Tuesday, July 26, 2011

“Happy Are You, O Israel!”

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Happy Are You, O Israel!”
For the week of  July 24-30, 2011
(PDF Link)
Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself.  Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you. And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire. Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might.
The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? 
He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;
“He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.  Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off” (Isaiah 33:10-17).
Fire is essential to human survival.  The sun itself, by which we receive some of God’s life-sustaining energy, is to us a perpetual hydrogen-fueled cauldron of purifying energy. 
But the sun exhibits just an infinitesimal fraction of the power of God. When we see God high and lifted up, there is a certain clarifying, terrifying intensity in how good He really is.  It makes us see something about how appalling our sin problem really is.
In Leviticus 9, we see that the fat, representing sin, is completely consumed by the glory of God, along with the burnt offering, which prefigured Christ, our great sin-bearer. 
There is no escaping the “Consuming Fire.”  All sin will be consumed.  We must cooperate with Christ now in separating sin from our lives if we would someday “dwell with the everlasting burnings.”  Through faith in the cross of Christ, we may face the “fire from God” now rather than later.  This is letting our sins be brought “beforehand” to judgment as in 1 Timothy 5:24.
"‘This hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.’  It is fire from the altar, which, when cast on the earth, works destruction. The same fire that cleanses those who confess their sins, consumes those who cling to them. The saints of God, having been tried in the fire, as gold, and having had all the alloy of sin purged away by it, can dwell amid everlasting burnings which will consume the wicked like chaff.”   (E. J. Waggoner, Present Truth (UK) Articles, January 26, 1899 page 67).
“What will then become of the fire? Will it go out? Certainly not; for it is eternal. The fire that consumes the wicked is the Spirit of the Lord's mouth, and His own brightness (2 Thess. 2:8).  ‘Our God is a consuming fire,’ and He is from everlasting to everlasting.  ‘A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about’ (Psalm 97:3).  But still He is the everlasting dwelling place of His people, who are able to dwell with the devouring fire, and with ‘everlasting burnings’ (Isa. 33:14).  The same fire that destroys the wicked will be a protection to the righteous” (E. J. Waggoner, Present Truth (UK), October 17, 1901 page 658).
Trying to accomplish this separation from sin without complete and utter dependence upon Christ and His power is fatal, as we see in the story of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-11).  Alcohol or any other addictive element that compromises our higher reasoning (frontal lobe) adds to this craziness.
“The spiritual faculties are, to a large extent, dependent upon the physical.  The two are not separate and distinct, but closely joined together.  No one can fully exercise his spiritual faculties while his mind is beclouded and his physical faculties benumbed from any cause, as for example from improper eating and drinking.  The fate of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron is set before us as a terrible warning of the danger that lurks in this act, and an object lesson upon the relation between the physical nature and the spiritual perceptions” (E. J. Waggoner, Present Truth (UK), October 12, 1893 page 436). 
When we are eternally convicted that we can fully trust the everlasting arms that are carrying us (Deuteronomy 33:26-29), we can truly worship in reverent thanksgiving from the heart.  Do we realize what we have been saved from?  Do we see how God has become the refuge of the human race from the attacks of the enemy, and what is has cost Him to do this?
Only the indwelling of Christ shows us the truth, supplies our heart’s desire, and heals our broken lives here and now.  Just like Hannah (1 Samuel 1), we should dedicate all of the blessings the indwelling Christ brings with Him to His service in interceding for and ministering to His people.  Otherwise, our latent self-concern and lack of the “saint’s patience,” will make our ministry corrupt.  Our worship will become like king Saul’s disobedient ceremonialism, which brought on the curse of God by “mixing common and holy things.”  As we study and worship this Sabbath, we face the same temptation:
“To propose to keep the Sabbath of the Lord—the seventh day, Saturday—without the living presence of Christ in the heart, by faith, is but to bear the sign without the thing signified; is but to have the form without the reality,—the form of godliness without the power,—and is formalism, ceremonialism, ritualism only, and is precisely of the same nature, if it differs in degree, as is the Catholic system throughout.  Ours is not this.  On the contrary, it is the faith which takes Christ first of all as the most precious gift of God, and which finds in him the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the sum of all things good or right; in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and in whom alone all they that are of faith are complete.  This is not ritual: it is life itself, the “life of Jesus made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11)” (A. T. Jones, American Sentinel Articles, February 14, 1895 page 49).
Let us worship God in “spirit and truth” through the indwelling Word and the cleansing Spirit.
“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28, 29).

--Todd Guthrie

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“Rejoicing Before the Lord: The Sanctuary and Worship"

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Rejoicing Before the Lord: The Sanctuary and Worship”
For the week of  July 17 - 23, 2011
(PDF Link)
Jesus is our example in all things.  Above all, He is our example in worship.  He demonstrated that the highest form of worship begins with imitation of the object of our worship.  Worship is consummated in complete assimilation to that object.  Jesus loved and worshipped the Father perfectly.  He said to Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father…I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (John 14:9, 10).  From the beginning, God’s intent in the creation of mankind was to establish a glorious oneness with us that would transcend every other joy. 
When Adam and Eve sinned, God, in mercy, withdrew instantly from His rightful throne in their hearts in order that the consuming fire of His presence might not destroy them before they had time to repent.  Their garments of light vanished, but what did this separation mean to God?  “Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator.  All heaven suffered in Christ's agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity.  The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God” (Ellen White, Education, page 263). 
Even as Christ approached His final separation from the Father, “It was not the dread of death that weighed upon Him.  It was not the pain and ignominy of the cross that caused His inexpressible agony.  Christ was the prince of sufferers; but His suffering was from a sense of the malignity of sin, a knowledge that through familiarity with evil, man had become blinded to its enormity.  Christ saw how deep is the hold of sin upon the human heart, how few would be willing to break from its power.  He knew that without help from God, humanity must perish, and He saw multitudes perishing within reach of abundant help” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 752).  In the ultimate act of worship, Christ embraced the love that the Father had for us, and gave Himself that the Father might have His people back.  He was the “Help from God” which brought life to every human being that breathes.
Keeping these thoughts in mind, consider this:  When God met Israel at Sinai, His goal was the same as it was at creation – the same as it has been ever since then – the same as it will be throughout eternity, for our God never changes (Malachi 3:6).  The Word about whom John wrote (John 1:1-5), was given to Israel as they stood in the glowing warmth radiating from the Presence of God at the top of the mountain.  The Light shined in their hearts to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6).  The Creator, the Redeemer, the “Rock which followed them” (1 Corinthians 10:4) stood at the top of Sinai and poured out His heart to the people in the giving of His character – His law of love – His very being, to them. 
Through the children of Abraham, God intended to show Himself to every person on the earth.  Through them He wanted to begin giving His blessing to “all nations.”  Christ on the mountain was living out the same prayer we see spoken in John 17.  See Christ, standing at the top of Sinai – see the changeless longing of His heart expressed later in these words:  “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee….this is life eternal, that they might know thee….O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self….I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me….I pray for them….Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are….I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil….Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth….Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me….I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me….Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am” (Excerpted from John 17).
And the people said, “Let not God speak with us lest we die” (Exodus 20:19).  What must it have been to Christ, after pouring out His very heart in loving promise to His people, to hear these words?  Look into Christ’s eyes as His beloved children “removed, and stood afar off” and said to Moses, “You talk to us and we will hear.”
But see the tender, yearning love of the Creator!  “In pity for their weakness, God gave them a symbol of His presence.  ‘Let them make Me a sanctuary,’ He said; ‘that I may dwell among them’" (Ellen White,Education page 35).  They would not let Him come in to the sanctuary of their hearts, so the homeless Deity asked for a tent where He could dwell as near to them as possible. 
His longing has not changed.  John 17 is still the desire of His heart.  The earthly Sanctuary was carefully designed to light the path to His heart of love.  It was designed to help His people see the path of humiliation and sacrifice which He has walked, and still walks as He comes to stand knocking at the door of my heart sanctuary.  The earthly sanctuary, which is a copy of the heavenly sanctuary, was designed to create in my heart and in your heart a longing to let the knocking Christ come all the way in to our heart sanctuaries. 
As we study the Sanctuary this week, may we see in it “Christ, the true temple for God's indwelling.”  Christ, who wants to be our sanctuary.  Christ, who “molded every detail of His earthly life in harmony with God's ideal.”  Christ who said, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart" (Psalm 40:8).  May we see in the sanctuary study that “our characters are to be builded ‘for an habitation of God through the Spirit’” (Ephesians 2:22).  May we let Him "‘make all things according to the pattern,’ even Him who ‘suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps’" (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 209).
--Helene Thomas

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

“The Sabbath and Worship”

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“The Sabbath and Worship”
For the week of  July 10 – 16, 2011
(PDF Link)
“Out of sight, out of mind” is an idiom which implies that we easily forget or dismiss what is not in our direct view.  It assumes that if persons or objects are not present, then they will not be missed.  
However this is not always true.  There are occasions when you know something is missing but cannot pinpoint what that ‘something’ is.  At other times something is missing and that ‘something’ is identified.  It is as if its absence is so obvious, that it is visible.  There is a Spanish expression for this:  “Algo brilla por su ausencia” – Something shines by its absence.  A more accurate interpretation would be, “something is conspicuous by its absence.”  Of course, this is a play on words since (the word) conspicuous means:  standing out so as to be clearly visible, attracting notice or attention.  In this case, the thing’s very absence causes it to stand out.  It is as if you look toward Ground Zero expecting to see the World Trade Center, and instead you see an abyss.  The Trade Center’s absence may impact many people more than its former presence.
Our lesson this week focuses on the Sabbath in relation to worship.  The author highlights the Sabbath primarily as a commemoration of God’s creative and redemptive power.  The first reference is Exodus 20:8 where God says, “remember the Sabbath day to keep it…”  Obviously, God knew the people would either forget or find excuses to ignore the day when they wanted to ignore Him.  In Exodus 20:11, there is an obvious reference to God as Creator -
For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Conspicuous by its absence in our lesson is any reference to how Creation is tied to the Great Controversy.  The creation of this world gives evidence that God is not what He is accused of being.  In creating this world, it was demonstrated that God is not despotic and arbitrary.  The omniscient God created man with the power to choose good or evil.  When Adam and Eve fell, they forfeited the blessings God had given them under His original plan.  Consequently, they and their future offspring could now only choose evil.  In mercy, an alternative, previously designed plan was put into effect by God.  So now the question remains: can fallen man now be righteous in a fallen sinful nature?  And, will fallen man choose to be righteous? 
In consequence of the fall, sinful man turned from the knowledge of the One Who created him.  Therefore, he lost sight of the plan to redeem him, since it originates from the same source.  Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly reminded both Israel and Judah that He was Creator and Redeemer (cf. Psalm 33:6–9; Isaiah 40:25-26; 45:12, 18; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2 to Isaiah 44:15–20, 46:5–7).  God says to all who will listen, “I created this world perfectly, and although it has been marred, I will create a perfect world again.” 
Conspicuous by its absence in our lesson, is how God brings healing and wholeness to our world through Sabbath keeping and worship.  In Exodus and Hebrews the Scriptures illustrate through the life of Moses, a life lived by faith (Hebrews 11:23 – 27).  It is clear that God’s intention was to redeem man from the bondage of slavery to sin and elevate him to that stature he would have possessed had he not sinned. 
 Ellen White says, “The object of God’s work in this world is the redemption of man” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 260).
Conspicuous by its absence in our lesson, is the omission of any reference to chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews, where the Apostle Paul makes the point that the children of Israel, and later, the Jews never entered Christ’s rest due to their unbelief (Hebrews 3: 18 – 19).  Hebrews 4 is clear.  Only those who believe enter His rest, and only those who enter His rest truly keep the Sabbath.  Remember, “Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).  Those who believe are righteous.  “…in order to keep the Sabbath holy, men must themselves be holy.  Through faith they must become partakers of the righteousness of Christ. . . .Only thus could the Sabbath distinguish Israel as the worshipers of God” (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 283). 
Last but not least, conspicuous by its absence in this lesson is the fact that the Jews in Christ’s time were not true worshipers of God.  They refused to partake of the righteousness of Christ.  They ceased from work on the 7th day of the week, but they did not keep the Lord’s Sabbath.  That is, they did not cherish nor treasure the Sabbath, or its giver.  In fact, they accused the Lord of the Sabbath of breaking it (Luke 6:5; John 9:16).  And, when they crucified Christ, they wanted to make sure He was removed from the Cross, so their Sabbath would not be profaned (John 19:30-32). 
As you can see our greatest challenge is not what to do or not to do during the Sabbath.  Our greatest challenge is allowing Jesus to sanctify and make us righteous.  Only then will we be true Sabbath keepers, only then we will be true worshipers of God.
--Raul Diaz

Friday, July 08, 2011

Worship and the Exodus: Understanding Who God Is

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Worship and the Exodus:  Understanding Who God Is”
For the week of July 3 – 9, 2011
(PDF Link)
The memory text tells us of Who God isas well as what He has done to deserve our worship and praise.  Exodus 2:20 can rightly be called the preamble of the Ten Commandments.  Here the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage symbolizes the deliverance of humanity from the bondage of sin through God’s Son.   
“Therefore by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18).
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
In verse 3 of Exodus 20 God declares to His children that they should have no other gods before Him.  This Commandment, given in love was also a warning against the danger of losing sight of Him as their sole life Source of care, provision, and protection from the lies of the serpent.
Moses beheld a burning bush that was not consumed.  He heard the voice calling him by name and then telling him to remove his sandals for the holiness of that place.  Moses was afraid to look upon God.  There was a sense of awe and reverence in the mind of Moses that brought forth a worshipful respect of the One speaking to him.  We know that it was Jesus, the Son of the Almighty Father, that spoke to Moses from that burning bush.  Jesus is also known as Michael (he who is like God).  In the blazing glory of Divinity the Son of God appeared to Moses.  After God informed Moses of his purpose to make him the instrument through which God would deliver His people, Moses asked God for His name.  God replied “I AM WHO I AM,” and also mentioned the fact that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This was said to give His people relational assurance of His true identity as their Deliverer.
AT Jones makes an interesting statement regarding Jesus appearing to both angels and men prior to His incarnation through Mary:  “Christ is the one through whom the Father is reflected to the whole universe.  He alone could reflect the Father in His fullness, because His goings forth have been from the days of eternity…He was one of God, equal with God and His nature is the nature of God. Therefore one grand necessity that He alone should come to the world and save man was because the Father wanted to manifest Himself fully to the sons of men, and none in the universe could manifest the Father in His fullness except the only begotten Son, who is in the image of the Father.…In Christ God is manifested to the angels and reflected to men in the world in a way in which they cannot see God otherwise” (A. T. Jones, General Conference Daily Bulletin, February 27, 1895, page 378).
Again AT Jones writes:  “Study the process.  There is the Father, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see, of such transcendent glory, of such all-consuming brightness of holiness, that no man could look upon Him and live.  But the Father wants us to look upon Him and live.  Therefore the only begotten of the Father yielded Himself freely as the gift and became ourselves in human flesh that the Father in Him might so veil His consuming glory and the rays of His brightness, that we might look and live.  And when we look there and live, that bright, shining glory from the face of Jesus Christ shines into our hearts and is reflected to the world” (A. T. Jones, General Conference Bulletin, March 4, 1895  page 449).
The Son of God alone could represent His Father to any of the created intelligences of the universe.  In His infinite wisdom, God thus is revealed to sinful men so that they can behold Him and live.  Moses, a sinner like the rest of humankind descended from Adam, needed this “veil” as it were to look upon God in Christ and live.  Beholding this veiled glory brought forth the genuine response of worship that Moses displayed towards God.  It was this veiled form of God our Father, that also was shown to Moses when he asked Him to show him His glory.  So great was even this veiled glory through the pre-incarnate Son of God (Michael) that Moses in his fallen sinful nature was only permitted to see the Son of God’s “hind parts” in order to remain alive! (Exodus 33:18-23)
In I Corinthians 10:1-4 Paul expressed again the type of deliverance from sin that the Exodus represented.  Through the symbolism of being covered by the cloud (Christ’s righteousness), passing through the Red sea (baptism through the waters) and then arriving safely on dry land to eat and drink of that same spiritual Rock.  That Rock was Christ.  His Righteousness is again symbolized by the bread of life – manna that soon thereafter fell from heaven (Exodus 16:15).
The worship of the golden calf represents any false worship that the devil has caused self-centered minds to display.  If only we remember to focus continuously upon the wondrous Gift of Christ and His righteousness we would be less inclined to worship gods who are no gods at all.  We would be empowered to worship the True God and His Son in Spirit and in Truth. 
Ellen White once wrote that John 17 should be the “creed” of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  In verse 3 Jesus prays to His Father saying, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God , and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
 May we know, worship, honor and praise our Father and His Son, for this is indeed eternal life!
--Michael Delaney

Friday, July 01, 2011

“Worship in Genesis: Two classes of Worshipers”

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Worship in Genesis:  Two classes of Worshipers”
For the week of June 26 – July 2, 2011
(PDF Link)
This quarter, Sabbath School classes around the world will study biblical examples of true and false worship.  Seventh-day Adventists find their reason for existence in the call to worship found in Revelation 14:6, 7: "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come; and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."
As noted in our lesson, two systems of worship have existed on earth from the beginning, typified by the examples of Cain and Abel and Jacob and Esau. 
The distinction between the offerings of Cain and Abel provide an illustration of true and false worship as seen throughout history.  Abel's faith in God was manifest in his gift of the slain lamb.  Cain's offering was in reality a commendation of himself to God by an exhibition of fruits of his labor. 
In Sabbath School not long ago a teacher read a story to our class about a man who worked as a butcher for a day.  I don't have a copy of the original story, but it went something like this: 
On the first day of work, the man was instructed on the technique of killing lambs for mutton. The newly-installed butcher explained how he took the first lamb in line by its chin. This would be easy, he thought. Raising the lamb's head high, he slit the throat of the lamb with his knife. Blood spewed from the wound, spilling onto the man's hand and dripping onto the floor. The butcher expected the lamb to reel to and fro like a drunkard and collapse onto the floor as it slowly bled to death.
Instead, and much to the man's surprise, the lamb gazed into the man's face with trusting eyes, then, pressing close to the man, the lamb rested its head on the man's knee. Slowly, the lamb began to lick its own blood from the man's hand.
With a heart wrenched in anguish, the man watched as the lamb died in complete trust and surrender. The butcher quit his job that day and never worked as a butcher again.
Later, I thanked the teacher for sharing such a touching story, and told her how much it had meant to me. Then she shared another story.
One time, she said, she and her husband owned a rooster.  They had had it for many years.  It was a family pet, but now they lived in the city and neighbors were complaining because the rooster made so much noise.  She contacted a man in her church who had once worked as a butcher and asked if he would be willing to come over and kill her rooster.  He agreed.
When he arrived, she took him to the shed where the rooster was then left him because she didn't want to watch.  From her post nearby, she listened for sounds that might indicate he had completed his task.  She listened and listened, but she heard no sounds coming from the shed.  Finally, she peeked around the door to see what was taking so long.  There was the butcher, kneeling before the rooster, weeping.  He could hardly bring himself to carry out the agreed-upon task.  At one time he had been hardened and calloused to the such work, but not so now.  His heart had been softened and made tender by the love of Christ.
The message sent to our church through the ministry of Brothers Waggoner and Jones and Sister White in the late 1800's was a clearer message of the cross.  As a people, Seventh-day Adventists had become able defenders of their faith but had lacked the tenderness and brokenness of heart that comes from beholding the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.
The proud, unconverted heart seeks a worship style that mirrors the offering of Cain. It may be polished and smooth, like a bowl of delectable fruit. It may be correct in its interpretation of the 28 fundamental beliefs of our church. It may be loud and spirit-filled, or it may be cold and formal, with everything technically executed with accuracy.  But unless our worship stems from a heart appreciation of Jesus' unspeakable gift, it reflects the spirit of Cain.
What is needed in our worship today -- corporately as a church, in our families, and in our private communion with God -- is a fresh look at the Lamb, a renewed appreciation for the infinite sacrifice made in our behalf by a Lamb, bruised in bleeding, who drew even closer to us in death.  This message alone can bring about the long hoped-for reformation in worship.  Then worship will be from the heart and not merely a round of formalities.
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. . . . and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" Isaiah 53:5, 6 (last part).
--Patti Guthrie