Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mirror? Mirror!

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson dated  11.5.11

Have you ever seen someone and found yourself thinking, “Did he (she) look in the mirror before he left the house?”  Ok, I know it’s wrong to judge people by the way they look, but sometimes I have to wonder…

 Anyway, the reason I thought of that was that I’ve heard/read some folks describe “the Law” as a kind of mirror.  A mirror can show us what we look like; it can show us if we have a piece of broccoli in our teeth or smudged mascara, but it can’t do anything about it.  The Law can’t save us, but it can show us our need for Jesus.

I’ve also seen the law compared to a microscope and to a light on a windshield.
“On a warm, summer night, my wife and I were traveling in our car with Micah, our 3-year-old son, who sat in the back seat. After many miles of driving in the darkness, we came to a stop in a remote area. The brightness of the traffic light revealed all of the dirt, dead bugs, and insects on our windshield. Micah said, ‘Look, how dirty!’
“My wife and I didn't think much of his comment until a moment later when we drove on—away from the light and back into the darkness. Upon reentering the darkness, we could no longer see the mess on our windshield, and Micah quickly piped up and said, ‘Now the glass is clean!’
“Before the law came, the dirt within us hid under the darkness. But when God gave the law, its light shined on the windshield of our hearts and revealed the filth of sin we'd collected on our journey. The law, then, is a light that shows us how sinful we really are. It cannot cleanse us or make us whole. But it does starkly highlight the true situation of our souls—and thus can lead us to Christ.”[1]
I love the way D.L. Moody said it: 
“Law tells me how crooked I am; grace comes along and straightens me out.”[2]  
Isn’t that great?  I really like that.

As simple as that is to say, the relationship between law and grace can really give us fits sometimes.  I’m surprised at just how much I take “justification by faith” for granted.  But then I’ll hear somebody say something like Mohammad Ali said in a Reader’s Digest article.  
"One day we're all going to die, and God is going to judge us—[our] good deeds and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell. If the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven."[3]
The idea that we can earn our way to heaven is shockingly prevalent in Christianity, the one place where it has absolutely no business!
“In What's So Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey recounts this story about C.S. Lewis:
“During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.
“They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.
“The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. ‘What's the rumpus about?’ he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, ‘Oh, that's easy. It's grace.’ “After some discussion, the conferees had to agree.
“The notion of God's love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, … , and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional.”[4]
So, how does it happen that we wander off into legalism so often when, if you think about it, living under grace is so much easier?  I mean, most of the time, we choose the path of least resistance, but when it comes to Salvation, we try to slog through the hard way…what’s up with that?

Talk about doing it the hard way, check this out: 
“It's amazing what some people will do to be spiritual. On September 18, 2003, Genshin Fujinami, 44, a Buddhist priest nicknamed the ‘Marathon Monk,’ finished a seven-year, 24,800-mile journey in the Hiei Mountains of Japan. It was intended to be a trek to enlightenment.
“Once a monk starts this journey he must finish or kill himself. According to an Associated Press article, for the first three years the pilgrim must rise at midnight for 100 consecutive days to pray and run 18 miles per day, stopping 250 times to pray along the way. During the next two years, he must up his schedule to 200 days. In the fifth year the pilgrim must sit and chant mantras for nine days without food, water, or sleep in a trial called doiri, or ‘entering the temple.’ In the sixth year, he must walk 37.5 miles every day for 100 days. In the seventh year, he must run 52.5 miles for 100 days, 18 miles for another 100 days, and then complete a 234-mile trek back to his home base.”[5]
It’s really easy for us to read that and shake our heads because we know that even a ritual that extreme will not earn anybody a spot in Heaven.
“Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.  For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’  The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”  Galatians 3:8-14
Have you looked in “The Mirror” lately?  What do you see?  Are you covered with sin?  What will you do about it?

We all have a choice to make, the moment the Law shows us our sin.  We can either bash ourselves repeatedly with the Law, or we can turn our sins over to Jesus.  Which choice is less painful?  easier?   the only choice that leads to Salvation? 
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  Galatians 3:26-29

[1] William Wimmer, pastor of Grace Chapel Church of God, Benton, Arkansas
[2] D.L. Moody, Christian History, no. 25.
[3] "Ali," Reader's Digest (December 2001), p. 93
[4] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace? (Zondervan, 1997), p.11
[5] 'Marathon Monk' Ends Seven Years on the Run, Chicago Tribune (9-20-03)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The More Things Change ...

It’s funny how ideas change.  Back in the fifties when people told the story of David and Bathsheba, Bathsheba was a seductress who tricked David into becoming involved with her.  These days, in the articles I read, David is completely at fault, misusing his power and forcing Bathsheba into a no-win situation.  Then there are those who theorize that God arranged the situation because He always meant for David and Bathsheba to be together; that it was a scam perpetrated by both Uriah and Bathsheba (I don’t believe Uriah got what he wanted out of that deal); and that Bathsheba was a saintly and virtuous woman on the level of Proverbs 31 – because who do you think Solomon was writing about, anyway.  Maybe, I don’t know.  A couple of writers even went so far as to compare David and Bathsheba first to Bill and Monica and then to Joseph and Mary.  I'm so confused!  Hmmm.

Well, I’m really glad that I don’t have to make the final decision about who started what.  But I think I’ve learned some very important things from this story.

There are no new sins.
Really?  No new sins?  How can that be?  What about computer fraud? Identity theft?  Internet porn?  Insurance fraud? They didn’t have those back in Bible times, did they? Some of those they didn’t even have fifty years ago.  Well, they didn’t have those particular names, but all sin is based on the same things:  
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” 1John 2:16  
We sin for the same reasons we always have.  We think we know better than God.
We may call things by different names, claim that we have more to deal with than Adam and Eve and declare that it’s harder for us to resist sin than it was for those earlier folk-but it’s still sin. And the results are always the same:  Sin breaks God’s heart.

Sin always leads to sin.
Do you doubt that at all?  I don’t.  Look what happened to David.  I’ll bet if anyone had asked David before he’d met Bathsheba if he would consider having one of his best soldiers whacked, he would have laughed like crazy!  But that’s exactly where he ended up, isn’t it?  And even then, he really didn’t think of himself as having gone over the edge. Not until Nathan pointed it out.  
“Every effort which David made to conceal his guilt proved unavailing. He had betrayed himself into the power of Satan; danger surrounded him, dishonor more bitter than death was before him. There appeared but one way of escape, and in his desperation he was hurried on to add murder to adultery. He who had compassed the destruction of Saul was seeking to lead David also to ruin. Though the temptations were different, they were alike in leading to transgression of God's law. David reasoned that if Uriah were slain by the hand of enemies in battle, the guilt of his death could not be traced home to the king, Bathsheba would be free to become David's wife, suspicion could be averted, and the royal honor would be maintained.”  E.G.White Patriarchs and Prophets, p.718

When we look away from Jesus, we become fish in a barrel just waiting for a worm with a hook in it to come floating by and Satan is more than ready to help us out with that.  Once we’re hooked we spend all of our time trying to get ourselves out of trouble, doing whatever we think will get us free and all the time getting dragged farther and farther away from where we ought to be.  
“David had been blinded to his wonderful departure from God. He had excused his own sinful course to himself, until his ways seemed passable in his own eyes. One wrong step had prepared the way for another, until his sins called for the rebuke from Jehovah through Nathan.”  E.G.White, Spiritual Gifts V4, p.86

Sin always deceives.
Sin always promises something it can’t deliver.  Look all the way back to Eden.  The serpent promised Eve that she would be like God and that she would not die.  Look at what we believe about the sins we commit today-Satan tells us we can be richer, happier, more popular, or smarter.  
“Satan presents sin to us as the way to life, the way to enjoyment, the way to fulfillment – when really it is the way to death and destruction.  Satan persuades us that engaging in sin will fulfill our desires, when sin gives satisfaction to our least important desires, and that only briefly, leaving us dying for true love, for true joy, and for true peace.”  Coty Pinckney, “David and Bathsheba, Bill and Monica”

Sin always destroys.
Sin destroys everyone it touches.  It destroys our relationships with people and with God.  It destroys what is the best in us and the thing we love most.  Sin never happens in a vacuum.  There is no such thing as a sin that doesn’t hurt anybody.  Look at how things ended up for Uriah, and it wasn’t even his sin!  Add to that the other good soldiers who died with him (collateral damage), just to keep David’s sin a secret.  Try to imagine grief of the families of those other soldiers who were lost with Uriah.
But most of all, God was hurt by David’s sin.  
“The Lord was dishonored. He had favored and exalted David, and David's sin misrepresented the character of God and cast reproach upon His name. It tended to lower the standard of godliness in Israel, to lessen in many minds the abhorrence of sin; while those who did not love and fear God were by it emboldened in transgression. “  E.G.White, Conflict and Courage, p.179

Sin is always discovered.
We might think we have gotten away with something, but we never do, do we?  It never fails.  I was thousands of miles from home, in a country where I didn’t know anybody, eating a hamburger and drinking a Coke.  Someone walked up to me and started a friendly conversation that inexplicably turned to me being a Seventh-day Adventist Christian and the other person remarking that they thought Adventists didn’t eat meat or use caffeine.  Wow!  How in the world does that happen?  Now I know that’s pretty mild by comparison to David, but the principle is the same.  When we are not walking with God, we misrepresent Him.
I don’t believe that David could really have kept his involvement with Bathsheba a secret, not with all the attendants and other folk whose job it was to keep an eye on the king, but even if he had kept things secret here on earth-God knew.  God always knows.
We have a song we sing in Cradle Roll that says, “Angels are watching over me” in the first verse and “Angels are seeing all I do” in the second.  Well, if we apply those same statements to God, hmmm.  We all are quick to claim that Jesus is watching over us and taking care of us, but we often forget the other half of that belief.  Jesus is seeing everything we do. 

God brought Nathan into the picture to make sure that David remembered the flipside of that coin.  God had seen his sin and was calling him to be accountable for his mistake.
“The prophet's rebuke touched the heart of David; conscience was aroused; his guilt appeared in all its enormity. His soul was bowed in penitence before God. With trembling lips he said, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' All wrong done to others reaches back from the injured one to God. David had committed a grievous sin, toward both Uriah and Bathsheba, and he keenly felt this. But infinitely greater was his sin against God. ”PP, p 722
Confessed sin is always forgiven.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.  Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.  Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.  Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.   Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.   Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.  Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.  For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.  Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.  Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.”  Psalm 51
What else is there to say?  

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Happiest Place on Earth

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson dated 10.29.2011

Where is the happiest place on earth?  I know a place that claims to be.  If you are a person of a certain age, you have grown up with the “knowledge” that the happiest place on earth is somewhere with the name Disney in the title.  If the advertising is to be believed, any place “Disney” is where people go to celebrate victories, for birthdays and anniversaries, for family reunions…or just because.  Just recently I have noticed that it’s a big deal to video the moment when someone learns he or she is going to some place Disney.  The person, adult or child, usually explodes with screams and/or dissolves into tears.  I guess I just don’t get it.  I went to Disneyland and, well, just never felt the magic, I guess.

Anyway, Disney[fill in the blank] is supposed to be the happiest place on earth; so happy, in fact, that Disney designed a town based on “Disney values.” 
“It was supposed to be the ‘perfect’ town. After all, it was planned by Disney itself. The town of Celebration, Florida, a 16-acre utopian community just ten minutes from Walt Disney World, was developed in order to promote ‘Disney values.’ Disney designed the buildings, as well as its education and health policies. Most homes look identical, even with the same plants in the front garden. During winter evenings, the town even gets a gentle dusting of artificial snow every hour on the hour. (If you're familiar with the movie The Truman Show, you probably get the idea).”[1]
Okay, so my question is, what exactly are “Disney values?”  Where does a person learn what they are – by watching Disney movies?  Are they written down anywhere?  Are they concrete enough to live by?  Well, I’m thinking not, because the article quoted above, goes on:
“But this carefully planned, picture-perfect world was shattered in 2010 by two violent deaths: a murder and a suicide. Matteo Giovanditto, aged 58, was the victim of the town's first murder. Just three days later, Craig Foushee, distraught over his impending divorce and bankruptcy, barricaded himself in his home and started firing shots. After a tense standoff with authorities, Mr. Foushee eventually shot and killed himself.”[2]
Heartbreaking!  I can understand wanting to live in a perfect place, with perfect weather and perfect people, but we live on a fallen planet with sinful people.  We can pretend that it snows politely in Florida, but can we pretend that highly impolite hurricanes don’t hit Florida from time to time?  Can we pretend that tragic things don’t happen?

That’s kind of like trying to save ourselves through our own works.  We might be able to fool ourselves for a little while, but eventually most of us are going to have to admit that we’re fighting a losing battle.  We can’t pretend that we’re perfect, forever.  

Paul had to get pretty harsh with the church members in Galatia because they had forgotten that faith in Jesus was their only hope for justification.
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? … For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ … Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”  Galatians 13:1-3,10-11,13-15
Paul pointed to Abraham quite a bit; whenever he wants his readers to understand what real faith is, Paul mentions Abraham.  Why do you think that is? 

I think it’s because Abraham didn’t give up on God.  That sounds strange, but we know that God would never have given up on Abraham.  So many times through Abraham’s lifetime, he could have said, “You know what, God; this just isn’t working for me.  I’m done.” 

Abraham could have refused to move away from his family’s land in the first place or given up on the promise of a son, or walked away when God asked him to sacrifice that son.  Abraham could have walked away from God at any time, but he didn’t.  He kept on believing when the believing seemed impossible. 
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”  Hebrews 11:8-13 
Abraham (along with everybody else listed in Hebrews 11) knew something we all need to learn about what real happiness, joy, success, wealth, peace, and salvation come from.  Those things don’t come by pretending life is just a Disney-esque adventure with scheduled snowfall and assured of a happy ending.  Those things only come when we have learned to walk and talk with our Savior and Redeemer.
“It was no light test that was thus brought upon Abraham, no small sacrifice that was required of him. There were strong ties to bind him to his country, his kindred, and his home. But he did not hesitate to obey the call. He had no question to ask concerning the land of promise—whether the soil was fertile and the climate healthful; whether the country afforded agreeable surroundings and would afford opportunities for amassing wealth. God has spoken, and His servant must obey; the happiest place on earth for him was the place where God would have him to be.”[3]

[1] Matt Woodley, managing editor,; sources: Mark Mynell, "Quaerentia," (12-7-10); Jon Swaine, "Murder and suicide in Celebration, the perfect town built by Disney," The Telegraph, (12-3-10)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 126

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Soul Food

I had seen this day coming like a thick cloud of dust on the horizon.  The day my husband died, I knew it would come.  I tried everything to avoid it, but as soon as I woke up this morning, I knew this was the day.  Even before I could open my eyes, I felt the dread in every part of my body.

Today my four children and I would eat the last of our food, bought with the last of our money.  And then what … then what? 

I have no other honorable way of making more.  I can sell myself or my children.  Not much of a choice.  The weight of that decision made it almost impossible to raise my body off of my bed.  But then my youngest shifted and whimpered in the bed beside me.  At least I can feed her for a little while longer.

As I fed her, I tried to make a plan for the day.  I had been doing the best I could to keep the house cheerful.  If there seemed to be a little less food at each meal, the children didn’t seem to notice.  But today, I wouldn’t be able to hide it anymore.  What was I going to do when they started saying they were hungry?  How could I tuck them into bed tonight and convince them that tomorrow would be better?

Finally, I decided the best thing to do would be to distract the kids.  We’d eat and then we’d take a long afternoon walk outside of town.  And hopefully they’d be so tired when we got home that they’d go straight to bed without thinking about eating.  And maybe by tomorrow morning, I could come up with some way to feed my children.

I probably don’t need to tell you that I didn’t rush the kids to wake up.  I figured that the later they slept, the shorter the day would seem.  Have you ever noticed how kids seem to have a sixth sense about when you want them to sleep late?  I have.  Those are they mornings they pop up bright and early, ready to go.  This was one of those mornings.

My throat ached from the pressure of unshed tears as I watched my children eat the little food I could give them.  My heart was breaking as I laid out for them the day’s “adventure”.  And off we went.

My feet were lead, but the children seemed to be enjoying themselves, picking up sticks and interesting rocks, running ahead and back to share each new discovery.  As we came closer to the Sea of Galilee I noticed a huge crowd of people who seemed to be tracking the progress of a fishing boat out on the water.  That direction seemed as good as any at that point, so we headed toward the crowd to see what was going on.

As we got closer, I learned that the crowd was trying to intercept the boat.  Apparently someone really important was on board.  The crowd’s energy was high, lots of talking, shouting, and laughing.  At the same time, many in the crowd were silent and anxious; some were even helping or carrying a sick or injured person.  It was a very interesting group of people.

The boat neared shore, and the excitement among the waiting people grew.  Even my children, as well as the other children felt it.  They stopped running around and stood quietly waiting for the boat to land.  Finally several men stepped out of the boat and came ashore.  I couldn’t see anything special about any of them, but the crowd around me became absolutely silent as the group walked among us.

As I watched, I noticed that all the men arrayed themselves around one man and treated him with great deference.  Oddly enough, he didn’t carry himself like one of the great men of the town, he stopped to speak to each person along his was.  For every person he had a smile, a quiet word and a touch.  I found myself wanting him to stop and speak to me, I couldn’t have told you why at that time, but the longing to be near him grew with each moment.

This man didn’t hurry; he progressed slowly through the crowd.  I began to hear a name over and over again, from the whispered conversations of those around me.  Apparently this man’s name was Jesus.  I realized I had heard the name before, but had paid no attention to it, but now…

I watched as he came nearer and saw that the people who had been helped by friends, didn’t need help any more.  They were standing on their own, often laughing or crying or both.  As Jesus passed me, he laid a hand on the heads of my children and smiled at each one and then put his hand on my shoulder.  He looked straight into my soul; I felt that anxiety and grief I had carried for so long melt away.  “All will be well,” was all he said, and I knew it was true.  Then he moved on, but in that instant my world had changed.  This was no ordinary man.

At last, Jesus made his way to a small hill, sat down and began to talk to us.  We sat on the grass and listened as he told us about a new way to live, a place called Heaven, and his Father who loved us and wanted us to love Him; a Father who was just longing to do good things for us.  I had never heard anything so wonderful in my life, and I wasn’t alone; all the people around me sat in rapt attention to the words of Jesus.

I have no idea how long we listened.  It seemed like a moment ... or a life time, but the next thing I knew, the sun was setting and Jesus was talking with the men who had come with him about feeding the crowd before sending us home.  I looked at the people around me and knew that there was no way for those men to feed us.  Not even four boats of that size could carry enough food for this many people.  And nobody in the crowd looked anywhere near rich enough to buy that much food, even if we had been close enough to town for that to be a reasonable prospect.

Then one of the men, brought forward a boy with a basket.  And something unexplainable happened.  Jesus’ friends walked through the crowd having us gather into groups of about fifty people and asked us to sit down.  Some people began serving food to each of the groups.  I couldn’t figure out where the food was coming from, but it was more food than my family had seen in several months.  My children and I ate until we were satisfied for the first time in a very long time.  I'm sure I could see them becoming healthier and stronger with each bite of this miraculous food.

When everyone had eaten, Jesus told us to put all the leftovers in baskets.  He said we were welcome to take home what food we needed and sent us on our way.

As my children and I walked home with our basket of food, I felt a joy that I can’t explain.  We weren’t any richer than we were this morning.  I didn’t know what we would eat after this food ran out.  Nothing really had changed, but everything had changed.  “All will be well,” Jesus had said, and I believed him.  I didn’t understand, but I believed.  I knew I wasn’t alone and that my Father in Heaven loved me.  What an amazing day.
 (Based on information found in Luke 9, and E. G. White’s, The Spirit of Prophecy Volume 2, Chapter 20.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 10.15.11

In the interest of full disclosure, I hate conflict.  I will go to great lengths and do almost anything to avoid it.  I know folks who, maybe love is too strong a word, but are not afraid to say exactly what they mean even if they’re pretty sure it’s going to upset someone. 

Anyway, when we talk about the early Christians we like to concentrate on the “all in one accord” parts of the story – they were so unified.  Everybody got along and there was no conflict in the early church.  But that’s not the way it was!  We forget that as the disciples were setting things up, they ran in to some rough spots; some places where they didn’t agree.  We can even read in Paul’s letters how he reminded them to not let their disagreements over who their preacher was get in the way of their belief in Jesus.
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers Sand sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:10-13
When I think of unity – “all in one accord”, I think of that famous scene in the movie, Spartacus.  In case you haven’t seen it:
“Spartacus is a classic movie that retells the historical account of the great Roman slave rebellion in 71 B.C. Spartacus was a highly trained gladiator who escaped and led other slaves to freedom. As news of his rebellion grew, thousands of slaves joined his cause and followed him through victories and defeats.
“Near the end of the movie, a massive Roman army under the command of Senator Crassus (Laurance Olivier) captures the rebels. Although Crassus does not know what Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) looks like, he suspects that Spartacus is alive amongst the prisoners under guard. In full Roman uniform, Crassus gallops up to the mouth of the valley where the prisoners are being held and shouts an offer to them: they can escape death by crucifixion if they turn Spartacus over to him.
“Spartacus studies the ground for a moment and then nobly gets to his feet, intending to turn himself in. But before he can do so, his comrade to the left stands and calls out, ‘I am Spartacus!’ Then his comrade to the right also stands and calls out, ‘I am Spartacus!’ As the real Spartacus looks on, comrade after comrade in his slave army rises to their feet and calls out, ‘I am Spartacus!’ until there is a chorus of thousands united.”[1]
That scene really demonstrates the concept of unity, something that can so easily be lost in our day to day walk with Jesus.   We get caught up in our differences of opinion about things that don’t really matter to our salvation, like whether the pews should be dark or light wood and whether the bathrooms are painted blue or green.  Remember, the early Christians met in the catacombs, caves filled with dead people.  I’m pretty sure decorating was not the first thing on their minds.

Unity is really, really important, but sometimes, our push for unity goes too far.  We decide that unity is more important that truth and that’s a real problem.

Check out this comment from a church leader about what is more important – unity or truth:
"If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy."[2]
This quote comes from an Episcopal bishop, Peter James Lee.  He was voting with 59 other Episcopal bishops whether or not to approve a practicing gay man as bishop.  Now, I’m not trying to debate the whole homosexuality issue, what I want you to notice is what this bishop is saying.  He is saying that he believes that if we ever come to a place where we have to decide between allowing false teachings into our church or standing up for the truth at the risk of causing a split in the church, we should accept the false teachings.  Did you get that?  Unity at the cost of truth … wow.

Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker/t-shirt that says "COEXIST" using the symbols that represent Islam, Pacifism, Gay Rights, Judaism, Paganism, Taoism and Christianity for the respective letters in the word. 
If the question is, “Can we, as Christians, get along with all these other people?” the answer is, “YES!” 
“Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:  Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”  I Corinthians 10:32-33
But if the question is, “Should we agree with all of those beliefs and practice them in our own congregations?”  Then the answer is absolutely, “NO!”  Unity doesn’t mean compromising the truth.
“The Texas Army National Guard has a group of special workers called riggers. Their job is to fold and pack the parachutes soldiers use when jumping from an airplane at 5,000 feet. These people are intensely dedicated to their task. The Rigger's Creed states, ‘I will be sure always!’ They know jumpers need assurance that everything regarding their chutes is perfect. In the 20 minutes it takes to meticulously pack an MC1-1 military parachute, 30 folds are required. A jumper has nothing to do with the chute until they put it on before a jump. Trust in the error-free performance of the riggers is all a jumper has to rely on.
The Rigger's Creed further states: ‘I will never let the idea that a piece of work is 'good enough' make me a potential murderer through a careless mistake or oversight, for I know there can be no compromise with perfection.’  Riggers know that the parachute business is a life-or-death enterprise. Mistakes cost lives. There is no room for complacency.
“Do we approach our kingdom responsibilities with equal fervor?”[3]
Satan uses many ways to turn us away from God.  He can use the everyday conflicts between people to drive us out of the church or he can use the infiltration of false teaching so we are lost without ever leaving the church. 
We can’t let our salvation be threatened by disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we also must guard against compromising what we know to be truth in an effort to be unified.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  1Peter 5:8

[1] Spartacus (Universal Pictures, 1960), directed by Stanley Kubrick; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California
[2] BreakPoint with Charles Colson, (Commentary #040205, 02-05-04)
[3] Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, Walking the Small Group Tightrope (Zondervan, 2003) p. 157-158

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Warrior Spirit

Do you know anyone who could be described as a warrior?  Would you know a warrior if you met one?  How would you describe a warrior?

This is how the dictionary defines a warrior:  “person engaged or experienced in warfare; soldier.” warrior. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved July 09, 2008, from website:  What do you think?  Does that sound about right to you?  Does that mean that every person who is a soldier is automatically a warrior?  Does it mean that everyone who is a warrior is automatically a soldier?   Hmmmm…

What would you think if I told you I believe that a person doesn’t even have to be part of an army or a war to be considered a warrior, doesn’t have to hold or use a weapon? Can you picture anybody who could be a warrior then?

What about John the Baptist?  Wait, don’t laugh yet; think about it.  John the Baptist…no he never wielded a sword, but he fought everyday of his adult life to get people ready to meet the Messiah.  John knew his mission and he met it head on.  He didn’t stop to think about whether or not people would like what he had to say.  He didn’t worry that he wasn’t dressed in the latest fashions.  He called the Pharisees and the Sadducees who came to check him out a “pit of vipers”.  He told Herod exactly what he (Herod) was up to and that it was wrong and that he needed to stop it.  John didn’t stop to think of a polite way to say what he needed to say; he just said it flat out and let the people who heard him make their own decisions of what to do next.  If they agreed with him great; if not, too bad.  But this was the message he had been given and he went with it.
“But when the Baptist saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he was stirred to give them a decided message. These men held themselves as a power among the people. Though they held different theories regarding some Bible subjects they were united in their desire to hear the words of the wilderness prophet. Some who came from curiosity, arrested by his words, became interested in the message he was giving, and were moved to be baptized. To them John said, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." Christ was about to appear as the revealer of the character of God. His very presence would make known to men their sin. Only as they were willing to be purged from sin, could they enter into fellowship with him. Those who were corrupt in heart could not abide in his presence.” E.G.White, Review and Herald, November 28, 1907
Can you imagine what the news media would have had to say about John the Baptist?  It would certainly not have been sympathetic.  But John didn’t pay any attention to what was being reported about him.  He stayed right on topic and never wavered.

And then Jesus showed up and, would you believe it, John’s disciples and followers took off after Jesus, for the most part.  And John was okay with that.  He had led the way the whole time and then he got left behind and thrown in prison.  What kind of thank you is that?

I would venture the opinion that John the Baptist was a warrior spirit.  He fought his battle everyday and never worried about public opinion and making people comfortable.  He fought to make sure that everyone who could possible hear his voice would know that the Messiah was coming and each person needed to be ready.

We’ve got to be warrior spirits too.  We have a mission—to tell people that Jesus is coming again and they need to be ready.  We can’t worry about what people think of us or if we make them uncomfortable; we have a message that must be delivered!
“The work of John the Baptist represents the work for these times. His work, and the work of those who go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah to arouse the people from their apathy, are the same in many respects. Christ is to come the second time to judge the world in righteousness. The messengers of God who bear the last message of warning to be given to the world are to prepare the way for Christ's second advent as John prepared the way for his first advent. If the kingdom of heaven suffered violence in the days of John, it suffers violence now; today the blessings of the gospel must be secured in the same way. If form and ceremony were of no avail then, a form of godliness without the power can be of no avail now.”  E.G.White, Youth’s Instructor, May 17, 1900
Well?  We have a mission; let’s get on it!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for October 8, 2011

“Redirect” is one of those words, which in the last twenty years or so, has become very important in the education / behavior management fields.  At some point, we stopped telling individuals who were behaving badly to “Stop it!” and began “redirecting them to more appropriate behaviors” by reviewing consequences and offering choices.

Having said that, I’d have to say that Saul’s Damascus Road experience has to be history’s biggest redirect.  Although it was dramatic and sudden, the follow up must have been truly difficult.  It’s one thing to change someone’s mind, but changing his (or her) behavior is a much tougher thing.  And for Paul, he had the added struggle of convincing others that he had really changed – not a simple task by any means!  Imagine his first meeting with the original disciples…I’d be interested to know what happened, wouldn’t you?  I mean, Stephen was one of their friends!

Do you think Paul explained that he was converted; Ananias said, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it;” and then they had a big group hug?  I’m thinking not so much.

I’m thinking the process of gaining the trust of the disciples and other early Christians happened pretty gradually.

You can tell the process wasn’t complete yet when Paul wrote to the Galatians.  Somebody or somebodies in Galatia were sniping at Paul and whether or not he had the authorization to be included in the early Christian cadre of church leaders. 
“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
“Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
“Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’  And they praised God because of me.”  Galatians 1:11-24
You can kind of tell Paul’s had to explain all this before.  He ends up doing some redirecting of his own.  Paul has to show the Galatian church that they are letting their mistrust of him lead them to reject the truth of the gospel just because it came from him.

Do we ever do that same thing?  Do we reject what a certain preacher says because we’ve heard that he used to belong to another religion?  Do we ignore everything Ellen White says because someone in our past has used her wisdom to punish us?  Are we quick to discount good information because we dislike the source?  You know, the enemy works hard and constantly to distract us from the truth, and he will use any trick to make sure we aren’t aware we’re being led astray.
“In his book Tempted and Tried Russell Moore recounts an NPR program about a scientist named Temple Grandin who is researching new ways to gently kill cows. It's an important issue because if the animals experience high stress levels prior to death, hormones get released that lower the meat quality. Thus, Grandin has been exploring how to keep the cattle calm as they are being led to slaughter.
“Grandin's research has led to one simple insight: novelty distresses cows. The key is to keep everything in their lives feeling and looking as normal and natural as possible. Russell Moore summarizes Grandin's techniques for gently killing the cows:
“Workers shouldn't yell at the cows, [Grandin] said, and they should never use cattle prods, because they are counter-productive and unneeded. If you just keep the cows contented and comfortable, they'll go wherever they're led. Don't surprise them, don't unnerve them, and above all, don't hurt them (well, at least until you slit their throats at the end).
“Along the way, [Grandin] devised a new technology that has revolutionized the ways of the big slaughter operations. In this system the cows aren't prodded off the truck but are led, in silence, onto a ramp. They go through a ‘squeeze chute,’ a gentle pressure device that mimics a mother's nuzzling touch. The cattle continue down the ramp onto a smoothly curving path. There are no sudden turns. The cows experience the sensation of going home, the same kind of way they've traveled many times before.
“As they mosey along the path, they don't even notice when their hooves are no longer touching the ground. A conveyor belt slightly lifts them gently upward, and then … a blunt instrument levels a surgical strike right between the eyes. They're transitioned from livestock to meat, and they're never aware enough to be alarmed by any of it. The pioneer of this technology commends it to the slaughterhouses and affectionately gives it a nickname. [Grandin] calls it ‘the stairway to heaven.’”[1]
Okay, does anybody else find that absolutely terrifying? Are we so distracted from our relationship with Jesus that we don’t realize we’re being herded in the opposite direction?  We’ve forgotten about grace and have long ago allowed ourselves to be convinced that we can earn our way into heaven.
“To substitute external forms of religion for holiness of heart and life is still as pleasing to the unrenewed nature as it was in the days of these Jewish teachers. Today, as then, there are false spiritual guides, to whose doctrines many listen eagerly. It is Satan’s studied effort to divert minds from the hope of salvation through faith in Christ and  obedience to the law of God. In every age the archenemy adapts his temptations to the prejudices or inclinations of those whom he is seeking to deceive. In apostolic times he led the Jews to exalt the ceremonial law and reject Christ; at the present time he induces many professing Christians, under pretense of honoring Christ, to cast contempt on the moral law and to teach that its precepts may be transgressed with impunity. It is the duty of every servant of God to withstand firmly and decidedly these perverters of the faith and by the word of truth fearlessly to expose their errors.”[2]
We have been redirected…now we have to choose – grace or works.

[1] Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried (Crossway, 2011), pp. 25-26
[2] E.G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 387