Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nehemiah: "The New Covenant."

Nehemiah


In his prayer, Nehemiah refers to the Lord as one keeps covenant (Nehemiah 1: 5.) What was Nehemiah referring to? The following insight may answer that question. It was initially published on March 6, 2003, for that week's quarterly, entitled: "The New Covenant."  


This week's Sabbath School lesson's topic for discussion is the new covenant. Much confusion exists regarding the old and new covenants. The objective of this quarter's lessons is to clarify the confusion and bring us to a greater understanding of God's plan of salvation. To accomplish this, we need to come to grips with some basic concepts.


* When did the old covenant end?

* When did the new covenant begin?

* Another valid question that we often overlook is: When did the old covenant begin?

* Is there a difference between a "covenant" and a "contract"?


Contract and Covenant Contrasted

Many confuse the meaning of the word "covenant," thinking that it is the same as a "contract." When a man enters into a contract with someone, it is for the mutual benefit of both parties. "I will do thus and such if you will do so and so." A contract is negotiated and is "thing" oriented. We want something that the other party has, and we feel that we have something to offer in return. A contract is self-centered--what can "I" get out of the deal?

Once both parties agree to the terms, the contract is signed and made legally binding on both of them. Each participant must keep his side of the bargain, or some a penalty or forfeiture will occur as a result. A contract is, therefore, a mutual affair, but are we on equal terms with God? Can we make bilateral agreements with God based on equal terms? "The carnal mind is enmity against God." "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 8:7; 3:10). God is righteous; we are unrighteous. God is holy, divine; we are unholy, carnal.

Where is there any basis of equality for us to begin our bargaining with God? What have we to negotiate with when we come to God to make a contract? Only our "filthy rags," our sins, our "works of the flesh." Of ourselves, we cannot offer obedience to a single commandment because the carnal mind will not let us obey God's law (Rom. 8:7). We cannot make a contract with God because we have nothing to bring to the bargaining table except our sinful selves--which is worthless.

In contrast to this idea, a covenant would adequately be defined as a promise or a pledge. It is "person" oriented, made TO someone BY someone. The stronger individual always makes it to a weaker individual. A covenant involves loyalty, care, and concern from the individual who made it to the other person. Genesis 15 clearly illustrates the concept stated above. The covenant God made to Abraham was intended to be one-sided. God promised to give Abraham a child that would be born of his wife Sarah when both Abraham and Sarah were well past child-bearing age. There was nothing Abraham or Sarah could do to make this promise a reality in their lives, except believe that God was able to fulfill what He had told them. Abraham's faith in God's promise (he could only say "amen"--verse 6, Hebrew) was as "new covenant" as it gets!


A Biblical Illustration

Perhaps starting the lesson off with a cartoon illustration has set our feet headed down the wrong path. We must investigate Bible truth through an inspired lens. Paul gives us an excellent illustration of the two covenants.

"For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants" (Gal. 4:22-24).

Paul explains what the two covenants are, using the illustration of the two women, Sarah and Hagar. Hagar was an Egyptian slave woman, servant to Sarah. The children of a slave woman are slaves, even though their father is free. Hagar could only bring forth children that were under bondage. Scripture tells us that, "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (Rom. 9:8).

These two covenants exist today. "The two covenants are not a matter of time, but the condition of the heart. Let no man flatter himself that he cannot be under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed." So long as we try of ourselves, in our own strength to keep those promises which God Himself has made to us, then we are under the old covenant. (E. J. Waggoner, Glad Tidings, pp. 99-100). It is only when we wholeheartedly believe God, that we are set free to live under the new covenant.


Where Does the "Old" End and "New" Begin?

If the new covenant is not tied to the New Testament, where does it begin? The "new" covenant has been with us since Eden. God promised the fallen pair that He would place enmity between them and the serpent who had led them into sin (Gen. 3:15). The "new" covenant and the "everlasting" covenant are one and the same thing. It has always been God's promise to save us without any works of our own. The new or everlasting covenant was put in place first--before the old.

Then where does the old covenant first come into view? At the very gates of Eden. The "old covenant" has been in existence in the heart of humanity since sin entered. It existed long before God gave the ceremonial laws at Mount Sinai. It has nothing to do with "time" and everything to do with the condition of our hearts as we strive to save ourselves.

When God instructed Adam to bring the sin offering, it was to be a lamb without blemish from his flock. God instructed Adam that this animal symbolized the Messiah that was to come (see Rev. 13:8; 1 Peter: 18-20). Through faith in the promise of God, Adam taught his sons to do the same.


"And in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock . . . And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect" (Gen. 4:3-5).

Why did the Lord "not respect" Cain's offering? Because "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin." (Heb. 9:22). Cain was trying to save himself by his own methods. He thought that his offering of fruits should be just as good as the required offering. Had he not worked to produce them? Was this work of his hands not sufficient for the Lord? Cain would not believe God's promise and took the burden of his life upon himself. His subsequent history is the lesson of the results of the old covenant way of doing things.


What is the "Better" Covenant?

This week's lesson also discusses the "better covenant." While persisting in its misunderstanding of the old and new covenants, it rightly states that the "problem" was the people's failure to "grasp" God's promise by faith. There has never been a failure or deficiency in God's promise to humanity.

The "better" covenant Paul tells us about in Hebrews 8:6 is God's everlasting covenant made from the foundation of the world. This covenant is "better" than man's promises to obey God. Why? Because it is "established upon better promises"--the promises of the Godhead to save humanity from sin. "The salvation of human beings is a vast enterprise, that calls into action every attribute of the divine nature. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have pledged themselves [promised] to make God's children more than conquerors through Him that loved them." Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, January 27, 1903 (emphasis supplied).

The Gospel is called the "good news of God's salvation." It is God's promise to us that He will save us "from our sins," not in them (Matt. 1:21). He has told us through the Word that He will "provide a way of escape" from every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). When we believe that this is so, then it becomes a reality in our lives. "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).

What is the "new covenant" God wishes to "make" with us, of which Jeremiah speaks in 31:31? God has always had only one objective for His creatures--that we would believe His "better" promise to save us from our sin. He longs for the day when His people will heed His loving call to turn around, leave their folly, and believe wholeheartedly in His power to save "to the uttermost" all who will believe His promise. Instead of relying on our sadly deficient promises to obey, when we believe God's word to us and by faith allow Christ to live in us, we will be living under the better promise of the new and everlasting covenant (see Glad Tidings, pp.57-60).


It is Indeed a Work of the Heart

Sadly, as we stand at the "foot of the mount" we are prone like the children of Israel to say, "All the Lord has spoken, we will do" (see Ex. 19:7, 8). We promise the Lord when the Lord has not asked us to promise anything. He knows that our promises are as insubstantial as ropes of sand. All He asks is that we believe His promises to us. "If ye will [hear] My voice indeed, and [cherish] My covenant (previously made with their father Abraham), then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people" (Ex. 19:5--literal translation of Hebrew words in brackets).

When we believe that we are the adopted children of God, then we will respond appropriately. Instead of behaving like rebellious heathens, we'll respond as if we were the children of the King of the universe. Not as a servant, will we obey, out of duty or debt, but from the heart will come the desire to follow God everywhere He leads us. Obedience to all the commandments of God is the natural result of this understanding.

What God promises He produces through the power of His Holy Spirit and faith in His word. When we believe God's promises, we are enabled to do those things which we were unable to do previously by our own strength (see Gal. 5:16, 17; and Christ's Object Lessons, p. 333). Faith brings us under the new covenant of God's better promise.

When we truly appreciate all that He has done to save us, we will respond as God wants us to respond. We will see the Ten Commandments as ten glorious promises, not ten fetters that bind us as we toil and struggle to keep them. Commandment keeping will become a heart response to the love of God revealed on Calvary. As adopted sons and daughters of God, we will go forth with rejoicing, gladly willing to obey our gracious Father.

We do not need to live under the old covenant. God's promises are sure. Faith makes all the promises of God a reality in our lives. We need not wait one moment longer. "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, (1 Peter 3:18)."

John was a garbage truck driver in a large suburban city. John's city used the garbage truck as a snowplow during winter.  After every snowfall, John plowed snow in the town roads. Since John's employer added snow removal to John's garbage collection duties, John's company paid him overtime wages. Naturally, John welcomed the extra money. With extra pay in mind, unlike many people who dread the forecast of snow, snowfall to John was good news. Most school children agreed with John that snow was good news but for different reasons. After all, it usually meant outdoor fun and the likelihood that the school officials cancel classes. As expected, parents, however, may not be so happy. Thus, it can be said, snow is only good news to some, not all.

The Greek word translated as Gospel means good news or glad tidings. In Luke 2:10, the angels said unto the shepherds, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Unlike snowfall which is good news for some people, the Gospel - here referring to the birth of Christ - is good news for all individuals. In contrast, Christ's second return cannot be the Gospel, because it is only good news to those who believe - and expect it - not those who do not believe. Why is this so? Why is the birth of Christ good news to all, while His second advent is not? Does the Bible shed any light on this? Ellen White says that "The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with scripture. The student should learn to view the word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts" (Ed.190). In that light, let us go to the Scripture to see how the Gospel is defined.

First, we should note that the Apostle Mark introduced his book as the Gospel of Christ; while (Apostle) Paul declared in the first few verses of Romans chapter one that "… the Gospel of Christ: … is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Vs. 16). In Greek, The word power in this text is dunamis, from which we get dynamite.  The Gospel is the explosive power or energy of God.  The energy that God used to create the world in six days.

Now, no less than approximately a dozen times, Apostle Paul relates the Gospel with God or Christ. Therefore, according to these texts, we can ascertain that the Gospel refers to Christ. Paul is not saying here that salvation is only for believers, but that it is only useful to believers. So, it is the power of God that saves. And, this power of God refers to Jesus and his birth. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, 18, Paul goes a step further. Let us read,

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."

This text associates the preaching of the Gospel with the preaching of the cross, on which Christ died. Furthermore, it equates them by calling them both: the power of God. Therefore, the Gospel is also the preaching of the cross. So, now, we incorporate in this definition of the Gospel the death of Christ on the Cross. Why is the cross so important? We read in Philippians 2:8 concerning Christ,

"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

The Jews considered the death of the cross as hanging from a tree, of which Paul says in Gal 3:13, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:"

Christ's death was the final death: complete annihilation. But, it is through this death that we were reconciled to God. We read in Romans 5:10,

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Notice in this verse, that Christ's life is now part of the equation, as opposed to only His birth and death. The Gospel refers to Jesus. It entails His incarnation, birth, life, and death. And, in it is the power of God to save every man. Christ did this for the whole world. We read in 1 John 2:2; and 4:14,

"And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."

What about the resurrection? Paul addresses that also in 1 Corinthians 5:12 -14. Let us read,

"Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain."

The resurrection of Christ gives the Gospel certainty and makes the Gospel effectual. It guarantees our freedom from Sin. And how exactly are we implicated? We read in Romans 6:3-5,

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:"

Christ took us - the whole world - unto Himself and lived a life of perfect obedience. His life of perfect obedience is ours. His victory is ours. What our Saviour would like for us to do, is, to receive His gift wholeheartedly. In summation, this is the good news to all people: salvation for all men "in Christ."

Friday, August 30, 2019

Faith's Thermometer

Faith's Thermometer
 
The way we typically measure temperature is not a direct measure of heat.  Your typical mercury or alcohol thermometer measures the amount of space displaced by the liquid in the vacuum-sealed cylinder.   Someone figured out that liquids expand when placed under heat.  You can see this every time you boil water in a pot over a stove range.  The hotter the flame, the higher the water will rise in the pan.   The same amount of liquid now occupies more space.
 
That is how a thermometer works.  The hotter it is the liquid inside the cylinder expands, the colder it gets the liquid contracts.  This phenomenon is predictable and reproducible; therefore, we can use these principles they can build thermometers.
 
Faith is also measured indirectly.  Christ told his disciples that a little faith could accomplish great things, we read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; Faith's Thermometer
 
The way we typically measure temperature is not a direct measure of heat.  Your typical mercury or alcohol thermometer measures the amount of space displaced by the liquid in the vacuum-sealed cylinder.   Someone figured out that liquids expand when placed under heat.  You can see this every time you boil water in a pot over a stove range.  The hotter the flame, the higher the water will rise in the pan.   The same amount of liquid now occupies more space.
 
That is how a thermometer works.  The hotter it is the liquid inside the cylinder expands, the colder it gets the liquid contracts.  This phenomenon is predictable and reproducible; therefore, we can use these principles they can build thermometers.
 
Faith is also measured indirectly.  Christ told his disciples that a little faith could accomplish great things, we read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."  Christ established that our faith would be evident to others.  Many quote James famous discourse on faith and works,
 
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
 
So, to many "works" is the proof of faith.  Paul says works do not save us.  In other instances, Christ seems to agree.  In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples,
 
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
 
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith.  However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept that seems reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of Love or agape.  Christ tells the disciples in John 13,
 
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
 
So, it seems to me that how we measure someone's faith is by His Love in us toward others. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and Love.  By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5: 5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love, and we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and us in Him) and casts away our fear."  So, we can conclude that where there is faith, there is no fear for Love casts it away.   So, in the presence of self-less, self-denying, unconditional, perfect Love, there is no fear and only faith.    How do we know when this Love is in us?  When 1 John 3: 16 is right about us: "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."  It takes faith to do this.  nothing shall be impossible unto you."  Christ established that our faith would be evident to others.  Many quote James famous discourse on faith and works,
 
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
 
So, to many "works" is the proof of faith.  Paul says works do not save us.  In other instances, Christ seems to agree.  In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples,
 
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
 
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith.  However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept that seems reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of Love or agape.  Christ tells the disciples in John 13,
 
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
 
So, it seems to me that how we measure someone's faith is by His Love in us toward others. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and Love.  By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5: 5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love, and we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and us in Him) and casts away our fear."  So, we can conclude that where there is faith, there is no fear for Love casts it away.   So, in the presence of self-less, self-denying, unconditional, perfect Love, there is no fear and only faith.    How do we know when this Love is in us?  When 1 John 3: 16 is right about us: "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."  It takes faith to do this. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Correlation

Correlation


The definition of correlation, according to one dictionary, is "the degree to which two or more attributes or measurements on the same group of elements show a tendency to vary together." In other words, where there is a correlation, there is a mutual relationship or parallelism. Despite this, one attribute, measurement, or element does not cause the other, instead, they vary together. A simple example would be, developmentally as our hands grow, our feet grow as well.  Our hands do not make our feet grow; neither do our feet make our hands grow.  The cause of simultaneous growth is the same for each.

 

Let's look at another example. In most large cities, crime increases in the summer as does the number of ice-cream sales. One could erroneously deduce that ice-cream causes crime to increase, or vice versa. However, we know that is not true. In simplistic terms what happens instead, is that hot weather, along with other activities and inclinations encourages people to go outside. Among those that go out, many will buy ice cream, as it's considered refreshing in the summer heat.  And among those that go out, are would-be perpetrators, assailants, and their victims.  This makes it easier to find a target and or become one.  

 

Upon a cursory reading of the Bible, we see God rebuking the Israelites for idolatry, immorality and unethical behavior. We could easily assume that either idolatry caused these ungodly behaviors or vice versa.  But that would be incorrect. These practices are correlated not causal. Therefore, you can predict that when you see the one behavior, you will also see the other. The common factor which originates both is the turning of our hearts from God.  We see this in Micah 6:6-8.

 

"Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

 

The Lord had told the people what pleased him—what was in line with his character of love, which was to walk humbly in communion with him. This and this alone would bring about the living justly and loving mercy he desired. However, the people had yet to comprehend this even by the time of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. In his mercy, the Lord gave them a similar diagnosis and prescription as can be viewed in both in Isaiah 1: 11 – 17; 58: 4-7 and in Jeremiah 7: 3-- 10.  As we can see in these texts, where there was idol worship, there was oppression and abuse of their fellow countrymen. Clearly, where the one was visible, the other was present. These attributes are correlated because the same factor caused both. Per Ellen White,

 

"In Isaiah's day the spiritual understanding of mankind was dark through misapprehension of God. Long had Satan sought to lead men to look upon their Creator as the author of sin and suffering and death. Those, whom he had thus deceived, imagined that God was hard and exacting. They regarded Him as watching to denounce and condemn, unwilling to receive the sinner so long as there was a legal excuse for not helping him. The law of love by which heaven is ruled had been misrepresented by the archdeceiver as a restriction upon men's happiness, a burdensome yoke from which they should be glad to escape. He declared that its precepts could not be obeyed and that the penalties of transgression were bestowed arbitrarily.

 

In losing sight of the true character of Jehovah, the Israelites were without excuse. Often had God revealed Himself to them as one "full of compassion, and gracious, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth." Psalm 86:15. "When Israel was a child," He testified, "then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt." Hosea 11:1. (PK 311 – 312)

 

Now, if the same factor caused both, then the cure was the same: turning of hearts and minds toward God--repenting. God not only wanted his people to believe that He was indeed a loving God who had their best interests at heart, but that he also desired their fellowship. Through the prophet Isaiah he told them,

 

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

 

God's intention with them was for good, not evil.  He wanted to take all selfishness, uncleanliness of mind, and impurity of heart motive from them.  He said through Ezekiel,

 

"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

 

Just as it was with the Israelites, so it is with us. When oppression and abuse are present among us, there is also idolatry. When there is immorality and unethical behavior among us, there is also idolatry. Many believe that as long as you are "nice," it does not matter how you "worship." Others think that if you "worship" God in the right way, it does not matter how you "behave" (worship in this context is seen as a task). Yet, God is saying that both issues are a problem. And, where one is evidenced, the other will also be visible. Both issues co-exist and arise from the same cause. Therefore, both have the same cure. What was prescribed for the Israelites has been prescribed for us. The question is, will we respond positively by receiving the cure of a clean heart and a new mind from Him?


Friday, August 2, 2019

A Holy and Just God

A Holy and Just God
 
What comes to mind when you hear the lesson title for this week? Perhaps we should take a closer look at each attribute. Let us start with Holiness. 
 
In a recent program, panelists were asked to define Holiness. None had a concrete definition, but all agreed that Holiness is all that God is. While most would understand, it is still a vague definition. (Implied, however, is that Holiness is everything we are not.). 
 
What is God? God is love (agape). What is Love? Also hard to define, but Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 13,
 
1 Corinthians 13
13:4 Agape suffereth long, [and] is kind; Agape envieth not; Agape vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 
13:5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 
13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 
13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 
13:8 Agape never faileth…
 
In defining agape, 1st Corinthians 13 also describes Holiness.  The issue is that we typically think of 1 Corinthians 13 in terms of performance. But, what God does is a reflection of who He is. There is no inconsistency between God's character and His performance. There seems to be another dimension: God's character is evident when you see Him. God's character shines through His body. In other words, if you see God, you see His character. God does not have to act for you to know He is Love. His mere presence shows that. What you see God you see 1 Corinthians 13 in person. When you see God, you see Holiness.
 
Let's look at justice. Is Biblical justice equal to the justice of the world? Each justice system has its laws or rules.  The same is true of God and man's system, respectively.  There are two ways to conceive of God's law:  the natural law– the design protocols upon which God built life–, and an imposed Roman type law construct. If we view God's law as a Roman imposed law, then in that model, justice requires the imposition of punishment by the ruling authority.
 
If we view God's law as the protocol upon which he built life to operate, then justice requires the Designer to heal and fix what is broken. Let us look at some texts and see what system is biblical justice.
 
·         "Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy." (Ps 82:3)
·         "Wash yourselves clean. Stop all this evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right. See that justice is done---help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows." (Is 1:16-17 – GN)
·         "The LORD is waiting to be kind to you. He rises to have compassion on you. The LORD is a God of justice." (Is 30:18 – GW)
·         "This is what the LORD says to the dynasty of David: 'Give justice each morning to the people you judge! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors.'" (Jer 21:12 – NLT)
 
We can see that God's justice, according to Scripture, is, delivering the oppressed not punishing the oppressor.
 
How does God show Holiness and justice in the book of Joel? Joel was called to announce impending doom and destruction. Why would God allow such destruction? How can He be a God of love and allow such disasters to inflict  Israel?  God loved Israel. God chastens, whom He loves (Revelation 3: 19). God used these disasters as chastening. The idea was to bring Israel to repentance. So, Israel realized their need for dependence on God. 
 
There is no mention on whether the people's repentance would stop the destruction, but there was a guarantee, "…whoever calls in the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Joel 2: 32). While the Lord may not stop the trial, He would help those who called on His name to go through the test. In this disaster, instead of having the people rend their garments, the prophet Joel says that the people should rend their hearts and make them open to God's grace and compassion. 
 
The message in this book is especially important to us because, just like in the days of Joel, No one can prevent the impending events of these final days, they will be disastrous and, only those who "call in the name of the Lord will be saved." Ellen White invites us to reflect on this, "We must realize our true condition, or we shall not feel our need of Christ's help. We must understand our danger, or we shall not flee to the refuge. We must feel the pain of our wounds, or we should not desire healing" (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 158). The question is, will we heed God's calling? I pray that we do!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Syntax

Syntax


According to the dictionary, the syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences; in other words, how linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses).  It comes from the Greek word: suntaxis – a compound word.  The word Suntaxis is formed from sun- 'together' + tassein 'arrange' (To arrange together).  There is a system.

Each language has its own rules for syntax; which means that each language will order the words differently.  Thus, in English, the noun goes before the adjective, and In Spanish, the adjective goes before the noun.  The adjective modifies or describes the noun.  For example, the red book is in Spanish "el libro rojo" (The book red).  Distilled water is agua destilada(water distilled).

Another example is the term remote control.  Remote is the adjective and control the noun.  With this device, you can control another device from a distance or remotely.  In Spanish, the word is "control remoto."  Same meaning but the noun and adjective are switched.

Now different languages also arrange concepts differently.  In the English language, we tend to explain things starting with the cause through the effect.  In the Hebrew language, they may do it differently.   Let us take, for example, Micah 6:8 to explain this.  Let us read it first,

Mic 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Many consider this verse the best for biblical ethics and describes the true Christian lifestyle. To better understand what God is saying through Micah, we need to become acquainted with one crucial feature of biblical Hebrew thinking. When biblical authors want to explain a sequence of different actions, they describe them usually from the effect to the cause. This principle works from the visible to the invisible, from the superficial to the real, from the outside to the inside. We think and speak differently today; we explain things from cause to effect.

To understand what Micah is saying, to catch his message, we need to reverse his sequence of thoughts. We need to begin to study this verse, starting from the end. Thus, the proper sequence for us today is:
First, "Walk humbly with the Lord!"; this is the cause of all other actions described.

Second, "Love mercy!"; this is the first result.

Finally, "Act justly!"; this is the additional consequence.

The implication here is that the carnal man is incapable of doing this on his own.  He will either love merciful or act justly, not both.  In turn, those who walked humbly before the Lord will both do justly and love mercy.  If you only have one of them you are not walking humbly before the Lord.  Ellen White says,

The laws of the nations bear marks of the infirmities and passions of the unrenewed heart; but God's laws bear the stamp of the divine, and if they are obeyed, they will lead to a tender regard for the rights and privileges of others. . .  His watchful care is over all the interests of His children, and He declares He will undertake the cause of the afflicted and the oppressed. If they cry unto Him, He says, "I will hear; for I am gracious."

A man of means, if he possesses strict integrity, and loves and fears God, might be a benefactor to the poor. He can help them and take no more interest [on the money he lends] than can be mercifully exacted. He thus meets with no loss himself, and his unfortunate neighbor greatly benefits; for the helping man saved the unfortunate man from the hands of the dishonest schemer. The principles of the golden rule are not to be lost sight of for a moment in any business transaction. . . . God never designed that one person should prey upon another. He jealously guards the rights of His children, and in the books of Heaven, a great loss is set down on the side of the unjust dealer. {BLJ 170.3}

And, let us not forget that "…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).

Friday, July 19, 2019

Sabbath: A Day of Love

Sabbath: A Day of Love

 A group of young people from a Pentecostal Church in Ethiopia had heard Pastor John - a 7th Day Adventist Preacher - preach. They put his name up to be a speaker at their camp meeting.  The leaders of the Church were horrified that the young people had asked a Seventh-day Adventist preacher to be their speaker at the camp meeting (this was for the youth department).

There was a little bit of discussion, and then the leaders said, "Why don't we let God solve the outcome?"  So they agreed to have three days of fasting and prayer.  On the third day, while they were praying together, the leader (our equivalent of Conference President) said, "The Lord has impressed me that the answer should be yes."  So they called Pastor John, and he gave a series on the cross and then some of these young people, mainly university students, began coming to the Adventist Church.  And, some of the leaders started coming, and then the Pastor of Church where they had the camp meeting (with a membership of over 800) began coming.  Eventually, the whole Church began keeping the Sabbath and called themselves "Seventh-day Pentecostals."

 The Sabbath School Secretary of the Union saw this Pastor coming out of the Church, and he said to Pastor John, "Why don't you try to bring these people into our church?"  And I said, "Why don't you ask him?"  (The Pentecostal leader had already told Pastor John why they wouldn't join the Adventist Church.).  So, the Pentecostal Pastor said to Pastor John, "Now you are putting me on the spot."  Pastor John said, "No, I want [the other Adventist Pastor] to hear from your lips why you are not joining our church."  The Pentecostal leader said, "When you Adventists learn to love each other, (like the Pentecostals love each other) we'll join your church."   Unfortunately, The Pentecostal leader saw that the Church was divided into factions — tribal and nationals. So, during the Sabbath, the worship was segregated, because of prejudice and discrimination. That is why he said, "When you Adventists learn to love each other, we will join your church.".  And, the poor Sabbath School Secretary had no answer to give him.

 The Church in Christ day was no different.  They had taken Sabbath rest to mean that God stopped working, but that is not what it meant.  God rested from creating not working.  So, for the Jews to enforce their no working policy during the Sabbath, they had made the Sabbath a burden with their strict rules and requirements.  They turned the Sabbath into a curse instead of a blessing.    

 In Desire of Ages pages 206 and 207, Ellen White elaborated upon the difference between the Jewish Sabbath and Jesus' Sabbath says that Jesus had come to "magnify the law, and make it honorable." He was not to lessen its dignity, but to exalt it. The scripture says, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth" (Isaiah 42:21, 4).  Christ had come to free the Sabbath.  To release it from the burdensome requirements the Jews created, thus making the Sabbath a curse instead of a blessing.

 She adds that "it was for this reason He had chosen the Sabbath upon which to perform the act of healing at Bethesda (John 5). He could have healed the sick man as well on any other day of the week; or He might simply have cured him, without bidding him bear away his bed. But this would not have given Him the opportunity He desired. A wise purpose underlay every act of Christ's life on earth. Everything He did was important: in itself and in its teaching.  

The Lord asked the man to carry his bed throughout the city so all city the could see the great work that the Lord performed upon him.  The man carrying his bed would raise the question of what it was lawful to do on the Sabbath and would open the way for Him to denounce the restrictions of the Jews regarding the Lord's Day, and to declare their traditions void.

 You would think that the healing of a fellow Jew would have made them rejoice, but the Jews were more interested in their rules than the wellbeing of their neighbor.  This religious establishment was manifested hardness of the in the healing of the man blind from birth (John 9). Verse 16 reveals how little mercy they had,

John 9:16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.

Talk about law without love!

Ellen White continues saying that Jesus stated to them that the work of relieving the afflicted was in harmony with the Sabbath law. God's angels are ever descending and ascending between heaven and earth to minister to suffering humanity. Jesus declared, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." All days are God's, in which to carry out His plans for the human race. If the Jews' interpretation of the law was correct, then Jehovah - whose work has quickened and upheld every living thing since first He laid the foundations of the earth - was at fault.  The Jews interpretation of the law would imply that He who pronounced His work good and instituted the Sabbath to commemorate its completion, must put a period to His labor, and stop the never-ending routine of the universe.  Should God forbid nature from continuing its never-ending work from which all men benefit?  In such a case, men would faint and die.

And man also has work to perform on this day.   Man must attend to the necessities of life, by caring for the sick and supplying the wants of the needy. He will not be held guiltless who neglects to relieve suffering on the Sabbath. God's holy rest day was made for man, and acts of mercy are in perfect harmony with its intent. God does not desire His creatures to suffer an hour's pain that may be relieved upon the Sabbath or any other day.

 The demands upon God are even higher upon the Sabbath than upon other days. His people then leave their usual employment and spend their time in meditation and worship. They ask more favors of Him on the Sabbath than upon other days. They demand His special attention. They crave His choicest blessings. God does not wait for the Sabbath to pass before He grants these requests. Heaven's work never ceases, and men should never rest from doing good. The Sabbath is not intended to be a period of useless inactivity. The law forbids secular labor on the rest day of the Lord; the toil that gains a livelihood must cease; no work for worldly pleasure or profit is lawful upon that day; but as God stopped His labor of creating, and rested upon the Sabbath and blessed it, so man is to leave the occupations of his daily life, and devote those sacred hours to healthful rest, to worship, and to holy deeds. The work of Christ in healing the sick was in perfect accord with the law. It honored the Sabbath.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Essence of Prophecy

The Essence of Prophecy

Victoria went to the store to buy cologne.  She was looking for a specific brand.  It was a very exclusive perfume, tough to find.  The clerk gave her the news, "The good news is there is one bottle left.  The next news may be good or bad; it depends on you.  We only have the extract."  Victoria asked the clerk, "Excuse my ignorance, but what is the extract?"  The clerk replied, "The extract is the most concentrated form of perfume sold.  Because it is more concentrated, the scent is more intense and lasts longer."  Victoria's curiosity was piqued, "You mean to tell me that perfume is eluted?  The clerk graciously replied, "Well, yes.  The essence of the scent is eluted in ethanol and water.  The more concentrated it is, the better and of course, the more expensive.  That is why they say the best perfume comes in smaller bottles.  They are more concentrated.  Which also means you can put on less amount, and still smell as well as when you put a lot of cologne, which is more diluted."  Victoria then asked the clerk, "So it is like concentrated juice or something similar?  The clerk laughed at her ingenuity but realized she got the picture, and then said, "Yes.  The concentrated juice would be the essence that we dissolve in water."

Besides perfume, many of the things we buy or eat have essential ingredients.  For example, bread has flour, omelets' have eggs, and prescriptions usually have an active ingredient.  The word essence comes from the Latin word that means "To be."  Essence may be defined as the intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve to characterize or identify something; the most important ingredient; the crucial element; an extract that has the fundamental properties of a substance in concentrated form (An extract in a solution of alcohol, such as perfume or scent); or something that exists, especially a spiritual or incorporeal entity.  Without the essential extract, perfume is nothing but alcohol.

With this in mind let us read Revelation 19:10,

Revelation 19:10, "And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy."

What does essence have to do with this verse?  It is interesting that in the Biblical Greek, the word "spirit" used in this verse can be translated as essence.  Prophecy is an utterance said by a person who is inspired by the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our Sin and God's solution for Sin in the person of Jesus.  The essence of prophecy, according to Revelation 19:10, is the Testimony of Jesus.  All prophecy that comes from God is essentially giving a witness of Jesus as the Savior of the World.

The idea mentioned above has an interesting connotation for those chosen at the end to be the recipients of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the latter rain.  Revelation 19:10 and 12:17 says that they have the Testimony of Jesus.  The Lord will entrust them with the Loud Cry of Revelation 18.  This outpouring of power will come with prophetic gifts as we read in Joel 2: 28, 29:

Joel 2: 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:
Joel 2: 29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.

This select group -that Revelation calls the 144,000 - will all be prophets, just as Elijah (Malachi 4:5).  However, just as Elijah, their primary mission will not be the destruction and slaughter of Baal worshipers.  No, it will be to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:6).  What the verse describes will only happen if those who hear this loud cry message: listen and heed the message to turn their hearts to God.

Ellen White says that we should all strive to be a part of this select group.  However, many of us will not be part of this group.  We will sleep before the Lord pours the latter rain.  But, just as David was not given the privilege of building the Temple, and was, however, given the opportunity of training the one who would, we too are given the privilege of training - in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6) - those who will receive this unique and powerful outpouring of the Spirit.  We are to make sure they receive the former rain, which will prepare them to grow to the fullness, stature, and perfection of Christ.  When they forsake all Sin and reflect the perfect character of Christ's righteousness, then the latter rain will be poured on them.  The pouring of the latter rain will enable this group to finish the work of spreading the loud cry – the Gospel - to all parts of the World.  It will also prepare them for the unique privilege of seeing Christ return, and to be translated to Heaven as described in (1 Corinthians 15: 51 – 55).

Friday, June 21, 2019

Interrelationship in History

Interrelationship in History

 The reputation of Professor Menas preceded him.  If you came into the classroom when he was closing his roll book, he would not reopen it to mark you as "present."  The other thing he did was that only the highest score had an A, all others had B and the rest.  But he was a great teacher.  He made History interesting.  When he got excited about what he was teaching us, Professor Menas dramatized what he was narrating.  As when it came to describing wars, he stood up from his desk made bomb noises and air boxed.  More importantly, perhaps, to Professor Menas history was not just a collection of names, dates, and events, but a series of interrelated events.  Each meaningful event in History was a reaction or response to a previous one.  

 For example, there is a reason why Spanish royalty gave Columbus their support for the trip across the ocean, Spain was one the first monarchies with a united kingdom in Europe.  No longer concerned with inner-territorial issues, they decided to look outside of Spain.  No event is isolated from others.

This view of History also applies to the Biblical view of History; even when we factor in God's continual involvement in human History.  As our lesson states, God sometimes caused events to happen, and sometimes He allowed them to happen to achieve His purpose.

 We consider the Babylonian army's invasion of Judah.  This invasion was not an isolated incident without historical context.  The Babylonians wanted to invade Judah because Judah had precious objects they liked and wanted.  To understand this, we have to go back to Judah's History to the era of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah.  When Hezekiah ruled, he purposed in his heart to reform Judah so that Judah would be in harmony with God's law.  In moments of crisis, he prayed to God and consulted with the prophets (Isaiah 37).  The King wanted to do God's will.  But, when he got sick in older age, God sent a message to King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah: "put your affairs in order" (Isaiah 38:1).  Hezekiah refused to do God's will this time (2 Chronicles 32:25).  He pleaded for healing and extra time to live.  King Hezekiah felt entitled because if his long years of faithfulness to God (Isaiah 38: 2 – 3).  The Lord granted Hezekiah's petition, and as a sign to Hezekiah, the Lord made the Sun turn one hour back. But, this unleashed a series of events that proved to be the beginning of the undoing of Hezekiah's reform.

Puzzled by the strange phenomena of the Sun going backward, the Babylonians studied this event wanting to know what happened.  They inquired and found out about Hezekiah's petition to God.  So, they set out to meet Hezekiah and really to find out what kind of God can control the Sun's movements.  When the Babylonians showed up, Hezekiah made no mention of God.  Instead, the King  "shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not" (Isaiah 39: 2).  The Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to rebuke Hezekiah. We read in verses 3 through 7,

 Isaiah 39:3 Then came Isaiah the prophet unto King Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? And from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon.
Isaiah 39:4 Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them.
Isaiah 39:5 Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts:
Isaiah 39:6 Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
Isaiah 39:7 And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon.

 In taking all the glory to himself, Hezekiah had piqued the interest in the Babylonians for all they saw.  The Babylonians coveted what they saw.  The Babylonians set in the hearts to return one day and acquire them. We know they kept a record about what saw because when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah, he not only brought captives from among the Jews to Babylon but also some of these sacred objects his predecessors had seen.  From among these objects were the ones that Belshazzar used that fateful night when the Medo-Persians invaded Babylon (Daniel 5:3).

 In the surface, we could say that what we learn from this story is to be careful who you let in your house, and once they are in, what you allow them to see.  On a deeper level, we learn that today's mishap has farther repercussion than just our immediate lives.  The adverse consequences will be felt generations after.  Just look at Adam and Eve.  We are still paying for their mishap.  Doing God's will and giving him the glory can save us from unnecessary suffering.  It will not spare from suffering altogether.  It will save us and others from the pain that could have been prevented. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Entertaining Versus Hospitality

Entertaining Versus Hospitality

Denise grew up in a very wealthy home. Her parents were both prominent and highly regarded businesspersons who hosted many affairs in their palatial home. Many were the evenings in which Denise dined sumptuously with her parent's guests, almost all of whom were individuals of social prominence. Guest lists often included celebrities who were involved in international business enterprises abroad and desired her parent's influence to secure a particular outcome. Denise's home was listed in several magazines not only due to its size and decor but also because of its spectacular and opulent gardens. To maintain and even upgrade their lavish lifestyle, Denise's parents spared no expense. Unfortunately, Denise had come to think of her way of life as typical. It was unthinkable to her that others did not live as she did.

As Denise grew older, she became dissatisfied with life, for it seemed to lack meaning. Oh, she continued to participate in the social round of lavish parties her parents and others threw as part of her social obligations, but something seemed to be missing. Sometime during this turbulent time in her life, Denise decided to take a solo trip to a small country in South-America to get away from the superficiality of her life. Out of curiosity, she decided she would visit a little village miles away from the central city, to see how the native people lived. Denise hoped the experience would help her change something about her life.  On her journey to the village, Denise marveled at the simple beauty of the land. The hills shimmered in the daylight as the countryside reflected the sun. No, it wasn't a glare, but a soft light seemed to bathe every tree and plant upon which she looked. Denise felt herself relaxing and thought that it was beautiful to be alive, a thought she hadn't had in a long time. Shortly after that, the bus -- if you could call it that -- pulled into town, and Denise got off. How simple and beautiful everything was.

Friendly and hospitable people were milling about everywhere, and most of them pleasantly smiled as they met Denise's glance. It was thrilling to arrive at the small village finally.  In just a few minutes, it seemed that all of the shops closed right before her eyes. Bewildered, Denise wondered what was going on, and where everyone was heading. At last, she found herself alone in the street, lost, confused, and unsure of what to do next. An older lady, passing by her living room window, saw Denise and bade her come to the door. Uncertain, Denise just stood in the street. Suddenly, a young boy came out of the house and said to her in broken English, "Will you join us for siesta?" Taking her hand, he led her into his home and to his grandmother. Once inside, Denise joined the simple family as they washed and sat down to eat. Curious about their new guest who did not speak Spanish well, they communicated their welcome with hand gestures. Soon, Denise realized that if her hosts spoke slowly, she could understand them. She hoped in turn that they might be able to understand her broken Spanish, and so she attempted to speak. As the siesta time came to a close that early evening, the oldest daughter stood up, and bundled some food for Denise to take with her. Grateful, Denise tried to offer her hostess money but was kindly rebuffed. Coming close to her, the young boy who took her hand and led her into his home whispered, "to give us money is insulting; we do this because you are our guest."

Humbled, Denise never forgot her experience of genuine hospitality in the small South-American village. And upon her return home, she spoke more often of that family's hospitable treatment than she did of her parent's lavish and sumptuous entertaining affairs. You see, Denise had come to realize that there is a difference between entertaining and being hospitable. Her parents entertained to impress and amuse their guests. Fully believing the adage that "one hand washes the other," they anticipated that at the appropriate time, they would receive something of value in return for their efforts.

In contrast, the South-American family expected nothing from Denise; they shared what they had. However,  Denise felt that her presence was desired and appreciated. Such a far cry from so many of the guests her parents had entertained because they had to make a good impression.

As Thursday's lesson so wisely says, there is a difference between hospitality and entertaining. In the Middle East, the concept of hospitality is taken very seriously, for, without it, many travelers would perish in that dry, hot, arid land. The taking into your home of strangers who are merely traveling by your dwelling has been replaced with the inviting of people you like, or want to impress into your home. Surprisingly, hospitality is about others, while entertaining is about you.

The Bible defines hospitality as "a tangible _expression of self-giving love ... [which] springs from the hearts of those who have been touched by God's love and want to express their love in words and actions (to others)." In simple terms, hospitality is offering and sharing with others what God has so graciously provided for you. What has God given you? Yes, you can look around at all your material possessions, and your degrees and your career accomplishments; you can even look back at the time God healed you of some terrible disease, or miraculously spared you from dying in that horrible accident. You can also look back at the child He gave you in answer to your prayers. But, have you not read John 3:16, "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." God gave to you His Son; He gave to you pardon and spared you from eternal death.

Additionally, God gave you the promise of eternal life. What else has God given you? He gave you His Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct you on your journey to the eternal kingdom. Furthermore, God has given you His agape-love. Have you by faith received these things, and made them yours? You cannot share what you do not have. You cannot give what is not yours.

Mary Magdalene gave to Jesus all that God through Christ had given her: the 300 hundred denarii's for the alabaster ensconced Spikenard, and His agape-love (Mark 14:3). This is perhaps the most famous example of hospitality in scripture. While Simon's guests condemned Mary for her real demonstration of hospitality, Jesus praised her. By Jesus response, Simon was rebuked for entertaining instead of being hospitable. In Luke 7:44-47 we read--

Luke 7:44 Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
Luke 7:45 You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet.
Luke 7:46 You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on My feet.
Luke 7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

The text establishes the contrast. Those who get a hold of God's agape-love are hospitable; while those who neither understand nor receive, choose to entertain. God wants to make us hospitable; let's allow Him to have His way, for the blessings we seek, are wrapped up in benevolence.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Cost of Discipleship

Cost of Discipleship

In general terms, the term cost is used to describe the loss or penalty incurred in gaining something.  In finance, it is the amount or equivalent paid or charged for something; such as price.  When I buy a piece of fruit, the cost is what I give the merchant in exchange for the fruit.  I lose money, but I gain the fruit.  I give up A, to obtain B.  This implies that the fruit is of more value than the money.

The word cost is also used to define the outlay or expenditure (as of effort or sacrifice) made to achieve an object.  Runners sacrifice time with loved ones, favorite foods, and amusement time - among other things - to exercise and practice their sport.   To practice for the chance of participating in a racing event and winning is of more value than the things they give up.  Paul saw what runners do as a parallel to the Christian experience.  Ellen White elaborates on Paul's idea.  Let us read,

In referring to these races as a figure of the Christian warfare, Paul emphasized the preparation necessary to the success of the contestants in the race--the preliminary discipline, the abstemious diet, the necessity for temperance. "Every man that striveth for the mastery," he declared, "is temperate in all things." The runners put aside every indulgence that would tend to weaken the physical powers, and by severe and continuous discipline trained their muscles to strength and endurance, that when the day of the contest should arrive, they might put the heaviest tax upon their powers. How much more important that the Christian, whose eternal interests are at stake, bring appetite and passion under subjection to reason and the will of God! Never must he allow his attention to be diverted by amusements, luxuries, or ease. All his habits and passions must be brought under the strictest discipline. Reason, enlightened by the teachings of God's word and guided by His Spirit, must hold the reins of control. {AA 311.1}

It is evident then that there is always something to give up.  The following verses make this point clearly.  Let us read them,

Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

 There is no successful runner that gratifies inclination and refuses to obey their coach, likewise, "There is no such thing as following Christ unless you refuse to gratify inclination and determine to obey God" (MYP 154).

Now, in addition to giving up self, those who follow Christ will suffer persecution.  We read in John 15: 18 – 20,

John 15:18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
John 15:20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you;

So, there is a double cost to be a disciple: what we give up and what we endure.  To get B I must give up A, but to retain B – forever - I must endure C.  So, the question is what is B, and is it worth giving up A, and enduring C, to have it.  Evidently, B is Christ.  A is self, and C is the persecution and hatred we encounter as we become followers of Christ.  We see this dynamic in Paul's experience as presented in Philippians 3: 7 – 10,

 Philippians 3:7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
Philippians 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
Philippians 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
Philippians 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

In the beginning verses of Philippians 3, Paul talks about what he gave up.  Nothing he had before – his ethnic background, his high standing in society, et al. – compared to the matchless charms of Christ.  In verses 7 and 8, Paul says he gives up everything to know Christ, and in verse 10, Paul says that he endures suffering and even death to continue to know Christ.  We can see that Paul makes a distinction between what he gave up and what he suffered.

What is not readily said is that the giving up and the enduring are related.  God designs the enduring, to help us in the giving up; and, the giving up helps us in the enduring.  Often the enduring reveals what we ought to give up. If we do not give up what the enduring reveals we should give up, we will fail to endure. Many may believe that the initial cost should be enough, perhaps too much.  Why should we endure trials?  Let us put it this way: if to receive Christ, we must die to self, then the trial is to help us stay dead.  Trials teach us to trust, depend, and wait on God.  Trials rightly understood and endured, are to help us develop Christ-like character.  Ellen White says,

God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him. {OFC 67.1}

What about us: Laodicea? What will it "cost" Laodicea to be in partnership with Christ, our High Priest in His mission to the world? There is a difference between fulfilling the great commission,-- "Go ye ... and teach [disciple] all nations,"--before 1844 and being co-laborers with the Harvester during the cleansing of the sanctuary.

It will cost Laodicea everything she thinks she knows about righteousness by faith in exchange for an appreciation of what it cost the Son of God to obtain justification by faith which is parallel to and consistent with the at-one-ment with God; this is the "offense" of the cross.

Why is Laodicea's discipleship and devotion to Jesus lukewarm and lackluster? The True Witness diagnoses her disease which is causing Him acute nausea,-- "I am about to spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16).

This warning is parallel to that Christ gives those who say, "Lord, Lord, open unto us ... I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth ... " (Luke 13:25-28). That's an awful word-- "iniquity." We instinctively pass it on to our Sunday-keeping neighbors.

What we need to realize is that devotion that is appropriate during the ministry of the High Priest in the Holy Apartment becomes "iniquity" when weighed against the incomparably greater scope of His ministry in the Most Holy Apartment! Christian experience perfectly acceptable in times previous to the cleansing of the sanctuary becomes "lukewarmness" in our day. To our High Priest, there is no more nauseous sin than this.

The truthful Witness testifies that Laodicea's self-understanding of righteousness by faith is pre-1844. Moreover, she has no hunger and thirst for righteousness. Her confession is: "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." According to the Heavenly Counselor, she doesn't know her spiritual condition: "And knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17).



The True Witness is speaking to "the angel of the church of the Laodiceans" (Rev. 3:14). "The angel" is the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who have unwittingly led the church into a self-centered understanding of righteousness by faith which it proclaims to the world as its gospel commission.

We know Jesus challenges the Adventist Church regarding her message because He appeals for correcting our course. "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed" (Rev. 3:18). The Savior couldn't be more precise. The "white raiment," which Laodicea lacks, is the garment of righteousness. This clothing is "gold tried in the fire." Furthermore, the Heavenly Merchantman markets His commodity to her. She is "to buy of me gold."

The "gold" of which He speaks is faith and love. "The gold tried in the fire is the faith that works by love. Only this can bring us into harmony with God. We may be active, we may do much work, but without love, such love as dwelt in the heart of Christ, we can never be numbered with the family of heaven." [Christ's Object Lessons, p. 158.]

Her problem is not a deficiency of doing "much work." The "gold" we lack is not more feverish activity: that we're truly "rich" in, already. Our need is basic. In respect of the very "gold" itself, the True Witness says our treasure-box is empty.

Why "buy" it? Why doesn't He say, "Ask of Me, and I'll give it to you"? Could it be that we must surrender our false concepts of righteousness by faith in exchange for the truth? These "goods" we do possess: "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods" (Rev. 3:17).

Writes the pen of inspiration: "What greater deception can come upon human minds than a confidence that they are right, when they are all wrong! The message of the True Witness finds the people of God in a sad deception, yet honest in that deception ... Those addressed are flattering themselves that they are in an exalted spiritual condition ... secure in their attainments ... rich in spiritual knowledge." [Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, pp. 252, 253.]

The "price" we must give up is "deception," false "spiritual knowledge." In other words, we must surrender our false ideas and deceptions regarding righteousness by faith to "buy" the "gold."

Is our Lord trying to tell us that we don't understand what love - agape - is, and therefore cannot have true faith? Is the "angel" of the church destitute of "such love as dwelt in the heart of Christ"?

There are two great antithetical ideas of "love." One has come from Hellenism and is the kind of "love" that the modern evangelical churches accept today. The other is entirely different and is the kind of love that can have its source only in the ministry of the true High Priest in His cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. [Early Writings, pp. 55, 56].

Christ Himself makes clear what New Testament faith is, and His view is different from that of the "popular ministry": "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him ..." (John 3:16). God's love is the first thing, and until that love is revealed, there can be no "believing." As a result of His "loving" and "giving," the sinner finds it possible to "believe." Faith is a heart-experience, "heart-work" to borrow Ellen G. White's phrase, and it cannot exist until God's love is understood and appreciated.

The "believing" is not motivated by a fear of "perishing" or an acquisitive regard for "everlasting life." The primary cause of faith is "for God so loved." The results of God's love are "that He gave His only begotten Son" and "that whosoever believeth." The believing is a direct result of God's loving the world.

Thus Jesus' clear definition: Faith is a heart-appreciation of the love of God revealed at the cross. A subtle shift has occurred in the Seventh-day Adventist Church regarding its understanding of righteousness by faith. An acquisitive hope of reward is set forth before the people and the world to offset the "cost" of discipleship now. Such self-centeredness is antithetical to the "gold" of Christ's righteousness. When faith and love are truly tested, it will be revealed as to what source produced the righteousness--whether it be self or Christ.