Friday, July 31, 2020

Light Bulbs

Light Bulbs

The Light bulb is nothing without electricity. It was designed for illumination, but cannot, without energy, displace darkness. The Light from a Light bulb is a combination of three things: an incandescent filament that is part of an unbroken and uninterrupted electric circuit and electricity. Several simple things must occur To ignite the Light bulb. The bulb must be appropriately connected to an electrical source (thus closing the circuit). The power switch must be turned on. And the filaments within the incandescent bulb or the gases within the fluorescent tube must be intact. Similarly, whenever Christians shine forth, there must be spiritual equivalents to the Light bulb and spiritual equivalents to what makes the bulb work. 

Our spiritual filaments are broken beyond repair. The Holy Spirit brings a new filament to each believer and then also makes new electrical wiring and connections within them; our old circuitry is inadequate for His electrical system and, therefore, needs replacing. Once the new equipment is in place, and the Holy Spirit properly connects the Christian to the spiritual energy source (God), he or she shines.

We can see it may take the Holy Spirit some time to set everything in place. In reality, we limit how He can work through how much space we give Him. Once all is in place, it should work continually, unless we find ways to interrupt it. Interruptions (for example, switches) can stop the electric flow. When we turn the switch off, we disrupt the flow of the hearing of faith and the believing of the Word. The smallest cracks in the fluorescent tube or the tiniest breaks of an incandescent filament can destroy the bulb's lighting capacity. So can a break in the wiring. We should clarify that unlike our earthly electrical sources, The Holy Spirit never has an outage. Therefore, when our spiritual bulb ceases to shine, it is not His fault, it is ours. 

In principle, this metaphor is very similar to the one Jesus used in John 15. Which we refer to as the Parable of the Vine and the Branches. Christ told His disciples,

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love."

What is the fruit? We find it in Galatians 5:22 – 23,

 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

In the same chapter, Paul contrasted the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. These works of the flesh are the fruit that those refusing to abide in Christ - be connected to the Holy Spirit - will produce. Let us read what they are from verses 19-21,

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

If we were to see this passage in the Light of the Parable of the vine and branches, these branches produce no spiritual fruit, and the works of the flesh are evident. The Father, who is the husbandman, cuts these branches away to make sure the vine or tree does not waste resources that the good branches could be using (John 15:1). These "fruitless" branches refer to those of which Christ says, "depart from me you workers of iniquity, I know you not" (Matthew 7: 23); Christ is speaking here to professed believers. They attended church; they participated in church activities and programs, they sang hymns, taught Sabbath School, returned tithes, even did evangelism. These professed believers were Sabbath School leaders, elders, deacons, etc. Christ says to them, "I do not know you. Go away." They did not allow the Holy Spirit's daily indwelling to enable them to live a God-honoring life. Only the infusion to the vine allows the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in them. Only being supernaturally wired to the "electric circuit" enables the Spirit to shine the Light. How do we stay fused so the Holy Spirit can work through us? Through the hearing of faith (Galatians 3:1). 

~Raul Diaz

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Discipleship and Prayer

Discipleship and Prayer

The following commentary was published originally to link discipleship with Prayer. It clearly explains Prayer, I believe. 

Discipleship and Prayer

John 17:20-21

20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 

21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

In the last lesson, we defined disciples in the light of scripture. We read in Luke 14,

Luke 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Luk 14:33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

The implication here is that to be Christ disciples, you bear your cross and forsake all and follow Him. In John 15, discipleship is explained in the context of farming. We read in John 15,

Joh 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Joh 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

These two descriptions of discipleship are complementary. If I remain in A, I cannot stay in B; thus, I forsake B. The bearing of fruit reveals that we are good soil in which the good seed sown and eventually germinated (Luke 8: 4 – 18). The root found living nutrients and water. Ellen White sums it up beautifully,

As a flower of the field has its root in the soil, receives air, dew, showers, and sunshine, so must we receive from God that which ministers to the life of the soul.

God guarantees His presence to His Christian followers. "As long as the members of the church shall through faith draw sap and nourishment from Jesus Christ, and not from man's opinions and devisings, and methods; if having a conviction of the nearness of God in Christ, they put their entire trust in Him, they will have a vital connection with Christ as the branch has connection with the parent stock" (Our Father Cares; 21 – 22).

How, then, does Prayer relate to this? No one will deny the need for Prayer. In the words of Ellen White,

"Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him."—Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 93.

"Pray much. Much Prayer is necessary to successful effort. Prayer brings strength. Prayer has "subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, turned to flight the armies of aliens." {SW, February 23, 1904 par. 6} 

Notice how she ties faith (Hebrews 11: 33 - 34) with Prayer. Now, since we describe discipleship in the context of farming, can we explain Prayer in the same way – or at least using biological imagery? Ellen White does just this. Let us read a passage where she does this,

"Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. No other means of grace can be substituted and the health of the soul be preserved. Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Wellspring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience. Neglect the exercise of Prayer, or engage in Prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God. The spiritual faculties lose their vitality, the religious experience lacks health and vigor" (Messages to Young People, 249, 250.)

When we breathe, our body inhales oxygenated air and exhales air with Carbon Dioxide. Our blood carries oxygen throughout the body. The blood returns to the lungs depleted of oxygen to fill itself with oxygen again; this is an automatic process. Unless there are problems, no one chooses to breathe; you just do. What happens if we decide not to breathe? Most folk cannot hold their breath for more than three to five minutes without fainting.

We read in Luke 18:1: "And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." If we stop breathing, we faint; likewise, if we cease to pray, it will not be long before we find ourselves fainting before the trials that inevitably come our way. It is through Prayer that we are braced for difficulties and trials that require strength far beyond our natural human capacity.

Through the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Christ has urged that His people pray without ceasing. This does not mean that we should always be upon our knees, but that Prayer is to be as the breath of the soul. Our silent requests, wherever we may be, are to be ascending unto God, and Jesus our Advocate pleads in our behalf, bearing up with the incense of His righteousness our requests to the Father" (TMK 78.3). 

The statement above described how Jesus lived "… Jesus lived in dependence upon God and communion with him. To the secret place of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty, men now and then repair; they abide for a season, and the result is manifest in noble deeds: then their faith fails, the communion is interrupted, and the life-work marred. But the life of Jesus was a life of constant trust, sustained by a continual communion: and his service for heaven and earth was without failure or faltering. {SW, February 23, 1904 par. 7} 

Just like our whole body benefits from breathing, the body of Christ is to benefit from Prayer. Real Prayer is, by definition, intercessory. Prayer – in its real sense - links us to God and others. Ellen White says,

"What does intercession comprehend? It is the golden chain which binds finite man to the throne of the infinite God. The human agent whom Christ has died to save importunes the throne of God, and his petition is taken up by Jesus, who has purchased him with His own blood. Our great High Priest places His righteousness on the side of the sincere suppliant, and the Prayer of Christ blends with that of the human petitioner" (TMK 78)

When we pray for others, we become vessels, conduits, or channels to distribute God's blessings. We become fountains springing God's living water so others can quench their thirst for righteousness (John 7: 38). 

Friday, July 17, 2020

"In Spirit and in Truth"

Originally published on September 4 - 10, 2011

"To be filled, you must be emptied" - this may sound like a contradiction, but it is true. The opposite is also true. To be emptied, you must be filled. Even when a bottle is emptied of liquid, it is still full of air. If I fill a jug with water and close the lid tight, it stays in, and the air stays out. The moment I open the top, the water can flow out, but only as long as air can flow in the jug. Air must displace the water for the water to move out of the opening.

Let us say that, for some reason, I want to fill the jug with air. I must open the lid to let the water out, or the air cannot come in. This concept applies in other contexts as well. For example, to fill a truck with boxes and furniture, the truck must first be emptied of its previous load. Your stomach needs time to digest one meal before you fill it with another. The concept then is that you cannot fill something that is already full. So it is in the spiritual realm.

St. Augustine once said, "We must be emptied of that which fills us, so that we may be filled with that of which we are empty." Many pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. For God to answer this prayer, we must be emptied of self. But, we cannot do the job ourselves.

"No man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work. The language of the soul will be, Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul. It is not only at the beginning of the Christian life that this renunciation of self is to be made. At every advance step heavenward it is to be renewed" (Ellen White, Christ's Object Lessons, page 159, 160).

The story of the Samaritan woman can illustrate this idea of being emptied to be filled.  In John 4, Jesus met her at the well and asked her for a drink of water. Surprised by a Jew who would ask a favor of a Samaritan, and a woman at that, she questioned Him. In response, Jesus introduced Himself and His mission by using water as a metaphor for what He had to offer. Failing to understand, she questioned Him again. His response is in verses 13 and 14 --

"Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."

This woman was all too aware of the moral indiscretions of her past life. She was empty, and she knew it. When she believed Christ's revelation of Himself, the Samaritan woman's heart was warmed and filled. What she thirsted for was not merely water, but a reservoir of spiritual water springing up into everlasting life. This flowing, filling water, which represents the Holy Spirit, displaces all the ugliness of self. Holy Spirit inspired Truth, believed and received into the heart, dislodges self from its throne. We want to worship God in a way that pleases Him. To do this, we must worship in the Holy Spirit. We want to be filled by Him and emptied of self. In His dialogue with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says that genuine believers worship the Father in both Spirit and in Truth. Are the two things different?

Jesus states in John 14, verses 6 and 17 that both He and the Holy Spirit are Truth. In verse 17, Jesus elaborates further by saying that "the world cannot receive Him (the Spirit of Truth) because the world doesn't see or know Him." Then Christ says that "we know Him, for He dwells with and in us." It is in this manner that Jesus equates the Holy Spirit's character and essence with His own.

Jesus was also called Emmanuel, God with us. John 1:14 states that the Word (Jesus) was made flesh, and dwelt among us. The Truth – the Word of God – Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, displaces the lies of self.

Jesus not only reassured the Samaritan woman that He was the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, but He implanted the seed of Truth and love in her heart. This seed would later be watered by His blood and would bear fruit in righteousness. He made it clear that the Father wants worshippers who will worship by accepting and receiving the Holy Spirit and believing the Truth. He was reassuring her and the whole Samaritan nation that the Father would receive them as His children. After seeing and understanding Christ's death on the cross for them, the believers among them would receive the Holy Spirit as a guide to lead them into all Truth, thus displacing the corrupt self.

We can experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit's power as long as we allow Jesus Christ, the Fountain of Life, to be the One who indwells us through that Spirit. God has promised us an abundance of Spiritual water – His Truth. We may believe His promise, ask for His gift, receive and "drink" the refreshing water of life which we find in His Word. His life then becomes our own.

In the book Desire of Ages, on page 671, Ellen White writes some powerful good news about this topic:

"The Holy Spirit was the highest of all gifts that He could solicit from His Father for the exaltation of His people. The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. The power of evil had been strengthening for centuries, and the submission of men to this satanic captivity was amazing. Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world's Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church."

Let us not reject the highest gift of living water that the Father could bestow through Christ. The very quenching of our thirst depends on it.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Giving All for the Sheep

Giving All for the Sheep

A Brazilian evangelist, Pastor Veloso, was in the middle of what could have been his most successful evangelistic series. It was in a stadium, and thousands were attending. Hundreds had already made decisions to get baptized. And, they expected hundreds more to do so, possibly topping the thousand mark. This man had had an incredible track record. Thousands had come to the church due to his preaching.

But, it had come at a cost. The news came to Pastor Veloso in the morning. His son, Chico, had been picked up by government authorities. Chico was hospitalized and found with high levels of heroin in his system. To make matters worse, Chico also had a couple of grams of heroin in his pant pockets. The plans were to clean Chico up and send him to jail. But, out of courtesy for Pastor Veloso, they delayed deciding until contacting him. The authorities had high regard for Pastor Veloso.

Pastor Veloso called for an emergency meeting with his staff and organizers. They all agreed that a scandal like this could hinder his ministry. How should they handle it? Some suggested asking the authorities to quietly put Junior in a rehab center, citing that God's work must go on. Others, suggested, to hold a press conference, come
out in the open, that way, the scandal is minimized, and the ministry hindered less.

A young pastor opened up his Bible and read from Luke 15: 4 – 24. This passage tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. These are very familiar parables. They describe how something that was lost was found and recovered; spiritually, how God found and recovered each one of us.

After the young Pastor finished reading, he then asked Pastor Veloso, "The people you preach to, what are they: lost sheep, the lost coins, or the prodigal children? How about your son?" Pastor Veloso started to cry. All the men in the room were dumbfounded, then they looked at
the young Pastor and yelled at him, "Look at what you've done."

Pastor Veloso then said with a loud voice, "Let him be. He's right. If I went to reach lost sheep, I did not secure the one I had to find the others. If I went to find lost coins, I have been cleaning everybody else's home, but mine. Now, if my son is a prodigal son, he needs to know that I am waiting for him, and I need to wait for him." Pastor Veloso resigned that same day, to save his son.

Pastor Veloso's son eventually cleaned up, gave up drugs, and gave his life to Christ. He said, "My Dad gave up everything for me, just as Christ gave up everything for us. Just the thought of that and that heaven rejoiced when I gave myself to Christ makes me rejoice.  I wonder if heaven also rejoiced when my Dad chose to give up all for me."

The Bible revelation of the character of God is: Jesus says, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost" (Luke 19:10). The story of the prodigal son emphasizes the seeking love of the Father—the lost boy would never have said, "I will arise and go to my
father" unless the seeking love of the Father had drawn him ( John 12:32, 33).

We must not give our children and youth the idea that God is like a doctor deep in his inner office, hard to find! The seeking love of the Father and the self-emptying love of Christ must be made plain early and through their teen years. An outward profession based on fear is
empty; it's the heart that must be won by the truth of His love.

Our current "offer" view of God's forgiveness forces us to see the prodigal son differently. If the son is "under condemnation" until he takes the initiative to come home, he cannot be a family member, a son; he is a stranger. But the biblical view sees the prodigal as still being
a son even while he was rioting and then in the pigsty—a son, indeed, although a lost one. Did the father "make" him a son only when he came home?

The Bible view tells the prodigal, You are a child of God "in Christ" by virtue of His sacrifice as the second Adam, and He has elected you since He gave Himself for you on His cross. But you have wandered away and sold your birthright. Now, realize and appreciate your actual status
in Him. Let His love draw you home where you belong, by virtue of His already adopting you "in Christ."

God does not regard unconverted people as wolves to be shot down as soon as possible; no, but He sees them as sheep, not in the fold, to be sure, but still sheep— lost sheep. They need to be converted, to be born again, yes, but all the while God considers them to be heirs to His estate because He sent forth His Son to be "made of a woman" as we are all "made of a woman." He has adopted the human race "in Christ."

You are not to think of yourself as an outsider, says Paul. Because of Christ's sacrifice, you are now "in the family," adopted (Eph. 1:5), loved all the while as the prodigal son was loved. But you didn't know it; you felt ostracized, estranged, alienated, lost, rejected, but God did not regard you as estranged or alienated. He reconciled you to Himself "in Christ." Now, says Paul, "be ye reconciled to God." The proof that He has reconciled you? Gal. 3:6, "God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your heart, crying, Abba, Father." What a beautiful, powerful, illustration of Good News "in Christ," and now you can see it for yourself because your human heart is crying "Father... !"

The prodigal son's expression to his Father: "I have sinned against you," lets you know that the prodigal son finally understood the grief he caused to his Father. The greatest motivation to make changes in our lives is the desire to no longer break the heart of the one who
loves us so much. When the boy was wallowing around in the mud with the pigs, the Father suffered more than his son. Revival occurs when God's love breaks our hearts. Reformation occurs when we choose to
respond to a love that will not let us go. It happens when we no longer want to do anything to break God's heart. It takes place when we make the difficult choices to give up those attitudes, habits, thoughts, and feelings that separate us from Him and hence, break His heart.