Thursday, March 24, 2011

“Partnership With Jesus”

First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Partnership With Jesus”
For the week of March 20-26, 2011

A young Christian, we’ll call him Bob, met a man of culture one day in Chicago. During the course of their conversation, Bob asked his new friend, “Do you know that you are the greatest sinner in the world?”

Astonished, the man replied, “How can that be? I’ve never murdered anybody, have never committed any great crime!”

“The greatest commandment is, ‘Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ Do you do that?” the boy asked.

“No I do not.” The man replied, “I cannot say that I do that at all.”

“Well,” Bob rejoined, “that is the greatest commandment. You are breaking the greatest commandment. Therefore you are the greatest sinner.” His friend admitted it and Bob led him to God and full salvation.*

The Apostle Paul exclaimed, “Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). In his letter to the church of Rome, he first summarized the good news, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

The good news is that God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ already, without our knowledge or consent. He has placed us on vantage ground (Romans 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). He now invites us to experience the good news through faith, and enter into partnership with Him in saving the lost. We can add nothing to His glorious work in saving us. He has fully provided the means by which He will accomplish this glorious task. But He will perform his work of writing His law in our hearts only with our knowledge, consent, and cooperation.

Hear the good news revealed in the life, death, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures. Believe from the heart the good news. Nothing less will do. Then, as you behold Him in His glory, perfection, and agape love (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18), you will see yourself the greatest sinner on earth, as Paul did (1 Timothy 1:15). Fourth, like Paul on the Damascus road you will be compelled by His love to ask, “Lord, what will you have me to do?”

In answer to that question, Christ says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth, go therefore and make disciples…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Paul speaks of this twofold process, saying, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Again, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Jesus, living the life of faith as man, revealed in His own words and life the secret of success. “I can of myself do nothing…I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

We can interpose our will in hindering and frustrating this partnership with Jesus by
·        rushing through prayer, meditation, and study of the word,
·        neglecting worship and Christian fellowship,
·        cherishing an unforgiving spirit of bitterness,
·        refusing to serve the needy and seek the lost,
·        failing to maintain our hope and trust in God,
·        being obsessed with the cares and challenges of life.

Let us be inspired by the great men of in Hebrews 11 who, though failing at times, never gave up. “And all these, having received a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise. God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” And “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher (perfector) of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him (us) endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

*Adapted from a sermon by A. T. Jones in the 1897 General Conference Bulletin, “The Greatest Sinner” (March 2, 1897 ATJ, GCDB D279).

--Lloyd Knecht

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nature as a Source of Health

First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Nature as a Source of Health”
For the week of March 13-19, 2011
The memory verse for this week says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalms 19:1-2). In nature we see the glory (power) of God’s creative supremacy and influence. We cannot help being amazed – whether we are religious or irreligious – by the vastness and power displayed in our universe.
For example, it has been calculated that the energy produced in one second by our sun could power all the earth’s energy needs for roughly one million years! 
Our sun is just an average sized star. Other stars (“suns”) are enormous in comparison to our sun! Furthermore, it is estimated that there are about 200 billion galaxies in our universe with an average of 100 billion “suns” per galaxy. The combined energy of all these stars is incomprehensible. Without a doubt, the heavens actually do declare the creative genius and power of God.
But we as Christians understand that God’s glory is much deeper and more significant than His ability to create in the physical realm. God’s creative ability may cause us to feel awe, and wonder, and probably some fear at His power, but God desires us to see all of this as a conduit for His love and goodness towards us. Raw power alone, can never lead someone to love and cherish the one who possesses the power, unless we see that power manifested in a safe, responsible, and caring manner.
Scripture shows that God’s glory is much greater than His creative and sovereign power. A deeper appreciation of God’s glory illuminates His character. When Moses asked to see God’s “glory” (Exodus 33, 34), he was not shown a display of raw power such as a volcano, an earthquake, a laser light show, or massive revelation of fire. Instead, he saw a revelation of God’s goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and justice. God’s greatest glory is not His power, but the inherent beauty and goodness of His character.
It is clear how the heavens and all of creation reveal to us God’s power. But how does creation reveal to us His glorious character? Where in nature and creation do we see the benevolence, mercy, and equity of God? This is not so readily perceived by weak, short-sighted mortals.
At times we see faint shadows of what the Garden of Eden must have been like. There are stories such as “Christian the lion,” which was a top YouTube video a couple of years ago. A lion cub was purchased at Harrods of London in the late 60’s by a couple of bachelors living in a London apartment. They named him Christian because they exercised him on the grounds of the local church. After a year or so, Christian became too big for them to care for. They sent him to Africa to be introduced to the wild through the care of the “Born Free” lion conservation team. After a year, and then again two years later, the men went to visit Christian in the wild. They were cautioned that Christian would probably have forgotten them and that the lion might attack them. Both encounters, recorded on video, show Christian running towards his old friends, jumping up, throwing his paws around them, and hugging them. Even the two females in Christian’s pride greeted the men without hostility! What a picture of the friendship and community that God originally intended should exist between man and all of the animal kingdom. 
1 John 4:16 tells us that love is the most fundamental attribute, the foundational reality, the most basic truth of who God is. All aspects of God’s glory, of God’s character, can be understood through the lens of love. 1 Corinthians 13 defines for us the essence of that love. It says that love “does not seek its own.” Love does not look out for, or have concern for the self. Love – expressed in positive language – looks out for the other. The essence of love – the very nature of God as stated in John 3:16 defines the love of God as the giving of His only begotten Son. God, because He is love, is motivated by the desire to bless and assist others, at any cost to Himself.
But where do we find this principle, this glory of God’s character in nature? “There is nothing, save the selfish heart of man, that lives unto itself. No bird that cleaves the air, no animal that moves upon the ground, but ministers to some other life. There is no leaf of the forest, or lowly blade of grass, but has its ministry. Every tree and shrub and leaf pours forth that element of life without which neither man nor animal could live; and man and animal, in turn, minister to the life of tree and shrub and leaf. The flowers breathe fragrance and unfold their beauty in blessing to the world. The sun sheds its light to gladden a thousand worlds. The ocean, itself the source of all our springs and fountains, receives the streams from every land, but takes to give. The mists ascending from its bosom fall in showers to water the earth, that it may bring forth and bud” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 20).
Everything in nature lives to give to another, just as God lives to give to others. Everything in nature expends itself for the benefit of other life forms, just as God expends Himself for our benefit. Plants receive water from the ground and carbon dioxide from us.  These are used to produce carbohydrates and oxygen for us, through the energy of sunlight. We give them carbon dioxide, and they give us oxygen; a perfect illustration of God’s circle of beneficence! Love comes from God to bless us.  A recognition of His constant and generous gifts of love leads us to return to Him our love and appreciation.
The oceans receive water from streams and rivers. Then they give that water back to the earth through clouds that rain down water to replenish those same streams and rivers. Here is another perfect circle of giving which results in receiving. Rightly understood, this principle of giving is the law of life for the universe. Life occurs, and is sustained, only in the giving of what I have, and what I am, for the building up and sustenance of another. This principle is as true in the spiritual realm as it is in the realm of nature.
"‘I seek not Mine own glory,’ ‘but the glory of Him that sent Me’ (John 8:28; 6:57; 8:50; 7:18). In these words is set forth the great principle which is the law of life for the universe. All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. So in the heavenly courts, in His ministry for all created beings: through the beloved Son, the Father's life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, to the great Source of all. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 21). May we participate with God in this circle of beneficence - for each other, and for God Himself - and may the lessons of God’s character (glory) in nature move us to be changed into His image.
--Bob Hunsaker

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Freedom From Addictions

First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
For the week of March 6-12, 2011
Addictive behaviors are an attempt to meet our greatest internal needs with a temporary “fix.” Whether the addiction is to a drug, an activity, or a thought process, the final pathway is the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure derived from a release of molecules in our brains. Dopamine is a molecule, or neurotransmitter, that activates the brain’s reward/pleasure center. Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, contributes to feelings of well-being and is considered the “happiness hormone.”
However, neuropsychologists understand that addictions are fundamentally incapable of maintaining satisfaction. The internal feedback mechanisms built in to our brains dampen the positive effects so that we never reach the same level of satisfaction without more and more of the dopamine and/or serotonin releasing substance or activity. This is literally and spiritually a dead-end experience.
What deeper need are addictions trying, but failing, to meet? It turns out that we are designed, literally wired, to be connected with others at a deep level. One of the deepest parts of our brains is the nucleus accumbens, upon which dopamine and serotonin exert a major influence, and from which a fundamental sense of pain derives if our attachment needs are not met.
“As humans, we have been made for relationship with God and others. If, for some reason, we suddenly or slowly cannot experience being connected to God and some significant others, we sense that as a kind of deep pain. This pain is described sometimes as a feeling of loneliness, unworthiness or insignificance, or of being amputated – at least partly” (quoted from the following website:
Sin cut Adam and his posterity (that is us!) off from the close relationship with God for which we were designed. This had devastating neurophysiological consequences to the human brain. Jesus then stepped into the gap and bridged the divide so we could recognize the true cause of our pain (it is not initiated by God!), and recover the lasting satisfaction of being reconciled to God and our fellow man.
When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?", he was experiencing the final results of this divide as he was “cut off” for all of humanity (not for Himself - Daniel 9:26):  “Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe.... By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father's favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 756). 
In his cry, and in his victory through faith, we see both the cause of and the solution to our sin problem and the addictions that attempt to supply our greatest need.
This is why the humanity of Christ is everything to all of us “sin addicts:” “Standing under the shadow of the cross of Calvary, the inspiration of his love fills our hearts. When we look upon Him whom our sins have pierced, the inspiration from on high comes upon us; and this inspiration may come upon each one of you through the Holy Spirit. Unless you receive the Holy Spirit, you cannot have the love of God in the soul; but through a living connection with Christ, we are inspired with love and zeal and earnestness.... as Christ illuminates our souls, he gives light and life.... If we are connected with light, we shall be channels of light, and in our words and works we shall reflect light to the world. Those who are truly Christians, grasp the golden chain which links earth to heaven, which binds finite man to the infinite God. The light that shineth in the face of Jesus, shines in the hearts of his followers, to the glory of God” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, September 27, 1892).
Finding the One who meets our greatest need is the most effective way to deal with addictions:
“A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs....Our heavenly Father is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, than are earthly parents to give good gifts to their children. But it is our work, by confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer, to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to grant us His blessing. A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer” (Ellen White, Selected Messages, Volume 1, page 121).
“There is a blessed work for each one of us to do, but we cannot do it as we should unless we are in right relation to God. In our imperfection of character, in our great need and helplessness, we must come to the foot of the cross, and as the light shines into our hearts from Calvary, we shall be able to reveal to others the great plan of redemption” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, January 28, 1890). 
Rather than “enhancing our self esteem” in an attempt to avoid relapse, we humbly confess our great need and invite God to access to our minds; He can then work through our frontal lobe to actually change the wiring in our brains! A new experience, a new life, a revival, is what occurs. God’s love for us is appreciated in the light of the cross, and changes us as it flows through us to others. We become truly satisfied. He heals and corrects our “intricate” “addiction mechanism.” This is the “professional help” that we need most!
How does this happen?
There is an intimate connection between our higher-reasoning center (the pre-frontal cortex of the frontal lobe) and the nucleus accumbens. These areas have a strong influence, with likely structural effects, on each other.*  In other words, we need a new experience with the word of God if practical changes in our brains, and thus our lives, are to be seen:
“The knowledge of God that works transformation of character is our great need. If we fulfill His purpose, there must be in our lives a revelation of God that shall correspond to the teaching of His word” (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, volume 8, page 329). 
“ When a man who has gone all his life without God, joins himself to God, and God's life becomes his life, God's strength becomes his strength, God's wisdom becomes his wisdom, then has not he ability that he did not have before? and is not this ability given to him to use? When he has received God, and has Christ dwelling within, the very life of his life, his strength, his wisdom, has not he a power, a wisdom, an intellect,—ability of every sort,—that will make him more than he ever could have been without Christ? Then do you not see—it is as plain as A B C—that the man who professes to be a Christian, and does not make a better success in this life than before, has not Christianity? He is cheating himself by a mere outward profession of the thing, and is simply robbing himself of what belongs to him in this world and in the next” (A. T. Jones, The Bible Echo, 221).
“To give a man all that God has and he still remaining the man that he is, it would be a fearful thing. Therefore it is nothing to us that God gives us all that He has, unless He gives us what He is, unless He gives us Himself. Therefore, when He gives us what He is, giving us Himself, His character, His nature and His disposition, then we can use what he is as well as what He has, in his fear and to His glory. (A. T. Jones, The General Conference Daily Bulletin, March 1, 1893 page 438).
We must literally be remade, recreated, in the image of God through Christ:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God....But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:1-8).
--Todd Guthrie
*(Rifat J. Hussain, Aaron J. Gruber & Patricio O’Donnell. The Nucleus Accumbens: A Switchboard for Goal-Directed Behaviors. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5062. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005062; Robinson, T.E., Kolb, B. Persistent Structural Modifications in Nucleus Accumbens and Prefrontal Cortex Neurons Produced by Previous Experience with Amphetamine. The Journal of Neuroscience, November 1, 1997, 17(21):8491–8497.)

Thursday, March 03, 2011


First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
For the week of February 27 – March 5, 2011
Many biblical terms are used in more than one way. Indignation, for instance, is used two ways: as righteous and as unrighteous.  So it is with jealousy.  There is a jealousy that is right, and one that is evil.  Evil jealousy is motivated by selfishness; the good jealousy is motivated by love.  Consider first example of righteous jealousy.  God is a jealous God.  That is His name (Exodus 34:15).  His name is what He is.  In the Bible the term “jealous” is used 12 times in reference to God.  The first time Jealousy is used in Scripture is in the second commandment.  Here God’s jealousy is exhibited two ways.  First it warns about “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:5).  In the second use God shows mercy to thousands of generations who love and obey Him (v. 6).
Some feel that God is unjust. They think He arbitrarily punishes children for the sins of their fathers.  This notion is based on ignorance of the true meaning of the commandment.  God says that if a father “begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and considers but does not do likewise … he shall not die for the iniquity of his father; he shall surely live!”…. The son shall “not bear the guilt of the father” (Ezekiel 18:14, 17,19).
The “visitation” for sins does include punishment, but only upon those who commit the same sins as their fathers.  Those who will receive God’s grace will be delivered, even in this present life, from sinful tendencies inherited from their fathers. The question we should as is this: Why does the second commandment extend only to a limited third and fourth generational number of those who hate God?  It is because sin is self-destructive.  Haters of God in the fullest sense of the term, would entirely run out in three or four generations.  God says “All those who hate Me love death” (Proverbs 8:36).  Our world may very well be approaching this condition.
The wicked generation living when Jesus returns will be as violent as was the last antediluvian generation of Noah’s day who in “every imagination of the thoughts of (the) heart (did) only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  These were the descendants of Cain who in his wiked jealousy toward his brother, killed Abel because of his faith based righteousness (Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12). Cain’s jealousy was that which he received from the one in whom the evil form of jealousy originated – that old serpent, the devil.
The evil spirit of jealousy and envy, along with pride and the desire to seek great things for oneself, came from within the heart of Lucifer.  He proudly boasted, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13).  He coveted a higher place than anyone else, including God.  Lucifer longed to rule the angels of God.  His jealousy and envy led him to covet that which was not his own.  He was cast out of heaven, but his jealousy only increased.
 “When God said to His Son, ‘Let us make man in our image,’ Satan was jealous of Jesus.  He wished to be consulted concerning the formation of man, and because he was not, he was filled with envy, jealousy, and hatred.  He desired to receive the highest honors in heaven next to God” (Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 145).
Through the centuries, the devil has inspired his own insane envy and jealousy in human hearts. These emotions caused the chief priests to deliver Jesus up to Pilate for death (Matthew 27:18).  Envy and jealousy are still killers. Women can look daggers at other women because of better homes, smarter clothes, or superior cooking.  A man can praise another fellow’s new car or speedboat while thinking, “I’ll show him. I’ll get something better.” Even little children become envious of playmate’s toys and games.
In past history Saul was jealous of David.  Earlier in time, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him.  Joseph was born into a family where envy and strife, "confusion and every evil work" prevailed.  Jacob’s two wives were naturally jealous of each other.  Two concubines did not contribute to the happiness of the family.  The sons from those unnatural and unequal unions were jealous, selfish, envious, quarrelsome, cruel, revengeful, and vicious with each other.  Joseph, early deprived of his mother's loving care, might naturally have been expected to grow up like his brothers.  Instead, his life from first to last presents a direct contrast to theirs in almost every particular.  Joseph’s brothers grew more and more jealous and angry with him, until they were ready to take his life.  Why did Joseph's brothers hate him so? It was because they were jealous of the favor shown him by their father. Also, his pure life was a rebuke to their evil ways.  Their jealousy toward Joseph led them first to conspire to kill him, then to get rid of him by selling him into slavery.
Some twenty years after Joseph was sold into slavery, there came a severe famine in Canaan. Joseph’s brothers were compelled twice to travel to Egypt, where Joseph was now chief administrator, to obtain food.  On the first trip, Joseph, whom they did not recognize, commanded them to bring Benjamin with them on their return.  After avoiding a return for as long as possible, the brothers were forced to make a second journey. Upon reaching Egypt, they were sent by Joseph to a banquet.  When the food served, Benjamin received five times as much as any of the other brothers (Genesis 43:34).  Joseph waited watched to see if they were still motivated by jealousy.  Because they thought no one understood their language they talked freely together.  Their conversation showed no signs of envy or jealousy.  Joseph was pleased.  Overcome with emotion, he wept.  What a family reunion ensued!
For years those older brothers of Joseph had gone through hard times, especially as they saw their father suffer keenly from the loss of his son Joseph.  In their times of darkness, despair and hopelessness, God worked on their jealous hearts.  They surrendered to Him, and He delivered them from their inherited and cultivated tendencies to envy and evil jealousy.
God was jealous also, but it was for Joseph’s brother’s salvation. In fact, his jealousy was their salvation.  And it is ours too.  Paul wrote of this godly jealousy:  “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy.  For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). God is jealous for the glory and welfare of His people. He desires their minds to be clear, their souls purified, and their lives prolonged eternally.  God’s jealousy is a consuming love that hates everything which hurts or destroys His people. He is jealous for you!
--Jerry Finneman