Monday, June 25, 2012

Reaching Across Burnt Bridges

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 6.23.12

Have you burned any bridges lately? Are you sure? Could you have burned a bridge without being aware of doing it? Next time you’re sitting in church, take a look around. Are there some folks missing? I don’t mean like on vacation missing, but who haven’t been to church for a month or two…or maybe a year or two. Maybe you can’t remember when he (or she) was last at church. You don’t know when he slipped away, but you realize you haven’t seen him in a really long time.

Actually, it’s kind of a sensitive situation, isn’t it? We’re not talking about someone who has never heard the truth before. This is a person who has walked in the truth but has turned away for one reason or another. How do we approach a missing member in a way that will not make the situation worse?

Chances are, the missing member didn’t quit coming because he changed his mind about what the truth was. A person quits attending church not on the basis of logic, but of feelings.

The easiest to trace is if the member had a disagreement with someone and quit coming to church because either his feelings were hurt or he just felt uncomfortable being around the person with whom he’d had the disagreement. That’s an obvious burnt bridge. Even though it’s more easily seen, it may be very difficult to fix. Hurt feelings that have been left to sit are really hard to sooth.

Sometimes, though, it’s not so much hurt feelings. Sometimes a person has lost the person in the family who kind of gave the family direction, or he just can’t imagine going to church without the person he sat next to for the last however many years. The problem isn’t hurt feelings, but too many feelings.

Maybe, though, there wasn’t one pivotal event that caused this person to quit coming to church. Maybe, as the years have gone by, he started feeling more and more invisible or unimportant, so one week he just stayed home. When nobody called to check, he just figured that nobody missed him, he might as well stay home another week or two. And he’s never been back.

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s your point, so-and-so hasn’t been to church in while – what’s that got to do with me? I didn’t do anything to him.”

You know what, you may be absolutely right. You may have had nothing to do with that person not coming to church anymore … but does that mean you and I don’t have any obligation to try to bring them back?
“‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.’” Matthew 15:4-7
It sounds to me like every single one of us is important to God. We spend quite a bit of time talking about the prodigal son – he knew he was lost and found his way back, and that’s fantastic. But sometimes, people can’t find their own way back into the safety of the church. They don’t know how to make that first step. They need our help.
“In the parables of the lost sheep and lost piece of silver, Jesus illustrated heaven’s attitude toward the backslidden—They should be carefully and tenderly led and educated as pupils in school. … They need the tenderest sympathy and the most judicious help; they should be carefully instructed; and should be prayed for and prayed with, watched and guarded with the kindest solicitude. Those who have fallen under temptation and have backslidden from God, need help. This class is represented in the lessons of Christ by the lost sheep. The shepherd left the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and hunted for the one lost sheep until he found it; he then returned with rejoicing, bearing it on his shoulder. Also by the illustration of the woman who searched for the lost piece of silver until she found it, and called together her neighbors to rejoice with her that the lost was found. The connection of heavenly angels with the Christian’s work is here brought clearly to light. There is more joy in the presence of the angels in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance. There is joy with the Father and with Christ. All heaven is interested in the salvation of man. He who is instrumental in saving a soul is at liberty to rejoice; for angels of God have witnessed his efforts with the most intense interest, and rejoice with him in his success.” (E.G. White, Testimonies for the Church 4, p263-264.
You may or may not have heard the story of a man named Lt. Hiroo Onada. On March 10, 1974, Lt. Onada became the last World War II Japanese soldier to surrender. Think about that date for a minute – 1974. Wow!

Lt. Onada was just 22 years old when he was dropped off on the island of Lubang in the Philippines on December 25, 1944. His orders were to “carry on the mission even if Japan surrenders.”

For almost 30 years, people tried to convince him to surrender. They talked to him through loudspeakers, trying to explain that Japan had surrendered and was now an ally of the United States. They dropped leaflets to him letting him know that if he would surrender he could go home to Japan. But he would not surrender.
“Over the years he lived off the land and raided the fields and gardens of local citizens. He was responsible for killing at least 30 nationals during his 29 year personal war. Almost a half million dollars was spent trying to locate and convince him to surrender. 13,000 men were used to try to locate him.
“Finally, on March 10, 1974, almost 30 years after World War II ended, Onada surrendered his rusty sword after receiving a personal command from his former superior officer, who read the terms of the cease-fire order. Onada handed his sword to President Marcos, who pardoned him. The war was over.
“Onada was 22-years-old when left on the island. He returned a prematurely aged man of 52. Onada stated, ‘Nothing pleasant happened in the 29 years in the jungle.’”[1]
Do you know somebody who is out there in the wilderness, who doesn’t know he (or she) doesn’t have to fight the battle by himself (or herself) anymore? Jesus has won the war so that all of His sheep can be safely in His fold. It’s time to bring all the lost sheep home. It isn’t important why they left or who burned the bridge. What’s important is that we reach out to them and tell them that we love them and want them to come back and that Jesus loves them and died for them.

Time is short – we have lots of work to finish!

[1] "Old Soldiers Never Die." Newsweek 25 March 1974: 51-52.

Monday, June 18, 2012

212 Degrees

This concept may not be new to you.  It’s a big motivational campaign.  If you work in education I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the movie and all the merchandise.  I hear it’s very big in the corporate world as well.  But, in case you haven’t heard it, here it is as explained by the guy who wrote the book and is now making a bundle on merchandising:
“At 211 degrees, water is hot.
At 212 degrees, it boils.
And with boiling water, comes steam.
And with steam, you can power a train.
“One degree. Applying one extra degree of temperature to water means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine - a beautifully uncomplicated metaphor that ideally should feed our every endeavor - consistently pushing us to make the extra effort in every task, action and effort we undertake. Two-twelve serves as a forceful drill sergeant with its motivating and focused message while adhering to a scientific law - a natural law. It reminds us that seemingly small things can make tremendous differences.” Samuel L. Parker, 212: The Extra Degree
I don’t know about you, but the first time I heard the presentation of this concept, I had a real “duh” moment.  It was like I knew it, but I never really thought about the science of it and the difference between boiling and not boiling.  211degrees is a comforting bowl of soup, but 212 degrees is real power!

So as I read through all this stuff, I noticed something very important:  the difference between just hot and boiling comes from within each individual.  Hm.  Anybody see a problem?  Yeah, me too. 

Don’t ya hate it when that happens?  A person with a really good idea all of a sudden dives off in the wrong direction.  You and I both know that the final degree does not reside in any of us.  We will forever be bowls of soup – good, but innocuous.  That 212th degree can only come from one place…say it with me…the Holy Spirit.

When we look at the intensity of the disciples, we can see the moment they crossed the line.  In the upper room, at Pentecost, the disciples became Spirit driven.  The power spilled out of them just like steam out of locomotive.  From that moment on, the people who were filled with the spirit had one goal:  to tell people about Jesus.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be consumed with preaching the truth about Jesus where ever we go?  You wouldn’t worry if it made some people uncomfortable, or even angry; you’d tell anybody who would listen that Jesus loved them and died to pay the penalty for sin.  Nothing else would matter.

So, where are all the 212 degree Christians today?  Are you a 212 degree Christian? Am I?  How would we know?  What does a 212 degree Christian look like?  Can you tell just by looking? 
“The same intensity of desire to save sinners that marked the life of the Saviour marks the life of His true follower.” E.G. White, Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 10. (1902)
It looks so easy on paper, doesn’t it?  But I’m afraid that in practice it’s not so simple.  Maybe it’s just me, but it’s even a little bit scary.  It conjures up some disturbing images.  Think about it.  What happened to all those folk who lived with that kind of intensity and focus?  Not many of them lived to be old.  None of them lived safe, comfortable lives.  That’s hard to think about, isn’t it? 

And that’s one of the main differences between the secular way of thinking about two-twelve and the Christian’s way of thinking about it.  Secularly, when you add the extra effort, you’re life just gets better and better.  But for a Christian, accepting the mission of telling as many people as possible the truth about Jesus can be an uncomfortable, even dangerous, proposition.  It takes the analogy of steam quite literally.  Hot water can be comforting and soothing, but when it begins to boil, it not only becomes powerful, it becomes dangerous.
 “Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’  … But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’" John 12:23-28, 32.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Snowball Effect

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 6.16.12

Does anybody remember the old Sabbath School attendance records? Seems to me that they had spaces, not just for recording who actually attended that class, but also spaces to record how many pieces of literature were handed out, how many contacts were made, and, in the children’s departments, who brought a visitor to Sabbath School. I wonder why we don’t talk about this kind of thing much anymore. Maybe it was a little too much like keeping score. What do you think?

Is there anything wrong with keeping track of and reporting on what we’re doing to spread the word of Jesus to our neighbors and what the Lord is doing for us? It seems like it was something the apostles did whenever they came back from a mission trip. They’d go to their home church and report on what they taught and how people responded to the teaching. The practice started when Jesus was still with them. They’d come and kind of debrief with Jesus.
“Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.” Mark 6:30
Why do you think they did that? Is it something we should be doing today? What purpose do you think it served? Is it about keeping score? Who has visited the most shut-ins, handed out the most leaflets or signed the most people up for Bible studies? Maybe for some people, but I don’t believe that’s the outcome we’re looking for.

I believe there are some other much more important benefits of reporting on the progress of our evangelistic or missionary projects to the church. I believe it holds us accountable to our church family to keep the project going.

Even though we don’t work for congratulations or accolades, it helps to get encouragement from our friends. 
“Let those who gain such an experience in working for the Lord write an account of it for our papers, that others may be encouraged.”( E.G. White, Colporteur Evangelism, p.85)
It always helps to know that there are friends praying for you. Remember what happened in Acts 4? Peter and John were taken to jail because they wouldn’t quit preaching about Jesus, but then Peter preached to the Sanhedrin and Peter and John were released. What was the first thing they did when they were released?
“And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: “Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.”“‘For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.’“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:23-31
Now that’s exciting! And I believe that’s why reporting to each other is so important. Yes, as individuals we’re encouraged to carry on, but when we see the boldness of others for Jesus, we pray for that same boldness to do what Jesus asks us to do.

What happens, though, when not everyone agrees with what’s going on? What if one group thinks we ought to do one thing and another group thinks we ought to do something else? Remember the twelve spies that Moses sent out?
“Then Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, ‘Go up this way into the South, and go up to the mountains, and see what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not. Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land.’ …“So they went up and spied out the land … Then they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs. … And they returned from spying out the land after forty days.“Now … came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel … and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told him, and said: ‘We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there.  …’“Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.’“But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.’ And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants …; and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.’” Numbers 13:17-33
Wow, outvoted ten to two, but Caleb and Joshua were right and they knew it. But did you notice that they never quit being team players. When God sent all the rest into the wilderness, Caleb and Joshua didn’t say “Told ya so! We’ll be right here when you find your way back.”

They never stopped working for God, even as they spent the next forty years in the wilderness. Being right is often less important that loving our fellow travelers. Sometimes compromise is the best answer as long as we don’t let go of the truth. If we’re fighting amongst ourselves, we won’t have time to spread the Good News.

As we share our successes and failures with each other, encourage each other, and pray for each other, we all become stronger for our task.

 “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17
Remember, we’re not keeping score of bits and pieces, we trying to start an avalanche of people on fire for Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and spreading the Good News – people who love to talk about their Best Friend, Jesus!

Monday, June 4, 2012

What’s My Motivation?

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 6.9.12

Why do we do what we do? What motivates any of us to do anything?

People are trying to motivate us to do things all the time. They want us to spend our money at their stores. They want us to buy their product or drive their car. Teachers try to motivate their students to study and do their work. Bosses try to motivate their employees to work hard. Parents want to motivate their children to behave.

There are a couple of problems though. One, there are really only a few motivations available: hate, greed, fear, guilt, and love. And, two, some are more effective than others, depending on the situation.

For example, hate is only going to work in limited and specific situations, and most of those are not socially acceptable. Greed is more adaptable so it can work in more situations. Advertisers have really mastered using greed as a motivator. Fear and guilt may seem really effective at first, but they don’t usually create any long term or permanent behaviors.

If fear were more effective, no one would ever drive over the speed limit, smoke cigarettes, drink and drive, over eat, or any number of other things.

And if guilt worked every time, nobody would ever disobey a parent, make hurtful comments to a loved one, or break a promise.

Love, of course, is the only motivator that we should ever need or use, but it’s also the most difficult for us to use consistently.

Think about this: what motivates you and me to witness about Jesus? Well, it’s almost never going to be hate, and it’s probably not greed, but might it be fear or guilt? And, does it really matter why we witness, as long as we witness?

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably have said to your children when they grumbled about doing a task that you really didn’t care whether or not they wanted to do it as long as they did it. Could Paul have been saying the same thing in Philippians?
“Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:15-18
I think Paul is saying something that parents and teachers say all the time. “Don’t you worry about what anybody else is doing; you just worry about yourself.” It’s none of our business what anybody else’s motives are. That’s God’s business.

As to our own motives, why do we want to serve God? Is it because we’re afraid that God will punish us if we don’t? Is it because we’ll feel guilty if we don’t serve? If either of those is true, then we’re missing the point. We’re still trying to prove to God that we’re worthy of His love and that’s legalism.
“Legal religion will not answer for this age. We may perform all the outward acts of service, and yet be as destitute of the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit as the hills of Gilboa were destitute of dew and rain. We all need spiritual moisture; and we need also the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness to soften and subdue our hearts. We are always to be as firm as a rock to principle. Bible principles are to be taught, and then backed up by holy practice.” (E.G. White, Testimonies for the Church 6:417, 418)
Another issue is that no matter what it is, when we are motivated by fear and/or guilt, we don’t usually continue doing those things. They become a burden and we eventually quit, especially when we’re talking about something as personal as witnessing.

Witnessing because we have to instead of because we’re so in love with Jesus that we can’t help but tell people about Him is probably going to look and feel very differently to the people around us and to us. Have you ever been just talking to someone and suddenly that person’s whole look and attitude change? In the course of the conversation, you hit on something that he or she was passionate about. You can tell by the look on his face, by the excitement in his voice. He sits up straighter, and his eyes light up. There is no mistaking how he feels about that subject.

What do you look and sound like when you talk about Jesus? Are you preoccupied thinking about what to fix for dinner or what you feel you should be doing at work? Or are you “in the zone” talking about Someone you love more than you love your own life? Do you get excited when you talk about Jesus and what He’s done for you? Does every conversation you have come back around to Jesus because He’s always on your mind. Is His name always on the tip of your tongue?

I want to share this story with you. In an article he wrote for the Discipleship Journal,  author Jim White says, 
“I know a man named Hubert Mitchell who memorized the entire New Testament. As a former missionary in his sixties, he spent his days in downtown Chicago, going from office building to office building. Inside he would ask secretaries if he could have five minutes with their boss to talk about a personal matter. Frequently he would be ushered into the boss's office, and he would say, ‘I only have five minutes, but I want to ask you, did you read your Bible before you came to work this morning?’
“The boss would look at him as if he were crazy, and say,
“Hubert would smile and answer, ‘Sir, you sure missed a blessing, didn't you? I'd just like to share with you what God spoke about to me in the Bible this morning.’ He would open a New Testament and hand it to the boss, and say, ‘Let's start right here.’ Then Hubert would sit back and start quoting it word for word.
“The boss would listen, amazed. After five minutes, Hubert would say, ‘My time's up and I've got to go. Wasn't that a blessing?’ On most occasions the boss would ask him to stay longer, and they would talk.
“Hubert Mitchell led men to Christ all over downtown Chicago that way, because God's word was burning in his heart.”[1]
I want to be so in love with Jesus that I can’t keep Him to myself. I want everyone to know that He loves me so much that He couldn’t imagine His life without me, so He left Heaven and died so that we could be together forever. Jesus did it for you too. Don’t you want to tell everyone what He’s done for you?
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.” John 3:16 (AMP)

[1] Jim White, "Motivation: For a Lifetime of Disciple-making," Discipleship Journal (May/June 1981)