Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Be Or Not To Be

I'm trying to figure out the difference between getting ready and being ready.  I have to admit I've never really thought about it like that before.

Is it possible to spend your whole life getting ready for Jesus to come and still not be ready when the time comes?  That's a really scary thought!  I've spent most of my life "getting ready" for Jesus to come again.  Have I been wasting my time?  Is it a process or a decision?

I think maybe it's both.  (I always like issues where I can sit squarely on the fence.)

We've all heard the phrase, "All dressed up and no place to go."  I think that might be how the foolish virgins felt in the parable.  All the virgins spent time GETTING ready, but when it came right down to it, only half of them actually WERE ready.  All the virgins LOOKED ready to anyone who happened to be watching.  So, what made the wise virgins take that extra step and bring extra oil?  In the long run, it wasn’t all the getting ready that made the difference; it was the decision to bring extra oil. And, to what can we compare that most important step in our own lives?

I think it all comes down to Psalm 46:10 (NIV) "Be still, and know that I am God; …”  I think at some point we have to stop running around doing things to get ready and just believe that we are God’s.

The Pharisees thought they had it all figured out, didn’t they?  They figured that if 10 rules were good, more would be great!  Well, that turned out to be way too much of a good thing.  They wrapped themselves up in all these guidelines so that they felt comfortable.  They felt that as long as they were following the rules, they were in good shape.  But the Pharisees forgot one thing...why they started keeping all these rules in the first place — to try to stay close to God. Oh, maybe the first generation, the folks who had originally come up with the rules knew and understood, but the generations after that just knew the rules.  They didn’t really meet God, not on any personal level anyway.  For the Pharisees, the trip (the rules) became more important than the destination (a relationship with God).  They were working so hard to be good enough to get to Heaven, that they forgot where they wanted to go.

I think the same thing happens with a lot of 2nd and 3rd  generation Adventists.  We know all the does and don’ts, we sing the right songs, quote the right texts.  We know what to eat and not eat and what to drink and not drink.  We’re comfortable in our rules, going through the motions.

Can we, as cultural Adventists, become saved Christians without traveling the Damascus Road?

Well this is truly a case of, “It’s not what you know but WHO you know that makes a difference.

Or hiding in your comfy shell of rules?

And then think about this. We hear someone’s testimony.  The person has come from the dark side of life into the Light of Jesus and salvation and we feel kind of cheated.  We’ve grown up with the trappings of righteousness, but we’ve never experienced that “Road to Damascus” conversion.  We start to wonder if we’ve missed out.   Are those people closer to God that we are?  Are they more saved?
Think about the parable of the Prodigal Son...think about the older brother.   Hmmm.    Then think about this, what if the person coming back was your brother (or sister).  Would your resent them or rejoice that they had come home?  

Friday, December 24, 2010

God’s Perfect Gift

I touched those perfect, tiny hands, curled and warm, as I swaddled Him in soft, clean cloth.  His bright grey eyes studied me as I drank in every detail of his face.  I wanted to make sure that I remembered every moment of this night.  His eyelids drooped sleepily, and I wondered, “Is this really my son?  God’s son?  He’s so soft and warm in my arms.  Can this tiny being be anything at all besides on ordinary baby?  Is He really the Messiah?  The Savior of the world?  How do I do this, God?  Please help me.”

So many times as He grew, I felt His small hand slip into mine.  I would look at Him and see His flashing, brown eyes watching me, so full of love and trust that I wa s overwhelmed.  Each time I looked into His eyes, questions flooded my mind.  “Does He know?  Does He understand?  He seems like a regular boy.  Am I doing this right?  What if I make a mistake?  Please God, help me.”

Then, the secret fear I had carried in my heart for twelve years became a crushing reality.  He was missing!  “NO!” I cried to both Joseph and God.  “They can’t have Him yet.  It’s too soon!  He’s too young.  It isn’t time…I’m not ready.” 

“Not yet, God. Not yet,” I prayed over and over again, all the while Joseph and I looked for Him.  I don’t believe I ever stopped crying or praying.  Finally, after three heartbreaking, terrifying days, we found Him.  There He was, in the Temple.  When I saw Him, saw that He was safe; I was so relieved that my knees went weak.  I started to be angry with Him. “How could He have done this to me, to Joseph?  What a thoughtless child!”  I took His hand firmly in mine, to lead Him away and home.  At just that moment, I saw His eyes.  Those solemn, brown eyes, so wise.  And what I saw in them took my breath away.  He knew.  In that instant, I realized that He understood, and the knowing had changed Him.  “Now what do I do, God?  Does He still need me?  I still need Him.  How do I go on from today?  Please God, help me.”

After that day, time just flew by.  He was a little boy and then I turned around and He was leaving home.  He said it was time for Him to begin His mission.  I could never have imagined how hard it was to say goodbye.  I knew He had to go; He had a job to do, but every time I thought how far away from home He would be going and what the angel had said, I wasn’t sure I could stand it. 

I actually did survive that goodbye and gradually my life went back to normal, mostly.  It’s funny, though, how things happen sometimes, isn’t it?  To fill some of the emptiness, I agreed to help a friend with a wedding.  It was good to be busy.  And then I looked up from the table, and there He stood.  Oh! It was so good to see Him, to just be in the same place at the same time.  Things were going so well, and then we heard that the host had run out of wine.  The wedding would be ruined!  How awful for the bride!  I hurried over to Him and asked His advice.  I couldn’t remember when He’d gotten so tall.  I told Him what had happened and asked for His help.  His response was sharper than I’d expected.  But He took my hand and His penetrating, brown eyes softened as if to say, “But for you mother, I will.”  Instantly, I knew.  I understood.  He had outgrown me.  It wasn’t mine to do anymore.  “Please God, help me.”

The next time I looked into His beautiful brown eyes, they were so clouded with pain that I had to struggle for breath.  He bore a pain I could not ease with a touch; pain I could  not kiss away.  His hands were covered with blood from the nails that held Him on the cross.  He was looking down at me and telling His friend John to watch over me.  I couldn’t stand it!  Even at that moment, in that pain, He knew.  He understood that I could not go through this by myself.  “Please God, help me.”

Not long after that, I held those gentle, life-giving hands again, only now they were cold and stiff.  I cleaned the blood away and gently wrapped Him in soft, clean cloth.  His loving, brown eyes were closed.  I gently ,took off that hideous crown.  My hot tears ran down over His face.  “This is my son,” I thought.  I hadn’t been ready for this.  My heart couldn’t possibly keep beating while my son lay dead in my arms.  “Please God, help me.”

And now, I look, once more, into my son’s victorious eyes.  My son? God’s son; my Savior.  He was dead and now He lives.  I look at His scarred hands and at last I know.  I finally understand.  He has done what no one else could do.  He has conquered sin and death.  Because He lives, someday I will open my eyes and meet His limitless gaze.  I will take his nail-pierce hands and stand with the redeemed as we sing praises to Him.  Now I know; I understand.  He did it all for me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swimming Upstream

I feel like I’ve been swimming upstream for most of my life.  Some times have been less strenuous than others, but there has always been some “unpopular position” between me and the rest of my world.  The first, and probably the most important, one was the Sabbath.  The Sabbath has always been something to explain to new people... bosses, teachers, even friends.  Then there was the no jewelry thing and the no pork or seafood thing.  As I grew up I ran into the no alcoholic beverages thing...that’s a really hard concept for folks to understand!  And then the biblical morality  that people think are just silly and old fashioned.  I’ve also run into the evolution vs. creationism wall, the state of the dead and Christ’s second coming.  And now I read about this Antiochus guy is supposed to fulfill the little horn prophecy.  I had no idea!

Is it at all odd, then, that I feel like I don’t fit in most places?  What about you?  Do you ever feel like a misfit, even among people you know very well, maybe even your own family?

Abraham did.  In Genesis, God told him,
“...Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, …” Genesis 15:13  
I know in the context of the verse, God was talking about Canaan, but I think it applies to us as well.  We are strangers here.  A lot of people don’t get us at all.  We’re out of step not with just non-Christians, but often with other Christians as well.

Why do you think that is?  I’ve thought about it quite a bit, trying to figure out why it seems so much easier to believe a lie that to believe the truth.   I think, as humans, we try to pick the path of least resistance; we want to go with the crowd as much as possible.  The problem is, going along with the crowd, in any circumstance, doesn’t take any thought on our part.  We fall into the “herd mentality” and just follow along.  No thinking, just following, right over the edge of the cliff, just like lemmings.

I believe that God doesn’t want a herd following Him.  He wants thoughtful, thinking people who come to Him not because they don’t know any better, not because it’s easy, and not because it’s what everybody else is doing; but because we have weighed all the other options and looked at all the proof and made a careful, educated, logical decision. 

Romans 12:2 says, 
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  
Hmmmm…  Does that mean that we’re to be non-conformists? 

As far as the sinful world is concerned, I think so.  If you look at Jesus’ life here on earth, he didn’t really fit in, did He?  Not with the church leaders, not with the political leaders, not even with His own brothers.  He spent everyday fighting the battle, walking against the crowd.  That took courage, strength, energy and amazing love.

So, when you feel like you can’t keep swimming against the current, remember that Jesus is right there swimming with you.  He’ll give you His courage, His strength, His energy, and His amazing love — His paddle.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Tragedy of Almost

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 12.18.10

“A fascinating study done by Professor Vicki Medvec reveals the relative importance of subjective attitudes over and above objective circumstances. Medvec studied Olympic medalists and discovered that bronze medalists were quantifiably happier than silver medalists. Here's why: Silver medalists tended to focus on how close they came to winning gold, so they weren't satisfied with silver; bronze medalists tended to focus on how close they came to not winning a medal at all, so they were just as happy to be on the medal stand.”[1]
How do you feel about coming in second – being almost best?  Maybe once or twice isn’t too bad, but what about time after time?  What if you had to spend all your time with the person who always comes in first or actually worked for that person?  A man named Gehazi experienced just that.
Do you remember him?  Gehazi was the faithful side-kick of Elisha, and he really was faithful for a long time.  But somewhere along the way, something changed.  By the time Naaman came to see Elisha, Gehazi must really have been feeling the sting of being second.
“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.’
“The prophet answered, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.’ And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
“‘Go in peace,’ Elisha said. …
“After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, ‘My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.’
“So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked.
“‘Everything is all right,’ Gehazi answered. ‘My master sent me to say, “Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.”’  2 Kings 5:15-22
Why?  Why do you think Gehazi did that?  I can’t imagine it was the first time Elisha had refused gifts of gratitude from people who he had helped.  What made this time different?
Maybe it was because Naaman wasn’t a Jew.  Maybe it was the amount of the reward.  Maybe it was just the cumulative effect of all the rewards that Elisha had turned down before?  Think about it.  Elisha and Gehazi had been traveling and working together for years.  Prophets don’t seem to have lived lavish, or even comfortable lives and there goes Elisha turning down another gift that, to Gehazi’s mind, would have taken some of the discomfort out of their daily activities.  And he snapped.  He wasn’t going to watch that wealth ride away with Naaman.
It was a similar issue that caused Judas to “turn to the dark side” too, wasn’t it?  In fact, there are several similarities between Judas and Gehazi.  I don’t know how long Gehazi and Elisha had been working together, but it seems to have been several years.  Judas traveled with Jesus for over 3 years.  Both Elisha and Jesus performed all kinds of miracles.  Both Jesus and Elisha lived simply, focused on serving others.  Both Judas and Gehazi seemed to be getting the message.  They went through the motions anyway.  And then, one day, greed got them in trouble.
I believe it was more than just simple greed though.  I think it was a lack of respect for the person in the number 1 spot.  It seems like both Gehazi and Judas somehow were getting the wrong message:  instead of seeing the selfless service and caring of Jesus and Elisha, they began to reinterpret their position as “handler” rather than companion. 
Companion and handler may look the same in many ways, but different in one crucial area.  A handler is someone who monitors and maybe even corrects the behavior of the person he (or she) handles.  A very subtle sense of superiority creeps into the relationship and the handler begins to see himself as actually the most important person involved, making it easier for him to begin to lose his sense of awe at the greatness of the other person.  From there it’s a short hop to believing that he should really be the one making the decisions and wielding the power. 
“The heart not given entirely to the control of Jesus Christ has a door open for Satan to enter, and the archdeceiver weaves about the soul ingenious apologies in performing its hidden purposes of evil. All these excuses and pretensions are seen of God, and are as spiderwebs in the eyes of Him who never slumbers or sleeps. Oh, how readily will the human soul find poor and wretched excuses to deceive and cover up its own course of evil, which it pursues. There is an exact judge who weigheth actions. He cannot be deceived, neither can He be mocked. He will one day strike off the covering, unveil the conscience, and sweep away these excuses as smoke.”[2]
Do we sometimes think we know better than God – that we should take control of our own lives?  That’s exactly where the enemy wants us.  Beware…

[1] Mark Batterson, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day(Multnomah, 2006), p. 68

[2] E.G. White, Christ Triumphant, page 171

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It’s NOT All About Me?

Do you think it’s possible to think of the judgment as a positive thing?

Good question!  When I was growing up, “the judgment” was not portrayed in a very positive light.  In fact, it was usually explained very, very negatively – as a truly scary prospect, in fact!  So, is the judgment something good or bad?

We tend to think of the judgment as being about us:  God looking down on us, making tally marks in a big ledger, waiting for us to mess up so He can zap us for our sin.  But that isn’t true…that’s just one of Satan’s lies.  That lie is so prevalent though that I believe I hear it, in some for or another, almost every day in some off-hand comment from a co-worker or from TV. 

Remember, though, that we aren’t alone.  The universe is peopled with other created beings who are watching each and every move in this eternal chess game between God and Satan.   But why are they interested?  Why do they care what happens on this little speck of dust in the galaxy?  Are they looking to see which one of us can work hard enough to get to heaven?  Are these other beings watching to make sure we all get what’s coming to us for screwing up the balance of the universe?  I don’t think so…      

The beings of the universe aren’t watching us to make sure that we get credit or punishment for every little thing we’ve done or not done.

The universe is watching God.

Ever since Lucifer got uppity and decided that anything God could do, he could do better (or at least as well), he’s been telling anyone who would listen that God is a mean, arbitrary, uncaring god with nothing better to do than make sure nobody has any fun.  Satan has been lying to people on the earth for seven thousand years…unfortunately a lot of people have been believing him for that same amount of time.  And we know from experience that it is so much easier to believe a lie than to believe the truth.  I think part of the reason is that we hear the lies sooooo much more often!  I think that’s Satan’s main marketing ploy.  “Head On; Apply directly to the forehead.”  Repetition is powerful!

So all the while Satan has been telling lies about God, what has God been doing?  Have you ever been caught between two people who are trying to convince you that they are telling the truth?  You’ve got the eye rolling, the outraged facial expressions and then you’ve got both people talking louder and louder trying to out-talk each other.  Just imagine Judge Judy or Judge Mathis or some other daytime courtroom show.   All that yelling!  YIKES!!

Well, thankfully, God does NOT play that game!  Ever since the lies started, God has been quietly, lovingly, and persistently demonstrating the Truth to all the beings of the universe.

Yes, the universe is watching earth, but not to see us.  Everyone is watching God…and, dare we say it…judging God’s final dealings with Satan and his lies.  We are the tools by which God will finally show that He is completely loving and completely just; that He has given everyone a chance to love and follow Him.  He hasn’t scared or threatened anyone into serving Him.  He’s continued to love us so much that He gave His own Son so that we could spend eternity with Him.

No it’s not all about me…THANK GOD! (literally)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dangerous Faith

Commentary on Sabbath School Lesson for 12.11.10

Sometimes you come across a story in the Bible that just doesn’t make any sense from our decadent postmodern perspective.  One of those situations, for me anyway, is the story of the widow of Zarephath and Elijah.
“So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, ‘Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?’  As she was going to get it, he called, ‘And bring me, please, a piece of bread.’
“‘As surely as the LORD your God lives,’ she replied, ‘I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.’”  1 Kings 17:10-12
Okay, so, let’s think about this for a minute.   Now I realize that my point of view is completely “first world” (as opposed to third world), western hemisphere, postmodern, but I’m pretty sure that if a man I didn’t know walked up to me and asked me for anything, I mostly likely would make some excuse and back away as quickly as possible.
Add to that the fact that widow and her son were starving.  Not, “when are we eating, I’m starving” starving, but really, “this is my last food on the planet and I hope my child dies before I do or he’ll be left alone with no one to take care of him until he dies” starving.  And I don’t believe that most of us can even imagine that kind of hunger. 
I know there are places in the world where people still die of malnutrition, but those places seem very far away.  I have never had to look into my child’s little face and explain that this one piece of bread was all  we were going to have to eat until tomorrow, knowing that there wouldn’t be anything to eat at all tomorrow.
If someone asked for some of what we had, I might share with them if I knew them, but the widow didn’t know Elijah at all.  She’d never seen him before.  She might have been thinking that it wouldn’t make that much of a difference if she divided the bread three ways instead of two…but that’s not what Elijah wanted.
“Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.’” 1 Kings 17:13
Wait, what?  She just told him that was all that stood between her and her son and death, and Elijah wants it?  I know, I’d like to believe that I would have done what he asked, but I live in a world where most folks don’t even stop to put a few coins in  the Salvation Army bucket, never mind giving anything to a random stranger who happens to walk up to us and ask us for money.
But wait, you say, Elijah promised the widow that ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.’” 1 Kings 17:14
If I didn’t know you (and maybe even if I did), you could probably insist all day long that God had told you something,…but I’m not sure I would ever believe it.  But this is where this widow did an amazing thing!  She did exactly what Elijah asked her to do.  She went home, cooked that final bread and gave it to Elijah.
Did the jars of oil and flour looked empty, or did they ever look full?  Or did they always have just enough to make three little loaves of bread and no more?  Do you think the widow kept walking back over and rechecking the jars to make sure she hadn’t imagined seeing flour and oil in them?  Did the widow ever consider maybe cooking some extra bread and selling the bread to make some extra money along the way?  Apparently, if she was tempt, she didn’t give in. 
“Wonderful was the hospitality shown to God’s prophet by this Phoenician woman, and wonderfully were her faith and generosity rewarded. ‘She, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which He spake by Elijah.’ ...The widow of Zarephath shared her morsel with Elijah; and in return, her life and that of her son were preserved. And to all who, in time of trial and want, give sympathy and assistance to others more needy, God has promised great blessing. He has not changed. His power is no less now than in the days of Elijah.”[1]
The widow of Zarephath had more than faith, she had dangerous faith – a faith that allowed her to move beyond her fear.  She knew that God would take care of her and her son, even though it didn’t’ seem safe to believe.
“One summer Aaron went to a youth camp. … it was a church camp. I figured he wasn't going to hear all those ghost stories, because ghost stories can really cause a kid to have nightmares. … they didn't tell ghost stories … they told demon and Satan stories instead. And so when Aaron got home, he was terrified.
“‘Dad, don't turn off the light!’ he said before going to bed. … Daddy, I'm afraid. They told all these stories about demons.’
And I wanted to say, ‘They're not real.’
“…‘Daddy, Daddy, would you pray for me that I would be safe?’ I could feel it. I could feel warm-blanket Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety.
“I said, ‘Aaron, I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room.’
“…, ‘All right. But pray I would be really, really dangerous, Daddy.’
“Have you come to that place in your own life where you stop asking God to give you a safe life, and make you a dangerous follower of Jesus Christ?”[2]

[1] E.G. White, Prophets and Kings, pages 129-132
[2] Erwin McManus, "Seizing Your Divine Moment," Preaching Today, Issue 252

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Final Answer

A few years ago, I spent quite a bit of time wondering how I would know if I was saved or not.  I mean, I had been baptized and all, but I had never come to the point in my mind where I could say with assurance that I was saved.  Have you ever feel that reluctance to say, “I am saved!”?

I think I can narrow the whole deal down to one issue…maybe it’ll make sense to you too.  First, since I don’t believe that we are “once saved, always saved,” I do believe that we can backslide at any point.  It’s kind of like dieting, a topic I can definitely relate to.   OK, so I’ve lost this weight, I’m feeling good, eating right, exercising; I’m thin.    What really happens though?  I get lazy about getting on the scale regularly; I miss a few days of exercise; I lose control of my portion control…and I’ve gained back the weight.  It takes daily attention and vigilance, and sometimes I get really discouraged.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could be once thin, always thin?  Now, that’s a belief I could buy into!

Our walk with Christ, unfortunately, is very much the same.  We start out really committed to expanding our relationship with Christ.  We study the Bible, pray, go to church, fellowship with other believers and things are really going well – and I believe at that point we are saved.  But then we sleep in a couple of Sabbaths, hit the snooze a couple times instead of getting up for morning Bible study and pretty soon, we’re walking on our own away from God.  I believe that if the Holy Spirit left us to our own (well, Satan’s) devices, all of us would end up lost.

There’s this Psalm by this guy names Asaph, who got so wrapped up in all the stuff around him that he didn’t have, that he started to believe that his walk with God was a waste of time.  Everybody else was getting somewhere, except him. Check out Psalm 73 this afternoon; it’s a bit long to quote here, but I think you’ll be able to identify with Asaph.  Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that, as always, it is much easier to drift away from God than it is to walk with Him.  So, to my mind, we can’t make a definitive statement that I was saved on such and such a date.  Maybe it’s just me; I don’t know. 

But can we ever say that we’re saved?  How do we know?  What should we say when somebody asks us that question?  Can we tell by looking if someone else is saved? Hmmmm.

Well, that’s what the pre-Advent judgment is all about.  That’s when we’re finally and ultimately saved or lost.  And believe it or not, this is good news.  Saved or lost is not an arbitrary decision that God makes.  In fact, it’s not a decision God makes at all. 
“The judgment is not a time when God decides to accept or reject us; it’s the time when God finalizes our choice as to whether or not we have accepted or rejected Him…” 
So, what do I do with that information? Do I (a) decide that I can’t be saved and give up?  (b) assume that of course I’m saved and get on with my life?  Or (c) stay faithful to Jesus, leaning on His grace for our salvation. 

“Ooh, I don’t know Rege. Sometimes it just seems so impossible, I do feel like giving up, just like that Asaph dude who wrote the Psalm. 

“So, you’re saying your answer is (a)?

“Now, hang on, Rege.  Man, wouldn’t it be great if (b) were the answer.  But I know what the Bible says. Ezekiel 18:24 says, 
"But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.”
Then, in Luke 8:5-15 there’s the parable of the farmer where Jesus said,
"… The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature….”
“Ya wanna use a lifeline, kid?”

“No! Hang on, Rege, I’m getting there.  Let’s see, Romans 11:17-21 tells me,
“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”
“Wow, that one really lays it all on the line.  I have to say (c).”

“You’re sure?  You’re going to say (c)?

“Yeah, Rege, I’m sure.  (c).

“Is that your final answer?”

What’s your final answer?

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Dangers of Success

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.4.10

You know how it is…you have just faced down this huge challenge, everybody’s impressed, and you decide you deserve a little “me” time…and you get caught doing something really, really stupid.

Remember Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer? 
“Phelps holds the record for the most gold medals won in a single Olympics, his eight at the 2008 Beijing Games.”[1] 
But do you remember what happened not long after the Olympics?
“Michael Phelps was suspended from competition for three months by USA Swimming in the wake of the photo that showed the Olympic record-setting champion inhaling from a marijuana pipe.”[2]
Ouch, kind of a silly thing to do, right?

What about King David, he’s finally king, he and his army are really showing the kingdoms around Israel just who’s in charge.  That’s when he decides it’s time for some “me” time and stays home in the palace instead of going out to fight with his men…and he spies Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop. 

Then there’s this guy in I Kings 13: 
“By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering.  By the word of the LORD he cried out against the altar: ‘Altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: “A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.”’  That same day the man of God gave a sign: ‘This is the sign the LORD has declared: The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.’
“When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, ‘Seize him!’ But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back.  Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD.
“Then the king said to the man of God, ‘Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.’ So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before.
“The king said to the man of God, ‘Come home with me for a meal, and I will give you a gift.’
“But the man of God answered the king, ‘Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: “You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.”’  So he took another road and did not return by the way he had come to Bethel.” 1 Kings 13:1-10
This man of God really let King Jeroboam have it, didn’t he?  There’s no question at all about whether or not this man of God was successful.  He did exactly what God told him to do.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

“Now there was a certain old prophet living in Bethel, whose sons came and told him all that the man of God had done there that day. They also told their father what he had said to the king. Their father asked them, ‘Which way did he go?’ And his sons showed him which road the man of God from Judah had taken. So he said to his sons, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ And when they had saddled the donkey for him, he mounted it and rode after the man of God. He found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, Are you the man of God who came from Judah?’
“‘I am,’ he replied.
“So the prophet said to him, ‘Come home with me and eat.’
“The man of God said, ‘I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the LORD: “You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.”’
The old prophet answered, ‘I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the LORD: “Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.”’ (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house.
“While they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet who had brought him back. He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, ‘This is what the LORD says: “You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.”’
“When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him. As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was left lying on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it.” 1 Kings 13:11-24
Now, I read several theories about why this man of God ended up doing exactly what God had told him not to do, almost all of which come down to checking your sources and know that the Holy Spirit will never tell you to do something contrary to what God has already told you.  But I think this man’s mistake happened before the old prophet showed up.  This man’s mistake was sitting down to rest before he got back to Judea.

You’re right, God just said go home by a different route, He didn’t say anything about not sitting down to rest, but all that success got the man of God feeling kind of cocky.  He got the idea that he had accomplished something and he deserved a rest.  The mission was over, and he’d won.  He started making his own decisions instead of waiting for the word of God.  And in that instant, Satan stepped in and whispered in his ear that he deserved a rest under this next tree.
“Because the true prophet allowed himself to take a course contrary to the line of duty, God permitted him to suffer the penalty of transgression.”[3]
Heartbreaking isn’t it?  Imagine how the man of God felt when he realized that he’d been tricked, when the old prophet actually did truly prophesy?  One little lapse in attention was all it took to change victory to failure.
“Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

[2] Nick Graham, The Huffington Post
[3] E.G. White, Prophets and Kings, p 106