Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Auburn Seventh-day Adventist Church Auburn, CA


Pastor Mel's Blog

A Breath of Fresh Air for a New Year

In my Dec. 30, 2017 sermon, I posed Jesus’ challenge in Matt. 5:20 as a new year’s resolution challenge: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” At first glance, this challenge may seem daunting given their reputation of squeaky-clean and meticulous piety. A closer look reveals a type of righteous behavior that replaces that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Matt. 5:20’s challenge is the crux, the focus statement of the sermon on the mount which, as an interrogative would look like this: “How do you exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?” In Matt. 5:21-26, the first succeeding block of text, Jesus begins to unfold his answer. Actually, his answer goes all the way to the end of Matthew 7. We will limit ourselves to the above-mentioned text.

Using “How?” as guide, let us note how Jesus develops his answer. First, Jesus brings up an old, universally accepted commandment as case-in-point (see v. 21). Second, he plumbs the depth of every person’s obedience (see v. 22a)—but not as one might expect. Rather than listing every possible scenario which might constitute a murderous act, Jesus plumbs the attitudes of the heart where murderous spirits lie. Third, upon entering the heart, he exposes certain attitudes that are as liable to judgment as the physical act of murder is (see vv. 23b-26).

In relation to the third, Jesus reveals anger (orgizo) as culpable spirit deserving judgment. In succeeding illustration, Jesus will reveal corresponding attitudes relating to other commands. Contempt for people (a low-burning form of anger) is also culpable. He says that these need to be addressed, not just as pre-murderous spirit that could lead to the physical act of murder, but simply as disobedience deserving judgment. Jesus’ point is that a violent spirit is as culpable as a violent act, and must be grappled with.

Moreover, one must plumb one’s heart for the presence (or the lack) of peacemaking characteristics (cf. Matt. 5:9). Jesus does not stop culpability with the presence of a violent spirit. He digs deeper in search of a character of peace. It is one thing to address one’s anger and contempt for people. It is quite another to reach out to them to help them grapple with their own violent spirits directed towards you—regardless of whether this person is a sister/brother or an enemy. Jesus holds everyone responsible in preventing murderous acts and attitudes not just in one’s own self but in others also, by initiating reconciliation.

What a breath of fresh air!

Pastor Mel Baga, DMin

A Ritual of Gratitude: Saying Thank You for Graces Received

Once a year our roads and airports get inundated with people trying to get home for Thanksgiving.  Then suddenly, on Thanksgiving Day itself, the thoroughfares are emptied out.  We find these same people gathered in living rooms, around dinner tables, and with their loved ones.  Family traditions take over, as we find ourselves expressing through words and simple bodily presence, our gratefulness for being connected with people we love, and with the larger universe filled with the goodness and the beauty of God.  Every year we remind ourselves that we are ever recipients of grace from people and from God—and that most (if not all) of it we don’t deserve.

Imagine the absence of gratitude for a few moments.  What would a person look like who is devoid of the attitude of gratitude?  I'm the least bit interested in caricatures.  But perhaps we would see an individual who is belligerently entitled.  To this person the world is a gift-free-zone.  In place of gifts are rights well deserved.   Everything one has one deserves because one worked hard to get it.  And whatever else one could not get with one’s own hands, one deserves to get from others’ hands.  

Ingratitude begets ingratitude.  Worse, ingratitude kills kindness.  If we don’t intentionally create rituals and events to express our gratefulness to one another, we may end up with a situation similar to this true story.  Halfway through his grueling internship, a psychiatrist-in-training complained to his supervisor about their patients: “No one ever says thank you for anything I try to do.”  The supervisor-psychiatrist answered, “If they could say thank you, how many of them do you think would be in a psychiatric hospital?”  

I don’t want to end up in a psychiatric hospital, do you?  Thanksgiving Day is exactly a week from today.  At Auburn Church, Thanksgiving comes this Sabbath.  We are including as part of our worship gathering, a Ritual of Gratitude—that is, an open-microphone, impromptu time and place to say “Thank You” to people and to God for graces received.  Express it freely and succinctly to give time to as many as possible.  


If we are not saved by the law, what then is it for?

Last week, I had the privilege of corresponding with someone regarding the place of God’s law in the believer’s life.  Here’s the question:  If we are not saved by the law, what then is it for?  Below is my response (revised and enlarged):

The Bible says that we are saved purely by His grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).  Moreover, God makes His grace abound as you grow within His kingdom: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The Bible also says that there is an improper way of using the law: “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Timothy 1:8). Moreover, we are the problem, not the law: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14).  A person's inability to keep God’s law has to do with “another law" ruling in one's life:  "I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  What a wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:23, 24).  This “law of sin” is the sum total of one's sinful desires acting as a living, active, organizing force at the very center of one's being waging an unrelenting war against the redeemed mind, as one seek to align one’s self with God’s law.
So how does one align one’s self with God’s law?  The biblically improper way is by appealing to "the letter of the law." This approach to obedience idealizes and objectifies the law as though it were an independent entity.  The kind of obedience produced by this approach is rigid, moralistic, and stern.  It aims primarily for outward compliance with little or no attention given to the interior life.  Eventually, the result is law worship, which is a form of idolatry.  In the end it kills one’s faith, rather than enhances it for “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). 

The biblically proper way is by appealing to "the spirit of the law."  This approach treats the law as the very foundation of character transformation accomplished only through the indwelling of the Spirit.  The kind of obedience produced by this approach is flexible, graceful, and holistic.  When the Spirit comes in, He begins to displace one's sinful desires as the operative law of our life.  The Spirit places Himself at the center of one's inner being as the new organizing principle of your life.  He regulates true obedience.  The believer's task is to learn how to walk instep with the Spirit in the depths of one's being:  By dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6).

God has only one set of laws.  However, three other “laws” or “governing principles” exist in the believer's life. First is the law of one's mind—the believer’s deep desire to be instep with God.  Second is the law of sin—the sum total of one’s sinful desires operating as a governing force within, rendering the law of one's mind impotent to obey.  Third is the law of the Spirit—the Spirit Himself organizing and governing the inner life to inspire and enable true obedience by making every believer the kind of person who would obey.  God desires complete renovation of the believer's inner spirit so that one becomes in the inner depths who one is in outward actions. True obedience means “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23, 24). The Spirit alone makes grace operative in the life of the believer and fully satisfies the redeemed mind’s desire to obey:  “He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

Where Character Is King: Life in the Kingdom of Grace

Autumn starts when night overtakes day in length—September 22 this year.  Weather wise, however, it still feels likes summer.  Perhaps by October summer will have given way to fall climate—cool, wet, and damp.  

Along with falling leaves and longer nights, it’s the best time of the year—warm, cozy evenings sitting at the fireside sipping warm cider and hot chocolate; afternoon walks in the rain down muddy trails serenaded by rushing streams.

At Auburn Church, we will greet autumn’s arrival with a new sermon series titled, “Where Character Is King: Life in the Kingdom of Grace.”  We will zero in on Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 through expository sermons.  

The Sermon on the Mount is alluring.  Its allure comes from its soaring spirit, sweet promises, and noble values which appeal to believers and secular society alike.  Its magnetism comes from the fact that it is as daunting as it is appealing, demoralizing as it is exciting.  It challenges one to respond to its lofty ideals in some way.  It begs to be understood, tested, and tried.  

As I prepare for this series, a new sense of awe and admiration has swept over my soul.  Jesus’ precepts seem more realistic; more tenable; more beautiful.  There is hope for one like me!  And I want to infect you with this excitement.  For me, it took putting on a new interpretive lens and putting down an old one.  The series title contains this new lens which revolves around two hints.

The first hint revolves around the word character.  Confronted with the rigors of Jesus’ ethic, how do we respond—and for what reason?  Should we treat these teachings as expedient  but optional pieces of advice, or as objective and mandatory laws to be obeyed whatever the cost?  The interpretive lens I have chosen hints at something far better than either one, or both.  I’ll let you figure it out in the mean time—lest I give away the first sermon.  (See picture-schema below, which frames character within a larger context.  Make sure to study and reflect on this picture often.  You will remember that I used this schema in a previous series.)

The second hint revolves around the word grace.  Where is grace found in the Sermon on the Mount?  The preponderance of commands—fifty in all, five times more than the Ten Commandments!—might have unwittingly eclipsed grace.  Legalism has several forms.  One form is exceptional focus on law and obedience, suppressing other areas of faith life in the process.  I will let you ruminate about this essential question in the meantime so I don't give away the second sermon.

The series sub-title clues you in on who Jesus' intended audience are, and where he sees his precepts applied.  I won’t leave you hanging three times in a row.  Quite simply, the Sermon on the Mount is for you and me who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, who are citizens of God’s kingdom of grace.  With this, however, comes a vital concern:  Where do non-believers fit in?  What’s in it for them?  Will we be spending umpteen Sabbaths talking among ourselves in a “holy huddle”?  Well, no, but I’ll tell you in the third sermon.

Sisters and brothers, I need you to pray for me as I study, reflect, prepare, and deliver these sermons.  Be my Aaron and Hur.  Pray that the Spirit will come in our midst in mighty ways, changing lives and creating renewed passion to live for God and for others.