Friday, September 11, 2020

Living on the Altar

Living on the Altar

In Romans 12:1, Paul invites us to become living sacrifices. Let us
read the text,

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye
present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,
which is your reasonable service."

Most animal sacrifices take place on an altar, and are too dreadful to
consider even occasionally, let alone on a daily basis. However, as
gruesome as an animal sacrifice may seem, we modern readers need to
become familiar with the Old Testament sacrificial system, as it
accurately symbolizes various aspects of Christ's death on our behalf.
The Greek word for 'sacrifice' or 'victim' is thusia: which is the
noun form. The verb form is thuo, which means to kill by fire or
immolate, slay or slaughter. In addition, the word for 'living' in
Greek is zao, it is the root word for zoe, the word used for eternal
life. However, Paul uses another word for life in relation to Sin
which is bios. To become a living sacrifice as Paul suggests, these
opposing ideas must be reconciled in our minds. A cursory reading of
Romans 12:1, 2 can elicit the question, how can we live eternally
while at the same time die daily? God's principle of living as a
sacrifice, is stated in Galatians, and says, "I am crucified with
Christ nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the
life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of
God who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

Let us consider what this would mean if someone were the literal
sacrifice. Once on the altar, we'd hope they would stay there until
self was consumed. But unfortunately, we have all seen self rise in
those who we thought were beyond that level of selfishness, such as
when Moses struck the rock twice, or when King David took Bathsheba or
how about when Martha had anxious care and reported her sister Mary to
Jesus. Since we are to die to self daily, when we resist, others are
negatively impacted, as is obvious from our previous examples. This
reminds me of the warning Jesus gave regarding the choice to be
sacrificed, "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and
cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or
maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the
everlasting fire" (Matt. 18:8, NKJV). In other words, if self rises
through the members of your body cut them off and discard them. Jesus
was not, of course, recommending amputation, but was using imagery to
emphasize the importance of separation from sin.

Instead of self-amputation, what the Lord requires of us is
willingness to allow Him to remove objectionable selfish traits of
character, much as a surgeon would -- with skill and precision, remove
a diseased organ. Paul calls this our reasonable service.

It is through this continual process of sacrifice that our minds are
renewed, our characters transformed and we have the mind of Christ
(Romans 12:2, Eph 4:23, Phil 2:5:1:6, 1 Cor. 2:16). This renewal gives
evidence of the goodness, perfection, and Love of God, revealing His
acceptable will. All those who have gone before us have endured this
process: the patriarchs, the prophets, Christ's true followers, and
even Christ Himself (Hebrews 11). All have been living sacrifices. Of
Christ it is said," For in that he himself hath suffered being
tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).
In other words, the very process Christ allows us to be put through,
He endured and is, therefore, our empathetic helper and comforter,
empowering us to persevere as we die daily. Paul states in Hebrew
4:15, "For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the
feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we
are, yet without sin."

The suffering Christ, who prevailed by faith, trusting to His Father's
goodness-- gained the victory on our behalf. We who are actively
watching His experience through the scripture may receive the same
victories and may have heart transformation as did those who have gone
before us. Like Isaac, we too can be willing to be placed on the
altar. Ellen White sums this up well. Let us read,

"Greater is He that is in the heart of the faithful, than he that
controls the hearts of unbelievers. Complain not bitterly of the trial
which comes upon you, but let your eyes be directed to Christ, who has
clothed His divinity with humanity, in order that we may understand
how great His interest in us is, since He has identified Himself with
suffering humanity. He tasted the cup of human sorrow, He was
afflicted in all our afflictions, He was made perfect through
suffering, tempted in all points like as humanity is tempted, in order
that He might succor those who are in temptation" (YRP 131).

The Lord is wooing, and convincing us to allow Him to change us and
thus our ways from the inside out. Unfortunately, not all answer the
call. And out of those who do, many, once on the altar grow weary and
discouraged by the length of the process. Gradually they free
themselves from that which they consider as unnecessary suffering.
But, it is not really the suffering that makes them leave: it is
instead their distrust of Christ and unwillingness to be led by the
Holy Spirit; it is unbelief. They are convinced of their need, but are
unconverted. In the history of the Israelites, it can be seen that
those who left the altar, left because they did not believe (Hebrews
3:19). They did not receive the Truth in the love of it, by faith.
Instead they had a selfish kind of love -- pretending not to see the
truth. In contrast, the Gentiles, who heard the word in faith, were
gladly sacrificed on the altar and remained there until the work was
complete. Paul warns us to be careful less we remove ourselves from
the altar as did the Jews. Let us read the warning in Hebrews 3:12,
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of
unbelief, in departing from the living God."

The question to us is, will we trust Jesus enough to remain on the
altar? When the sacrifice of an animal took place, it was bound so
that it would not flee. It had no choice in the matter. Contrast this
with the willingness of our forefather Isaac, who allowed himself to
be bound to the altar, and of Jesus Himself who was nailed to His
cross. In light of this, will we allow the Lord to will in us to will
and to do of His good pleasure?
Raul Diaz

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?
 RR
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).
 RR
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 7, 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. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Light Bulbs

Light Bulbs

The Light bulb is nothing without electricity. It was designed for illumination, but cannot, without energy, displace darkness. The Light from a Light bulb is a combination of three things: an incandescent filament that is part of an unbroken and uninterrupted electric circuit and electricity. Several simple things must occur To ignite the Light bulb. The bulb must be appropriately connected to an electrical source (thus closing the circuit). The power switch must be turned on. And the filaments within the incandescent bulb or the gases within the fluorescent tube must be intact. Similarly, whenever Christians shine forth, there must be spiritual equivalents to the Light bulb and spiritual equivalents to what makes the bulb work. 

Our spiritual filaments are broken beyond repair. The Holy Spirit brings a new filament to each believer and then also makes new electrical wiring and connections within them; our old circuitry is inadequate for His electrical system and, therefore, needs replacing. Once the new equipment is in place, and the Holy Spirit properly connects the Christian to the spiritual energy source (God), he or she shines.


We can see it may take the Holy Spirit some time to set everything in place. In reality, we limit how He can work through how much space we give Him. Once all is in place, it should work continually, unless we find ways to interrupt it. Interruptions (for example, switches) can stop the electric flow. When we turn the switch off, we disrupt the flow of the hearing of faith and the believing of the Word. The smallest cracks in the fluorescent tube or the tiniest breaks of an incandescent filament can destroy the bulb's lighting capacity. So can a break in the wiring. We should clarify that unlike our earthly electrical sources, The Holy Spirit never has an outage. Therefore, when our spiritual bulb ceases to shine, it is not His fault, it is ours. 


In principle, this metaphor is very similar to the one Jesus used in John 15. Which we refer to as the Parable of the Vine and the Branches. Christ told His disciples,

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love."


What is the fruit? We find it in Galatians 5:22 – 23,

 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

In the same chapter, Paul contrasted the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. These works of the flesh are the fruit that those refusing to abide in Christ - be connected to the Holy Spirit - will produce. Let us read what they are from verses 19-21,


"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."


If we were to see this passage in the Light of the Parable of the vine and branches, these branches produce no spiritual fruit, and the works of the flesh are evident. The Father, who is the husbandman, cuts these branches away to make sure the vine or tree does not waste resources that the good branches could be using (John 15:1). These "fruitless" branches refer to those of which Christ says, "depart from me you workers of iniquity, I know you not" (Matthew 7: 23); Christ is speaking here to professed believers. They attended church; they participated in church activities and programs, they sang hymns, taught Sabbath School, returned tithes, even did evangelism. These professed believers were Sabbath School leaders, elders, deacons, etc. Christ says to them, "I do not know you. Go away." They did not allow the Holy Spirit's daily indwelling to enable them to live a God-honoring life. Only the infusion to the vine allows the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in them. Only being supernaturally wired to the "electric circuit" enables the Spirit to shine the Light. How do we stay fused so the Holy Spirit can work through us? Through the hearing of faith (Galatians 3:1). 

~Raul Diaz

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Discipleship and Prayer

Discipleship and Prayer


The following commentary was published originally to link discipleship with Prayer. It clearly explains Prayer, I believe. 


Discipleship and Prayer


John 17:20-21

20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 

21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.


In the last lesson, we defined disciples in the light of scripture. We read in Luke 14,


Luke 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Luk 14:33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.


The implication here is that to be Christ disciples, you bear your cross and forsake all and follow Him. In John 15, discipleship is explained in the context of farming. We read in John 15,


Joh 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Joh 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.


These two descriptions of discipleship are complementary. If I remain in A, I cannot stay in B; thus, I forsake B. The bearing of fruit reveals that we are good soil in which the good seed sown and eventually germinated (Luke 8: 4 – 18). The root found living nutrients and water. Ellen White sums it up beautifully,


As a flower of the field has its root in the soil, receives air, dew, showers, and sunshine, so must we receive from God that which ministers to the life of the soul.


God guarantees His presence to His Christian followers. "As long as the members of the church shall through faith draw sap and nourishment from Jesus Christ, and not from man's opinions and devisings, and methods; if having a conviction of the nearness of God in Christ, they put their entire trust in Him, they will have a vital connection with Christ as the branch has connection with the parent stock" (Our Father Cares; 21 – 22).


How, then, does Prayer relate to this? No one will deny the need for Prayer. In the words of Ellen White,


"Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him."—Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 93.


"Pray much. Much Prayer is necessary to successful effort. Prayer brings strength. Prayer has "subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, turned to flight the armies of aliens." {SW, February 23, 1904 par. 6} 


Notice how she ties faith (Hebrews 11: 33 - 34) with Prayer. Now, since we describe discipleship in the context of farming, can we explain Prayer in the same way – or at least using biological imagery? Ellen White does just this. Let us read a passage where she does this,


"Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. No other means of grace can be substituted and the health of the soul be preserved. Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Wellspring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience. Neglect the exercise of Prayer, or engage in Prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God. The spiritual faculties lose their vitality, the religious experience lacks health and vigor" (Messages to Young People, 249, 250.)


When we breathe, our body inhales oxygenated air and exhales air with Carbon Dioxide. Our blood carries oxygen throughout the body. The blood returns to the lungs depleted of oxygen to fill itself with oxygen again; this is an automatic process. Unless there are problems, no one chooses to breathe; you just do. What happens if we decide not to breathe? Most folk cannot hold their breath for more than three to five minutes without fainting.


We read in Luke 18:1: "And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." If we stop breathing, we faint; likewise, if we cease to pray, it will not be long before we find ourselves fainting before the trials that inevitably come our way. It is through Prayer that we are braced for difficulties and trials that require strength far beyond our natural human capacity.


Through the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Christ has urged that His people pray without ceasing. This does not mean that we should always be upon our knees, but that Prayer is to be as the breath of the soul. Our silent requests, wherever we may be, are to be ascending unto God, and Jesus our Advocate pleads in our behalf, bearing up with the incense of His righteousness our requests to the Father" (TMK 78.3). 


The statement above described how Jesus lived "… Jesus lived in dependence upon God and communion with him. To the secret place of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty, men now and then repair; they abide for a season, and the result is manifest in noble deeds: then their faith fails, the communion is interrupted, and the life-work marred. But the life of Jesus was a life of constant trust, sustained by a continual communion: and his service for heaven and earth was without failure or faltering. {SW, February 23, 1904 par. 7} 


Just like our whole body benefits from breathing, the body of Christ is to benefit from Prayer. Real Prayer is, by definition, intercessory. Prayer – in its real sense - links us to God and others. Ellen White says,


"What does intercession comprehend? It is the golden chain which binds finite man to the throne of the infinite God. The human agent whom Christ has died to save importunes the throne of God, and his petition is taken up by Jesus, who has purchased him with His own blood. Our great High Priest places His righteousness on the side of the sincere suppliant, and the Prayer of Christ blends with that of the human petitioner" (TMK 78)


When we pray for others, we become vessels, conduits, or channels to distribute God's blessings. We become fountains springing God's living water so others can quench their thirst for righteousness (John 7: 38).