and repented.  Then, we have Daniel and his three friends, who as part of the Babylonian court witnessed to King Nebuchadnezzar. Furthermore, God also used Daniel to witness to the Medo-Persian Kings: Darius and Cyrus. 

Therefore, it is not surprising that when a crisis arose in the land of Persia, the Lord sent someone to reach King Ahasuerus. This man had in his power the fate of the people who lived in his land. Hence, the importance of reaching him to influence his mind and heart, not only to save the Jewish nation but that the knowledge of the true God would become known. This reveals how much those in power and authority, as well as those surrounding them, need our intercession.
These stories, along with that of Esther and Mordecai reveal that God chooses His missionaries according to His prerogative.  Who would this powerful king listen to? The Lord sent a woman from an enslaved race of people.  God, Himself, orchestrated a way of making her queen. Our lesson states that at the appropriate time… Esther prepared to go before the King, without His having called her – an act that risked her life, as part of a plan to foil Haman's plot. The king admitted her and accepted her invitation to dine. By the Grace of God, Esther was enabled to plead on behalf of her nation.  Ellen White elaborates,

"Through Esther the queen the Lord accomplished a mighty deliverance for His people. At a time when it seemed that no power could save them, Esther and the women associated with her, by fasting and prayer and prompt action, met the issue, and brought salvation to their people…." Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1140.

Ellen White's admonition is to each of us. Most of us will not be called into prominence, but all of us have an important part to act in our humble positions. Besides, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." (Luke 16:10). Those whom God calls into prominence have been faithful in the least. Nevertheless, the words of Mordecai to Esther apply to you, wherever you are, "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Wherever God has you is your mission field whether it is in affluence or in poverty. Only in eternity, will we know the full effect of our collaboration with the Lord.