Friday, March 16, 2018
Friday, March 9, 2018
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Walking with Gratitude
Matthew, Luke and John tell the story of the anointing of Jesus. Apparently, a Pharisee called Simon wanted Jesus to have dinner at his house. Jesus obliged him and went with His disciples. Jesus had healed this Pharisee of leprosy. So, the dinner was a token of gratitude. A woman if ill repute – whose name was Mary - walks in the house uninvited. She brought with her an alabaster box filled with spikenard ointment. She broke the box and poured the ointment over Jesus. She also washed Jesus' feet and dried them with her hair. Jesus had healed this woman of demon possession seven times. This was a demonstration of heartfelt appreciation. This incident was considered scandalous by most in the house, including the host. With disdain and indignation he thought to himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39). By the way, Sister White says it was Simon who drew this woman – his niece- to sin. Luke then relates how Jesus responded to Simon. Let us read from Luke 7:40 – 47,
Luke7:40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
Luke7:41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
Luke7:42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Luke7:43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
Luke7:44 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.
Luke7:45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
Luke7:46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
Luke7:47 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.
Because of the fall, we are all deserving of death. But, John 3:16 says that,
John3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Because God loves us, instead of what we deserve God gives us a gift. 1 John 3:1 says that, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God …" The author of our lesson says that this verse stresses that in Jesus we are already God's children. God has taken the initiative to do this for us. The new birth is His work, not ours. We can bring about neither our own birth nor our adoption as God's children. Given the size of the universe in contrast to our planet, much less to each of us individually, how can we not be astonished that the God who created all this loves us and has made us His children? What a wonderful perspective this should give us on what our lives mean! What hope, what assurance, what confidence we should have for the future, regardless of whatever difficult circumstances we now face? God, the Creator of all that is, loves us, cares for us, and calls us His children. Have you ever dwelt on the implications of the notion that not only does Godexist but He loves us, cares for us, and even died for us. How should this reality impact how we live?
If we are like Simon, we will host a little get together pot-lock to honor Jesus. We would do it after church. One dinner should be sufficient to thank he who loves us so much He died the death we deserved. If, in contrast, we are like Mary we will give everything we have in order to continually thank Him. Our gratitude shows how much we love, which in turn shows how much we believe we are forgiven. Do we live grateful lives? How grateful are we that God has in Jesus restored us as His children? Will we gratefully let Him - through the work of His indwelling Spirit - transform us into the likeness of His Son?
Friday, February 23, 2018
Friday, February 9, 2018
The Bible says that nature speaks of the Glory of God, which is His character. Ellen 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 which we exhale), water, and absorbs sunlight. In turn, we use the oxygen the tree exhales, and we take advantage of its shade. Is this a fair exchange? Many trees yield fruit that when consumed, are not only tasty, but are good for our health. While trees cannot consume their byproducts (fruit), we can. There are other parts of the tree, which we utilize as well, such as its leaves and its wood. It seems that human beings benefit more from trees then trees do from us. Apparently, all of the resources that trees use end up benefiting mankind as well as the animals. Based on this observation we could say, that if trees were stewards, they would likely manage God's resources better than we.
Our analogy of the tree is really about stewardship and serving others. When a steward is filled with the faith of God, his service is selfless. But, in our natural sinful state, we are selfish. We think only of ourselves, our plans, our concerns. When we give to others or do for them, often it is because we expect the service to redound beneficially to us. Often, we anticipate a tangible return such as money or other favors - tickets, a meal, a gift certificate, etc. Other times we derive an intangible return, such as favorable appreciation by others. Not infrequently, we serve out of feelings of guilt, coercion, or fear; hoping to be relieved from condemnation. Thus, we misuse Gods resources for our benefit even though we claim using these to serve others.
Just as a mature tree yields fruit, he or she will yield fruit (Galatians 5:22-25). The Spirit of God that dwells in him springs forth this fruit because the fruit is the character of God Himself.
Therefore, service is not proffered by guilt, coercion, or fear. The true Christian does not expect to gain absolution, freedom, or even 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 faithful 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. But, a steward serves his Master by caring for his assets, identifying with the Master and doing as the Master wishes. What is it that the Master desires "But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8). Perhaps the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25 will illustrate the meaning further. Although the passage is lengthy, reading will refresh our memory. Matthew 25: 31-46 reads--
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 identify with their Lord and unknowingly serve Him by helping those in need. Unfaithful stewards are the goats who served others but for personal gain. What is the motivating difference between the two? It is Agape – God's unconditional love. The sheep possess the type of love that the Father possesses. This love which is His essence is that which led Him to give to all human beings "…His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This love caused Jesus to weep because of the harm Sin had done to His creation (John 11:35). This is the same love that will be found in us as we permit the Holy Spirit to have His way with us (Romans 5:5). Christ Himself has said that by this all men will know that ye are my disciples (John 13: 34 – 35). Today, while it's day, will you let the Spirit transform you into a faithful steward that you may serve others as He wishes?
Friday, February 2, 2018
Friday, January 26, 2018
Friday, January 19, 2018
Friday, January 12, 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.