Friday, January 19, 2018

The Seven Steps

The Seven Steps

Stairs are so common now that many of us take them for granted.  They have been around for so long we cannot think of them ever as an invention.  But, stairs are one of the oldest buildings in architectural history; they have always played a central role in the history of humanity, although it is difficult to tell in which year they made their "debut," many believe that their appearance was thousands of years before Christ. Like everything else, the design of stairs seems to change with the change of architectural eras, reflecting the trends used in different ages and revealing the talent of those who designed them.

Apparently, the first stairs were created accidentally.  Allegedly, the first stairs in the history were wood trunks fitted together; these kinds of stairs were used to acquire strategic positions for survival.  Stairs were first used to overcome the difficulties presented by the terrain, such as valleys or mountains.  The goal was to be able to overcome these challenges as soon as possible; to move up often meant moving to a place of greater security. At that time this could have meant the difference between life and death.  It was very important to move quickly, hence the importance of the stairs.

So, like many other inventions, stairs first emerged as a solution to a problem, although, years later it was found in China the first granite staircase leading to the sacred mountain in Tai Shan, this indicates that one of the utilities that were given to the stairs in his story was for religious purposes. Confucius, in one of his stories, said to have gone up this ladder to the top in the year 55 BC.  The ladder was used metaphorically to describe reaching the height of divinity and establishing a connection between earth and sky. Other examples of stairs built for religious purposes are a. the biblical Jacob's ladder, b. The tower of Babel, which was a helical tower, c. The pyramids of Egypt that had stairs, d. The celestial ladder of Shantung in China, and e. The stairs in India (a peculiarity of the stairs in India is that they also had scientific utility). All these stairs have something in common; they symbolize the rise of the light, the sun, and a path into the God's presence.

Some say that Lucifer's six-fold assertion of becoming like God is like a metaphorical ladder.  We read this statement in Isaiah 14: 12 – 15,

Isaiah 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
Isaiah 14:13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
Isaiah 14:14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Isaiah 14:15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

 God tells Lucifer the reality of his existence and contrasts it with what Lucifer had purposed in his heart.  Again, Lucifer's statement is six-fold, making it six steps in the metaphorical ladder.  The seventh step is where Lucifer falls, being "brought down to hell."

 We see a contrast with Jesus in Philippians 2: 5 - 9.  Let us read the passage,

Philippians 2:5-11King James Version (KJV)
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 Paul uses six statements to describe what Christ did as a man.  All six statements are about Christ descending, so the seventh step is the Father exalting the Son of Man above all.  What a complete contrast!  The Devil ascended six steps up the ladder only to fall.  Christ descended six steps down the ladder, to later be exalted.  Paul exhorts us to be like Christ (Philippians 2:5).  Will we?

Friday, January 12, 2018

INSIGHT #2 JANUARY 13, 2018

.                                                         First Quarter 2018
Sabbath School Insight #2
"I See, I Want, I Take"
January 13, 2018

The title of this week's lesson brings vividly to mind the story of a young man I'll call Dave, whose family became interested in the Adventist message while Dave was a teen. After completing a home Bible study on the fourth commandment, his family became convinced of the seventh day Sabbath truth. We met this family the first Sabbath they ever attended church. After making their acquaintance we enjoyed times of study and fellowship with them. We suggested the family consider sending Dave to an SDA school. They did. The school accepted him based in part upon our recommendation.
 
Things went well for a while until we received word that Dave had been expelled from school for stealing. On the outside he exuded an exemplary demeanor and deportment. We were saddened by the news that the stealing had been a recurrent issue, leaving the school with no choice but to send him home. Shortly after his return, he came over to our home with his parents to apologize for letting us down. He read to us a carefully composed apology he had written and then explained to us in his own words what happened: one of the staff members had a valuable piece of equipment which had been left "unguarded." With no one to witness his act, Dave took the equipment and hid it in his own belongings. More than once, he emphasized that the object he took was one that he saw, he wanted, and he took because it was "unguarded." We assured him that we forgave him and that God loved him.
 
Dave came from a family of means; lack of resources to obtain such equipment legitimately wasn't an issue for him. This experience unfortunately dampened the family's interest in the Adventist Church. Eventually they stopped attending and intentionally cut off all ties with us.
 
A few years later we heard the tragic and shocking news that Dave had been arrested as a primary suspect in the cold-blooded murder of his parents.
 
While no one would have predicted this outcome for Dave, nor can we presume to understand the motivation behind his actions, the Bible is clear.
 
Sin originated in the heart of Lucifer. The principle of "see, want, take" was borne out in his life. He saw Jesus, Who as Creator of the universe and the self-existent One inherently had more power and a higher position than he, a created being, could ever have. Nevertheless, Lucifer aspired to the higher position and more power, and in the ages that followed, he revealed that he would stop at no means to gain his object, even taking the life of his Maker, the Son of God. Covetousness starts in the heart, but given opportunity without repentance, it leads to murder.
 
All this to say, the desire for something that isn't mine isn't something that merely needs regulating to keep it from getting out of hand. It must be crucified. Covetousness is the root cause of the murder of the Son of God. It bears fruit in stealing from others what isn't mine, whether it be property, money, or a spouse. It resorts to falsehood to cover its insidious tracks, and it ultimately leads to murder of the Son of God.
 
Greed has a large appetite that can never be assuaged. It is an equal opportunity employer, willingly engaging rich and poor alike in its servitude. Hoarders amass worthless treasures in their homes or garages while others accumulate fortunes in their bank accounts. Both are alike at risk for putting their confidence in the things of this world, which is passing away.
 
The only cure for the fatal condition of covetousness (it is fatal because the wages of sin is death) is found in beholding Jesus, who "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God," — in other words Jesus did not obtain His high position as God by angling for it or by strategizing; it was His by right, therefore He did not arrive at that position by deceptive means, it was His very identity — "but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:6-8.
 
The position Lucifer wanted so badly but could never have, Christ willingly gave up in order that He might save man at any cost to Himself. When Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit in the garden, they imbibed of that Luciferian spirit: I see, I want, I take. Once infected with this disease of sin — of taking what is not ours to take — Adam passed it along to the entire human race. Outside of Christ there is no cure. Materialism isn't merely a desire that must be reined in or controlled, it must be rooted out of the heart like a poisonous plant. With Paul we must experience the life-changing power of the cross every day. We are crucified with Christ and we live, not for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again (Galatians 2:20).
 
Have you noticed that there are places in the world where people are much more content than in other places? I have witnessed children in Africa who couldn't be happier playing with a self-constructed ball or toy in an open field while I have witnessed children in America made miserable by the acquisition of another toy because it is the wrong brand or not as nice as the neighbor's next door.
 
The quest for better and more doesn't necessarily end in happiness. It takes resolute purpose to turn away from the things of this world and turn our eyes upon Jesus.
 
Whether we are rich or poor, the gifts with which we have been entrusted are to be rendered in service for Him.
 
"To live is to give" is the principle of heaven and of Christ's followers on earth. Owing to the fact that we still inhabit sinful bodies, we should not be surprised if our flesh rises up to complain when we strive to live according to God's plan. If it hurts to give, give anyway. God's agape love medicine is doing its needed work upon the heart. Giving wisely to those in need, whether through the means of our time, energy, or resources is the currency upon which heaven is based. Riches thus invested in our heavenly account will never be lost, but will rebound in blessings throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.
 
~Patti Guthrie

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sabbath School Insights: How Jesus Spent "His" Time

How Jesus Spent "His" Time

How Jesus Spent "His" Time 

Balance as an adjective is a state in which opposing tendencies are equal. To balance an object means to position it with its center of gravity above its supports in such a way that there is no tendency for it to topple over to one side rather than to another.  The forces of gravity are equal on each side.  

In acoustics, balance is the condition in a stereo system wherein both speakers produce the same average sound levels.   In aerospace engineering, it is the equilibrium attained by an aircraft, rocket, or the like when forces and moments are acting upon it to produce a steady flight, especially without rotation about its axes.  In chemistry, balance is to bring a chemical equation into a state wherewith conservation of mass and charge.   

We could say that balance in social terms is the point at which you can give time to all parties and activities, and they all are satisfied.  Something humanly impossible to do, but that we believe we should be able to do.  Because it is impossible, many experts say that we should learn to say, "No."  You cannot please everyone and do all things well at all times.   

From our human perspective, Christ lives an "unbalanced" life.  (He said, "No," sometimes.)  He "neglected" and "ignored" His family (Matthew 12: 46 – 50).  He did not eat at times (John 4: 31 – 33).  All so that He could do the things stated in the verses enumerated in our lesson  - Matthew 4:2, Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:16, John 2:1-11, John 12:2.  These examples give us four different categories of work: preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding.  We should note that Jesus repeatedly said that it was not He that did the works, but His Father.  Let us read from John 8: 28, 29; 12: 49, 50; and 14:10,   

John8:28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
John8:29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. 
John12:49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
John12:50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak. 
John14:10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 

Jesus spent the time given to Him doing the Father's will.  To be able to do this Jesus prayed - sometimes all night.  Here are a few verses talking about that,  

Mark1:35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. 
Luke5:16 And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed. 
Luke9:28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. 
Luke6:12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 

The prayer enabled and empowered Him to lay aside His will so he could do His Father's will, which in His case was preaching, teaching, healing, and feeding.  Christ died to self daily.  He said, "No," to Himself to say, "Yes," to the Father.  To live as Jesus lived then is to live a life doing the Father's will.  What is the Father's will for us?  The following is an excerpt of a sermon by a prominent Pastor which answers this question from Romans 12: 1 - 2.

"The question I want to ask you is, "Are you willing to present your bodies a living sacrifice?"  Romans 12:1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.
In other words, for me now onward is not to live for myself but for Christ.  Because of this, Paul says in Romans 12:2:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In other words, "do not fit yourself into the world's mold."  This is one of the biggest problems we face here.

It wasn't long after coming to America I discovered this was one of the major problems that we face here in America.  I'll tell you why.  When I go and preach the gospel to the pagans in Africa, to the Animists, and they become Christians, they know that they are saying good-bye to paganism in exchange for Christianity.  So it is a common practice among Africans when they are baptized to actually change their names.  They actually change their names, just like Paul did when he was converted from Judaism.  He changed his name from Saul to Paul.  What does this signify?  It means that they are no longer belonging to the world.

But here is the problem in this country.  For years in school every morning, public or private school, we have to say, "This is one nation under God."  So it has caused a problem because we make no distinction between our culture and Christianity.  Because it's "one nation under God."  But let me ask you a question.  In practice, is this really one nation under God?  Because we have not made a distinction between the cultural patterns of our country and the Christian lifestyle, whatever the trend is of the culture, the church follows.  You look at the culture of the country and look at the direction of the church.  It doesn't take long for the church to change.  And we follow in the same footsteps, whether it's divorce, lifestyle, you name it, and this has caused a major problem.

I want to repeat there are two things of which you must be aware as a Christian.

You have died to the world.
You no longer belong to the world system.
You are living in the world, but you are not of the world.  When Jesus prayed, in John 17:15, He said:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

Now what's the difference?  Is the difference only in outward acts?  No.  We need to go deeper than that.  I want to give you some texts.  First go to 1 John 2, where we see the difference between the world and the church.  I will expound on this in more detail as we go along but I'm just laying the foundation.  What's the foundation?  Every Christian must realize that when you is born in the kingdom of God, you are born crucified.  That's the title of this chapter.  I've taken it from a French theologian.  He said, "Every Christian is born crucified."  1 John 2:15,16:

Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world.
Now, what did he mean by "Do not love the world"?  He did not mean not to love the people of the world.  We must love the people of the world because they are children of God at least by the cross, even though they don't recognize it.

You cannot belong to this worldly kingdom and the kingdom of heaven at the same time.  They are two opposite kingdoms.  What does he mean by "the world"?  Verse sixteen mentions the three driving forces that control the worldly person.

"The cravings of sinful man," in some translations called "the lust of the flesh."  What he feels he wants.  He wants everything.
"The lust of his eyes."  What he sees, he wants.  He's keeping up with the Joneses.
"The boasting of what he has and does," sometimes called "the pride of life."  He always wants to go up and up and up.  He's not willing to go down.  If you don't believe me, ask an eighth grader, "How would you like to go to seventh grade next year?"  I have yet to see a young pastor of a big church who voluntarily wants to go to a small church.  Even in the church, we want to go up and up and up.
We have three kinds of missionaries.  I worked 18 years in Africa and observed three kinds of missionaries.  One is the "tourist missionary."  They are always carrying their camera.  Africa has a lot of game to offer them.  The second kind I call "political missionaries," because you cannot rise to the General Conference unless you have mission service.  So some come there for one term to qualify for a promotion.  But there is a third group, "genuine missionaries" who come there to witness Christ and forget self.  That is the problem with the world.  It's looking for self.  Now turn in contrast to Galatians 5:24:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
That's the mentality of the Christian.  Please turn to chapter six of Galatians.  In Galatians 6:12 Paul says:

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly [legalists] are trying to compel you to be circumcised.  The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Do you know what Paul is saying here?  Those who are legalistic are following rules because they want to give glory to themselves.  The gospel, the cross gives glory to God and, therefore, it means swallowing your pride.  But now look at verse fourteen.  Verse twelve is dealing with the legalist, but verse fourteen is dealing with the true Christian.  Galatians 6:14:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
A Christian is born crucified.  Back to Romans 12:2-3:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Paul is saying, "Please, don't fit into the world's mold but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  What God wants to see in you and me is a transformation of the mind.  The performance will take care of itself.  There are too many Adventists who are trying to get perfection of performance in preparation for the second coming of Christ, or the time of trouble.

So one day I sat down, and I spent hours looking at every statement in the Spirit of Prophecy where the word "character" appears.  I discovered that what Ellen G.  White also teaches — which is in harmony with Paul — is the perfection of the human mind-character.  In other words, the mind set needs to be perfected, the performance God will take care of.  She calls it the cleansing of the soul temple.  Not the performance, but the soul temple.

In other words, we need to have a mind that is totally surrendered to Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  The performance God will take care of.  So what Paul is saying here is, "Don't conform to the world but be transformed by renewing the mind."  Philippians 2:5:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
"Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus."  But also read verses one to four of Philippians 2:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the samve love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
When you have the mind of Christ, God will reveal to you what is the good and acceptable service that He expects from you.  He doesn't expect the same thing from everybody.  Different people have a different measure of faith.  Therefore, he concludes (Romans 12:3):

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
What's the foundation of Christian living?  It's back to the formula, "Not I, but Christ."  That is what you need to remind yourself of daily.  A Christian is justified.  He stands perfect before God.  But when does he begin to live as a justified Christian?  Now!  Daily!  Renew your minds and pray to God, "Father, you have given me your Son.  I am crucified with Him, and now I want Him to live in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me.""

https://sabbathschoolinsights.blogspot.com/2016/08/how-jesus-spent-his-time.html

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Law and the Gospel

The following commentary was published a few years back for another subject.  However, I think it applies to this week's lesson.  Let us read.

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 obeying the law (which would make knowing Him a consequence 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 drink - 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.  In time 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 Abraham's belief 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 neighbor 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,
Joh 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…
Joh 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Joh 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Joh 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 neighbor: 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 the law, love is not Sin.   Thus 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 willingly lay down your life for others as He laid His down for you.

So, the question remains, why was the law given?    Romans says it was given to make sin, sinful; so that Sin may abound (Romans 5: 20).   Galatians says that it was given because of transgression (Galatians 3:19).  What to transgression is it referring?  Based on this verse in Galatians and what Paul says in Hebrews, the transgression was the unbelief of the Israelites in the wilderness (Hebrews 3).  What Paul is saying is that the law was written on tablets because the Israelites refused to let God write the law in their hearts.  So, the inscribed tablets would be a reminder of what of what is righteousness and in contrast to the Israelites what is Sin.  Paul says in 1 Tim 1: 8,

1Ti 1:8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;
1Ti 1:9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
1Ti 1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
1Ti 1:11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

So, for who is the written law, moral law, 10 Commandments? It is for the wicked, the sinner, the trespasser.  Why?  For who is the MRI? Is it not for those who are sick? Why? It is to diagnose; for what purpose? To condemn so, we can punish? No.  It is to convict so the person will go to the doctor for healing.

The commandments were given to expose sin and lead us to a Savior, to convince us of how terrible our condition is, and how we can do nothing to fix it ourselves, so we will stop trying and surrender to the One who has the remedy!  They were given to make Sin unattractive and grace attractive.  Had man been obedient there would have been no need for the law to be given.  Ellen White says,

If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. {PP 364.2}

Thus, the Gospel can be defined as the good news that through Jesus the law can be written in our heart and mind if only we allow the indwelling Spirit of God to do it.  This is God's desire.  Nothing will please Him more.  Will we let Him?

Raul Diaz

Friday, December 22, 2017

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?

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Restored Tools

The Restored Tools

The following story is found in the teacher's comments for this week lesson,

 One night, while the carpenter was away, the toolbox opened, and the tools began to discuss their existence and purpose. The screwdriver lamented that she quietly was used and seldom noticed. The saw also was disenchanted with his purpose, noting that other saws had gone on to become musical instruments and did not have to put up with the sawdust. The wrench complained that he outshined many hood ornaments and felt denigrated when used to work with nuts. The hammer boasted that she had the highest pedigree, being crafted of the finest hickory and stainless steel. Why was she subjected to constant contact with the common iron found in nails? Other tools spoke about their superiority or how the carpenter favored them. None, however, wanted to be used for the purpose for which they had been created. Eventually, many tools plotted their escape. In the morning the carpenter noticed that many of his tools were missing. Of course, this slowed his work. Months passed. Gradually, the carpenter found his tools. The hammer was rusty. The saw was dull, and the screwdriver was bent. The wrench never was located. Meanwhile, the carpenter had replaced some of the missing tools but was unwilling to throw the rusty, bent, dull ones away. He painstakingly restored them. One night the tools were overheard. There was sadness over the wrench, who never had come back, but more rejoicing over the carpenter who had restored the others to usefulness.

The story is used as a parable.   Each tool represents how we feel about our lives.  According to the story, most of us fall in one of the following categories: underused, overused or misused.   Like the tools we blame whoever represents the carpenter – boss, parents, teachers, coach, etc.   The Jews were no exception. 

Like the tools, in the story, the Jews somehow believed that they were underused, overused or misused.   They thought that God did not certainly mean for them to deal with Gentiles; indeed God chose them because of their superiority.  So they set out to prove, on their own, how superior they were to others.   Paul says of them in Romans 10:2-3,

Romans 10: 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
Romans 10:3  For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

Like the tools that ran away and found that they could not live successfully on their own, the Jews found that it was impossible to be righteous.  Even so, they deceived themselves by establishing their own standards and rules to enforce those standards.  Even then they found that it was impossible for them.  So, they created loopholes in their laws so they could bend them while still keeping them.  Christ was very stern with them.  He said they were like whitewashed tombs (Luke 11:44).  They looked beautiful on the outside but only dead inside.  Christ also compared them to barren fig trees (Matthew 21:19; Mark 11: 13; Luke 13: 16 – 19).  They were looking as if they should have fruit even outside of the harvest season, but not once bearing any fruit.  No wonder Christ told the disciples that their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matthew 5: 20). 

In Romans 9: Paul contrasted the Jews with the Gentiles who had accepted the knowledge of the Gospel (which the Jews rejected).  He says,

Romans 9: 30  What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
Romans 9: 31  But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
Romans 9: 32  Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Presented with the Gospel, many Gentiles realized that they were rusted, bent, and dull - something many Jews would not admit to themselves.  Those who accepted the Gospel God brought to His "tool shed" where He restored all who accepted the Gospel to their true purpose and proper usefulness.  They rejoiced in heartfelt appreciation over "The Carpenter" who rescued them and now cared for them.  Slowly "The Carpenter" got rid of the rust on the hammer, sharpened the saw, and straightened the screwdriver.  It may have felt painful, but in the end, the "tools" were grateful.  Would you be grateful to you "master carpenter" that he chose you to do his great work?  What will it take for you to know your Master Carpenter's good and loving character and His caring nature?  Again I ask the question: which tool are you?  I just pray we are not like the wrench.

Friday, December 8, 2017

God's Prerogative

God's Prerogative

In the late 1980's a young singer released a song called "My Prerogative."   Some the lyrics of the song, I believe summarized, the attitude of most in the world when it comes to how they make decisions about how they live their life.  Following are the lyrics I am referring to,

Everybody's talking all this stuff about me 
Now now why don't they just let me live 
Oh oh oh i don't need permission 
Make my own decisions oh 
That's my prerogative

It says, "How I choose to live my life is my decision.  I can do what I want to do, without having to answer to no one.  People should mind their own business."  That is what the word prerogative has come to mean.  The dictionary defines prerogative defined as a right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class; an exclusive or special right, power, or privilege.  Also, one belonging to an office or an official body, one belonging to a person, group, or class of individuals or one possessed by a nation as an attribute of sovereignty.  The word comes from the Latin praerogativa, which in turn comes from the word praerogare which meant to ask for an opinion before another or "to ask before others," (from præ-  "before" + rogare  "to ask").  So the word prerogative, used as a noun, originally referred to the one who was asked first.  It seemed that the ones asked first got used to it, felt important, and thought that this is the way it should always be.   You can see how if everyone is asking you for your opinion first, you can begin to feel as if you do not have to ask others for their opinion.  Therefore, they can do whatever they want without any repercussion.   However, they tend to do so irresponsibly, arbitrary and whimsically. 

In chapter 9 of Romans we see God stating that He acts according to His prerogative.  Let us read certain texts where God speaks of this,

Rom9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Rom9:15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Rom9:18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
 
God not only tells us that He acts according to His prerogative but in the following verses asks those who dare to question Him,

Rom9:19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
Rom9:20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
Rom9:21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
 
Is it that God does not like questions?  Or, is it that God does not like to be questioned?  Is there a difference?  God wants to be trusted as the true and only "praerogativa."  He wants us to go to Him first.  The issue is not asking questions, but not trusting Him.  The issue is not so much that God does not like to be questioned as much as that when we do not trust Him we harm ourselves and others more than what we think.  As it says in our teacher's comments for this lesson, "When humans try to frustrate God's purposes, God never loses; only disobedient humans lose out. Therefore, when He chose to save our world, the outcome was never in doubt. Those who try to frustrate that pur­pose are the only losers."  Ellen White elaborates on this,

"No finite mind can fully comprehend the character or the works of the Infinite One. We cannot by searching find out God. To minds the strongest and most highly cultured, as well as to the weakest and most ignorant, that holy Being must remain clothed in mystery. But though 'clouds and darkness are round about Him: righteousness and judg­ment are the foundation of His throne.' Psalm 97:2, R.V. We can so far comprehend His dealing with us as to discern boundless mercy united to infinite power. We can understand as much of His purposes as we are capable of comprehending; beyond this we may still trust the hand that is omnipotent, the heart that is full of love."—Ellen G. White, Education, p. 169.

Paul echoes Ellen White's sentiments in Romans chapter 8, after telling us that we are in Christ in verse 17 "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…"  He then proceeds to tell us that, "if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.  For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8: 17 – 18).  Paul encourages us to trust God's purpose even if we do not understand it.  Paul reminds us that nothing will separate us from the Love of God.  We read in Romans 8:
 
Rom8:34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
Rom8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Rom8:36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Rom8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
Rom8:38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Rom8:39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 
In Christ God cast the first vote for us.  Let us cast our first vote for Christ.  Let us trust Him to finish His work until the end.