Monday, September 24, 2012

Finally Home

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.29.12

You know that feeling you get when you’ve been away from home and you walk into your house for the first time in however long – that feeling that says, “Aaah, finally home.”? I imagine that’s the feeling we’ll have when we first step into Heaven – only so so much better.

Lots of songs are written about it. The first three that come to my mind are “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe, the hymn, “Face to Face With Christ, My Savior,” and a song by Chris Rice that you probably haven’t heard called “Circle Up” (The title has to do with the chorus that I didn’t use here).

“Hear the hum of angel curiosity
The children of the Lord are gathering
Finally the Day we’ve all been dreaming of
Caught up forever in His love!

Hear the thunder of unfolding wings
Feel the mighty wind their beating brings
Rain your grateful tears and flood the floor
Rise up and worship like a storm!

Now hear His golden voice above it all
He’s saying, "This tear is the last to fall!"
A few simple words, another storm He calms
Invites us all into His arms!”[1]

I’m not sure why these particular lyrics speak so strongly to me, but I love the thought that the angels are almost as excited to welcome us Home as we are to get there. And, of course, I love the mental picture of Jesus inviting us all into His arms.

Have you ever tried to imagine what those first few moments/days/weeks in Heaven might be like? I believe it’s good that we’re going to have a thousand years, because I’m pretty sure that for the first good while, nobody’s going to be doing anything but just looking at Jesus. We’ll be trying to wrap our minds around the idea that we won’t ever be separated from Him again.

But after that, there’s going to be so much to do! We’ll have to pick up the directions to our mansions at some point, but, again, I can’t imagine we’ll be that interested in that right at first.

I know one of the very first things I want to do is meet and talk to my guardian angel. What about you? Have you ever thought about how interesting that will be – to sit down and hear about all the times your angel protected you when you didn’t even know you were in danger?

Next I’d like to find all my family and friends and do a head count and a group hug. But then I’d like to start making my way through visiting with all my Bible heroes. I don’t know, maybe they’ll each have their own meeting area and we can just move from group to group. However it works, I’d love to ask Noah how he managed to keep building the ark even when absolutely nobody else except his family believed him.

Can you imagine talking to David and hearing him tell about his life? What would you like to ask him? Who else would you like to talk to? Do you think Jonah will be there? We don’t know if he ever made peace with God over the whole Nineveh thing. I’d absolutely have to talk to Moses! How did he ever keep his sanity? Mary and Joseph would be a must, wouldn’t they? Along with Jesus’ disciples – John the Baptist, Samson, Elisha and Elijah. Oh, and Daniel! He and his three buddies would really have some amazing stories!

Is there a special person who guided you into the truth? You’ll definitely want to find that person! Maybe they don’t even know what kind of influence they had on your life. Won’t it be fun to tell them?

At some point we’re going to have a banquet and we’ll all sit down around a mile long dining table and be able to see and talk to anyone along the table as we eat the best food we have ever eaten. Do you think we’ll recognize everybody we see or will we be making introductions along the way?

I don’t know about you, but one of the things I want to do is go find the animals and spend some time petting and getting to know the big cats and all the other animals we don’t dare touch here on earth.

What do you think the first Sabbath in Heaven will be like? Can you imagine someone up front teaching/ preaching, or discussion groups? Would we even have a formal meeting place or would we just enjoy being in Heaven – walking around and visiting with everybody else?

At some point, though, Jesus will sit us down and open the books of the judgment with us. That’s going to be our primary job doing the millennium, to review God’s books so that we can understand exactly how God’s justice perfectly fits what each person did or didn’t do. We’ll also be helping the beings from other planets understand that God is truly a just and perfect God so that no one will ever again raise the question of whether or not God is fair.

Then, too, there’s going to be singing! What kind of music do you think we’ll experience? I know we’ll have a song to sing that only the redeemed can sing. There won’t be any “pitchy” singers or disagreements over which kind of praise music is appropriate.

We’ll want to experience what our new and improved bodies will do. Some people, like Joni Earickson Tada will be walking for the first time since she was a youngster.

I remember hearing a story about the hymn writer, Fannie Crosby. Someone asked her if she wanted to be healed of her blindness during her lifetime. Her answer was ‘no’. She said she would rather stay blind because she wanted the face of Jesus to be the very first thing she saw.

I’m sure we’ll all be experiencing our new bodies as though we had been crippled here on earth. We’ll have to spend time traveling the galaxies, visiting other worlds that Jesus made.

There are so many things to do in Heaven, so much more than Satan wants you to think about. He wants you to think Heaven is just sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, for eternity – how boring! Who would want that? Instead we have eternity jam-packed full of friends to visit, things to learn, music to make, animals to play with, new people to meet and, most important, Jesus. We get to spend eternity with Jesus. Wow – just wow!
“The nations of the saved will know no other law than the law of heaven. All will be a happy, united family, clothed with the garments of praise and thanksgiving. Over the scene the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy, while God and Christ will unite in proclaiming. ‘There shall be no more sin, neither shall there be any more death.’“‘And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me,’ saith the Lord. ‘The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’ ‘The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.’ ‘In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of His people.’” (E.G. White, Heaven, p.188)

[1] Chris Rice, Run the Earth... Watch the Sky (2003)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Comfortable Lies -- Uneasy Truths

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.22.12

Which would you rather hear? Be honest now. Wouldn’t you rather hear that your new haircut makes you look 10 years younger rather than that it makes your ears look really, really huge? Think back to when you were dating – when you first introduced someone you’d met to your friends, you wanted to hear how perfect you were for each other. The friend who told you honestly that they could see that your date was not your type usually earned your wrath instead of your gratitude.

Imagine this scenario: You pick “your car up from the shop after a routine tune-up, and the technician says, ‘This car is in great shape. Clearly you have an automotive genius to take great care of your car.’ Later that day, your brakes don't work. You find out you were out of brake fluid. You could have died.

“You go back to the shop, and you say, ‘Why didn't you tell me?’ The technician replies, ‘Well, I didn't want you to feel bad. Plus, to be honest, I was afraid you might get upset with me. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.’ You'd be furious! You'd say, ‘I didn't come here for a little fantasy-based ego boost! When it comes to my car, I want the truth.’

“Or imagine going to the doctor's office for a check-up. The doctor says to you, ‘You are a magnificent physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian. You are to be congratulated.’ Later that day while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. You find out later your arteries were so clogged that you were, like, one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper.

“You go back to the doctor and say, ‘Why didn't you tell me?’ The doctor says, ‘Well, I knew your body is in worse shape than the Pillsbury doughboy, but if I tell people stuff like that, they get offended. It's bad for business. They don't come back. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.’ You'd be furious! You'd say to the doctor, ‘When it comes to my body, I want the truth!’”[1]

What about when it comes to your salvation? Do you want the truth then? Some of us would rather live with a comfortable lie.

Paul tells us that we need to love the truth to survive the end time events: 
“and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
“The love of the truth” – Paul says they couldn’t be saved without it. What do you think that means? Could it mean that we want to know the truth even if it means that our lives are more complicated because of it? Even if it means we have to change jobs because of what we believe? Even if knowing the truth means our families won’t have anything to do with us and some friends turn away? It may mean all of those things, but for sure it means that we love to read and study the source of all truth, the Bible.

Paul describes the opposite of having the love of the truth as having “itching ears.” 
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
As time moves toward Jesus’ Second Coming, loving the truth is going to become so important. We will all be faced with deceptions and lies that are so convincing that we won’t have a chance of seeing through them unless God stands with us. Even right now, people believe so many different things about how Jesus’ coming will play out that if we are looking for the comfortable lie, we will have no trouble at all finding it. The question is, do we have the courage to look past what is comfortable and reach for the truth beyond?

God promises that if we will stand for His truth that He will take special care of us. 
“Holy, ministering agencies of heaven are cooperating with human agencies to lead into safe paths all who love truth and righteousness. It is the greatest joy of the angels of heaven to spread the shield of their tender love over souls who turn to God; and Satan fights determinedly to retain every soul that has had light and evidence. His fierce, unabated desire is to destroy every soul possible. Will you choose to stand under his banner?” (E.G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, Volume 7, p.922)
You know that the enemy wants to keep as many as he can out of Heaven, and he will do whatever he can to confuse and deceive us.
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. ‘Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.’” Matthew 24:21-25
Life would be so much easier if we could wrap ourselves in those comfortable lies – that these jeans don’t make me look fat, that being a follower of Jesus will be easy, that we can achieve world peace, and that computers will give us a paperless society.

Do we really want to live in the lie? Or would we rather embrace the uneasy truths that will ensure our salvation? We can’t depend on our mother/father/spouse for our salvation; we have to find Jesus for ourselves. We have to study our own Bibles and have our own relationship with Jesus. Sometimes, following Jesus will be uncomfortable, unpopular, and maybe even unhealthy (check out the stories of the early Christians…it didn’t end well for them – on earth, anyway).

What will happen to those who haven’t received the love of the truth – who have itching ears – who want salvation to be easy? Paul says, 
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thessalonians 2: 9-12
Think about it…comfort or salvation…which will you choose?

Dear Jesus, I want to receive the love of truth so that I won’t be deceived. Amen.

[1] John Ortberg, "Loving Enough to Speak the Truth,"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Held and Protected

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.15.12

As I sit here, comfortable, in my climate-controlled home, my glass of clean, drinkable water beside me, I cannot, in any way, describe myself as persecuted. I believe I could describe myself as “bothered” sometimes, but not persecuted. I don’t believe I can think of anyone I know that could be described as being persecuted right now.
Persecuted is defined as, “to pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race, or beliefs; harass persistently.”[1]

I’m living in a “first world country” and experience “first world problems” which, to most people in the world, are not problems at all. On the internet are pictures of people who appear to be absolutely devastated – weeping bitterly – captioned with things like:  “one pillow is too low – two pillows are too high” “There’s nothing to drink in the house – except a virtually unlimited supply of tap water.” “I forgot the show I was watching was on DVR and ended up sitting through the commercials.” You get the picture. First world problems are things we really should be embarrassed to complain about.

These people might describe themselves as “afflicted,” but that’s probably still too strong a word. The definition for afflicted is “to distress with mental or bodily pain; trouble greatly or grievously.”[2]

Having said all that, I’m left with a pretty important realization.  Mrs. White says, 
“There is another and more important question that should engage the attention of the churches of today. The apostle Paul declares that ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’ 2 Timothy 3:12. Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber? The only reason is that the church has conformed to the world’s standard and therefore awakens no opposition. The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian faith in the days of Christ and His apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. Let there be a revival of the faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled.” (E.G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 48)
Uh, ouch! Sounds like, we’re not experiencing hard times because we’re too involved in the world and not involved enough in God’s work. Now THAT’s a first world problem, isn’t it?

Does that mean that Satan isn’t trying every minute of every day to trip us up and turn us away from following Jesus? Absolutely not! Sometimes he uses comfort instead of affliction, though. And as we near Jesus’ second coming, complacency might be even more dangerous than persecution. Crazy, right?

History shows that when Christians are comfortable, the church becomes stagnant, but when Christians are challenged through persecution, affliction, or other trials, the church grows.

The church in Thessalonica must have been doing something right, because its members were being persecuted. 
“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure…” 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4
It’s a sobering thought, though, that if we stay faithful through the fat times, not allowing ourselves to be lulled into complacency and stupor, that we will experience persecution and trials. I’m not just speculating – it’s a promise.
"The ‘time of trouble such as never was,’ is soon to open upon us; and we shall need an experience which we do not now possess, and which many are too indolent to obtain. It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality; but this is not true of the crisis before us. The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal. In that time of trial, every soul must stand for himself before God. Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in the land, ‘as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.’ [Ezekiel 14:20.]” (E.G. White, The Great Controversy, p.622)
I believe we are standing at a pivotal point of earth’s history. Many of us who are alive right now will experience that time of trouble. How will we survive? How will we stay faithful to Jesus Christ? How will we, like Mordecai in Esther and the three Hebrew youths in Daniel, remain standing when the rest of world kneels before the beast? How will we stand when to stand means death?
“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed …” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-6
“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
His grace is our only hope. Through His grace we will be held and protected when that time comes.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.” Revelation 22:20-21

[1], LLC. Copyright © 2012.
[2] Ibid.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Leaders & Coaches & Mentors – Oh my!

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.8.12

I have a set of dishes that I brought back from Germany with me that I only use on very special occasions.  The dishes were pretty expensive and, I think, beautiful, but I use them maybe three times a year. Most of the time they sit in a cabinet and collect dust. When I do bring them out, I worry about breaking a piece. Now, the dishes my family uses everyday aren’t nearly as pretty or expensive, but they can take the everyday knocking around of being used and washed and such. Which set of dishes are the most useful? Are they any less useful if they get chipped or dinged? No, not really, they just keep doing what they were made to do, dings and chips and all.

God’s not looking for fancy, fragile dishes that He can only use once in a while, “He's looking for rough-and-tumble clay pots—the kind that can be used everyday. He's looking for the kind of pots that don't need to be tucked away in a china closet, but can be sent out into a crash-bang world, carrying within them the life of Christ. The church was never meant to be a china cabinet, where precious pieces could be safely stowed out of harm's way. The church was meant to be a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again to dispense their life-giving contents to a thirsty world.”[1]

Being a Christian isn’t a spectator sport; there aren’t even any bench-warmers. We may not realize it, but even within our own church families, we all have things to do.
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.  Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a mom or dad giving her or his kids of list of things to remember to do while she (or he) is away, doesn’t it? This is Paul’s list of reminders to his little church in Thessalonica – the one with which he only got to spend three weeks. He’s not talking to them about spreading the gospel; he’s reminding them how they should treat each other, inside the church.

I think sometimes, we forget that we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in the church and because of that, our ultimate mission of telling the world the truth about Jesus suffers.

So, the first thing that Paul reminds us to do is to appreciate our leadership. (Ah, no eye-rolling!) Paul didn’t say we were exempt from “esteem[ing] them very highly in love” only if we thought they were doing a good job, if we agree with them, or if we liked them as individuals. He said “for their work’s sake” – just because they are our leaders.

What do you think that means? Well, I think it certainly means that we pray for our leaders, but I also think it means that we don’t complain about them to each other. That can be hard sometimes, can’t it?

Paul’s not done yet. He reminds us to “warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.”

So, is this the time to sit with our friends and “discuss” those folks who seem to be struggling? “Did you see those kids running up and down the hallways during potluck? Disgraceful!” Is this the time to tell those folks just how they should be doing things?

I think we’ve all had the experience of having someone come up to us in the middle of our difficult moment and tell us just how we should be doing things. It wasn’t very helpful was it? And, it didn’t bring us any closer to the person who was giving the instructions, did it? In fact, we probably still have a little hard place in our hearts for that person and his (or her) lack of empathy.

Our job isn’t to get mad at, gossip about, or give a piece of our minds to baby or struggling Christians. Paul tells us to gently educate the folks who seem to be out of line and to help the people who are “weak” or “fainthearted” to be stronger so they can eventually stand on their own.

Some might call that being a mentor or a coach, but it might be just being brothers and sisters in Jesus – just treating each other like Jesus treated people when He was here.

Now, even if we’re not actively involved in leading or mentoring or coaching at the moment, we still have instructions from Paul to follow: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks;”

I love those verses! Have you ever noticed how just doing those three things can turn your whole day around? I remember when I flew home from Germany for the last time. I had a sixteen month old and I was eight months pregnant. We were moving back to Texas, but I had to fly home a couple of months ahead of time, so I was by myself. The morning I flew out of Germany, in June, there was frost on the ground. When I got off the plane in Dallas, it was 102 degrees. It had been a 12 hour flight. My mom and my aunt met me in Dallas and then drove me home to San Antonio (Yes, I could have flown, but I refused to get on another plane – I was eight months pregnant, give me a break!).

Anyway, we piled everything in my aunt’s van and headed for home…another six hours away. I was exhausted; my son was way past exhausted and tired of being contained in a car-seat. I thought we’d never make it. And then something amazing happened. My mom and aunt began to sing hymns – every hymn they knew. Pretty soon I was singing along and we were home before we knew it. The trip wasn’t a burden anymore. It was a wonderful time of praise to our Savior. Rejoicing, praying and giving thanks are a powerful mix.
“[As a child] Jesus carried into His labor cheerfulness and tact. … Often He expressed the gladness of His heart by singing psalms and heavenly songs. Often the dwellers in Nazareth heard His voice raised in praise and thanksgiving to God. He held communion with heaven in song; and as His companions complained of weariness from labor, they were cheered by the sweet melody from His lips. His praise seemed to banish the evil angels, and, like incense, fill the place with fragrance. The minds of His hearers were carried away from their earthly exile, to the heavenly home.” (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 73.)
I want to be like Jesus and be a blessing to others, don’t you?

[1] Bryan Wilkerson, "Unbreakable?"