Friday, August 28, 2020

Mary's Act of Love

Mary's Act of Love

When you are a student, you spend a large part of the time taking tests. Once, while, in college, I heard of a seminar on how to take tests better and instantly thought to myself, "Is this not a little late?" In the end, I decided it would not hurt to go, and it was worth it. One thing the seminar clarified for me was the difference between comparing and contrasting an idea. Many essay tests require the test taker to either contrast or compare a particular concept. If you do not know the difference, your answers will be marked wrong. When a test asks to compare, it means to comment on the similarities between ideas and concepts. And when it states to contrast, you are to discuss different ideas or concepts.

The Bible uses both concepts. The New Testament notes that comparatively speaking, all men are sinners in need of grace. However, there is a contrast between those who accept grace and those who do not; many parables address this.  Specifically, it is evident in the parable of the forgiven debtor of Luke 7:41-43-

"There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged."

The parable reveals that our response to forgiveness makes evident how we respond to forgiveness.  How much forgiveness we perceived we got.  The implication is that we believe that the amount of forgiveness God gives us is in direct proportion to the amount of Sin. Furthermore, the love and appreciation demonstrated to God will be in proportion to that perception.

The Lord gave Simon this parable to deal with Simon's response to Mary Magdalene's act of love.  Simon was a Pharisee and former Leper. Christ had healed Simon. And because of this, Simon "threw" a party to thank Jesus. Jesus accepted and attended with His disciples, while Mary showed up at the event, uninvited. Bringing with her a very costly alabaster box filled with spikenard ointment, she broke it and poured the ointment onto Jesus' head. With this same ointment, mingled with her tears, she also bathed Jesus' feet, drying them with her hair. This incident was considered scandalous by most of the house guests, and Simon, the host. With disdain and indignation, Simon thought to himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known which woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39). Let's look at verse 40 to read Jesus' response, "… Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And [Simon] saith, Master, say on" (Luke7: 40). The "somewhat" was the parable. Jesus further explained what He meant by it in verses 44 through 47,

"And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."

The lesson to Simon was clear. Simon owed 500 pence, but, he showed appreciation for merely 50 pence. On the other hand, Mary, who owed only 50 pence, showed appreciation for 500 pence. The contrast is clear. While Christ loved and helped both, they did not perceive it the same way. Sadly, the disciples were no better than Simon. Let us read of their reaction to Mary's gift in Matthew 26:8-13,

"But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her."

 Here we find yet another contrast. The disciples showed less concern for Jesus than Mary.   In her concern for Jesus, Mary relieved His suffering. Ellen White elaborates in the following quotes,

"The fragrant gift which Mary had thought to lavish upon the dead body of the Saviour she poured upon His living form. At the burial its sweetness could only have pervaded the tomb; now it gladdened His heart with the assurance of her faith and love… And as He went down into the darkness of His great trial, He carried with Him the memory of that deed, an earnest of the love that would be His from His redeemed ones forever" (Conflict and Courage, p. 306).
"The desire that Mary had to do this service for her Lord was of more value to Christ than all the spikenard and precious ointment in the world, because it expressed her appreciation of the world's Redeemer. It was the love of Christ that constrained her. . . Mary, by the Holy Spirit's power, saw in Jesus One who had come to seek and to save the souls that were ready to perish. Every one of the disciples should have been inspired with a similar devotion" (Christ Triumphant p. 252, paragraph.4).

Although the disciples had privately received teachings regarding Jesus' approaching death, they were uncomfortable with the idea and resisted it, which later left them unprepared. Yet Mary, an uneducated woman, not privy to the disciples' intimate knowledge of Jesus, was informed by the Holy Spirit's promptings and believed. That kind of inspiration she received can only find an entrance in a broken and a contrite heart. Jesus commended Mary.  Will He "congratulate" us?
Raul Diaz

Friday, August 21, 2020

Stewards of Service

Stewards of Service

The Bible says that nature speaks of the Glory of God, which is His character. Sister White stresses the importance of this by telling us to study the lessons in nature. She says in Our High Calling, page 253: "Everything about us teaches us from day to day lessons of our Father's love and of His power, and of His laws that govern nature and that lie at the foundation of all government in heaven and in earth." Let's take a tree as an example. A mature tree uses precious earthly resources: it occupies space, utilizes air (Carbon-dioxide we exhale), water, and absorbs sunlight. In turn, we use the oxygen the tree releases, and we take advantage of its shade. Is this a fair exchange? Many trees yield fruit that, when consumed, is not only tasteful to our palate, but it is good for our health. Trees cannot consume fruits, as can we. There are other parts of the tree, which we utilize, such as the leaves and the wood of the tree for papers and numerous other products. It seems that human beings benefit more from trees then the three do from us. So, all the resources that trees use end up being for our benefit. And, it seems that trees do this – that is: serve us – selflessly. Well, wouldn't you say, If trees were stewards, they would manage God's entrusted resources to benefit us, humanity?

Our analogy of the tree is one of stewardship and serving others. When a steward is faithful to God, his service is selfless. But, in our natural sinful state, we are selfish. We think only of ourselves. When we give to others or do for them, it is because we expect the service to be of benefit to us. Often we hope a tangible return, such as money or other favors – tickets, meal, gift certificate, etc. Other times the benefit we derive from serving others is intangible. We want others to see us so that we can gain favor. Frequently, we serve out of feelings of guilt, coercion, or fear. We hope to be relieved from doom. Thus we misuse God's resources for our benefit, even though we claim we are using them to serve others.

A true Christian - at whatever level - is a faithful Steward. Just as a mature tree yields fruit, the Christian will produce fruit (Galatians 5:22-25). The Spirit of God that dwells in him springs forth this fruit because it is God's character. Therefore, service is not out of guilt, coercion, or fear. The true Christian does not expect to gain absolution, freedom, or peace. The service of a true Christian, in whom the Spirit dwells, is motivated by Agape – God's unconditional love – and the driving force is gratitude. A real follower of Christ gives and serves freely, for he has received freely (Matthew 10:8).

Typically we do not equate stewardship with the selfless serving of others. As a steward serves his Master by caring for his assets, he does as the Master wishes. What are the Master's wishes? "…but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8). Perhaps the following text from Matthew 25 will illustrate what this means:

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
Matthew 25:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
Matthew 25:33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Matthew 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Matthew 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Matthew 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Matthew 25:37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
Matthew 25:38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Matthew 25:39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Matthew 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
Matthew 25:42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
Matthew 25:43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Matthew 25:44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Matthew 25:45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Faithful stewards are sheep who unknowingly serve their Lord by helping those in need. Unfaithful stewards are the goats who served others but for personal gain. What is the difference between the two? It is Agape – God's unconditional love. The type of love that the Father is, which drove Him to give to all human beings "…His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This love made Jesus weep because of the harm Sin had done to His humanity (John 11:35). This love can only be found in us when we permit the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. After all, the Holy Spirit pours this love in us (Romans 5: 5).  This love makes us faithful stewards who serve others, as they are needful, as we were serving Christ Himself. Will you let the Spirit work in you "both to will and to work for his good pleasure?" (Philippians 2:13).
Raul Diaz

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Creation versus Evolution

Creation versus Evolution

 Recently I was listening to a prominent Adventist Speaker talk about the importance of knowing the history of Christianity. He said that we also need to know Christian History in the light of the fulfillment of prophecy. He went to Revelation 11 and identified the beast that comes out of the pit, France, during the French revolution. What was happening then? The French rejected anything that had to do with God in reaction to thousands of years of Catholic oppression. The concept of God that the Roman Catholic had presented through all those years was untenable to the French intellectual elite. How can God be a God of love, justice, and peace, and stand by observing all the suffering, injustice, and violence in the world?
Furthermore, how can God be a God of grace and forgiveness and yet be so cruel to punish sinners for eternity? How can God say He is for the poor, while the wealthy nobility claimed to be favored by Him even when they were abusive and despotic toward their fellow men? The picture of tyrannical and punitive God did not make sense to the French, so they rejected His existence. As we can see, modern atheism is not born out of scientific research and advancements, but out of theological concerns.

This rejection of God and the Bible then posed a challenge to explain our humanity and the planet's origin. However, the most popular theory did not emerge out of a concern to give a scientific alternative to how all began. But as a necessity to understand Creation from a picture of God that was untenable to Charles Darwin.

Contrary to popular conceptions, Charles Darwin began his theory of Evolution from a theological premise. He expressed it like this: "There seems to me," wrote Darwin, "too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the [parasitic wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of cater­pillars, or that the cat should play with mice."

 Of course, a "benefi­cent and omnipotent God" did no such thing. But, Darwin did not conceive that maybe there was a beneficent and omnipotent God that would allow Sin to run its course for redemption. Darwin – and the French before him – had no clue about the Great Controversy.

Darwin reasoned just as the French some half a century before him: God cannot exist. Therefore, thought Darwin, without a God that speaks things into existence, things must have evolved. And the way they must have developed is by natural selection and survival of the fittest (mostly adaptability, not necessarily strength).

 Darwin's theory posed a challenge for many Christian thinkers who thought that what Ellen White calls science so-called, had valid points in Evolution, so they merged both methods into Theistic Evolution. This theory says that God used Evolution to create the world. Meaning, the 7-day creation story is nothing but a metaphor to describe what God did for millions of years. In essence, they propose that God created the world or the universe, left it on its own to develop for a given period, and reappeared to bestow a "soul" on the humans who had evolved while He was away.

Darwin'stheory poses other problems. Among other things, it negates the origin of Sin and the need for redemption. It also converts the gospels into fairy tales. If God did not speak, and it was done (Psalm 33: 9), Christ could not have done it either. If there were no miracles, then there is no resurrection, and therefore any hope, for as Paul says, without the resurrection, we work in vain (1 Corinthians 15: 14).

 The Bible is clear about the literality and legitimacy of the Creation story. Take for example Hebrews 11: 3,

 Hebrews 11:3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

 Paul here is clear that things did not evolve; they did not appear out of things that existed before. God's Word made them appear. God spoke, and it was done (Psalm 33: 9). The following verses insist that the Genesis narrative was real,

 Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him, all things consist.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:2 The same was at the beginning with God.
John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.
Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the Creation of the world are seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

 The following quotes show that throughout all her ministry, Ellen G. White was uncompromising in her rejection of the theory of Evolution. She wrote,

 "It is the worst kind of infidelity; for with many who profess to believe the record of creation, it is infidelity in disguise."—The Signs of the Times, March 20, 1879.
"[S]hall we, for the privilege of tracing our descent from germs and mollusks and apes, consent to cast away that statement of Holy Writ, so grand in its simplicity, 'God created man in His image, in the image of God created He him'? Genesis 1:27."—Education, p. 130.
"When the Lord declares that He made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, He means the day of twenty-four hours, which He has marked off by the rising and setting of the sun."— (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 136).

 You can see that to a believer, Creation should not be a theory, but a fact. Just as Creation is a fact, so is the Cross, since they are intimately related. God displays His love in both events. You cannot believe in one and reject the other. That would be foolish.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts

The word rendered as a gift in the Greek is charisma:

1) a favor with which one receives without any merit of his own
2) the gift of divine grace
3) the gift of faith, knowledge, holiness, virtue
4) the economy of divine grace, by which the pardon of sin and eternal salvation is appointed to sinners considering the merits of Christ laid hold of by faith
5) grace or gifts denoting extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating on their souls by the Holy Spirit

 Like many other words, this word charisma has evolved into an entirely different meaning: a personal quality of leadership arousing popular loyalty or enthusiasm. So, when we talk about a charismatic movement, which definition are we using? I believe it should be the biblical meaning. Of course, it is a misuse of the word, since those that use the term charismatic use it to refer to the use of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and a more enthusiastic type of worship service. In their mind, this style of worship style is from the Holy Spirit. However, as we can see, charisma is more than just external displays of the Holy Spirit; it refers to the quality of the plan of salvation, which is a gift from God to man. Jesus is a gift to man (John 3:16); so is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The word is also used to refer to grace, faith, knowledge, virtue, pardon, etc. All of these are gifts given to man. It is favor with which one receives without any merit of his own. Somehow when we refer to 1 Peter 4:10, we tend to focus on definition number 5.

For the context of our study, the word gift means something given; this has implications. One is that a gift, by definition, is something from someone has to someone that does not have; this applies to the Spiritual context. Before experiencing Christ in us, we had nothing of what God gives to us. Just read Romans 5 to get an idea. Death is our reward. After Christ comes into our lives, eternal life is the outcome if we receive Him.

The one giving the gift gives because He wants to, the one receiving most choose to accept it. Whether they take it or not, they were given a gift. If they did not receive the gift, it is still a gift. Lastly, the giver gives the gift not because the recipient deserves it or not. Again, the giver gives the gift because the giver wants to give it.

Our lesson's emphasis is what we call spiritual gifts. They refer to these special endowments or skills that the Holy Spirit gives to those in whom He dwells; in other words, to those who are converted. (The disciples did not receive their gift until after their actual conversion in the Upper Chamber.) The Bible lists these endowments in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. The purpose for them is given in Ephesians 4: 12 – 13,

Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Ephesians 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

These gifts are not just for witnessing and evangelism. They are to help us become more like Christ and help others become more like Christ. They are to be used to serve others. How do we know we have them? Well, if you are converted, it will be revealed to you. It is the Holy Spirit who brings about conversion in us, and it is He who gives us a ministry and He who gives us the gifts. They are called spiritual for a reason. Only those who are spiritual and not carnal have them.

Can you choose your gift? No, the Holy Spirit gives as He wills (1 Corinthians 12: 11). How can you use them? That is God's prerogative also. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10,

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

It is His work. He is the boss. Whatever the church does, it must do under the authority and direction of the Holy Spirit. It is our privilege to seek God's will and work in harmony with that which the Spirit reveals. We must not fall into the trap of making plans and then seeking divine approval. Often we ask, "What can our church do for God?" We would do better to pray and let the Holy Spirit reveal to us what we shall do.