Friday, December 7, 2018

Stewards of Reconciliation

This insight we shared again because we think it is appropriate for this week.

Stewards of Reconciliation

The year 2003 saw the release of a film about South-Africa entitled,
"In my Country." Based on an autobiographical book written by
journalist Antjie Krogg entitled, "Country of My Skull," the film
fleshes out the White South-Afrikaner author's personal experience
with the vestiges of Apartheid. Accordingly, the film depicts the
author as a journalist assigned to report on cases brought before the
"Truth and Reconciliation Commission," or TRC, which was established
by the government. The film, which could be described as somewhat of a
docudrama, tells the story of the journalist's struggle with her White
South-Afrikaner family as she provides news coverage of the
controversial commission, but the story of an African-American
journalist who struggles with his anger, and skepticism regarding this
new form of justice. While the TRC's appointment and task was
documented in newspapers around the world, it seems that not many
outside of Africa followed the trials. The commission's principle
method for bringing about peace and harmony between Black and White
South-Africans was reconciliation. Hearing each case before a room
full of Black South-Africans and reporters, the commission asked each
Black South-African to sit in front of the room facing the panel with
a counselor by his or her side and describe how the victimization took
place. As the victim spoke, the audience listened intently but did not
cry, although they groaned audibly. Occasionally the victim cried out
in pain as the offending police officer or guard recounted his story
of torture and death. You see, to receive amnesty, the guilty White
South-Afrikaner officer must tell the absolute truth. He and his
partner -- if there was one, must describe how they committed the
torture, abuse, or murder. Furthermore, the perpetrator was expected
to disclose all participants involved in the crime and to name the
authority figures ordered the work done. If it was determined by the
TRC that the crime was not politically motivated, the guilty parties
were forced to stand trial for their crimes.

One particularly moving story which the film highlighted, occurred
when an eight-year-old boy walked into his parents' bedroom one night.
As he entered the room, he witnessed two police officers murder both
of his parents, while he stood still, speechless. The TRC counselor
had to tell the boy's story for him, for he had not spoken since.
There he sat, wide-eyed and tear-less as he heard the officer tell his
story. Listening with hushed and bated breath, the audience awaited
the officers' story -- and told it they did (the story is too graphic
to recount). At the end of his story, the first officer requested
amnesty, as if he felt it was his right - as if he deserved it -
because he had now cooperated with the commission. The second officer,
however, was clearly of a different mindset. He told of his
participation in the crime and added that he was to have shot the boy,
but that he could not. "I aimed my gun, but he just stood there calmly
looking at me, silent, and I could not." "I disobeyed a direct order
in not shooting him, but I just could not." Jumping up from his seat,
this police officer said, "at night I see his face, looking at me --
saying nothing." "I can't sleep, I can't eat." At this admission, the
officer approached the area where the boy sat facing him. and said,
" I would do anything to take back what I have done -- I'll pay in
anyway I can -- I'll send him to school and pay his fees, I'll even
pay for him to go all the way to college -- I am sorry, so sorry."
With that the officer began to sob, as the audience was silent,
waiting. The little eight-year-old boy who had been listening stood up
and approached the kneeling officer, and after looking at him for a
moment, threw his arms around him, hugging him. The audience and panel
seemingly through their tears approve. Although the means of
forgiveness and amnesty have been provided through the TRC by the
government, it is the eight-year-old boy who is the steward of
forgiveness, and reconciliation that day.

How many of us consider ourselves stewards of reconciliation?
Unfortunately, not many of us. The sad truth is that only a few of us
would choose to forgive a wrong of such magnitude as has been
experienced by the Black South-African victims. Yes, as Christians
we've professed Christ, but we still but seem to have difficulty
forgiving even minute injustices. However, Christ wants us to be His
ambassadors or stewards. In 2 Cor. 5: 20, the scripture calls us
"ambassadors for Christ," and "ministers of reconciliation" (see verse
18). It seems that just as Christ has been an ambassador or steward on
behalf of the Father to us, that He wants us to follow in His
footsteps. Let us read what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. It reads as
follows:

2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;
old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2 Cor. 5:18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to
Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of
reconciliation;
2 Cor. 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.

Friends, although forgiving and reconciling seems impossible to us --
our natures finding it extremely distasteful -- yet "Christ died for
us while we were yet sinners" ( Rom. 5:8). So, if we are "in Christ,"
He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure, and His
commands are not grievous (Phil. 2:13, I John 5:3). What is God's
command? He commands that we dispense His grace, and tell the world
that Christ has already reconciled them to Himself at His death on
Calvary.

As Christians, one of the first things that we learned is that God
created the world, so it all belongs to Him, and that He is the
rightful owner. We also learned that since He paid for us back
(redeemed us), we are to be His stewards or managers, and this is
where the concept of tithe and offering comes in. But, how about
thinking about stewardship in a new manner. How about considering
ourselves not only as stewards of the material or tangible goods -
such as land, money, and talents - that He gives us but as stewards of
the fruit of the gospel. What is the fruit of the gospel you say? It
is reconciliation and forgiveness.

God has said as our lesson quotes, "Every good and perfect gift is
from above, and comes down from the Father of lights... (James 1:17
NKJV). He is offering you and me the work of perhaps a higher order
than we've previously thought -- stewardship at a higher level than
we've yet known. I don't know about you, but I think the offer is
worth the risks. So, how about you, will you take it?

Maria Greaves-Barnes


Sent from my iPhone--

--

Friday, November 23, 2018

Faith is Finding Comfort in a Promise

Faith is Finding Comfort in a Promise

Miriam has been dating Rupert for quite a while.  She would like to marry him, but she is not sure he wants to marry her.  Miriam starts to get anxious about it; enough that others notice a change in her conduct – especially Rupert.  She looks as if she is carrying a burden.

Rupert wants to marry her.  But, he thinks he is not quite ready to make the commitment.  Rupert, however, wisely senses that her anxiety may be related to his delaying in proposing.  He seeks advice, and everyone says he should not waste more time.  Miriam's fear grows.  She looks like her burden is massive.  Rupert is afraid that asking her in the stage she is in might backfire.  But, everyone says " do not worry; it will work out."

Rupert plans a proposal event.  Miriam seems to suspect something which adds to her anxiety.  This makes Rupert more nervous, but he decides to go as planned.  At hearing the proposal, Miriam suddenly gets quiet, looks at Rupert right in his eyes.  Rupert thinks, "I messed up."  But, all of a sudden Miriam's semblance was transformed.  She yells out, "Yes, yes, I will marry you."  Then she embraces Rupert. 

When Rupert saw her face again, her semblance had changed.  She looked as if the burden disappeared.  Her face was radiant, her eyes twinkling.  The proposal – a promise to get married – was enough for Miriam to feel better, to have a hopeful outlook of the future. 

In a sense, Habakkuk was in a similar position as Miriam.  He saw the spiritual condition of the Kingdom.  This was reflected in, among other things: the immorality, the abuse and, and the violence of his fellow countrymen toward other countrymen.  He wondered, "Will God do something about it?"  So, Habakkuk cried out to God, essentially asking God, "Do you not see what is going on?  How long will you allow this to continue? Are you not the all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful God?  Will you do something about it?"  God, in essence, answered, "I do see what is going on.  And, I am not pleased.  But, I am not uninvolved.  I am doing something, but the fruit will not be seen for years to come.  I will put a stop to this; but, in my own time and in my own way."

God's answer to Habakkuk was a promise, which Habakkuk may not see fulfilled.  But, somehow the promise is to comfort Habakkuk, as the promise of marriage comforts a young bride.   To know that God has a plan and He is executing it should suffice, just as it is sufficient for a bride – at least for a time – that her fiancĂ© has a plan and is implementing it.  To be satisfied with a promise requires faith. And, in fact, Habakkuk was told that the just lives by his faith (Habakkuk  2: 4).   The just or righteous would be those who, like Habakkuk, were crying out to God as they lived surrounded by unrighteousness. 

Faith is defined as trusting that the word will do that which it said it would and waiting for the word to do it.  (Rupert made a promise to Miriam, she had to trust that Rupert would fulfill it and wait for Rupert to do it.)  Habakkuk was to believe that God would fulfill His promise and was to wait for God to do it.  This implied that Habakkuk should not do something himself, outside of what God instructed.  Faith is also defined as a response of heartfelt appreciation for what God's work.  (Miriam was grateful.) Habakkuk was being asked to be thankful that God had answered his prayer and would one day do a work which "you would not believe, though it be told you" (Habakkuk 1: 5).  This means that Habakkuk was to be certain that what he hoped for would happen and what he did not see would be revealed (Hebrews 11: 1).  To Habakkuk God's promise is evidence of what is not seen – that God does see what is going on, He cares and is involved in a solution to the problem.  Like Abraham, Habakkuk believed what he heard from God, and it counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15: 6).  The following quote gives us a deeper understanding, 

 "There is an answer to Habakkuk's question. It is an answer, not in terms of thought, but in terms of events. God's answer will happen, but it cannot be spelled out in words. The answer will surely come; 'if it seem[s] slow, wait for it.' True, the interim is hard to bear; the righteous one is horrified by what he sees. To this, the great answer is given: 'The righteous shall live by his faith.' It is an answer, again not in terms of thought, but in terms of existence. Prophetic faith is trust in Him, in Whose presence stillness is a form of understanding."—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, p. 143.

The judgment the Lord promised was dreadful.  But Habakkuk trusted the Lord.  Ellen White says,

Confident that even in this terrible judgment the purpose of God for His people would in some way be fulfilled, Habakkuk bowed in submission to the revealed will of Jehovah. "Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One?" he exclaimed. And then, as his faith reached out beyond the grim prospect of the immediate future, and laid fast hold on the precious promises that reveal God's love for His trusting children, the prophet added, "We shall not die." (Habakkuk 1: 12). With this declaration of faith he rested his case, and that of every believing Israelite, in the hands of a compassionate God.  Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 386-389

Habakkuk is to be an example to us.  God is still at work in our life even if we do not see it.  We read from Ellen White,

The faith that strengthened Habakkuk and all the holy and the just in those days of deep trial was the same faith that sustains God's people today. In the darkest hours, under the circumstances, the most forbidding, the Christian believer may keep his soul stayed upon the source of all light and power. Day by day, through faith in God, his hope and courage may be renewed. "The just shall live by his faith... We must cherish and cultivate the faith of which prophets and apostles have testified—the faith that lays hold on the promises of God and waits for deliverance in His appointed time and way. The sure word of prophecy will meet its final fulfillment in the glorious advent of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as King of kings and Lord of lords. The time of waiting may seem long, the soul may be oppressed by discouraging circumstances, many in whom confidence has been placed may fall by the way; but with the prophet who endeavored to encourage Judah in a time of unparalleled apostasy, let … us ever hold in remembrance the cheering message, "The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end, it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry... The just shall live by his faith." Hebrews 2: 3, 4.  Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 386-389

Since "Faith comes through hearing and hearing by the word," then it is the Word of God that sustains those who listen and hearken until the end.  

Friday, November 9, 2018

“IMAGES OF UNITY”

"IMAGES OF UNITY"

 

 

Incorporation

 

The term to incorporate can mean to unite closely or so as to form one body. The word corporate is referring to the whole as opposed to the parts. For, example, we can talk about the Congress or the Senate as a whole, but they are not really one body. As a consequence of living in a sinful world, there is a need for checks and balances, and accountability, hence representative government/voting. Any legislation is typically voted on by all but is only won by the majority, signifying a lack of true oneness. The USA's Supreme Court also works this way. Although all 9 judges make a corporate body, they vote on their cases individually, and the majority vote wins. So, technically speaking neither system is really one in mind and purpose. They are not, by biblical definition, really incorporated.

 

However, a symphony orchestra can be considered incorporated, for they all play as one. What brings a musical group together is each musician in the orchestra plays a different part of the same musical composition, from the same sheet music and under the direction of a conductor. All musicians follow not only the sheet music but also the conductor's guidance as to how and when to play the piece. So, when we talk about an orchestra in a corporate sense, we are talking about the orchestra and its conductor. If the orchestra was a body, then the conductor would be the head and musicians, the remaining parts of the body.

 

Our bodies work similarly. Yes, the body parts are pretty much interconnected in many ways and seem to cooperate rather well with one another. However, upon closer inspection, it is apparent that they really work together only in cooperation with the brain. The brain is the headquarters, where each of the members sends its concerns. The mind is the one that gives instructions which, if carefully followed, alleviates the concerns. The hands do not talk to the eyes or legs. When the stomach is hungry, it signals the brain. The brain, in turn, tells the legs, "go to the refrigerator," and then tells the hands, "open the door," and so on. The stomach did not talk to the legs or any other part of the body. Not one member of the body consulted with another; instead, all concerns (and desires) go to the brain. The decision to eat is not a community decision; it is the brain's decision. The brain is the one that is in charge of the body's working system; the community (of bodily members) is not. This is the system that God has designed, and it works effectively and efficiently to carry out the tasks that He has designed.

 

This is something to consider when we use Paul's metaphor of the church as a body. Paul uses this metaphor a few times; some examples are in Romans 12:4 - 5; 1 Corinthians 10:16 - 17, 12:12 - 27; Ephesians 1:20 - 23, 4:4 – 12, 16, 5:30; Colossians 3:15. He says that just as the physical body has many members working together for the sake of the body so does the church have many members working together for the sake of the church.

 

In Ephesians 5:23, 24, Paul ties the body to the head (where the brain is),

 

…Christ is the head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the body. Therefore … the church is subject unto Christ,

 

Notice what Paul says: the head is Christ, and the rest of the body is the church. In verse 24, Paul adds that the church (the rest of the body) is subject unto the Christ (the head). In Colossians, Paul repeats that Christ is the head of the body (Colossians 1: 18). Paul adds in Colossians 2:19 that it is the Head "from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." Christ sends His Spirit to our minds, and in conjunction with the Godhead, He controls the mind (if we allow Him to). As a consequence of receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit, we receive the attributes of "lowliness and meekness (humility), with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2, 3). And the Holy Spirit gives to each of us, spiritual gifts according to His discernment. As Ephesians 4:11, 12 says:

 

And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

 

You see, as long as we remain united to the Head, the Spirit resides in us. As long as the Spirit remains in us, we have the attributes (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, humility, etc.) and the gifts. However, when we start consulting with one another as if we were a community, then we lose the attributes, which is what brings cohesion among us, and we lose (or misuse) the gifts. The qualities and the gifts come from the same source, and they are part of one package. You cannot have one without the other.

 

For the church to function as a body, we need to behave more like a body, by communicating with the Head (through prayer, devotions, and bible study). As long as the church acts as a community, it ignores the Head, works in its own strength, and loses the blessings of the attributes and the gifts, and therefore fails. For the church to be an effective body, it must stop behaving like a community, and it starts by allowing Christ - the Head - to conduct and orchestrate all things.

 

~Raul Diaz


Friday, November 2, 2018

The Gospel of Nitrogen

The previous quarterly dealt with the same incident this lesson is focusing on.  Here is the Insight posted back then.

The Gospel of Nitrogen 

Everything is made of molecules. Some are small and others bigger. 
Some are simple and others complex. Proteins are very large and 
complex molecules. Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called 
amino acids, and Nitrogen is an essential part of all amino acids. 
However, nitrogen as a part of an amino acid is an atom. All 
molecules are made out of atoms. Other molecules that contain nitrogen 
are all nucleic acids (which provide energy and genetic information), 
and most plant pigments involved in photosynthesis. Which implies 
that plants need lots of nitrogen. The most common component of 
plant fertilizers is, in fact, one of two forms of nitrogen - nitrate 
(NO3-) or ammonium (NH4+) ions—both usable forms of nitrogen for 
plants. 

With a concentration of about 78 percent, nitrogen gas comprises the 
largest component of earth's atmosphere. It has at least a million 
times more nitrogen than found in all living systems combined. The bad 
news is that all of this atmospheric nitrogen consists of molecules of 
N2 — that is, two atoms of nitrogen bound tightly together by, what 
chemists call, three strong covalent bonds. Unfortunately, it takes a 
great deal of energy to break the triple bond. Because plants can't 
use molecular nitrogen (N2), nitrogen has to transform into one of the 
two absorbable ions. When you break the bonds between the molecular 
nitrogen, each nitrogen ion is open to attract and attach other atoms 
and form different molecules. So, before the nitrogen can bond with 
other elements like oxygen or hydrogen it has to become an ion itself. 
Let us try to reiterate: the two nitrogen atoms are attracted to each 
other, very strongly. Once bonded the nitrogen atoms cannot bond with 
anything else unless that bond is broken. When the bond is broken, 
the nitrogen will have open spaces to bond with other ions. Now, 
notice that the symbol for nitrate has a negative sign and the 
ammonium has a positive sign, this is why they are called ions and not 
molecules. Both nitrate and ammonium have open spaces to bond as 
well. 

Back to nitrogen: it requires a lot of energy to break nitrogen's 
triple bond. In His wisdom, the Creator provided several ways to 
convert atmospheric molecular nitrogen into usable forms that will 
dissolve in water so that plant roots can absorb it. The immense 
energy of lightning easily breaks triple nitrogen bond, turning it 
into nitrates and washing it down in the rain of a good thunderstorm. 
Have you noticed how green your lawn is after a lightning strikes? 
Even more critical, many types of bacteria convert nitrogen from one 
form to another. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen 
to the more plant-friendly ammonium ion (though it is toxic in large 
concentrations). Other bacteria, called ammonifying bacteria, also 
create the ammonium ion, but they do it by decomposition of plant and 
animal matter. Check out the smell of your compost pile. It reeks of 
ammonia. Fortunately, another family of bacteria called nitrifying 
bacteria transforms the ammonium ion to the safer nitrates. (As you 
might guess, the cycles are more complicated than what I am 
describing.) 

It is not uncommon for atoms in a "multi-atom" molecule to behave 
differently than when they were a mono-atom molecule. As previously 
mentioned, the bonds in molecules of compounds are very strong. The 
atoms that compose the molecules now yield to one another. They work 
as one. Whether, in ammonium or nitrate, nitrogen no longer behaves 
as nitrogen. For example, water is not flammable. But, the two 
elements that compose water – hydrogen, and oxygen - on their own are 
very flammable. 

This has a spiritual application. Let us go step by step. Before 
conversion, the disciples could not bond. Before the crucifixion, 
they were fighting for supremacy. That ceased after the ten days in 
the upper chamber. Luke described what happened then, "And when the 
day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one 
place" (acts 2: 1). Ellen White describes the events in the following 
quote, 
"After Christ's ascension, His disciples--men of varied talents and 
capabilities--assembled in an upper chamber to pray for the gift of 
the Holy Spirit. In this room 'all continued with one accord in prayer 
and supplication.' They made thorough work of repentance by confessing 
their own sins. Upon them was laid no burden to confess one another's 
sins. Settling all differences and alienations, they were of one 
accord, and prayed with unity of purpose for ten days, at the end of 
which time 'they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to 
speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.' {7MR 
94.4} 

There was a definite change in them. This change was reflected in all 
their followers: "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one 
heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he 
possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with 
great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord 
Jesus. And great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:32, 33, NKJV). 

What happened? When the Holy Spirit began working in them, He broke 
their bond to Sin or self. It takes the mighty grace of God to do 
this. Now, they have open space to bond with Christ and with each 
other. Christ could not use the disciples in their natural state. 
They had to become spiritual ions to be able to bond with other 
spiritual atoms. 

So, the disciples laid aside all their ambitions. Now instead of 
fighting, they were convicted by the Holy Spirit to die to self. The 
words of Paul became a reality in them: "…be not conformed to this 
world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind," and do not 
think more highly than he ought to think of himself (Romans 12: 2 – 
3). God is waiting for us to let the Holy Spirit do the same work in 
us. 

Raul Diaz 

 RR
Raul Diaz

Saturday, October 27, 2018

What God Has Done

What God Has Done

Robert and Gina were siblings who were destined to bounce from home to home. You see, they didn't want to be adopted, they wanted their mommy and daddy back. But mommy and daddy had forfeited not only their right to have Robert and Gina in their custody but were not even allowed to see them. Their rights as parents had been terminated, and it was permanent. But how Robert and Gina missed them. Yet, there was no going back. Well, you may ask, "did the parents really deserve not even being allowed to see their children?" Sadly, Robert and Gina's parents received what they wanted, for neither parent desired the best for the children. Neither parent called or wrote or attempted to visit the children. They not only never remembered Robert's or Gina's birthday, but they never tried to support them financially, did not send them to school or feed them. To the parents, Robert and Gina were unwanted burdens, and so they left them to fend for themselves. In a heightened state of anxiety and anticipation, Robert and Gina waited and waited for their parents to return, but they never did. Instead, someone called the local child and family agency, and the workers came out and rescued them. Robert and Gina were so sure their parents would return, that they did not want to leave. Angry, sullen and reluctant, they were taken out of the home and placed in foster care, as no relatives existed. Still mad at being taken away, and hopeful that their parents would return, they refused to cooperate. Young as they were, Robert and Gina thought that if they were bad enough, no one would keep them, and then the two could go home; until then, Robert and Gina had decided they could take care of themselves. The day finally came when the workers thought they were old enough to be told that their parents' rights had been terminated by the state. They were so angry that they determined to behave worse than before. 

But this foster home was different. The foster parents were gentle but firm and kind and loving. Furthermore, they had determined that they would adopt Robert and Gina. The foster care workers spoke at length with the foster parents, the court and finally with the children, and drew up the papers. All were made in readiness, but still, the children resisted. What more could be done for them? It was out of the question for Robert and Gina to return to the place where their parents had left them, for the drug and rodent infested apartment buildings had been razed. There were no other foster homes that wanted them, and they were too young for group home living or emancipation. What could be done? Finally, the foster parents requested Robert and Gina to come into the living room together. There they spoke with the children at length. They told them, "we know that both of you have been waiting for your mom and dad to return." "We also know that you have been angry that their rights have been terminated, and that you don't know where they are or even if they're alive." "We want you to know that we don't want to take your parent's love away from you and that we will never try." "We just want to adopt both of you and give you the benefits and privileges to which you'd be entitled if you'd been born to us." "We love you, and we hope you'll eventually come to love us, but it's your choice." If you were Robert or Gina, what would you choose? Would you choose to be adopted or would you want otherwise? I'm happy to be able to tell you that both Robert and Gina chose adoption, and came to love their adoptive parents. 

Our lesson this week focuses on 'what God has done.' If someone were to ask you what has God done, what would you say? Would you be able to tell them that every human being that had ever lived, is living or would live (the whole human race) was placed into Christ, the 2nd Adam?   And, that when He lived -- we lived, and when He died -- we died in Him, and when He was resurrected -- we were resurrected.  Furthermore,  that through His blood we have the forgiveness of sins, redemption and have been accepted in the beloved by the Father (I Cor. 15:45, Rom. 5:12 -21, Eph.1:6)? Would you say that by Christ's redeeming blood, He has given every human being the gift of choice and that whoever would like to be adopted into God's family now has the privilege to do so? The apostle Paul certainly would say these things if he were alive and were asked. How do we know? Because He has said so, in his writings.

In Ephesians 1:4, Paul says that the Father chose us 'in Christ' before the earth had a foundation. Brothers and sisters, this was before sin even entering our world, as our world wasn't yet created. How could we be chosen before earth's foundation when we weren't even alive? Well, scripture says that God foreknew us (see Ps. 139 the whole chapter and in particular, vs.14-16). Not only did He choose us, but He placed us 'in Christ.' By the way who is the 'us' He placed in Christ? Why it's the whole world -- not just believers, for by the offense of one -- Adam the 1st -- sin entered the world, and the wages of sin is the second death.
In contrast, by the abundant unmerited favor of the Father, the gift of the righteousness of Christ came upon all men so that all were justified and received the gift of life. Just as by the disobedience of one, the many (all) were made sinners -- by the obedience of One, the many were made righteous, and we judge thus, "if one died for all, then were all dead (Romans 5:10-19, 2 Cor. 5:14)." So, in Christ, we -- the human race -- were made right with God. Going back to our true story in which the names where changed, the papers were prepared without the children's consent. They had no say in the preparation or rectifying of the wrong their parents had done. Just so, we had no say in what the 1st Adam did, which was to plunge us into sin and no say in what the 2nd Adam -- Christ -- did which was to rectify the wrong which our first parent had done.

In our story, did Robert and Gina have a say to whether they were adopted or not? Sure they did, and so do we. If Robert and Gina refused to be adopted, no court of law would dishonor their wishes and proceed with the adoption. By the same token, the court of heaven will not dishonor our choice regarding heavenly adoption, it is ours alone to make. Yet, as the prospective adoptive parents attempted to persuade the children to accept the adoption as in their best interest, so the Holy Spirit tries to convince us that the Father loves us and would be delighted to adopt us as His sons and daughters. According to Galatians 3:5, Paul says that Christ was sent to redeem all of us who were under the condemnation of the second death (the law), that we might receive (if we so desire) the adoption of sons. (Vs. 6) And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Holy Spirit into our hearts that we may cry, 'Abba -- Father.'" Galatians 3:26 says "For ye are all the children of God by faith 'in Christ Jesus'." Who is referred to here as the children of God? Those who choose to live by faith. 

Romans 8:15,16 also reiterates the same message. Let's look at verse 15, "For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage (to sin / Satan) again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of Adoption, whereby ye cry Abba, Father." Verses 16 and 17 add valuable information too. They say, "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our Spirit, that we are the Children of God: And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and Joint-heirs with Christ..." Wow, what a wonderful gift has been given to us, and sadly how little we think of it. Many of us are often wondering if the Father truly loves us. Some of us even question whether or not we're really saved. How sad that we think God is far away from us and has forgotten us. How could a parent who is in his right mind, forget his children? Sometimes human parents do when they're preoccupied, but for the most part, parents do not forget their children. If a loving parent thinks about his or her children and plans for them, wouldn't a perfect God? How could He forget when He does not suffer from the effects of sin? 

It seems as if one of the reasons we forget that God loves us is that we resist being led by Him. Somehow, we're still convinced that we can go it alone -- that as long as we live Politically Correct lives, as long as we're nice to people and live a social gospel, we'll be all right. But Romans 8:14 says, "For as many as are led by the (Holy) Spirit of God, they are the sons (and daughters) of God. Could it be that we're still under the dominion of our first parent (Adam the 1st) -- and that we're trying to obey the law so we won't be condemned? What a waste of perfectly good energy. For there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are 'in Christ Jesus,' who walk not after the flesh, but after the Holy Spirit. For it is only the law of the Spirit of life 'in Christ Jesus' that has made us free (already) of the law of sin and death. Brothers and sisters, we've been freed from the condemnation of the second death, by dying 'in Christ' and being raised with Him to sit in heavenly places. The Father has chosen us to be a part of His family 'in Christ,' and our adoption papers have been prepared and signed in His blood. Freely He has given us this wonderful gift, hoping against hope that we will choose to receive and share it with others. He is waiting for our smile of recognition and understanding, anticipating and hoping that we'll choose to love Him in return. The Holy Spirit is prompting us, let us not resist -- for as many as are led by the Holy Spirit -- they are the sons of God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Law and the Gospel

The Law and the Gospel

Memory Text: "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3, 4, NKJV).

This verse presents a dilemma because depending on how you read it the emphasis could be on knowing Christ- (which would make keeping the law a fruit of knowing Him) or on keeping the law (which would make knowing Him a fruit of keeping the law).  Which one is it? 

We could try looking at the verse closer and see where it leads us.  Let us start within the expression, "that we know Him."  In John 17:3, Christ stated that knowing Him (and His Father) is eternal life.  In John 6, Christ says that eating His flesh and drinking His blood gives life.  When we eat and drink, we assimilate the food and beverages; it becomes part of us.  So, although we do not think about it in this manner, there is an intimate relation between food and us.  What we eat and how we eat will eventually be revealed.  This is akin to knowing someone, the more time you spend with them, the more the two assimilate each other. Finally, it will be evident that the two spend a lot of time together.  To those around Peter, it became apparent that Peter was with Jesus; Peter now spoke like a Galilean (Matthew 26:73).  Peter in many ways acted like Jesus.  So, Peter's speech was evidence that he was with Jesus.  Peter did not go around speaking like Jesus to prove that he was one of them.  It just came out.  When the disciples preached many said that it was evident that they had been with Jesus.  There was a transformation. 

The next expression is "Keeping the commandments."  Who are these that keep them? Paul identifies the just as those who keep the commandments (Romans 2: 13).  The words just and righteous are the same word in Greek.  Abraham was just.  How was Abraham just?  He believed God's words, and it was counted to Him for righteousness (Romans 4:3).  Now, if Abraham's faith made him just, and the just keep the commandments, it follows that only those who hear God's words and believe them (since faith comes through Hearing and hearing through the word) keep the commandments (Romans 10:17).  The best way to know someone is to hear what they say and seek to understand them. 

What are the commandments?  We could argue that they are the Ten Commandments.  We typically also call it the Law.  The Ten Commandments speak of things we would do for others, not ourselves.  Not one of the commandments says anything about how you are to treat yourself, but how you are to treat God and others.  Christ stated in Matthew 22: 37 - 40,

Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Mat 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

This is a summary of the commandments.  It says in essence, put God and others first.  This is what Jesus did, he put His Father and others first.  So much that He went to die on the cross, so others may live.  That is why the Father sent Him (Romans 5:8).  So, John puts it this way,

1Jo 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

In the Gospel according to John 15: 10 – 17, Jesus is quoted saying that this is the commandment He gives to us,

John 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love…
John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

And we see in this passage how laying down your life is related to abiding in Christ's love.  So, is love related to the commandments?  Paul gives the answer,

Romans 13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

How do we relate faith to all of these?  Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).  Anything outside of faith is Sin (Romans 14:23).   So, anything outside of faith transgresses the Law.  We have concluded that the law, in essence, says to love God and others above yourself; so, not loving God and others above yourself – or loving yourself above others – is transgressing the law, and it is not of faith; therefore it is a Sin.  So, if love fulfills the law and does not transgress it, love is not Sin therefore love is of faith.  This means that since loving God and others above yourself is laying down your life, then it follows that only those who lay down their life for others, as Christ laid His life down for us, are just or righteous; they keep the law.  So, how do we know you know Christ?  Because you are willing to lay down your life for others as He laid His down for you. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Elusive Righteousness

Elusive Righteousness
 
The Word elusive means: difficult to find, catch, or achieve; difficult to remember or recall; to elude capture, perception, comprehension, or memory; difficult to define or describe; be difficult to detect or grasp by the mind.  We use this word to describe something that may seem within grasp, but yet we can never reach it.  It could be used for that promotion or raise you never get.  In some organizations, a specific landmark amount of members is never reached.  It can be used for a fugitive or criminal that is hard to catch.  It is also used for a particular animal that is hard to hunt or fish.
 
There is a metaphor used in an old Spanish love song that I think illustrates this point well.  To tell the lover his or her love will always be unrequited, the singer makes this statement,
 
"The sea and the sky look equally blue
and in the distance, they seem to meet and unite,
better remember that the sky is always sky
that never, never will the sea reach."
 
The point is obvious, "As the sky is elusive to the sea, so am I to you."
 
God's ways are higher than ours.  God says through Isaiah "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).  In the above metaphor, we are the sea, and the Lord is the sky.  We will never reach God.  That is why God sent His Son to reach us.  So anything from God is unattainable for us unless it is through Jesus.  That is why Paul says that "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).  The word justified means to be made righteous; this means that man is made righteous by faith and not by attempting to obey the law in his strength.  Paul is saying that your effort to obey the law on your own will be futile and therefore you will never be righteous.  Righteousness will be elusive in your strength.  The more you try, the harder it gets to reach it. 
 
But, Paul makes it clear that being justified by faith does not make the law void, on the contrary, it exalts the law (Romans 3:31).  Then He uses Abraham as an example of how justification by faith works.  Paul says of Abraham,
 
Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Romans 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
 
Abraham was no exception in regards to how to become righteous.  It was not on his strength, but by faith.  He believed God's Word and this believing the Word was counted to Him as righteousness.  Ellen White says that Righteousness is obedience to the law (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367); this means that when Abraham believed God's word, it was counted unto Him as obedience to the law.  It was faith that made Abraham a doer of the Law.  And, so it is with us.