Friday, October 30, 2020

Stewards of Reconciliation

 R

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, established by the government. The film tells the story of the journalist's struggle with her White South-Afrikaner family as she provides news coverage of the controversial commission and an African-American journalist who struggles with his anger skepticism regarding this new form of justice. While somebody documented the TRC's proceedings in newspapers worldwide, not many outside of Africa followed the trials. The commission's principal 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 must describe how they committed the act of torture, abuse, or murder. Furthermore, the TRC expected that the perpetrator disclosed all participants involved in the crime, and to name the authority figures ordered the work done. If the TRC determined that the crime was not politically motivated, the guilty parties were forced to stand trial for their crimes.

 

One incredibly 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.  The audience - listening with calm and bated breath - awaited the officers' account -- and told it they did (the details are 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 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 any way 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 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, 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 offers 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

Raul Diaz

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Jesus Christ: Our Antibiotic

Jesus Christ: Our Antibiotic

 

The word antibiotic comes from the Greek anti, meaning "in place of" or 'against' and bios meaning 'life.'  Antibiotics are also known as antibacterial. They are drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria cause such illnesses as tuberculosis, salmonella, syphilis, and some forms of meningitis. Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms, our immune system can usually destroy them. We have special white blood cells that attack harmful bacteria. Even if symptoms do occur, our immune system can usually cope and fight off the infection. However, there are occasions when it is all too much, and our bodies need some help - from antibiotics. 


The first antibiotic was penicillin.  Since penicillin, scientists have developed other antibiotics.  Today, there are several different types of modern antibiotics to treat various infections, and they are only available with a doctor's prescription in industrialized countries.

 

Although there are many different types of antibiotics, they all work in one of two ways: A bactericidal antibiotic kills the bacteria. Penicillin is bactericidal. A bactericidal interferes with the growth of the bacteria; a bacteriostatic stops bacterium from multiplying.

 

So, antibiotics target not only microorganisms such as bacteria but also fungi and parasites. However, they are not effective against viruses.  With the overuse or misuse of antibiotics, there is a chance of the bacteria becoming resistant - the antibiotic becomes less effective against that bacterium type. 

 

Usually, the patient takes the Antibiotics by mouth (orally); Injection or applied directly to the affected part of the body are alternative methods. Most antibiotics start having an effect on an infection within a few hours. It is important to remember to complete the whole course of the medication to prevent the disease from coming back. If you do not, there is a higher chance the bacteria may become resistant to future treatments.

 

If Sin were a bacterial infection, then Jesus would be an antibiotic of sorts (Jesus is not against life).  Why antibiotic and not a vaccine?  First, vaccines are preventive, antibiotic remedial.  We are already sick with Sin (Romans 3:10 – 12; 5:12). We need a remedy.  Second, vaccines are typically a dead or weakened specimen of the same creature, making you sick.  We inject vaccines to make us immune to the disease, which is a different way of saying they are to boost our immune system to fight the disease, should we be infected.  Again, we are already infected, and God intends to kill the Sin in us.  God does not inject weak Sin in us to make us stronger. 

 

Jesus is both bactericidal and bacteriostatic.  He stops Sin from reproducing and also kills it.  When Jesus dwells in us, He changes the way we think.  He transforms us by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2).  He writes the Law in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), thus getting rid of Sin's self-centeredness.  This is what He wanted to do with the Israelites.  But they refused (Exodus 19 and 20).  So, God gave them the Law, not as a way to heal them, but to diagnose their illness (Exodus 20; Galatians 3:19).  The Law was akin to a list of symptoms.  When any of these symptoms are present, you need Jesus your antibiotic to kill the bacteria of Sin or making sure it does not keep reproducing.  It is then that either the symptoms will go away or will not bother you.  But the Israelites thought that getting rid of the symptoms meant they were Ok.  However, the bacteria were still alive in them, creating havoc inside. 

 

The antibiotic is free to us (given by grace); we take it by faith.  We must take it for as long as we live in this world of Sin. Because as long as we are here, Sin always finds a way to resurface unless we take Christ.  The date when Christ returns (Galatians 3:23, 25; 1 Corinthians 15:52 - 54), the Holy Spirit will complete the treatment.  Until then, we will need that diagnosis list – The Law – so it will let us know when we have a symptom (Galatians 3:23 -25).

 

Jesus is better than an antibiotic.  There is something cool about this Jesus antibiotic that the literal antibiotic does not have. Jesus, as an antibiotic, not only kills the bacteria of Sin but also gives life to the Host of the bacteria.  We read in 1 John 5:11-13

 

 1 John 5: 11 And this is the record: that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

1 John 5: 12 He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life.

1 John 5: 13 These things I have written unto you that believe in the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life and that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God.

 

Since eternal life is in Jesus, when He dwells in us, we have eternal life.  So, Jesus not only eradicates Sin, but He also gives us life.  Praise the Lord!

 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Fear of the Lord

This commentary was previously published. 

 

"The Call of Wisdom"

 

The lesson's title (a previous one) refers to verses 20 through 24 of Proverbs 1.  Let us read it,

 

Prov 1:20 Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:

Prov 1:21 She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,

Prov 1:22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

Prov 1:23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.

Prov 1:24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;

 

Notice that wisdom in this passage is personified.  Who could wisdom be?  Verse 23 gives us a clue: "I will pour out my spirit unto you…" This sounds like what the Lord tells Joel in chapter 2.  Let us read it,

 

Joel 2:28-29King James Version (KJV)

28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

 

Peter says that this verse was fulfilled at Pentecost.  We expect this prophecy to be fulfilled again in a greater measure in the last days.  Those who receive the "latter rain" will be rebuked, heed the rebuke, and love the rebuker - unlike the foolish, who refuse the rebuke and hate the rebuker (Proverbs 13: 1, 15: 12).  God will pour His Spirit upon them.  It is a clear reference to Laodicea, who the Lord rebukes about their condition, and some respond, and let Christ in them (Revelation 3: 15 - 22).  Can wisdom be a person?  Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1: 30).  It is Christ who cries out, "come unto me all ye who tore burdened and heavy laden, … I will give you rest" (Matthew 11: 28 - 30).  So, if Christ wants us close to Him, the fear of the Lord cannot be us being so afraid of Him that, like Adam, we run away from Him (Genesis 3: 9).  Or even like the people at Sinai, who refuse to come close to God.  The following quote is a note from the translators of the NET version of the Bible.  I think it is enlightening.  Let us read it,

 

"1 in Heb "fear of the Lord." The expression יְהוָה יִרְאַת (yir' at yÿhvah, "fear of Yahweh") is a genitive-female construct in which יְהוָה ("the Lord") functions as an objective genitive: He is the object of fear. The term יָרַא (yara') is the common word for fear in the OT and has a basic three-fold range of meanings: (1) "dread; terror" (Deut 1:29; Jonah 1:10), (2) "to stand in awe" (1 Kgs 3:28), (3) "to revere; to respect" (Lev 19:3). With the Lord as the object, it captures the polar opposites of shrinking back in fear and drawing close in awe and adoration. Both categories of meaning appear in Exod 20:20 (where the Lord descended upon Sinai amidst geophysical convulsions); Moses encouraged the Israelites to not be afraid of God arbitrarily striking them dead for no reason ("Do not fear!") but informed the people that the Lord revealed himself in such a terrifying manner to scare them from sinning ("God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him in you so that you do not sin"). The fear of the Lord is expressed in reverential submission to his will – the characteristic of true worship. The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) and the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33). It is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13) and avoidance of sin (16:6), and so results in prolonged life (10:27; 19:23)."

 

There are two kinds of fear: one that makes you run to God, and the other that makes you run away from God.  He engages us and we respond with fear: run to Him or away from Him.  Christ wants us to run to Him.  One of my favorite authors had this to say about the fear of the Lord,

 

"The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Prov. viii. 13. It is not to be afraid of Him and shun His presence, but to hate and shun that which is unlike Him. The love of God is that we keep His commandments. And as hating evil is identical with keeping His commandments, so the fear and the love of God are similar. God wants all men to love Him, and "there is no fear in love." E.J.W., The Present Truth [British] April 4, 1895.

 

If Christ stands at the door knocking, will you let Him in if you are afraid of Him?  If you believe that He is loving, merciful, compassionate, etc., will you not let Him in?  It reminds of me of the beautiful words of the hymn,

 

The Savior is waiting to enter your heart,

Why don't you let Him come in?

There's nothing in this world to keep you apart,

What is your answer to Him?

 

Time after time He has waited before,

And now He is waiting again

To see if you're willing to open the door:

O how He wants to come in.

 

O, will you not let Him come in?

 RR
Raul Diaz

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Spiritual Metamorphosis

Spiritual Metamorphosis

 

Do you like butterflies? They are beautiful. However, I bet if you answered yes to the previous question, you would respond, "no," to the next question, who likes caterpillars? No one would believe that such a beautiful insect could come from that ugly looking leaf eater. But, upon carefully observing this insect's life cycle, we realize that the creator formed the larva to enclose itself into a cocoon. There it metamorphoses or is transformed into a butterfly. Thus, the reviled becomes something beautiful. 

 

The word metamorphosis means: 

1. A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function, also known as transformation. 

2. A change in the form and often the habits of an animal during normal development after the embryonic stage. Examples of Metamorphosis include converting maggots into adult flies, caterpillars into butterflies, and changing tadpoles into frogs. 

 

Meta is a Greek prefix for beside or after. Morph is a suffix that means form, shape, or structure. In essence, the word metamorphosis points toward the form an object will take after the transformation. The word trans is a prefix that means across, on the other side, or beyond. It can also mean to go through a Change or make a transfer.  In the case of the caterpillar, its appearance and function change beyond recognition; how like Christ, when He assumed nature 4,000 years after the fall. 

 

Isaiah 53:2 says, "For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." When Jesus became a man, it was a significant change for Him, and perhaps for others who had seen Him before the incarnation. Many physical characteristics God has, Jesus no longer had. He was transformed into a human being, small and weak, in comparison to God. He had the same frailties, needs, and weaknesses we have. Accordingly, He covered His divinity with sinful humanity, yet did not sin, and according to Ellen White, "He was afflicted in all the afflictions of humanity." It is this combination of natures that qualifies Christ to be our Saviour. 

 

Furthermore, Ellen White says of Him: 

 

To save fallen humanity, the Son of God took humanity upon Himself, laying aside His kingly crown and royal robe. He became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich. One with God, He alone was capable of accomplishing this work, and He consented to an actual union with man. In His sinlessness, He could bear every transgression ... Christ did in reality, unite the offending nature of man with His own sinless nature, because by this act of condescension, He would be enabled to pour out His blood in behalf of the fallen race. (E. G. White Notes, page 29.) 

 

Christ assumed the human nature of sinful man.  Sin can be defined as self-love. This human nature, united with His divine nature of selfless love, did not Sin in Word, thought, or action. In Him, the battle was fought, and selfless love won out on the cross. In Himself, He redeemed the corporate life of humanity—what a wonderful Saviour, willing to condescend to the depths of degradation to save fallen human beings. 

 

In Philippians chapter 2, from the NASB we read: 

 

Phil. 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 

Phil. 2:6 Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 

Phil. 2:7 But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 

Phil. 2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

 

So when Paul says, "Let this mind be in you" or as it is said in the NASB, "let this attitude be in you," He meant that we should we be willing to submit to the authority of God's indwelling Holy Spirit just as Jesus submitted to the Father.   As Christ submitted to His Father even unto the death, so should we. 

 

The mind of Christ or the attitude of Christ was that of self-denying love. Self-denying love is the principle that reigns in God's kingdom.  This form of love (agape) is the only true love. With this love alone, man would be willing to lay down his or her life for another.  It is the desire of the Father for us to have the mind of Christ, and He is more than willing to give it to us. Will we accept it?

 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, September 11, 2020

Living on the Altar

Living on the Altar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 28, 2020

Mary's Act of Love

Mary's Act of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

Stewards of Service

Stewards of Service

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

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

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

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

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

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