Monday, December 31, 2012

An Accidental Life

When my sons were little, we spent a huge amount of time watching shows or videos about animals. And, initially that sounds awesome because then they were learning things instead of watching mindless kids’ shows (they watched those too). Nature shows are so much fun to watch – the photography is beautiful. Except that EVERY SINGLE ONE of them had to throw in its mandatory this-animal-evolved-from-that-animal line. At which point I would feel the need to disagree with the voice-over out loud so that my children would not get the idea that I agreed with those kinds of statements. I did it so often that we could all recite my various responses together.

I have a huge problem with the theory of evolution … well, I have several, but my biggest problem with it goes beyond all of the scientific impossibilities and unlikelihoods of life just popping up out of nowhere. My biggest problem with the theory of evolution is that believing it changes the way a person sees themselves and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. I believe that so many of the things for which we are trying to find solutions are outgrowths of believing that life is merely the result of a biological accident.

In the interest of full disclosure, I went to public schools for most of my academic life and I worked in public schools first as a teacher and then as a school psychologist. My children also went to public schools. I grew up in a time when only the theory of evolution was taught in science classes and formal prayer was not allowed. So, that may all flavor my opinions to some extent.

One of the first side effects of teaching our children that they are nothing but biological accidents is the loss of the knowledge that each individual is inherently valuable. If we can no longer believe that we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs by a loving Creator God, then who are we? And why are we here? To fill the void of our value through our Creator and Redeemer, educators started trying to artificially produce self-esteem in each student. The self-esteem movement has become almost a joke – everybody gets a trophy for participating, teachers shouldn’t use red ink, don’t tell a student they’re wrong – but has not been able to instill in anyone a healthy knowledge that they were created and loved by God. Artificial value then has to come from how we look and what we have.

Unfortunately not everyone is considered beautiful and not everyone has the funds to buy the things that will make them valuable – expensive athletic shoes, clothes, fancy cars or any other thing that is considered a symbol of a person’s importance in society.

In my opinion, one of the reasons that bullying has become such a devastating problem is that children who have been artificially infused with self-worth have no positive way to maintain it and so try to build themselves up by pushing others down. Those who are being pushed down have no resources with which to protect themselves and are emotionally devastated, sometimes to the point of suicide.

A huge casualty of being taught we were accidents was morality. Teenagers who have been told they are nothing more than a step along the evolutionary ladder – just a little higher than monkeys, are no longer bound by the morals of individuals who were created just a little lower than angels.
“What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,” Psalm 8:4-6
That’s a very different way of thinking of humans than most people use, isn’t it? A being just lower than an angel has value, and purpose. A being just higher than a monkey has neither of those things.

One of the most tragic and heartbreaking of the consequences of being taught we are nothing more than glorified monkeys and have no intrinsic value in and of ourselves, is the proliferation and acceptance of abortion.
We no longer think of life like King David did:
“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.” Psalm 139:13-15
An inconvenient pregnancy is easily and thoughtlessly ended with little thought about what miracle is taking place. From there we can apply the same lack of value for life to so many other aspects of our society – school shootings jump immediately into my mind.

If we are nothing but biological accidents, where does that leave us? What is our purpose for being here? Who cares that we’re here? Our hearts and minds are essentially a vacuum that was supposed to be filled by God, but is now just empty and waiting for whatever comes along. 
“Those who leave the Word of God to account for His created works on scientific principles are drifting without chart or compass upon an unknown ocean. The greatest minds, if not guided by the Word of God in their research, become bewildered in their attempts to trace the relations of science and revelation. Those who doubt the records of the Old and New Testaments will be led to go a step further and doubt the existence of God. Then, having lost their anchor, they are left to beat about upon the rocks of infidelity.“The Bible is not to be tested by men’s ideas of science. Skeptics, through an imperfect comprehension of either science or revelation, claim to find contradictions between them; but rightly understood they are in perfect harmony. Moses wrote under the guidance of the Spirit of God, and a correct theory … will never claim discoveries that cannot be reconciled with his statements.” E.G. White, From Eternity Past, p.67
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 1:1-5
How would you rather live your life?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Why? Why not?

I love to think of those first days in Heaven. I try to imagine the wonder of seeing my Bible heroes visiting with people of every age. It will be so exciting to have the opportunity to go back over our earthly experiences with our guardian angels. That’s all going to be amazing and, I believe, will never lose their excitement. But let’s imagine just for a few minutes, that as you’re walking past the Tree of Life and you see Stephen and Saul/Paul walking toward one another. You see the spark of recognition on their faces as they recognize each other…and then you see something else.

Remember that the last time Stephen saw Saul was the day that Saul held the cloaks of the folks who stoned Stephen. He missed the whole Damascus Road conversion bit. What thoughts do you think are going through Stephen’s mind at the moment he recognizes Saul?

Not too much later you’re strolling around, just enjoying the scenery and you come face to face with the grown up version of that kid who stole your lunch money every single day of your third grade year? What if you see that cranky old man who lived at the end of your street who was always calling and complaining to the city the instant your grass got a millimeter too long, or that professor who seemed to take great joy in humiliating any student who was brave or silly enough to admit to being a Christian? What if you look around Heaven and you see people who you think of as completely evil – Kim Jong Il, Idi Amin, or Saddam Hussein?

At the same time, you look around and see some noticeable absences. Where’s that teacher who seemed to know all the answers to your spiritual questions? or that man who greeted every person who walked through the door of the church with a smile and big handshake? Why haven’t you run into that kid who won the Bible Bowl three years running; he knew his Bible forward and backward!?

It’s not hard to imagine, then, that if you have questions like that, other people will too. And from there it’s a very small step to thoughts of God playing favorites or being arbitrary and unfair…and then we’re right back where we started and the whole seven thousand years of the great controversy has been a complete waste of time.

How is God going to make sure that everybody understands why the people who are in Heaven are the people who will enjoy being in Heaven? Well, we find out that those thousand years, the Millennium, are going to be more than just hanging out beside the Sea of Glass. We are going to have at least one job to do – we are going to be reviewing all the God’s records of the lives of everyone who ever lived. No wonder we’re going to be there for a thousand years!
 “During the thousand years between the first and the second resurrection the judgment of the wicked takes place. The apostle Paul points to this judgment as an event that follows the second advent. ‘Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.’ 1 Corinthians 4:5.
“Daniel declares that when the Ancient of Days came, ‘judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.’ Daniel 7:22.
“At this time the righteous reign as kings and priests unto God. John in the Revelation says: ‘I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.’ ‘They shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.’ Revelation 20:4, 6.
“It is at this time that, as foretold by Paul, ‘the saints shall judge the world.’ 1 Corinthians 6:2. In union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is recorded against their names in the book of death.
“Satan also and evil angels are judged by Christ and His people.” (E.G. White, The Great Controversy, 660, 661)
Isn’t God good? There won’t be any, “Because I said so!” coming from God. Instead He will open all of His books and records to us. Isn’t that crazy?

We will have the opportunity – the responsibility, of going through God’s records and seeing for ourselves that God is the epitome of fairness. We will have the chance to review every second of every person’ life and see their walk toward or away from God.

We will have the opportunity to see the evidence of God’s love for His creatures and His complete freedom of choice – allowing each one of us to choose to walk away from Him.

It’ll be like a Heavenly audit carried out by the redeemed. And at the end of the thousand years, no one will ever be able to doubt the motives of or second guess the fairness and love of Jesus. There will never be another question about what kind of God we have served and with whom we’re fixing to spend eternity. By the end of the Millennium God will finally be able to wipe away every tear from our eyes and we will have the assurance that doubt will never invade our thoughts.

Even better, the other created beings will see once and for all see that Satan’s claims against God are false and without basis of any kind. God’s character will have finally been cleared.
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4, NKJV)
I think that text includes God too. He will be able to put behind Him the heartbreak of having to allow people who He created to choose someone or something else.
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.” John 3:16-17
I love to think about spending eternity with Jesus, don’t you?

Monday, December 17, 2012


Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.15.12

You might remember when a few years ago, everyone was reading the book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon.  In case you haven’t read the book

“The novel begins on a Friday morning when a man out of work appears at the front door of Henry Maxwell while the latter is preparing for that Sunday’s upcoming sermon. Maxwell listens to the man’s helpless plea briefly before brushing him away and closing the door. The same man appears in church at the end of the Sunday sermon, walks up to “the open space in front of the pulpit,” and faces the people. No one stops him. He quietly but frankly confronts the congregation—‘I’m not complaining; just stating facts.’—about their compassion, or apathetic lack thereof, for the jobless like him in Raymond. Upon finishing his address to the congregation, he collapses, and dies a few days later.
“That next Sunday, Henry Maxwell, deeply moved by the events of the past week, presents a challenge to his congregation: ‘Do not do anything without first asking, “What would Jesus do?”’ This challenge is the theme of the novel and is the driving force of the plot. From this point on, the rest of the novel consists of certain episodes that focus on individual characters as their lives are transformed by the challenge.”[1]
That’s all good, except for me the book takes kind of a weird turn along the way. Maybe I’m the one who is thinking wrongly here, I’m just trying to figure things. So, partway into the book, the newspaper editor starts refusing to print ads for products/services he believes Jesus would not approve. I’m absolutely okay with that, it’s his paper. He has the absolute right to print whatever he feels he should print, and turning down the revenue he would have made from those ads was a difficult, and probably unpopular, stance for the editor to take. So far, so good.
But then, a bunch of folk in the story start trying to get alcohol illegalized, and that’s when my “WWJD” senses start tingling. I’m just not sure that that’s something Jesus would have done. Yes, He spoke against being drunk, but did He ask the government to close all the bars?  Did He start petitioning for laws against wine making and selling? If He did, it’s not recorded anywhere. Hm.
As a Christian, what is my responsibility toward the evils I see in my community? Do I become a hard-driving, outspoken activist pushing for stricter laws for things I believe are wrong?
What Would Jesus Do? It’s an excellent question, but the answer, I believe, is not as straight-forward as we would like.
When I look at the Gospels, I see Jesus making the lives of individuals better and, as far as I can tell, no social activism. He rescued Mary Magdalene from the men who were going to stone here. Jesus is clearly “anti-prostitution,” but He doesn’t start an organization to sweep the town free of prostitution. Nor did He let Mary believe that what she was doing was acceptable behavior.
What is a Christian’s responsibility to their community? “…Christians pay taxes, participate in civic duties, respect traffic laws and property regulations, and cooperate with civil authorities in curbing or controlling crime and violence.”[2]
What if we believe the laws are wrong? Do we picket abortion clinics? Do we sign petitions to make drinking alcoholic beverages illegal? If we feel our government is taking the country in the wrong direction do we start a movement to impeach the president? Do we work for World Peace, even though the Bible tells us that it just is never going to happen?
I don’t have any idea what the right answers would be to those questions. The example that Jesus set for us had very little to do with the government of His day and everything to do with individuals who needed help.
Jesus help folks, not because He knew from that moment on, every person He helped would become a follower, but because they needed help. He didn’t let what the person was going to do next worry Him at all. Many of us, though, as Christians, want to set limits on our charity.  A man holding a sign at an intersection may not receive our money because we worry about how he will spend it. Many of us resist turning in our tithes and offerings because we don’t approve of how our church is spending it.
What would Jesus do?
If we took the challenge that Charles Sheldon gave the characters in In His Steps, to “not do anything without first asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’’, how would our lives change? What would we have to change? How would our relationships with our families change? With our bosses and fellow employees? With the man at the intersection holding a sign? How would our churches change?
People who watched Jesus when He was here knew almost instantly that something was different about Him. What was it that made Him so different? He wasn’t movie star handsome. He wasn’t Donald Trump rich. People who hung out with Him were changed, usually for the better.
What did Jesus do that was so different from the other religious figures of that time? I believe the most important thing He did, was He looked at the individual. He wasn’t concerned with personalities or other people’s opinions. He didn’t worry too much about the rules or societal norms. He saw people who needed His loving and healing touch.
Today we worry too much about what other Christians will think, what our motives are, what kind of person it is we are trying to help – are they going to misuse what we are giving them? We think too much about setting some kind of precedent and letting people take advantage of us. We worry about too many things that, if we would admit it, really don’t matter at all.
What matters is, will people see Jesus through us?
Arthur Simon is the founder of an organization called, Bread for the World. He recalls a saying that he learned from his father, who had grown up on a Wisconsin farm.
Simon’s father said, “Even the cows should know you are a Christian by the way you treat them."
Simon has incorporated that way of thinking into his own ministry, and added, “And if cows, how much more people!"[3]
“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 1 John 3:18-20
What would Jesus do?

[1] “In His Steps”, Wikipedia,
[2] Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 2000), p. 701.
[3] Arthur Simon, "Simon Says: Vote! Write! Lobby!," World Vision (April/May 1988), p.6

Paid In Full

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.22.12

I have had a rough couple of months when it comes to driving – I’ve gotten three tickets! One was because I didn’t “stop” when I was turning right on a red light and the other two were for speeding. All three were my fault. I couldn’t say the red light camera didn’t actually have a picture of my car failing to stop before I turned right. On the other two, I couldn’t say the policeman’s radar wasn’t correct. I was actually going as fast as the policeman said I was. Now on the last one, I could claim ignorance because I hadn’t ever noticed that most of Hillcrest is now marked as a school zone.

Claiming ignorance wasn’t going to help me though. I wasn’t any less guilty because I didn’t notice the School Zone. The alternative to paying is losing my driver license, paying a bigger fine, or, if I continue to refuse to pay for my transgression, I could go to jail.

Do you think that if I went into City Hall and told them I was very, very sorry for speeding, and I won’t ever do it again, that they would tell me not to worry about it and let me go on my way? Well, for the first ticket I got to take Defensive Driving, but that only works the first time. After that, I am responsible for paying some kind of fee for my transgression and, once I’ve paid, the ticket is still on my record.

Getting tickets really stinks, but beyond that we know that the “fine” we owe God for our sins is not just a few dollars! We owe full price – and there’s not defensive driving to get that particular transgression off the record.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
Are you prepared to pay the “wages of sin?” I am not! Thankfully, long before Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus had made a plan of what to do to pay the fine for you and me. And not just pay the fine, but completely wipe it off the books as though we had never broken the rules in the first place.

Have you ever wondered how that whole substitutionary thing works? 
“For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” Romans 6:10
But what does that mean exactly? I always pictured it like this: Jesus is standing in what looks like a courtroom. God is sitting in the judge’s seat. Satan is the prosecuting attorney and Jesus is the defense attorney.  The bailiff angel calls your name and Satan stands up and begins to list all of the things you have done that qualify as a sin. (It’s usually a very long list.) Before he gets too far though, Jesus jumps up objects. He tells the court that none of those infractions appear on your record.

Now it’s Satan’s turn to object. He insists that you have committed all those sins and that the wages of sin must be paid. You’re sentenced to death and blood must be shed. God agrees that since you have committed all those sins, you cannot be with Him in Heaven – being in His perfect presence would destroy you.

Just when you think your case is lost, Jesus steps forward again and announces to the court that when you accepted Him as your Defense Attorney, your record has been purged of all of your infractions. He has shed the blood that is required and posted it beside your name.

God smiles and strikes his gavel on His gavel on the desk. Your case is dismissed; you’re free to go.

You are still reeling from the unexpected turn of events. You’re trying to wrap your mind around what just happened when you hear the bailiff call the next name. He also announces that this person has waived his right to the Defense Attorney. The person sitting next to you stands up, and Satan begins reading the list of laws that that person has broken, but you don’t hear any objection from Jesus. You look around and see Jesus sitting at His table with tears running down His cheeks. When Satan finishes his list, the courtroom is silent. Finally, God sadly brings down His gavel and announces that this person has chosen to pay his own fines for his own sins, and the fine for sin is death.

We believe that is what’s been going on the Heavenly Sanctuary since 1844. When it is finished, then Jesus will come and take those who chose Him as their Defense Attorney into Heaven with Him. Those who did not chose Jesus must stay out.

 “Can I propose that Jesus began his public ministry the same way he ended it? He ended his ministry being crucified, covered with the sins of the world. He began his ministry being baptized, identifying volitionally with the sins of the world.
“Would you allow me a couple of minutes of silliness? Let me give you a vision of what could have happened that day. It expresses, as I see it, the implications of what is going on here. We're standing around there, and we understand that big things like this have to be organized. We make a plan. One of us says, ‘When you decide to come and repent, folks, we want you to register. We'll get your name down on a mailing list, and we'll give you a name tag so that the baptizers can be more personal with you. Just step forward, and tell us your first name and your most awful sin.’
“Up to this table steps Bob. ‘Name?’
“‘What's your most awful sin, Bob?’
“‘I stole some money from my boss once.’ The person takes a marker and writes, BOB: EMBEZZLER.
“Next person: ‘Name?’
"’Mary, what's your most awful sin?’
"’I slandered some people. I said things that weren't true. I just didn't like them.’ So the person writes, MARY: SLANDERER.
"’What's your most awful sin?’
“‘I've been coveting my neighbor's Corvette.’ GEORGE: COVETER.
"’Gordon, your most awful sin?’
“And the person writing, with some degree of gloating, slaps the name tag on the chest of each person. Then all these people, with their name tags and their most awful sins, line up by the river, waiting to be baptized in repentance.
“Up to the table comes Jesus. Jesus' most awful sin? Well, there aren't any. So Jesus starts walking down the line. He steps up to Bob and says, ‘Bob, give me your name tag,’ and he puts it on himself. ‘Mary, give me your name tag.’ He puts it on himself. ‘George, give me your name tag.’ It goes on himself. ‘Gordon, give me your name tag.’
“Soon the Son of God is covered with name tags and awful sins. Someone comes up and gently says to Jesus, ‘It's a nice thing you're doing. If you must do this, couldn't you take off a few of the worst ones? If you're going to spawn a messianic movement, you've got to be above reproach. Why don't you take off the tag that says, MURDERER. Take the adulterer tag off, too. Those are too despicable. We're talking about nines and tens here.’
“Jesus says, ‘You don't realize that I am the Son of David. David had to wear those name tags, and I will not write him off, for I have forgiven him.’
“In my vision, I see Jesus going to the water to present himself to John. The Savior is baptized. At the risk of being trite, in my vision, the people who had the markers didn't buy indelible ink. When Jesus comes up, all of the ink has been washed away and is going down the river. And I recall the words, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’
“That's what repentance does. And that's what Jesus' ministry is all about. Without him, you and I are stuck.”[1]
[1] Gordon MacDonald, "Repentance," Preaching Today, Tape No. 121.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Loving the Fence

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.8.12

Have you ever seen those dogs who can go outside with their people and they don’t need a leash or a fence? They just stay right in their yard or beside their person. We had a dog like that once. He was a border collie and his name was Shadow. He knew exactly where our (unfenced) yard stopped and didn’t stray from it unless he was walking beside one of us. It was a beautiful thing. Many years later my family owned a beautiful Boxer named Bach. He didn’t understand the concept of “yard.” He understood running, everywhere.
Well, after trying to teach him the boundaries of our yard, we read about something called an invisible fence. Have you ever heard of it? It consists of a length of wire that is attached to a transformer much like a regular electrified fence, except that the wire is buried. The dog then wears a collar that has a little sensor on it that will give the dog a shock when he gets near the wire. The idea is that the dog will learn to stay away from the wire to avoid the shock and learn the boundaries of the area in which he is allowed to run.
Yeah, well, that didn’t work for Bach. I’m sure there are lots of dogs who have lived their lives successfully within their invisible fence, but not Bach. Oh sure, he didn’t like the shock that he would get when he crossed the wire, but he learned very quickly (so we knew he wasn’t completely stupid) that the shock only lasted a couple of seconds and then he was free on the other side. So, if he saw something outside his “yard,” like the little neighbor girl calling him, he’d take a running start and take the shock. Now coming back home was more of a challenge. Once we’d go get the leash and fetch him home, he seemed to know exactly where the wire boundary was and would whimper and resist going back over the same wire he gladly took the shock from a few minutes before. We still have the wire and transformer if anybody’s interested.
Anyway, so we finally had to actually fence in our backyard. You’d think Bach would have been satisfied – he had a full fenced acre where he could romp and chase things – but no. We had to sneak out the front door and make sure it was always closed tightly behind us because he never stopped trying to run out the front door. Bringing groceries was a challenge.
The weird thing was, he really wasn’t interested in running away so much because if you left him alone and the front door open, pretty soon he’d come back in. If you tried to encourage him to come back in before he was ready, on the other hand, he’d run farther away…he loved to be chased. (Infuriating)
Anyway, later in his life he discovered that he could dig his way under our chain link fence and escape that way. (Who ever thought an 85 lb. dog would be able to dig under a fence?) We spent a lot of time finding and filling in his escape holes.
The funny thing was, he almost always escaped from our yard into another fenced lot. He thought he was free, but he was still fenced in. He just wasn’t in his own yard anymore.
I miss Bach even though he was an infuriating dog, but I learned some important lessons from his Houdini like behavior.
1. There are boundaries everywhere, even if we can’t see them.
2. The boundaries were put there to keep us safe and happy.
3. Things outside of our boundaries will call to us.
4. Getting outside our boundaries sometimes takes quite a bit of work.
5. Being outside our boundaries is often not as much fun as we thought it would be. 
6. Sometimes, when we think we’re free, we’re just fenced in as we were before but by a different set of boundaries.
7. Coming back home sometimes seems more painful than leaving.
8. No matter how many times we escape, Someone will always be looking for us. He may not chase us, but His door will always be open for us to come home.
God gave us a set of boundaries, the Ten Commandments. From everything I’ve heard and read, God, Himself lives within the boundaries set by the Ten Commandments along with all of Heaven. 
“The law of God is the foundation of his Government in Heaven and in earth, …” (E.G. White, Signs of the Times, March 30, 1888, graph 7)
Doesn’t that mean that the same rules God gave us here on earth apply to Heaven as well? What if we don’t like the rules? If we feel trapped by them here, wouldn’t we feel trapped by them there? I say yes, what about you?
Although we know that our entrance into Heaven is not dependent on our ability to keep the Ten Commandments, our enjoyment of Heaven is.
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” 1 John 5:2-3
“His commandments are not grievous.” Hm, That’s kind of the same as saying, we won’t hate them, right? Well, the writers of the Psalms go even farther than that.
“And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” Psalm 119:47-48
Can you honestly claim that you delight in God’s commandments? Are you like my dog, Bach, always trying to find a way over, under or through the fences that God has placed around us for our own safety and protection? 
God has shown us the boundaries of Heaven. Jesus died to make sure that anyone who wants to can live within those boundaries with Him. 
The Ten Commandments give us a picture of Heaven – a place where sin does not exist, where Satan can no longer touch us, and where we’ll be able to talk with Jesus face to face.
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.” John 3:16-17AMP

Monday, November 26, 2012

Going Through the Motions

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.1.12

Have you ever gotten home from work but you don’t remember driving there? You’re on auto-pilot. It happens whenever we’ve done something so many times that our brain doesn’t really have to engage in what we’re doing to make it happen. It’s almost like our muscles just take over: tying our shoes, playing a musical instrument, typing.

You can probably think of lots of things that have become like that for you. You’ve seen, or maybe you are one of those folks who can knit or crochet so well that you don’t need to see what you’re doing. I used to wear contact lenses and sometimes I’d wake up in the night and not be able to remember if I’d taken my contacts off or not. Of course it was easy to find out – if I could see more than a foot away, then I needed to get up and take them out.

Anyway, being on auto-pilot is not necessarily a bad thing. Imagine if you had to think about every step you took, everywhere we walked? There was a time when most of us had to think of how to form every letter and how to spell every word when we wrote things down. When you sign something now, our hands pretty much knows what to do without our help.

Being on auto-pilot isn’t necessarily a good thing either, though – some folks, who’ve been married a really long time can say “I love you” without really thinking about it. Sometimes they might be talking to someone besides their spouse on the phone and they’ll end the conversation with “I love you” but the person on the phone is a business associate instead of their spouse. That can be pretty awkward.

Sometimes our worship can become so automatic that our brain disengages from it and we find ourselves just going through the motions. We go to church, stand up, sit down and kneel at all the right times, but we’re not actually involved in the worship service beyond just being a warm body sitting in the pew. We’re just there because it’s become a habit – just another thing we do in our lives.

Going through the motions can be particularly tragic when we’re talking about some of the really meaningful ceremonies of our worship service – baptism, foot-washing, and communion.

I know, I can hear you, “Hey, how can baptism become routine, I only do that once.” And you’re right, but sometimes our on-going experience of having been baptized can become stale. Remember how the church at Ephesus was described in Revelation?
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:  And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.  Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Revelation 2:2-4
See? They were doing all the right things, but they were just going through the motions. The instructions for resolving that problem come in verse 5: 
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Revelation 2:5
Jesus also left us with a reminder of baptism to keep the experience more fixed in our minds. Just before the Last Supper, when He gathered with all 12 of the disciples in the upper room.
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?" John 13:3-12
Footwashing or the Ordinance of Humility as our church calls it, is a reminder that we fall daily into sin and that Jesus and His sacrifice are our only hope for salvation.
Footwashing is an important time within our church families to remind us of our baptism experience.

On that same evening, in that same upper room, Jesus also gave us Communion.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29
Isn’t that an amazing promise – “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” We will be with Him in the kingdom!

Let’s not let Baptism, The Ordinance of Humility and the Communion Service become one more case of auto-pilot. Stay focused!

Monday, November 19, 2012

One God - One Goal - One Glory

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 11.24.12

Do you remember this song?

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we'll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride

We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news
That God is in our land

And they'll know that we are Christians by our love
By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love [1]

That was one of my favorite songs as a young person. I hadn’t thought of it in years, but as I was thinking about ‘unity’ I found myself humming it. (And now it will be stuck in your head too. Ha!)

Did you read the lyrics? They provide an excellent picture of what unity among Christians should look like, don’t you think?

I was reading the dictionary definition of unity. It says, 
“1. the state of being one; oneness. 2. a whole or totality as combining all its parts into one. 3. the state or fact of being united or combined into one, as of the parts of a whole; unification. 4. absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character. 5. oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement.” [2]
It’s a good definition – it covers all the bases. Number 4 bothers me a bit, though. I don’t believe that one describes the kind of unity we should find among Christians. What do you think?

My understanding of unity within the church with our common belief in a loving, creator God, includes our common goal of bringing as many souls as possible into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and our shared expectation of spending eternity with our Savior. One God -- One Goal -- One Glory

Beyond that, though, I believe that our methods can be quite diverse. God made each of us individual. There are as many methods of sharing the gospel as there are Christians – and I believe that’s a good thing.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Ephesians 4:11-12
Can you imagine a football team where, even though the entire team agreed that they all wanted to win the game, everybody wanted to be quarterback? Would that team be able to fulfill its goal to win the game? Probably not. There’d be 11 men throwing the ball around, but nobody would be catching it. That team would be everybody’s joke.

Look at Jesus’ disciples. They did not look like clones of Jesus or each other? Did they all have the same personality? Absolutely not! The disciples were vastly different from each other, weren’t they? But they were unified in their belief that Jesus the Messiah.

What’s the trick to finding unity within the body of Christ? How can we be like the disciples and be “all in one accord” and ready to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
“Notice that it was after the disciples had come into perfect unity, when they were no longer striving for the highest place, that the Spirit was poured out. They were of one accord. All differences had been put away. And the testimony borne of them after the Spirit had been given is the same. Mark the word: ‘The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.’  Acts 4:32. The Spirit of Him who died that sinners might live animated the entire congregation of believers.” E.G. White, Counsels for the Church, p.  98
So, what are you doing to further the cause of Jesus Christ? Have you found your ministry niche? If not, why not? Don’t want to stand up in front and speak – no problem. Can’t sing or play an instrument? That’s ok. For everything you think of that you say you cannot do, there is at least one other form of ministry that you can do. You can help the pastor in his office, clean the church, help in one of the children’s departments, help with potlucks, be a greeter, or become a prayer warrior for your spiritual family.

Jesus has a specific and unique mission for you that will fit in perfectly with what everyone else in your church is doing.

When you feel like complaining that someone isn’t doing their job right, pray instead that God will show you how you can help? Maybe that person has been holding that job just for you. If you turn it down, who else will fill your spot?
“Strive earnestly for unity. Pray for it, work for it. It will bring spiritual health, elevation of thought, nobility of character, heavenly-mindedness, enabling you to overcome selfishness and evil surmisings, and to be more than conquerors through Him that loved you and gave Himself for you. Crucify self; esteem others better than yourselves. Thus you will be brought into oneness with Christ. Before the heavenly universe, and before the church and the world, you will bear unmistakable evidence that you are God’s sons and daughters. God will be glorified in the example that you set.
“The world needs to see worked out before it the miracle that binds the hearts of God’s people together in Christian love. It needs to see the Lord’s people sitting together in heavenly places in Christ. Will you not give in your lives an evidence of what the truth of God can do for those who love and serve Him? God knows what you can be. He knows what divine grace can do for you if you will be partakers of the divine nature.”  E.G. White, Counsels for the Church, p. 290-291        
You can’t be a Christian from the sidelines. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. You’re either with Jesus or against Him. There is no middle ground. 
Remember, we share a belief in the “one, true God.”  Our shared mission is to introduce as many people as possible to our Redeemer.  And, by God’s grace, we will meet beside the Sea of Glass and spend Eternity in the presence of Jesus.  One God – One Goal – One Glory  

[1] Peter Scholte, “We Are One In The Spirit,”,


Monday, November 12, 2012

Full Metal Christian

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 11.17.12

Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.[1]

“Opposition lawmakers and human rights groups are criticizing German Chancellor Angela Merkel for claiming that Christianity is ‘the most persecuted religion worldwide.’”[2]
Two questions: Do you agree with Angela Merkel? and Why do you think that statement upset so many people?

I have to say that I agree with Merkel, but on a whole different level. I believe that every Christian, no matter where they live, is persecuted. Now before you get too excited, I’m not necessarily talking about jack-booted thugs breaking down doors and burning Bibles, I’m talking about Satan and his angels and their constant harassment of the children of God.

In some times and places, Satan has actually used those jack booted thugs, but he’s rarely that obvious…to start with, anyway. Life would be much easier if we could see Satan coming, wouldn’t it?

What we get instead is a barrage of innocuous seeming “little things” in our daily lives that will, if we’re not properly protected, pull our attention away from God.

What’s our protection? Paul tells us in Ephesians.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” Ephesians 6:10-18
Wow! That’s a whole lot of protection. Some might say that Christianity isn’t for weaklings. But I believe that following Jesus Christ is only for weaklings, because only after we’ve given up every delusion that we can handle things ourselves are we able to accept the grace of Jesus – our only hope of winning this war.
“There is a warfare in which every soul must engage who ould have the crown of life. Inch by inch the overcomer must fight the good fight of faith, using the weapons of God’s word. He must meet the foe with, ‘It is written.’ He must keep the armory well supplied with, ‘It is written.’ In this way he must meet the advances of the enemy, and educate and train the soul for the still more severe attacks of the foe. Truth, the word of God, faith and righteousness, and the hope of salvation, must be the armor of the successful warrior, and his eyes must be anointed to be keen and sensitive to detect the devices of the enemy. … If God had not made provision by which you might be thoroughly equipped for your warfare with the powers of darkness, then these commands and promises would be but mockery to you, and would tantalize your soul; but our God is true. We may depend upon him under all circumstances. The word of God cannot fail, and in it we are to find our assurance.”[3]
Are you ready to stand for Jesus Christ? Do you have your armor on? Where do we get the armor?

The armor comes with our relationship and knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Savior. We can’t just give lip-service to being Christians and then go do our own thing. Putting on the armor of God can only be done when we accept His complete control over every part of our lives.

Contrary to what many people believe, becoming a Christian will not necessarily make our lives easier and more peaceful. Walking with Jesus brings us into the view of the enemy – the one who hates Jesus (and by extension, His followers) with the white hot hate of jealousy.

In the face of that, we want to be safe, but there is no safety apart from Jesus. Jesus is our only refuge from the wiles of the devil.

Author Erwin McManus writes:
“One summer Aaron went to a youth camp. He was just a little guy, and I was kind of glad because it was a church camp. I figured he wasn't going to hear all those ghost stories, because ghost stories can really cause a kid to have nightmares. But unfortunately, since it was a Christian camp and they didn't tell ghost stories, because we don't believe in ghosts, they told demon and Satan stories instead. And so when Aaron got home, he was terrified.
“‘Dad, don't turn off the light!’ he said before going to bed. ‘No, Daddy, could you stay here with me? Daddy, I'm afraid. They told all these stories about demons.’
“And I wanted to say, ‘They're not real.’
“He goes, ‘Daddy, Daddy, would you pray for me that I would be safe?’ I could feel it. I could feel warm-blanket Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety.
“I said, ‘Aaron, I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room.
“And he goes, ‘All right. But pray I would be really, really dangerous, Daddy.’
“Have you come to that place in your own life where you stop asking God to give you a safe life, and make you a dangerous follower of Jesus Christ?”[4]
Christianity is a rough and tumble contact sport. We can’t stand on the sidelines waiting for the game to be over. We have to be out there, in it…but not of it and the only way to do that is to put on the full armor of God and stand with God.

And remember, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” 1John 4:4

[1]Sun Tzu, Chinese General and Strategist, in The Art of War, written in the late sixth-century BC
[2] Associated Press, Merkel's 'Christian Persecution' Comments Draw Ire, ABC News, November 6, 2012,
[3] E.G. White, Signs of the Times, December 3, 1894.
[4] Erwin McManus, "Seizing Your Divine Moment," Preaching Today, Issue 252

Monday, November 5, 2012

Count It All Joy

Thought on the Sabbath School lesson for 11.10.12

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,” James 1:2
Have you ever considered how completely foreign that philosophy is to pretty much every other way of thinking on the planet these days? Most folks spend considerable time and money to avoid any kind of trial. Our lives (in the United States, anyway) are all about easier, better and faster – trials of any kind just don’t figure in. When a trial does, inevitably come along, our first instinct is not to meet it with joy but with anger and frustration.

That is doubly true for Christians, sometimes. If we’re stuck in traffic we might get a little indignant with God. “God, you know I have to be to work on time. Why are you letting this happen to me?” In fact, there’s a whole brand of Christianity (Prosperity Theology) that preaches if you are doing it right, your life will be smooth sailing – you’ll have a great job, nice house and plenty of money. It’s a very appealing theory, but pretty hard to sustain even if you have any knowledge about the Bible at all. Many texts say just the opposite.
“‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’” John 16:33
If you have a red letter Bible, those words are in red. Jesus, Himself, said them.  I don’t see any way around them – we are going to have to admit that “in the world, we will have tribulation …”

But it’s a pretty big leap between accepting those trials and tribulations and being happy about them, right? Facing trials with joy would be like trusting God enough to give Him complete control of our lives. That’s pretty radical!

The apostles and the early Christians seemed to understand that Christian life wasn't going to be all lollipops and rainbows. They lived every day, knowing that today could be the day that they are arrested, tortured and put to death.

We, as North American Christians, need to remember that we are not so very far removed from people who live every day with the threat of religious persecution.

Another question we need to answer would be, just what constitutes persecution.
“In a recent article on the suffering church, FaithWorks listed the degrees of persecution one could face for practice of religious faith:
1. Disapproval
2. Ridicule
3. Pressure to conform
4. Loss of educational opportunities
5. Economic sanctions
6. Shunning
7. Alienation from community
8. Loss of employment
9. Loss of property
10. Physical abuse
11. Mob violence
12. Harassment by officials
13. Kidnapping
14. Forced labor
15. Imprisonment
16. Physical torture
17. Murder or execution”[1]
Don’t you wish we could ask Peter and John how they were able to face each new day as a gift from God.  Remember the story in Acts 5:12–42? The apostles are standing together on Solomon’s Porch in Jerusalem and they’re preaching and working miracles and “multitudes” of people are giving their hearts to Jesus when up march the Sadducees and the High Priest. The High Priest has the apostles arrested and thrown in jail. He and the Sadducees trot off home to supper thinking they've handled that whole situation pretty neatly.

Meanwhile, Peter and the apostles are sitting in prison. An angel comes and lets them all out of prison and tells them to go back to the temple and start preaching again. Now, I’m thinking at this point, I’d be having some doubts as to whether or not going back to the place I was just arrested and doing the same thing for which I was just arrested is a wise choice…in fact, I’m pretty sure I’d be having a heart to heart discussion with that angel.

Peter and the apostles didn’t question their task at all, though. They went right back and started preaching again,
“Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them,  saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.’” Acts 5:26-32
Finally, the apostles were beaten and released.  
“…when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Acts 5:40-43
Can you imagine? “… rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  Thrown in jail and beaten and they’re happy about it. Wow.

Are we at a place where we can praise God for sending trials into our lives? I’m pretty sure I’m not, but Mrs. White explains why we need to get involved.
“The watchful Christian is a working Christian, seeking zealously to do all in his power for the advancement of the gospel. As love for his Redeemer increases, so also does love for his fellow men. He has severe trials, as had his Master; but he does not allow affliction to sour his temper or destroy his peace of mind. He knows that trial, if well borne, will refine and purify him, and bring him into closer fellowship with Christ. Those who are partakers of Christ’s sufferings will also be partakers of His consolation and at last sharers of His glory.”[2]
Are we doing everything we can to advance the gospel? Are we telling people at work? at the store? on the plane? at school? Are we being working Christians? Are we being bold sharers of the truth about Jesus Christ? We don’t have much time left. We need to get the job done.

[1] Andrew Black and Craig Bird, "The Risk of Faith," FaithWorks (July/August 1999), pp.17-20
[2] E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, page 261