Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Goes Around... again

“He who makes a hole for others will himself go into it, and for him who makes a hole through a wall the bite of a snake will be a punishment.  He who gets out stones from the earth will be damaged by them, and in the cutting of wood there is danger.” Ecc 10:8-9 BBE

That’s what we all hope for, isn’t it?  When we’re watching a movie, TV show or reading a book, we want the bad guy to get what’s coming to him.  And it was the substance of cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam and, of course, the king of “what goes around comes around” or being ‘hoisted on his own petard”, Wile E. Coyote.  You know, now that I think of it, Solomon might have been describing Wile E. Coyote’s entire existence! 

No matter what he tried to do to the Roadrunner, it came back to bite him, every single time.   How many of us didn’t root for the Roadrunner and cheer when the Coyote got blown up by his own bomb?  Which is exactly what “hoisted by his own petard” means according to The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition.  2002.

Some people call it “pay back”; others would call it “karma”, and I just heard a new phrase, “The Law of Attraction”.  Apparently it’s an Oprah thing, maybe you’ve heard her talk about it, I haven’t, but I have a friend who watches and is convinced.  The way she explained “The Law of Attraction” is, we are all just made up of energy and if we concentrate on negative stuff, our energy will attract negative things to us.  Then, if we hang onto positive thoughts, our energy will attract only positive things.  That’s pretty much how karma was explained to me too.  If any of you folks watch, maybe you can explain it better.  OK, that may be a post-modern way to say it, but I think we might be able to use it as an explanation of Ecclesiastes 10:8-9.  We can take it a little farther though, because we are certainly more than energy.  We are God’s children.  So, if we fill our minds with thoughts of hurting other people, we’re not just attracting negative energy, we are separating ourselves from God—committing a sin.
“All acts of injustice that tend to shorten life--the spirit of hatred and revenge, or the indulgence of any passion that leads to injurious acts toward others or causes us even to wish them harm (for "whoso hateth his brother is a murderer")-- ... are, to a greater or less degree, violations of the sixth commandment”--PP 308 (1890). {2MCP 527.1}
And, if we take that to the next step, once we have taken ourselves out of God’s hand, we leave ourselves unprotected from the assault of Satan.  Not a good place to be!

I think that’s what Solomon is talking about through the entire book of Ecclesiastes; when we start worrying about what other folks are doing, getting, or buying, we drift away from God.  And if we’re not walking with God, everything we try to do will turn out badly.  No matter what plans we make, they won’t work out.  Even if we try to do something good without God, it will turn out badly.  On the other hand, when we’re walking with God, even if things look hopeless, God can work them out.

One of my absolute favorite stories of all time is the story of Esther.  I think it perfectly illustrates what Solomon is saying here.   It is such a perfect story.  Think about it.  Haman uses every bit of his energy trying to finagle his way to the top.  He only thinks about himself and how he can get ahead.  He doesn’t care whom he steps on to get to the top.  Have you ever met anyone like him (or her)?  Someone who thinks they’re more important than anyone else in the room, and if you don’t acknowledge his perceived importance, he gets all offended.  Haman got offended because Mordecai wouldn’t give him the honor he thought he deserved.  One measly guy – out of an entire city?!  That demonstrates some really insecurity on Haman’s part….not to mention, some serious narcissism.  Do you remember what he told the king when he thought the king wanted to honor him?   He didn’t want money or land or anything material at all.  He wanted to be out in front of the city getting applause.  Haman was really a pretty shallow guy.
Some, like Haman, forget all God's favors, because Mordecai is before them and is not disgraced; because their hearts are filled with enmity and hatred rather than love, the spirit of our dear Redeemer, who gave His precious life for His enemies.  …The love of praise has corrupted many hearts.  …It is a wicked pride that delights in the vanity of one's own works, that boasts of one's excellent qualities, seeking to make others seem inferior in order to exalt self, claiming more glory than the cold heart is willing to give to God. {4T 223}
How self-absorbed does someone have to be to assume that he is the only person the king would want to honor.  I have to laugh every time I think about him leading the king’s donkey all over the city with Mordecai in the king’s robes, and Haman having to announce that the king is pleased not with him but with the man he hates more than anything else in the world.
“So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’”  Esther 6:11
Can’t you just picture him, stomping around, head down, for once hoping that nobody will recognize him, announcing Mordecai through gritted teeth?  Haman should have read Ecclesiastes, then he would have known what would happen if he spent all of his time plotting against Mordecai.  Unfortunately, Haman didn’t just get humiliated; he got hanged…of course on the gallows he’d built for Mordecai, along with his ten sons.
This was considered a revolutionary thought when Jesus said it… it still is:
 “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.   But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”  Matthew 5:43-44

Monday, March 28, 2011

Who Are You Wearing?

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson for 4.2.11

It happens every year…Reporters line the Red Carpet outside the Academy Awards Ceremony.  The fashion reporters from all over the country want to know who designed the outfit that each star is wearing…Armani, Dior, Channel…whatever.  Oscar night has become almost as important to designers as it is to people involved in the movie making business.  The designers loan their outfits (mostly gowns) to the stars as a form of advertising.  Although, I’m not sure what the designers get out of the whole thing because I don’t believe even the stars who are wearing the outfits could afford to actually buy the clothes they’re wearing.  And yet, it seems important to someone that we know the names of the designers, so the reporters and camera folk stand outside the auditorium and dutifully ask and photograph each star as he (or she) goes in.

That just seems like a huge waste of time and money, especially when really the only One any of us should be wearing is Jesus – His robe of righteousness.
“Christ is the sinner’s substitute and surety. He has obeyed the law in the sinner’s place, in order that the sinner may believe in him, and grow up into him in all things to the full stature of a man in Christ Jesus, and thus be complete in him. Christ has made reconciliation for sin, and has borne all its ignominy, reproach, and punishment; and yet while bearing sin, he has brought in everlasting righteousness, so that the believer is spotless before God. The time comes when it is asked, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ and the answer is, ‘It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.’ He who has the spotless robe of righteousness, woven in the loom of heaven, in which isnot a thread that sinful humanity can claim, is at the right hand of God to clothe his believing children in the perfect garment of his righteousness. Those who are saved in the kingdom of God will have nothing of which to boast in themselves; the praise and the glory will all flow back to God, the giver of salvation.”[1] 
“[T]he spotless robe of righteousness, woven in the loom of heaven,…”    I can hear the infomercial now:  “What would you expect to pay for this robe? $100?  $200? Well if you act right now, you’ll pay only $29.99, and if you call and order right now, we’ll include free shipping.  But that’s not all!”  Ok, that’s all wrong, but the truth really is amazing!  Max Lucado describes the concept in his article, “Back Door”.
“I make no claim to being a good golfer, but I love to play golf, watch golf, and on good nights I even dream golf.
“So when I was invited to attend the Masters Golf Tournament, I was thrilled. A pass to the Masters is the golfer's Holy Grail. Mine came via pro golfer Scott Simpson.
“Off we went to Augusta National Country Club in Georgia where golf heritage hangs like moss from the trees. I was a kid in a candy store. It wasn't enough to see the course and walk the grounds; I wanted to see the locker room where the clubs of Ben Hogan and Paul Azinger are displayed.
“But they wouldn't let me in. A guard stopped me at the entrance. I showed him my pass, but he shook his head. I told him I knew Scott, but that didn't matter. ‘Only caddies and players,’ he explained.
“Well, he knew I wasn't a player or a caddie. Caddies are required to wear white coveralls. My clothing was a dead giveaway. So I left, knowing I had made it all the way to the door but was denied entrance.
“God has one requirement for entrance into heaven: that we be clothed in Christ.
“When someone prays, ‘Take away my [sinful] rags and clothe me in your grace,’ Jesus in an act visible only to the eyes of heaven, removes the stained robe and replaces it with his robe of righteousness.
“What did Jesus do for you and me? He put on our coat of sin and wore it to the cross. As he died, his blood flowed over our sins and they were cleansed. Because of this, we have no fear of being turned away at the door of heaven.”[2]
All we have to do is accept the gift.  Sounds easy doesn’t it? For us anyway…but we make it so much more difficult.  We try to become worthy of that robe.  We want to clean ourselves up when all we really need to do is put on the robe that Jesus is waiting to give us.  But we’re more like this advertisement for the Marine Corps:
“One ad for the U.S. Marines pictures a sword, and beneath it the words: ‘Earned, never given.’ If you want to become a Marine, be prepared to earn that name through sacrifice, hardship, and training. If you get it, you deserve it.
But if you want to become a Christian, you must have the exact opposite attitude, for the message of the gospel is: ‘Given, never earned.’
“You cannot save your own soul, and God will not save anyone who tries to earn salvation, but only those who will humbly receive it as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. If you get it, you absolutely did not deserve it.”[3]

“The Old Testament word for worm is tola'ath. This little worm from the Middle East is something like the cochineal of Mexico. When these creatures are crushed, the blood makes a brilliant crimson dye used in the bright Mexican garments. In Palestine and Syria, the tola'ath similarly makes a beautiful permanent scarlet dye. It is very expensive and worn by the rich and noble. In a sense, the word scarlet means 'the splendor of the worm.'
“Saul is said to have clothed the maidens of Israel in scarlet (2 Samuel 1:24). Belshazzar promised Daniel scarlet clothing as a reward (Daniel 5:16). The scarlet producing worm is even used in a text prophetic of the Messiah. 'I am a worm (tola'ath), and no man' (Psalm 22:6).
“The glorious garments of our salvation have been procured as a result of Christ's death and suffering. He became the tola'ath crushed in death so that we may be robed in glory.”[4]
So, are you wearing Jesus?  Have you accepted His gift?  You need to; do it right now.
For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.”  John 3:16 (The Amplified Bible)

[1] Ellen G. White, The Youth’s Instructor, Dec. 6, 1894.
[2] Max Lucado, "Back Door," Christian Reader (May/June 2000), p. 96
[3] Craig Brian Larson, editor, Preaching
[4] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In God’s Hands

“For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.”  Ecclesiastes 9:1
“In the hands of God” is one of those Christian clich├ęs that we hear all the time, but have you ever thought about what it really means?

Man, I thought this would be easy.  I figured I’d just do a quick word search and grab a couple of texts to illustrate what I thought “in God’s hands” meant to me.  Was I in for a huge surprise! Nearly 2,000 texts with the word “hand” in them.  I had no idea there could be so many contexts for a single word.  Now I’m really confused!  In some of the texts, having God’s hand on you was not a good place to be.  Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy. Exodus 15:6 for example.  Or The Lord's hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp. Deuteronomy 2:15.  Then we read about Job, who talks about the Lord’s hand being against him.  That was definitely NOT where I thought this search would take me!  Pretty unsettling, …so I kept looking.

Then I found Ezra and Nehemiah who report a more positive experience with the hand of God:
“And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.” Nehemiah 2:8 and “The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.”  Ezra 8:31. 
Ok, I liked those much better.
Then we get to the Psalms where the psalmists talk a lot about being in or touched by God’s hand. Just a couple of examples are:
"My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.” Psalm 31:15

”…though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” Psalm 37:24

”Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness.” Psalm 48:10
I was definitely on the right track now, but I still want to know, “What does it mean?”  Clearly, it’s not always a good thing.  In fact, if we asked Job, I think he would say that sometimes it’s pretty awful.

I think the most obvious meaning is ownership.  Right?  When something is in someone’s hand, that person owns whatever it is.  So, if we are in God’s hands, we are owned by God.  Many times in the Old Testament God tells a commander of the Jewish army that He would deliver a certain city or people into the commander’s hand.  That pretty much meant that they were going to own that city when the battle was over.  And to go one step further, ownership means control.  So “in God’s hands” could be interpreted as being under His control.  Is that someplace we want to be?

Well, I also read this from something called The Upward Look by Ellen White:
True faith consists in doing just what God has enjoined, not manufacturing things He has not enjoined. Justice, truth, mercy, are the fruit of faith. We need to walk in the light of God’s law; then good works will be the fruit of our faith, the proceeds of a heart renewed every day.
We must not in any way make self our god. God has given Himself to die for us, that He might purify us from all iniquity. The Lord will carry on this work of perfection for us if we will allow ourselves to be controlled by Him. . . .
The work of righteousness cannot be carried forward unless we exercise implicit faith. Move every day under God’s mighty working power. The fruit of righteousness is quietness and assurance forever. If we had exercised more faith in God and had trusted less to our own ideas and wisdom, God would have manifested His power in a marked manner on human hearts. By a union with Him, by living faith, we are privileged to enjoy the virtue and efficacy of His mediation. Hence we are crucified with Christ, dead with Christ, risen with Christ, to walk in newness of life with Him.
We are not to hold ourselves in our own hands. We are to drop self into the hands of God. . . . Our lack of faith is the reason that we have not seen more of the power of God. We exercise more faith in our own working than in God’s working for us. God designs that everything possible shall be done to enable us to stand heart to heart, mind to mind, shoulder to shoulder. This lack of love and confidence in one another weakens our faith in God.
We need to pray as we never have prayed before for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for if there was ever a time when we needed this baptism, it is now. There is nothing the Lord has more frequently told us He would bestow upon us, and nothing by which His name would be more glorified in bestowing, than the Holy Spirit. When we partake of this Spirit, men and women will be born again. . . . Souls once lost will be found, and brought back.--Letter 105, Nov. 28, 1898, to Elder and Mrs. S. N. Haskell.
I know that’s a really long quote, but it is so clear about what we need to do.  I love the way Mrs. White says that we should “drop self into the hands of God.”

The question is, do we trust God enough to give Him complete control over our lives?  Are we really ready to surrender everything of ourselves to God no matter where He takes us or what happens to us?  We have no assurance that just because we’re in God’s hands, that we’ll always have sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies, in fact, we’re promised some pretty unpleasant/ uncomfortable experiences if we stay with Him.
“In his dying agony, as he yields up his precious life, he has by faith alone to trust in Him whom it has ever been his joy to obey. He is not cheered with clear, bright rays of hope on the right hand nor on the left. All is enshrouded in oppressive gloom. Amid the awful darkness which is felt even by sympathizing nature, the Redeemer drains the mysterious cup even to its dregs. Denied even bright hope and confidence in the triumph which will be his in the near future, he cries with a loud voice, "Lord into thy hands I commit my spirit." He is acquainted with the character of his Father, his justice, his mercy, and great love. In submission he drops into the hands of his Father. Amid the convulsions of nature are heard by the amazed spectators the dying words of the Man of Calvary, ‘It is finished.’” The Love of Christ, Signs of the Times, February 15, 1883
Once again, Ellen White says it all.  Jesus knows that even though the sins of the world have separated Him from His Father, He knows that God is still there, still loves Him and will hold Him in His hands.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

You have to step out of the boat if you want your feet on solid ground.

 Commentary on the Sabbath School lesson for 3.26.11

“How interesting, … that in recent years reputable studies are showing that those who attend and participate in church services (compared to those who don’t) on a regular basis are:    •less likely to suffer from substance abuse
•more likely to be sexually responsible•less involved in risky behaviors
•more likely to practice business and work-related ethics•more likely to enjoy a richer social network and group support•more likely to display higher levels of self-esteem and personal efficacy•more likely to cope better with losses (death of dear ones, calamities, health complications, and so on)•more likely to harbor positive emotions (love, forgiveness, contentment, and so on)•less likely to harbor negative emotions (guilt, fear, hostility, anger, and so on).”[1]
Does any of the information in that quote startle you? Not at all? Maybe a little?  Maybe for other churches but not for your own?  Truth is, those studies shouldn’t surprise any of us, because we know that the closer any one of us comes in relationship to Jesus, the more emotionally stable healthy we become. 

We have to be like Peter and step beyond what we know about what is possible and impossible and put ourselves completely in the Hands of Jesus, only then can we begin to become who  He wants us to be.  We can break down that process into several interlocking elements:  
“prayer, corporate worship and community involvement, forgiveness, service, and trusting God,”[2]

“Some things make you successful whatever path you take … You need to be with God daily. You need to be in constant prayer. You need to incorporate God's Word into your life, constantly evaluating your life to make sure you are following God's lead. You must be in fellowship with a body of believers with mutual accountability and genuine friendship.”[3]
Have you ever noticed that the folks who seem the most critical of what’s going on around them, are often those who are not participating fully with their community of believers?  The more we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ, the less satisfactory is the rest of our life in general, and the more difficult it becomes to remain committed to our mission (spreading the gospel).

“In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the strange story of Christopher Langan, a genius with a staggering IQ of 195. (For some perspective, Einstein's IQ was 150). During high school, Langan could ace any foreign language test by skimming the textbook 2-3 minutes before the exam. He got a perfect score on his SAT, even though at one point he fell asleep. But Langan failed to use his exceptional gifts and ended up working on a horse farm in rural Missouri."According to Gladwell, Langan never had a community to help him capitalize on his gifts.Gladwell summarizes the story of Langan in one sentence: ‘[Langan] had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.’”[4]
Sometimes we hold back because we think we can manage on our own; sometimes it’s because we get so comfortable that we don’t want to make any unplanned moves.  But what if Peter had stopped to think about comfort instead of stepping out of the boat to come to Jesus?  What if he had waited for someone else to go first to see how they did?  Being part of the community includes leaving our comfort zone.

Jesus and His disciples didn’t lead a comfortable life, even according to the standards of their day, but they did have everything they needed to be emotionally and spiritually stable and mature: “prayer, corporate worship and community involvement, forgiveness, service, and trusting God.”

The notable exception was Judas; he held back.  He didn’t really move beyond his own plans and ideas.  He never fully committed his life to Jesus.

I’m afraid that I’m hopelessly mixing metaphors here – stepping out of the boat and being an active part of the community of Jesus.  But I think that assumes that being a follower of Jesus will always be a comfortable experience.  I don’t believe it will be (and in some parts of the world, already isn’t).  We have to believe like Peter did:  If Jesus says I can walk on water, I can walk on water.  And that no matter how dangerous things look from our perspective, the absolutely safest place we can be is on our way to Jesus.

That’s something we need to remember as the time for Jesus to come gets closer, because we can’t really prepare for exactly how things will be.  We only know that we need to hang on to Jesus.

Mark Mitchell explained it this way: 
“Several years ago I ran a marathon. I trained hard to be as prepared as possible, but there's a part of a marathon that's always hard to prepare for. A marathon is just a little over 26 miles, but experts tell you not to run over 20 miles in your training. That means the last six miles of a marathon are ‘no man's land.’ You don't know what you're getting yourself into. You may hit a wall. You may have cramps. You only know that it's going to be tough. But you also try to believe that if you train hard enough, you will be ready and will be able to cross that glorious finish line.“We read a passage like Luke 21, and it's like we're reading about the last six miles of a marathon. We know it's going to be hard, and we know that there is nothing we can do now to replicate what it will be like then. But Jesus has told us what to look for and how to be prepared—how to cross the finish line. We prepare by being wise and discerning about the false claims of religious hucksters. We prepare by resting in the fact that God is sovereign and whatever happens to us is part of his plan. We prepare by trusting that he's creating opportunities for us to bear witness, and he'll give us the words we need when we need them. We prepare by learning to endure hardship so that when greater hardship comes, we don't fall by the wayside. We prepare by refusing to allow ourselves to buy the lie that the things of this world are the most important things. We prepare by praying each day for God's strength to face whatever the last six miles of life may hold for us.”[5]

[1] Dan Solis, “Partnership with Jesus”, Jesus Wept: Adult Bible Study Guide, March 19-25
[2] Ibid.
[3] Kay Coles James, Marriage Partnership, Vol. 11, no. 2.
[4] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), p. 115
[5] Mark Mitchell, in his sermon "Ready or Not, Here I Come!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No Fair!

If you have kids, work with kids or ever been a kid, you know the phrase, "NO FAIR!"  Can you remember when you worried about who was going to get the left over cookie or the bigger piece of cake?  That was really important stuff!  And, of course, there was always the one kid who cheated at Monopoly or whatever game.  I have a cousin who cheated (or tried to) no matter what game we were playing.  He drove my brother (that other kind of kid: the fairness police) absolutely over the edge.  We didn’t finish a lot of games when that cousin came over.  Not only did his cheating take all the fun out of the game for everyone else, but my brother and I could never figure out how you could be happy about winning when you knew you’d won dishonestly.  Hmmm…still don’t get it.

Anyway, now that we’re all grown up, we are still acutely aware of the fairness (or unfairness) of certain situations.  How many times have you watched someone you work with cheat or lie his (or her) way to a promotion, even when he’s not the best person for the job?  Maybe you’ve been the victim of some workplace cheater.  Isn’t it infuriating to watch someone get away with something and not get caught?  Sometimes I feel like just standing up and yelling, “That’s No Fair!”

Solomon talks about the unfairness of life, (even though lots of people would say that he has nothing to complain about):   
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous; I said that this also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 8:14
As humans, we take equity very seriously. Most of us want things to come out fairly at the end of the day.  But, somebody’s always gotta cheat, gotta get the bigger piece of cake…no matter what.
So, what is fair? What is equity?  Is it like what they were trying to do in the French Revolution where nobody was supposed to be higher socially or politically above anyone else?  Or is equity more about “getting what you deserve”?

How many companies can you think of that play on our sense of entitlement to sell us the product.  Do you remember the L’Oreal commercial that always ended with, “because I’m worth it”?  Is that what fairness comes down to?  Everyone getting what he (or she) thinks he deserves?  You hear lots of people say things like that all the time.  “I deserve a raise.”  “I deserve to be treated better at work.”  “I’ve earned a vacation.”  “I have the right to speak my mind.”
So, have you ever stopped to think about just exactly what we do deserve?  That can be a sobering experience, because if, in all fairness, God gave us what we’ve earned, what we have a right to, we would have to be destroyed.  Scary, huh?  Do we really want true fairness in the sense that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”?  Think about this:
“’There is none righteous, no, not one,There is none who understands,There is none who seeks after God,They have all turned aside;They have together become unprofitable;There is none who does good, no, not one.’‘Their throat is an open tomb;With their tongues they have practiced deceit’;‘The poison of asps is under their lips’;‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;Destruction and misery are in their ways;And the way of peace they have not known.’‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  Romans 3:10-20
Not a pretty picture! Is it fair that Jesus was treated the way He was?  Nothing’s fair about that!
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.   Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-5
Okay, we can be glad that we are not treated at all as we deserve to be treated, as long as we accept Christ’s sacrifice on our account.  The thing to remember is that, no matter how things look now, it’ll all be fair when Jesus comes again.  It’s not what’s fair and not fair now, but for eternity, that’s important.

Remember Jonah?  He went and told the people to repent (finally).  He didn’t really expect them to and when they did, he got a little cranky.  He didn’t think they deserved to get out of being destroyed, even after they repented.
Hmmmm.  Are we a little bit like that sometimes?  Wait, be honest.  I’m not talking about the guy down the street who walks his dog in your yard or the woman at work who “borrows” things from people's lunches in the fridge.  If we saw them in Heaven we’d probably be okay with that.  But, careful now, what if we’re walking through Heaven and we see Jeffrey Daumer?  Or the BTK Killer?  Or Pontias Pilate? Stalin, Mussolini, Attila the Hun, Hitler?  What would we do?  Run up and congratulate them for accepting Christ’s cleansing blood for their sins?  Or frown and wonder if maybe there’d been some mistake.
True, if someone asked us if Jesus died for everybody, we’d answer a quick and sure affirmative…but really, deep down, do we really WANT it to be?  Tough question.  Do we trust God enough to know who gets to go to Heaven?

When we get right down to it, a sin’s a sin, right?  Maybe I haven’t killed anyone or been an evil dictator, but I have felt hate.  I have envied, lied, put something or someone before God. Maybe not outwardly, but in my heart, I have broken ALL of the commandments.  Am I any less a sinner than those notorious bad guys I listed before?  Did Jesus die for me more than He died for them?

I think that is the true miracle of God’s justice/fairness.  It’s big enough for every single person who ever lived, no matter how good or bad that person looks to us, God knows that person intimately, and loves him and sent His Son to die for him, and you, and me.

Okay, so let’s make a plan to meet in Heaven and check out who else made it…aren’t you glad it’s not up to us?

Monday, March 14, 2011


Commentary on the Sabbath School lesson for 3.19.11 

Where do you feel most in tune with God?  Where do you feel like you can really sense the presence of the Holy Spirit?  Do you have a special place you go to meet with Him?

Lots of people say that they feel most able to really communicate with God when they get away from their everyday things and spend time out in nature.  Why do you think that is?  Is it just getting away from crowds?  It used to be that going on a picnic or a nature walk was a way to get away from phone calls, TV and the computer, but those things kind of follow us everywhere now.  Why would nature feel any different than sitting in your own living room then?  What’s the difference?

In the book, Education, Ellen White makes a statement that explains why it’s so important for us to spend time in nature.  
“[I]n ten thousand objects in nature, from the oak of the forest to the violet that blossoms at its root, is seen the love that restores. And nature still speaks to us of God’s goodness.”[1]
Would you agree with that statement?  Do you feel restored by being in nature? Does nature speak to you of “God’s goodness?” 

Well, as to the restoration part, I think almost everyone, Christian or otherwise would agree with that.  Even without the “God component”, the Outward Bound organization has demonstrated that experiencing nature changes lives.  Their work with at-risk youth and soldiers returning from war has shown that nature plays a huge part in the restoration of broken people.
“A recent issue of the Oprah Magazine has an interesting article on awe. The article's introduction states: ‘Somewhere at the intersection of joy, fear, mystery, and insight lies awe, the ineffable response to the amazing world around us.’ The article goes on to give a more refined definition: ‘Overwhelming, surprising, humbling, even a little terrifying—awe is what we feel when faced with something sublime, exceptional, or altogether beyond comprehension.’“University of California's Dacher Keltner, PhD, a psychology professor, does extensive research on the subject of awe. In his 2009 book Born to Be Good, he describes the feeling of awe as pushing people beyond selfishness and giving them a desire to do good. He believes that cultivating awe ‘is part of unlocking the truest sense of life's purpose.’ In his most well-known experiment, he had students complete a series of "I am" sentences. Half the students were facing a full-scale replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex; the other half were facing a hallway. The first group was more likely to describe themselves in larger, grander terms (‘I am part of the human species’). The group facing an empty hallway described themselves in smaller, narrower terms (‘I am a soccer player’).“The article even gives some tips for cultivating awe:“…2. Go outside. The ultimate in awe is the beauty and wonder of nature.“…4. Look up at the night sky. Better yet, buy a telescope.“Although the article presents a mostly secular view of awe, it does tap into our human longing to find ‘joy, fear, mystery … [in] response to the amazing world around us.’ According to the Bible, there is one source for all the awe we experience—God. We were created to live in awe of God. The word awe or awesome is mentioned 53 times throughout the Bible. The God who is ‘awesome in glory’ (Exodus 15:11) and ‘mighty and awesome’ (Deuteronomy 10:17) performs ‘awesome deeds for mankind’ (Psalm 66:5). No wonder the psalmist proclaimed, "The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders" (Psalm 65:8).”[2]
Do you feel awed by nature?  Sometimes I think that someone who doesn’t believe in the God of Creation, can’t really experience it, because they don’t have Anybody to credit the beauty to.  Does that make sense? 

Even a person who doesn’t believe can be led to see Jesus by studying how nature works.
“As a researcher and physician, Francis Collins' credentials and accomplishments are well-respected in the scientific community. He headed up the Human Genome Project before serving as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. In 2007 he also wrote a New York Times best-selling book, The Language of God, which weaves together the story of his work as a world-renowned scientist and his journey from atheism to faith in Christ.“Interestingly, although Collins is thoroughly committed to rational inquiry and the scientific method, God also used people and nature to lead Collins to Christ. As a gifted medical student, Collins thought it was ‘convenient to not have to deal with God.’ But then, after one of his patients told Collins about her faith, she asked him, ‘What about you? What do you believe?’ In Collin's own words, ‘I stuttered and stammered and felt the color rising in my face, and I said, “Well, I don't think I believe in anything.” But it suddenly seemed like a very thin answer. And that was unsettling.’“Then after a long period of searching, which included grilling a pastor and reading C.S. Lewis, Collins finally came to Christ after watching the beauty of creation. This is Collin's description of that life-changing encounter:“‘I had to make a choice. A full year had passed since I decided to believe in some sort of God, and now I was being called to account. On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God's creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.’”[3]
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” Psalm 19:1, 2
Are you listening?  Have you stopped to look at a sunset and remember that God is responsible for everything beautiful? 

“May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works— he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.  I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.  But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, my soul.  Praise the LORD.  Psalm 104:31-35

[1] E.G. White, Education, p.101
[2] David Hochman, "The Wonder of It All", Oprah Magazine, (December 2010)
[3] Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2007), p. 225

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

“Sorrow is better than laughter…”

 Ecclesiastes 7:3

Really?  If you and I walked over to the park and asked fifty people which is better: laughter or sorrow, how many do you think would say sorrow?  A big fat zero!!!  In fact, look around, the entertainment and advertising world are banking that all of us much prefer laughter to sorrow.  But here’s Solomon telling us that sorrow is better.  Bummer!  I’m thinking, in the long run, I would much rather laugh than cry.

The rest of Ecclesiastes 7:3 explains that sorrow makes our hearts stronger.  Still not completely sold?  It’s kind of like me and cooked spinach…I know it’s good for me, but I’d pretty much rather eat chocolate cake.  As parents we know that our kids need to eat something resembling balanced meals, even though sometimes they don’t care for some of the foods they need to eat.  Our kids eventually learn to trust us when we tell them to have a taste and that they’ll learn to like whatever it is.  And, oddly enough, kids do learn to like more than just pizza and peanut butter and jelly.  As much as I don’t like some foods, I know that we, as humans, can acquire a taste for almost anything…I mean, there are people on the National Geographic channel who look like (look like being the operative words here) they enjoy eating grubs and ants and things.  EEEW!  I don’t know, that’s probably about the same as the first guy who thought eating oysters or lobster was a good idea.
But, I digress.  What I’m getting to is that we usually don’t like what’s good for us anymore than our kids do.  But God knows!

God knows exactly what it will take to make us strong for Him, but we’ve got to let Him take control of our training, because, just like our kids, we would avoid exactly the things we need the most.  Why?  Because it wouldn't be any fun, in fact, it might even be pretty miserable.  You know what the body-builders say, “No Pain; No Gain.”  Unfortunately, spiritual strength comes at the same price.  Why would anybody go through it then?  What’s the pay-off? 

Have you ever read or watched a show about the folks who have climbed Mt. Everest?  I have.  It doesn’t look like any fun at all!  It looks absolutely miserable.  The same thing with people who run the Iditarod, or swim the English Channel (do they do that anymore?), or sail across the Pacific, or even run a marathon.  And what’s the pay-off for those things?  Getting your name in a history book or a newspaper, maybe winning some money…nothing very permanent.  People risk all kinds of physical unpleasantness for even minimal earthly recognition.  Solomon would tell us that that is all vanity and chasing the wind.

So, what’s a little (or maybe a lot of) sorrow if it will make us spiritually stronger?  What would you be willing to go through if it brought you closer to Jesus?  Would we be willing to ask for the sorrow?

Chapter 9 of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity is called “Counting the Cost”.  In it, Lewis talks about the things we ask for and what God wants to give us.  Lewis tells the story about having toothaches as he was growing up and how he never told his mom about them.  He said that she would have gladly given him an aspirin that would have taken away the pain, but that wouldn’t have been the end of it.  The next day she would have taken him to the dentist and then the dentist would start “fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache.”  From there, Lewis goes on to talk about how we ask for little things.  We ask Him to take away some sin like smoking or bad temper.  He will free us from that sin, but He won’t stop there until He has changed our whole lives. 
“That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians.  ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect.  The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for.  Nothing less, or other than that.  You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away.  But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through.  Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, …, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect—until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me.  This I can do and will do.  But I will not do anything less.”
Isn’t that amazing?  And maybe a little frightening?  We ask for help with some little thing, but He wants to give us eternal life with Him.  What will it cost?  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I can quit…

Commentary on Sabbath School lesson dated 3.12.11

What are you addicted to?  You’ll notice that I didn’t ask if you have an addiction.  That’s because, in my own unscientific opinion, I believe that all of us are addicted to something; just some of our addictions are harder on us than others.  Mind you, I don’t have one shred of evidence to back me up, but think about it for a second.  Our sinful natures have given us all addictive personalities to one degree or another.  Some people struggle with the big name addictions like alcohol, cigarettes, illegal or prescription drugs.  Almost anything can become an addiction: shopping, cleaning, reading, working…

Have you ever seen the TV show, Hoarders: Buried Alive?  Hoarders are addicted to saving things, usually things that shouldn’t be saved.  A lot of us hang onto useless things that we have sentimental attachments too, right?  But these poor folks hang on to things like pizza boxes, broken hangers, and gloves without mates.  They hang onto them for years until their homes are practically filled up so that they have to walk through and on the stuff they’re saving.  Their lives and the lives of their family members are pretty much dominated by stuff.

Some addictions are quite subtle.  
“Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, has lectured throughout this country on the powerful, and often negative, impact of words. He often asks audiences if they can go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, another person. Invariably, a small number of listeners raise their hands, signifying ‘yes.’ Others laugh, and quite a large number call out, ‘no!’“Telushkin responds: ‘Those who can't answer “yes” must recognize that you have a serious problem. If you cannot go 24 hours without drinking liquor, you are addicted to alcohol. If you cannot go 24 hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. Similarly, if you cannot go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, then you have lost control over your tongue.’”[1]
What do you think?  What are you addicted to?  And why can’t we be addicted to good stuff, like healthy food, reading our Bibles and speaking kind words?

Have you ever wondered how people get addicted to things?  I’m pretty sure nobody starts out by saying to themselves, “I’m going to collect so much stuff that I won’t be able to walk on the floor or find the stove and dishwasher.”  or “I think I’ll become addicted to crack so I can sleep in a refrigerator box under the expressway.”  So how do some of us end up that way? 

Because when we just start out, what we’re doing seems so small and innocent, and lots of times, it’s fun. 
“Some years ago, while our family was vacationing in northern Minnesota, we decided to visit a small county fair near the town of Babbitt. There weren't many people there that morning. In fact, we were about the only ones visiting the carnival rides. So when I climbed into the Tilt-O-Wheel with my three kids, we hoped the operator would give us a decent ride—even though we were the only ones on it.“Little did we know what we were getting involved in. The first few minutes were rather fun. We laughed and enjoyed the funny feeling inside our stomachs. But after a while, it got to be not so much fun. And after some more time—way past the length of an ordinary ride—I began to feel queasy.“I wanted to get out, but I couldn't. First, we were going to fast to escape. Second, the centrifugal force had me pressed firmly against the back of the car. I was immobilized. Every time we spun past the operator, I looked pleadingly at him. ‘Please! Read my eyes! I need to get off!’ But the operator kept the ride going. I guess he thought he'd let it run until more customers showed up.“After another few minutes, the ride became miserable. The funny feeling inside my stomach had turned into a churning concoction that had a faint resemblance of my morning's breakfast. I had no control over my life. I was caught, going around in circles, held down by a merciless carnival ride operator.“Only after what seemed like three or four hours did he finally relent and stop the ride. I'm sure I looked completely green by this time. I staggered off the platform and made it about 20 feet, where I bent over and lost my breakfast. Of course, my kids gathered around, cheering me on. They thought this was the best part of the ride.“If you're caught in the grip of a diabolical ride that started out fun but has turned into an addiction—if you're going around in circles, powerless to get off—you know the helpless feeling of losing control of your life. You know what it means to need God's supernatural help to stop the ride so you can escape.”[2]
And there’s the answer to my other question.  How do some of us avoid ending up living in a refrigerator box under the expressway? 

The truth is, because we live in a sinful world, we have a sinful nature that dominates everything we do, think, or say just like an alcoholic or any other addict’s life is dominated by his (or her) addiction.  Try to overcome our sinful nature (sin addiction) without bringing Jesus into our lives is like trying to tuck in an octopus – just about the time you get one or two arms down, three or four different ones will pop up.  All the good intentions in the world are useless until we can admit that we have a problem that we can’t fix by ourselves.
“There are those who attempt to ascend the ladder of Christian progress; but as they advance they begin to put their trust in the power of man, and soon lose sight of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of their faith. The result is failure—the loss of all that has been gained. … ‘He that lacketh these things,’ declares the apostle, ‘is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.’”[3]
Are you ready to quit?  There’s only one way:  
“The work of transformation from unholiness to holiness is a continuous one. Day by day God labors for man’s sanctification, and man is to co-operate with Him, putting forth persevering efforts in the cultivation of right habits. He is to add grace to grace; and as he thus works on the plan of addition, God works for him on the plan of multiplication. Our Saviour is always ready to hear and answer the prayer of the contrite heart, and grace and peace are multiplied to His faithful ones. Gladly He grants them the blessings they need in their struggle against the evils that beset them.”[4]
Or, as John explains it:  
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36
Face it, you and I can’t quit, but we can reach out for the One who has already bought our cure.  We’d be crazy to turn it down!

[1] Rick Ezell, One Minute Uplift (7-21-06)
[2] Rich Doebler, Cloquet, Minnesota
[3] E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p532
[4] E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p532

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Treasure in Heaven

How many times have we heard those words? 

"But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:" Matthew 6:20

I’ve heard them my whole life!  But what do they really mean?  Can you name, right off the top of your head, a specific treasure that we can “lay up” in Heaven?  Or do you have more of a nebulous, non-specific idea of what treasure in Heaven might involve?  About the only things the text tells us is that it can’t be ruined, lost or stolen.  That doesn’t leave much.

Well, I did quite a bit of reading this week trying to see what other people might think these treasures are.  Oddly enough, there aren’t many articles about it.  I found out we, as Christians, get very wrapped up in what we’re told not to do, but we don’t spend much time learning what to do.

By the way, why do you think Jesus tells us to avoid earthly treasures and gather heavenly treasures?  Well, He tells us in the very next verse:  Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Do you think Jesus is just being selfish?  He just wants us to think about Him, so we will keep on worshipping Him.  Well, that may be what Satan wants you to think.  But I think Solomon would disagree.   Solomon calls “earthly treasure” (and the getting of it) an evil upon the earth.  Mrs. White says that God gives us these instructions not for selfish reasons but that

It is for your own interest to secure heavenly riches. These alone, of all that you possess, are really yours. The treasure laid up in heaven is imperishable. No fire or flood can destroy it, no thief despoil it, no moth or rust corrupt it; for it is in the keeping of God.” {MB 89.2}

In fact, think about something that happened just this week and compare it to Ecclesiastes 6:2. 

“A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.”

Do you know what current event I’m thinking of?  The death of Anna Nicole Smith.  She spent most of her adult life fighting over her dead husband’s money.  She had like 4 million dollars when she died this week at age 39.  She’d been married three times, had two children, was admired (?) by millions of people.  She’d been in Playboy; she’d been on TV.  She’d been fat; she’d been thin.  But most of the folks I’ve heard talk about her in the last couple of days, have said what a tragic life she had.  What? How do you figure that?  It looks to me like she got everything she’d gone looking for when she left Mexia, Texas.  So, did she die happy? 

I believe that one of the reasons Jesus tells us to store up treasures in Heaven is because we become like what (or whom) we spend the most time with.  If we spend all of our time here chasing after what the world has, we’re going to become more and more like the world.  Who does “the world” look like?  Not Jesus. 

Remember “going with” someone in high school or academy?  Did you get matching t-shirts or jackets?  Didn’t you want everyone to be able to tell, just by looking, that you two were “together”?  Were school holidays or even weekends things you looked forward to or dreaded, because you would miss being with that other person?  You were at home with your family, but where were your heart and mind?  Were you happy?  Or where you just waiting for the next school day so you could be together again?  Can you imagine being happy in Heaven if everything and everyone you cared about somewhere else?  Would that be Heaven for you?  Have you ever seen those t-shirts that say things like,  “If there’s no _________ (fill in the blank) in Heaven, then I’m not going.”  I was stunned the first time I ever saw one of those sayings.  I couldn’t, and still can’t, imagine that there are people out there who would even joke about not going to Heaven.  Maybe I’m too much of a worrier to consider making jokes like that.  But the concept is true.  If you love golf, or sailing, or anything more than you love God, you’re not going to be happy in Heaven. 

So, I want to go to Heaven, how do I make sure my treasures are there?  Well, again, Jesus, Himself, tells us!  How exciting!  (I’m probably the last one to catch on, but some of this stuff, I’m just putting together for the first time.) 

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. Luke 12:32-33
Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. Luke 18:18-27
OK, next question, does that mean that all we have to do is give money to the poor and we get into heaven?  No, you’re right, there’s more to it than that.  E.G. White says:
“In giving ourselves to God, we must necessarily give up all that would separate us from Him.  Hence the Saviour says, ‘Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.’  Luke 14:33.  Whatever shall draw away the heart from God must be given up.”  Steps to Christ, p. 44
The Old Testament talks about the year of Jubilee where all property reverted to the original owners and the slaves were freed and debts were forgiven.  It was supposed to keep the Israelites from getting so attached to their possessions and money.  Giving to the poor isn’t as much for them as it is for us.  It keeps us from getting so attached to our money and possessions. When we quit thinking so much about ourselves: what we think we need and what we want, then we are more able to think about what we can do to lead others to Christ.  That’s the real treasure!  Then we’ll be anxious to get to Heaven to be with Jesus.  That excitement will be contagious and bubble over into the lives of the people we meet. 

This treasure, which Christ esteems as precious above all estimate, is 
"the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." Ephesians 1:18. 
The disciples of Christ are called His jewels, His precious and peculiar treasure. He says, 
"They shall be as the stones of a crown." "I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir." Zechariah 9:16; Isaiah 13:12. 

Christ looks upon His people in their purity and perfection as the reward of all His sufferings, His humiliation, and His love, and the supplement of His glory--Christ, the great Center, from whom radiates all glory. {MB 89.3}
Think of it…Jesus is our treasure in Heaven and we are His.  I can’t wait!!!!