Sunday, September 25, 2011

Under New Management

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 10.1.11

Let’s start with a story told by Stuart Briscoe in “Christmas 365 Days a Year:”
“Let me put it to you with the story of a simple, illiterate man who was converted through the work of the Salvation Army. He went regularly to the Salvation Army citadel. One day he came home rather disconsolate.
“His wife said, ‘What's the matter?’
“He said, ‘I've just noticed that all the people in the Salvation Army wear red sweaters, and I don't have a red sweater.’
“She said, ‘I'll knit one.’ So she knitted him a red sweater.
“The next Sunday after he went to the citadel, he still wasn't happy.
“His wife said, ‘What's wrong this time?’
“He said, ‘I just noticed all their red sweaters have yellow writing.’
“They were both illiterate, but she said, ‘Don't worry about it. I'll embroider some writing on for you.’
“She had no idea what the yellow writing on the red sweater of a Salvation Army man said--Any of you know what it is? They have a yellow circle, and in it, BLOOD AND FIRE. That's their motto. (Unbutton the jacket of a Salvation Army man when he's ringing his little bells sometime; tell him you're just checking.)
“The man's wife had no idea what the letters said, and she couldn't read anyway. So copying a sign from a store window opposite their home, she embroidered the words of that store sign onto his red sweater.
“When he came back the next Sunday, she said, ‘Did they like your sweater?’
“‘They loved my sweater. Some of them said they liked my sweater better than their sweater.’
“What neither of them knew was that the sign on the store window she had copied read, THIS BUSINESS UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.
“That's what it means to get saved. That's what it means to get converted. That's what it means for the Holy Ghost to come upon you: this business under new management.”[1]
Isn’t that great?  When we see an “Under New Management” sign on a business, doesn’t it bring hope?  It lets us know that no matter what our experience has been with that business in the past, it will be different from now on. 

It’s the same for people too.  Of course, we don’t have to hang a sign around our necks, but when we’ve turned our lives over to Jesus, we can let people know that their experience with us will (hopefully) be different from now on.

Think about Saul, for example.  He was an extremely loyal and steadfast Jew.  So much so that he was kind of in the frontlines of the Jews who were trying to eradicate the new Christian believers.  The first we hear of him in the Bible is when he’s guarding coats at the “trial” and execution of Stephen. 
“…, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” 
That is the last time Saul and Stephen saw each other.  Now imagine this, Stephen is walking around Heaven and coming the other way he sees the man he knows as Saul.  What do you think would go through Stephen’s mind at that point?  (Of course, this is earthly thinking here.)  Do you think he might, for just a fraction of a second, entertain the thought that this must be some kind of joke?  that there must have been some huge mistake?  After the initial shock, Stephen and Saul/Paul would have a good talk and it’d be ok, because Stephen would find out that Paul is “under new management.”

Even more amazing though is that Paul would be able to thank Stephen for having a part in his conversion.  “Wait, what?” you say.  “Saul was with the guys who murdered him.”  Well, true, but check this out:
“The martyrdom of Stephen made a deep impression upon all who witnessed it. It was a sore trial to the church, but resulted in the conversion of Saul. The faith, constancy, and glorification of the martyr could not be effaced from his memory. The signet of God upon his face, his words, that reached to the very soul of all who heard them, except those who were hardened by resisting the light, remained in the memory of the beholders, and testified to the truth of that which he had proclaimed.          
“… Saul seemed to be imbued with a frenzied zeal at the scene of Stephen’s trial and death. He seemed to be angered at his own secret convictions that Stephen was honored of God, at the very period when he was dishonored of men.”[2]
Having read that, I thought, for the first time, that even though we talk about sudden or Damascus Road types of conversions, that’s not really the way it works.  The Holy Spirit was working in Paul all along.  The Damascus Road experience was just the culmination of that work…the “under new management” sign hung in the window. 

That gives me so much hope!  God never gave up on Paul, even when he was running around actually supervising the killing of Christians.  The Holy Spirit stuck with him, even when Paul was at his absolute lowest point.

What an amazing God we believe in.  He sends the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts and to convict us even when we are doing absolutely everything we can to avoid surrendering our hearts and minds to Him.  And another thing I just realized is that even though my conversion experience or your conversion experience doesn’t look as dramatic as Paul’s, we are each led to that exact point in time where we can make our own Damascus Road decision to either walk with or walk away from God.  Do you realize that Paul could still have chosen to continue to work against God?  Paul could have decided he’d been struck by some freak bolt of lightning.  But praise God he didn’t!
“There comes a crisis, a moment when every human soul which enters the kingdom of God has to make its choice of that kingdom in preference to everything else that it holds and owns.”[3]
I believe when we compare notes in Heaven, we’ll find that we share the experience described by Francis Thompson the author of the poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” 
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; / I fled Him, down the arches of the years; / I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways / Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears / I hid from Him, and under running laughter.” [4]
We’ve all run from Jesus because we weren’t ready to surrender, but now it’s time to put a sign on all our hearts:  “UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.”

[1] Stuart Briscoe, "Christmas 365 Days a Year," Preaching Today, Tape 135.
[2] E.G.White, The Spirit of Prophecy, Volume 3, page 299.
[3] Catherine Booth. "William and Catherine Booth," Christian History, no. 26.
[4] Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven”

1 comment:

  1. i like it UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT... sure when we see this note we have hope and confidence in the new management... Happy Sabbath