Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sing a New Song

Think for a minute about something that has become one of the most contentious areas of almost any church you or I can name – musical worship.  Why do you think it’s become such a battleground?  It seems like almost every church I know much about is struggling with some kind of compromise between traditional hymns and the more modern “praise music”.  Is one type of music inherently good or bad, better or worse than the other?  Is it just personal taste?

I remember having my first debate about the pros/cons of contemporary Christian music over 30 years ago with my brother.  We didn’t come to any absolute “this is the way things should be” moment then and it seems like we’re not any closer to figuring out where worship ends and the rock concert begins.

I have to admit, that I even argue with myself sometimes because I can think of plausible arguments for several points of view.  I also enjoy lots of different kinds of music.  I love Handel’s and Bach’s music, almost all of which was written expressly to enhance the worship experience, but I know some folks who would be completely bored if we limited our churches to only using their music.  I also love Mozart’s music, much of which was written primarily as secular entertainment.  Does that mean that his music is inappropriate for use in a worship setting?

The Christians who are members of the Church of Christ would feel uncomfortable in a worship service that included any musical instruments.  They use only unaccompanied vocal music during their worship.
“The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church's worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.
“Scriptural backing for this practice given by members includes:
“Matt. 26:30: ‘And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.’
“Rom. 15:9: ‘Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name;’
“Eph. 5:18,19: ‘... be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,’
“1 Cor. 14:15: ‘I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.’
“Col. 3:16: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.’  Amos 5:23   ‘...I will not hear the melody of thy viols.’  Amos 6:5 ‘who invent for themselves instruments like David.’
“Heb. 2:12: ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.’”[1]
Now whether you’re in the traditional or contemporary camp, having no musical instruments in the sanctuary would certainly change your perspective on worship music.

Do you realize there was a time in the early American church that singing hymns was considered quite controversial and cutting edge?
“One of the most notable, but least studied, aspects of the 18th-century revivals that led to the rise of modern evangelicalism was the disputed place of hymn-singing. In his very first report on the unusual religious stirrings in Northampton, Massachusetts from 1736, Jonathan Edwards noted that although his congregation had already learned the era's new style of singing—‘three parts of music, and the women a part by themselves’—the revival had worked an extraordinary musical effect:
“Our public praises were greatly enlivened, and God was served in our psalmody as in the beauties of holiness. There was scarce any part of divine worship wherein God's saints among us had grace so drawn forth and their hearts lifted up, as in singing the praises of God.
“Yet soon the fervor of hymn-singing, as well as what the newly revived were singing, came under fire. Not only were critics upset with what Edwards (in a later work defending the revivals) described as ‘abounding in much singing in religious meetings.’ Critics were also complaining that the revived congregations were singing ‘hymns of human composure,’ that is, hymns newly written by contemporaries rather than hymns paraphrased directly from the Psalms, which was then the only kind of hymnody widely accepted in most English-speaking Protestant churches.”[2]
So singing the hymns that so many of us consider stodgy and out-dated, once brought about a revival…hmm.  Could that possibly mean that whether or not you, personally enjoy a certain type of music that is sung in your church, that God may be using it to reach someone with His love?

This is a really tough issue for me; I love hymns.  I also feel blessed by a whole lot (but not all) of the contemporary religious music.  I also enjoy listening to and singing country gospel as well as spirituals.
King David wrote a huge number of songs that helped him to understand the love of God in a closer and more personal way.  Reading through the book of Psalms can ease and comfort a troubled heart and then teach that heart to worship and praise God.  And yet, when early American Christians began expanding upon what King David had done, they experience revival as well as criticism. 

I’m not saying we all have to like all kinds of music.  I’m not trying to say that everything that claims to be Christian music is acceptable in a worship setting.  I’m not saying that we should allow our emotional connection to music lessen our commitment to Biblical truth.  What I am saying is that Satan loves to see our congregations divided over issues that, in and of themselves, are not relevant to our individual salvation.  Would I really let something like whether or not I liked the music a church played keep me from what I am convinced is the Truth?

I had a friend a few years ago, who hated it when the organ in the sanctuary accompanied the congregational singing…really, really hated it.  He actually experienced it as oppressive.  He loved to hear the congregation singing hymns with a guitar.  In the same congregation was another friend who felt that clapping with the music was irreverent and had no place in the sanctuary.  They were good friends of mine and of each other.  Neither one left the church or demanded that all the music in the sanctuary be his (or her) way all the time. 
“Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.  Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”  Psalm 33:1-3

[1] Wikipedia,
[2]Mark Noll, "Singing the Lord's Song," Books & Culture (Jan/Feb 2004) 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oh, Grow Up!

I was remembering this week a foster kid we had while I was growing up.  Some of you will remember that my family took lots of foster kids over the years.  Eddie is the one who popped into my mind.

Eddie was four years old when he came to live with us.  I think I was in middle school.  When the folks dropped him off they told us what they told us about almost every child we ever took – “This child is severely mentally retarded.  He will never be able to learn or function in any normal way.”  We also learned that Eddie (the name we gave him because he didn’t have one) had been in a different foster home since he’d been born.  At the age of four, Eddie had never been out of a crib; he couldn’t crawl or walk; he had never had a hair cut; he wasn’t potty trained, he didn’t talk; and he had never had anything for nourishment except baby formula from a bottle.  (I think I’ve told you about Eddie before.  I’m making a different point this time…I hope) 

Anyway, Eddie had lived four years with baby formula only and minimal human contact.  He was still living life as a newborn.  He had made almost no progress emotionally, intellectually or physically since the day his was born.  Sure, his body itself was four years old…but nothing else had changed at all.

Do you know any Christians like that?  Have you been a Christian like that?  Newborn Christians are as exciting and miraculous as newborn babies…full of hopes and promise.   And we have to be just a careful and tender with newborn Christians as with babies.  Babies don’t start right out eating (veggie)steak and fri-chick; they start out with something they can digest.  But if you never feed a growing child anything but milk, his body may grow, but he won’t have the energy to learn how to sit-up, crawl, or walk.  And if nobody ever interacts with the baby, he doesn’t learn to talk or respond to humans in anyway.  That’s what happened to Eddie.

The good news is that Eddie learned to eat good food, to talk, walk, and seemed on track to being a regular kid by the time he was adopted.  What about you and me?  Are we on the way to becoming mature Christians?

As Adventists, we probably made our initial commitment to Christ because we were convinced, intellectually.  Adventist preachers and evangelists work very hard, for the most part, to play down the emotional aspects of conversion.  Mrs. White urges us to not be swayed by emotional appeals.  I understand the need for caution.  You’ve probably seen TV evangelists who work their audiences into emotional frenzy and then makes his appeal for Christ.  We might feel uncomfortable with that approach, but it can be quite effective.  Either way, the baby Christian has made a choice to follow Jesus, and that’s a good thing.  The problem is, that, in both cases, the conversion is one-sided.

Someone who has come to Christ based on their conviction that what they have learned is the truth may continue to come to church for the rest of his (or her) life and never take the next step – falling in love with Jesus.  On the other hand, the person who responded to the emotional appeal, will keep coming to church, as long as the church continues to provide emotionally charged services every week.  Both converts are, like newborn babies, completely reliant on what the church feeds them for their continued commitment to Jesus.

Have you ever noticed a baby who is about four or five months old who is just ready to graduate from milk only to food?  Does anybody have to convince them that they are ready for food?  If that baby is sitting where he (or she) can see people eating, he’s probably “looking the food right out of their mouths”, as my father used to say.  He knows he’s ready to take the next step, and he’s eager to start.  Now, he may not like everything you try to give him, and (based on my own experience) if you start with the wrong food, you may have problems, but, for the most part, whatever you offer him, he’s going to take. 

Or, we could look back at Eddie.  I’m sure there was a time for him, when he was four or five months old, that he would have been interested in trying food, if someone had offered it to him.  But when no one did, he lost interest. 

That can happen with baby Christians too.  At some point, we have to move beyond depending on the pastor and/or church for our spiritual food.  The pastor’s (church’s) job is not to keep feeding formula to baby Christians, but to inspire them learn how to spiritually feed themselves.  Church is the appetizer or the dessert, not the meal.

So, how do we get from newborn to born again?  By being hungry to learn more about Jesus.  By getting to know Jesus as a friend.  Everything I read this week brought it down to this:  communication.  Communication is what builds all relationships.

Jesus communicates with us through the Bible, right? He teaches us about Himself, about what He has done for us and what He wants to do.  By reading the Bible we learn who Jesus is.

We communicate with God by praying.  Now, I know that Jesus doesn’t really need for us to pray.  He knows what we’re thinking, what we need, what we want, and what we’re feeling.  But when we pray, we are using our free will to choose to open the door of communication between ourselves and God.  He could just take control of everything so that we didn’t need to pray…but then our free will would be gone.  Plus, talking to people we have relationships with is something we enjoy doing, right?  It’s part of being in the relationship.  Haven’t you had friends that you could talk to for hours and hours?  You looked forward to the opportunity to sit with them and do just that.

A lot of people stop right there.  They read their Bible and pray.  Those are the folks who say that they don’t need to come to church because God can be with them everywhere.  They’re right, but they’re also missing a huge opportunity for growing up as a Christian.  Meeting together with other Christians is huge!  
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
God created us to enjoy—need, interaction with other people, and when most of our time during the week is spent with folks who don’t share our love for Jesus, it is really wonderful to come together with others who believe the way we do on Sabbath.  In fact, I’ve know folks who enjoy coming to church just because of the social opportunities, not so much for the spiritual ones. 

Anyway, the last component of growing in Jesus, for me, is the hardest one.  We need to communicate with people who don’t know Jesus personally.  We all have different strengths and gifts for telling others about our love for Jesus.  I don’t have the same gifts you have, but we all need to share what Jesus has done for us with someone who needs to hear it.  Do you want to be a grown up Christian?  I do.  There are really just four steps:  read the Bible, pray, spend time with people who love Jesus, and tell people who don’t know Jesus about Him.

That sounds easy, doesn’t it – on paper.  In real life there are so many things that get in the way; Satan makes sure of that.  But, I believe, that when we ask God to make Him our “one, consuming passion” He will answer that prayer by giving us exactly what we need.
“ If the follower of Christ would grow up ‘unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13), he must eat of the bread of life and drink of the water of salvation.  He must watch and pray and work, in all things giving heed to the instructions of God in His words.”  Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles,  pp. 284-285.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Familiarity Breeds …

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for  7.30.11

There are a couple of Bible stories we should look at to start with:  Hophni and Phinehas and Nadab and Abihu.   These guys have a couple of interesting things in common.  One:  they had fathers who were very important and well respected in the church – Eli and Aaron.  Second:  they were following in their fathers’ footsteps.  Third:  they got into BIG trouble.

Eli’s sons are described as “scoundrels”:  
“Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, ‘Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.’ If the person said to him, ‘Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,’ the servant would answer, ‘No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.’  This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.” 1 Samuel 2:12-17
While it’s implied that Aaron’s sons went into the sanctuary after they had been drinking:  
“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. … Then the LORD said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses.’”  Leviticus 1-2, 8-10
Does it surprise you that these four men who had been so thoroughly trained and groomed to work in the sanctuary became such spectacular failures?  Probably not, we even have a name for it:  PK’s – preachers’ kids.  Right? 

I’ve heard lots of theories about why PK’s seem to fall so spectacularly: that men in the ministry tend to put their families second; that people’s expectations of PK’s is so much higher and that Satan works so much harder on PK’s to discredit the ministry of their fathers.  I guess all of those theories can be true, especially the last one, but I have one more.  I think that sometimes PK’s, especially in the cases of Hophni, Phinehas, Nadab and Abihu, get so used to being around the church building itself and what we might call “sacred” settings and situations, that those places and situations tend to lose their importance and their specialness and so the difference between sacred and common gets blurred.  (Feel free to disagree.  Let me know what you think.)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should avoid church because we’ll get too comfortable there and get into trouble.  I’m just saying that we need to guard against our church/worship experiences becoming routine or second nature.

Wayne Oates describes it this way:
“Marketplace thought about the presence of God is one of sentimental familiarity. Country-western songs speak of ‘having a little talk with Jesus’ almost as if the Lord were a chum with whom one has a chitchat. ... In stark contrast, however, is the persistent biblical wisdom that God's presence comes to us when we know it not. At the least, our awareness of the presence is an afterthought”[1]
C.S. Lewis expresses a similar thought about letting our fear and respect of God begins wane and we begin to become too familiar: 
“‘I think the ‘low’ church ‘milieu’ that I grew up in did tend to be too cozily at ease in Zion. My grandfather, I'm told, used to say that he ‘looked forward to having some very interesting conversations with St. Paul when he got to heaven.’ Two clerical gentlemen talking at ease in a club! It never seemed to cross his mind that an encounter with St. Paul might be rather an overwhelming experience even for an Evangelical clergyman of good family. But when Dante saw the great apostles in heaven they affected him like ‘mountains.’ There's lots to be said against devotions to saints; but at least they keep on reminding us that we are very small people compared with them. How much smaller before their master?”[2]
I think what both of  these authors are saying is that, if we’re not careful, our relationship with God and worshipping Him can become too much about what makes us feel good when it should be more about what God wants from us.  More like this:
“I am dismayed by the popular phrase ‘worship experience’ to describe the church's corporate worship. Worship has the capacity to transform us, because it focuses our hearts and minds on God--God seen in one another, in ourselves and in the world around us. However, the phrase ‘worship experience’ suggests that worship is important because it induces feelings. In this context worship is focused more on the worshiper than on the One worshipped. ... We need to ask ourselves what a true worship experience is so that if we had one, we could recognize it.”[3]
The other extreme is that our worship can become completely ritualized and feelingless that our minds can be somewhere else while our bodies are going through the motions.

So that’s the struggle and the battle that our four PK’s lost.  Their worship quit being about God and became about themselves.  It became all about them and very little about Jesus.

Stuart Sacks has an illustration that might help us see what worship should be like.  
“While I was serving in Paraguay, a Maka Indian named Rafael came to sit on my porch. I was eating and went out to see what he wanted. He responded, ‘Ham, henek met.’ Again I asked what I could do for him, but the answer was the same. I understood what he was saying but not its significance: ‘I don't want anything; I have just come near.’
“I later shared the incident with a local veteran missionary. He explained that it was Rafael's way of honoring me. He really didn't want anything; he just wanted to sit on my porch. He found satisfaction and pleasure just being near me.
“‘What brings you here, my child?’ the Lord asks.
“‘Ham, henek met.’”
“Doesn't that reveal the heart of true worship?”[4]
Tell Jesus today, “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.”

[1] Wayne E. Oates, Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 4.
[2] C. S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 17.
[3] Mark Horst in The Christian Century (Nov. 11, 1987). Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 2.

[4] Stuart Sacks, Villanova, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Good Life

That’s our grail isn’t it?  The vast majority of people are looking for something we call “the good life” – also known as living abundantly.  But do any of us know what either of those phrases really means?  Would we be able to tell if we were living abundantly?  Or is the good life something you only find in memories

I tried to find a good definition for abundant life and nothing I found really helped.  I did find out that to most folks it’s code for monetary wealth.  For the new agey people, it means becoming one with yourself and the universe.  And neither of those really fit with the text, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV)
This is what I got from the dictionary:  
"present in great quantity; more than adequate; oversufficient: an abundant supply of water; well supplied; abounding: a river abundant in salmon; richly supplied: an abundant land; overflowing” (abundant. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved June 01, 2007, from website:

Very helpful, but still not exactly what I was looking for.  I did find out that the Greek word that John used there can be talking about quality as well as quantity, like living a superior life.  And then I found some really interesting and enlightening information.  First off, the word happy is from the same root word (I know, my English major is showing, sorry) as haphazard and happenstance, and it was the word for luck   So, does that mean that the abundant life depends on luck?  Oh, I hope not! 

My search continued.  Then I found a sermon from a preacher in Seattle, in which the preacher talks about the Sermon on the Mount.  He mentions that some Bible translations use the word ‘happy’ instead of the word ‘blessed’.  Which works ok for “Happy are the peacemakers”, but not so well for “Happy are the sad”. (?)  This preacher’s comment is that happy isn’t the right word in this case, and the translators should have used the word ‘joy’.

So, what’s the difference between happiness and joy then?  Don’t they mean the same thing?  Well, according to a study that I found, “almost but not quite.”  First of all, I was shocked that somebody actually spent time (and money) studying this and second, how many people have spent time (and money) to study what they call “near-synonyms” or “plesionyms”.  Apparently many, many people want to make sure that we are using exactly the right word in every situation.  In fact, there are books out there that actually compare and contrast the minute differences between synonyms so that you and I can choose the exact word we want to use.  I can see why that would be important.  Even Mark Twain had something to say about this subject:  "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug."

Anyway, in this study that I read (an actual scientific study), they were trying to find out how people decided when to use either the word ‘happiness’ or the word ‘joy’ – and, of course could they do anything to influence those choices.  Well, I struggled through all the technical stuff like ratios, testing situations, statistics, etc., but then I read something truly enlightening.  When happiness and joy are used in metaphors, “happiness has a tendency to be described as a thing to be searched for and acquired, while joy tends to be talked about as though it were a liquid that fills the body.”

QUICK!  Read that again.  Wow. 

You’ve seen those people, haven’t you?  They’re trying to find happiness all the time—trying everything they can think of to make them happy.  And usually they are happy, for about ten minutes…if that long.  Then they start looking for their next happiness fix.  Check this out: 
Happiness must be sought in the right way and from the right source. Some think they may surely find happiness in a course of indulgence in sinful pleasures or in deceptive worldly attractions. And some sacrifice physical and moral obligations, thinking to find happiness, and they lose both soul and body. Others will seek their happiness in the indulgence of an unnatural appetite, and consider the indulgence of taste more desirable than health and life. Many suffer themselves to be enchained by sensual passions, and will sacrifice physical strength, intellect, and moral powers to the gratification of lust. They will bring themselves to untimely graves, and in the judgment will be charged with self-murder.” {My Life Today 162.2}
In the same book, Ellen White says this:  They are ever trying to find out of Christ that enjoyment which is found alone in Him…There is no true joy except Christ’s joy.” p158

There it is.  Joy is not something we have to look for; we know exactly where to find it.  We just need to allow ourselves to be filled with it.  And the great thing is that joy isn’t based on luck or happenstance.  It isn’t even based on our mood.  Remember the Beatitudes?  Can you be happy when you are “poor in spirit, mourning or sad, or when you’ve been attacked, or when men give you a bad name, are cruel to you, and say evil things about you?  Probably not.  But you can be joyful in all those situations.

Why?  Well according to a sermon called, “The Ultimate Lifestyle: Living Joyfully”, Darryl Dash out of Ontario says, “Joy is not the absence of problems; joy is the attitude that you carry regardless of your problems…Joy is internal.  Happiness is external.”  And to drive home his point, Darryl points to Paul.  If anybody in the Bible had a right to be unhappy, Paul did.  He was wrongly jailed and waiting for a trial that might just lead to a death sentence.  The person who wanted him tried was Nero—definitely not a nice guy.  On the way to jail, he had been shipwrecked, stranded on a desert island (not Gilligan’s), and been bitten by a poisonous snake.  And that was just on the way!  Once he got there, he was thrown in a cell, chained up 24/7, with a new guard every four hours around the clock; he was never by himself.  Do you think the jail food was any good?

The world would really have excused Paul if he had let himself give in to whatever emotions presented themselves: anger, bitterness, hopelessness and probably a whole bunch more.  But Paul didn’t give into those feelings.  He chose something better.  In his letter to the Philippians he says,
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (Php 1:12-13 ESV)
Excuse me?  When I imagine myself in that situation, those are not, repeat NOT, the words I imagine myself saying!  But Paul had made a choice long before he ended up in that jail, and he kept making that choice every single day: to put his life in God’s hands no matter what happened.  Can you believe it? 
“Though he was a prisoner, Paul was not discouraged. Instead, a note of triumph rings through the letters that he wrote from Rome to the churches. ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway,’ he wrote to the Philippians, ‘and again I say, Rejoice. . . . Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.‘My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. . . . The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’" {AA 484.3}
Paul, instead of focusing on himself and his happiness and comfort, what people thought of him, how he looked or any of those things, he only cared about one thing.  He cared that the love of Christ was being preached everywhere and to everybody.  For Paul, like for so many others, it wasn’t about his comfort or happiness or even about his life; it was about Jesus.  
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”  (Acts 20:24 KJVR)
Paul knew how to get joy.  Not by searching everywhere, but by looking to God and being abundantly filled.  He didn’t have any room for anything else but his joy and his mission for Jesus.
Even Jesus, Himself, focused on one thing only. 
“’Jesus . . . for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ Heb. 12:2, R.S.V.
 "’”These things have I spoken unto you," said Christ, "that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."’ John 15:11.
“Ever before Him, Christ saw the result of His mission. His earthly life, so full of toil and self-sacrifice, was cheered by the thought that He would not have all this travail for nought. By giving His life for the life of men, He would restore in humanity the image of God. He would lift us up from the dust, reshape the character after the pattern of His own character, and make it beautiful with His own glory.“Christ saw of the travail of His soul and was satisfied. He viewed the expanse of eternity and saw the happiness of those who through His humiliation should receive pardon and everlasting life. He was wounded for their transgressions, bruised for their iniquities. The chastisement of their peace was upon Him, and with His stripes they were healed. He heard the shout of the redeemed. He heard the ransomed ones singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. Although the baptism of blood must first be received, although the sins of the world were to weigh upon His innocent soul, although the shadow of an unspeakable woe was upon Him; yet for the joy that was set before Him He chose to endure the cross and despised the shame.“This joy all His followers are to share. However great and glorious hereafter, our reward is not all to be reserved for the time of final deliverance. Even here we are by faith to enter into the Saviour's joy.” {Maranatha 316

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Who Are You? Hoo Hoo – Hoo Hoo

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for  7.9.11

Pretty much from the moment Adam and Eve listened to the serpent, God has had to demonstrate who He is.  Every now and then we get it, but it’s like the Camelot thing – “one brief shining moment” – and then, POOF! it’s gone.

I mean, Adam and Eve had it for a little while, and then Eve got distracted and started listening to the serpent. Enoch got it, and managed to hang on.  Noah and his family seemed to understand who God was, right up until the time they got off the ark.  Things went haywire again.

The book of Genesis tells one story after another about the trouble people had hanging on to any understanding of who God is.  By the time Moses meets God at the burning bush, most folks really didn’t have any idea who God was.  Thankfully, Moses understood, so God took him back to start the arduous process of re-introducing Him to the Children of Israel.
The Children of Israel proved to be very difficult to teach (not unlike us), but God didn’t quit trying.  He used miracles, manna, water from rocks, pheasants, and the Ten Commandments.

Yes, you read that right.  I believe the Ten Commandments are God’s self-portrait, maybe even His autobiography.  I believe that they say more about Him than they do about us.

Now, I know lots of folks are going to disagree with me.  Most people who think of the Ten Commandments at all, think of them as a list of restrictions that God put out so He could catch people breaking the rules and then punish them.  Or, probably more accurately, rules that some people threw together to control other people. 

In fact, Haddon Robinson implies that if there were no rules, people wouldn’t think to break them. 
“The law can prompt us to sin. I am told that several years ago a high-rise hotel was built in Galveston, Texas, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, they sank pilings into the gulf and built the structure out over the water. When the hotel was about to have its grand opening, someone thought, What if people decide to fish out the hotel windows? So they placed signs in the hotel rooms, "No fishing out the hotel windows." Many people ignored the signs, however, and it created a difficult problem. Lines got snarled. People in the dining room saw fish flapping against the picture windows. The manager of the hotel solved it all by taking down those little signs. No one checks into a hotel room thinking about fishing out of the windows. The law, although well-intentioned, created the problem.”[1]
Is Robinson really saying that the Ten Commandments are what make us sin?  That’s what it seems like to me, but I could be wrong.  I’d love to know what you think.

On the other hand, there’s Randy Cohen who’s comments seem to imply that people only need a suggestion of the appropriate behavior.
“In New York at 33rd and Broadway, it's a big transportation hub. Penn Station's right there. A lot of commuter trains stop there, a major subway stop. Thousands and thousands of people pouring out…and what everybody wants more than anything else is: They want a taxi.
“And the most appalling episodes of violence I've seen since I've been here—and I've been in New York for 30 years—were committed there. People did just terrible things.
“Then about 10 years ago, someone—I guess, the Taxi and Limousine Commission—they did something very simple. They painted a yellow strip down the sidewalk and they stenciled two words on the sidewalk: Cab Line. It utterly transformed behavior there. It's the most astonishing thing. Nearly everyone, almost all the time, simply waits in line. It's magnificent. It's never enforced—there are no "line" police there. But we changed the physical conditions and made it possible for people to behave, invited them to behave, and they do![2]
The thing is, that however we feel about them as rules, I believe that the Ten Commandments are the clearest representation that the people who lived between Eden and Jesus had of just who God is. 

“You shall have no other gods before me.”  Exodus 20:3 God is loyal to His people and asks for theirs in return.  “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

“You shall not make for yourself an image…” Exodus 20:4  God knows how fruitless it is for us to put our faith in anything other than the God who created us.  He wants to spare us the heartbreak that would inevitable come from worshiping the wrong thing.

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God…”  Exodus 20:7 God respects and values every human being who has ever or will ever live, regardless of gender, wealth or race.  He wants to teach us how to extend that respect to each other by learning to respect Him.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  Exodus 20:8 God has put time with us on His calendar.  He knows He can spend time together anytime, but He wants to make sure we have that fenced off, uninterrupted time together so we don’t grow apart.

“Honor your father and your mother,…”  Exodus 20:12 God wanted us to experience the relationship that He has with Jesus and the Holy Spirit – individuals who are unified by their love for one another.

 “You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”  Exodus 20:13-16 God wants everyone to know that each of us is valuable to Him.  When we injure each other, whether it’s physically or emotionally, He experiences that pain too.  His heart is broken when our hearts are broken.

“You shall not covet…”  Exodus 20:17 God longs to give us the desires of our hearts, but if we allow ourselves to want wrong things, He can’t give them to us.  When our hearts are aligned with His, we will want only what He can give us.

The Ten Commandments can’t just be rules to us or we’ll begin to worship the rules and not the Ruler of the Universe.  Rules for the sake of having rules are about power and control.  The Ten Commandments are about love and protection.  If you think about it, the Ten Commandments are the rules of Heaven.  If they feel like bondage now, how will they feel for eternity? 

Satan works really hard to make sure that people believe that the Ten Commandments are God’s way of controlling the population of Heaven; that they’re the barbed wire around eternity.  He wants us to feel pricked and chafed by them.  But that’s not what God intended.  He wants us all there.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

The question is, do you want to be with Jesus for eternity?  I do. 

[1] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Baker Academic, 2001), p. 100
[2] From an interview with Randy Cohen, "Jesus Has a Lot of Explaining to Do!" Homiletics (September/October 2004) p. 67