Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oh, What You Said!

It’s not a four letter word, but it’s a word we, especially Americans, extra-especially Texans, really, really hate… Can you guess what word it is?  OK, I’ll tell you, but you’ve got to promise not to get too upset… Are you sitting down?  Submission – ummm, I’m telling!

So, it’s not a bad word, but it’s a word most of us aren’t comfortable with.  Folks get all excited when somebody starts talking about how one group of people needs to submit to another group of people.  Somebody will make a comment about the text in the Bible that says that wives should submit to their husbands (“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:24NIV) and people just start going off the deep end all over the place!  Have you ever noticed that?  Why do you think that is?

Some folks would say that we have come so far as a race/species that we are self-sufficient and don’t need to-and shouldn’t-submit to anyone.  The problem with that argument is that the first two people on earth had problems being submissive right off the bat.  So did at least one of their children.  In fact, it goes back even farther than that, doesn’t it?  Lucifer had issues with submitting to authority, and he makes sure that we do to.

What does it mean to submit to someone?  When most of us think of a definition, we go straight to the most negative definition, “abjectly submissive; characteristic of a slave or servant; ‘slavish devotion to her job ruled her life’; ‘a slavish yes-man to the party bosses’- ‘she has become submissive and subservient’ [syn: slavish] “  submissive. (n.d.). WordNet® 3.0. Retrieved July 06, 2007, from website:

I don’t know about you, but the thought of being slavish doesn’t sound like much fun to me.  We certainly don’t want to consider ourselves slaves.  Only weaklings submit their will to anyone else, right?  But look what the Bible says in Romans 8:6-8: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” NIV

Well, that definitely puts a different spin on the whole idea. Those verses make it sound like we cannot please God unless we submit to Him.  In fact, Mrs. White goes beyond that:
I know that human beings suffer much because they step out of the path that God has chosen for them to follow. They walk in the sparks of the fire they have kindled themselves, and the sure result is affliction, unrest, and sorrow, which they might have avoided if they had submitted their will to God and had permitted Him to control their ways. God sees that it is necessary to oppose our will and our way, and bring our human will into subjection.
“Whatever path God chooses for us, whatever way He ordains for our feet, that is the only path of safety. We are daily to cherish a spirit of childlike submission, and pray that our eyes may be anointed with the heavenly eyesalve in order that we may discern the indications of the divine will, lest we become confused in our ideas, because our will seems to be all-controlling. With the eye of faith, with childlike submission as obedient children, we must look to God, to follow His guidance, and difficulties will clear away. The promise is, "I will instruct thee and teach thee . . . : I will guide thee with mine eye" (Ps. 32:8). . . .
“If we come to God in a humble and teachable spirit, not with our plans all formed before we ask Him, and shaped according to our own will, but in submission, in willingness to be taught, in faith, it is our privilege to claim the promise every hour of the day. We may distrust ourselves, and we need to guard against our own inclinations and strong tendencies lest we shall follow our mind and plans and think it is the way of the Lord. . . .
“Our heavenly Father is our Ruler, and we must submit to His discipline. We are members of His family. He has a right to our service, and if one of the members of His family would persist in having his own way, persist in doing just that which he pleased, that spirit would bring about a disordered and perplexing state of things. We must not study to have our own way, but God's way and God's will.” That I May Know Him 249}
So, we can’t please God without submissive hearts and spirits, but we can’t even please ourselves.

Abraham and Sarah are given as examples of that kind of submission.  And just so we don’t get discouraged right away, Abraham and Sarah also are examples of what can happen when we get impatient and don’t submit ourselves to God. 

I think we’re mostly comfortable with those pictures of submission.  In theory, we agree that we need to submit to God’s will in our lives, and when we take things into our own hands, they usually don’t go so well.

But there’s something else in that story that becomes very uncomfortable for us (well, for me anyway) to think about.  It’s that pesky idea of one person submitting to another person.  I’m not just talking about wives to husbands, because as I read it, everybody gets the same message at some point or another.  Uh-huh, I saw that eye-roll.  You aren’t any more comfortable with it than I am.

In Ephesians 5:22-33; 6:1-9; Romans 13:1-5; Colossians 3:18-22 and, most simply, Ephesians 5:21 (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”) we read that God wants us to submit to each other.  So, if we want to submit to God, we have to also submit to humans.  How far do you think we have to take that, do you think?

When we think about the husband/wife or parent/child relationships, we can kind of go along with those, right?  At least in those situations we can usually count on the positive feelings from the people we’re submitting to.  And we know that God wants what’s best.  But those verses don’t stop there. 
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.” Ephesians 6:5-9 NIV
Slaves?  Slaves?  We’re not slaves.  Those verses were written for another time and place.  They aren’t talking about us.  Are they?

Well, no, but I think these verses have some very important things to say about the spirit of submission that can be applied in all the other areas. 

Be honest with yourself now, how often have you (me too) done a task just well enough to slide by, or only tried to look busy when your boss was walking through?  Is that the kind of submission God wants?  ‘Fraid not.  Your boss doesn’t want it either.

And what about when you believe your boss/husband/parent is wrong?  Not going against God in anyway, but just wrong…do you have to submit then?

Think about Sarah’s life with Abraham.  We don’t think much about her part of this adventure.  Can you imagine your husband walking in and saying to you, “Morning dear, we’re moving.”


“Don’t know.”

And your response would be…?  Would you submit at that point?  Or would you have some opinions to share before you started packing?

What about later when Abraham told the pharaoh that Sarah was his sister.  Maybe the first time, we would have played along without any discussion, but what about the second time?  What do you think that discussion might have sounded like in your family?

I don’t believe that Sarah was a passive, weak, dependent person; I do believe that after giving her thoughts she submitted to Abraham’s will.  She trusted God enough to be able to trust Abraham.  Just like Isaac trusted God enough to trust Abraham on Mount Moriah.
“We shall see the salvation of God if we trust in God in the darkness as well as in the light.
“All trials, all afflictions, all peace, all safety, health, hope, life, and success are in God's hands, and He can control them all for the good of His children. It is our privilege to be suppliants, to ask anything and everything of God, submitting our request in submission to His wise purposes and infinite will.” E.G.White, Our High Calling

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Name Your Price

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.3.11

You know in all those detective and cop shows, there’s often a bad guy who wants to make his troubles go away by paying someone large amounts of money.  When that someone refuses, the amount of money often goes up.  The good guy usually says something like, “I can’t be bought.”  To which the bad guy usually replies, “Everyone has a price.” 
Now, I don’t know how often bad guys try to bribe good guys in real life, but think about this for a second.  Isn’t that pretty much what Satan is doing?  He’s trying to find out what it will take for us to turn away from God.  He’s trying to find out what our price is.  Have you ever thought about what you’re willing to take to stop worshiping God the way He asks us to worship Him?
In Ezekiel 8, we read about some folks who had named their price, taken their pay off, and turned so far away from God that they were worshiping idols and pagan gods in God’s own house.  God took Ezekiel on a tour so that Ezekiel could write it down. 
“… On the fifth day of the sixth month, I was sitting in my house. The elders of Judah were sitting there with me. The Lord and King put his powerful hand on me there … In visions God gave me, the Spirit took me to Jerusalem. He brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the inner courtyard. The statue of a god was standing there. It made God very angry. … Then the Lord said to me, ‘Son of man, look toward the north.’ So I did. I saw a statue that made God angry. It was in the entrance of the gate north of the altar.  He said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what the people of Israel are doing here? They are doing things I hate very much. Those things will cause me to go far away from my temple. But you will see things I hate even more.’  Then he brought me to the entrance to the courtyard. … And I saw a door there. He continued, ‘Go through it. Look at the evil things they are doing here. I hate those things.’ … All over the walls were pictures of all kinds of crawling things and other animals. The Lord hates it when people worship those things. There were also carvings of all of the gods of the people of Israel.  In front of them stood 70 elders of Israel. …  Each elder was holding a shallow cup. A sweet-smelling cloud of incense was rising from the cups.  The Lord said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what the elders of Israel are doing in the dark? Each of them is in his own room worshiping his own god. They say, “The Lord doesn't see us. He has deserted the land.”’ He continued, ‘You will see them doing things I hate even more.’  Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the Lord's house. I saw women sitting there. They were sobbing over the god Tammuz. The Lord said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what they are doing? You will see things I hate even more.’  Then he brought me into the inner courtyard of the Lord's house. About 25 men were there. They were at the entrance to the Lord's temple between the porch and the altar. Their backs were turned toward the temple. Their faces were turned toward the east. And they were bowing down to the sun.  He said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen all of that? The people of Judah are doing things here that I hate.’”  (most of) Ezekiel 8
I know, they didn’t leave God and start worshiping other gods all at once.  I’m sure it took several generations.  They took baby steps but look where they ended up!  It makes me think about how I worship God.  What compromise am I making that will make it easier for someone else to make another compromise?
Do you know that the churches in Europe are being turned into movie theaters and night clubs?  I realize they’re not “sacred” the way the Temple in the Bible was sacred, but it still seems kind of sacrilegious to me.
Here in the United States there are folks who believe that the fasted growing “religion” here isn’t really a religion, but sports.
Wait.  What? 
That’s right.
“‘Sport is America's newest and fastest-growing religion, far outdistancing whatever is in second place,’ says Charles S. Prebish, associate professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. ‘...It is not merely “like” a religion, he argues, nor is it a “secular” religion, as other religion scholars and sociologists have postulated.’
“To Mr. Prebish, sport can and does provide its followers everything that traditional religions have provided over the centuries. He writes: ‘For me, it is not just a parallel that is emerging between sport and religion, but rather a complete identity. Sport is religion for growing numbers of Americans, and this is no product of simply facile reasoning or wishful thinking. Further, for many, sport religion has become a more appropriate expression of personal religiosity than Christianity, Judaism, or any of the traditional religions. ...’
“Athletes and spectators for whom sport is religion may differ in their ideas about what the ‘ultimate’ is, Mr. Prebish says, but sport is the vehicle by which all of them find it.”[1]
You and I may read what Mr. Prebish has to say and think he’s overstating or overreacting…but how different is that really than what Ezekiel described? 
We’re all prone to compromise, for any number of reasons – we don’t want to seem different than the folks around us, convenience, money.  Especially when we think that no one will notice.
I think about Daniel and his three buddies – just barely adults, their parents gone, their cushy lives gone, in a situation that screamed for compromise, if not complete abandonment of their beliefs.  And when it came down to compromise or death, each one of them stood firm.  Absolutely amazing.
Yeah, but nobody’s that tough today, right?  Um, not so fast.
“Following Sunday worship services on January 8, 2006, five young men attacked and threatened to kill a Protestant church leader in Turkey's fourth largest city. Kamil Kiroglu, 29, had just left his church in Adana when he was ambushed and beaten so severely that he fell unconscious twice.
“‘They were trying to force me to deny Jesus,’ Kiroglu said. ‘But each time they asked me to deny Jesus and become a Muslim, I was saying, “Jesus is Lord.” The more I said, “Jesus is Lord.” the more they beat me.’ One of the attackers pulled out a long butcher knife and threatened to kill Kiroglu if he did not deny his Christian faith and return to Islam. Kiroglu refused.
“After the incident, he said, ‘I am praising God—not because he saved me from death, but because he helped me not to deny him in the shadow of death.’”[2]
Is there anybody big enough to stand between us and God?  Satan says, “Yes.”  God says, “No.”  Who are we going to believe?  “What should we say then? Since God is on our side, who can be against us?”  Romans 8:31

[1] M. Scott Vance, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Christianity Today, Vol. 29, no. 18.
[2] Compass Direct (January 2006)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Drippingly Insincere

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 8.27.11

I remember when my boys were little, they’d come show me something they’d drawn or written and without really looking at it or them, I’d mumble, “Great job, sweetie!”  Well, that only worked for a little while.  They got old enough to realize that I was not being sincere in my appreciation of their accomplishment.  In fact, one of the boys was only in about 3rd grade when he figured out that most of his teachers’ “Awesome!” and “Great job!” didn’t carry much weight either.  He wanted to know why teachers always said stuff like that when everybody knew they didn’t mean it.  Ouch!  He got me on both counts.  But I did try to be more careful – both at school and at home.

The problem is, it really seems so harmless, doesn’t it, to tell a child that his (or her) scribbles are beautiful or that his “story” is great, right?  Is a compliment really a compliment if you don’t mean it, and/or if the compliment-ee didn’t really earn it?

David Brooks of The New York Times seems to believe that unearned compliments might be causing some misconceptions.
“‘We're an overconfident species,’ … Brooks calls it a ‘magnification of the self,’ and he believes this glut of self-esteem is especially rampant in the United States. To back up these claims, Brooks cites an array of statistics, studies, and observations:
“When pollsters ask people from around the world to rate themselves on different traits, Americans usually supply the most positive self-ratings.
“Although American students do not perform well on global math tests, they are among the world leaders in having self-confidence about their math abilities.
“Compared to college students from 30 years ago, today's college students are much more likely to agree with statements such as ‘I am easy to like.’
“94 percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills.
“70 percent of high school students surveyed claim they have above-average leadership skills, and only 2 percent are below average.
“Brooks observes that a few decades ago it would have been unthinkable for a baseball player to celebrate himself in the batter's box after hitting a home run. Today it is routine.
“Similarly, pop singers wouldn't have composed songs about their own greatness; now those songs dominate the charts.
“The number of high school seniors who believed that they were ‘a very important person’: in the 1950s—12 percent; in the 1990s—80 percent.
“According to Brooks, American men are especially susceptible to the perils of overconfidence. Men unintentionally drown twice as often as women (because men have great faith in their swimming ability, especially after drinking).
“‘In short,’ Brooks concludes, ‘there's abundant evidence to suggest that we have shifted a bit from a culture that emphasized self-effacement—I'm not better than anybody else, but nobody is better than me—to a culture that emphasizes self-expansion.’”[1]
Honestly though, would you rather know the truth even if it wasn’t pretty?  Or would you prefer to hear a lie that made you feel better?
“Imagine picking your car up from the shop after a routine tune-up, and the technician says, ‘This car is in great shape. Clearly you have an automotive genius to take great care of your car.’ Later that day, your brakes don't work. You find out you were out of brake fluid. You could have died.
“You go back to the shop, and you say, ‘Why didn't you tell me?’ The technician replies, ‘Well, I didn't want you to feel bad. Plus, to be honest, I was afraid you might get upset with me. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted,’ You'd be furious! You'd say, ‘I didn't come here for a little fantasy-based ego boost! When it comes to my car, I want the truth.’
“Or imagine going to the doctor's office for a check-up. The doctor says to you, ‘You are a magnificent physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian. You are to be congratulated.’ Later that day while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. You find out later your arteries were so clogged that you were, like, one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper.
“You go back to the doctor and say, ‘Why didn't you tell me?’ The doctor says, ‘Well, I knew your body is in worse shape than the Pillsbury doughboy, but if I tell people stuff like that, they get offended. It's bad for business. They don't come back. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.’ You'd be furious! You'd say to the doctor, ‘When it comes to my body, I want the truth!’
“Obviously, when something matters to us, we do not want illusory comfort based on pain avoidance. We want truth.”[2]
And that’s all God wants too.  He wants our love and obedience, but only if we want to give it.  He doesn’t ask anybody to pretend.  In fact, He gets pretty angry with people who say one thing and do another.
“The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.  When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you,    this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me.  New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.     Your hands are full of blood!”  Isaiah 1:11-15
Wow!  Those are some really strong words!  And the meaning is clear: “Don’t even bother to put on a show for Me.  If you don’t mean it, I don’t want it.” 

Going through the motions is just not good enough!  Matthew West’s song says it perfectly:  
“'Cause I don't wanna go through the motions / I don't wanna go one more day / without Your all consuming passion inside of me / I don't wanna spend my whole life asking, / ‘What if I had given everything, / instead of going through the motions?’”[3]
I want my worship, my whole relationship with God to be sincere; no more going through the motions.  What about you?

[1] David Brooks, "The Modesty Manifesto," The New York Times (3-21-11)
[2] John Ortberg, "Loving Enough to Speak the Truth,"
[3] Jason Houser, Sam Mizell, Matthew West, “The Motions,” Something to Say, Cedar Sides; Songs for Lulu, Llc Word Music

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In His Image

I learned this week that lots of people have lots of different ideas about what being created “in His image” might mean.  Some of the information was very interesting…not all believable though.

One website called “” turned out to be especially helpful.  An article called “What is the Image of God?” had some excellent things to say.  Another author that my son pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago also has a really awesome way of discussing the beginnings of man.  That is G.K. Chesterton, a Roman Catholic who wrote in the early 1900’s.  We’ve been listening to his book, The Everlasting Man, and have been enjoying his way of expressing some very complex ideas in very simple ways…as well as being pretty funny at the same time.

Anyway, the first thing both of these gentlemen stated is that no matter what else we might believe about the Image of God, it is something unique to men and women.  No matter how genetically similar we are to chimpanzees, spiritually we are galaxies apart.

Dr. May names six characteristics that are distinct in the human race pointing to the imprint of God on our minds, hearts and spirits.

The first characteristic is creativity.  That is as opposed to operating on instinct.  Both May and Chesterton name this one element as perhaps the most striking difference between men (and women) and animals.  Although both birds and humans sing beautifully, a bird has never composed any psalm or sonata.  A bird builds his nest every year, but he has never thought to add a second floor or a picture window.  We reflect the image of a creative God who can create something from nothing.  Hallelujah!

Second, May names intelligence as the next peculiar characteristic.  Humans have the ability to understand and have rational thought.  There is nothing even remotely similar among the animals.  A dog or a horse can be trained to perform certain duties, but they don’t understand why they’re doing that thing.  They don’t contemplate the nature of their existence or the effects/consequences of their behavior beyond reward of punishment.  The Mind that keeps the planets from colliding in space has placed a tiny spark of that same intelligence in each of us.  And secular researchers cannot even begin to explain where that intelligence comes from.

Third—aesthetics.  The God who loves beauty filled his creation with it and then gave us the ability to appreciate what He had done.  No once has any creature besides a human being paid any attention at all to a breath-taking sunset.  Dr.  May tells a story about a place he visits on the Isle of Wight.  He enjoys watching those who visit for the first time. “They come round the path and stop.  The look out over Christchurch Bay…They take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow’ and then stand there in silence.  They often bring dogs.  The dogs never do this.” Dr. May says.  The dogs run around, sniff and do dog types of things…but they don’t experience to awe of seeing a beautiful sight.

Morality is another area that we both differ from the animals and reflect a tiny bit of our creator.  Humans have consciences.  And even though more and more folks seem to be ignoring theirs, we do know right from wrong and are capable of feeling guilty when we make a bad choice.  Animals don’t experience guilt, only fear of punishment.

Dr. May names the importance of relationships as a reflection of our God.  We all have the need to be part of some sort of society.  That may be different for different people to some degree, but even at creation, God made sure that Adam was not all by himself.  He gave him someone to look out for and who could look out for him.  The Bible tells us over and over that Love for the people around us is one of the highest goals we can attain.  We can’t accomplish what we need to do for Jesus without relationships with other people.

The last characteristic in which we reflect the Image of God is in our need to be spiritual.  Every single society, race, nationality has had some kind of religion.  Even when governments have made “religion” illegal, people have found ways to fill the void.  Either continuing to worship in secret or to accept the religion of the state.  Even now, in a society that often claims to have no need for gods or religions, people are filling that need with astrology, new age beliefs, and other forms of spirituality.  No animal has ever worshipped any other being or idea.  That is completely unique to humans.

Another element important about being created in the image of God is the aspect of male and female being equal parts of the whole image.  That element seems to cause another area of disagreement among different theological beliefs.  Jewish scholars believe that Adam was actually an androgynous being, containing both male and female, that God only separated as an after thought.  Hmm.  I’m not sure I agree with that.  It seems pretty far-fetched.  Keep in mind that Jewish scholars also believe that Eve was Adam’s second wife.  Again, hmmm.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that God intended that Adam and Eve represent the various, and sometimes opposing elements of His image.  Looking at the traditional characteristics of masculinity:  assertiveness, paternal instincts, taking charge, outgoing towards the world, provides outside support and protection, logic.  And the traditional characteristics of femininity:  maternal instincts, responder, relationship oriented, intuitive, perceptive, receptive, nurturing, sheltering. 

Based on these lists of traits, God is the most fully masculine Being who has ever existed—He is also the most fully feminine Being who has ever existed.  Not manly or girly, but masculine and feminine, there’s a huge difference.  What a miracle!

Unfortunately, Satan has taken those perfect characteristics that God placed in each of us and has bent and twisted them into his likeness.
We know what happens when we allow those broken traits to rule us; all we have to do is look around or watch the news.  Men struggle with being domineering, ruthless, rigid, cold, indifferent, intimidating, unforgiving, impersonal, unapproachable, boring and unimaginative.  Women struggle with being possessive, controlling, manipulative, contriving, irrational, controlled by emotions, over-concerned with appearances or prestige, and attention demanding.

Not very nice lists are they – almost hopeless, except for one thing.  God has given us a way back to His image instead of Satan’s.  He gave us Jesus, the perfect image of Himself.
“When Adam came from the Creator's hand, he bore, in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature, a likeness to his Maker. . . .
“Through sin the divine likeness was marred, and well-nigh obliterated. Man's physical powers were weakened, his mental capacity was lessened, his spiritual vision dimmed. He had become subject to death. Yet the race was not left without hope. By infinite love and mercy the plan of salvation had been devised, and a life of probation was granted. To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized--this was to be the great work of redemption.     Though the moral image of God was almost obliterated by the sin of Adam, through the merits and power of Jesus it may be renewed. Man may stand with the moral image of God in his character; for Jesus will give it to him.” E.G.White,God’s Amazing Grace, p.246.
“…seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:  Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Bar-barian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:9-11

Monday, August 15, 2011


Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 8.20.11

We hear a lot about compromise these days.  For the most part, it looks like everybody says compromise is a great idea, until it’s his (or her) turn to have to do the compromising.  On the other hand, all of us make compromises pretty much all the time. When we feel like we’re not fitting with our peers, we’ll push the edge of our belief system back a bit so that we blend in with the crowd better.  Not many people want to stick out.
I guess there are times when everybody needs to compromise to get important things accomplished, but when it comes to personal beliefs and morality, I can’t see any time compromise has a happy ending.  And in most cases, we don’t even realize it’s been happening until we look around one day and don’t even recognize ourselves or the people around us.

Have you ever experienced that?  I realized the other day that until I went to the 7th grade, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school.  Then, in Middle School we were allowed to wear pants, but they had to be part of a “pants suit” (shudder).  That changed almost immediately because in 8th grade girls could wear pants, the only exception being jeans.  Blue jeans were not allowed on boys or girls.  That actually held all the way through high school, except that finally everybody could wear jeans on pep rally days.

That whole process didn’t seem at all unusual for those of us living through it.  It’s only in looking back that I can see how drastically things had changed in just six years.

I believe that things like that can happen in other areas of our lives as well.  I guess there are areas where gradual change in one direction or the other is not of any great importance, but when it comes to worship, we need to be very aware of which direction things are going.  Why?  Because we are sinful beings, and, on our own, we almost never drift toward something better.  Even with our best intentions, we can end up going the wrong direction.

Here’s an example of a church that, I’m sure, had the very best of intentions and was sincerely committed to drawing people into church, but I believe they went off course somewhere along the way.

John Beukema relates:  
“When I opened my mail that night, the first letter was from a local church, inviting me to visit their ‘special community.’ They listed the ways they were unique:  ‘No religious dogma—We encourage the freedom of individual thought and belief. A humanist view of life—Our faith is based on celebrating the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
“‘Warm, accessible services—Our Sunday services…typically include a mix of readings, music, moments of meditation or contemplation, and a sermon….
“‘Our children's religious education program—We teach our kids to be accepting of differing beliefs and the importance of each person seeking his or her own truth. They study the world's major religions and draw on the core values of each faith tradition….
“‘So if you're looking for a congregation that cherishes freedom of belief and opinion, with a warm sense of community and fellowship, please visit us!’”[1]
What do you think?  Is that approach to worship refreshing or disturbing?

 In 1Kings 12, we learn about a Jewish king named Jeroboam.   The Jewish kingdom was disintegrating and the part that Jeroboam ended up with didn’t have any of the major places of worship in it.  He got worried that his people would travel to the other kingdom and decide they liked that one better and stay.  So he started the putting together a system of worship that was “almost as good.”  Kind of the “close but know cookie” system of worship.   You know, he didn’t get the part with Jerusalem in it, so he had to improvise, right?
“‘If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.’
“After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.
“Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.”  1Kings 12:27-33
Jeroboam blurred the edges of worship because he was afraid of losing his kingdom.  Why do we blur our beliefs?  Maybe they’re inconvenient.  Maybe they’re unpopular.  Maybe they cause us to lose money.  Maybe we feel like if we looked more like everybody else, more people would come into our churches and hear the truth.

We can be like Jeroboam and try to keep things convenient and friendly.  Or we can be like 
“Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Jew, [who] has been called ‘the voice of the underground church.’ In the 1940s, he was jailed and tortured by communist officials in his home country. While imprisoned, he spoke boldly of the gospel to his atheistic captors.
“About one experience in the 14 years he spent in prison, he wrote, ‘The political officer asked me harshly, “How long will you continue to keep your stupid religion?”
“‘I said to him, “I have seen innumerable atheists regretting on their deathbeds that they have been godless; they called on Christ. Can you imagine that a Christian could regret when death is near that he has been a Christian and call on Marx or Lenin to rescue him from his faith?”
“‘The atheist began to laugh, “A clever answer.”
“‘I continued, “When an engineer has built a bridge, the fact that a cat can pass over the bridge is no proof that the bridge is good. A train must pass over it to prove its strength. The fact that you can be an atheist when everything goes well does not prove the truth of atheism. It does not hold up in moments of great crisis.”
“‘I used Lenin's books to prove to him that, even after becoming prime minister of the Soviet Union, Lenin himself prayed when things went wrong.’”[2]
“And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”  Malachi 3:18
With so little time left, let’s pray for discernment so we can stay on the right path and keep our hearts and our worship fixed on Jesus.

[1] John Beukema, Western Springs, Illinois
[2] DC Talk, Jesus Freaks: DC Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs (Bethany House, 2002), pp. 53-54

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 8.13.11

I don’t know about you, but when and where I grew up, saying “uncle” was not a good thing.  It meant that you had met your match and that you were giving up the fight and admitting that your opponent was stronger than you.  Saying “uncle” carried a certain amount of shame with it, especially if there were witnesses.

As adults, we usually don’t grab anybody in a headlock and give him (or her) noogies until he screams “uncle.”  We have more subtle ways to gain, consolidate, and demonstrate our power.  We use our homes, cars, education, credit limit, pretty much anything can become a tool used to make sure those around us know just how tough we are.

And yet, Jesus tells us over and over again, that we need to let all that go; that earthly power means absolutely nothing, and we’re not sure what to do about that.

Can you imagine a society where everyone has given up all of his power?  Now, I’m not talking about giving up your freedom, but giving up power.  There’s a difference.  If you give up your freedom, then you end up in 1984 or A Brave New World or any number of other Utopian novels.  And that is a terrifying concept.  I’m trying to imagine a place where, well, maybe we don’t give up our power; we admit up front that we know we don’t have any power to give up. 

And that’s exactly where a true worship experience brings us.  Open your Bible to the book of Psalms and read practically every one and you will find the author of that Psalm finding his way to that place where he remembers where the power is – with God.

Let’s look at Psalm 90.  It was written by Moses.
“A prayer of Moses the man of God.   Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.  Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.  You turn people back to dust, saying, 'Return to dust, you mortals.'
A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.  Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.  You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.  Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.   Relent, LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.  May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.”  Psalm 90.
Now through the eyes of the world, Moses was and had been a very powerful individual; not the least of which was the grandson of Pharaoh and then God’s chosen leader of the children of Israel.  And yet throughout this Psalm, Moses reminds himself and us that God is totally and completely in charge and that he (Moses) likes it that way.

In fact, if we were to make the Psalms our model of worship, no matter where we each started, we would always end up in the same place – the place where we have learned that we can only survive through God.  We essentially wrestle with God for control of our lives until we realize we can’t win and we say, “uncle.”
When it comes to submitting our entire lives to God, most of us at some time or another, have decided we’re not ready.
“In his book Generation Ex-Christian, about younger Christians leaving Christianity, author Drew Dyck relates one interview with a young man who left Christianity to join the Wicca religion.
“Morninghawk Apollo (who renamed himself as is common in Wiccan practice) discussed his rejection of Christianity with candor. ‘Ultimately why I left is that the Christian God demands that you submit to his will. In Wicca, it's just the other way around. Your will is paramount. We believe in gods and goddesses, but the deities we choose to serve are based on our wills.’”[1]
Wow, that’s really powerful, isn’t it?  Submitting our will to God’s will is a completely unnatural act for a sinful human being, but if we make our will “paramount”, well, then, we’ve become our own gods.

God isn’t asking us to do anything, really, except love Him and accept His gift for Jesus’ life and death for our sins.  You’d think we’d be running to accept.  Instead, we’re acting like this guy:
“On March 10, 1974, Lt. Hiroo Onada was the last World War II Japanese soldier to surrender.
“Onada had been left on the island Lubang in the Philippines on December 25, 1944, with the command to "carry on the mission even if Japan surrenders." Four other Japanese soldiers were left on the island as Japan evacuated Lubang. One soldier surrendered in 1950. Another was killed in a skirmish with local police in 1954. Another was killed in 1972. Onada continued his war alone.
“All efforts to convince him to surrender or to capture him failed. He ignored messages from loudspeakers announcing Japan's surrender and that Japan was now an ally of the United States. Leaflets were dropped over the jungle begging him to surrender so he could return to Japan. He refused to believe or surrender.
“Over the years he lived off the land and raided the fields and gardens of local citizens. He was responsible for killing at least 30 nationals during his 29 year personal war. Almost a half million dollars was spent trying to locate and convince him to surrender. 13,000 men were used to try to locate him.
“Finally, on March 10, 1974, almost 30 years after World War II ended, Onada surrendered his rusty sword after receiving a personal command from his former superior officer, who read the terms of the cease-fire order. Onada handed his sword to President Marcos, who pardoned him. The war was over.
“Onada was 22-years-old when left on the island. He returned a prematurely aged man of 52. Onada stated, ‘Nothing pleasant happened in the 29 years in the jungle.’
“Like Onada, many people are fighting a lonely battle against the God who is offering reconciliation and peace.”[2]  
Time to stop fighting; let’s say “uncle” and surrender to Jesus.  Nothing good can come from resisting Him.

[1] Drew Dyck, "The Leavers," Christianity Today (November, 2010), p. 43; excerpted from Generation Ex-Christian (Moody, 2010)
[2] Summarized from a 1974 story in Newsweek; submitted by Syd Brestel, Bend, Oregon

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Do you remember that scene?  Jack Nicholson on the witness stand; Tom Cruise pushing his buttons.  It was a breath-taking moment, for sure. 

How often do we put God in the same situation Tom Cruise put Jack Nicholson in?  We keep asking and asking and begging Him to tell us what He wants us to do or how things are going to work out for us.  Then, finally, He has to say, “Look, I’ve already told you people, but you just don’t want to know the truth.”

OK, He probably wouldn’t say that…but He has told us exactly what He wants us to do; what’s going to happen in the future; and what He wants for us.  In fact, He’s told us His deepest heart’s desire!

“What?!” you say, “Did I miss a meeting?  When did He tell us that?”  Well, in almost every single verse of the Bible, right along with telling us how much He loves us.  

What does God want us to do with our lives?
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 NKJV
How does He want us to live our lives?
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV
What does He want to give us?
"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." John 10:10 NKJV
What will our future be like?
“…because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:31 NKJV
“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NKJV
What is the desire of God’s heart?
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17 NKJV
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4 NKJV
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 NKJV
Is it really that simple?  Is that all there is to being a Christian?  Then why should I go to church and listen to sermons and study my Bible and my Sabbath School lesson?  Am I missing something?

I think, for myself anyway, a couple of things are going on.  One is that I tend to think that I already know what the texts say and what they mean, so when I see them written on the page, I only read the first couple of words and then move on. 

I also believe that, since I was raised a Christian that I take a lot of stuff for granted.  People who have just given their hearts to the Lord are excited and learning new things all of the time, but I figure I know it and I don’t get as excited as I should.

Another issue that I think effects a lot of us is an issue of degree.  I think we all are convinced that the Bible will tell us everything we need to know about salvation.  And we read Micah 6:8 and we figure we’re pretty good.  We are fair in our dealings with others, we like people to be kind to us and we try to be nice to other folks and we don’t go around tooting our own horn.  We figure we’re on the right track.  We know what the commandments say; we haven’t killed anybody lately and we, mostly, keep the Sabbath, so we’re making it, right?

I read this example this week, maybe shows where the problems is:
A musician was working on a piece of music by a modern composer.  He described the music as being “more black than white on the page.”  That was his way of saying that the page was covered with lots of really fast notes.  Anyway, he and the other three members of the quartet worked for several weeks on the music trying to make sure every note was perfect.  Just before they were going to perform, the composer of the music came to hear them practice.
“’WHAT are you doing?’ he demanded as they played the composition for him.
“’What do you mean?’ they asked.
“’Why are you playing all those notes?’
“’That’s what’s on the page,’ they said.”
Then the composer looked disgusted and said, “’I didn’t put those notes down because I wanted you to play every single one of them – they were just to give you a general idea of what to play.’”
I don’t know about you but I would have been very frustrated after spending so much time trying to get the music just the way he’d written it.  Now think of it the other way around.  What if the same quartet had decided that what was written was just kind of an outline and they could fill in with whatever they thought best? 

First of all, I believe it would sound pretty awful because all four musicians would be playing his (or her) own interpretation of what the composer was trying to say.  But then, think of the composer!  Would he figure it was no big deal, everybody has the right to play music however they think best?  Or would he be hurt? angry? 

How do you think God feels when we, not necessarily misinterpret or skip His words, but interpret them very loosely and casually.  Is He like that composer who didn’t mean for the quartet to play every single note?
Mrs. White, in Christ’s Object Lessons, page 133 explains it this way:
“Why is it that we do not realize the value of this knowledge?  Why are not these glorious truths glowing in our hearts, trembling upon our lips, and pervading our whole being?
“In giving us His word, God has put us in possession of every truth essential for our salvation…Thousands have set the Lord before them, and by beholding have been changed into the same image…Thousands more may engage in the work of searching out the mysteries of salvation…Each fresh search will reveal something more deeply interesting than has yet been unfolded. …
“In eternity we shall learn that which, had we received the enlightenment it was possible to obtain here, would have opened our understanding.  The themes of redemption will employ the hearts and minds and tongues of the redeemed through the everlasting ages.  They will understand the truths which Christ longed to open to His disciples, but which they did not have faith to grasp.”
Can you handle the truth of salvation?  Am we ready to quit just scratching the surface and dig into the words that God, Himself has given us?