Thursday, September 29, 2011

Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles”
For the week of  September 25 – October 1, 2011
(PDF Link)

Have you ever been wronged – perhaps even criminally – by someone who failed to realize the heinous nature of their crime?  We have wronged God in this way many times.

Because the hearts of all men everywhere are naturally “deceitful, and desperately wicked,” men are often incapable of realizing their guilt or repenting of their wrong actions.  Such was the mindset of Saul, whose hatred of Christians led him to wreak “havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3).

While believing himself to be carrying out God’s will, Saul was actually an instrument in the hands of Satan. Those who read the story of Saul’s early life will conclude that he, though well-intended, did not know what spirit inspired his actions.  In His infinite mercy and wisdom, Jesus revealed Himself to Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul was stunned by the revelation that he was persecuting none other than Jesus Christ, Savior of the world and Creator of the universe.  This revelation changed him from Saul to Paul.

This quarter, the world church of Seventh-day Adventists will study Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The letter hits close to home. In it Paul marveled that the Galatians were “turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).  He exclaimed, “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified” (Galatians 3:1)?  It was to correct this “bewitchment” that Paul wrote this letter.  The letter was included in the Bible because the Lord saw that this tendency to adopt a false gospel would jeopardize the church to the end of time.

In the 1888 era, Seventh-day Adventists, like the Galatians before them, had turned away from Christ to a false gospel.  We had “the truth” but we had lost sight of Christ in the truth.  To restore Christ to the heart and center of Adventism, the Lord in His great mercy sent a message for our church through Brothers Waggoner and Jones at the 1888 session in Minneapolis and thereafter.  Much of the Scriptural basis for the messages they gave was based on their study of the writings of Paul, and the letter to Galatians in particular. As we examine our history, sad details are forthcoming:

 “Those who resisted the Spirit of God at Minneapolis were waiting for a chance to travel over the same ground again, because their spirit was the same.  Afterward, when they had evidence heaped upon evidence, some were convicted; but those who were not softened and subdued by the Holy Spirit's working, put their own interpretation upon every manifestation of the grace of God, and they have lost much…But all the universe of heaven witnessed the disgraceful treatment of Jesus Christ, represented by the Holy Spirit. Had Christ been before them, they would have treated him in a manner similar to that in which the Jews treated Christ” (Ellen White, Special Testimonies for Ministers and Workers #6  p. 19).

 We read further: “Some have been cultivating hatred against the men whom God has commissioned to bear a special message to the world.  They began this satanic work at Minneapolis.  Afterward, when they saw and felt the demonstration of the Holy Spirit testifying that the message was of God, they hated it the more, because it was a testimony against them.  They would not humble their hearts to repent, to give God the glory, and vindicate the right.  They went on in their own spirit, filled with envy, jealousy, and evil surmisings, as did the Jews” (Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, page 79).

 “An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth [the gospel in Galatians], lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren [E.J.] Waggoner and [A.T.] Jones.  By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them.  The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost.  The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world” (Ellen White, Selected Messages, Volume 1, pages 234, 235).

 The Lord has a way of bringing us back over the same ground again and again until we finally learn our lesson.  While many today believe that the church accepted the Latter Rain message, which God gave to Brothers Waggoner and Jones, a candid look at the inspired commentary suggests otherwise.

 In the back of our quarterly we find many resources to aid our study of Galatians. To this list you may wish to add two additional titles: E.J. Waggoner's heart-warming commentary on Galatians, The Glad Tidings, and A.T. Jones' Studies in Galatians, a compilation of articles written by Jones and published in the Review and Herald from July 25, 1899, to November 13, 1900.

 “In every church in our land, there is needed confession, repentance, and reconversion.  The disappointment of Christ is beyond description.  Unless those who have sinned speedily repent, the deceptions of the last days will overtake them” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, December 15, 1904 ).

Please join me in praying for our church this quarter.
--Patti Guthrie

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Worship in the Book of Revelation”

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Worship in the Book of Revelation”
For the week of  September 18 – 24, 2011
(PDF Link)

This week’s teacher’s notes contain a quote from page 52 of Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk:  “On the whole I do not find Christians…sufficiently sensible of conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?  The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT…It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”  Should we not worship with the awe that Isaiah felt when he saw the Lord high and lifted up?  Should not our hearts melt into surrender?

On Christmas Eve 1968 the Apollo astronauts became the first humans to see the far side of the moon.  Many of us associate their mission with the famous photograph known as Earthrise.  In awe at this significant event on Christmas Eve, the crew read the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”  An estimated 1 billion viewers, the largest single audience in television history, saw this live telecast.

Copernicus, taught the principle of mediocrity—that the universe was not designed with us in mind.  And the late Carl Sagan said “our planet is a lonely speck in the enveloping cosmic dark.”  But the Psalmist says that the heavens declare the glory (character) of God!

Revelation tells us that God is worthy of our worship because He is Creator.  Revelation 14: 7 says, “Fear God and give glory to Him for the hour of His judgment has come and worship Him who made heaven and earth the sea and springs of water.”  Again, Revelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy O Lord to receive glory and honour and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Two fascinating aspects of planet earth may shed light on whether or not our earth was designed with us in mind; 1) habitability, and 2) position of the earth in the universe.

God’s universe operates under finely tuned mathematical laws.  At least twenty factors must occur at the same place and time to allow for the existence of complex life as opposed to just simple microbial life.  These factors include liquid water, precise distance from our home star, a large moon supplying enough gravitational pull to stabilize earth’s axis at a nearly constant 23 ½ degrees, ensuring temperate seasonal changes, etc.  Our earth is the only planet in our solar system positioned to sustain complex living organisms.  The probability that all of the twenty essential factors would occur by chance is 10-15, or one in one thousandth of a trillion.

Earth with its conscious observers is positioned in our galaxy for discovery.  Our atmosphere has very little CO2, making it transparent.  A tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum is useful to plants, animals and humans.  This thin sliver is precisely the type of light our sun produces in abundance.  It penetrates the transparent, yet filtering shield of our atmosphere to reach the surface of the earth.  This spectrum is one trillionth of a trillionth of the electromagnetic emissions.  It allows us to see into the cosmos where the heavens declare the glory of God.

When the psalmist contemplated the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars he exclaimed, “What is man that You are mindful of him of the son of man that you visit him!”  Revelation’s twenty-four elders and the four living creatures worship God day and night, because He is the Master Craftsman.  But the worship changes in Revelation, chapter 5.  First, there is a new song.  Secondly, the new song is catchy.  The twenty-four elders and four living creatures start singing, but then the voices of many angels are heard; ten thousand times ten thousand.  Every creature in heaven and on earth joins in the chorus.

What made the change? Isn’t creation good enough?  “I looked, and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain…the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb…and they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood…”

The heavens declare the glory of God – the glory of His self sacrificing, self-renouncing love—a love that is utterly unselfish.  Revelation 14:3 tells of another new song which the redeemed of the Lord will sing.  Chapter 15 of the same book tells us that this song is the song of Moses, the servant of the God and the song of the Lamb.  It is a new song.

“In this life we can only begin to understand the wonderful theme of redemption…with the utmost stretch of our mental powers we fail to grasp its full significance. The length and the breadth, the depth and the height of redeeming love are but dimly comprehended…The cross of Christ will be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity…Never will it be forgotten that, He whose power created and upheld the unnumbered worlds through the vast realms of space, the Beloved of God, the Majesty of heaven, He whom cherub and shining seraph delighted to adore-humbled Himself to uplift fallen man; that He bore the guilt and shame of sin, and the hiding of His Father’s face, till the woes of a lost world broke His heart and crushed out His life on Calvary’s cross. That the Maker of all worlds, the Arbiter of all destinies, should lay aside His glory and humiliate Himself from love to man will ever excite the wonder and adoration of the universe” (Ellen White, The Great Controversy, page 651).

Worship in Revelation is about a God who is worthy.  I pray that we get it.  Amen.
--Lyndi Schwartz

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

“Worship in the Early Church”

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Worship in the Early Church”
For the week of  September 11 - 17, 2011
(PDF Link)
Some of the words used in the Bible are transliterations.  “Worship” and “baptism” are such words.  It is easy to read into these words our own particular ideas, but then we miss their true significance.  The literal meaning of “worship” in the Bible is to “prostrate” oneself before God in humility, gratitude, and total dependence.
Sunday -  In Acts 1:1-11 Jesus is speaks to us today with many “infallible” proofs as He spoke to the disciples on the way to Emmaus.  They had only the Old Testament, but we have even more infallible proofs.  We have the New Testament as well.
The early rain brought a message of personal and corporate repentance; a call to faith in the incarnation, victorious life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and heavenly intercession of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-12).  Included in this message was the good news that although all (including me) have sinned (past tense), and all fall short (present tense) of the glory of God, yet all (including me) are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24, 25; 2 Corinthians 5:19).  God demonstrated His righteousness in Jesus Christ, showing His justice in bestowing His righteousness on every sinner who believes in Jesus as his personal Savior (Romans 3:26; 1 John 5:10-12).
Ellen White had a dream following the 1901 General Conference session in which she saw our leading brethren weeping together, confessing their pride, jealousies, and evil surmising of one another.  The angel messenger observed, “This is what might have been.”  This is true worship, our love for God and one another in humility, and insatiable love for the hurting, erring, and rebellious.  Thank God for our new GC President who openly repented for his own failings of pride, and ambition, inviting church leaders to join him in this transforming experience.  That invitation includes each one of us today.
Monday - In Acts 2:14-41 John the Baptist came preaching the Elijah message of repentance to the church of his day, preparing the way for the Messiah’s revealing.  We as Seventh-day Adventists are commissioned to preach the Elijah message of repentance today to both the church and the word in preparation for the second coming of our Lord.  Revival and reformation can never begin without a genuine, deepening repentance among God’s people.  God can never justify those who justify themselves.
When Doloris and I were in Russia in 1992, our young translator asked us, “Why don’t we as Adventists ever hear messages calling us to repentance like some other Christians do?” That question has haunted me ever since.
Tuesday – In Acts 17:15-34 Paul adapted the gospel to the cultural and religious understanding of the Athenians, but the message was the same as that of John and of Jesus:  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Could we like the Athenians are tempted to worship an “unknown” God”?  In 1 John the Apostle tells us if we know Him it will be revealed in our attitudes and actions toward others.  Do we laugh and criticize, or do we pray with and for others?
Wednesday – Acts 18:1-16.  Whenever Paul entered a new community, he first preached Jesus in the synagogue – the local church.  But he always reached out to unbelievers as well.  What about us?
Thursday - 1 Corinthians 13 (Paraphrase):  Love (Agape) conquers all.  All else is just noise.  Love comes only as a gift through faith from God alone.  Agape is greater than great preaching, faith, or tax deductable gifts.  It is always long suffering and kind.  It is not proud, opinionated, rude, selfish, or irritated.  It imputes the best motives to others, doesn’t gossip about them, or enjoy it when they get what they deserve.  Agape demonstrates faith in others and never gives up hope for their success.  Agape patiently endures when everything seems to go wrong, never losing faith.  Pursue true Agapelove.
Friday – “The  (Agape) of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live (that’s me) should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).  How do we live like that?  “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled (receptive) face, beholding as in a mirror (Jesus), the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians. 3:17, 18) 
“Here is the patience (endurance) of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).  Here is true worship.
--Lloyd Knecht

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"In Spirit and in Truth"

Third Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

For the week of  September 4 - 10, 2011
(PDF Link)

“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, the water stays in and the air stays out.  The moment the lid is opened, the water can flow out, but only as long as air can flow in.  Air must displace the water in order for the water to move out of the opening.

Let us say that, for some reason, I want to fill the jug with air.  The lid must be opened 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.  In order 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).

This idea of being emptied to be filled can be illustrated by the story of the Samaritan woman.  In John 4, Jesus meets her at the well, and asks her for a drink of water.  Surprised by a Jew who would ask a favor of a Samaritan, and a woman at that, she questions Him.  In response, Jesus introduces Himself and His mission by using water as a metaphor for what He has to offer.  Failing to understand, she questions 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.  In order 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.  It is the Truth – the Word of God – Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, that 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 by 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 power of the Holy Spirit 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 on us through Christ.  The very quenching of our thirst depends on it.
--Raul Diaz