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

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