Friday, February 23, 2018

1888 Glad Tidings : Insight #8 February 24, 2018

FEBRUARY 24, 2018
This week's lesson reminded me of the rebuke of Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.  "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."  This passage highlights the nature of the outworking of true faith in Christ.  Jesus was clearly emphasizing that while the scribes and Pharisees appeared to be scrupulous about the letter of the law, they were clearly deficient in keeping the spirit of the law and therefore not keeping the law at all. Jesus does not condemn their return of tithe but points out that the "weightier matters of the law" were being forgotten, namely "justice and mercy and faith" without which their faithful return of tithe would avail nothing. 
The lesson also makes the point that participation depends on commitment.  This is one of the most important aspects of tithing.  The affect of our investment in anything or anyone is to increase our attachment and identification with the person or the cause.  In Matthew 6, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, "For where your treasure is there will your heart be also".  To the extent that we are invested in the things of this world our affections can be drawn away from Christ.  Just as in a marriage, it is the time and attention and cultivation of the relationship which serves to prioritize one's spouse above all other relationships and commitments.  The lesson points out that most Christians give very little to support the cause of God.  This reflects a failure to understand how infinitely Christ has given to us and the purpose of giving.  Our giving is a barometer of our faith in God.  While God has promised to bless us as we give, the purpose for our giving is not for what we will receive in return or to avoid the consequences of not giving.  The true spirit of tithing is gratitude.  The lesson points out that we are "double blessed" in our giving in that we ourselves will receive a blessing but more importantly we are blessing others.  Acts 20:35 says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Certainly one of the greatest blessings of tithing is that it teaches us the lesson of trust in God.  This is of paramount importance since we understand that the individual appropriation of the gift of salvation at an experiential level is received by faith.  There is scarcely any other area of our lives that touches us at a more practical level and demonstrates the reality of our religious experience than how we handle money. Systematic giving provides an opportunity for us to be constantly exercising our faith and observing how God works.  The apostle Paul ministered to many churches and his sacrificial love for the people and devotion to God led him to refuse wages he rightfully deserved if it would be a stumblingblock to the members of the church.
Under Thursdays outline the lesson touches on the most important subject of all in addressing tithing in relation to salvation by faith.  The point is emphasized that tithing does not in any way contribute to our salvation or merit or earn anything for the believer in the plan of redemption. The idea of deserving or meriting anything suggests we are saved by works which is clearly contrary to scripture. The lesson references Romans 3:19-24 which says "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified".  What may be missed in a hasty reading of verse 23 and 24 is that the same subject "all have sinned" continues in the phrase "being justified freely by His grace".  In other words, the apostle Paul is pointing out the fact that the grace of God has benefited both believer and unbeliever alike.  The lesson also references Romans 4:5 which says, "God justifies the ungodly".  This is a further demonstration that there is no credit to the believer in tithing anymore than any other works which may be done.  Our giving does reveal our attitude and reminds us that we belong to God and that He has freely given us all that we enjoy in this life and has placed in our hands the gift of eternal life to come.  The lesson ends with the beautiful statement that "every breath, every heartbeat, every moment of existence comes from the Lord."  This sentiment is echoed in Desire of Ages page 660: "To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring."
~Michael Duncan

Friday, February 09, 2018

1888 Glad Tidings : Insight #6 February 10, 2018

First Quarter 2018
Sabbath School Insight #6
"The Marks of a Steward"
February 10, 2018

Stewards of Service
The Bible says that nature speaks of the Glory of God, which is His character. Ellen White stresses the importance of this by telling us to study the lessons in nature. She says in Our High Calling, page 253: "Everything about us teaches us from day to day lessons of our Father's love and of His power, and of His laws that govern nature and that lie at the foundation of all government in heaven and in earth." Let's take a tree as an example. A mature tree uses precious earthly resources: it occupies space, utilizes air (Carbon dioxide which we exhale), water, and absorbs sunlight. In turn, we use the oxygen the tree exhales, and we take advantage of its shade. Is this a fair exchange? Many trees yield fruit that when consumed, are not only tasty, but are good for our health. While trees cannot consume their byproducts (fruit), we can. There are other parts of the tree, which we utilize as well, such as its leaves and its wood. It seems that human beings benefit more from trees then trees do from us. Apparently, all of the resources that trees use end up benefiting mankind as well as the animals.  Based on this observation we could say, that if trees were stewards, they would likely manage God's resources better than we.
Our analogy of the tree is really about stewardship and serving others. When a steward is filled with the faith of God, his service is selfless. But, in our natural sinful state, we are selfish. We think only of ourselves, our plans, our concerns. When we give to others or do for them, often it is because we expect the service to redound beneficially to us. Often, we anticipate a tangible return such as money or other favors - tickets, a meal, a gift certificate, etc. Other times we derive an intangible return, such as favorable appreciation by others. Not infrequently, we serve out of feelings of guilt, coercion, or fear; hoping to be relieved from condemnation. Thus, we misuse Gods resources for our benefit even though we claim using these to serve others. 
A true Christian at whatever level is a Steward who operates by faith. Just as a mature tree yields fruit, he or she will yield fruit (Galatians 5:22-25).  The Spirit of God that dwells in him springs forth this fruit because the fruit is the character of God Himself. 
Therefore, service is not proffered by guilt, coercion, or fear. The true Christian does not expect to gain absolution, freedom, or even peace. The service of a true Christian, in whom the Spirit dwells, is motivated by Agape - God's unconditional love - and the driving force is gratitude. A faithful follower of Christ gives and serves freely, for he has received freely (Matthew 10:8).
Typically, we do not equate stewardship with the selfless serving of others. But, a steward serves his Master by caring for his assets, identifying with the Master and doing as the Master wishes. What is it that the Master desires "But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8). Perhaps the parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25 will illustrate the meaning further. Although the passage is lengthy, reading will refresh our memory. Matthew 25: 31-46 reads--
Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory:
Matthew 25:32 And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
Matthew 25:33 And He shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Matthew 25:34 Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Matthew 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in:
Matthew 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.
Matthew 25:37 Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?
Matthew 25:38 When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee?
Matthew 25:39 Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?
Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.
Matthew 25:41 Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
Matthew 25:42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink:
Matthew 25:43 I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in: naked, and ye clothed Me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not.
Matthew 25:44 Then shall they also answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?
Matthew 25:45 Then shall He answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.
Matthew 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Faithful stewards are sheep who identify with their Lord and unknowingly serve Him by helping those in need.   Unfaithful stewards are the goats who served others but for personal gain.  What is the motivating difference between the two? It is Agape – God's unconditional love. The sheep possess the type of love that the Father possesses.  This love which is His essence is that which led Him to give to all human beings "…His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This love caused Jesus to weep because of the harm Sin had done to His creation (John 11:35). This is the same love that will be found in us as we permit the Holy Spirit to have His way with us (Romans 5:5). Christ Himself has said that by this all men will know that ye are my disciples (John 13: 34 – 35).  Today, while it's day, will you let the Spirit transform you into a faithful steward that you may serve others as He wishes?
~Raul Diaz

Friday, February 02, 2018

1888 Glad Tidings : Insight #5 February 3, 2018

First Quarter 2018
Sabbath School Insight #5
"Stewards After Eden"
February 3, 2018
            I invite you to witness a not-so-rare experience at breakfast time with my family. There is something seriously wrong happening that we need to talk about. No, it is not the food. We eat very healthily. In fact, lately I am doing my best to kill my family (or more likely any germs that may be stalking them) with a green drink each morning. It includes kale, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, apple cider vinegar, bananas, apples, juice, lemons, limes, and turmeric. Warning, before you try this at your home please note I am not implying that it tastes good (though a little packet of stevia helps nudge it out of the poison zone for your palate)! But we have become accustomed to the burning sensation knowing that it is keeping us well when all around us sickness abounds!

            No, the problem is what you might hear us saying. "Daddy, Noah's not chewing his food correctly! He spit on me! He's gross!" Or, "Mommy, Hadassah's too close to me and she's staring at me! She did not brush her hair again and I think she forgot her deodorant!" There could also be serious whining, passing the buck, or a whole bunch of stinking thinking and nasty attitudes spilling all over more often than the almond milk (thankfully, their motor skills are improving). Are you getting the picture? Have you been there, with or without children?

            You see, our children have problems, major problems. They got them from their parents, Penny and Bryan, who can still be excellent examples of what not to do (actually, the kids say that I teach them all their bad habits)! Yet we got them from our parents, as they received them from theirs, all the way back to Adam and Eve. We are humans infected by sin. Yet the sin(s) I am alluding to here are the ones we often don't think about. This week's lesson will invite us to consider some powerful thoughts as stewards after Eden.

            Actually, I will adjust the topic a little to call it stewards after the cross and the resurrection, because in Christ everything has changed. Just as through one man sin entered and death reigned throughout humanity, so now through Christ life has come to the world. In Christ, we are new creatures, the old has passed away, behold all has become new! (I am assuming this readership is very aware of the three powerful corporate chapters in Paul's writings which expound these truths so well. For a refresher see Romans 5, First Corinthians 15, and Second Corinthians 5.)

            These earth shattering truths radically affect our mandate as stewards. In Christ our stewardship role has morphed from the management of things, animals, and the earth, to now include the unseen, intangibles of the gospel, grace, mercy, goodness, truth, and the power of God transforming us and being on display in our lives. God's focus is no longer simply on having us manage the external world but letting Him transform us internally for His glory! We are now His house (temple) being fitted together in Christ for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22) What an amazing heritage and opportunity.

            But, depending on your understanding of forgiveness, what a terrifying thought. How can we do all of those things when we fail so often? How do we manage the intangibles in our lives like that when we so often fail with the solid, tangible commandments? Our rate of failure would be hopelessly discouraging! That may be what many think. Yet, herein lies the radical shift and truth that changes everything when we are in Christ.

            I recently heard an author say something truly profound. It immediately reminded me of what Ellen White has written (there is nothing new under the sun). She said something like this. She used to see forgiveness as a whiteboard experience. Tally up your sins, and then pray and forgiveness wipes them off: clear, clean, crisp accounting. Unless, of course, your marks overwhelm your ability to remember, repent of, and deal with. And, God forbid, what if you forget to ask for a particular sin or die before the final cleansing? Then, you have a serious problem of never fully knowing if you have been cleansed from all unrighteousness. Welcome to the all too common life of a schizophrenic, fearful Christian. No assurance because their whiteboard is unmanageable.

            She then shared her tectonic shift of thinking: realizing that forgiveness was not about the whiteboard as much as it was about being set free from the tyranny of being enslaved to self! Wow, what a theological earthquake. Forgiveness as being set free from self. Not simply sins as discrete actions of breaking specific laws but SIN, the enslavement to self and death. Yes, that is the emancipation that Ellen White talks about in Desire of Ages, chapter 34, called the Invitation.

            In Christ we are called into a life of unrelenting, redeeming freedom. The living Christ is more than a divine Lincoln declaring the historic end of slavery, He is our passionate priest pursuing the ongoing process of liberty that leads to life. We are not just offered freedom in regard to sins or things, but we now have a new identity: we are each a new person free to worship, love, serve, bless, and be blessed. Freedom from what A.W. Tozer calls the hyphenated sins of the self: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and many more permutations in the prison of self.

            Stewardship, then, is more about our identity than what we do with what we have. In Christ, we are new creatures and we have been set free from our past to live lives unto God. We are called to steward (and display) those mysteries of God to a world that has yet to hear that glorious emancipation proclamation. No more shame, we have peace with God. We are joint heirs with Christ Jesus, sitting with Him in the heavenly places (by faith). We are sons and daughters of God, now! We no longer need to rely on our temporary addictions to feel good about ourselves. We are fully known and fully loved!

            Ellen White says it this way. "Redemption is that process by which the soul is trained for heaven. This training means a knowledge of Christ. It means emancipation from ideas, habits, and practices that have been gained in the school of the prince of darkness. The soul must be delivered from all that is opposed to loyalty to God." (Desire of Ages, page 330)

            This brings me back to the problems displayed at our breakfast table (and other times), and another word you will be pondering this week: responsibility. Stewardship is all about responsibility, and there is the rub. Slaves believe they have no choice, therefore no responsibility. Children/stewards have choice and take responsibility.

            Enslaved humanity recoils from responsibility. Remember our first parents playing the blame game? Throughout time we have continued to evade, deny, and blame others for what we have done. We whine and complain about our lives (often the accumulation of our own choices). Some have even learned how to mask our refusal to take responsibility by trying to control others and their choices (thereby robbing them of their freedom of choice and growth). Tragically, religions have often excelled in this destructive diversion. We focus our energies on trying to control things that aren't ours to direct and avoid taking any responsibility for our own actions. That's my kids (and us, all too often)! They love trying to control each other instead of themselves.

            This week's lesson invites us to wrestle with our new identity as children/stewards of God. Life is about being set free from the layers of slavery which we have become accustomed to living under. Seeking forgiveness is not accounting, it is taking responsibility and surrendering ourselves to God so He can break the fetters of self. It is about being set free to the inheritance we have in Christ Jesus.  With each act of owning our choices and claiming responsibility for what we have done we then re-surrender to our great God and let Him change us moment by moment. Our lives can begin to go from glory to glory, victory to victory. Life becomes a "get to" not a "got to" as we are partnering with Christ and He sets us free from every vestige of enslavement to self. We choose love, mercy, grace, peace, and purpose for our lives. We participate in God's work of passionately loving others so He can set them free as well. We take responsibility for ourselves and we leave others to experience God's grace in their lives personally. According to Ellen White in that same chapter, the Invitation, this is the beginning of eternal life and it can start here!

            When we let Him do this work in us we are stewarding the intangibles of His power in our lives and others will see His mighty work. We don't need to change others like my kids try to, but we can trust that the same God who is delivering us is doing the same work in others. We then carry our message (Christ in us the hope of glory) around in the unadorned clay pots of our lives and encourage others in the glorious freedom found only in Christ. What a life!
~ Bryan Gallant