Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fishers of Men

Did you know that, at first, the name Christian was a derogatory name for the people who believed in the Risen Jesus?  Neither did I.  Apparently the word Christian means “little anointed one” and was generally used by non-believers to make fun of those who did believe.  It's hard to believe that we gladly call ourselves by that same you think that will ever work for words like “nerd” or “geek”?  Hmm.

Anyway, for the most part, we consider ourselves Christians, but can you think of yourself as a “fisher of men”?  Or did that line only apply to the first four apostles?  I mean, Jesus doesn't really want us to go out there and grab people we may or may not know and bring them to church, does He?  Does that mean that I should be standing on the street corner preaching?  Just in case the words of Matthew 4:19 ARE meant for you and me, how do we go about fishing for people?

Now, I could be wrong, but I don't believe that gathering people is our first concern.  The first step in Matthew 4:19 is not to gather people, but to follow Jesus.

According to C.H. Spurgeon, following Jesus has three distinct meaning.  The first is to 
“be separate unto Christ”, to come away from worldly things.  Instead of thinking, “What can I get away with?”; think, “What would Jesus have me do?” 
The second meaning of Jesus' statement, “Follow me”, Spurgeon explains as, “Abide with Christ.”  When Jesus called His disciples, they spent every day with Him.  They ate with Him, slept wherever He did, They became His best friends and biggest helpers.  They heard Him speak to the multitudes, but then they got “bonus material” when He explained things just to them.  They saw Him perform miracles.  And they watched Him die for their sins.  Imagine how well we would know Jesus if we spent that kind of time in the Bible and in prayer. 

Finally, Spurgeon restates Jesus' “Follow me” as “Obey me”.  As Spurgeon puts it, “If we desire to be largely used by God, we must copy our Lord Jesus Christ in everything, and obey Him in every point.  Failure in obedience may mean failure in success.” 

“Follow me” is the extent of our part of that bargain.  The next part is completely Jesus' part, and it's a promise.  We don't have to fret and stew about how to become fishers of men.  Jesus tells us that if we will follow Him, HE will take care of the rest!  Wow!  What a great promise!  You know, I have spent a lot of time worrying about witnessing and all that that entails...but Jesus says our responsibility is not planning, but following...I can do that!  This is how Spurgeon puts it:
“The Lord's directions make Himself our leader and example. It is 'Follow me. Follow me. Preach my gospel. Preach what I preached. Teach what I taught and keep to that.'  With that blessed servility which becomes one whose ambition is to be a copyist, and never to be an original, copy Christ even in jots and tittles.  Do this, and He will make you fishers of men, but if you do not do this, you shall fish in vain.”
Another author says it this way: “Jesus calls us to a ministry – He assumes the responsibility to teach us everything we need to learn in order to fulfill that calling.  As we yield to Him – let go of all our accessories and follow Him – He will equip us – what makes us uniquely us – to fulfill His calling.”  Stephen Muncherian, “Fishers of Men”.

Pastor Muncherian has in his statement a phrase that I find extremely comforting; “what makes us uniquely us”.  Why do I find that phrase comforting?  Some of you have already guessed, maybe because you feel the same way.  I especially like that phrase because, for a long time, when I thought of being a fisher of men, I thought of >gasp< preaching or giving individual Bible studies.  And I really have never felt very comfortable doing either of those, so for a long time, I felt like I didn't have a gift that would be helpful to God.  As Muncherian says, “Peter and Andrew were casting their nets into the sea – that's what they knew how to do and what their abilities were.  Jesus teaches them to cast nets for men.  We read in the Gospel of Matthew that Andrew becomes the disciple who brings people to Jesus – even as he's brought his brother Peter to Christ.  In Acts chapter 2 – Peter becomes the great evangelist – on the day of Pentecost he preaches the Gospel to three thousand people.

“James and John were doing something else – they were mending their nets.  That was their skill and ability.  The Greek word for 'mending' has the idea of equipping – preparing.  Just as James and John were equipping their nets when Jesus called them – Jesus teaches them to men nets as fishers of men.  Later they would become teachers – equipping – mending – the saints.

In our kitchen we have a toaster oven and a waffle iron – we plug them into the wall sockets.  They draw power from the same source but they do different things.  
That's the way it is with God and us.

Whew!!!!  What a relief!!!!!  The way God uses me to reach people might not be the same way that He uses you.  Fishing for men is a group effort and we don't all have to do the same job.  The preacher or the evangelist is only part of what is going on.  He (or she) may cast the net, reaching a large number of people, but he couldn't do it alone.  If there hadn't been for faithful folk who handed/mailed our advertising flyers, made calls, visited and invited friends, family members to come to/watch the meeting.  Then there are the jobs during the meeting: ministering to the children, so that the adults can hear the Gospel without worrying or being interrupted.  Not to mention the jobs that come after of making friends, teaching and shepherding the newcomers, and helping them to become disciples themselves.  That all takes very different skills that may not be the gift of the pastor or evangelist.  And I know that I haven't even begun to name all the different jobs that are just as important but less visible than the pastor/evangelist.
Just remember, there are those who “cast the nets” but they can't finish (or even start) the job.  You and I need to be willing to be the partners to those who cast the nets.  All it takes on our part is to be willing.  Be willing to be available—to come and help.  Be willing to make new friends.  One pastor reminds us, 
“The Great Commission is a continuum.  And you are part of it, somewhere on that continuum.  Some cast the net, some row the boat.  All contribute to the catch.”
Are you ready to find your place on the fishers of men continuum?  How do we know which job Jesus wants us to do?  Does He want us out their preaching if that's not what He has given us the talent to do?  I don't think so.  I believe that sometimes we pick for ourselves the jobs we want to do that are not the jobs that Jesus has given us.  I'm not completely sure why we feel we know better than God about these things, but I have done it myself.  We try to force ourselves into the mold WE have made of what we think a fisher of men looks like.  We might think it's a Billy Graham type, or a Sandi Patti (singer) type.  And those are important parts of ministry, but they're not the ONLY parts.  There are also the folks who clean the place, who make sure the air conditioners/ heaters are on in plenty of time to make the area inhabitable.  There are the folk who hand out literature and others who give Bible studies and others who invite visitors home for lunch.  Some folk are gifted in the areas of praying.  Not one of us can do it alone.  Which part are you willing to do? 

"We are laborers together with God." It is God that gives success to human endeavor. Without his presence with us, our efforts would amount to nothing. We are simply channels through which his blessings flow to our fellow beings. From every one in whose heart Christ is an abiding presence, will go forth a power that will influence others to accept the Saviour as their Redeemer. E.G. White, Article Title: "Follow Me, and I Will Make You Fishers of Men"[SERMONDELIVERED IN THE CHURCH AT HEALDSBURG, CAL., AT THE CLOSEOF THE HEALDSBURG COLLEGE SCHOOL YEAR, MAY 30, 1903.]

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hey! Where’s My Flying Car?

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 3.3.12

There are a whole bunch of crazy predictions and prophecies out there. People are always trying to predict what’s going to happen in the future.

Here are a few I found that you might find interesting:
"Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments." —Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus, A.D. 100"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." —John Eric Ericksen, surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873"Law will be simplified [over the next century]. Lawyers will have diminished, and their fees will have been vastly curtailed." —journalist Junius Henri Browne, 1893"It doesn't matter what he does, he will never amount to anything." —Albert Einstein's teacher to Einstein's father, 1895"It would appear we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology." —computer scientist John von Neumann, 1949"The Japanese don't make anything the people in the U.S. would want." —Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 1954"Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years." —Alex Lewyt, president of the Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Company, quoted in The New York Times, June 10, 1955"Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail." —Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General under Eisenhower, 1959"By the turn of the century, we will live in a paperless society." —Roger Smith, chairman of General Motors, 1986"I predict the Internet . . . will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse." —Bob Metcalfe, InfoWorld, 1995[1]
Wow, all of those predictions are spectacularly wrong! The truth is, almost all of the predictions that men make are just as wrong, and yet, we keep making them. 

We hate not knowing what’s coming next so much that almost everybody I know stays up a little later than he or she should to catch the final weather report on the news in order to have a jump on deciding what to wear in the morning. And how often is the weather forecast wrong?

How do we decide which predictions to believe and which to forget? I guess we keep an running tally, and if a certain source is right more often than it’s wrong, we tend to trust that source. We also trust individuals who seem to have some expertise in an area and people who are in authority. No, really, psychologists have actually done studies about who people trust. They did study where, as the volunteers came through the door, they were randomly and blindly assigned to be either “questioners” or “answerers.” The questioners were given a set of cards with general information types of questions and answers on them that they then asked the answerers. After 20 or 30 minutes, the questioning stopped and the volunteers were interviewed individually. In almost every case, the answerers said that they believed that the questioners were much smarter and had more education than they themselves had. 

This was absolutely not true because the roles were assigned randomly and blindly. When I first read that I thought, “How silly. Who would assume someone was smarter just because he or she was asking questions?” But then, I thought, who hasn’t, at some time or another, thought of Alex Trebek as a really, really smart man? People consider him so smart and trustworthy that he even does life insurance commercials.

Even Alex Trebek is wrong sometimes, right? As are horoscopes, palm readers, weathermen (and women), seers and most prophets, even the Farmer’s Almanac gets it wrong from time to time. No human is ever 100% accurate with his or her predictions.
So, where can we turn to relieve our uncertainty about the future? You know the answer … God is never wrong!  And His prophecies, when correctly interpreted, have never been wrong.

Want proof? Let’s look at Daniel 2:32-34 (NKJV):
“This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
In those few verses, through Daniel, God laid out a prophecy that covers thousands of years? And when we use the rest of the Bible to interpret those verses, we can see that every prediction has been complete correct…except the last one and that one hasn’t happened yet. Based on just those verses and their accuracy, what do you think are the chances of that last bit (“a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. …”) happening? Well, I don’t have any doubt at all that the rest of the prophecy will happen just like God said.

If you’re still not sure, consider that every prophecy about Jesus’ birth, life and death were absolutely spot on, right down to how the Roman soldiers would decide who got His robe.

God is trustworthy; His words are always true. He has given us the guideposts to look for so that we don’t need to feel uncertain about what’s going to happen next. 
“The Bible was designed to be a guide to all who wish to become acquainted with the will of their Maker. God gave to men the sure word of prophecy; angels and even Christ Himself came to make known to Daniel and John the things that must shortly come to pass. Those important matters that concern our salvation were not left involved in mystery. They were not revealed in such a way as to perplex and mislead the honest seeker after truth. Said the Lord by the prophet Habakkuk: ‘Write the vision, and make it plain, ... that he may run that readeth it.’ Habakkuk 2:2. The word of God is plain to all who study it with a prayerful heart. Every truly honest soul will come to the light of truth. ‘Light is sown for the righteous.’ Psalm 97:11. And no church can advance in holiness unless its members are earnestly seeking for truth as for hid treasure.”[2]

[1] The Futurist, (September/October, 2000), p. 20-25
[2] E.G. White, Darkness before Dawn, p. 7

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Inconvenient Surrender

I learned something very interesting this week.  When I typed “discipleship” into my trusty search engine, almost every article that popped up told me how to disciple other people and almost none talked about being a disciple.  Very interesting...but confusing.  It seems to me that all these folk were skipping a crucial step.  I don't believe you can help someone else become a disciple until you have discovered how to become one yourself.  What do you think?

Another thing I noticed was that most of those articles were trying to sell me a book and study helps, or somebody's seven steps for making disciples or some other such thing.  Maybe if you buy the system, you don't actually need to be a disciple yourself...maybe.

Finally, though, I found what I was looking for.  Most of the articles differentiate between believers and disciples.  But then there was this discussion about whether all believers are saved, just because they believe, or do they have to become disciples as well?  Another author decided that belief is based on faith only, while discipleship is based on works...which he implied was somehow less important?  Uh...what?
A couple of authors likened discipleship to apprenticeship, and that kinda worked for long as you take the old fashioned type of apprenticeship.  In an article about the medieval child, I found this description:
“The relationship between master and apprentice was as significant as that between parent and offspring. Apprentices lived in their master's house or shop; they usually ate with the master's family, often wore clothes provided by the master, and were subject to the master's discipline. Living in such close proximity, the apprentice could and often did form close emotional bonds with this foster family,... apprentices were often remembered in their masters' wills.
“...The apprentices were there to learn and the primary purpose the master had taken them into his home was to teach them; so learning all the skills associated with the craft was what occupied most of their time. ...the sooner he taught his apprentice the skills of the trade, the sooner his apprentice could help him properly in the business. It was the last hidden "mysteries" of the trade that might take some time to acquire.
“... At the end of his training, the apprentice was ready to go out on his own as a "journeyman." Yet he was still likely to remain with his master as an employee.”
See, that sorta works,  and at first I was going to call this article “Apprenticed to a Jewish Carpenter”.  But then I got to the part where the apprentice didn't really have any choice about what trade and to what master he (or she) was assigned, and the age that children were generally apprenticed...and the analogy kind of quit working for me.
And then, AHA!  I read an article by a gentleman named, Doug Greenwold.  He has a web-site called, Preserving Bible Times and his main mission is to understand the concepts of the Bible and Christianity in the context in which they were written.  For the topic of discipleship, that would be the first century.  And that's when I finally got it.

Here's how Greenwold explains it:  “ When Jesus said go and make disciples, it was a Jew speaking to other Jews...” and to the Jewish way of thinking, becoming the disciple of a rabbi was an honor.  It was a very good thing. 
“... the disciple-to-be agreed to totally submit to the rabbi’s authority in all areas of interpreting the Scriptures for his life. This was a cultural given for all observant Jewish young men – something each truly wanted to do. As a result, each disciple came to a rabbinic relationship with a desire and a willingness to do just that - surrender to the authority of God’s Word as interpreted by his Rabbi’s view of Scripture. “
These groups of disciples would spend considerable time debating what the Word of God meant to them in their everyday lives.  
"Unlike many of our contemporary discipleship programs, there was no curriculum or agenda for this multi-year discipling experience. Rather it was a continual daily relational living experience where either the rabbi would ask questions of the disciple as he closely observed the disciple’s daily life, or the disciple would initiate a discussion by raising an issue or asking a question based on some aspect of his daily life."
Then Greenwold asks the big questions: 
“The central issue of being a disciple of Jesus is: Will I willingly surrender – submit for a lifetime - every aspect of my life, including worldview, paradigms, career, personality, character, ethics, desires, motivations, values, family, ego, sexuality and attitudes to the authority of Jesus and His teachings?
“...Contrast total surrender to the authority of Jesus with a partial surrender, or an occasional surrender, a convenient surrender, or even token surrender to Him. How would you assess your willingness factor in regards to surrendering all areas of your life to the authority of God’s Word? When you do surrender, is it a willing surrender, or a surrender that arises from some form of resentful, obligatory obedience? “
Mrs. White says it this way:  
“We are to surrender ourselves unreservedly to Him; for His grace alone has sufficient power to save the soul of the repenting, believing sinner.
“Christ's will is to become our will. Then the fruit that we bear in words and deeds will glorify God. We shall give evidence of our discipleship. The proof that we are children of God will be clearly seen. We shall be moulded and fashioned in accordance with the divine similitude. But unless we place ourselves wholly under Christ's control, we can not give evidence of a change of heart.
“... They must show themselves approved of God, workmen that need not be ashamed. Day by day they are to build their characters in accordance with Christ's directions. They are to abide in Him, constantly exercising faith in Him. Thus they will grow up to the full stature of wholesome, cheerful, grateful Christians, led by God step by step into clearer and still clearer light. Union with Christ is productive of all good.”
Jesus said it this way:  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.    Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  Matthew 13:44-46

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Thin Green Line

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 2.25.12

I am a Christian who believes that God created everything in six literal days and then literally rested on the seventh day. Having said that, I’m not sure that I’ve spent enough time thinking about how that should shape my interactions with the things that God created in, say, the first five days of Creation week.

That doesn’t mean that I’m in favor of strip-mining or mowing down the rain forest or anything like that, it’s just that I’ve never really thought about EVERYTHING coming from God’s own hand. 

Think about it for a minute.  God made it and then asked Adam and Eve to take care of it.  What was there to take care of?  Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned yet, so what was there to tend? 

Then there are verses like this one: 
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Genesis 1:26-28 NKJV
People read the words “have dominion over” and “subdue it” and decide that we have the right to do absolutely anything at all to the planet and not worry about what the consequences might be.  I’m pretty sure though, that showing Creation who’s boss, is not what the Creator had in mind..

On a very small scale, it might be like when my aunt and uncle would go on their medical missionary trips every year.  They would ask me to “take care of things” while they were gone.  That meant water the indoor plants, feed the cat, and generally keep an eye on things.

What if, while they were gone, I decided that they didn’t need all those plants and pulled up half of them or that they needed a dog instead of a cat?  My aunt and uncle would not be pleased with my stewardship of their home, would they?

Does being stewards of Creation mean that we should value it above other humans or even God, Himself?  It seems kind of odd that, in general, the environmentalist movement is primarily made up of individuals who believe that life is governed by belief in the phrase, “survival of the fittest.”  While those of us who believe a loving Creator made the earth and everything in it for us, His children, really don’t get too worked up over saving the snail darter or whatever.

Shouldn’t we be the leading advocates for Creation and caring for the planet?  Is there a way to honor God by taking good of everything He made without putting His creation ahead of Him?
“The message reverberates through culture beckons us to ‘go green’ because we will look better and feel better and fit in …. [But as followers of Christ] we have deeper reasons to go green. We serve the Creator of the planet …. He created the earth and took the time to tell us his plan for it. The God of the universe has given us the great task of caring for our planet …. We have an operating manual for our planet right in front of us in the Bible, and we must allow that manual to change our thinking and behavior.” [1]Do we consider ourselves part of God’s plan for taking care of His Creation? Or are we here to get all we can out of it?  Did you know that God gave instructions that would have helped avoid the dustbowl of the early twentieth century?  It’s called (Are you ready for this?) the “Law of the Sabbaths.”
“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.” Exodus 23:10-11
Verse 12 goes on to remind folks to let their work animals rest on the weekly Sabbaths as well.  Interesting, the Sabbath is made for man, and man is then supposed to make sure that that little piece of creation stays healthy by sharing Sabbath rest with his animals and his land.

Imagine what might happen if one day out of seven, all unnecessary worked stopped.  What effect would that have on energy consumption and air pollution? Do you think it would be significant?  I don’t know, maybe?  I’m pretty sure it won’t happen, though.  Why? The same reason it quit happening in the first place.  Humans are selfish.
“Selfishness consists in dethroning reason from the seat of government and enthroning blind desire in opposition to it. Selfishness is always and by necessity unreasonable. It is a denial of that divine attribute that allies human beings to God and makes us capable of virtue. Selfishness dethrones reason and sinks human beings to the level of a brute. ...“It is a contempt for the voice of God within in him, and a deliberate trampling down of the sovereignty of his own intelligence. Shame on selfishness! It dethrones human reason, would dethrone the Divine mind and would place blind lust upon the throne of the universe.”[2]
Selfishness causes us to abuse the gifts God has given us, even the planet we live on.  Our selfishness has brought us to a place where we value ourselves, our wants and desires about anyone or anything else. We value our planet only for what we can get out of it. We don’t even value human life if it stands between us and something we want.  Our greed even causes us to injure our own bodies as we consume too much of the wrong things just because we want them, not because we need them.

As Christians we are in the unique position of protecting God’s Creation.  We know its true importance.  We aren’t caring for one random rock floating in random galaxy formed when a random star exploded.  We are stewards of an extravagant gift made especially for us by our God who loves us.  Every atom, every molecule was formed by His own hand and still bear His finger prints.
“… it was sin which marred God’s perfect work; …thorns and thistles, sorrow and pain and death, are all the result of disobedience to God. … see how the earth, though marred with the curse of sin, still reveals God’s goodness. The green fields, the lofty trees, the glad sunshine, the clouds, the dew, the solemn stillness of the night, the glory of the starry heavens, and the moon in its beauty all bear witness of the Creator. Not a drop of rain falls, not a ray of light is shed on our unthankful world, but it testifies to the forbearance and love of God.”[3]
Many of us would like to think that we don’t have to worry about the world around us because Jesus is coming soon.  But even before sin, Adam and Eve were to tend the Garden, what makes us think that we are any less responsible now?

[1] Jonathon Merritt, Green Like God (FaithWords, 2010)
[2] Charles G. Finney in Principles of Love. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 4.
[3] Ellen G. White, Testimonies of the Church, Volume 6, p 358

Monday, February 13, 2012

Holy Ground

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 2.18.12

How many hours of sleep do you get on an average night?  Do you get the full eight, or do you feel lucky to get five?  How many hours a week do you work (for pay)? How many more do you work at home? Do you ever feel really rested? I heard someone remembering being young and hating being told to go to bed … and wishing that someone would order him to bed now that he’s grown. 

Do you think our tiredness is really about lack of sleep, though? Yes, I know, people who live in “First World” countries tend to be sleep deprived, but is that really the issue? Maybe partly, but I believe we’re talking more about rest than about actual sleep.

Do you know that there’s a store in the Mall of America where you can buy a nap? (Well, there was one in 2005, anyway.  Don’t know if it’s still there.) Really, in this store, for a mere 70 cents a minute, patrons can, well nap, obviously, but they can also choose to 
“Escape the pressures of the real world into the pleasures of an ideal one.… listen to music, put their feet up, watch the water trickling in the beautiful stone waterfall, … and just take an enjoyable escape from the fast-paced lifestyle."[1]
I’m not sure that if I were paying 70 cents a minute, I could get real relaxed, but maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, I’m thinking just getting more rest is really the solution either.  I believe that our Creator knew what our minds and bodies needed and He provided for those needs when He created Adam and Eve.

Think about this for a second:  Adam and Eve were less than 24 hours old when God made the first Sabbath. 
“Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Genesis 2:1-3 NKJV
There was no stress in their lives, no sin, no weakness, absolutely no physical need for rest. God certainly didn’t need any rest. Could it be that even without sin, humans weren’t complete without time spent building a relationship with their Creator? Even in a perfect world where Adam and Eve could speak to God face to face anytime, they needed a day that was “set apart?”  I think so.

I believe that everything God does is for our good, and Sabbath is no different. God didn’t make any other day holy; He didn’t even name any of the other days. It’s interesting to me that so many people can blithely forget something that God, Himself told us to remember.
“‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.’” Exodus 20:8-11 NKJV
When God blessed and made holy the Sabbath, He made it different from the other days.  I believe that if we are obedient, God will fill the Sabbath hours with an extra measure of His presence.  The Ark of the Covenant held the Mercy Seat that held the Shekinah Glory, the presence of the Lord.  It was set apart in the Most Holy Place of the earthly sanctuary.  The Burning Bush is another example of God making something holy because of His presence.  Remember what God said to Moses? 
“So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’“And he said, ‘Here I am.’“Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’”  Exodus 3:4-5
I believe that the Sabbath is Holy Ground.  And just like Moses sensed the holiness of the area around the burning bush, and the Israelites understood the sanctity of the earthly sanctuary, we should feel the specialness of the Sabbath hours.

One author describes how special the Sabbath felt to him when he was a child:  
“When my mother lit the Sabbath candles, I would feel, almost physically, the Sabbath coming in, being welcomed, descending like a soft mantle over the earth. I imagined, too, that this occurred all over the universe—the Sabbath descending on far-off star systems and galaxies, enfolding them all in the peace of God.”[2]
Isn’t that a beautiful way to think of the Sabbath hours?

“But,” you say, “Saturday doesn’t feel any different than any other day of the week to me.”  Well, maybe that’s because we’ve forgotten what it feels like to stand on Holy Ground.
“It [the Sabbath] belongs to Christ.... Since He made all things, He made the Sabbath. By Him it was set apart as a memorial of the work of creation. It points to Him as both the Creator and the Sanctifier. It declares that He who created all things in heaven and in earth, and by whom all things hold together, is the head of the church, and that by His power we are reconciled to God. For, speaking of Israel, He said, ‘I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them’—make them holy. Then the Sabbath is a sign of Christ’s power to make us holy. And it is given to all whom Christ makes holy. As a sign of His sanctifying power, the Sabbath is given to all who through Christ become a part of the Israel of God....           And every object in nature repeats His invitation, “‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28.”[3]
“All heaven is keeping the Sabbath, … On this day every energy of the soul should be awake, for are we not to meet with God and with Christ our Saviour? We may behold Him by faith. He is longing to refresh and bless every soul. …“The Sabbath is God’s time. He sanctified and hallowed the seventh day. He set it apart for man to keep as a day of worship.“We need to cherish and cultivate a spirit of true worship, a spirit of devotion upon the Lord’s holy, sanctified day. We should assemble together believing that we shall receive comfort and hope, light and peace from Jesus Christ.”[4]
Let’s do an experiment. Friday, as the sun goes down, whether we’ve been observing the Seventh Day Sabbath your whole life, have never observed it before or somewhere in between, let’s bow our heads and ask God to give us a sample of what He created Sabbath to be.  Then, let’s take our everyday complacent shoes off of our spiritual feet and experience true Sabbath Rest.

[2] Oliver Sacks, "Brilliant Light," New Yorker (12-20-99), p. 60
[3] E.G. White, The Faith I Live By, p. 33
[4] Ibid. p. 35

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What are YOU wearing?

Do you think a fireman would run into a burning building without all of his safety gear on?  Would a SCUBA diver attempt a dive without wearing every single piece of his SCUBA equipment?  What about a soldier? A policeman? An astronaut?  No matter what we're doing, if it calls for some specialized safety equipment, we make sure we're properly attired before we start, right?  I mean, would any of us, intentionally, put even one hand into an oven without first protecting our hand?  Not on purpose anyway.
But when we face everyday trials and tribulations, we don't think twice about going forward virtually (or is it literally) unprotected – practically naked, in fact.  What's up with that?  

In Ephesians, Paul tells us how we should be clothed and prepared to face life in a sinful world:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  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, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;...”  Ephesians 6:10-18
I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking that putting on armor was all well and good for folks who lived when Paul did, but we'd look pretty odd walking down the street dressed like roman soldiers.  But let's think it through a little bit farther.  Our lives really aren't much like a nice walk in the park, are they?  We (or maybe just I) often forget that we're walking through an active battlefield where the angels of God and the angels of Satan are fighting for our souls, every minute of everyday.  
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”  1Peter 5:8-9
The question is, would you step into a lion's cage naked?  Don't laugh because we're walking around in front of that hungry lion not just naked, but wearing raw meat perfume!  Who thought that was a good idea?

Let's check back with Paul and figure out what we need to be wearing to keep from getting eaten up by the lion, shall we?  Paul tells us that the first thing we have to do is to wrap ourselves in the truth.  But how do we do that, you ask?  Check out John 14:6: 
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
  Ah-ha!  We wrap ourselves in the truth by surrounding ourselves with Jesus—He is our foundation.
“The Lord will be your helper, and if you trust Him, will bring you up to a noble, elevated standard, and will place your feet upon the platform of eternal truth. Through the grace of Christ, you can make a right use of your entrusted capabilities, and become an agent for good in winning souls to Christ.” E. G. White, Our High Calling, 1961.
Next, Paul tells us to cover our hearts with Christ’s righteousness so that when Satan tells us that God would never really love sinners and that we will never be good enough, we can defend ourselves with the righteousness of Christ. 
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” Philippians 3:8-9
Now comes one of the hardest of Paul’s directives:  "to walk in the footsteps of Jesus…” There will always be obstacles before us, but we are to follow our Leader, and meet our difficulties unitedly, hand in hand. There is only one way to heaven. We must walk in the footsteps of Jesus, doing His works, even as He did the works of His Father. We must study His ways, not man's ways; we must obey His will, not our own. Walk carefully. Do not go ahead of Christ. Make no move without consulting your Leader. Ask in humble prayer, and "ye shall receive." He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. …Our only hope of reaching heaven is to be one with Christ, and then, in and through Christ, we shall be one with one another. No one is called to walk alone. In Christ life and immortality are brought to light. He has opened the way to the kingdom of heaven to those who believe in Him, but He assigns to no one a path different to that which all must travel. He calls for unity, and unity we must have. God asks us to sink self in Christ. For the natural man this is not easy. But through the power of the incarnation of Christ, God manifest in the flesh, the strength of God is revealed in gentleness and beauty. To 
"as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." By this power we may overcome our evil tendencies and so modify our imperfect dispositions that the will of God may be fulfilled in us.” E.G. White, Letter 79, May 7, 1903, to J.A. Burden and wife.
We must always carry in our minds the reality of our own salvation, once we have given our lives to Jesus.  
“Many have confused ideas in regard to conversion. … They could not comprehend the plan of salvation. “Many have stumbled to ruin because of the erroneous doctrines taught by some ministers concerning the change that takes place at conversion. Some have lived in sadness for years, waiting for some marked evidence that they were accepted by God. …they dare not profess Christ, because they fear it would be presumption to say that they are children of God. They are waiting for that peculiar change that they have been led to believe is connected with conversion. “… God accepted them when they became weary of sin, and having lost their desire for worldly pleasures, resolved to seek God earnestly. But, failing to understand the simplicity of the plan of salvation, they lost many privileges and blessings which they might have claimed had they only believed, when they first turned to God, that He had accepted them. “…The evidences of a genuine work of grace on the heart are to be found not in feeling, but in the life.”  E.G. White, My Life Today, 1952.
Finally Paul tells us that the Word of God and prayer are our weapons against evil.  There is a difference here though.  So far Paul has told us to “put on” something, but these last two are things we must “pick up”, and practice with so that we will be able to use them effectively when the need arises. 
“Let them study the Scriptures. Let them commit text after text to memory, and acquire a knowledge of what the Lord has said. . . . And in trial … spread out the Word of God before them, and with humble hearts, and in faith, seek the Lord for wisdom to find out His way, and for strength to walk in it. . . . “Let them have stated seasons for prayer, never neglecting them if it can possibly be avoided. … armed with the Word of God, having it treasured in heart and mind, they will come forth unharmed by all the assaults of the foes of God or man. . . . “Satan is a wise general; but the humble, devoted soldier of Jesus Christ may overcome him.” E.G. White, My Life Today, 1952.