Monday, August 27, 2012

“Today,Today, & Today, Until He Comes”

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 9.1.12

I have a theory that the followers of God have always had a job to do – a mission to accomplish – and, following my tendency to oversimplify things, I have concluded that we can narrow all the possibilities down to three specific tasks.

From my perspective, the way the Bible tells God’s story fits pretty neatly into this framework.

The first role I believe God wants us to fill is that of Companion. God created us to be His friends and companions. In Eden, before sin, God spent time every day with Adam and Eve and they learned about Him. In the same way, Jesus and His disciples lived and worked together for three and a half years, while He was here on earth.  And, I believe Jesus calls us to spend that same kind of daily and prolonged time with Him.

The second role I believe we are called to is to be a Warrior. By that I mean someone whose task is to expand and protect God’s territory.  In Old Testament times, that was a much more physical task – David and other warriors of that time literally fought wars and battles to guard the edges of God’s territory. In the book of Acts we see the apostles and the early Christian church fighting the same battle with the help of the Holy Spirit. The war they fought may not have looked much like the ones David fought, but the result was just as deadly for some of God’s warriors.

I believe that we’re also called to be warriors for God – expanding the spiritual territory of God and defending His truth. Warrior is not a job for cowards, and it can’t be done correctly without first having spent considerable time as God’s companion and friend.

The third role I believe that God asks us to fill is the role of Prophet. By that I mean someone who point people to the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament prophets spent their time pointing the Jews to the coming of the Messiah. Almost all of the New Testament writings point to the Second Coming of Jesus. And for those of us living right now, we have to keep encouraging our brothers and sisters in Jesus to hang on until Jesus comes.

I don’t mean to say that these three jobs are separate and distinct. In actual practice, we need to do all three jobs all the time. They should overlap and intertwine with everything we do in our everyday lives.

I believe that maintaining the roles of Companion, Warrior and Prophet as we go about our daily lives will help us stay focused and ready for the final events that lead to Jesus’ Second Coming.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to urge them to not let their readiness slip.
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” I Thessalonians 5:1-11
It is really difficult to maintain the appropriate level of readiness. It is so easy to “sleep” as Paul says when we should “watch and be sober.” It’d be a whole lot easier if we just had a date, wouldn’t it? Then we could make sure we were ready, right?
“The times and the seasons God has put in His own power. And why has not God given us this knowledge? Because we would not make a right use of it if He did. A condition of things would result from this knowledge among our people that would greatly retard the work of God in preparing a people to stand in the great day that is to come. We are not to live upon time excitement. We are not to be engrossed with speculations in regard to the times and the seasons which God has not revealed. Jesus has told His disciples to ‘watch,’ but not for a definite time. His followers are to be in the position of those who are listening for the orders of their Captain; they are to watch, wait, pray, and work, as they approach the time for the coming of the Lord; but no one will be able to predict just when that time will come; for ‘of that day and hour knoweth no man.’ You will not be able to say that He will come in one, two, or five years, neither are you to put off His coming by stating that it may not be for ten or twenty years.” (E.G. White, The Review and Herald, March 22, 1892)
I think the key to being ready is to keep working! We have to maintain our relationship with Jesus by spending time with Him as His companion. We have to let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit to tell others about Jesus – expand God’s spiritual territory as a Warrior. And we have to point others to and help them be ready for Jesus’ Second Coming as a Prophet. If we do all those things, we won’t have time to get complacent.

You probably know the story of The Great Disappointment and William Miller who thought he’d figured out when Jesus was coming. When the date he had set came and went without Jesus return, many of us might have given up on God. Many of us might have moved away and become a recluse. William Miller didn’t do either of those things. He kept studying and believing that even though he didn’t understand, God was in control of the situation.
“After the passing of Oct. 22, 1844 - a date that Miller did not set, but accepted at the last moment - Miller wrote to Joshua Himes: ‘Although I have been twice disappointed, I am not yet cast down or discouraged….My hope in the coming of Christ is as strong as ever. I have done only what after years of sober consideration I felt to be my solemn duty to do….I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light. - And that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see HIM for whom my soul yearns’ (letter, Nov. 10, 1844, in The Midnight Cry, Dec. 5, 1844, pp. 179, 180).”[1]

[1] Town of Hampton, New York, “William Miller: Herald of the Second Advent,”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Till We Meet Again

 Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 8.25.12

I recently met a woman whose husband died, suddenly and tragically, less than a year ago. They had been together over forty years and had been high school sweethearts. She has the most amazing attitude. Yes she misses him terribly, but she has such an amazing spiritual outlook. She knows that she will see her husband again. In fact, they had promised each other long ago that if they didn’t see Jesus come together, they would meet at the Tree of Life. I’ve known other folks who made arraignments to find each other beside the Sea of Glass. Will they really remember to do that when we all get to Heaven? I don’t know, but it gives us hope in a situation in which many people have no hope at all.

I was just trying to remember and I don’t believe I’ve ever been to a funeral for someone who didn’t believe in some kind of “life after death,” so I don’t really know what that ceremony would be like. What would anyone say to comfort the friends and relatives? What songs would they sing? I really can’t imagine how it would go. It would seem like a terribly hopeless situation.

The Christians in Thessalonica were experiencing an even worse fear. They had the mistaken belief that only the Believers who were alive when Jesus came back would go to Heaven. Can you imagine the almost frantic pressure you would feel to help your loved ones live as long as possible? Thankfully, Paul heard about this and wrote to them about it in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Isn’t that wonderful news?
“The hope and joy which this assurance gave to the young church at Thessalonica can scarcely be understood by us. That letter, coming from their father in the gospel, was believed and cherished by them, and their hearts went out in love to him who had brought them the precious light of truth. He had told them these things before; but at that time their minds were grasping doctrines new and surpassingly strange to them, and it is not surprising that the force of some points had not been vividly impressed upon their minds. But they were hungering for truth, and Paul’s epistle gave to their souls new hope and strength, a firmer faith in, and a deeper affection for, the Redeemer who had brought life and immortality to light through his death.
“The darkness that had enshrouded the sepulcher of the dead was dispelled; for they now knew that their believing friends would be resurrected from the grave, and enjoy immortal life in the kingdom of God. A new splendor now crowned the Christian faith, and they saw a new glory in the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ.”[1]
Can you imagine how excited you would be the first time you heard that news? What a relief! What hope! Christians never have to say a final Good Bye but a “see you later.”
“Sheldon Vanauken was a student of the English professor and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis in the early 1950s. He recounts in his book A Severe Mercy the story of his last meeting with his mentor when Vanauken was leaving Oxford for the United States. Over one final lunch together at a pub, they had spent time wondering aloud about the nature of life after death. When they had finished eating, they stood outside of the pub, talked for a few more minutes, and just before parting ways, Lewis said to Vanauken, ‘I shan't say goodbye. We'll meet again.’ The great apologist then plunged into the traffic to cross the street while Vanuaken watched his friend walk away. When Lewis got to the other side of the street, he turned around, anticipating that his friend would still be standing there. With a grin on his face, Lewis shouted over the great roar of cars, ‘Besides—Christians never say goodbye.’”[2]
What a wonderful hope we have as Christians! Not only do we never have to say goodbye, but when we meet again in Heaven, we will have new perfect bodies and minds. But you know what will be even more exciting than finding our family and friends will be that Jesus will be there to greet every single one of us.
“Face to face with Christ, my Savior, / Face to face—what will it be? When with rapture I behold Him, / Jesus Christ who died for me. / Face to face I shall behold Him, / Far beyond the starry sky; Face to face in all His glory, / I shall see Him by and by! / Only faintly now, I see Him, / With the darkling veil between, / But a blessed day is coming, / When His glory shall be seen. / What rejoicing in His presence, / When are banished grief and pain; / When the crooked ways are straightened, / And the dark things shall be plain.Face to face! O blissful moment! / Face to face—to see and know; / Face to face with my Redeemer, / Jesus Christ who loves me so.[3]
I can hardly wait! What about you? I’ll meet you at the Sea of Glass.

[1] E.G. White, Sketches from the Life of Paul, p. 112
[2] Greg Ogden, in the sermon "Christians Never Say Good-Bye," Christ Church of Oak Brook (Oak Brook, IL) (preached 5-24-09)
[3]Carrie E. Breck, “Face to Face”

Monday, August 13, 2012

99.9% Pure

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 8.18.12

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  Philippians 4:8
Sounds simple enough, right? No problem – just think about the good stuff and the bad stuff won’t be a problem. But then the news comes on, or your favorite old song, or that movie the folks at work said was so good, or you’re just checking your email, but the side and top banners are just staring at you…and before you know it, those good things have slipped quietly away.

And really, what difference does it make, anyway, I’m not actually doing any of that stuff. I’m just looking/listening.

Well, author Craig Gross would disagree with you. “In his book Eyes of Integrity, Craig Gross contends that our battle with sexual immorality (and other sins) often begins in the mind. Then he shares the following personal story about identifying the battle for our mind:
“It was spring break in New Orleans, the streets were packed with college-age partiers, and the debauchery had reached an all-time high. My friend Donald and I ... had no idea we were going to be stepping into a raucous street party. A few minutes of the madness swirling around us, and both of us knew we needed to get out. Quick. The smell of beer infused the air, and high above the street level, lined along the apartment balconies, women revelers danced, flashing the crowd. Spontaneous applause and cheers erupted in every direction every few seconds.
“Waiting for a cab, I was torn as thoughts of these women flooded my mind. I was thinking about who they were. I thought of my own little girl at home and wondered if any dads knew their little girls were here, dancing. But while one side of me wanted to pray for the lost little girls, I felt the other side being drawn in, tempted to stop and stare. I was engulfed in a war of conscience and conviction, between my commitment to guard my mind and a strong call to take mental snapshots.
“‘Take every thought captive’ the apostle Paul declared …. Why? Because he knew the mind is the root issue, the systematic cause of all moral failures. The mind begins the process of every action we take, and I had to ask myself: Am I willing to arrest these thoughts that are producing an insane magnetism towards unhealthy action? When I sat in the taxicab with my mind on erotic autopilot, I had to make a decision …. [Thankfully], God was faithful and really did provide a way out for me.”[1]
Okay folks, that’s pretty straight forward – immorality, or any sin for that matter, doesn’t start with action but with thought. And where does thought start? Thoughts are started by what we see and hear – with what we put in our brains. That links the text I started with in Philippians and the text that Gross referenced from Second Corinthians: 
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,  casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
Taking every thought captive…I really like the mental picture that those words make and the encouragement that they give. They let me know that I can’t always control the thoughts that pop into my head, but as soon as an inappropriate thought pops in, I, with the help of the Holy Spirit, need to “grab it” and throw it out. Then I can take the things from Philippians 4:8 and fill up my brain with good thoughts again.

Ellen White gives us advice on how to have fewer thoughts that need to be taken into captivity:
“Those who would not fall a prey to Satan’s devices, must guard well the avenues of the soul; they must avoid reading, seeing, or hearing that which will suggest impure thoughts. The mind must not be left to dwell at random upon every subject that the enemy of souls may suggest. The heart must be faithfully sentineled, or evils without will awaken evils within, and the soul will wander in darkness.” (Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 518.)
Paul reminds us that God has called us to live a pure and holy life. The enemy is doing his best to make sure that that doesn’t happen. Our world is so sexualized and out there that there is almost no escape, immorality is almost everywhere. It is accepted as and even celebrated while chaste, pure life choices and those who try to make those choices receive derision and laughter.

The only way we can be successful is to put our hand firmly in God’s Hand and to walk close beside Him and to keep our eyes fixed on His face.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”[2]

[1] Adapted from Craig Gross, Eyes of Integrity (Baker, 2010), pp. 45-49
[2] Helen H. Lemmel, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus”, 1922

Monday, August 6, 2012

Friend Me

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 8.11.12

Do you remember when ‘friend’ became a verb? I know it was sometime after the beginning of Facebook. About the same time, our definition of ‘friend’ changed a bit, didn’t it? All of a sudden, a friend can be someone you’ve never spoken to or met in person. A friend is someone with whom you trade funny pictures or pithy sayings that did not originate from either of you but were passed along from other friends sometimes accompanied by a terse “LOL” or “ROFL.”

Maybe you’ve seen the car commercial in which a young woman is afraid that her parents are becoming isolated and encourages them to become involved with Facebook. She laments that they only have 19 friends while she has over 600. While she’s sitting alone with her computer, her parents are out with their actual friends doing fun things – demonstrating that she’s the one who is isolated.

It’s kind of sad that the meaning of the word ‘friend’ has become so diluted that it really means nothing anymore. If you invited all your Facebook friends over to your house for a party, would they come? Chances are, other than the folks you know in real life, most of your Facebook friends don’t even know where you live.

We have to make sure that we don’t confuse our Facebook friends with our actual, flesh and blood, friends. We need, not only the conversation of friends, we need the physical interaction of friends to survive. The psychologist, Harry Harlow spent ten years doing isolation experiments with monkeys.
“The monkeys were separated from their mothers at birth and were prevented from developing any other relationships. … every single monkey developed severe psychological problems due to lack of socialization. When the monkeys were introduced to society, they routinely experienced emotional shock characterized by behaviors such as self-clutching, rocking, and the inability to form normal social relationships. For some the shock was so overwhelming that they refused to eat and eventually died. … Depending on the length of their isolation, some monkeys experienced a limited recovery, with one exception: the tests determined that twelve months of isolation virtually eliminated any chance of the monkeys recovering socially.”[1]  
Do we really need to torture monkeys to know that we’re social beings who need to be involved with other people? We get just two chapters into the first book of the Bible and God, Himself tells us, “…‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Genesis 2:18

We need friends, real friends. Why? 
“Things will go wrong with every one; sadness and discouragement press every soul; then a personal presence, a friend who will comfort and impart strength, will turn back the darts of the enemy that are aimed to destroy. Christian friends are not half as plentiful as they should be. In hours of temptation, in a crisis, what a value is a true friend! Satan at such times sends along his agents to cause the trembling limbs to stumble; but the true friends who will counsel, who will impart magnetic hopefulness, the calming faith that uplifts the soul,—oh, such help is worth more than precious pearls” (E. G. White,(Letter 7, 1883) Bible Commentary, Volume 3, p.1163)
Do you have a friend like that? Are you a friend like that? How can we become that kind of friend? Well, all we really need to do is look at Jesus. His earthly example is the pattern all friendships should follow. Jesus was encouraging, patient, loving, but He didn’t use flattery or money to artificially bolster His friends or the friendship. His honesty and love for His friends was strong enough. Even the friends He knew were going to hurt Him, never heard anything from Jesus but encouragement.

How can we find and be friends like Jesus and His disciples in our everyday lives?  As author, John Eldridge explains, we can be inspired by our large church family, but we can’t get to really and truly know each other by getting together for a couple of hours each week. But we can get to know ten or twelve.
“This is the way of the kingdom of God. Though we are part of a great company, we are meant to live in little platoons. The little companies we form must be small enough for each of the members to know one another as friends and allies. … It can be inspiring and encouraging to celebrate with a big ol' crowd of people, but who will fight for your heart?”[2]
I love that mental picture – little platoons of believers, standing together against the enemy and loving and encouraging each other to stay committed to Jesus Christ.

There will be times when our minds and/or bodies will be overwhelmed and exhausted from the enemy’s attacks. That’s when our friends will surround us with their arms and their prayers, giving us time to recover. Next time we’ll be the ones surrounding and praying while another friend recuperates.

We can’t afford, as we wait for Jesus to come, to have friends like Job had -- “I am one mocked by his friends, who called on God, and He answered him, the just and blameless who is ridiculed.” Job 12:4

We want a friend like Jesus. 
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15:13-15

[1] Carl P. Cosaert, Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, lesson 6
[2] John Eldridge, Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, Thomas Nelson