Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"The Cost of Discipleship"

First Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
The Cost of Discipleship
For the week of March 29, 2014
One day, a young man named Tony went to purchase an iPad, the average cost of which was approximately $500.  At completion of his transaction, Tony gained an iPad but had $500 less in his pocket.  Consequently, he could not purchase other things with that $500, as it (the money was no longer his, but) was spent. You see, to gain something of value, Tony had to incur a loss; [to him, the gain of the iPad was worth the loss of the money].  If he thought the $500 was worth more than the iPad, he would have kept the money.

Every day we make decisions based on what we think is of value. So, we trade that which we think is worth losing to gain that which we value more.  A spouse or parent who goes to work trades in time, skill and effort for money. With the money received, food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities are purchased. However, the time spent at work is time which cannot be given to his spouse and children. To gain money the spouse/parent loses time and to gain food and shelter, he loses money.  The idea is: to gain, you must lose. And, within each choice, there are gains and losses.

The question is this:  will the gain be worth the loss?  Scripture says, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.  For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25, 26).  What is the worth, or value of a soul?

Jesus spoke many parables to teach us His Father’s values.  Let us look at the parable of the Prodigal Son from the perspective of what each character stood to lose or gain.  It should lead us to a closer examination of our own values. We need to see if they are in alignment with God’s values.  

In the beginning of the story, the youngest son requested his inheritance so he could leave his father’s home to go out and live as he pleased. With sadness, the father obliged (Luke 15: 11 – 14).  What did the youngest son hope to gain from his request? He wanted the means to enjoy freedom from the restrictions of his father. To him, this freedom was more valuable than his elder brother’s companionship, and even his father’s shelter and protection.  

Sadly, the younger son was unaware of his greatest loss. He neither understood nor valued His father’s love. In contrast, the father not only lost his goods, he lost a son.  To him, the latter was the greater loss.  In contrast, the elder brother sustained two losses – that of his younger brother, as well as a part of his inheritance. Despite this, we discover later on in the parable that from the elder brother’s perspective, his greatest loss was not his brother, but his inheritance.  

The second part of the story tells of how the younger son left his father’s home, partied, lost his means, and his dignity and found an abominable job earning very little. Repentant, he decided to return home, beg his father for forgiveness, and willingly work as his father’s employee.  As far as the younger son was concerned, he thought that at least he would gain food and shelter while his father gained an employee. This simple plan however, was foiled; when the father saw the younger son on the road approaching home, he literally picked up the hem of his robe and ran to his son. Lovingly embracing him, the father promptly restored his son to his prior place in the family (Luke 15: 15-24).  The Father regained his son.  If there was a loss, it did not matter because the regaining of his son overshadowed it.  The younger son gained more than he anticipated. He received grace, mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  The greatest gain was experiencing his father’s love.

In the third part of the story, the eldest son reproached the father for receiving his brother (Luke 15:25-31).  In his eyes, the re-gaining of a brother meant losing more of the father’s inheritance. To the eldest son, nothing mattered more than his inheritance. It was more important than his brother. As far as he knew, he stood to gain nothing by the return of his wayward sibling. Sadly, the elder brother was unaware of his greatest loss: that of not experiencing and participating in his father’s love.

Do we know our Heavenly Father’s love?  Perhaps if we understood what He lost in order to gain us, we would better understand Him.  How much has the Father given for us? Our Father loved us so much that He was willing to pay far more than we were intrinsically worth.  Our Father stood to lose everything to gain us.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the Father lost both this earth and His Son. Because God so loved the world, He agreed in the councils of Heaven to allow Christ to come and save them if they sinned (John 3:16); thus, the Son was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). The decision was made that Jesus would die eternally so we could live eternally with Him.  If He succeeded in His mission then the Father would regain that which was lost.   

However, if He should fail, the stakes would be higher -- all would be lost.  Either way, there would be a loss.  When Abraham demonstrated that he was willing to lose his son Isaac in order to gain Christ, the Lord swore by Himself that … “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (cf. Genesis 22:15 – 18).

In swearing by Himself, the Lord placed Himself as a guarantor, and as surety.  He placed everything on the line.  If the plan failed, God would forfeit everything.  By this act of love, God demonstrated that He would rather die than to live without us.  The Lord places that much value in us.

How much do we value such love?  If we esteem Christ, we will respond as Paul did in Philippians 3:7-10:

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the Excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;”

May we accept the principle of giving up all in order to gain the souls of others!
-Raul Diaz


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

“The Harvest and the Harvesters”

Insights #12 March 22, 2014

First Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“The Harvest and the Harvesters”

"The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones.  This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure."  {TM 91.2}

This quote regarding the 1888 message, tells about the two vital ingredients that God intends to be in Christian experience.  These two vital ingredients are also what our lesson this week is calling our attention to.  If either one is missing, we have at best an unbalanced religious experience, or at worst, an extremist religious experience – if we have a true Christian experience at all.

The quote above talks about two areas that are vital to our experience.  One is a knowledge base regarding God and His principles.  The quote above described it in these terms:  “a most precious message,” “bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world,” “the Surety,” “many had lost sight of Jesus,” “needed their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family,” etc.  All of these phrases have to do with a need that we had and still have to understand something more completely than we ever have about the goodness, love, and sacrifice of God in Jesus for a rebellious people – us.  We need to see, to understand, to appreciate, to recognize how great a sacrifice God and Jesus have given to us as a revelation of their love for us.

•     “For the love of Christ compels us” 2Cor.5:14
•     “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us”  1Jn.3:16
•     “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice
       for our sins.” 1Jn.4:10
•     “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son”  Jn.3:16

The second area that is vital to our experience is a heart response of appreciation that leads to a change in our thinking, in our feeling, and in how we live and relate to others.  The quote above describes it in these terms:  “invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ,” “manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God,” “imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness,” “message that God commanded to be given to the world.”  This describes for us that we have the opportunity and responsibility to internalize the love that God has expressed to us, and reveal it in actual behavior as we relate to others.  Not as an obligation or requirement, but as a heart appreciation for what God has done for us.

•     “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.” 2Jn.1:6
•     “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” 1Jn.5:3
•     “That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”  Rom.8:4

The lesson brings these points in the opening day of the lesson: “Whenever hype and publicity take precedence over spiritual growth, the results are shallowness and spiritual sterility. Whenever proselytizing displaces repentance, conversion, and spiritual transformation, the mission falters. Training leaders to conduct membership drives, media blitzes, and public relations campaigns instead of preparing them for spiritual warfare is courting disaster. True evangelism and disciple-making are centered around (1) the acknowledgment of our sinfulness, (2) genuine heartfelt contrition, (3) our unreserved spiritual surrender, and (4) the irrepressible compulsion to disseminate God’s divine message to others.”  (p.94)

Their point is the same as ours - the same as the goal of the 1888 message.  If we have knowledge without a corresponding experience, or we have an “experience” of religion without knowledge, we are misrepresenting true Christianity.  A “zeal for God” that is not according to knowledge (Rom.10:2), or a knowledge that puffs up without love (1Cor.8:1), are both Christian pitfalls that God is trying to steer us away from.
The goodness or good news about God, does lead to repentance, to genuine Christian goodness (Rom.2:4).
“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.”  {DA 668.3}

As we study the Bible, as we study inspired writings, as we study the 1888 message, as we pray, may this lead to us letting our light shine to represent to others the beauty of God.  May we allow that beauty, that goodness, that selflessness, to be manifest and broadcast in our lives to the members of our families, and to all of our human contacts.  God sent us a most precious message in 1888 not to only give us right doctrinal truth, but to move us to a Christlike experience and love for all of the human family.  May we study and pray and reach outward for this heavenly experience.
-Bob Hunsaker

Thursday, March 13, 2014

“Discipling Spiritual Leaders”

First Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Discipling Spiritual Leaders
For the week of March 15, 2014
This week’s lesson is one that forced me to stop and think.  My issue was I could not see a clear 1888 connection to the topic.  How do we produce Sabbath School Insights highlighting the connection with the 1888 message if there is no apparent connection?   Once again I was stumped and regretting the fact that I had accepted this assignment.  But when we are stumped and realize that the work is beyond our ability, we know what to do.  Pray.

So after reading through the lesson twice and seeing no connection to 1888, I spent some time earnestly petitioning heaven for “insight.”  And the Lord has promised, “If we ask for bread, He will not give us a stone.”  So when the insight came I was astonished as to how I had missed the connection before.  Then I recalled that we are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).  At least I realized anew that this description fits me perfectly.

When you think of great leadership who comes to mind?  We have all probably known or observed great leaders.  Unfortunately, we have probably also seen poor leadership at work as well.  What makes a good leader?  It has been said, “You are not ready to lead, until you know how to follow.”  The apostle Paul is quoted as saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  He was qualified to lead by his inclination to follow.

A good leader is one who has learned how to follow Christ.  In fact one of the principle jobs of a leader is to model the art of following Christ.  And anyone who does not know how to follow Christ is, in fact, unfit to lead.  Christ was a learner, a follower, and an example.  Thus, He is the consummate leader, teacher, and guide.  He learned from his Father and that which He learned He imparted to others.

He was a master teacher who was both Master and Teacher.  True leaders, who follow Christ, may also have the privilege of becoming master teachers, if they learn from Christ and model His leadership.  The greatest failures occur when leaders focus on becoming Masters instead of modeling the servant/leadership of Christ.  This is what some of the early Seventh-day Adventists leaders failed to do.  They ceased to look to God and began to look to man, expecting much from man (E. G. White, 1888 Materials, 1338.1).  And this shift of their focus precipitated the greatest crisis the church has ever seen.

In 1888, as unlikely as it may seem, the remnant church held one of the most important general conference sessions that has ever occurred.  There were only about 90 delegates present to represent the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist church.  But something astounding happened at that small apparently insignificant gathering.  The “latter rain” began to fall and the “loud cry” started.  This is not merely my opinion we have good authority for this concept:

“The time of test is just upon us, for the loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer”--1SM 363 (1892).
Note, in 1892 “the loud cry of the third angel” had “already begun.” If this is true, the “latter rain” must have begun, for it is the “latter rain” that swells the voice of the third angel into a “loud cry.”

“At that time the ‘latter rain,’ or refreshing from the presence of the Lord, will come, to give power to the loud voice of the third angel” (E. G. White, Early Writings, 85).
This is what was happening right before the eyes of the assembled delegates.  The Lord in His great mercy sent two young ministers with a “most precious message.”  It was the message of Christ’s righteousness.  And the servant of the Lord said,

“When Brother Waggoner brought out these ideas in Minneapolis, it was the first clear teaching on this subject from any human lips I had heard, excepting the conversations between myself and my husband . . . And when another presented it, every fiber of my heart said, Amen” (E. G. White, Sermon, Rome, New York, June 19, 1889).

Unfortunately this “most precious message” proved highly controversial.  There had been difficulties in the experience of the Seventh-day Adventist church before.  But nothing had ever happened like what happened in 1888.  For the first time, there was a rebellion like none that had transpired before.  It was not the general people, the church members who rebelled, it was completely unprecedented.  Satan got a hold of the leaders and there was a general revolt.

The situation became so terrible the prophet wanted to leave the conference.  She would later write:

“When I purposed to leave Minneapolis, the angel of the Lord stood by me and said: ‘Not so; God has a work for you to do in this place. The people are acting over the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. I have placed you in your proper position, which those who are not in the light will not acknowledge; they will not heed your testimony; but I will be with you; My grace and power shall sustain you. It is not you they are despising, but the messengers and the message I send to My people’” (E.G. White, 1888 Materials, 1069).

Imagine a situation so terrible, the prophet felt there was nothing better to do than to leave.  And then the angel of the Lord informed her that the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was being reenacted.  And this amazing resistance persisted for years following 1888.  It would be called the “saddest chapter in the history of the believers in present truth” (E. G. White, Letter 179, 1902).  It nearly broke her heart.  In fact she would write:

“I have asked the Lord for wisdom daily, and that I may not be utterly disheartened, and go down to the grave broken-hearted, as did my husband” (E. G. White, 1888 Materials, 664).

Notice, it was not a failure of the people that produced the catastrophe in 1888.  It was an utterly unprecedented rebellion on the part of the leadership that led to the catastrophe in 1888.   Godly leadership is so very important.  We can hardly overstate the significance and importance of consecrated leaders who know how to follow Christ.

- K. Mark Duncan

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

“Discipling the Nations”

First Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Discipling the Nations
For the week of March 8, 2014
In the Sabbath reading for this week’s lesson an interesting sentence is written: “Jesus, the Desire of all nations, was not to be limited to a single group.” This title of Jesus comes from Haggai 2:7.

The word “desire” means “a state of longing for something or [some] one, implying a hoping or looking forward” for the fulfillment of the desire. (J. Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament)).

The word “desire” is translated various ways (in the KJV) such as “pleasant” twelve times, “desire” four times, “precious” four times, and “beloved” three times. Since all of these attributes belong to Christ, we may present Him thus to all the nations. In this way nations may be instructed and won to Him. Jesus said we are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).

Haggai predicted that the second temple to be built was to be greater than Solomon’s temple in that the Messiah, “the Desire of all the Nations.” would come to it. Placing this prediction alongside the memory text for this week: “For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7) we learn that the temple to be built (and Christianity which followed) should be a place where people from every nation should meet for prayer and fellowship. A house of prayer is where people whose heart longings have been satisfied because those longings have been fulfilled by faith in Christ alone.

In the Preface of the Desire of Ages we read: “In the hearts of all mankind, of whatever race or station in life, there are inexpressible longings for something they do not now possess. This longing is implanted in the very constitution of man by a merciful God, that man may not be satisfied with his present conditions or attainment, whether bad, or good, or better. God desires that the human shall seek the best, and find it to the eternal blessing of his soul….

“God’s design is that the ‘longing of the human heart should lead to the One who alone is able to satisfy it. The desire is of Him that it may lead to Him, the fullness and fulfillment of that desire.” Preface to the Desire of Ages, p. 1

When a person’s heart is renewed, then it is that Christ is truly seen as “the Desire of all Nations.” When the “Desire of all nations” comes to dwell in human hearts, by the Holy Spirit, He fills “this house with glory” and with His peace that passes understanding. It is through the great teaching of justification by faith that peace comes to persons and to nations who live by faith: “Therefore having been justified, by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever” (Romans 5:1; Isaiah 32:17).

All the people of all the nations have the same troubles, fears, burdens, needs, miseries and desires and can be helped by believing the good news about Jesus. If it were possible for the people who have been converted from all nations, to come to one place, and there compare the desires and workings of their hearts, even though they had never seen each other’s faces, their desires after Christ would be similar. All hearts respond to Him in a similar manner.

Waggoner wrote:
“God has implanted desires in every soul, which can be satisfied only by the possession of Christ, in order that when He is lifted up before them, they may see in Him the object of their desires, and be drawn to Him…. Jesus Christ is ‘the Desire of all nations.’ Haggai 2. 7. There are comparatively few of the people in the world who know Him, and who recognize Him as the object of their desire; but it is a fact that all the very longings of the human heart can be satisfied in Christ, and in Him alone.” (E. J. Waggoner, “Present Truth” (United Kingdom), March 15, 1894).

Consider the mindset of various people of the world. To the Jewish mind, there were only two classes of people in the world: Jews and everyone else. The “everyone else” they called Gentiles. People could be Babylonian, Assyrian, Roman, Chinese, or Ethiopian—they were all Gentiles. This attitude was likewise common among others in the ancient world; the Greeks viewed non-Greeks as “barbarians.” However, this kind of attitude is removed when the gospel is accepted in mind and heart because the gospel states unequivocally, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

Moving to Tuesday’s lesson, the universal aspect of the gospel is presented. The passage begins with Greeks approaching Phillip, saying “We would see Jesus.” The passage ends with Jesus stating, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to Myself” (John 12:20, 21, 32).
God in His mercy, beholding the universal ruin of the world by sin and the universal desire for something better than sin, gave a universal remedy that reaches to every part of the world. Christ is not limited to any one kingdom or nation in the world; but He is God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 45:22; 52:10).

The universality of the gospel is further enunciated in the following passages. “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” “Now we believe … for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (1 John 4:14; John 4:42; 1 Tim 4:10; Titus 2:11).

There are very few of the people in the world who know Jesus and who recognize Him as the object of the desire of their hearts. It is a fact that all the varied longings of the human heart can be satisfied in Christ alone. These longings are God-implanted. The desires in every soul can be satisfied only by the possession of Christ. The devil has deceived people with the notion that these desires may be satisfied in some other way than by the possession of Christ. Because of his deceptions the glad tidings must be presented as the hope of every man, woman and child. And this gospel is to be presented to every class of people – both high and low.

Paul was chosen by God to give the gospel to kings, and to the great men of the earth. He wrote, in view of his visit to Rome, the capital of the world, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:17).  And today you and I have been chosen by God to proclaim that same gospel, “the everlasting gospel … to those who dwell on the earth to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6). This is the only way that will result in the “Discipling [of] the Nations.”
-Jerry Finneman