Monotony of Monogamy

A commentary I wrote for the Adventist Review back in 2007 when the Ashley Madison Agency had only a million or so in membership.

The Ashley Madison Agency “is committed to protecting and enhancing principles of personal freedom and social justice” and makes donations to causes such as civil rights and women’s health.” Basic membership is free and allows you to browse and observe; active membership costs $80 a month.

Behind the doors of this seemingly noble enterprise is a service industry fueled by its slogan “When Monogamy becomes Monotony.” It caters to married men and women who don’t want a divorce yet want an affair. One happy customer says I  . . . met a truly wonderful man. . . We have been together for over a year . . . We learned so much and will carry it on to our marriages.”

From Genesis to Shakespeare to television’s Desperate Housewives, infidelity spikes interest and conversations. Something about the forbidden and morally wrong is fodder for primetime news and hometown gossip. The media has given Ashley Madison airtime, albeit unfavorable press. Yet the more negative attention, the faster the agency grows: From just a few thousand members five years ago, it now has over a million!

The founder says, “I’m a marketer, filling a need in the market place” His clients are all affairs waiting to happen; he is merely providing a safe platform where they can be “honest and open” (about their infidelity)

Satan’s new approach is not to dissolve the marriage but to de-sanctify it and make it meaningless. He aggressively zeros in on the lonely and the discontented and uses books, talk shows, and therapists that promote self-indulgence in today’s I-need-to-take-of-myself society. As a result, what used to be taboo is now harmless indulgence. And it’s so easy for us to be drenched in self-pity and cry out “Poor me” rather than be draped in the righteousness of Christ and “not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:14, NIV)

a study on christ’s priesthood

(This is a Bible Study written for small group leaders and previously published by Adult Bible Study Guide)

STEP 1—MOTIVATE. Help your class members answer this question: “Why is this lesson important to me?”

Franck Kabele, a 35-year-old preacher shared a revelation he received with his congregation. He told them that he believed he could walk on water just like Jesus if he had enough faith. To demonstrate this, he invited them to join him on a beach in Gabon, West Africa so they could be eyewitnesses to this divine fete. With the intention to walk across the Komo estuary (which takes 20 minutes to travel across by boat), he stepped into the water. Within seconds, the water passed over his head and he was never seen again. (DailyRecord.co.uk, August 30, 2006)

Ask the class: What is it about human nature that urges us to attempt to be God? What is the difference between being God and being Christ-like? How does this human trait get in the way of letting God be God in our life?

STEP 2—EXPLORE! Help your class members answer this question: “What do I need to know from God’s Word?”

Commentary (Read Hebrews 1:1-3; Revelation 1:13; Psalm 110)

Helpless and Hopeless. Every time David tried to control his life without the help of God, he failed. And every time he failed, he fell to his knees in recognition of his unworthiness and God’s power and grace.

Beloved of God, King David represents each of us. Because we can’t escape our sinful nature, we have a need for a priestly mediator.

Consider This: Randomly read passages from the Psalms. Meditate on the bi-polar behavior of the sinful heart, the vacillation of emotions and needs. Then give praise to God for Jesus the Mediator.

Revelation and Reconciliation. Christians—born in sin, living in the constant awareness of this sinful world—have two basic, spiritual needs: to know God and to be with God. Constrained by this sinful world, we learn quickly that life is more manageable when we know who God is and what His purpose is for us. Unaware of our inadequacies, we yearn for ways to be with God.

So God, in his love and mercy gave us His Son—someone who understands both parties 100%, someone who can mediate and straighten out the problems and misunderstandings that exist between God and us.

Consider This: God’s plan for Jesus to be Mediator is the most efficient solution to the sin problems that take place between the Fall of Man and the Second Coming. Could there have been any other way for Jesus to be Mediator and Priest without His death? Explain.

Jesus, Customized Savior. The role Jesus plays on our earthly journey is so multi-faceted. Writers of the Scripture, inspired by divinity, have used metaphors to describe the function of Jesus to enable us to appreciate and apply Jesus’ presence in our daily living—Jesus is described as the shepherd, the door, the light, the vine, the cornerstone, etc.

The Bible uses more than 100 names/titles to describe Jesus. The meaning His life hold for us is beyond our fathoming; His role as priest and mediator will be appreciated in its fullness only when we see and understand God’s divine government in heaven.

Consider This: Have the class think of other metaphors that symbolize the intimate, concerning, priestly role that Jesus plays in our lives. (The metaphors don’t necessarily have to be biblical; they may have modern implications) Ask how the many titles and functions of Christ help them keep the faith?

STEP 3—PRACTICE! Help your class members find the answer to the following question: “How can I practice the information I just learned?”

Thought Questions:

What would your prayer life be like if you didn’t have Jesus as your priest and mediator? What would your prayer be lacking? Do you think that works would play a bigger role in salvation without a mediator? Explain.

To be someone’s advocate is relatively risk-free; but to be someone’s savior is a commitment beyond death! How does Jesus’ death as Savior make Him the most competent priest and mediator you could have? How does Jesus’ title “Priest” affect your relationship with Him.

Application Questions:

  • Talk to a lawyer about the pros and cons of his job. Compare your findings with what Jesus does as a mediator. Share this with someone in your family.
  • How can volunteering in a social service activity (such as tutoring a child) help convey the attitude of Christ as a mediator to someone? What other kinds of interactions could help us be mediators like Jesus?

Witnessing: Help your class connect their community projects with Christ-like attitudes and behaviors. Help them see how they can be “mediators” for the church.

Consider This: Jesus came to show us how we can access divine power for meaningful life on earth. Our interactions with people give us opportunities to be a Christ-like mediator. Encourage your class to match their spiritual gifts with opportunities of mediation (e.g. spiritual gift of listening enables one to be a problem-solver)

STEP 4—APPLY! Help your class answer this question, “With God’s help, what can I do with what I have learned from this lesson?”

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2: 5,6, NASB)

During the second century Irenaeus of Lyons taught that Jesus was offered as a ransom to the Devil to free people’s souls. The Devil, however, was defeated because he did not know that Jesus was God himself!

For hundreds of years, this theory was adopted by the Christian world until Anselm of Canterbury pointed out that Irenaeus’ theory assumed that the Devil had far too much power. Instead, Anselm said that Jesus’ life was paid to God and not to the Devil!

What a more poignant picture that makes—Jesus’s life given as ransom to God in exchange for MY eternal life!

  • A ransom is required to free the hostages. Sometimes, a hostage exchange is demanded to guarantee the transaction. How is Jesus’ death more than a “hostage exchange?”
  • What are the benefits of having a Savior who is superior to anything or anyone else? How can His superiority motivate you in your life? What is your potential if you maximize the use of His superiority?
  • Compile verses about the power of Jesus as Savior and Priest as a gift to a neighbor or friend. Or email your friends a verse a week about the power of Jesus.
  • How can you actively bring Christ as a mediator into the workplace and thereby be a witness of your Christian lifestyle? What role can prayer play in this endeavor?

cancer center creates hope

(published August 2010)

It was November 2009. Herb was in his doctor’s office and nothing could prepare him for the words he was about to hear. “You have cancer.” Over the next few days, numbness enveloped his family. They didn’t know what to do.

Despite rising survival rates, cancer continues to be the second most common cause of death in the United States, claiming 1,500 lives every day. Regardless of type, cancer is a complicated disease with a tedious and stressful treatment regimen. A heavily-involved and fragmented process, cancer treatment necessitates a variety of specialists, procedures and tests. Often, these services are not available at a single facility. Some hospitals may have an oncology department, but no oncology surgeon. Patients and their families are shuffled from one place to another over the course of several months. Cancer takes a toll not just on the victim, but on the entire family. In addition to the physical and emotional devastation, families must cope with time away from work, travel costs, childcare, side effects of treatment and financial drain.

Facing a daunting future, Herb and his family were gripped with fear. They felt helpless at the prospect of navigating a future so uncertain, so out of their control. But all that changed when Herb and his family met Cindi Cantril and the caregivers at Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center. “She took the pressure off of everything. The center was the absolute perfect setting for healing from every aspect.”

Personalized Treatment Eases Fears
Established at St. Helena Hospital in Northern California, the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is designed to be more than a medical facility. It is a healing center with personalized cancer treatment. Here, patients and their families can find everything they need for physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Three key elements — comprehensive services, a caring medical team and a message of hope — combine to create this incredible healing environment.

The 12,500 square foot facility was built with patients and ease of use in mind. Describing the concept behind the center, St. Helena Hospital President/CEO Terry Newmyer says, “We designed our cancer center to provide convenient, centralized care. Patients and their families are literally steps away from everything they need to navigate the healing process.” With all aspects of patient treatment housed under one roof, Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is able to provide truly comprehensive care.

In addition to these centrally located services, the center has developed a partnership with one of the top 10 cancer research facilities in the nation — University of California, San Francisco. This affiliation allows patients access to National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials. Their unique brand of specialized, patient-centric care attracts cancer sufferers from beyond the Napa Valley. Forty percent of Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center’s patient-base comes from the economically-disadvantaged areas of Lake County, 90 minutes away. To accommodate those patients, the center operates a free shuttle service — picking them up from a sister clinic in the area.

Offering a Complete Package
But services at the center extend beyond traditional cancer treatment. The facility’s staff focuses on whole-person integrated care with behavioral therapy, nutritional support and spiritual counseling. The center’s restoration spa is paramount in providing a peaceful, healing environment for patients and their families.

Also available is the resource library. A free service open to the community, the library houses a large collection of books, magazines and other media. Here, patients and family members are guided by a resource specialist. The resource library has proven that a better understanding of cancer and its treatments can alleviate the fear of uncertainty that can accompany diagnosis.

The team at Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center is comprised of 11 oncology specialists in a variety of fields, including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery among others. These caregivers collaborate to create personalized treatment plans for every patient. Shepherding these patients through the treatment process is a “nurse navigator,” Cindi Cantril. An oncology-certified cancer nurse, Cantril has more than 30 years of experience. But her greatest asset is her genuine interest in her patients. She makes a point of forging personal relationships with patients, making them feel comfortable and secure throughout their treatment. She is available 24/7, even giving out her personal cell phone number to patients. “I want my patients to know I really care,” she says. “I’m like their GPS. I follow them on my computer while they are at the center and make at least 12 to 15 face-to-face contacts every day.”

Visually Depicting Hope
There is an overriding theme at the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center — at the heart of its personalized treatment plans, resource library and nurse navigator. It is hope and it is embodied in the 13-foot high sculpture that adorns the lobby.

JoAline Olson, vice president of Innovations at Adventist Health says, “The Hope Tree is the first thing you see upon entering the facility. We want everyone who comes through the door to feel peace, relief, to know that they’ve found a place that will help them through this ordeal.”

Bathed in warm yellow and green earth tones, the lobby exudes a feeling of peacefulness. Engraved on the tree are 48 symbols of hope from around the world, representing different cultures and faiths — praying hands, angels and olive branches. A sleeping lamb lies tucked behind its roots, symbolizing peace amidst the struggles of life. In the trunk is an opening that holds messages from patients, family members and caregivers. These are messages of hope, of encouragement, of love. They serve as a hopeful reminder to new patients: you are not alone.

These messages gave Herb and his family the strength to endure their struggle with cancer. Six months later, Herb was declared cancer-free. Now, his story will do the same for others.

The Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center not only inspired hope in Herb and the rest of its patients, but also in St. Helena Hospital as a whole. The team’s care epitomizes the Adventist Health mission “to share God’s love by providing physical, mental and spiritual healing.” Their focused care and success of patients like Herb has revitalized the entire Adventist Health system, imbuing them with sense of purpose and accomplishment.

covenant study 13: forgiveness

Browsing through a book of quotations, you will notice that the most fascinating quotes are those made by people on their deathbed! In one sentence they tell the world where their life has led them. A famous atheist’s last words were, “About to take a fearful leap into the dark!” All of God’s covenants, all of God’s promises are nailed to one simple desire of our divine God—He wants to SAVE US FROM SIN. With the end of life, comes the verdict of our covenant relationship.

Thought Questions:

    1. A pastor said, “I believe in deathbed confessions. I know they are accepted by God, but I have to admit I’m a bit nervous about them, wondering if the confession is absolutely genuine!” It is natural to speculate about the motives of others. How does God view the approaching sinner asking for salvation? How does God’s knowledge of the future affect His response?
    2. Entering into a covenant relationship not only cleanses us of guilt and regret but also fills us with joy! Imagine what happens in the courts of heaven when you take the first step towards spending eternity in heaven. What do you think your guardian angel has to say? In the heavenly scheme of things, how does your entering into a covenant relationship make a difference to your access to eternal life?

Application Questions:

    1. Two thieves hung on either side of Jesus. One mocked him, while the other asked for salvation? With what confidence can we claim God’s promise after years of turning away? Notice that Jesus did not address the thief at all until the thief spoke to Him. What does this say about the role of the Holy Spirit? How does this help us understand that we can ask for salvation regardless of how hopeless we may be? Imagine that the thief, after receiving salvation, did not die. What kind of impact would he have had in his community? How does entering into a covenant relationship affect missions and evangelism?
    2. Someone has described the thief’s eleventh hour salvation as “literally blundering into paradise.” Regardless of “when” we accept Jesus Christ, we all “blunder” into heaven! There is no other way because we are wretched sinners who, without God’s grace, will continue blundering. Do some people try to take advantage of that grace by waiting to accept Christ after they’ve lived the way they want? How would you convince a person of the importance of accepting Christ now instead of waiting until the eleventh hour?
    3. Ambrose, an early Christian preacher said, “How much richer was Christ’s grace than the malefactor’s prayer!” When there’s more than enough of God’s grace to compensate for our every sin, why do we sometimes question our Christianity? Is being a Christian merely claiming the title? Does being a Christian mean you will be saved? What verses could you quote to verify your salvation?

covenant study 12: salvation

There is a story of when Francis of Assisi fasted on a mountain. So intense was he in his meditation that he began to see Jesus on a cross that stretched across the horizon. As he watched, he saw a sword of grief and pity pierce the heart of God. Slowly the vision began to fade and Francis looked down—only to find the marking of nails in his own hands. People say that he had those marks till the day he died.

Thought Questions:

    1. Regardless of whether this story is true or not, every true Christian longs to fully understand the magnitude of Calvary. Paul was no different. In his time, a master branded his slaves to show ownership. Some say that Paul had himself branded with marks of nails in his hands to show the world whom he belonged to. Assuming that this may be some true, what do you think Paul is saying in Galatians 6:11-18. How does Paul suggest that we glory in the cross of Christ?
    2. Augustine said, “God loves each of us as if there was only one of us to love.” John 3:16 tells us that God sent His Son to die for us because He loved the “world”—not a nation, not a people, but the whole world. In this context, why is it important that we accept salvation as a gift? Explain.
    3. One of the fundamental thoughts of the Jews was that a man must “earn” God’s favor. One of the fundamental thoughts of Christians is that all a man can do is take God at His word. Considering this BIG difference, why do you think Paul uses Abraham as the greatest example of faith (Romans 4:1-8)? What specific acts of Abraham qualifies him to be the Father of Faith?

Application Questions:

    1. Thursday’s lesson tells us that “for many people, as they near the end of their lives they look back and see how vain, how futile, how useless their deeds, their works are for earning salvation with a holy God.” What are the elements of life that make us feel like we have to depend on ourselves more than anyone or anything else? What can we do to live a life that says “Jesus is in control”? In what ways does your spiritual life reflect who/what is in control?
    2. When traveling through China, Rosita Forbes found herself at the end of one day with no place to sleep. So she found shelter in a Chinese temple. In the middle of the night, she awoke to find moonlight streaming through the window. The shadows made the gods’ faces scary and unfriendly. What is it about our God that should make us unafraid of him? In what possible scenario would we be afraid of Him?
    3. We have all felt the rejection and pain of a broken promise. The Bible is full of promises that we can count on one hundred percent. Yet we are the ones who, in disobedience, step out of our covenant relationship. Having known the pain of a broken relationship, what can we do to ensure that we don’t take our covenant relationship casually?

 

covenant study 10: grace

The Jews believed that Michael, the archangel, was created for the specific task of being mediator between Israel and God. They also believed that Moses was “created” before the world to be the mediator of the covenant. Following this train of thought, there was nothing unusual in accepting Jesus as part of the original plan to redeem man. But that was not the case. Jesus faced much resistance to his efforts to introduce the new covenant.

Thought Questions:

  1. The word covenant was a common concept throughout Jewish history. However, in the old covenant, it seemed to heavily depend on the obedience of the law. Naturally, because of human tendency, people were continually breaking their relationship with God. How did the Cross re-shape the old covenant to be a “better” covenant? What were the advantages of the new over the old? Under the new covenant, is there a danger of the church taking grace for granted?
  2. Regardless of one’s earnest commitment to spiritual growth, sin continually interrupts the relationship between God and man. This was true before the Cross and continues to be true since the Cross. In what way does the Holy Spirit compensate for these interruptions? What can we do to empty ourselves to be filled by the Spirit? Do you think there is any other alternative besides the Holy Spirit? Explain.
  3. With both the old and the new covenants, there are mutual benefits to both parties. Considering the tendency of man to continually break his end of the bargain, why do you think that history shows God approaching man again and again to renew, modify, or change His covenant with man? What does this persistence of God tell us of His love for us?

Application Questions:

  1. The old covenant was based on a written document (Exodus 24:1-8) while the new covenant is based on the power of the life-giving Spirit. The old covenant is external; the new is an eternal impression on the heart. The old could change behavior; the new changes attitude. Think of other ways the new is “better” than the old.
  2. Some people may say, “How do you know that access to God depends not on achievement or obedience but simply on accepting God’s love?” What examples could you use from your own life to answer their question? How important are our life stories in the actualization of the new covenant? In the eternal scheme of things?
  3. Why was it so hard for people to accept the new covenant when Jesus presented it originally? Is it easier or harder for people to accept it today? Explain.

 

covenant study 09: the sabbath

The law said that the Sabbath Day is to be kept holy, and that on it no work is to be done. This was taken very seriously. The Pharisees and other teachers of the scriptures emphasized that to “carry a burden” was considered work. To avoid misunderstandings, they were very specific about what a burden was. A burden was food equal in weight to a dried fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, etc, etc, etc.

Thought Questions:

  1. With such strict restrictions on Sabbath observance, you can imagine the many hours people during Jesus’ time spent arguing about what a neighbor should or should not have done on the Sabbath day. In what ways are we stuck in similar legalistic ruts today? What are the dangers of being legalistic? Does this mean that we should dismiss church standards that are not completely biblical? Explain.
  2. Teaching is false if it produces a religion which consists solely or mainly in the observance of externals”—William Barclay. How is it easy to confuse religion with religious practices? What are the dangers of doing this? Is there a danger of the Seventh-day Adventist Church falling into such a trap? Explain.
  3. In the ancient days, there was probably no other group of people that was hated as much as the Jews. Their separatism, isolation, and contempt of others only gained them hostility. Their observance of the Sabbath gained them a reputation for laziness. From our observance of the Sabbath, does the world see us as law-abiders or as God-lovers? What is the difference?

Application Questions:

  1. If you could be a good Christian just by doing things like keeping the Sabbath, it would be a much easier religion than it really is. Consider your Sabbath-keeping practices. Does it focus on what you can and cannot do? Or does it focus on strengthening your relationship with your Savior?
  2. The new covenant is an agreement between God and you that is based on an existing intimate relationship. The Sabbath is quality time you spend with God. Obviously then, Sabbath-keeping has a direct relation to one’s covenant relationship. Keeping this in mind, how do you think we, as the remnant church, can restore the sanctity and joy of the Sabbath into both individual and corporate lifestyles?
  3. Using the Sabbath as the barometer, check to see if your religion is based on rituals or on a relationship. Study Jesus’ Sabbath activities. How did they reflect His relationship with His Father? What specific changes do you think you need to make in your Sabbath-keeping practices?