Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More Salt Please

"'You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
"'You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.'”  Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth...”  That's really an over used phrase isn't it?  Do we even really know what Jesus meant when He said it in the Sermon on the Mount? Part of the problem is that salt is so easy to come by now, and not nearly as important as it was before refrigeration was invented.  A couple of years ago I read an amazing book called, oddly enough, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.  It is really a fascinating book as it discusses the effects of having and not having salt shaped  civilization.  A website by the Salt Institute gives a brief run down of the importance of salt throughout history.

Sometimes salt was worth more than gold or silver. And without it, no one could preserve the food they would need.  Beyond that, salt was often used as a cleaner and a disinfectant.  Oh, and it made food taste better.  So, when Jesus told His followers and disciples that they were the salt of the world, He was really saying something significant and meaningful to them.  But what is He saying to us? 
By comparison our experience with salt is really limited maybe even skewed, because most of us have heard for the last however many years that we should limit our salt intake.  And all we really know is that if you have to go on a limited salt diet, nothing tastes very good, right?  So, how can we get to a place where we can understand what Jesus meant?  Well, let's start with what we know.  Food without salt doesn't taste very good.  Almost every recipe I've ever seen has at least a pinch of salt in it...even cakes, cookies and candy and if you leave out those few grains of salt, the recipe is ruined.  You can't see it in the finished dish; you don't actually taste anything that makes you think of salt; you can't smell it, but if it's not there, you really miss it.  Not to mention, we can't live without salt; it's essential to life.

 What if we misquoted the phrase this way, “You are the hope of the earth.”?   There are people out there who are missing that very important ingredient. They don't have any hope.  I think I've mentioned this before, but did you know that the one most reliable indicator of future suicides is hopelessness?  When a person comes to the point in his (or her) life that he can't see any way for things to ever get better; when he can't find any way out, that's when he commits suicide.

As we go through our everyday life, maybe we can start by asking God to help us share a pinch of hope with the people we work with, with our families, with the person who checks us out at the grocery store.  It's a place to start and when you think about it, that's a lot of what Jesus did. (Am I being too simplistic?)  He gave people hope that they could have something better when they gave their lives to Him. 
“In casting salt into the bitter spring, Elisha taught the same spiritual lesson imparted centuries later by the Saviour to His disciples when He declared, "Ye are the salt of the earth." The salt mingling with the polluted spring purified its waters and brought life and blessing where before had been blighting and death. When God compares His children to salt, He would teach them that His purpose in making them the subjects of His grace is that they may become agents in saving others. . . .” EG White, Conflict and Courage (1970), page 224
The other part of those verses is Jesus telling his listeners that they are the light of the world.  Now being the salt of the earth is one thing.  It's important and all, but it seems more like something that you can do without drawing too much attention – you just go through your everyday life and share a little cheerfulness and hope with the people you come in contact with.  And, if for some reason, you don't always do that, well, nobody will know about it, right?  But being the light of the world...yikes! 

I mean, Jesus even says in the next sentence, “ A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”  I mean, if I mess that up, everybody's going to know about it.

That's not really the point Jesus is making though is it?

First of all, being salt and light for Him is not really something we can turn on and off, is it?  If we choose to follow Him and be His disciple, we will be those things; if we choose not to follow Him, we won't be.  There is no half way. 
“Whenever God blesses His children with light and truth, it is not only that they may have the gift of eternal life, but that those around them may also be spiritually enlightened. . . . "Ye are the salt of the earth." And when God makes His children salt, it is not only for their own preservation, but that they may be agents in preserving others.” EG White,  Reflecting Christ (1985), page 205.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book The Cost of Discipleship, 
“The disciples...must not only think of heaven; they have an earthly task as well.”  And according to Tony Sowega, “Disciples are the only hope the earth has. ... The works of believers must be seen so as to speak out and draw all men to Jesus.  Can a disciple make a choice whether they will be 'salt' and 'light'?  What are those who 'put their lamp under a basket' doing?  They are denying the call to discipleship.  Jesus does not say, 'You ought to be salt and light' or 'After you've practiced being a Christian for a while, you may be salt and light.'  Jesus says, 'You are salt and light.'”
Think about the song we learned in Sabbath School (that I just learned is a spiritual.  I didn't know that):  “This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine...Won't let Satan blow it out...Hide it under a bushel? No...All around the neighborhood...Let it shine till Jesus come, I'm going to let it shine.”
Do I really mean that?  Or am I just singing along because I like the tune?  Am I ready to be a reflection of "Jesus to the World?"

New Song

A little girl who is hungry
Prays for something she can eat
A single mom doing all she can
Finds herself out on the street
Will we see their need and hear their cries
Look at our watch and just walk on by
Or will we stop and take the time
To be Jesus in their lives

We need to be lambs that roar
We need to be eagles that soar
We need to be salt
We need to be light
We need to be Jesus to the world

We need to take love into the streets
Be willing to turn the other cheek
We need to be strong
We need to be weak

We need to be Jesus
Jesus to the world

Jesus came with a message
That would change the way we live
He showed us all by example
What the heart of heaven is

He saw our need and He heard our cry
He loved us so much that He gave His life
He taught us by his sacrifice
How we should live our lives

We can talk and talk about what is wrong
But that won't change one thing at all
We must take God's love where the hurting live
'Cause that's what Jesus did

We need to be Jesus
Jesus to the world                 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait!

 Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 3.31.12

“Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was surprised to be given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—‘Welcome Home Dad!’“How did they know? No one had called, and the crew themselves hadn't expected to leave so quickly. Robins relates, ‘When I walked into the house, the kids, about half dressed for school, screamed, “Daddy!” Susan came running down the hall—she looked terrific—hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. “How did you know?” I asked.“‘I didn't,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once we knew the war was over, we knew you'd be home one of these days. We knew you'd try to surprise us, so we were ready every day.’”[1]
The great controversy has been won, are you ready? He’ll be here soon to take us home, are you ready? What are you doing to let Him know you’re ready? Are you even looking forward to His coming?

How do you think your friends and neighbors would respond to those same questions? Well, according to a 2010 Christianity Today poll, in May of 1999, 44 percent of American expected Jesus to come back within the next 40 years.  By 2010 that percentage had dropped to 41 percent.  Interestingly, 20 percent of folks who weren’t affiliated with any religion believed that Jesus would come back in the next 40 years.[2]

Those numbers are really kind of startling, when you think about them, don’t you think? Only 41 percent of Americans expect Jesus to come back in the next 40 years? That’s pretty low considering that as of the 2001 census, an average of 75 to 80 percent of Americans identified with a religion rather than “no religion.” And what do we do with those 20 percent of unaffiliated folks?

This next survey is even more discouraging.
“A December, 2011 article in USA Today analyzed a surge in a group of Americans called the ‘spiritually apathetic.’ They aren't atheists. Instead, according to the article, ‘They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven, or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose. Their attitude could be summed up as “So what?”’“The article pointed to the following statistics from recent surveys:“44 percent of respondents told a Baylor University study that they spend no time seeking ‘eternal wisdom,’ and 19 percent said, ‘It's useless to search for meaning.’“46 percent of respondents told LifeWay Research that they never wonder if they will go to heaven.“28 percent told LifeWay that ‘it's not a major priority in my life to find deeper purpose.’“18 percent denied that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.“One professor of religion concluded, ‘The real dirty secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal.’”[3]
Maybe it’s just that I can’t remember any time in my own life that I haven’t been expecting Jesus to come back very soon.  Sometimes I wasn’t anxious for it, but I expected it.
“‘As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.’ The inhabitants of the antediluvian world were utterly unconcerned, and at the appointed time the flood came and took them all away. …“We are looking for the second coming of Christ. Our hope of His soon appearing in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory fills our hearts with joy. When the Saviour comes, those who are prepared to meet Him will exclaim, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation’ (Isaiah 25:9).”[4]
I think one of the problems here is that we’ve been hearing that Jesus is coming soon for a couple of centuries, right? So we tend to lose the urgency of the message sometimes. We all know the parable of the 10 virgins; all of them went to sleep, but it was the preparations they’d made ahead of time that made the difference between the wise and foolish virgins.

Are you and I prepared? I think most of us have fallen asleep, but it’s time to wake up! Jesus is coming again soon. Do we have the extra oil we’ll need to deal with the delay in Jesus’ coming? How do we get the extra oil?  How do we know when it’s time to wake up? Do we have a responsibility to help those around us be prepared too?

And there it is! I think we offset the drift toward ennui by focusing on sharing the message with those who haven’t heard it yet.  Isn’t that brilliant?  God knew all along that we needed a mission to keep us focused. 
“We each have work to do—the work of proclaiming to the world the last message of warning. In clear, distinct tones we must give this message; but I greatly fear that though we have had such great light, we are not as earnest as we should be. Let us study the words: [1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 quoted].“Just such an experience as this is what we need today. We need the Holy Spirit and assurance. Living power must attend the message of Christ’s second coming in the clouds of heaven. We must not rest until we see many souls converted to the blessed hope of the Lord’s appearing. The message wrought a real work that turned souls from idols to serve the living God. The work to be done today is just as real, and the truth is just as much truth; only we are to give the message with as much more earnestness as the coming of the Lord is nearer. The message for this time is positive, simple, and of the deepest importance. We must act like men and women who believe. We are not half awake to the perils and the dangers that we must be prepared to meet. Waiting, watching, working, praying, warning the world—this is our work.”[5]
So, we’ve got to wait, but while we wait, let’s hurry up and spread the message

[1] Lee Eclov, "Heaven,"
[2] Ted Olsen, "Go Figure" Christianity Today  (August 2010), p. 12.
[3] Cathy Lynn Grossman, "For many, 'Losing My Religion' isn't just a song; It's life," USA Today (12-25-11)
[4] E.G. White, Sermons And Talks Volume Two, page 179.
[5] E.G. White, Letter 150, 1902, pp. 2, 3. (To Prof. C. W. Irwin, from Los Angeles, Calif., September 22, 1902.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mary or Martha?

How many times have we heard the story of Mary and Martha?  Jesus is visiting and Martha is rushing around making sure everything is just right and then she realizes that Mary is not helping but sitting with Jesus like one of their guests.  Martha gets upset and wants Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help, but He doesn't.  In fact, He pretty much tells Martha that she should be sitting with Mary.

Have you ever had a hard time with that story?  I have.  Maybe because I have always wanted to be more Martha-like in general...and maybe because I've always kind of mis-read the story itself.  I've always felt that Jesus was telling Martha that she was doing the wrong thing by making sure dinner made it to the table and all.  It wasn't until right now that I realized that Jesus was not so much telling Martha she was altogether wrong but that Mary was altogether right (at that particular moment).

I guess my point is that if all we ever did was sit and study, nothing in the way of Gospel sharing or soul winning would ever get done.  But we have to have the quiet time getting to know Jesus and building that relationship first, or our attempts at sharing Jesus will fail.

If you look back at the beginning of Luke chapter 10, we see Jesus sending out the seventy apostles or missionaries or whatever for the first time.
“After these things the LORD appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.
“Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” Luke 10:1-2
The first verse says, “After these things...”  Well I looked back at chapter nine and most of that chapter is Jesus showing the disciples who He really is and what His mission really is.  Then He sends them out to spread the good news.  They couldn't have been effective witnesses for Jesus if they hadn't spent that time learning about Him and getting to know Him.

Something else that I don't believe I fully understood about the the Mary and Martha story is that Mary is not just sitting and listening; she's not being passive in any way.  She is trying to soak up every word and every truth that Jesus is speaking.  She's drinking in His truth because she doesn't want to forget anything.

How many of us study our Bibles like that – trying to wrap our brains around every little tidbit of truth and hang onto it?  How often do we pray to get closer to Jesus instead of to ask Him to get us out of our latest tangle?  When was the last time we prayed and then waited to hear what Jesus had to say to us, instead of a quick prayer: “Thank you for another day; keep me safe.  Amen”?

Maybe it's only me, but it's not so much the physical busyness but the mental static that keeps me from “sitting at the feet of Jesus” and, consequently, stunts my ability to witness for Him. 
“Be still, and know that I am God...” Psalm 46:10
“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” Psalm 37:7
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,...” 2 Thessalonians 1:7
Jesus wasn't telling Martha she shouldn't be serving but that she shouldn't be worrying and fussing over things that were temporary.

Think about Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  How many hours/days do some of us spend planning and shopping and cooking because we want everything to be just right?  And how long does the meal itself last? Thirty minutes, tops!  And then you have to start cleaning up...yech!
"'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'" Luke 10:41-42
Have we chosen that better part that can't be taken away from us?  Have we filled our hearts and mind with Jesus?  Or are we still rushing around (physically or mentally) worried and upset?

I think that I've always gotten distracted by the visuals of Mary and Martha...Mary sitting quietly; Martha rushing back and forth.  But this isn't about movement or non-movement.  I know I can be sitting absolutely still, but my mind is going every which way, trying to figure out the solution to this, wondering about that, worrying about this other thing.  Or, I could be going through all the motions of my day, which might be physically hectic or demanding, but as long as my mind is fixed on Jesus, I can be calm and at rest.

We have to be the best of both Mary and Martha to be able to spread the good news about Jesus.  First, we have to learn to sit quietly with Jesus and learn the truth about Him, but then we have to share what we've learned.
“All who work for God should have the Martha and the Mary attributes blended--a willingness to minister and a sincere love of the truth.”--E.G. White,Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 118.

“Sitting at the feet of Jesus,
Oh, what words I hear Him say!
Happy place! so near, so precious!
May it find me there each day;
Sitting at the feet of Jesus,
I would look upon the past;
For His love has been so gracious,
It has won my heart at last.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ultimate Romance

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 3.27.12
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have always been a hopeless romantic. I spent several years reading anything I could find that involved King Arthur and Camelot. I can’t remember how many times I read and watched Gone with the Wind. And fairy tales, I still love fairy tales, but tend to enjoy the original versions more than the more modern “Disney-fied” re-tellings. And, of course, romantic comedies are always fun.
Anyway, I think that most of us (guys, you too) are looking for the ultimate romance – someone who will love us totally, who will never betray us or hurt us, who loves us without reservation. Someone who would rather die than live without us.

Hmmm … does that sound like Anyone you know?
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’” Jeremiah 31:3
Through the Holy Spirit, the writers of the Bible have  included some really amazing love stories:  Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rebecca and they all point to Jesus’ connection to us and to His church. 

More than that though, Jesus’ relationship to His church is described in the most romantic terms available – a Groom coming to claim His bride. If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is!

You might have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada.  She was paralyzed in a diving accident when she was still a teenager. She “draws parallels between her wedding day, and Christ's love for his church.
“I felt awkward as my girlfriends strained to shift my paralyzed body into a cumbersome wedding gown. No amount of corseting and binding my body gave me a perfect shape. The dress just didn't fit well. Then, as I was wheeling into the church, I glanced down and noticed that I'd accidentally run over the hem of my dress, leaving a greasy tire mark. My paralyzed hands couldn't hold the bouquet of daisies that lay off-center on my lap. And my chair, though decorated for the wedding, was still a big, clunky gray machine with belts, gears, and ball bearings. I certainly didn't feel like the picture-perfect bride in a bridal magazine.
I inched my chair closer to the last pew to catch a glimpse of Ken in front. There he was, standing tall and stately in his formal attire. I saw him looking for me, craning his neck to look up the aisle. My face flushed, and I suddenly couldn't wait to be with him. I had seen my beloved. The love in Ken's face had washed away all my feelings of unworthiness. I was his pure and perfect bride.
“How easy it is for us to think that we're utterly unlovely—especially to someone as lovely as Christ. But he loves us with the bright eyes of a Bridegroom's love and cannot wait for the day we are united with him forever.”[1]
Do you ever feel like you just can’t wait to be with Jesus? Does the thought of seeing His face take your breath away? Do you spend time imagining how you’ll feel when you see Him for the first time?
I just learned about some Jewish wedding customs that Jesus would have been familiar with when He was here on earth.

Marriage in Jesus’ time looked a little bit like it does today; there was an engagement period and then the wedding. The engagement part was called the Kiddushin and it was much more strict than what we consider an engagement. During the Kiddushin, they were actually considered legally bound to one another, just like they were already married.

The couple wasn’t just hanging out during this time, the man was supposed to be spending his time preparing a place for his bride.

Then, when everything was ready, it would be time for the Nisuin. That’s when the husband would come and claim his wife, take her to the home he had made for them and they would begin their lives together.[2]

Doesn’t that sound familiar?
“‘Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.’” John 14:1-4
Now, you’ve got to admit that’s pretty romantic!

You know, I see people all the time who are so afraid of being alone that they will submit to terrible, hurtful and abusive relationships. In an attempt to make themselves happy, they have condemned themselves to misery. But Jesus want us to know is that no matter how perfect we believe our relationship is, that other person will let us down.  The honeymoon will end in all our earthly relationships. But when our fist relationship is with Jesus, that honeymoon will never end. Jesus will never let us down.
“You shall be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the Lord will name. You shall also be a crown of glory In the hand of the Lord, And a royal diadem In the hand of your God You shall no longer be termed Forsaken … And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.”  Isaiah 62:2-5
Try to picture that for a minute. God will rejoice over you like a bridegroom does his bride. Can you really imagine that?  I mean, we can see ourselves rejoicing because we’re with God, but He’s rejoicing over us! Each, individual one of us, is so important to God that, for Him, Heaven won’t be the same without even one of His children. 
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
How romantic.

[1] This We Believe: The Good News of Jesus Christ for the World, (Zondervan) p. 222
[2] Judaism 101, “Marriage,” (accessed January 10, 2011).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cheerleaders or Disciples?

We spend quite a bit of time talking about the men (and women?) who readily left everything to follow Jesus when He called, but other folks came to Jesus thinking they wanted to go with Him, but often walked away without making a commitment.  Why was that, do you think?

Several articles I read recently framed these events as Jesus weeding out the weak ones ahead of time so they wouldn't hold Him back.  I really am not comfortable with that scenario, though, because if He was going to weed out anybody, it would have had to have been Judas, right?  Plus, I'm not comfortable with the thought of Jesus rejecting people who come to Him, are you?

When we look at the stories of the scribe, the rich young ruler, Nicodemus and the others who came to Jesus, we do see Jesus saying some tough things to these guys even though they really sound sincere.  The scribe comes up to Jesus and tells Him that he will follow Jesus wherever He goes.  But when Jesus explains to him that He is essentially homeless, the scribe vanishes.  In his study guide called “What Keeps Men from Christ?”, John MacArthur quotes Bible commentator Lenski when he compares the scribe to someone who sees a military parade: “He sees the soldiers on parade, he sees the fine uniforms, he sees the glittering arms, and is eager to join, forgetting the exhausting marches, the bloody battles, the graves, perhaps unmarked.”  This is a man who is essentially saying, “My life is great, but I'd like to add Jesus in as well.”  I liked what MacArthur said when the scribe isn't mentioned again. “He probably  wasn't around.  He left in the white space between verses 20 and 21.”

Others offered Jesus part of their lives, maybe later, maybe in my spare time, if I can fit You into my busy schedule, if my wife, husband, mom, dad, sister, brother, boyfriend, girlfriend will come with me, if I don't have to do anything too uncomfortable or too hard or that I don't want to do...they wanted to be part of the show, close to the power, but not have to get in the middle of things.

I read an article called “Disciples, Followers, and Cheerleaders” by Gary North, which, oddly enough had almost nothing to do with Christianity.  It did, however, talk about the kind of commitment the would-be disciples had in mind.  They wanted to be groupies or cheerleaders.  North pointed out something that I had really never thought about before, and it came as a small shock to me.  Maybe you're way ahead of me here, but check it out:
“A cheerleader seeks attention.  He (or she) wants to be seen. ... He wants to be seen on the winning side.
“Cheerleading is an American institution. It serves no useful purpose, but it is always there at high school and college [and pro] football and basketball games.  Where there is a large crowd to see the team, there will be cheerleaders.  With sports where there is no crowd, there are no cheerleaders.
“Cheerleaders pretend that they control the crowd.  The crowd pretends that their organized cheers in some way help their team or thwart the opposing team.  They stand, they sit, they cheer in an organized way. ...These efforts have no effect.  The team pays no attention.  The outcome of the game is not influenced by the organized cheers. ...The cheerleader thinks of himself as part of the team effort.  He isn't.
“Cheerleaders want to bask in the glory of the team.  They want to think that the public recognition accorded to team members will be accorded to them....”
That might have been what the would-be disciples were wanting; to be on what looked like it was going to be the winning side, to be seen near the center of an important long as it wasn't too uncomfortable or expensive.  But not one of these people was turned away or rejected by Jesus.  Jesus explained the type of commitment needed to walk with Him and let each person make his (or her) own decision.  My personal feeling is that Jesus would have gladly accepted anyone who was willing to give up his life to follow Him.

One author in an article called, “Christ's Call to Suffering”, put it like this: “There is no place in [Jesus'] band for those who are not willing to accept inconvenience, sufferings and uncertainty.”

That'll make ya stop and think, won't it?

Am I willing to follow Jesus even if He asks me to do something I really don't want to do?  The rich young ruler wasn't.  He didn't want to give up all his money and the things that went with it.  He was like the others who came to Jesus; he wanted to go with Jesus, but... And a commitment with a 'but' is not really a commitment at all, is it.
Have you ever said to yourself, “But what if Jesus makes me go off to some poor third world country to serve Him?”  And so you've held back that part of your life from Him.  Yeah, I know, you can't fool me, because I've said the same thing to myself.  But do you know what I've learned?  Jesus doesn't MAKE anybody do anything.  He puts the option out there and it's up to you and me to make our own choice.  The rich young ruler could have surrendered his heart to Jesus and then selling everything and giving all the money to the poor would have been the one thing he most wanted to do and nobody could have talked him out of it.  And, who knows, maybe he thought it over and did decide to give it all to Jesus.  Maybe we'll get to see him in Heaven; wouldn't that be awesome?

I mean, when you think about him, the rich young ruler was the picture of what we would call a “nice young man”.  He was polite, religious, nice to children and pets, respected his elders, etc.  But when it came to sacrificing –really sacrificing, not just tossing a few bucks into the offering plate—he couldn't do it.  And I think that's where I am a whole lot more like him than I want to admit.  As Sari Fordham said in her article for Adventist Missions said, “I can give without really sacrificing anything.  Sadly enough, I have to admit that that's the way I like my good deeds.  Simple, affordable, fast.
“...I get scared of the very implications that the word 'sacrifice' holds.  Sacrifice means giving up everything.  How much is everything?  I don't think I even want to know.  The word terrifies me.  And I don't even have much.
“...Ultimately, that's what sacrifice calls for.  It calls for going out of your way.  It calls for stretching yourself in ways you never thought you could.  Sacrifice is drastic; it's life-changing.  It's what Jesus asked for; it's what Jesus did.”
“When Christ gave to His disciples the conditions of salvation, He said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Self-denial and crosses lie directly in the path of every soul who will follow Jesus.”  E.G. White, To Be Like Jesus (2004) page 47.
Ya know, I don't believe we can be half-way or part-time disciples.  We have to set aside our fear and reluctance and realize that once we give our hearts to Jesus, anything He asks us to do, we will do it, even if it's uncomfortable and unpopular, not because doing that thing will save us, but because Jesus has saved us.
“To follow Jesus is to dare to keep going even when we can see on the horizon a cross...that is the cost of discipleship.”  Dr. W. Robert Abstein “Two Would-Be Disciples: A Picture of Judgment”
Ask yourself:  “Do I want to be a cheerleader or a disciple?”

Monday, March 12, 2012

Artist, Architect, Author

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 3.17.12

“We’re interrupting your regularly scheduled activity for an important message from your Creator. Please stand by.”

Have you ever been going blindly and numbly about your everyday business and suddenly become aware that you are right in the middle of something that only God could have imagined before that moment?

I remember one Sunday morning, as I stepped out of my car to do my normal Sunday morning grocery shopping, the air above me, for as far as I could see, was filled with Canada Geese flying north for the summer. They were flying so high that I could just barely hear their honking, but I could see them as they swirled from one v-formation to another. I was mesmerized, frozen to the spot where I stood.  And then the geese were gone; the sky was empty, but I was left in awe of God’s delight in beauty.

When Ellen White was traveling in Europe, she and the folks with her had a similar experience.  Her description appears in a book written by D.A. Delafi, E.G. White in Europe 1885-1887.
“As Ellen White’s party left Norway they witnessed one of nature’s grandest spectacles—a northern sunset. Mrs. White loved the beauty of the natural world. To her, nature was God’s second book. She was awed by the grandeur:
‘We were favored with a sight of the most glorious sunset it was ever my privilege to behold. Language is inadequate to picture its beauty. The last beams of the setting sun, silver and gold, purple, amber, and crimson, shed their glories athwart the sky, growing brighter and brighter, rising higher and higher in the heavens, until it seemed that the gates of the city of God had been left ajar, and gleams of the inner glory were flashing through. For two hours the wondrous splendor continued to light up the cold northern sky,—a picture painted by the great Master-Artist upon the shifting canvas of the heavens. Like the smile of God it seemed, above all earthly homes, above the rock-bound plains, the rugged mountains, the lonely forests, through which our journey lay.’”[1]
You know, God didn’t have to make different types of trees or flowers or anything else. All the trees could have been the same.  He could have made things in black and white.  We never would have known the difference. Butterflies didn’t have to be beautiful to do their job. Birds didn’t have to sing pretty songs. Our God must love beauty, and He shared that beauty with us.  Breathtaking things in nature are like little taps on our shoulders, reminding us of all that God has done for us.

Even more astounding than God’s work in nature, though, is the artistry and skill He uses within His children.
Have you ever heard of Dr. Ben Carson?  In his book, Take the Risk, Dr. Carson describe the day that he asked God to be the architect of his character.
“One day, as a 14-year-old in ninth grade, I was hanging out at the house of my friend Bob, listening to his radio, when he suddenly leaned over and dialed the tuner to another station. I'd been enjoying the song playing on the first station, so I reached over and flipped it back. Bob switched stations again.
“A wave of rage welled up. Almost without thinking, I pulled out the pocketknife I always carried and, in one continuous motion, flicked open the blade and lunged viciously right at my friend's stomach. Incredibly, the point of the knife struck Bob's large metal buckle and the blade snapped off in my hands.
“Bob raised his eyes from the broken piece of metal in my hand to my face. He was too surprised to say anything. But I could read the terror in his eyes.
“‘I…I…I'm sorry!’ I sputtered, then dropped the knife and ran for home, horrified by the realization of what I'd just done.
“I burst into our empty house, locked myself in the bathroom, and sank to the floor, miserable and frightened. I could no longer deny that I had a severe anger problem, and that I'd never achieve my dream of being a doctor with an uncontrollable temper. I admitted to myself there was no way I could control it by myself. ‘Lord, please, you've got to help me,’ I prayed. ‘Take this temper away! You promised that if I ask anything in faith, you'll do it. I believe you can change me.’
“I slipped out and got a Bible. Back on the bathroom floor, I opened to the Book of Proverbs. The words of Proverbs 16:32—[‘He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city’]—convicted me, but also gave me hope. I felt God telling me that although he knew everything about me, he still loved me… That because he made me, he was the only one who could change me… And that he would. Gradually I stopped crying, my hands quit shaking, and I was filled with the assurance that God had answered my prayer.
Uncontrolled anger has never again been a threat to me or those around me. God has provided and will provide whatever strength I need to control my anger.”[2]
Isn’t God amazing? If we’ll let Him, He will take the parts of us that sin has bent, torn, ruined and re-design, re-mold, re-paint and re-create them to be how He meant them to be in the first place.

The catch is, He won’t make any changes without our express permission. You have probably, at some point in your life; given a child the opportunity to do something he really wasn’t able to do. Maybe you let him (or her) make cookies, or wash the car, or any number of other things that you could have done more quickly and without making anywhere near the mess. But, the child insisted on doing it by himself, so you stood back and watched. It was torturous, wasn’t it? You probably asked many times if the child wouldn’t like some help, only to be abruptly turned down.

Imagine how it must be for God to watch us trying to do everything all by ourselves, making monumental and usually tragic messes. And there He stands, longing for us to ask Him to take over. Those words of surrender are what He lives for – they’re what Jesus died for.

Think about it, who can put our lives back together, better than the One who has written each one of our names on the palms of His hands – the one who looked through the pain of the cross to the joy of being with us in Heaven?
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

[1] D.A. Delafi, E.G. White in Europe 1885-1887, p.127
[2] Ben Carson, Take the Risk (Zondervan, 2008)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

For the Sake of the Call

Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really new for sure was Jesus had called to them
He said “Come follow me” and they came
With reckless abandon they came.

Empty nets lying there at the waters edge
Told a story that few could believe and none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought for what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name and they answered

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

Drawn like the rivers are drawn to the sea
No turning back for the water cannot help but flow
Once we hear the Savior's call we'll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
And because he has called us to go we will answer

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who calls
And if we believe we'll obey

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call
Stephen Curtis Chapman

So, think hard, when was the last time you did something with “reckless abandon”?  Maybe, when we were kids, dashing for candy after a pi┼łate burst open?  Hunting for Easter Eggs? Unwrapping Christmas presents?  But probably not too often since we were, say, 10.  Right?  Anyway, it was sometime before we started worrying about whether or not we were cool or what other folks would think of us.

What about lately?  Hmmm, that gets tricky.  I mean candy and presents are one thing, but they don't really fit into the context of our everyday lives. 

Do we wake up every morning and dash off to work (or school) with reckless abandon?  (Not just because you're running late either.)  Now, some of us do head for home at the end of the day with something close to reckless abandon...or am I the only one?

Do we use every spare second of our time to study our Bibles or pray?  Do we rush to church every week?  Is there any reckless abandon in our relationship with Jesus?
All Jesus did was look at some fishermen and say, “Follow me”...and they did.  They didn't hesitate or worry about what would happen next, or whether people would think they were weird.  They just followed Jesus.  Isn't that miraculous?

What would you do if Jesus called you to follow Him?  Not tomorrow or next week or next year, today...right now.  I know what a lot of us would say.  “Well, that sounds just great.  Let's get a discipleship class started.”  Well, some of the articles I've been reading talked about answering the call to follow Jesus like they were doing a science fair project or something.  They talked about taking classes and going on retreats.  They had checklists of disciple qualifications. The went on about how important mentoring is in the process of discipling and building discipleship attitudes...all very analytical and organized...and lifeless.  None of it involves anything like reckless abandon.

I'm not convinced that answering the call can be that premeditated.  What do you think?  Jesus calls us and we either follow Him, or we don't.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer compares answering Jesus' call to Peter stepping out of the boat, onto the water.  “Jesus called him. And so he went.  He decided to answer Jesus.”

I think I tend to be much more like the rich young ruler:  “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? ... Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”  Matthew 19:16,21-22

Not because I'm rich, but because I want Jesus' answer to be something I'm already doing...something that's easy.

It's not easy, though.  Jonathan Scanlon writes,  “A call to discipleship is a huge and extraordinary disruption in one's life.  There is not much more one can risk in a lifetime.  Through answering God's call to discipleship, we are dealing with a choice which effects one's entire family.  Discipleship always has a cost.  By becoming Christ's disciples, we must be willing to give up something to follow and serve.”

The disciples didn't ask how or when or why.  They didn't worry that in the context of their lives, the call didn't make sense.  They dropped everything and followed Jesus.  Beth Brehaut says, “God's call doesn't usually make sense, but then, it doesn't have to.  It is a holy, whacky agreement between you and God...between me and God...that says we will go for broke for the sake of the Gospel and God will never leave us alone.  How could anyone turn down an offer like that?”

Ellen White said it like this:  “The joy, the success, the glory of your ministry, is to be ever ready with listening ear to answer the call of the Master, "Here am I; send me" (Isaiah 6:8). Here, Lord, with my heart's best and holiest affections; here, take my mind with its purest and noblest thoughts, take me, and qualify me for Thy service. “ Notebook Leaflets from the Elmshaven Library Vol. 1 (1945), page 75.

And Jesus says it this way, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:...” John 10:27

“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19
“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” John 12:26 

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. “ Luke 9:23

Sunday, March 4, 2012

User Interface

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 3.10.12

Do you know what a “user interface” is? If you do, please forgive me while I sound like I know what I’m talking about for a bit.

The “user interface” is how the user (human) interacts with an electronic device. For example, on some computers, the user interface is the keyboard and mouse; tablet computers and some phones are touch screen, so the user interface is the actual screen and a finger or stylus. Sometimes, it could be a voice into a microphone.

Well, I’m thinking that prayer is our user interface with God.

Philip Yancey explains prayer like this: 
“If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn't act the way we want God to, and why I don't act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.”[1]
My experience with electronics has taught me that getting used to each new user interface takes some practice, and that even then, they can be unreliable. If any of you have ever used a speech-to-print interface, you know that sometimes what you say shows up on the screen as something very different. 

Thankfully, I know that our communication with God in prayer is always reliable. My question is, though, is there a learning curve, a discipline involve in prayer, or is it ok to just wing it?  What do you think?

You have to admit when Peter was walking out on the water and he started to sink; he didn’t pause to structure his cry for help.
“And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ Matthew 14:28-30 NKJV
If prayer is our primary means of coming into the presence of God, is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way? Should we worry about making mistakes?

Peter Kreeft is the author of the book, Prayer for Beginners. This is what he has to say about prayer.
“Prayer is easier than we think. We want to think it is too hard or too high and holy for us, because that gives us an excuse for not doing it. This is false humility. We can all do it, even the most sinful, shallow, silly, and stupid of us.“You do not have to master some mystical method. You do not have to master a method at all. Can you talk to a friend? Then you can talk to God, for he is your Friend. And that is what prayer is. The single most important piece of advice about prayer is one word: Begin! God makes it easy: just do it!“God also makes it easy to progress in prayer …. for it gradually becomes more natural and delightful.”[2]
Do you know what I notice most about what Kreeft says?  He doesn’t say anything about asking for things.  Did you notice that?  He says that if you can talk to a friend, you can talk to God.  When you talk to your friends, do you spend the whole time you’re together telling them all about the things you want and need?  Do you do all the talking so that they can’t even get a word in edgewise?  Have you ever met someone like that?  Do you enjoy being with him or her? 

When we come to God in prayer, do we just start rattling off all the things we want/need all in one breath?  Do we think of prayer as one more thing to check off our “to do” list or is it something we look forward to?  Would you describe your prayer time as “delightful?” 
“While staying alone in her convent, an 85-year-old Catholic nun got trapped inside a broken elevator for four nights and three days. She tried pushing the inside elevator door, but the electricity went off. She had her cell phone with her, but there wasn't a signal. Fortunately, she had carried a jar of water, some celery sticks, and a few cough drops into the elevator.“At first she said to herself, This can't happen! But then she decided to turn her elevator into a personal prayer retreat. ‘It was either panic or pray,’ she later told an interviewer for CNN. She started viewing the experience as a ‘gift.’ ‘I believe that God's presence was my strength and my joy—really,’ she said. ‘I felt God's presence almost immediately. I felt like he provided the opportunity for a closer relationship.’”[3]
Doesn’t that woman have an amazing understanding of her user interface with God? She could have spent her time in the elevator begging God to send someone to free her and even being angry with Him when no one came, but she made the choice to snuggle up next to God and have a good chat.  I love that last sentence of that quote. God wasn’t testing her; He didn’t allow any trial to come to her; He “provided the opportunity for a closer relationship.”

Wow, I love that! I want to feel that closeness to God.

I know there’s so much more to prayer than just talking to God. I know there’s all the ins and outs of what we should ask for, how to ask, and how to interpret the answers to our prayers. That’s important stuff. But sometimes, maybe it’s enough to be with our Best Friend and chat – not with any ulterior motives – just the desire to feel close to Him.
“Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. No other means of grace can be substituted, and the health of the soul be preserved. Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Well-spring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience.”[4]
Can you imagine not breathing for a minute? What about two or three minutes? We have to work really hard not to breath; that’s how much our bodies need air.  Why, then, do we even consider going through a day without prayer?
“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” Romans 12:10-13

[1] Philip Yancey, Prayer (Zondervan, 2006)
[2] Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners (Ignatius, 2000), pp. 25-26
[3] Jenny Wilson, "Nun Stuck in Elevator Survives Four Nights on Celery Sticks, Water and Cough Drops," (4-28-11)
[4] Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, pp. 254, 255