Friday, November 28, 2014

“One Lawgiver and Judge”

Insights #9 November 29, 2014
Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"One Lawgiver and Judge"
For the week of November 29, 2014

This week's discussion about law and judgment affords an opportunity to view this topic from the perspective of Christ and His righteousness.

To maintain clarity, we acknowledge that the Bible speaks to the matter of our judging from two viewpoints. James writes in chapter 4:12: "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?"

James admonishes us not to judge our brother or sit in judgment against him (vs 11).

According to James, judgment is the Lord's work.

Yet Paul points to a time when "we shall judge angels" and the "saints will judge the world" 1 Cor. 6:3 and 1 Cor. 6:2.

Jesus said, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" John 7:24.

How can these perspectives be reconciled?

The words of Jesus in John 8:15, 16 give us a clue: "You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true, for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me."

Jesus did not come to this world so much to make a pronouncement, or judgment against sin or sinners, as to reveal the true nature of sin, and the character of those who love it. He did this by living a life of self-sacrificing love and dying on the cross in shame and agony. And it is this standard of love that will judge the world, revealing the thoughts and intents of the heart of man, whether they be self-serving or self-giving.

The problem with us judging others, according to Jesus, is that we judge 'according to the flesh." And since the flesh is rotten and in the flesh dwells no good thing, we cannot possibly discern the thoughts and intents of the hearts of others except to project onto them the condition of our own evil hearts.

In his commentary on the Gospel of John, A.T. Jones elaborates on this text: "'Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment' John 7:24. One of the most remarkable things about Jesus was the way in which He distinguished between right and wrong. Puzzling questions were often brought to Him, but were always solved with such wisdom that those were dumbfounded. We need the same wisdom, for the traditions of men, false theories, and considerations of expediency have so confused the distinction between right and wrong in men's minds, that many honest believe wrong to be right and right to be wrong. What will clear the issues for us?

"The same state of things existed in Christ's day, but the prevailing mental confusion did not dim His judgment, for God Himself was His judgment. He did not judge according to appearances, for while this is all that humanity has to go by, appearances are often misleading. (John 5:30 quoted) Selfish interests always cloud the judgment, and bias the decision, but Christ was swayed by none of these. Because He sought only the will of God, and listened only to His voice, the Father was to Him for 'a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment.' ...

"God does everything in perfect righteousness because that is the law of His being, and that same law He puts into our hearts. It is perfectly natural for Him to do right, and it will be the same for those who let Him write His law in their hearts. They will judge righteous judgment, will speak words in season, and always do the right thing in the right way, because God's way is in their hearts. God Himself is their life. They, like Christ, do not need that any man teach them, for the covenant is, 'They shall teach no more his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.' Jer. 31:34. This condition is not achieved by men's own worthinesss. It is a covenant that is established upon promises, made to sinners, and the Holy Ghost applies it to all whose sins are forgiven."

Those who experience the transformation of Christ's redeeming love in their hearts 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" and we become "ambassadors for Christ," imploring all on Christ's behalf to "be reconciled to God" 2 Cor. 5:14-16, 20.

This is the faith of Jesus in action. Instead of slandering our brothers and sisters--judging them according to the flesh--we regard them as they are in Christ, redeemed, precious souls, bought with the priceless blood of Jesus. In matters of discernment, we rely on "the word of God" which is "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" Heb. 4:12.
-Patti Guthrie

Raul Diaz

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom

Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom"
For the week of November 22, 2014

James is a valuable book of the Bible.  Yet, for many, including myself, it has been a rather difficult book to understand and appreciate.  I understand and relate to Martin Luther, who also had great difficulty with the book of James and referred to it as an "epistle of straw."  He later changed his views of the book.  I too had to go through a change of views regarding James.  His counsel is much needed by the last generation of believers, the group that will compose the remnant of the seed of the woman.

Our lesson this week draws valuable insight from James.  Though the passage from which our memory text is taken does have the potential for misunderstanding.  The lesson author has done us a service by taking the text from the NASB translation where it reads:  "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you" (James 4:10, NASB).  The familiar KJV translation of this text reads, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord."  And I suppose that rendering has the same meaning, yet it is a little easier to overlook.  The NASB demands that we pause and consider what is being communicated.

We are always in the sight of the Lord.  The Holy Spirit, Who is God, is present everywhere (Ps. 139:7 – 10).  Thus, though we may, at times, completely fail to realize or take cognizance of the fact that we are also in the presence of the Lord.  Upon first reading the words, "Humble yourselves . . ." one may be tempted to have a negative reaction.  We may ask questions like, "What kind of legalism is this?"  "I can't humble myself."  After all, this is a call to crucify the flesh, with its passions and desires.  And no one can crucify themselves.  If is physically impossible.  And the spiritual reality is just as impossible as the analogous physical reality.  This is a task that requires outside help.  Thus, at first glance, one might be tempted to label this call in the epistle of James to "humble" ourselves as a species of legalism.  But would that be an accurate assessment?

The text says, "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord."  As already observed, we are, whether we realize it or not, always in God's presence.  There is certainly sufficient reason for us to walk humbly before the Lord.  Yet, how many fail to understand or realize this reasoning.  God is so awesome if we really understand something of His character, He is so gracious, so tender, so compassionate, so loving, and long suffering, He is so good, if we could realize even 1/10 of 1% of His goodness to us, we would be stunned, overwhelmed, gobsmacked, dumbfounded.   Yet, we often fail to realize or comprehend these great, yea even awesome, realities, because we fail to cherish the gift of faith.

When I use the term faith, I do not speak of "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).  That definition can be difficult to perceive, process, and appreciate.  I speak of that faith which Mary displayed (Luke 7:50) when she came to Jesus with an alabaster box of ointment, very costly, very precious, and she poured it all out in grateful appreciation for what Jesus had become to her.  If we appreciated the goodness of the Lord, if we appreciated His grace, His compassion, His mercy, long suffering, and tender love, we would be moved to walked humbly before Him.

In other words, genuine humility is a natural byproduct of genuine faith.  Now, I realize that the Bible says, "God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3, NKJV).  Yet, this announcement does not prove that all human beings have faith.  The Bible is quite explicit in declaring of us "not all have faith" (2 Thess. 3:2).  So evidently not all "keep . . . the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12), which is freely given to all.  There are a number of things that we could do to destroy our faith.  We could deliberately, knowingly, presumptuously, walk contrary to the convicting promptings of the Holy Spirit and step by step destroy our faith.  We can, like Pharaoh of old, sin and sin again, deliberately hardening our hearts until the voice of the Spirit is no longer heard because we have committed blasphemy against Him. 

Yet, there must be some who will keep the faith.  This means there must someday be a group of people presented who will cherish the faith which has been given to them.  There must be a people who will live up to all the light that they have and thereby become the recipients of even greater light.  There must be a people who will exercise their faith during the dark days.  There must be a people who will keep the faith, in the face of discouraging circumstances, annoying trials, perplexing difficulties, disturbing, disconcerting, mind boggling disappointments.  There must be a people who will not fail or be discouraged though severely tried.  When they do not understand or even fathom what is happening to them, there must be a people who are motivated to say as Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust him" (Job 13:15).  They appreciate so deeply the great love and everlasting mercy of God that, come what may, they will honor His name at every step, counting these earthly trials a very small matter in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary.  There must be a people who will count the most severe tests and trials that Satan can devise as but "a light affliction" enduring for "but a moment," in comparison with the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17).

There must be a people who have seen the cross of Christ, not the wooden instrument of execution, not the cruel techniques of human physical and psychological torture, not the intense burden of earthly agony inflicted by a pagan system's criminal justice, but the greater agony, the heartache, and literal soul trauma so intense and so supremely severe, that it crushed out the life of the Son of God, while "His physical pain was hardly felt" (DA753).  When there are a people whose eyes have truly seen the glory of the Lord blazing fourth from a hill called Calvary, then the heart of our divine Saviour will "be satisfied" (Isa. 53:11) and the end of all things shall come.

These are the people who will not need to be told to humble themselves.  These are the people who will not need to be enticed with promises of celestial pleasures and exquisite heavenly delights.  These are a people who will not be motivated by the prospect of celestial space flight, or the pleasure of designing and building their own homes in a new and beautiful earth.  These people will not even consider the threatening of eternally burning inextinguishable fires.  These people will be a group of people who cannot be stopped, cannot be dissuaded, cannot be discouraged, sidetracked, or detoured from a resolute, unchangeable, irrevocable, decision to follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  That path will lead them through the deep waters.  Yet they will know that the waters shall not overflow them.  And it will lead them through the fire.  Yet they know that they will not be burned.  For they know and are confident that the Lord is with them for they have understood that they are precious in His sight.

It is this confidence and knowledge that will truly humble them in the presence of the Lord.  And they shall be His when He shall make up his jewels (Mal. 317).
-Mark Duncan

Raul Diaz

Friday, November 14, 2014

“Taming the Tongue”

Insights #7 November 15, 2014
"Taming the Tongue"
For the week of November 15, 2014

Proverbs 25:11 tells us that, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." This week our lesson focuses our attention on the tongue which James describes as being "so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature…." He says further, "the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity." Clearly James is speaking here of a particular function of the tongue, that of speech/words. There is an old adage, "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me." How false this statement is. Quite likely most of us have either wounded someone by our words, careless speech or have been wounded by another's words. The power of the tongue—our speech/our words—James likens to two things: one a bit, the other a rudder. "Indeed we put bits in horses mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!" James 3:3-5. Words are important. Controlling the tongue is one of man's most difficult if not the most difficult assignment. In fact, verse 2 of chapter 3 seems to say that if we do not stumble in word, if our words are always pure and kind and patient, we will have attained the goal of "a perfect man," Christlikeness.

But how does one attain to this high standard of righteousness? Three texts bring the goal into sharp focus.

1)    "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile" 1 Peter 3:10.
2)    "Let your speech always be with grace seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" Col 4:6.
3)    "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification that it may impart grace to the hearers" Eph. 4:29.

We all need to commit these verses to memory, however, how do they become a reality in our lives? Ellen White in COL p. 335 says, "The power of speech is a talent that should be diligently cultivated. Of all the gifts we have received from God, none is capable of being a greater blessing than this. With the voice we convince and persuade, with it we offer praise to God, and with it we tell others of the Redeemer's love. How important then, that it be so trained as to be most effective for good". Here are some powerful excerpts from A. T. Jones in Lessons on Faith pp. 104-106.

"In the Christian life everything depends upon the word of God. It is true that God is able, and desires to keep us from sinning; but this must be done through His word…This is the way that God has appointed and there is no other way to have this thing accomplished…It was by His word that He created all things in the beginning; It is by His Word that He creates men anew; it is by His word that He will re-create this world and all things pertaining to it…It is not only that the worlds were created by the word of God; but they are also sustained by the same word…So also it is not only that the Christian is created by the word of God, but by that same word he is sustained, nourished and caused to grow. God holds up "all things" by His powerful word. And the Christian is among this, "all things" no less than any or all the worlds…This is to be believed and depended upon by everyone who professes the name of Christ. You and I can no more hold ourselves up and in the right way than can the sun or the earth."

Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow…." Commenting on this text Jones continues in his book Lessons on Faith pages 108-109 as follows: "The word of God being living and full of power when it is allowed to work in the life, there will be powerful work wrought in that individual…When the word is spoken by the Lord, there is at that moment in that word the living power to accomplish what the word expresses…It was Jesus Christ who spoke the word at creation; it is He who speaks the word in the Bible.  At creation the word which He spoke made the worlds; in the Bible the word which He speaks saves and sanctifies the soul. In the beginning the word which He spoke created the heavens and the earth; In the Bible the word which He speaks creates in Christ Jesus, the man who receives that word. In both places, and everywhere in the work of God, it is the word that does it." In Hebrews 4:12 it says that the word of God is living and powerful. This word powerful in this text means effectual, full of power. "The word of God is living and full of power, to do for you, with you and in you all that the word says" Ibid p.106.  A Roman centurion came to Jesus because he needed help. His servant was "lying at home paralyzed and dreadfully tormented." Jesus said, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion said, no need "only speak a word and my servant will be healed." Jesus marveled and said, "Assuredly I say to you I have not found such great faith not even in Israel!" Matt 8:10.

A. T. Jones says, "It is faith to accept that word as the word of God, and to depend upon it to accomplish the thing it says." We cannot tame our tongues for "it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." But God can tame our tongues. Paul puts it like this in Acts 20:32, "And now brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

Finally, we consider the example of Christ of whom it is written in Is. 50:4, "The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning. He awakens My ear to hear as the learned."  The quote in the Sabbath School quarterly on Friday from COL pp. 337 and 338 is a wonderful application of this text: "Far more than we do, we need to speak of the precious chapters in our experience. We should speak of the mercy and loving-kindness of God, of the matchless depths of the Saviour's love. Our words should be words of praise and thanksgiving. If the mind and heart are full of the love of God, this will be revealed in the conversation. It will not be a difficult matter to impart that which enters into our spiritual life. Great thoughts, noble aspirations, clear perceptions of truth, unselfish purposes, yearnings of piety and holiness, will bear fruit in words that reveal the character of the heart treasure. When Christ is thus revealed in our speech, it will have power in winning souls to Him." Let us let the word of God dwell in us richly by God's grace. Amen
-Lyndi Schwartz

Raul Diaz

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

“Faith That Works”

Fourth Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Faith That Works"
For the week of November 8, 2014
A Pastor received an invitation to interview for a job in a prominent church in a large city, which he accepted. The interview process consisted of him preaching a sermon, joining the church for lunch and afterward, participating in a Q&A session with the congregation. Wanting to get a feeling for the church while avoiding the preferential treatment that is sometimes a part of visiting a church as a Pastor, he decided to disguise himself. So, dressed in raggedy, disheveled clothes, unshaven and without a shower for several days, the Pastor went to church. Looking homeless, he entered the lobby, whereupon he was coolly greeted. There was low murmuring as he walked toward the sanctuary. Once inside, the Pastor chose a seat close to where others were seated. Some looked back with a forced smile, while others subtly tried to hold their noses so they wouldn't smell the stench. But eventually, each person stood up and found somewhere else to sit. Within a few minutes, the pastor was sitting by himself. 
Eventually, the Pastor stood up and left the church. He went to his hotel room to clean up, shave, and put on a nice suit and cologne.  An hour later, he drove back to the church.  This time people smiled at him as he entered the building. They even engaged in small talk.  Fortunately, the brethren didn't recognize him. He then walked in the sanctuary itself and, just as before, sat close to where the people were seated.  This time everyone looked and smiled, and, some even said welcome and offered to shake his hand.  
Soon enough, the Pastor stood up to preach. His sermon came from the book of James, showing how works demonstrate faith. Naturally, everyone said Amen.  However, the pastor twisted things around for them when he said that works of faith are works of love.  He said that those sheep at the right of Jesus in Matthew 25 were people who lived by faith.  He explained if they pleased Jesus they had faith (Hebrews 11:6). And since, they had faith, they were just (Hebrews 10:38); and seeing as they were just, they were also doers of the Law (Romans 2:13). Moreover, that love is the fulfillment of the moral law (Romans 13:10).  The church members were now squirming in their seats.  Many folded their arms and frowned sternly. Then the death blow came.  The Pastor said to them, "I noticed how you treated the homeless man that came earlier." A collective gasp was heard. Then there were whispers asking each other how the Pastor could know this.  One dared to ask the Pastor directly. The pastor solemnly replied, "I was that homeless man." Another asked the pastor, "Did you deceive us?"  The pastor answered, "I have to apologize for the deception. I wanted to get a feel for this church before I agreed to be your Pastor. Right now you may be feeling like terrible sinners. But, I have a word for you. It is sinners whom Jesus came to save."
 The story demonstrates how our actions reveal what is in our hearts. These actions, James calls works, are an outgrowth and evidence of what lies beneath the surface. Jesus said that the mouth speaks what abounds in the heart (Matthew 12:34). You may not see the cause, but you can see the effects. We see this in nature. Let's consider the wind. No one can see it, but we can feel it and see its effects. This is why Christ used the wind as an example of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8).  No one can see the Spirit, but we will sense the effects of His presence in our lives or the lives of others.  How do we know the Spirit is present? We see the effects. The works of the Spirit are the outworking and evidence of His presence. 
Faith also works in the same manner.  No one can see faith, but we can sense and see its effects. Works of faith are, as well, the outworking and evidence of faith.  Just like the symptoms of an illness, for example, are the outworking and evidence of the illness.  Christ told his disciples that a little faith can accomplish great things. We read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." A man of faith will be able to do what he is typically powerless to do -- namely, have his character changed. Christ established that the change caused by our faith will be evident to others.  James' famous discourse on faith and works is often quoted on this subject:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18).
The question then can be asked: what works are the proof of faith? Fortunately, if we let the Bible be its own expositor – as Ellen White says – it will give us the answer, which begins in the first couple of verses of James chapter one. Verse 3 tells us faith that is tried produces patience or endurance. Verse 5 tells us that faith also produces wisdom and assurance. Verses 8 and 9 say that faith exalts those of lesser degree, which is then expounded in James chapter 2. While many say works are the proof of faith, Paul says we are not saved by works. This is evident in Christ's teaching. In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples the following:
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 (Matthew 7:21-23).
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith. However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of love or agape. Christ tells the disciples in John 13:35, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
So, it seems to be that the way in which we measure someone's faith is by Christ's self-emptying, self-sacrificial (agape) love dwelling in them directed toward others for their salvation. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and love. By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5:5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love and whom we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and we in Him)…"  How do we know when this love is in us? When 1 John 3:16 is true of us: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  The faith the Bible speaks of is revealed by willingly and lovingly living for others. It is really the indwelling Spirit of God – who sheds abroad the love of God in us - loving through us (Romans 5: 5).  Consequently, those who have the faith of Jesus possess His love, and by it are purified.
-Raul Diaz