Friday, February 09, 2018

1888 Glad Tidings : Insight #6 February 10, 2018

First Quarter 2018
Sabbath School Insight #6
"The Marks of a Steward"
February 10, 2018

Stewards of Service
The Bible says that nature speaks of the Glory of God, which is His character. Ellen White stresses the importance of this by telling us to study the lessons in nature. She says in Our High Calling, page 253: "Everything about us teaches us from day to day lessons of our Father's love and of His power, and of His laws that govern nature and that lie at the foundation of all government in heaven and in earth." Let's take a tree as an example. A mature tree uses precious earthly resources: it occupies space, utilizes air (Carbon dioxide which we exhale), water, and absorbs sunlight. In turn, we use the oxygen the tree exhales, and we take advantage of its shade. Is this a fair exchange? Many trees yield fruit that when consumed, are not only tasty, but are good for our health. While trees cannot consume their byproducts (fruit), we can. There are other parts of the tree, which we utilize as well, such as its leaves and its wood. It seems that human beings benefit more from trees then trees do from us. Apparently, all of the resources that trees use end up benefiting mankind as well as the animals.  Based on this observation we could say, that if trees were stewards, they would likely manage God's resources better than we.
Our analogy of the tree is really about stewardship and serving others. When a steward is filled with the faith of God, his service is selfless. But, in our natural sinful state, we are selfish. We think only of ourselves, our plans, our concerns. When we give to others or do for them, often it is because we expect the service to redound beneficially to us. Often, we anticipate a tangible return such as money or other favors - tickets, a meal, a gift certificate, etc. Other times we derive an intangible return, such as favorable appreciation by others. Not infrequently, we serve out of feelings of guilt, coercion, or fear; hoping to be relieved from condemnation. Thus, we misuse Gods resources for our benefit even though we claim using these to serve others. 
A true Christian at whatever level is a Steward who operates by faith. Just as a mature tree yields fruit, he or she will yield fruit (Galatians 5:22-25).  The Spirit of God that dwells in him springs forth this fruit because the fruit is the character of God Himself. 
Therefore, service is not proffered by guilt, coercion, or fear. The true Christian does not expect to gain absolution, freedom, or even peace. The service of a true Christian, in whom the Spirit dwells, is motivated by Agape - God's unconditional love - and the driving force is gratitude. A faithful follower of Christ gives and serves freely, for he has received freely (Matthew 10:8).
Typically, we do not equate stewardship with the selfless serving of others. But, a steward serves his Master by caring for his assets, identifying with the Master and doing as the Master wishes. What is it that the Master desires "But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8). Perhaps the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25 will illustrate the meaning further. Although the passage is lengthy, reading will refresh our memory. Matthew 25: 31-46 reads--
Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory:
Matthew 25:32 And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
Matthew 25:33 And He shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Matthew 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Matthew 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in:
Matthew 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.
Matthew 25:37 Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?
Matthew 25:38 When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee?
Matthew 25:39 Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?
Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.
Matthew 25:41 Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
Matthew 25:42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink:
Matthew 25:43 I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in: naked, and ye clothed Me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not.
Matthew 25:44 Then shall they also answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?
Matthew 25:45 Then shall He answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.
Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Faithful stewards are sheep who identify with their Lord and unknowingly serve Him by helping those in need.   Unfaithful stewards are the goats who served others but for personal gain.  What is the motivating difference between the two? It is Agape – God's unconditional love. The sheep possess the type of love that the Father possesses.  This love which is His essence is that which led Him to give to all human beings "…His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This love caused Jesus to weep because of the harm Sin had done to His creation (John 11:35). This is the same love that will be found in us as we permit the Holy Spirit to have His way with us (Romans 5:5). Christ Himself has said that by this all men will know that ye are my disciples (John 13: 34 – 35).  Today, while it's day, will you let the Spirit transform you into a faithful steward that you may serve others as He wishes?
~Raul Diaz

Friday, February 02, 2018

1888 Glad Tidings : Insight #5 February 3, 2018

First Quarter 2018
Sabbath School Insight #5
"Stewards After Eden"
February 3, 2018
            I invite you to witness a not-so-rare experience at breakfast time with my family. There is something seriously wrong happening that we need to talk about. No, it is not the food. We eat very healthily. In fact, lately I am doing my best to kill my family (or more likely any germs that may be stalking them) with a green drink each morning. It includes kale, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, apple cider vinegar, bananas, apples, juice, lemons, limes, and turmeric. Warning, before you try this at your home please note I am not implying that it tastes good (though a little packet of stevia helps nudge it out of the poison zone for your palate)! But we have become accustomed to the burning sensation knowing that it is keeping us well when all around us sickness abounds!

            No, the problem is what you might hear us saying. "Daddy, Noah's not chewing his food correctly! He spit on me! He's gross!" Or, "Mommy, Hadassah's too close to me and she's staring at me! She did not brush her hair again and I think she forgot her deodorant!" There could also be serious whining, passing the buck, or a whole bunch of stinking thinking and nasty attitudes spilling all over more often than the almond milk (thankfully, their motor skills are improving). Are you getting the picture? Have you been there, with or without children?

            You see, our children have problems, major problems. They got them from their parents, Penny and Bryan, who can still be excellent examples of what not to do (actually, the kids say that I teach them all their bad habits)! Yet we got them from our parents, as they received them from theirs, all the way back to Adam and Eve. We are humans infected by sin. Yet the sin(s) I am alluding to here are the ones we often don't think about. This week's lesson will invite us to consider some powerful thoughts as stewards after Eden.

            Actually, I will adjust the topic a little to call it stewards after the cross and the resurrection, because in Christ everything has changed. Just as through one man sin entered and death reigned throughout humanity, so now through Christ life has come to the world. In Christ, we are new creatures, the old has passed away, behold all has become new! (I am assuming this readership is very aware of the three powerful corporate chapters in Paul's writings which expound these truths so well. For a refresher see Romans 5, First Corinthians 15, and Second Corinthians 5.)

            These earth shattering truths radically affect our mandate as stewards. In Christ our stewardship role has morphed from the management of things, animals, and the earth, to now include the unseen, intangibles of the gospel, grace, mercy, goodness, truth, and the power of God transforming us and being on display in our lives. God's focus is no longer simply on having us manage the external world but letting Him transform us internally for His glory! We are now His house (temple) being fitted together in Christ for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22) What an amazing heritage and opportunity.

            But, depending on your understanding of forgiveness, what a terrifying thought. How can we do all of those things when we fail so often? How do we manage the intangibles in our lives like that when we so often fail with the solid, tangible commandments? Our rate of failure would be hopelessly discouraging! That may be what many think. Yet, herein lies the radical shift and truth that changes everything when we are in Christ.

            I recently heard an author say something truly profound. It immediately reminded me of what Ellen White has written (there is nothing new under the sun). She said something like this. She used to see forgiveness as a whiteboard experience. Tally up your sins, and then pray and forgiveness wipes them off: clear, clean, crisp accounting. Unless, of course, your marks overwhelm your ability to remember, repent of, and deal with. And, God forbid, what if you forget to ask for a particular sin or die before the final cleansing? Then, you have a serious problem of never fully knowing if you have been cleansed from all unrighteousness. Welcome to the all too common life of a schizophrenic, fearful Christian. No assurance because their whiteboard is unmanageable.

            She then shared her tectonic shift of thinking: realizing that forgiveness was not about the whiteboard as much as it was about being set free from the tyranny of being enslaved to self! Wow, what a theological earthquake. Forgiveness as being set free from self. Not simply sins as discrete actions of breaking specific laws but SIN, the enslavement to self and death. Yes, that is the emancipation that Ellen White talks about in Desire of Ages, chapter 34, called the Invitation.

            In Christ we are called into a life of unrelenting, redeeming freedom. The living Christ is more than a divine Lincoln declaring the historic end of slavery, He is our passionate priest pursuing the ongoing process of liberty that leads to life. We are not just offered freedom in regard to sins or things, but we now have a new identity: we are each a new person free to worship, love, serve, bless, and be blessed. Freedom from what A.W. Tozer calls the hyphenated sins of the self: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and many more permutations in the prison of self.

            Stewardship, then, is more about our identity than what we do with what we have. In Christ, we are new creatures and we have been set free from our past to live lives unto God. We are called to steward (and display) those mysteries of God to a world that has yet to hear that glorious emancipation proclamation. No more shame, we have peace with God. We are joint heirs with Christ Jesus, sitting with Him in the heavenly places (by faith). We are sons and daughters of God, now! We no longer need to rely on our temporary addictions to feel good about ourselves. We are fully known and fully loved!

            Ellen White says it this way. "Redemption is that process by which the soul is trained for heaven. This training means a knowledge of Christ. It means emancipation from ideas, habits, and practices that have been gained in the school of the prince of darkness. The soul must be delivered from all that is opposed to loyalty to God." (Desire of Ages, page 330)

            This brings me back to the problems displayed at our breakfast table (and other times), and another word you will be pondering this week: responsibility. Stewardship is all about responsibility, and there is the rub. Slaves believe they have no choice, therefore no responsibility. Children/stewards have choice and take responsibility.

            Enslaved humanity recoils from responsibility. Remember our first parents playing the blame game? Throughout time we have continued to evade, deny, and blame others for what we have done. We whine and complain about our lives (often the accumulation of our own choices). Some have even learned how to mask our refusal to take responsibility by trying to control others and their choices (thereby robbing them of their freedom of choice and growth). Tragically, religions have often excelled in this destructive diversion. We focus our energies on trying to control things that aren't ours to direct and avoid taking any responsibility for our own actions. That's my kids (and us, all too often)! They love trying to control each other instead of themselves.

            This week's lesson invites us to wrestle with our new identity as children/stewards of God. Life is about being set free from the layers of slavery which we have become accustomed to living under. Seeking forgiveness is not accounting, it is taking responsibility and surrendering ourselves to God so He can break the fetters of self. It is about being set free to the inheritance we have in Christ Jesus.  With each act of owning our choices and claiming responsibility for what we have done we then re-surrender to our great God and let Him change us moment by moment. Our lives can begin to go from glory to glory, victory to victory. Life becomes a "get to" not a "got to" as we are partnering with Christ and He sets us free from every vestige of enslavement to self. We choose love, mercy, grace, peace, and purpose for our lives. We participate in God's work of passionately loving others so He can set them free as well. We take responsibility for ourselves and we leave others to experience God's grace in their lives personally. According to Ellen White in that same chapter, the Invitation, this is the beginning of eternal life and it can start here!

            When we let Him do this work in us we are stewarding the intangibles of His power in our lives and others will see His mighty work. We don't need to change others like my kids try to, but we can trust that the same God who is delivering us is doing the same work in others. We then carry our message (Christ in us the hope of glory) around in the unadorned clay pots of our lives and encourage others in the glorious freedom found only in Christ. What a life!
~ Bryan Gallant

Friday, January 26, 2018

1888 Glad Tidings : Insight #4 January 27, 2018

First Quarter 2018
Sabbath School Insight #3
"Escape From The World's Ways"
January 27, 2018
"Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. . . . He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage" (Proverbs 11:4, 28, NKJV).
We have spent this week examining how to "Escape from the World's Ways." 
Recently, I listened to the testimony of a young man who was baptized twice. The first time he was baptized, he said he had a knowledge of the truth in his head. He was convicted about the Sabbath and the state of the dead. He even witnessed to his friends about his newfound faith. But one day a friend asked, "If you're a Christian, why are you still smoking weed?"
The young man's faith wavered; he still had much to learn. Several years later, he was baptized again. This time he said he gave his heart to the Lord. His conversion was not merely an intellectual assent to truth, but a heart appreciation for Jesus' sacrifice.
The world allures us in so many ways. What is the secret to resisting its insatiable pull?
Jesus said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it will be done for you" (John 15:7, NKJV). "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love" (John 15:9, NKJV).
To be drawn to Jesus we must allow ourselves time to behold Him, to think of His wonderful works, to meditate on His Word. Jesus' portrayal of our relationship is one of intimacy, akin to that of the marriage relation, "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30).
In the beginning when Adam first met Eve, he said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23). Adam was speaking of his new bride, Eve, and Jesus was speaking of us, His bride.
Today, the divorce rate is going up. The chances of first marriages failing are one in two. Many people who have chosen Christ as their Savior are also experiencing separation from Him. Why?
Common reasons for failure in marriage include infidelity, finances, poor communication, growing apart (not spending quality time together), distractions such as social media, addiction, and lack of forgiveness.  
Our relationship with Christ can also experience trouble for many of the same reasons. John warns us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. for all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17, NKJV).
The Bible describes the closest union possible between God and man, made possible by the gift of Jesus, which is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
Solomon, one of the wealthiest men who ever lived, said, "The sleep of a laboring man [is] sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep" (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
The things of this world multiply the cares of this life. Solomon's life started out wonderfully, but the cares of this life and the lure of the world dragged him down. None of us are strong enough to resist the pull of the world. We need the most precious message of Jesus and His righteousness filling our hearts and lived out in our lives. 
In a practical sense, what does this mean? My daughter recently decided to delete social media from her phone. Now, instead of reading up on the activities of her friends and enjoying their pictures, she is reading Christian Service, and each day since she made that decision, the Lord has brought people to her who are searching for truth. Deleting social media freed her to listen to His voice and see where He is working.
The signs in the world point to the nearness of Jesus' soon return. Recently, we were visiting an island in Hawaii when an alert came across our phones warning us that a missile was on its way. "This is not a drill," the message concluded.
As it turns out, it was a false alarm, but we have inspired warnings that are just as clear: "Transgression has almost reached its limit. Confusion fills the world, and a great terror is soon to come upon human beings. The end is very near. God's people should be preparing for what is to break upon the world as an overwhelming surprise." (CG 555)
We have been entrusted with a most precious message of Jesus and His righteousness. Now is the time to immerse ourselves in the Word, as we abide in Christ and His love.

~Patti Guthrie

Friday, January 19, 2018

1888 Glad Tidings : Insight #3 January 20, 2018

First Quarter 2018
Sabbath School Insight #3
"God or Mammon"
January 20, 2018
The title of the quarterly for this new lesson of 2018 is exactly correct – "Stewardship:  Motives of the Heart".  You could put anything for the first word – obedience, sacrifice, worship, music, recreation, theology, lifestyle, Sabbath, etc. - and then follow it with "motives of the heart", and it would be a right reflection of what God is hoping will be the reason that we are engaged with His Kingdom.  What is in our heart when it comes to ANYTHING in Christian experience?
The religion of obligation, the religion of fear or reward, the religion of "ought to" or "should", the religion of trying harder, the religion of emotionalism – all produce religious experiences outside the religion that comes from an intelligent, faith-filled, heartwarming, understanding discernment of what God's kingdom is meant to be composed of.
God is looking for individuals who value His principles so highly, who respect what He stands for so much, and value Him so highly for the love and freedom and independence that He has bestowed on them, that to break with His eternal ideals of love and freedom, which are the basis of His character and thus His kingdom, that they would never, ever, turn to align themselves with self and selfishness.
Unfortunately, it is common in religious life to default back to the motives that aren't from a heart of appreciation and understanding.  The religion of fear and reward have been hard-wired into our spiritual DNA – and sometimes it comes out.  On Sabbath afternoon's lesson this week, after sharing God's "perspective on excessive obsession with money", the author states that Christ's words to the wealthy fool of Luke 12 "should put the fear of God in us all".  In the next paragraph we are reminded, not that true stewardship is a "motive of the heart", but that we will all one day have to give an account to God – true.
I wonder however, does God want us to be faithful stewards because we have to give Him and account – and thus we should have the fear of God in us all?  Or, does God want us to be faithful stewards because we honestly and truly care about His bride – the church?  Does God want us to be faithful stewards because of rewards received and punishments averted, or because we see the beauty and practicality of the stewardship and financial principles of God's kingdom?
"It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour's matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary's cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him."  {DA 480.3}
What?  Be a Christian with no thought for the reward we'll get or the punishment averted?  Why else be a Christian – or a faithful steward – if not to get rewarded or avoid punishment?
"The sight of (Jesus) attracts"?  "Love awakens in the heart"?  We hear His voice and we follow Him – just because He's beautiful and attractive?  We behold His matchless love and we say we want to live by those principles – to do what's right because it is right?  Is that what true, mature, meat not milk, grown-up Christianity actually looks like?  Can we conceive of a whole corporate church body that do the God thing not with any hint of fear or reward motives, but because they love God and love His principles – what a beautiful picture!
As Pastor Robert Wieland used to illustrate – the flower girl goes to the wedding because she wants to eat the wedding cake (the reward!).  But the bride is at the wedding because she loves, respects, and honors the groom!  Which is it for us?  Which is it for us as individuals – and for us as an Adventist church?  Are we Seventh-day Adventist Christians because we feel that gives us the best chance of getting our slice of the heavenly "cake"?  Or, are we Seventh-day Adventist Christians because the truths and doctrines of Adventism have given us incredible insights and understandings about the beauty and attractiveness and "rightness" of God and His principles?
I want to encourage you.  I want to encourage myself.  I want to encourage us as a church.  Jesus is attractive.  Jesus is beautiful.  Jesus is the exact and perfect revelation of the beauty and attractiveness of God.  Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us by looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith.  And in looking at Him, the motives of reward and fear will grow strangely dim, in the light of Jesus' glory and grace.
Stewardship – whatever it is - may it be motivated by a heart appreciation of the love of God as manifested in Jesus' life and death.  As we continue our study this quarter, never forget, it's the goodness (good news, gospel) of God that leads to repentance – and true stewardship.
~Bob Hunsaker