Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Judged by Works -- Saved by Faith

Does that statement come across as completely against what you’ve always believed?  Well, not the saved by faith part, but the judged by works part…I mean, we’ve heard all of our lives that it’s not about works.  It’s all about faith, right?  So when I read this headline in the quarterly, I was definitely temporarily stunned.  But only temporarily.

The author of the lesson draws the perfect circle in explanation:
    “That we are judged by works doesn’t mean that we are saved by them; we are saved, instead, only through the righteousness of Jesus, which is credited to us by faith, a faith that is always manifested by works.”
Wow! Isn’t that an amazing explanation?  It’s the circle of life eternal!

These days, judgment is not a politically correct idea.  Nobody’s supposed to be judged at anytime for anything.  (I’m not talking about people judging people, here.)  I’ll bet you’ve talked to someone who believes the “once saved, always saved” doctrine.  That’s kind of a judgment free theory.  No matter how you try to explain that the natural product of salvation is works, that person claims that you are living “under the law” and being legalistic.  In his explanation, no matter what a person does once he’s saved, he cannot be lost…there is not unpardonable sin—once a person is saved.

James would beg to differ.  Read James 2:14-26:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.  You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.  In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
That’s a really long text, I know, but each time I read through it to make it shorter, I couldn’t find anything that was less important and could be left out.  Look also at Matthew 12:36,
 “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  
Does that sound like the things we do don’t count?  God is going to keep track of every word we say, and if He can keep track of every hair on every person’s head, I’m pretty sure He won’t miss anything.

Oh my, when I think about all the things I’ve thought and said and done, that I shouldn’t have…well, it’s overwhelming!  So how can I ever declare myself saved if I’m being judged by my words and deeds?   That’s where faith comes in.  PRAISE GOD!!!  When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us, by faith, God sees His words and deeds, not yours or mine.

Our actions don’t save us, but our salvation shows through our actions.  What if someone that you cared about told you everyday that he (or she) loved you, but then went around town telling people that you were a control freak who never let him do anything he wanted to do.  Would you believe it when that person told you he loved you?  Or, what about this, the person told everyone he met how much he loved you, but when you needed his help, he couldn’t be bothered to stop with his everyday business to help you.  Again, would you believe it when he said he loved you?  I think that’s a lot like accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, but not accepting the conditions (putting on the wedding garment).  Are we accepting God’s invitation and then refusing to wear Christ’s righteousness?  The Bible tells us that our righteousness is like filthy rags, but still we cling to those rags like they were material made of golden thread.  If we insist on presenting our own righteousness to God, we are doomed.  The only thing we have to DO to be saved, is let Jesus dress us in His own beautiful clothes.

Then, we will want to show everyone how much we love the One who died to save us through our words, actions and thoughts.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Commentary on Sabbath School Lesson for 11.27.10

 Have you ever known someone whose life seems like a series of tragedies? Sometimes we look from our secure and comfortable worlds and think things like, “Well, she (or he) just brought that on themselves.  If she’d just…” or “If he hadn’t…”  It’s easy to second guess someone else’s life.

But what if the events really are out of that person’s control?  Things start out bad and just get worse.  There’s a story in the Bible that isn’t mentioned very often about a woman named Rizpah.  What we learn about her life in the couple of chapters that mention her, is pretty awful.

Rizpah is first mentioned in 2 Samuel 3:7 where we find out that she is one of Saul’s concubines.  And before you jump to any snap judgment like, “Well there’s your problem; she was a concubine”, consider this.  It’s more likely that she did not have the opportunity to choose how she spent her life.  It was probably chosen for her, by Saul.  Whether Saul just happened to see her and pick her to be essentially breeding stock, or he conquered her tribe and took her as part of the spoils of war, Rizpah had no choice in the matter at all.  And nobody asked for her opinion.

She isn’t mentioned again in until many years later: “But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, … He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.  Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night.” 2 Samuel 21:7-9

So, Saul is dead and David is king, so she and her children are probably not on the social circuit for the new administration.  But then things get really ugly and two of Rizpah’s sons are chosen for execution whether they were guilty or not, we don’t know.  I don’t believe their guilt or innocence was really that important to Rizpah anyway. 

I think I would be tempted, at that point, to just give up – crawl under the covers and stay there.  Rizpah didn’t do anything like that, though.  She did maybe the most noble and seemingly pointless things she could have done.  She moved out to the place where her sons’ bodies were hanging and stayed with them…not just for a couple of days or even weeks, but for months! 

That must have been horrific in every sense.  First of all, her sons are dead, their bodies are still hanging (people who have died by hanging are especially grotesque because of what happens to their facial features) on display.  Then we’re talking about a warm time of the year and not just two decaying bodies, but seven.
Rizpah stayed with the bodies, while they decomposed, and kept the vultures and crows and whatever other animal would normally have scavenged, away for months!

Why?  It really seems pointless, doesn’t it?  I mean, they were already dead, right?  Keeping the scavengers away from their bodies was not going to change anything, was it?  Why?  What difference was Rizpah’s decision to protect her sons bodies make?

Ya know what?  I don’t know.  I don’t really understand why she felt that was important…but she did it, and she was steadfast in doing it.  And ultimately it wasn’t a totally wasted act.  David finally noticed and agreed to give these seven and Jonathan and Saul honorable burials.

Doesn’t seem like much of a pay-off for spending months of your life guarding your sons’ dead bodies, does it?
I have to say, I’m not really sure why this story is important, except to show that Rizpah never, ever gave up…not even after her sons were dead.  She did what she thought she needed to do.

So, what should we do when life gives us lemons?  Chuck’em at the buzzards – or stand faithfully and wait for Jesus to come and take us home…”He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Obed the Earthling

“Obed the Earthling, Voice of the Inquirer here with a live report from what the locals have taken to calling, ‘Noah’s Folly”.  I’m not sure what this thing, is, but it is absolutely HUGE! I’m going to try to talk to someone.
“Excuse me, sir…SIR!?  What is Noah doing up on that … whatever it is?”
“Ah, well, he says he’s building something called an ARK.  He says God told him to build it…whatever.”
“Well, ladies and gentleman, I’m not at all sure what an ark is, but let me describe for you the scene here.  I am standing at the foot of a massive wooden structure, shaped, from what I can see, like an oblong box.  I see a large opening in the long side nearest me.  I can see Noah, three other men and four women carrying large amounts of food and other supplies in through the opening in the side.  I guess that would be the door.
“And, oddly enough, there are hundreds of people all around.  They’re not working though, they’re chatting with each other, milling around, laughing.  Several people are marching around with messages on signs.  Some of the more industrious folk have set up booths to sell food, water, even souvenirs.  Some others are yelling things to Noah.  Definitely a carnival atmosphere!  I need to get closer to hear what they’re saying. 
“That’s better.  Interesting.  People are shouting a variety of things up to Noah – distinctly unfriendly things.  None of the people on the ark seem to be paying much attention.  Let’s listen.”
“Hey! Noah!  I thought you said we were gonna get wet!”
“What did you say this thing is for?”
“What’s a flood, Noah?”
“Water from the sky?  Come on, Noah!  Who are you kidding?”
“Well ladies and gentlemen, these people don’t seem to be very fond of Noah.  I wonder why there’s so much animosity here?  These folks are really letting Noah have it.  Some folks are making jokes, but others really seem angry.  Let me see if I can find out what’s going on.
“Excuse me, ma’am.  I’ve been listening to some of the things people are shouting up to Noah.  Some of these folks sound angry.  Can you help me understand that?”
“You bet I can!  A hundred and twenty years ago my husband and I heard Noah ‘preaching’ about the ‘end of the world’.  And we bought it, hook, line and sinker.  We sold our land.  My husband quit his job.  Now we have nothing! We believed that water was going to fall out of the sky, that we had to help build this big crate so we’d have some place to go when the water started to get deep.  Well, what really got deep was what Noah was peddling.  My husband and I spent twenty years working on the thing, and what do we have to show for it?  Not a thing!  What a waste of time!  By the time we figured out Noah was crazy, well; …  you’ll notice nobody’s helping him anymore besides his family.  The rest of us have figured out his scam.”
“You mean to tell me that you have been angry with Noah for a hundred years?”
“Absolutely!  He cheated us out of twenty years of our lives.  He made fools of us!  He’s made fools of bunches of people who bought into his scheme.  But we’re all smarter now.  We know the truth.  We come here everyday to make sure that Noah doesn’t forget what he did to us.”
“Why do the others come?”
“You mean the ones who are making fun of Noah?  Oh, they’re just teasing him to be funny, and they don’t have anything better to do.  They think Noah’s crazy.  They don’t know that he’s cheating people out of their lives and chopping down our trees.  That he’s going to steal our animals once he gets this monstrosity built.  He’s crazy alright, crazy like a fox.”
“Wow.  Thank you for your time ma’am.  She seems pretty upset.  Hmmm…a crowd forming over there.  I wonder what that’s all about.  Let’s listen in…”
“…threatenings of God, for no other purpose than intimidating us.  No one needs to be frightened; these things will never ever happen!  God made the earth; He won’t destroy it, and He will never punish the beings that He made.  Don’t worry.  Noah is a fanatic…”
“Oh my.  That guy seems to be really sure of himself.  Now I REALLY need to talk to Noah and get his thoughts on all this.  I’m going to try to push my way up to the ark so I can catch him on his next trip with supplies.
Noah!  Noah!  I’d like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, son, I’m pretty busy, but I’ll chat with ya for a few minutes.  What can I help ya with?
“Sir, I’ve been talking to these folks, and some of them think you’re crazy and others think you’re running some kind of scam.  Talk to me a little from your perspective.”
“My perspective, ya say?  Well, it comes down to just one thing:  the word of my God.  One hundred and twenty years ago, God told me that water was going to fall from the sky and come up out of the earth and that I needed to build this boat to save my family, the animals and anyone who would believe and come into the ark with us.”
“And how many folks are coming with you on the ark so far?”
“So far, my three sons, their wives, my wife, and me.”
“That’s all?”
“There’s still time.  Any who will come are welcome.  Everyday I plead with these folks to join my family and make a commitment to the God of Creation.  I am still prayerfully hoping that others will join us.”
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!  Will you look at that?  There are animals coming out of the forest and moving toward the ark.  And the sound in the air is unbelievable as the birds fly to the ark, more than I can count!  They’re all going right into the ark!  And there goes Noah.  He’s talking to the crowd again.  It sounds almost like he’s begging them to come into the ark.  He really sounds like his heart is breaking.  I almost believe he cares.  The crowd is pretty under-whelmed though.  They’re still laughing and yelling and arguing and picketing.
“Noah is taking his family and going into the ark.  I wonder if anyone will follow them in?”

Friday, November 19, 2010


Comment on Sabbath School Lesson for 11.20.10

Have you ever wanted to get revenge on someone?  to make someone pay for what they’ve done to you?  Is there something in particular you think of when you think of revenge?  I think of the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Captain Kirk discovers Khan stranded on a desert planet where 
“Khan reveals that 15 years earlier, Captain Kirk exiled Khan and his followers to Ceti Alpha V after the genetically-engineered supermen nearly captured the Enterprise. …Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife … and plans to avenge her…”[1]
As the plot progresses, we find out that Khan has spent the better part of the last 15 years plotting his revenge on Kirk.  It has completely consumed every area of his life and it ultimately consumes and destroys not only his life but the lives of all those around him. 

In the classic Alexander Dumas novel, The Count of Monte Cristo,
 “Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor …, returns to Marseille to marry his fiancée Mercédès. Leclère, … An anonymous letter accuses Dantès of being a Bonapartist traitor. Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor …, condemns Dantès without trial to life imprisonment ….”[2]
Dantes spends the next 14 years planning his revenge and then the next many, many years trying to situate himself to carry out his plan. But this story ends differently because Dantes learns forgiveness.

Stories like this don’t just happen in movies and novels, though.  It happens all the time in real life.  If you’ve ever talked to a person who has gone through a bitter divorce, you will often sense a real desire to make the other person pay for the hurt he (or she) has caused.  It’s almost like each person has tunnel vision – neither one of them can think about anything else. 

Matt Woodley of Chicago, Illinois recounts an encounter he had with his friend, Steve:
“Nineteen years ago this guy stole my wife away from me. They got married and moved to Florida while my life unraveled. After I was arrested for assaulting a police officer, this guy smirked through the entire court hearing. When I was convicted, he flipped me the finger. I've hated him for nineteen years. He's coming up here next week, I have a 32-caliber pistol strapped around my ankle, and when I see him I will kill him." Then he chillingly concluded, "I've thought all about it. I'm 63-years-old. I will get a life sentence, but I'll also get free medical and dental and a warm bed and three meals a day. All of this bitterness and resentment feels so right; forgiveness seems weird.”[3]
I believe 19 years counts as premeditation, don’t you?  Anyway, you’ll be relieved to know that Steve changed his mind and chose to forgive the man after all, but we hear on the news everyday about people who have not made that choice.

The Bible also tells us about some folks who chose revenge instead of forgiveness.  Joab is one of those people.  He was King David’s General – he had control of all of David’s fighting men.  During the years when Saul was trying to kill David, Joab stuck right by him.  Somewhere along the way, though, Abner, Saul’s General, ended up killing one of Joab’e brothers in a battle.  That was bad, but things got much worse when Abner switched over to David’s side…Joab could not handle that at all!  As soon as he could, he took his revenge on Abner by killing him, then trying to convince David that he was a traitor.

After that, Joab seems to have become more power-hungry than anything else.  As long as David seemed like the most powerful, Joab was loyal to David (even to the point of carrying out the hit on Uriah), but when David began to look weak in his old age, Joab’s loyalty was all over the place.  Solomon finally stripped him of his office and exiled him because of his collusion with Absalom and Adonijah against both David and Solomon.

It’s not that Joab didn’t know what was right; he did.  He even lectured David about God’s desire for him to show mercy to Absalom.  Joab was one who knew the truth but walked away from it – all for the sake of revenge and power.

Isn’t it a little scary that Joab, a person who knew the truth about God, could become so lost in his own selfish desires.  So lost, in fact, that he eventually he completely lost sight of the “right thing.”  We see almost exactly the same thing happen to Judas.  His bitter, angry spirit heard an insult in almost every interaction.  Following the ancient passive-aggressive pattern for life, Judas never mentioned his  bruised feelings to anyone.  He never asked for any clarification.  He just tucked away each instance in his mind and then replayed them over and over again, until they became the only thing he could see.  Mrs. White describes it this way:
“…his very spirit seemed turned to gall.  Wounded pride and desire for revenge broke down the barriers, and the greed so long indulged held him in control.  This will be the experience of everyone who persists in tampering with sin.  The elements of depravity that are not resisted and overcome respond to Satan’s temptation, and the sould is led captive at his will.”[4]
Do we let ourselves get caught in the same trap?  We file away every perceived slight – “I wasn’t asked to help with VBS this year.”  “The pastor didn’t thank me for the appreciation card I sent.”  “The church board didn’t acknowledge my ideas about…”  Pretty soon, the church family is as fractured as David’s family was.
Let’s ask Jesus to keep our hearts free from that kind of bitterness.

[1]              "Synopsis for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." n.d. IMDb: The Internet Movie Database. 10 November 2010 <>.

[2]              "The Count of Monte Cristo." n.d. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 10 November 2010 <>.
 [3]Woodley, M. (n.d.). Chicago.
[4] White, E.G. Conflict and Courage, Review and Herald

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Are you hearing voices?

If not, maybe you’re not listening hard enough.  I think most of us “hear” two opposing voices all the time.  One of those voices belongs to the serpent who tricked Eve in the Garden, ruining God’s perfect world, and one is the voice of One who created us, loves us and died for us.  From that perspective, you’d think it would be easy to decide to whom we should listen, wouldn’t you?  But it really, really isn’t.  In fact, it seems like most of the time I find myself listening and acting on the wrong one.  In fact, I feel exactly like Paul describes in Romans 7:14-25:
We know that the law is holy. But I am not. I have been sold to be a slave of sin. I don't understand what I do. I don't do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate to do. I do what I don't want to do. So I agree that the law is good. As it is, I am no longer the one who does these things. It is sin living in me that does them.
I know there is nothing good in my sinful nature. I want to do what is good, but I can't. I don't do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don't want to do. I do what I don't want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me.
Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Deep inside me I find joy in God's law. But I see another law working in the parts of my body. It fights against the law of my mind. It makes me a prisoner of the law of sin. That law controls the parts of my body.  What a terrible failure I am! Who will save me from this sin that brings death to my body? I give thanks to God. He will do it through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
So in my mind I am a slave to God's law. But in my sinful nature I am a slave to the law of sin.
So, how do we learn to hear God’s voice over Satan’s?

In Patriarchs and Prophets, pages 52&53, Ellen White says that Adam and Eve weren’t taken by surprise by Satan, that “heavenly messengers” had showed them the war in heaven and had warned them that Satan would be out to get them, but that if they followed God’s rules, they would be safe from him.  “While they were obedient to God, the evil one could not harm them; for, if need be, every angel in heaven would be sent to their help.”  I hadn’t really thought about that before.  Another thing I just learned is that Satan wasn’t allowed to chase them around the Garden to tempt them; he could only stay in that one tree.  Thinking about it now, it seems like it should have been pretty easy to stay out of trouble…they knew what to expect and where to expect it, and they still walked right into trouble.  We haven’t gotten any better over the years have we?  God has told us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  And what do we do?  We douse ourselves thoroughly with raw hamburger; walk right up to him and say, “Howdy!”  God must just shake his head, roll his eyes, and wonder… “What are they thinking?” 

He must cry as well.  Can you imagine the heartbreak He felt as He watched Eve and then Adam take bites of the fruit?  Sure, He knew they would, but when it happened for real, it must have torn His heart out.  I don’t think it gets any easier for Him as we trip, stumble, fall, crash into things and make fools of ourselves as we try to keep ourselves from sinning. 

It should be so easy!  You just tune your ear to God, and you’ll be fine.  Right?

Yeah, sure.  Six thousand years sinning have brought each of us to the point that it’s just easier to hear the lies that Satan tells, than the truth of Jesus.  Satan is free to chase us around and tempt us all the time.   We can be doing really well, walking in Christ, doing what we should be doing, and BANG!  Satan will put a thought in our minds that has nothing to do with anything, but we entertain that thought for just a micro-second…and  he has us.  Satan uses the same tricks with us that he used with Eve.  He takes the gifts that God has given us and uses them against us.  Satan appealed to Eve’s “physical, aesthetic and intellectual nature.”  He approaches each of us in the same way and because we have given ourselves over to those natures and forgotten our heavenly natures we almost can’t help but sin.

There is hope though.  God promised back there in the Garden that He would stand with us against evi,l that He would never leave us to face Satan alone.  Unfortunately, even though He never leaves us, we are always wandering away from Him.  Part of that is another inheritance from Adam and Eve.  After they sinned, they tried to hide from God because they had an “overpowering sense of sin and a dread of the future.”  So, they hid.  But they were also hiding from themselves.  When we sin we separate ourselves from God and from who God created us to be.  We, like Adam and Eve, try to sidestep the responsibility of our sin and place it on someone or something else because we are trying to avoid seeing how sinful we have become.  Amazingly enough, though, God knows, and He loves us anyway.  All He’s waiting for us to do is to turn to Him and ask for His help and forgiveness.  As soon as we do that He’ll wrap us in His arms and tell us He loves us and how much He’s missed us. 

So, whose voice are we listening for?  Jesus voice isn’t loud or pushy and so many things out there scream louder – work, school, radio, TV, newspapers, families, friends, shopping, even relaxing.  It’s really, really hard for me to turn all those things down so that I can hear “the still small voice” that I need to listen to.  I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t give up when I don’t listen the first, or the thousandth time He tries to teach me.  I’m thankful that He’s patient, more patient than I deserve, when I fall over the same sin time and time again.  I feel blessed that He loves me so much that He gave up His life so that I could live with Him.  I’m looking forward to walking with Him through the heavenly garden like Adam and Eve walked through Eden with Him.  And, can you imagine, Jesus is looking forward to that too.  I want to hear Jesus talking to me face to face someday, but for now, I will listen to His still small voice – the Voice of Truth.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Commentary for Sabbath School Lesson dated November 13, 2010

“In SPY: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America, author David Wise tells of his exclusive meetings with Dr. David Charney, the psychiatrist who evaluated Hanssen.
“During his years of spying, Hanssen received $1.4 million from the Russians. Of the possible motives for betraying his country, Hanssen pointed to "financial pressure." According to Charney, Hanssen wanted money for one reason: to assure his wife that he was not a failure.
“Dr. Charney commented: 'Bonnie [Hanssen's wife] was the one person who brought life into his life.
She was the last person he would want to think he was a failure. He reached to prove to her he was a good provider and good husband. So that when she would express wishes for various things, he would always buy them for her.
“'He felt it was necessary to sustain his image in her eyes as successful.
“'That put him into a financial corner, because he agreed to take on various financial burdens, by buying a house out of his reach financially, in Scarsdale. It's not that it's wrong to say that he did it for the money; you have to go deeper and ask why he wanted the money. Why did Bob Hanssen get into a corner financially? Because he had to keep up his reputation with his wife. Because that was the one person in the world whose opinion mattered.'
“Ironically, Bonnie was not the sort to place burdensome financial demands on her husband. According to Charney, Hanssen did not blame her; he blamed himself.”1
What makes someone change sides? Did Robert Hanssen believe he was doing the right thing that just happened to pay him very, very well? Or did he realize he was doing something terrible, but was able to rationalize what he was doing to make it seem right? Is there ever a good reason for betrayal? Is it still betrayal if you really believe what you're doing is the right thing to do?

Abiathar and King David had something important in common with one another: they both managed to survive their association with Saul and his emotional instability. Abiathar was the only survivor when Saul ordered all of the priests who supported David to be killed. David survived years of Saul trying to kill him. Each of them could probably relate quite well to the other's experience. And knowing that Abiathar had almost been assassinated because of integrity in the face of death, David probably felt secure in his continued loyal service. Abiathar did serve God and David extremely well for years...but then, something changed.
“Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, 'I will be king.' So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. … Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support.” 1 Kings 1:5,7
Why? After all the years, why did Abiathar change his allegiance from David to David's son, Adonijah? After all the years of hearing and recognizing God's voice, why did Abiathar suddenly do something so out of character? Did he really believe God was with Adonijah? Or did he just think God should have been? Or, had he been David's faithful side-kick for so long, that he thought he deserved some recognition finally?
Tragically, Abiathar chose poorly. Adonijah's bid for the throne collapsed and Abiathar was removed from the priesthood (he should have been put to death for treason).

What do you think had to be going on in Abiathar's mind that could make betraying David ok? Did Adonijah offer him some kind of payment or position in his court if he became king? Or did he figure that Adonijah was going to be successful so being on the winning side was the most important thing? We don't know, but maybe Adonijah threatened him, saying that if he didn't go with him, he'd kill him.

What about you and me, what would cause us to change sides? Don't answer too quickly. Remember that everyone of the disciples swore they would follow Jesus no matter where He led, ended up running away or actively betraying Him.

Is our loyalty for sale -- if Satan offered a seemingly better deal? Is comfort and success in the present worth more than eternal life with Jesus? Satan can make his offer look pretty sweet...what is salvation and living with Jesus worth to you?

Well, what was your salvation worth to Jesus?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphasis mine)
For the joy set before Him”, Jesus gave up everything. We are the joy that was set before Him...He gave up everything so that we could be with Him for eternity. What are we willing to give up to be with Him? Can we look past the luxuries and comforts of everyday life to the day when we will see Jesus face to face? Or is there something today that seems more important right now?

Are we willing to set aside what we think is important today for an eternity with Jesus? Are we willing to say, like the song “I've Fixed My Mind On Another Time” by David Huntsinger: “Even so Lord come quickly, this is my fervent prayer. For I've caught a glimpse of glory and I'm longing to be there.”

Are you longing to be there?

1David Wise, SPY : The Inside Story of How The FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America (Random House, 2002)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We’re Descended from Monkeys

Do you believe that?  If you do, do you remember when you figured out whether you believed in creation or evolution?  I have to say I was pretty much grown.  Somehow, for my whole childhood, I held parallel truths.  I had been taught evolution at school and creation at church.  I’d seen Walt Disney’s Fantasia and hadn’t noticed anything wrong with it.  Then, one day, it hit me.  They can’t both be true.  As soon as I realized that, though, the rest was easy.  I knew that I believed in Creation.  And sometimes, even though my belief has never wavered, it has landed me in some uncomfortable spots.  When I taught, one of the units in the 4th grade curriculum was “Dinosaurs”.  Thankfully it was a unit in reading, not in science, but it still produced some challenges.  How does one stand in front of 25 4th graders and “teach” something, in which you don’t believe.  I was not allowed to present an opposing theory.  And I absolutely refused to use any sentence containing “millions of years” in it without making sure no one thought I believed that. 

I made it through.  I must say I made it a very short unit.  I managed to always preface what I considered the “lies” with disclaimers like, “some people believe,” or “according to this story” and so forth.  Things were going pretty well, I thought, until one day one of my students raised her hand and asked, “But Mrs. Lopez, what do you believe?”  I tried, “This isn’t about what I believe; let’s read on” along with several other deflections, but she would not be sidetracked.  I finally shrugged, took a deep breath and told the class what I believed.  Then I waited to be called into the principal’s office because I had discussed **gasp** creationism in a public school classroom.  I was amazed though; nothing more ever popped up.

I don’t believe my own kids have ever not known what I believe.  They were both dinosaur freaks, much to my frustration.  Their obsession, though, gave us lots and lots (!) of opportunities to discuss both evolution and creationism even before they were old enough for school.  I wasn’t sure if they were getting it, until one day one of them came home with a story entitled, “Archaeopteryx and other evolutionary malarkey”.  In which, he proceeded to debunk evolutionary theory.  I was really proud of him for having the guts to write a dissenting opinion in the 3rd grade.  God had made sure the message was getting through.  What a relief!

Do you think people who believe in creation view life, the world and everything, differently than people who believe in evolution?

Hey, if creation is intelligent design, would that make evolution, Stupid Design?  I’m just askin’. 

Do you think these different beliefs make people act in different ways? 

I heard someone (sorry, can’t remember who) theorize once that we could trace the loosening morals of America to the Scopes trial and evolution being taught in public school.  I’m pretty sure loosening morals go on back to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, but this person’s theory did have some good points.  The main one being that, if a person thinks of themselves as just a highly functioning animal, then his/her actions will reflect that.  Reasoning becomes less important than instincts and feelings.  Truth becomes relative.  What’s right becomes anything that feels good…to me.  And wrong becomes anything that I don’t like.  Emotions rule our everyday lives, and restraint almost never comes into play.  Everyday is all about what we want; how we feel; what we deserve.  When we think this way, our world becomes smaller and smaller.  Water circling a drain. 

This belief system then affects everything about me – I’m not responsible for my thoughts or actions because I’m just doing what comes naturally. 

You probably know people who are searching for meaning in a life without God.  That’s not something I’ve ever experienced, so I don’t know what it’s like, but it seems like it would be a hopeless way to live.  Maybe I’m wrong; I don’t know.

But I do know this:  I believe in a loving and creative God, and I’m not just a tailless monkey.  Psalm 8:5 tells me, “For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.”  That verse is telling me exactly where I belong in the classification system of heaven! 

What a relief!  We’re not just a little higher than the monkeys; we’re a little lower than the angels.  We’re NOT genetic accidents; we are the sons and daughters of God.  And that makes all the difference!  We are the children of a God who loves us so much that He’s been counting the days until we can be together forever since Eve took her first bite of forbidden fruit.

Which would you rather believe?  I’d rather believe that I carry “the fingerprints of God.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heroes R not Us

Commentary for the Sabbath School Lesson for November 6, 2010

I was just sitting here thinking, about what defines a hero these days. And, of course, the very first thing that happened was I got Bonnie Tyler’s 1984 hit, “Holding Out for a Hero” stuck in my head. The second thing that happened, though, was I started trying to figure out just what makes a person a hero. According to ten students at UC-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, “Webster's New World Pocket Dictionary defines a hero as a strong, brave person. Students thought that a hero should represent courage, strength, humility, and advancing the greater good.”1

How would you define a hero? It seems like hero can mean a number or different things to as many different people. We often use the term ‘hero’ almost flippantly. If someone brings you a glass of iced water when you’re hot and sweaty, you might say to that person, “You’re my hero.!” The hero in the Bonnie Tyler song is someone to date. We call professional athletes heroes. We even have a game called “Guitar Hero” and it has nothing to do with any kind of heroic action.

So, what do you think? Who could you pick out of a line up, saying, “Now that’s a hero!”? Is being a hero a one-time thing or is it more of a lifetime of touch choices? What would a person need to do to be considered a hero? Who would fit?

Before you answer, let me throw another, seemingly very different definition at you: “A boy doesn't have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn't like pie when he sees there isn't enough to go around.”2 

What do you think? Does that description make our job harder or easier? Let’s look at some folks who are considered to be Bible heroes and see if they fit what we think a hero is.
What about King David; does he fit our picture of a hero? I think almost all of us answer an almost immediate and resounding, “YES!” But once there was a man who out heroed David on every level; his name was Uriah – Uriah the Hittite.

David was behaving in a very un-hero-like way during that time. It was during that whole ugly Bathsheba episode. David was in a downward spiral trying to cover up what should never have happened and what couldn’t be hidden. And Uriah just wouldn’t follow the script.

David still thought he could control the out-come his situation. When he realized Bathsheba was pregnant he had to come up with a way for that baby not to be linked to him. In the days before paternity tests and DNA, David figured all he had to do was make sure Uriah could reasonably be considered the father of the baby. So he called for Uriah to come back from the battle, thinking that Uriah would at least hang out with his own wife for a little while…but he didn’t. He wouldn’t!
“When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.  Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house and wash your feet.’ So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him.  But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master's servants and did not go down to his house.
“When David was told, ‘Uriah did not go home,’ he asked him, ‘Haven't you just come from a distance? Why didn't you go home?’
“Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord's men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!’
“Then David said to him, ‘Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back. So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next.  At David's invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master's servants; he did not go home.” 2 Samuel 11:7-13
Cornered, David gives his master plan one last shot: He gives a note to Uriah to carry to Joab telling Joab to make sure Uriah gets killed in battle. Uriah carries his own death sentence.

I wonder if Uriah ever suspected something weird was going on. Do you think at some point Uriah wondered why David kept insisting he go home to his wife? Do you think he took a little peek at the letter to Joab?’

If Uriah never suspected anything was fishy, is he still a hero?

What makes someone a hero? Knowing he (or she) is walking into a trap and going in anyway? Or living a life that so laced with integrity that being honorable comes as naturally as breathing?

Kevin Miller, a pastor from Wheaton, Illinois gives us an idea:
“In Ephesians 6:14-18, Paul writes: ‘Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.’
“Sadly, there are a lot of Christians who wish Paul had written the following words instead: ‘Lay back and relax, then, with the belt of evasion buckled loosely around your waist, with the breastplate of defensiveness in place, and with your feet fitted with the pluralism that offends no one. In addition to all this, take up the shield of grudges, with which you can hold on tightly to hurts and slights. Take the helmet of entitlement and the bludgeon of the flesh, which is the word of anger. And air what's been done to you on all occasions, with all kinds of criticisms and complaints.’”3

1 The Hero Chronicles,
3 Kevin Miller, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, Wheaton, Illinois

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stand Up

Ya know, I can think of two very different kinds of heroes. The first is the fireman who runs into a burning building or the soldier who throws himself on top of a grenade and saves the lives of his buddies. (I’m using the generic “he” here, meaning he or she.) It takes someone special to be that kind of hero, someone who is brave, loyal, and impulsive. His parents probably said over and over again, “Doesn’t that child think before he acts?” And the answer is, probably not. That’s part of why he is able to do what he does. I could never be that kind of a hero. I’d look at that grenade and think, “Ooh, I bet that would hurt.” And then step behind the nearest tree. The people who can act instantly and purposefully and accomplish what others could not or would not do are amazing and necessary people. God has given them each a truly special gift.
There is another type of hero, though. This is the person who after careful and thoughtful planning makes the move that almost always leads, if not to death, then to general unpleasantness. History books are full of these kinds of heroes.
If you were raised in Texas, more specifically, San Antonio, you’ve heard the story of the Battle of the Alamo thousands of times. Whatever historians say about their motives, those men believed in something so strongly that they stayed and fought, knowing how it would end. I also think of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the guys the book/movie, Glory, was written about. They were the first black regiment formed in the Civil War. If you don’t know the story, rent the movie. What a story of courage. You can probably think of others. I’d be interested in hearing about them.
The Bible also has stories of men and women who believed in something so strongly that they were willing to accept whatever consequences came. Think about Stephen. He stood before the Pharisees and, in the face of false witnesses, spoke calmly and with the authority of truth, knowing all the while exactly what would happen when he stopped talking. If I were in his situation, I think I would have just kept talking…like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Then I thought of Samson, after he was captured and blinded, performing his last feat of strength knowing that he would be killed along with the Philistines. The Apostles and all the early Christians knew that believing in Christ as the Messiah could get them killed in some hideously painful ways.
Jesus, himself, falls into that category. He knew before He created us that He would end up giving His life for us. And He created us anyway. Can you imagine?
How do we get to the point where we can choose to stand bravely for what we believe in no matter what it costs us? I’m not sure I know. I think that we have to start by making little, seemingly insignificant choices along the way. Then “the big choice” is one more in a long line of choices that have now formed the foundations for our lives. Sometimes, though, the day-to-day choices we make just don’t seem that important, and maybe most of them aren’t. But how will we know which ones are the important ones?
Think about it, how often do we choose to watch TV or study our Sabbath School lesson or read something that will bring us closer to Christ? Do we hold back a little tithe and/or offering because we’re a little short this month? Do we choose to sleep in Sabbath morning, or come to Sabbath School? One by one, these choices don’t seem like that big a deal. The world won’t stop if we choose to sleep in next Sabbath morning. What difference do little choices like these make in the long run. Well, read through this e-mail I got just today. (What a coincidence.) Now whoever started this e-mail claims it is true and happened at USC. Whether it really happened or not, I think it will illustrate the importance of building on a solid foundation of choosing God.

There was a professor of philosophy [at USC], who was a deeply committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester proving that God couldn’t exist. His students were afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. Some had argued with him in class from time to time, but no one had ever really gone head to head in a debate with him because of his reputation. On the last day of every semester, he would say to his class of 300 students, “If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up! If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, and yet He can’t do it.” And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. No one ever challenged him. Maybe most of the students agreed with him, but certainly, a number of Christians had to have slipped through…quietly, without drawing any attention to them selves. For twenty years, they had all been too afraid to stand up.
Finally, a freshman came along who was a Christian. He had heard the stories of about this professor, and he was afraid. Every morning for that whole semester, he prayed that he would have the courage to stand up, no matter what the professor said or the class thought. Nothing they said could ever shatter his faith…he hoped.
Finally, the last day of class came. The professor walked to the front of the class and said, “Is there anyone here who still believes in God, stand up!” The professor and the class of 300 people looked at him, shocked, as he stood up at the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, “You FOOL!!! If God existed, He would keep this piece of chalk from breaking when it hit the ground.” He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleat of his pants, down his leg, and off the toe his shoe. From there it simply rolled away, unbroken. The professor’s jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man, and then ran out of the lecture hall. The young man who had stood, proceeded to walk to the front of the room and share his faith in Jesus for the next half hour. Three hundred students stayed and listened as he told of God’s love for them and of His power through Jesus.
Will you …