Tuesday, April 24, 2012

“Evangelism and Witnessing as a Lifestyle”

Second Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Evangelism and Witnessing as a Lifestyle”
For the week of April 22-28, 2012

Christian Authentication

One day a friend viewed her bank statement and found that her account was overdrawn. She asked herself, “How could this be?” She saw a series of charges for items she never approved or purchased. In fact, she had never been to nor heard of the places where the charges were made. At last it dawned on her that someone may have stolen her identity; or at least a part of it. That led her to call the bank, but they would not take her call right away because she was calling on a different phone line from the one in their records. You see, she had to prove to the bank representative she was who she claimed to be. After relaying her story, the representative told her there was a procedure she needed to follow, with letters to be written, forms completed, and an investigation conducted. She was then told that if her claim was substantiated, the bank would replace the stolen amount in a few weeks. But before that could be done the bank must authenticate her identity. The bank must validate her claim.

Authentication is the process of proving that something is genuine. Because the scenario above is far too common these days, there are now even more processes for verifying that a person is who they claim to be. The ways by which someone may be authenticated fall into three categories: something only the person knows, such as a password or personal identification number (PIN); something the person physically possesses, for example, a wrist band, ID card, or security token; and, lastly, something they physiologically / biologically possess, for instance, fingerprints, retinal, face, and voice recognitions, or other bio-metric identifiers. How different things would be if thieves had to undergo the same scrutiny before committing their misdeeds as their victims do once they’ve been victimized.

In the supernatural realm, is there such a thing as spiritual identity theft? How can a Christian be authenticated? Is there such a thing as Christian forgery? Is there a need to make a distinction? Throughout the scriptures, various writers do make these distinctions, and warn us of some who pose as Christians but are not.

We read this warning in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Christ continues to distinguish between genuine Christians and false ones in verses 21-23: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

These are not worldly “heathen” people Matthew is talking about, they are church going folk. 

Matthew 25 contains a similar story, in which Jesus divides the sheep from the goats by placing the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.  To those on the right He says, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).  These were rewarded for sacrificially caring for others’ needs as though they were caring for Jesus himself. Interestingly, they were ignorant as to the heavenly estimation of their actions.  To those on the left Jesus said, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).  They did not care for others’ needs, therefore they demonstrated that they did not care for Jesus.  If this last group is the same as the group in Matthew 7, (many mix these parables) they thought that whatever they had done was worthy of the Kingdom, as Cain thought his offering worthy of Christ’s approbation. Like Cain, the source and motive for their work was not Agape, therefore their works were rejected, as were Cain’s.

There is also a distinction in the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).  Outwardly they all appeared the same: all were virgins awaiting the groom, all were asleep, and all had lamps which were currently lit.  However, none were privy to the fact that some had more oil than others.  When the groom arrived, only those with the extra oil were ready to receive Him; they were the wise virgins.  Those with insufficient oil were foolish.  If we can make comparisons, the wise virgins can be equated to those whose fruit was ripe in Christ, even though they were unaware of the fact.  They pleased Christ (Hebrews 11:6).  The virgins with no extra oil correspond to the group rejected by Christ as being full of iniquity.  Since oil represents the Holy Spirit, we can conclude that the void created by a lack of oil was filled with iniquity.

Those full of the Spirit were accepted as pleasing to God, because through grace they had faith.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  And, insofar as they acted out of faith, what they did was not sin, because whatever is outside of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).  While the rejected ones worked in Christ’s name, in reality they were displeasing to Him because all that they did was regarded as sin.  After all, iniquity is a way of defining sin, or self-love. This implies that some who we think are great Christians may actually be full of iniquity, and some whom we think are not so spiritual might be the ones to whom God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mathew 25:21, 23). 

The Master bestowed His praise on those who invested the talents given to them (the ones given five and two talents) and then brought the profits to their Master.  The one given one talent did not invest because – in his own words – “`Lord, I knew thee, that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth. Lo, there thou hast what is thine” (Matthew 25:24-25). 

The servant with one talent had a misconception of the Master.  What he thought of his master led Him to behave as he did. How we view God prompts our motive and method of working for or with Christ. There are those who work to gain favor and appease God, and there are those who work out of a great heart-felt appreciation for Him.  Even if both groups do the same work, the motives, and thus the results, are different.  What do you believe about God?  Do you believe He is authentic, and are you allowing Him to authenticate you, as a true believer - a wise one, with extra oil, investing the Master’s talents? Or are you a fool; one who lacks extra oil and hides the master’s talents, preferring to be full of iniquity?  God wants to fill you with oil (His Holy Spirit).  He wants to delight in the increase you bring to Him. Let us give Him the permission He desires.

--Raul Diaz

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

“Spiritual Gifts for Evangelism and Witnessing”

Second Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Spiritual Gifts for Evangelism and Witnessing”
For the week of April 15-21, 2012

Each one of us has been called to be a witness for Christ. But before we can be a wit-ness for Him, we must first have an experience with Him, an experience that has transformed our character. Jesus in His prayer for us emphasized, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3, NKJV)

Witnessing will only be effective when the witness knows Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, and then shares with others the unconditional, changeless, self-denying love of Christ. Being able to share this in a soul-winning manner is the essential reason behind developing the spiritual gifts God gives us. Witnessing is not primarily to attract people to become Seventh-day Adventists, although this should be the natural outcome. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. That was the reason God sent a special message to the church - the pure gospel - through Elders Jones, Waggoner, Prescott, and Ellen White during the 1888 period.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled 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, NKJV) Therefore, “The love 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 should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again…. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15, 18, 19, NKJV)

Spiritual gifts are given “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Ephesians 4:12, 13, NKJV) The work of the church is to organize, train, and equip each of its members, preparing them to proclaim the gospel to the world. A world that is as close by as our lost, lonely, hurting neighbor, or as far away as the despairing multitudes circulating the globe.

We are told, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NKJV) Should I be worried or fearful that I am not up to the task? For many years I thought salvation, and witnessing, was my job, until I heard the 1888 gospel message. Then I discovered this was God’s work, which He long’s to accomplish in and through us. He promises to multiply our gifts and empower us by His Spirit. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13, NKJV) Jesus exclaimed, “all authority has been given to me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [that includes each person in the circle of our influence], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [with all my authority], even to the end of the age. Amen!” (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV)
--Lloyd Knecht

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“Defining Evangelism and Witnessing”

First Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Defining Evangelism and Witnessing”
For the week of  April 1-7, 2012
Many years ago during summer breaks from college, I worked at camp. My first summer  I taught canoeing. It went like this. During staff training week someone showed me the basic strokes and the next day I was out in the water teaching campers how to do the "J" stroke. Several years I taught swimming. We seated the kids on the dock and had them practice their strokes in the air, then we put them in the water. I also taught horseback riding, and as with everything else, we only did so much on the ground before it was time to get the campers into the saddle so they could feel how the horse moved underneath them and how it responded to signals from the rider. 
What I experienced working at camp is true for evangelism and witnessing, the theme for this quarter's Sabbath School lessons. Books and books have been written on the subject, but theory can only take you so far. In order to be an evangelist or a witness for Christ, you have to learn by actually doing.
So this weeks' Insights article will be a departure from the norm for me. You won't get much theory this week, for what I have to share is practical, hands-on stuff. It's not sitting at the edge of the pool or looking at a saddle. It's getting in the water and trying to swim. It's canoeing through rapids and feeling their effect on the boat. It's putting our feet in the stirrups, clicking our tongues and telling the horse to "Go!" Sometimes . . . we sink, sometimes our canoe capsizes, and sometimes we fall off the horse, but that's how we learn.
And that's how learning to be a witness for Christ has been for me, lots of falls and mistakes along the way, but I've seen a glimpse of the cross that drives me to try again . . . and again . . . to learn how to effectively reach souls for Christ. 
Paul put it this way: "For the love 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 should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. . . . Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" 2 Cor. 5:14 - 21, excerpts.
In what way has the love of Christ compelled me? Well, it has compelled me to cook and to feed people. Of course, there are many other more noble ways the love of Christ motivates His followers to serve the Lord, but let me just tell you a bit about my journey with food and witnessing for Him.
For starters, before I was married, I told my soon-to-be mother-in-law, who happened to be a consummate cook and homemaker, that I didn't like to cook nor did I care to learn. It wasn't a great conversation starter, but I share this incident to help you understand that what I do now did not come naturally, but rather I was "compelled" into it by the love of Christ. It started with a desire to provide healthful meals for my growing family. It grew into a concern for the health of my community.
I learned from other good cooks and bought the best cookbooks I could find. Eventually I started coordinating and teaching cooking classes at church and in my home. Even though cooking wasn't my favorite hobby, it became one of my top priorities because I recognized that it was one of the best ways to reach others with Christ's love.  Many people can be reached for Christ through the desire to improve their health when they would be completely closed to any other avenue of approach.
We live in a predominantly New Age community with assorted variants of Eastern religions. This week we're hosting an Asian-themed Complete Vegetarian Supper with a short health lecture on the benefits of the traditional Asian diet. The lecture will be presented by one of our local SDA physicians. We announced this event via e-mail, and as of this writing, some 63 persons (with the majority being not of our faith) have reserved seats for this event. The twist on this story is that the lady who is helping me prepare the food is a Buddhist from Vietnam. I met her when she came to our church to shop at the Adventist Bookmobile while it was in town. She believes God has blessed her and she loves to share what He has given to her. I told her I believed the same, and together we will be preparing for the cooking class at the Adventist church. 
I have learned something else through the various community health efforts we have hosted at our church: focusing on the needs of others brings peace to the church. I cannot do the health outreach in my church alone. The work is too great. Therefore, team-building with all the members who are willing is essential. Together, we pray, plan, cook, and invite. My pastor is discovering the gift of cooking, too. With great pleasure and enthusiasm, he prepares dishes for our events and offers his services in set-up and clean-up. Other church members help in preparation, literature distribution, and registration at these events. Working together for others draws our church family together.
While baptisms are certainly exciting, they are not a primary goal of our outreach -- at least not initially. We explain to the people who come to our programs that we believe God intended His blessing of healthful living to be for everyone -- believer and unbeliever alike. One need not be a believer to experience benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Despite our "disinterested" approach to evangelism in these health outreach events, people often inquire, "When do you have services at your church? Can I come?" And many do.
We don't have it all figured out -- we're still learning how to communicate the connection between health and God's life-giving Word. 
Aside from cooking events at church, cooking means having a meal to invite people home to after church. On Sabbaths when there is no potluck, I prepare food at home, then at church on Sabbath I look for people who are visitors and invite them to join us. So far I'm quite sure we have not entertained angels (much as I would wish we could), but we have been greatly blessed in opening our home to people from all backgrounds and sharing a meal together with them.
Isaiah 58 is the blueprint for all who wish to follow Christ's method of evangelism. We're called to share our bread with the hungry and open our homes to the poor who are cast out. We're to clothe the poor, proclaim liberty to those who are bound in the clutches of sin, and live the gospel of Christ's love within our own family circle. He who was rich became poor for our sake. If we could live for a million years and pack every day full of good works, we could never come close to approaching the magnitude of the gift that all heaven poured out for us in Christ.
There is a cure for our self-absorption, depression, and many other illnesses including spiritual lethargy.  That cure is working to bless others--even our enemies--because the love of Christ compels us! Evangelism is work. Witnessing is work. Praise God for work! All of heaven is working around the clock for the salvation of our lost race. Let us be about our Father's business, for the love of Christ compels us! 
--Patti Guthrie