Friday, December 30, 2016

Insight:Discipling the Outcast

After the way, Job's friends treated him he must have felt like an outcast.  The following commentary, previously published,  reveals that the Lord has a place in His heart for outcasts, also.  

Discipling the Outcast

As we did last week, we will review the Biblical definition of a disciple, expand on it, and tie it to the kind of people our lesson is focusing on.  Let us, then, review again the Biblical definition of disciple.  We read in Luke 14: 27, 33 that it is someone who bears their cross and forsakes all and follows Him.  We also have read in John 15: 5 - 8 that a disciple is someone that abides in Christ and bears much fruit.  Three weeks ago we added that since a disciple is a follower of Christ they have responded to Christ invitation come unto Him, take His yoke, learned of Him to be humble and meek and found rest (Matthew 11: 28 – 30).  Two weeks ago we added that discipleship is based solely on devotion to Jesus Christ, not on following after a particular belief, doctrine or cause.  Love and service toward others are the natural outcome of obedience to the Jesus.  Last week we added that a disciple is drawn to Jesus; which means that a disciple is attracted to Christ's love and the Cross (Jeremiah 31: 3; John 12: 32 – 33).  This attraction produces in the disciple an attraction to the cross and follows its path.  The disciple lays down his life for others as Christ did for us (1 John 3: 16).  As Paul says in Ephesians,

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour (Ephesians 5:1, 2).

Ellen White states,

We are to follow the example set by Christ, and make Him our pattern, until we shall have the same love for others as He has manifested for us. He seeks to impress us with this profound lesson of love. . . . If your hearts have been given to selfishness, let Christ imbue you with His love.  He has made love the badge of our discipleship. . . . This is the measurement to which you are to reach,—"Love one another; as I have loved you." What height, what depth and breadth of love! This love is not simply to embrace a few favorites, it is to reach to the lowliest and humblest of God's creatures. Jesus says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." . . . {OFC 27.4}

So, will a disciple love the outcasts?  But, who are the outcasts?  And, since the lesson is called discipling the outcast, then how do you make these outcasts followers of Christ?  An outcast is someone rejected by their society or social group.  By rejected we mean ostracized or marginalized.  They are treated like waste or refuse.  Our lesson points out some of those who were outcast in Jesus time: harlots, publicans (tax collectors), adulterous women, and demoniacs.  The privileged classes, like the Pharisees, thought themselves better.  But, Jesus showed them that God loved all men.  Let us read what Ellen G. White said about the Pharisees concerning the publicans,

'The Pharisees beheld Christ sitting and eating with publicans and sinners. He was calm and self-possessed, kind, courteous, and friendly; and while they could not but admire the picture presented, it was so unlike their own course of action, they could not endure the sight. The haughty Pharisees exalted themselves, and disparaged those who had not been blessed with such privileges and light as they themselves had had. They hated and despised the publicans and sinners. Yet in the sight of God their guilt was the greater. Heaven's light was flashing across their pathway, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it"; but they had spurned the gift" (The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1,088.).

Is it that to God some sin is greater than other?  Again from Ellen White,

God does not regard all sins as of equal magnitude; there are degrees of guilt in His estimation,  as well as in that of man; but however trifling this or that wrong act may seem in the eyes of men, no sin is small in the sight of God. Man's judgment is partial, imperfect; but God estimates all things as they really are. The drunkard is despised and is told that his sin will exclude him from heaven; while pride, selfishness, and covetousness too often go unrebuked.  But these are sins that are especially offensive to God; for they are contrary to the benevolence of His character, to that unselfish love which is the very atmosphere of the unfallen universe. He who falls into some of the grosser sins may feel a sense of his shame and poverty and his need of the grace of Christ; but pride feels no need, and so it closes the heart against Christ and the infinite blessings He came to give.  {SC 30.1} 

Because of what Ellen White has stated, to God, pride is the worst of all Sin.  We look at how Christ treated the adulterous woman.  He did not overlook her Sin, but rather forgave her.  He did not intend to condemn her, but to restore her.  Ellen White says,

"In His act of pardoning this woman and encouraging her to live a better life, the character of Jesus shines forth in the beauty of perfect righteousness. While He does not palliate sin, nor lessen the sense of guilt, He seeks not to condemn, but to save. The world had for this erring woman only contempt and scorn; but Jesus speaks words of comfort and hope. The Sinless One pities the weakness of the sinner, and reaches to her a helping hand. While the hypocritical Pharisees denounce, Jesus bids her, "Go, and sin no more." (The Desire of Ages, pp. 460-462).

In being treated with love the former demoniac and the woman at the well became disciples immediately.  They gave witness about the great things Christ had done for them.  As a result of this others believed.  Another quote from Ellen White gives us more insight in this,

"We are saved by hope." Romans 8:24. The fallen must be led to feel that it is not too late for them to be men. Christ honored man with His confidence and thus placed him on his honor. Even those who had fallen the lowest He treated with respect. It was a continual pain to Christ to be brought into contact with enmity, depravity, and impurity; but never did He utter one expression to show that His sensibilities were shocked or His refined tastes offended. Whatever the evil habits, the strong prejudices, or the overbearing passions of human beings, He met them all with pitying tenderness. As we partake of His Spirit, we shall regard all men as brethren, with similar temptations and trials, often falling and struggling to rise again, battling with discouragements and difficulties, craving sympathy and help. Then we shall meet them in such a way as not to discourage or repel them, but to awaken hope in their hearts. (The Ministry of Healing, pp. 164-165).

As we partake of the His Spirit, His love will flow to others.  You will recognize yourself in them.  After all, who has not ever felt rejected, worthless and despondent?  In spite of how you felt, and whether it was warranted or not,  Christ was merciful and loving toward you.  He let you know how much you are worth to Him.  You were bought with a price.  You are not your own (1 Corinthians 6: 19, 20).  He owns you. Deliver yourself to Him.
Raul Diaz

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Character of Job

If Job was "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" of what and why did he repent?  As we read the book, we realize that Job used the pronoun "I" a lot.  Job's experience revealed Job lacked something.  The experience in Job revealed hidden self-righteousness.  Job was willing to let God reprove him and cleanse him of this Sin.  The humility exhibited by Job is what made him, "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil."  The following commentary shows that throughout the Bible God's people have displayed the same humility.  

With the Rich and Famous

Last week I made the mistake of giving a title of the lesson that it did not have.  I called it discipling the outcasts.  The real title was "Jesus and the outcasts."  This week's lesson does not use the verb discipling either.  It is entitled "With the rich and famous."  Omitting the verb discipling is not, I believe, a trivial matter.  Most of the other lessons that talk about categories of people talk about how to make them disciples.  We have covered in the previous weeks the Biblical definition of a disciple, and what it implies.  Can this definition apply to the outcasts, the rich and the famous?  The chosen titles for the lesson seem to be giving an incorrect understanding that these categories of people will not be disciples. 

The woman at the well told everyone about Jesus, so did the man freed from demons (John 4: 28 – 30; Mark 5: 19 – 20).  Then we have Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.  Ellen White says about Nicodemus,

When at last Jesus was lifted up on the cross, Nicodemus remembered the teaching upon Olivet: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." The light from that secret interview illumined the cross upon Calvary, and Nicodemus saw in Jesus the world's Redeemer.  …  After the Lord's ascension, when the disciples were scattered by persecution, Nicodemus came boldly to the front. He employed his wealth in sustaining the infant church that the Jews had expected to be blotted out at the death of Christ. In the time of peril he who had been so cautious and questioning was firm as a rock, encouraging the faith of the disciples, and furnishing means to carry forward the work of the gospel. He was scorned and persecuted by those who had paid him reverence in other days. He became poor in this world's goods; yet he faltered not in the faith which had its beginning in that night conference with Jesus.  {DA 177}

Nicodemus became a disciple of Christ in all the sense of the word.  Now, we need to make sure we understand that although the words of Christ to the woman at the well were different from the words to Nicodemus, they are in essence the same concept.  Christ used words that each of His listeners would understand.  The woman at the well understood the Gospel from the perspective of Living water.  Nicodemus understood the Gospel from the perspective of being born again and light versus darkness.  These two metaphors are not that non-relatable.  Fetuses are in darkness in the womb: once born they are exposed to the light. 

Once born, the fetus cannot go back in.  Imagine a fetus that could rationally think about setting goals and planning for the tenth month in the womb.  Then all of the sudden this baby is born.  Whatever goals and plans the baby had will never be.  It is a new world.  It is a new life.  New goals and plans must be set and made for the new life.  Such is the new birth experience.  The life in the womb represents, in this metaphor, the life of the flesh.  The life outside the womb is the life in the Spirit. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The problem with many of us is that we refuse to leave the womb.  It is warm, cozy, and comfortable – like the Shunamite's room when her lover comes knocking (Songs 5: 1 – 3).  We like its darkness.  Consider what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3,

John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
John 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
John 3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
John 3:21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. 

The problem of Nicodemus is the problem with Laodicea.  It prefers to live in deception. It prefers its spiritual blindness.  "If I cannot see it, I do not have to deal with it.  I do not know. Therefore, I should not be held accountable."  If a man is diagnosed with cancer and refuses to know what he has, the disease with still kill him.  Choosing to hear the diagnosis, and undergo the treatment of the condition could prevent the man's death.  What is the problem with Laodicea?

Revelation 3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
Revelation 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
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:

Like Nicodemus, Laodicea is living comfortably in its delusion, unaware of its true condition and how it makes God feels.  God wants so much to heal Laodicea. We read God's plea on the following verses,  

 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.
Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This message is akin to the young rich ruler.  "You think you have all that, but you lack one thing.  Therefore sell all you have, and give it to the poor, and follow me."  It is a call to discipleship.  We are Nicodemus.  We are the young rich ruler.  Christ's plea to them is His plea to us.  

Raul Diaz

Friday, December 16, 2016

Job's Redeemer

Christ, Our Sacrifice

Two aspects of sacrifice shine out in the lesson: the death and the blood.  The sanctuary had three compartments. In each of them, something happened that pointed to Christ as a sacrifice.  Let enumerate them,

1.       Outer court – Passover (from an article in Wikipedia - )

a.       The killing took place in the court of the Temple at Jerusalem.  The killing might be performed by a layman, although the blood had to be caught by a priest.  Rows of priests with gold or silver cups in their hands stood in line from the Temple court to the altar, where the blood was sprinkled.

b.      These cups were rounded on the bottom so that they could not be set down; for, in that case, the blood might coagulate.

c.       The priest who caught the blood as it dropped from the victim then handed the cup to the priest next to him, receiving from him an empty one and the full cup was passed along the line until it reached the last priest, who sprinkled its contents on the altar. The lamb was then hung upon special hooks or sticks and skinned; but if the eve of the Passover fell on a Sabbath, the skin was removed down to the breast only.

d.      The abdomen was then cut open, and the fatty portions intended for the altar were taken out, placed in a vessel, salted, and offered by the priest on the altar, while the remaining entrails likewise were taken out and cleansed.

e.      The family would take their lamb home to roast it and eat it according to God's ordinance. 


2.       Outer court and Holy Place -  Daily sacrifice

a.       In this sacrifice, te priest took the blood in the Holy Place to sprinkle it there.

3.       Outer court and Most Holy Place – day of atonement

a.       In this sacrifice, the High Priest took the blood into the Most Holy Place. 

In summation, in each event, an animal was killed, and blood was shed and sprinkled in a particular part of the sanctuary.   Let us look now at the killing of the animal.

I.                    The death

Each of these sacrifices prefigures Christ.  They were a representation of what Christ would accomplish at the Cross.  He is the Lamb that was slain from the beginning to take away the sin of the World (Revelation 13:8).  How did He take Sin away?

"He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24, NASB).

This verse is a reference to Isaiah 53.  Here are some excerpts,
Isa 53:4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…
Isa 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Isa 53:6 … and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isa 53:7 … he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, …
Isa 53:8 … he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken…
Isa 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, …
Isa 53:11 … by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
 "Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. 'With His stripes we are healed.'"—The Desire of Ages, p. 25.

It was an exchange: the priceless for the worthless.   Christ died so that we would live.  Ellen White says,

"Nothing less than the death of Christ could make His love efficacious for us. It is only because of His death that we can look with joy to His second coming. His sacrifice is the center of our hope. Upon this we must fix our faith."—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 660.

Simply, for humanity to be saved Jesus had to die.  There was no other way.  Paul says,

Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
Christ's death reconciles to God.  Paul says in Rom 5:10, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, …" We are reconciled to live with him.  Let us read Romans
Rom 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Rom 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Rom 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Notice the language: baptize into Jesus, buried with Him, planted together…We were in Him, when he died and resurrected.  And, now we are in Heavenly places in Him (Ephesians 2: 6). 
II.                  The Blood
Genesis 9: 4, Leviticus 17: 11, and Deuteronomy 12: 23 says that the life is in the blood.  Therefore any reference to blood signifies life.  When Jesus says on Mar 14:24 "… This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many," it is His life he is pouring.  We read in Hebrews 9,
Heb 9:12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
Heb 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Heb 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
Understanding then that the blood is a reference to the life of Jesus which accomplishes our redemption, let us read the following quote from Ellen White,
The law requires righteousness,--a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can "be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Romans 3:26. {DA 762.2}
Let us then allow for His blood to cleanses us, to purge our Sin away, to transform our minds and hearts after the similitude of Christ.

Raul Diaz

Friday, December 09, 2016

"Out of the Whirlwind"

God answers to Job from God's account of creation.  For Job, who we assume knew much less of science than we do, with all our advancement, the answer sufficed.  But, today, the study if nature and science have helped to lead many away from God.  Our lesson uses a quote to address this issue.  Let us read it,

"Alfred North Whitehead, an influential mathematician and author who lived in the previous century, said the following: "Fifty-seven years ago it was when I was a young man in the University of Cambridge. I was taught science and mathematics by brilliant men and I did well in them; since the turn of the century I have lived to see every one of the basic assumptions of both set aside. . . . And yet, in the face of that, the discoverers of the new hypotheses in science are declaring, 'Now at last, we have certitude.' "—A. N. Whitehead, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead. What should this tell us about how careful we need to be in accepting what the world's "great men" teach us, especially when what they teach blatantly contradicts God's Word?"

Ellen White warns of the grave danger of abandoning basic biblical beliefs about creation,

"God has permitted a flood of light to be poured upon the world in both science and art; but when professedly scientific men treat upon these subjects from a merely human point of view, they will assuredly come to wrong conclusions. It may be innocent to speculate beyond what God's word has revealed, if our theories do not contradict facts found in the Scriptures; but those who leave the word of God, and seek to account for His created works upon scientific principles, are drifting without chart or compass upon an unknown ocean. The greatest minds, if not guided by the word of God in their research, become bewildered in their attempts to trace the relations of science and revelation. Because the Creator and His works are so far beyond their comprehension that they are unable to explain them by natural laws, they regard Bible history as unreliable. Those who doubt the reliability of the records of the Old and New Testaments, will be led to go a step further, and doubt the existence of God; and then, having lost their anchor, they are left to beat about upon the rocks of infidelity." — Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 113.

The following commentary addresses how subtle it is to forsake Biblical facts.  And, how far from truth will this departure take us.

A Degree Off the Path

 If you are 1 degree off the route to your intended destination how far off would you be if the destination is 1000 miles away?  For a precise answer, we would have to use mathematics, but a rough rule of thumb is "the rule of 1 in 60" which says that each degree of variance in heading will result in being one mile off for each 60 miles out.  That would be about 92 feet for every mile; which is not a lot considering.  However, the farther you go the distance away from your destination is greater. 

 For instance, if you were 2 degrees off heading (assuming no wind conditions), you would be 2 miles off at 60 miles out, or 4 miles off at 120 miles out, and so forth.  For the question above, if you divide 1000 by 60, you find yourself 16.7 miles off at 1000 miles out for each degree you were off.

 For a more accurate result, use the formula for the circumference of a circle (Pi times the diameter). So, if your "circle" has a radius of 1000 miles, it has a diameter of 2000 miles. Multiply that by 3.14 and divide the result (6280) by 360 degrees and you find that each degree at that distance would equal approximately 17.4 miles off.  Our "rule of 1 in 60" gave us 16.7.  However, there is a difference between 92 feet for a mile and 17 miles for 1,000 miles.

 A flight from Tokyo to Chicago is a 6, 313 miles.  Following the math, if you're off 1 degree off the flight path, you would be off approximately 113 miles. That is you would probably end up in further south in Illinois or further north in Wisconsin.  All this while still thinking you are headed to Chicago.  Of course, the more degrees you're off, the farther you are from the intended destination. 

 This can be applied spiritually.  Very rarely those who apostatize reject God outright.  What they go through is a gradual process of syncretism.  They mix beliefs and practices of other religions with their own.  At first, it is something subtle and seemingly innocent.  This subtle mix opens the door to more heresy and falsehood.  It may take months or years to realize how far you are from the truth.  Ellen White speaks of this works, 

 "What astonishing deception and fearful blindness had, like a dark cloud, covered Israel!  This blindness and apostasy had not closed about them suddenly; it had come upon them gradually as they had not heeded the word of reproof and warning which the Lord had sent to them because of their pride and their sins. " (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, pg. 280).

 Israel had been blind to this perversion of truth, so compromise came easily. Content to allow an "alternative" worship style, Israel saw nothing wrong with the worship of God and the worship of Baal co-existing.  The people of Israel still thought they were worshipping God.  This confusion would explain why Elijah asked the people,

 1Ki18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

 The people could not discern the difference.  And, it took Elijah to point it out.  He came to weed out truth from error.  John the Baptist had a similar mission.  The spiritual darkness in Jesus time was intense.    People did not now truth from error, John the Baptist came to correct them; which is why Christ referred to John as the Elijah of His time (Matthew 17: 11 -13).  Christ was referring to Malachi's prophecy,

 Mal4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
Mal4:6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

 In our day we also suffer from the same maladies of the past.  Ellen White says,

 "The apostasy prevailing today is similar to that which in the prophet's day overspread Israel" (Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 170). 
"Baal, Baal, is the choice. The religion of many among us will be the religion of apostate Israel, because they love their own way, and forsake the way of the Lord" (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 467, 468).

 Compromise is rampant.  Again, it starts subtly, with seemingly innocent things.  And, it is mostly attributed to styles of worship.  How many conservative churches now have praise teams?  How many conservative churches are removing their wooden lectern and replacing with the Plexiglas lecterns.  All these are subtle compromises, seemingly innocent.  But, they open the door to even more heresy.  While it is true that God may not have a preference: 1. for how many people lead in the singing, and 2. whether the lectern is wood or Plexiglas, He does try to warn us to prevent us from going in a direction that leads us far away from Him.  Discernment is much needed, for spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14); this is something the Spirit of Elijah will bring.  

Raul Diaz

Friday, December 02, 2016

Elihu—Friend or Foe?

Years ago I read the book of Job and was impressed with several things.
1.  It is a story.  And, we should read it as such.  It has a plot with a crisis and a solution.  
2.  The story wants to answer the question: why did this happen to Job?   Every character seems to think they have an answer to the question.  
3.  Most of the story is a lengthy conversation.  We should note who says what.  What is their reasoning?  
4.  Did Job ever credit God for his righteousness?  Not once do we hear Job crediting God.  As much as Job loved the Lord, he was self-righteous; this was Elihu's point.  
5. The question, "why did this happen to Job?" is answered.  Ellen G. White talks about this,
"The trials of life are God's workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our character. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only His precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace."—Ellen G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 10.

Following are James Rafferty's thoughts on Elihu.  I pray the will enlighten our minds as we read.

Lessons from the book of Job
Elihu—Friend or Foe?
Elihu exemplifies one of the major reasons why we might not listen to what someone has to say about God. Young and obscure, Elihu presents a testimony that carries little weight among many intellectual greats. This may be one reason why God has employed farmers, shepherds, fishermen and even children (the child Samuel) as messengers of inspired truth. Heaven has a way of placing truth beyond the ken of intellectual pride.
Yet even if God speaks to us through a little child, or perhaps a donkey, He always gives us enough evidence to discern His voice. In the case of Elihu there is more than enough evidence to recognize this young man as heaven sent.
Elihu is not out to terrorize Job or overwhelm him with guilt. He assures Job that he, too, is only a vessel of clay (Job 33:6-7). 
Instead of condemning Job, he desires to justify or clear him (Job 33:32).
He does not use the same words Jobs three friends did; accusing Job of secret sins or assuming that Job's suffering proves his guilt (Job 32:14).
Elihu's approach is identical to God's. They both assert that, at times, Job had spoken without wisdom and knowledge (Job 34:35; 35:16; 38:2). Both affirm that Job has sought to "rebuke God," "annul His judgment" and "condemn" Him; that Job had "justified himself rather than God" (Job 32:2; 40:2, 8).
Elihu also introduces, in chapter 37, the same mysteries that God picks up with in chapter 38, the marvels of creation.
We should also remember that while God rebukes Job's three friends, He does not rebuke Elihu or group him with the other three (Job 42:7).
Elihu claims to be filled with the spirit of God and to speak in God's behalf, which is proved true when we compare his words with God's as noted in the previous references (Job 32:8, 36:2, 3).
Elihu is also never rebuked by Job, like his three friends were. Even when Job is given opportunity to speak, Elihu does not hear a cross word from him (Job 33:5, 32, 33).
In addition, Job repents of the very mistake both Elihu and God had brought to his attention—speaking words without knowledge (Job 42:3).
A final indication that Elihu is speaking for God is his theology, which is extraordinary, especially as it unfolds in chapters 34 and 35.
Job himself seems impressed with the compassionate entreaty of this young man, for he does not answer him. The empathy and sincerity of Elihu, his words of correction mingled with love, were perhaps a balm to Job compared to the accusations of the others. Some of this young man's thoughts may even remind Job of his own arguments and the light that had brought hope to his own soul. Elihu's picture of God is definitely different from the three friends.
If we have a problem some of the words Elihu spoke to Job, we may need to reconsider what God said to Job:
"Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 'Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said: 'Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it. Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?'" (Job 38:1, 2; 40:1, 2, 8).
How does Job respond to the stern rebukes from God? He repents, affirming not only the words of God and Elihu, but also reminding us why Job was called a "blameless" man in the first place (Job 1:1).
James Rafferty

Raul Diaz

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Best Thing That Happened

God is good.  This means that everything He does is good.  When Job said that even if God killed him, he wouold trust God, it is possible that Job meant that the worst that could happen, if done by God it was the brst thing that could happen.  The following commentary, previously published, adresses this subject.

The Best Thing That Happened

When asked, "what's the best thing that ever happened to you?" how would you respond? After pondering for a time, some of you may answer, when I got this job", or when I got together with my new boyfriend (or girlfriend)." Others of you reading this might answer, "when I got married," "had my baby," or even "when I went on this fabulous trip." Answers that sound negative such as "when I had this accident," or "when I went through this particular trial" aren't going to be too forthcoming are they? Although, you may recognize that a period of trial facilitated the greatest period of growth in your life, it is unlikely that you would characterize that experience as "the best thing" that ever happened to you. Let's say that retrospectively you're aware that what was intended for evil ended up being for good in your life, and perhaps you've even observed that it boded well for the lives of others. Still, even then, it can be difficult to accept that negative trial (or trials) as the best thing that could have happened to you. You might see it as beneficial-- yes, but as good--no way. Are you then likely to see it as the best thing that could have happened? Sadly, it's unlikely. Why? It is our human nature to see things as they are temporally, not as what they are spiritually.  

Here's an example for you. A man slides on a patch of ice, fall on his knee and fractures it.  The injury from the fall leads to the discovery of a tumor on this man's knee cap.  An imprisoned family is plagued with lice.  This lice plague, in turn, kept the prison guards away from them.  The worse that could happen became the best thing.

For the disciples, the worst thing that could ever happen was that Jesus would be put to death by the ruling powers. His impending death was unfathomable to them. The subject was so frightening, that whenever Jesus spoke concerning it, they quarreled with each other about who would be the greatest in His (temporal) kingdom.  Their sizeable fears were activated at the prospect that never would their fondest dreams or goals for themselves or their nation be reached. Ultimately, Christ's death engaged even their doubts about His Messiahship. Christ had said to them to prepare them, "it's good for you that I go away, so you may receive the comforter (John 16:7)." Can you imagine being told that what you least want is best for you? Can you imagine what the disciples must have thought of Him? And yet, it was good that Christ die.  It was good that He go away. Sometimes the thing that we believe is the worst thing that could happen is the best that could happen.

The disciples did not understand that Christ's death "as the lamb slain" had been determined "from the foundation of the world." They did not understand the will of the Father, the scope, and nature of sin, nor its cure. Without the death of Jesus we would neither have communion with the Father and the Spirit, nor Salvation, nor the hope of the resurrection and life anew. In I Cor. 15:14-22, Paul elaborates on the concept of the validity of the resurrection, and what would occur if it were untrue.

I Corinthians 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
I Corinthians 15:15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we
have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
I Corinthians 15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
I Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
I Corinthians 15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
I Corinthians 15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
I Corinthians 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
I Corinthians 15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
I Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Here Paul is saying that if Christ did not rise, our faith, preaching, the testimony of Him, and hope of life in Christ is futile. Worst of all, we are still in our sins, and all we have to look forward to is the second death which is the wage of sin. But thanks be to God who gave us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ (II Cor. 15:54). As Sister White says, "Christ has conquered death, and led captivity captive. Men had looked upon death as a terrible thing; they had looked to the future with foreboding; but the resurrection of Christ from the dead changed the aspect of death" (E. G. White Notes, page 66). Friends, since Christ died and was resurrected our hope is real. Not only can we rise to life anew, but so can those whom we love who have died or will die in the Lord.

You know, Christ's death and resurrection gave us so much more than can be imagined. First, we can receive the Holy Spirit who will tell us of the future, guide us, teach and remind us of all things, convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7, 8, 13). Second, according to Hebrews 4:14 -16, we have intercession through Christ's mediation in the heavenly Sanctuary by Christ Himself who has been tempted in all points as we are yet, did not sin. Third, we have a home in a heavenly mansion with the Godhead, the heavenly host, and the 24 elders (John 14:1-3). And last, but not least we don't have to live a life of sin. Sin does not have to have power over us, for Objectively, our human nature was corporately in Christ and when He died to sin, so did we. Subjectively, when we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we are baptized into His death to sin. Subsequently, we are raised to life from the dead (dead in trespasses and sins-- Eph. 2:1, 5) like as Christ was raised up from the dead. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from (the power, presence, and condemnation of) sin. For the wages of Sin is death, but the Gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:3-7, 23). Thank God for such a wonderful Saviour.  

Yes, sometimes the worst thing that could ever happen ends up being our choicest blessing. The Lord has said through His servant Paul in Romans 8:28, and Isaiah in Isaiah 29:11 respectively, 
" For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose".
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." 

Friends, many good promises, and experiences in righteousness have come to us through Christ's death, should we trample under foot this beautiful gift He's given us?

Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

Raul Diaz

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Issue of Vanity

Have you noticed how much Job used the pronoun I in his defense of himself.  He gave himself the credit that belonged to God.   Although sincere, Job had some vanity in his character.  The Lord used Job's suffering to pull the vanity out of Him.   The following commentary addresses this issue.

The Issue of Vanity

In January 1973 Singer-songwriter Carly Simon had a big hit on the radio, with the song, "You're So Vain." The song is about a broken hearted woman telling this man about how she feels about their relationship and him. The refrain goes like this:

"You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't you?"

According to the singer, the man believes himself the center of the universe. So much, that she thinks he would think the song is about him. Vain people are conceited, thinking themselves better than others, and thinking that without their presence or input things would not happen.

In the dictionary, the word vain means: overly proud of oneself, especially when concerning appearance, and or egotistical. Other definitions include: having little substance, pointless, futile, and useless. So the word vain does not only refer to people but things or actions. People talk about vain calories or doing something in vain, etc. Vanity is the quality or condition of being vain. Someone vain has vanity. Pursuing vain actions are considered vanity.

As the lesson says, the word translated as vanity from the Hebrew in Ecclesiastes is "hebel." Hebel means vapor, smoke or breath. Ecclesiastes 12:8 says, "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity." It is no wonder the translators of the Bible decided to use vanity in this case. You see, smoke, breath, and vapor are related to air. And, we call anything this is full of air: empty. And empty is one definition of vanity. Although air or any gas state is matter - it has weight - it has no form. Also, air moves around. When we say something is full with something solid or liquid, It is because it is visible, and the likelihood of being the same matter again when we return to look at it is a lot higher than if it was just air. We can touch it. We can distinguish Smoke, breath, or vapor from the air, but we cannot touch it, and it will probably dissipate eventually, as it spread through the air.

Another aspect of this analogy is brevity. Smoke, breath, and vapor dissipate through the air pretty quickly. Sometimes slower than others, however, it will not stay forever. And, once it dissipates it will seem that it was never there. You may see it now, but in a few moments it will disappear and perhaps forever, and no one will remember it.

Lastly, is the issue of insignificance and meaninglessness. As long as the breath, smoke or vapor is concentrated in the same spot, there may have an impact and maybe a significant one. However, once dissipated, its presence will be insignificant if compared with the rest of the contents of air.

A vain person is proud of something that will disappear, in a short time, and in the end, will not matter. A vain pursuit is about is the same way. It will not accomplish for you the fulfillment you desired, in fact, this false achievement will not last long, and you will feel you wasted your time and effort; this is what the preacher was saying. The things of this world disappear, in a short period, and in the end, it will not matter that we pursued them and whether we succeed or not. Very few will remember.

How does this happen? And can we prevent it from happening? The following three passages from the book of Matthew quote Jesus answering question. Let us read,

Matthew 6:19-21
Matthew 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
Matthew 6:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:33
Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 16:26
Matthew 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

What this world has to offer will be corrupted or stolen, and will lead to eternal death. What God has to offer can not be damaged or stolen, and leads to a righteous life, and eternal life in the Kingdom of God. A life of disobedience, refusing to listen to God is vanity. A life of a continual choosing to hear God's voice and heeding to His leading is profitable. Which one you choose is up to you.

Raul Diaz

Raul Diaz

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Grace of God Stands On the Edge of the Coin

The Grace of God Stands On the Edge of the Coin
Jargon is the vocabulary of a specialty.    It is the set of words that are used to talk about what they do within that field of specialty, also their tools, etc.  Take coin collector's for example, a person who studies and collects coins is a numismatist.  While we have never seen a tail on the back of a coin most coins do have a head. We call the head side the obverse, and the another side is the reverse.  Coins also have, among other things: rims, legends, fields, motto, mint mark, and edges.  The edge of the coin is the side edge. 
An old friend used a coin as an example to illustrate the Great Controversy.  He said, "The devil thought he had God on a 'Checkmate' when man sin.  He thought, 'if God kills man – according to the requirement of the Law - then He is just but not loving.  If on the contrary, God forgives man, then He does not follow His Law.'  Let's say that on the obverse of the coin is love and mercy and on the reverse of the coin are the law and justice.  When man sins, the coin is tossed in the air.  The Devil knew it had to be 'head or tail,' but to his surprise, the coin fell on the edge.  And, the coin has remained standing on its edge ever since." 
From the beginning of the world, God found a way to save man if man sinned.  John the Revelator says that the Lamb was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).  So, "As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour. Christ knew that He would have to suffer, yet He became man's substitute. As soon as Adam sinned, the Son of God presented Himself as surety for the human race."  Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 1084. God, out of His great love for His creation, decided not to let man die even if it meant to perish Himself.  So, in Christ, as the psalmist wrote, "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10). 
The Father sent Christ to die for the World (John 3:16).  In this act, He shows love for mankind while at the same time keeping the requirements of the law.  Romans 6:23 declares that the wages of sin is death, and Hebrews 9:22 tells us that there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.  Christ fulfilled all of this.  All we need to be saved is fulfilled in Christ.  It is ours for the taking.  So now we are "…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" Romans 3:24.  Paul adds in Romans 5,
Romans 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
Romans 5:15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
Romans 5:16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
We further know salvation is by grace, because "… God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8 KJV).   Christ did not wait for us to decision toward Him to die for us.  While we were sinners in enmity toward Him, God poured out heaven to save us.  Now, as we look at the cross and know its meaning and cost, we make a decision.  How do we respond to God's grace?  Are we grateful or are we unmoved by it?  The coin is about to fall on the reverse (tail) where God's justice and law are.  But, do not let fear motivate you.  God's grace comes out of His perfect love.    "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).  Let the cross fill you with God's perfect love, before it is too late.
Raul Diaz

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Cosmic Conflict Over God’s Character

This commentary was originally posted in 2013.  It speaks of how what we believe is the character of God affects our actions.  Eliphaz probably had an incorrect understanding of the character of God.  So, do many of us.

The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character

In Matthew 25: 14 – 30, we find the Parable of the talents.  We read that two of the servants improved on what the master gave to them.  In contrast, the last servant hid the talent and did not improve on it.  This man based his action on what he thought of the Master,

Mat 25:24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
Mat 25:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

We could imply that the other two servants thought the opposite of their master.  Ellen White seems to tell us that Eve had a similar problem, 

The tempter intimated that the divine warning was not to be actually fulfilled; it was designed merely to intimidate them. . . .  {CC 15.5}  
            Such has been Satan's work from the days of Adam to the present, and he has pursued it with great success. He tempts men to distrust God's love and to doubt His wisdom. He is constantly seeking to excite a spirit of irreverent curiosity, a restless, inquisitive desire to penetrate the secrets of divine wisdom and power. In their efforts to search out what God has been pleased to withhold, multitudes overlook the truths which He has revealed, and which are essential to salvation. . . .  {CC 15.6}
Eve really believed the words of Satan, but her belief did not save her from the penalty of sin. She disbelieved the words of God, and this was what led to her fall. In the judgment men will not be condemned because they conscientiously believed a lie, but because they did not believe the truth, because they neglected the opportunity of learning what is truth.  {CC 15.7}

Eve doubted God's integrity.  She judged God's character incorrectly.  This belief is what provoked her downfall.  She now needed to restore her trust In God.  

Did you notice that Ellen White says that Eve's experience applies to all men?  What lies are people choosing to believe that leads them away from believing God? We read from Ellen White,

In the opening of the great controversy, Satan had declared that the law of God could not be obeyed, that justice was inconsistent with mercy, and that, should the law be broken, it would be impossible for the sinner to be pardoned. Every sin must meet its punishment, urged Satan; and if God should remit the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice. When men broke the law of God, and defied His will, Satan exulted. It was proved, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed; man could not be forgiven. Because he, after his rebellion, had been banished from heaven, Satan claimed that the human race must be forever shut out from God's favor. God could not be just, he urged, and yet show mercy to the sinner. {DA 761.4}

Our lesson has made it clear throughout the quarterly that this is what our denomination believes: Sin must be punished.  And, it is God who must punish it.  Is it not disturbing that SDA's believe what Satan says of God?  

If this is what we believe, then we believe that something must be done to avoid the punishment.  God must be appeased.  This belief is the core idea of every pagan religion.  It is because of this belief that they practiced sacrifices.  Only "the smell the blood" would appease the angry god.  Christians have adopted this understanding of God.  Christians understand that "Christ died to reconcile the Father unto us."  You will find no such thought anywhere in the Bible.  The Bible is very clear,

2 Corinthians 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

We read in John 3: 16 that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son – the Lamb slain from the beginning of the World to away its Sin (Revelation 13: 8, John 1: 29). It was the Father Who wanted – and still wants - to be reconciled to us.  We read from Romans,

Romans 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

In Christ, while we still saw God as the enemy, we were reconciled to God and not God to us.  Christ says in John 14,

John 14:7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
John 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
John 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

Many read the story of Jesus and realize that their concept of God differs from Jesus.  Jesus Himself tells us that He and the Father are One.  Jesus is a prefect representation of His Father.  Any concept of God that differs from Jesus is wrong.  Ellen White says, 

There stood in the world One who was a perfect representative of the Father, One whose character and practices refuted Satan's misrepresentation of God. Satan had charged upon God the attributes He himself possessed. Now in Christ he saw God revealed in His true character—a compassionate, merciful Father, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Him in repentance, and have eternal life. (1 SM, p. 254).

A good surgeon cuts into the body of its ill patient (thus inflicting pain), not to punish the patient for having a harmful health condition, but to get rid of what is ailing the patient.  God intervenes in our life not to punish us, but to get rid of the Sin which will kill us otherwise.  Those whom He loves, He chastens.  "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (Hebrews 12:11).  "…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Raul Diaz

Friday, October 28, 2016

Johnny Lingo and the Ten Cow Wife

In Job 7 we find Job crying out:
Job 7:17–21
17    "What is man, that You should exalt him,
That You should set Your heart on him,
18    That You should visit him every morning,
And test him every moment?

The Psalmist must have borrowed from Job when He sang in Psalm 8
Psalm 8:4–6,
4    What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5    For You have made him a little lower than 4the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
6    You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,

We also read in PSALM 144: 3 - 4,
3    Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?
4    Man is like a breath;
His days are like a passing shadow.

The following commentary tries to answer that question.  Let us read on.

Johnny Lingo and the Ten Cow Wife

Johnny Lingo wanted to get married.  So, he went to his native Island of Kiniwata to find a wife.  Now, the custom of his people was to trade in cows (a precious commodity there) for the bride.  Typically two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one. Johnny Lingo traded ten for his (some renditions of the story say eight cows).   Everyone thought Johnny Lingo was crazy.   In the eyes of Kiniwatans, Sarita – Johnny's bride - was barely worth one cow.  A local man described her in these words, 

"It would be kindness to call her plain. She was little and skinny with no--ah--endowments. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked, as if she was trying to hide behind herself. Her cheeks had no color, her eyes never opened beyond a slit and her hair was a tangled mop half over her face. She was scared of her own shadow, frightened by her own voice. She was afraid to laugh in public. She never romped with the girls, so how could she attract the boys?"
No one knew of Johnny and Sarita since the nuptials.  A young man, who was also interested in getting married, was told the story.  Intrigued by the story and with time in his hands, he decided to find out by himself.  He sailed to Narabundi where Johnny and Sarita lived.  He found Johnny and related to Johnny the reason for his visit.  Johnny confirmed the story.  As they talked one of the most beautiful and elegant women, he had ever seen walked into the room with flowers.  He described her with the following words,
"And then I saw her. Through the glass-beaded portieres that simmered in the archway, I watched her enter the adjoining room to place a bowl of blossoms on the dining table. She stood still a moment to smile with sweet gravity at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Not with the beauty of the girl who carries fruit. That now seemed cheap, common, earthbound. This girl had an ethereal loveliness that was at the same time from the heart of nature. The dew-fresh flowers with which she'd pinned back her lustrous black hair accented the glow of her cheeks. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a dignity to which no one could deny her the right. And as she turned to leave she moved with the grace that made her look like a queen who might, with enchantment, turn into a kitten."

Before the man could say anything, Johnny said "This is my Sarita.  My ten cow wife.  She has changed a lot.  Part of which is the result of knowing she is a ten cow wife.  She has no need to worry when other women compare themselves by how much they cost.  She cost more than any of them.  To many she was not worth one cow and she believed that also.  But, I loved her and not any other.  I wanted to marry her.  You see, I always wanted a ten cow wife." 

The issue was not whether Sarita was intrinsically worth the ten cows; the issue was that Sarita was worth ten cows to Johnny.  Christ's church is His bride.  Paul says that "…ye are bought with a price…" (1Corinthians 6:20).  Is she intrinsically worth the price Christ paid for her?  Not really.  Revelation 3: 15 – 17 tells us our true condition, 

Revelation 3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
Revelation 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
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:

The Psalmist says "For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14). 

There is nothing in us worth pursuing.  But, Christ sought us. Why? God loves us.  God's special love, agape, is not created by the value of its object. Since God is love, God loved His creation, and in love created value in it. Humans pervert God's love because we are born self-centered. We have trouble loving ugly or disagreeable people. We call them "unlovely."  But, we are all unlovely.  And, in spite of that God loves us.  How much did God love? We see in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  

How did Christ pay for His bride?  Peter gives us the answer, 

1Peter 1:18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
1Peter 1:19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

 The verb to redeem means to buy or pay off; clear by payment, to buy back.  Christ bought us with the price of His blood.  Sarita seemed grateful to Johnny, and it showed.  Are we grateful to God for the price He paid for us?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sabbath School Lesson # 4 |"God and Human Suffering"

Faith versus money

Faith versus money

The word was out. A particular prison was highly successful in bringing inmates to Christ. An investigation was made, to find which prison ministry was responsible. After months of inquiry, they found out the prison ministry itself was wondering what was happening. At the end of the investigation, they discovered that it was the warden who was responsible for turning the prisoners around. The warden was a man who feared God. He shared the gospel with his inmates and even prayed for them and with them.

Immediately, a Christian radio station arranged for an interview. The man shared his testimony giving Christ the glory for his success in turning these inmates around. When asked about a budget and planning, the warden almost exploded, "What are you talking about, Budget? Planning? Do you realize that budget is the biggest excuse people give not to do the work of whichGod is convicting them? Budgets are also the excuse to do work we have no business doing. We do not have a budget. We have the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit." Speechless, the interviewer, sheepishly went to a break.

What does God's work need to move forward: money or the Holy Spirit? In today's world, all things require money. Even, church activities and programs run because there is money; hence, the need to always ask for money in our services. The dependence on money has replaced our reliance on the Holy Spirit. Time spent praying is now spent developing ways to acquire funds and planning activities and programs.  Doubt or presumption have taken the place of Faith.

There is no wonder the author of the lesson asks the questions, "How should we understand this saying? ("Sell what you have and give it to the poor" Luke 18:22.) Was Jesus advocating a redistribution of wealth for all Christians in all times and places? What practical problems would arise if we carried out His injunction? Take any given community, in which all Christians have sold all their property and given the proceeds to the poor, what now is the economic status of those Christians? How do they support themselves and their families? And how,  for example, do they now get the means to carry forward the rest of Jesus' mission to take the Gospel to new frontiers?

The answer to that clearly is that if we live by faith as those in apostolic times did, we would not worry about money. As Christ told the disciples in Matthew 6:31-34,

Matthew 6: 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
Matthew 6: 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
Matthew 6: 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Matthew 6: 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

In their case, God provided through others. They learned to live by faith. God spoke; they listened and believed His promises. They trusted that God would provide. They lived by the definition of faith that says, "Faith is the expecting the Word of God to do what it says and the waiting and depending on that word to do what it says."

On some occasions living by faith meant for the brother or sister to work for money. Notice Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla. They were tentmakers (Acts 18:3). Paul was very candid about why he worked. He did not want to burden the brethren. Selling what you have and giving it to others does not preclude working. If indeed, it is what God wants you to do. In other words, running a business or having a job may require as much faith as not working and depending financially on others. Working or running a business may expose you to others who need to hear the gospel.

David concluded in Psalms 20 that "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." (Psalm 20:7 NIV). Zechariah reached a similar conclusion, "So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6). Many men trust in things this they have or have acquired. But, those who "truly" love God will trust Him.
Raul Diaz

Friday, October 07, 2016

The importance of context

The importance of context
A man dressed as a pilot and sporting dark sunglasses is seen leaving the airplane into the tarmac with a dog walking by his side.   Someone inside the terminal waiting to get on the same airplane sees this man with what seems to be a guiding dog and frantically yells out, "The Pilot is blind!"  In an instant, most of the crowd, also waiting for the same airplane went to the window, where they saw the man dressed as a pilot sporting dark sunglasses with a guide dog by his side.  Suddenly the eyes of the waiting crowd turned from the window to the airline employee; fearing for her safety she calls her superior, who immediately dispatches security and launches a frantic investigation. 
Security struggled to calm down the crowd, but it succeeded with minor difficulties.  As soon as the crowd was quiet, an airline employee showed up with the news.  "The man you saw is our pilot.  He is not blind.  The dog is not his.  The dog belongs to a blind passenger in our plane.  Our pilot offered to take the dog for a walk." 
When we do not have the complete and or correct information, we can reach the wrong conclusions which can lead to bad choices leading to severe consequences.  The same thing happens when we have incorrect and or incomplete information about God.
Let us use the story of Job as an example.  The author of the book of Job introduces Job in verses 1 through 5 of the first chapter,
 Job 1: 1There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
 Job 1: 2And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.
 Job 1: 3His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.
Job 1: 4And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.
 Job 1: 5And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
Job was a fortunate man, and he seemed to credit God for it.  He also constantly interceded with God for others.  Starting in verse 6 there is a switch in scenes where we are made privy to background information that neither Job nor anyone else in the story has.  The Devil attacks Job while God permits it and seemingly observes and waits.  The rest of the story shows us how this moment in Heaven plays out on earth, specifically in Job and his acquaintances. 
Without the context we have, Job struggled to understand why God would do this to him.  Job's friends, also lacking this background, reached the wrong conclusions about Job and accused Job of suffering the consequences of his iniquity.  Job defended himself while pleading to God for an answer.   But, at the end of the story, we find that because of this experience Job knew God better and trusted Him more. 
It would behoove us to remember this story and what we learn from it when we go through our struggles in life. 

What does James 1: 2 – 4 tell us about trials,

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and com­plete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2–4, NKJV).

'The Greek word for "trials," sometimes translated "temptations," is the word peirazo, which has the broader significance of "proving" or "testing." The devil tries us or tempts us to do evil. The tests and trials that God allows to come into our lives are for the purpose of developing our characters.'  Ellen G. White talks about this,

"The trials of life are God's workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our character. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only His precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace."—Ellen G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 10.

However, not every trial is in God's providence. Often we bring suffering upon ourselves through disobedience; often, too, trials and suffering are just the results of what it means to live in a fallen, sinful world where we have an enemy who hates us (1 Pet. 5:8). What this does mean, however, is that through a complete surrender of ourselves to the Lord, to grasping hold of Him in faith and obedience, no matter what we go through, we can come out better or more refined if we allow God to work in us. No one said it would be fun. Life here often isn't fun, but Paul gives us this incredible promise: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

Job never understood why he suffered. His cry to God was, "Why?" However, Job never stopped trusting God. In the middle of his crisis, Job cried out, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" Job13:15. 

The lesson is for us. Many Christians think that they will find in the Christian life freedom from all difficulty. But everyone who takes up the cross to follow Jesus comes to trial in his experience. Life is not all made up of pleasant pastures and cooling streams. Trial and disappointment overtake us; privation comes; these bring into trying places. Conscience-stricken, we reason that we must have walked far away from God, that if we had walked with him, we should not have suffered so. Doubt and despondency crowd into our hearts, and we say, The Lord has failed us, and we are ill-used. Why does he permit us to suffer thus? He cannot love us; if he did, he would remove the difficulties from our path. Is the Lord with us, or not? {RH, April 7, 1903, par. 2 - 3}

Perhaps this is why Peter admonishes us 1 Peter 1:6-7,

1 Peter 1:6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

This verse tells us that trials are neither random nor chaotic. Trials have a purpose. One of them is to produce genuine faith in those who will persevere through all kinds of tests. In other words, trials teach us to depend on God to overcome temptation and to endure the pain and suffering that Sin brings to us until we die (or are translated). We can trust that God's will fulfill His promises.  We may not see it now. Only in retrospect, God may allow us to see a glimpse of the purpose of trials. For many of us, it will be until we reach eternity before we see clearly God's purpose in letting us suffer. We will also see that God was in it with us all the way. We were not alone. And, in fact, our faith grew stronger, and our character became more Christ-like because of the suffering God put us through.

Raul Diaz

Friday, September 30, 2016

Staying The Course

Staying The Course

Out recently is a film entitled, "Simon Birch." It is about a 12-year-old boy who was tiny and deformed at birth. In fact, he never grew taller than 3 feet, the size of, well a young boy. Because of his physical and emotional peculiarities, he was disliked and rejected by many. Even his parents hardly paid any attention to him at all. In the town, only a few liked Simon, and sadly, he killed one of them by accident. To make matters worse, it was the mother of his best friend, Jake. What made Simon different, is that he dared to ask questions and to expect answers, even from adults. He was unafraid. Above this, Simon believed that all human beings had a purpose in being alive, a purpose that God designed them to fill. Simon not only believed this about others, he believed it about himself and would share it whenever he felt the conversation prompted it. Simon wanted to please God. So to say that Simon was an odd fellow was, definitely, an understatement.

For most of his short life, Simon searched for his purpose. Waiting and watching, he spoke of it always. When Simon discovered that Jake was attending church with his mom, Simon asked to visit with them. Enjoying church fellowship, and being close to God, Simon was unafraid to rebuke the Reverend out loud when he was wrong-- even in the middle of the service. Naturally, the Reverend was embarrassed and humiliated and therefore didn't like Simon for this.  Also, Simon got into trouble for the childish pranks his classmates pulled.

Simon and Jake used to go swimming together where they would practice holding their breaths and of course they competed with one another to see who could hold his breath the longest. Simon had the uncanny ability to hold his breath for a long time under water. Each time they went swimming, Simon tried to hold his breath longer than he did the last time. This ability proved to be an asset, for one day, it saved lives. While on an outing with four and five-year-olds, the bus they were riding in swerved to avoid a deer. Out of control, the bus careened off the road, down the embankment, and into the river. The force of the current drove the back door open, and the bus began to sink. Panic-stricken, children started rocking themselves out of fright, banging on the windows, and crying. Some were even screaming. Pandemonium reigned, as the bus driver opened the front door and escaped underwater. All thought they would drown. Only Simon remained calm. Standing on a seat, he shouted to the children "shut up, and listen!" And they did. Because Simon had been kind to them and was about their height, they trusted him. Stronger than they were, Simon was able to force open a window, get under them, and push them out one by one. At last, one boy remained.  But, his foot got stuck between the seats. Holding his breath, Simon finally freed the boy but began to sink with the bus in the icy cold winter waters of the river. The children told the adults arriving on the scene what happened and that Simon was still on the bus. Swiftly they took action, rescued him and took him to the hospital. Simon did revive and was able to talk, but was far too weak. One by one his classmates and best friend Jake visited. Simon told them that he was ok and ready to die, that he was at peace because he had fulfilled his purpose and could now go. Trying to reassure them, Simon told them not to be afraid and sad, because God had a purpose for each of them too, and that when it was time, each one would know it. Bidding them good-night because he was tired, he died.

The moral of the film is that God used Simon.  God prepared Simon and that Simon was willing to be used by God. Like Simon, John the Baptist, although awkward, was willing to serve the Lord.  And, God prepared John, also.  Being a Nazarite, John lived by strict lifestyle principles. According to Mark 1:6, "And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey." Unfashionable, John did not partake in the trendy styles of consumption. "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" Mark 1:4. John, of course, lived in the desert and was not frequently seen in the towns or cities. He seemed to be like what we would refer to as a cave man. He may have been unpolished and unmannerly, and was probably dusty and sweaty, to say the least.  

Both John and Simon were forthright, but not only was John straightforward, according to Mark 1:7, he was humble. He preached: " cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." He understood that Christ's mission would supersede his, and responded by saying, "... I indeed have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1: 8). 

The book of Mark says that John the Baptist was unafraid to preach the truth to whoever would listen, and that included the wealthy and the powerful.  The people throughout Judea knew John as one who defied the authorities with a message of righteousness and truth.  John called Sin by its name and was unafraid to do so. Obviously, he was politically incorrect, not that there existed such a thing at that time, but just the same had we heard him, we might have found him offensive. Needless to say, straight truth is usually unappreciated. So perhaps like our film character Simon, he was tolerated by the religious types.

God filled the Baptist with the Spirit From John's birth.  John was the one of whom it was said, "As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Mark 1: 2, 3).  Christ said of John in Matthew 11:11 (KJV) "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist..."  Yet, we know that when John was imprisoned not once did Christ visited Him.  
Ellen White gives us the reason,

To many minds a deep mystery surrounds the fate of John the Baptist. They question why he should have been left to languish and die in prison. The mystery of this dark providence our human vision cannot penetrate; but it can never shake our confidence in God when we remember that John was but a sharer in the sufferings of Christ. All who follow Christ will wear the crown of sacrifice. They will surely be misunderstood by selfish men, and will be made a mark for the fierce assaults of Satan. It is this principle of self-sacrifice that his kingdom is established to destroy, and he will war against it wherever manifested. { DA 223.4} 
Jesus did not interpose to deliver His servant. He knew that John would bear the test. Gladly would the Saviour have come to John, to brighten the dungeon gloom with His own presence. But He was not to place Himself in the hands of enemies and imperil His own mission. Gladly would He have delivered His faithful servant. But for the sake of thousands who in after years must pass from prison to death, John was to drink the cup of martyrdom. As the followers of Jesus should languish in lonely cells, or perish by the sword, the rack, or the fagot, apparently forsaken by God and man, what a stay to their hearts would be the thought that John the Baptist, to whose faithfulness Christ Himself had borne witness, had passed through a similar experience! {DA 224.2}

Those who serve Christ will suffer.  But, though suffering, they will give glory to God.  
Raul Diaz