Monday, November 26, 2012

Going Through the Motions

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.1.12

Have you ever gotten home from work but you don’t remember driving there? You’re on auto-pilot. It happens whenever we’ve done something so many times that our brain doesn’t really have to engage in what we’re doing to make it happen. It’s almost like our muscles just take over: tying our shoes, playing a musical instrument, typing.

You can probably think of lots of things that have become like that for you. You’ve seen, or maybe you are one of those folks who can knit or crochet so well that you don’t need to see what you’re doing. I used to wear contact lenses and sometimes I’d wake up in the night and not be able to remember if I’d taken my contacts off or not. Of course it was easy to find out – if I could see more than a foot away, then I needed to get up and take them out.

Anyway, being on auto-pilot is not necessarily a bad thing. Imagine if you had to think about every step you took, everywhere we walked? There was a time when most of us had to think of how to form every letter and how to spell every word when we wrote things down. When you sign something now, our hands pretty much knows what to do without our help.

Being on auto-pilot isn’t necessarily a good thing either, though – some folks, who’ve been married a really long time can say “I love you” without really thinking about it. Sometimes they might be talking to someone besides their spouse on the phone and they’ll end the conversation with “I love you” but the person on the phone is a business associate instead of their spouse. That can be pretty awkward.

Sometimes our worship can become so automatic that our brain disengages from it and we find ourselves just going through the motions. We go to church, stand up, sit down and kneel at all the right times, but we’re not actually involved in the worship service beyond just being a warm body sitting in the pew. We’re just there because it’s become a habit – just another thing we do in our lives.

Going through the motions can be particularly tragic when we’re talking about some of the really meaningful ceremonies of our worship service – baptism, foot-washing, and communion.

I know, I can hear you, “Hey, how can baptism become routine, I only do that once.” And you’re right, but sometimes our on-going experience of having been baptized can become stale. Remember how the church at Ephesus was described in Revelation?
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:  And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.  Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Revelation 2:2-4
See? They were doing all the right things, but they were just going through the motions. The instructions for resolving that problem come in verse 5: 
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Revelation 2:5
Jesus also left us with a reminder of baptism to keep the experience more fixed in our minds. Just before the Last Supper, when He gathered with all 12 of the disciples in the upper room.
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?" John 13:3-12
Footwashing or the Ordinance of Humility as our church calls it, is a reminder that we fall daily into sin and that Jesus and His sacrifice are our only hope for salvation.
Footwashing is an important time within our church families to remind us of our baptism experience.

On that same evening, in that same upper room, Jesus also gave us Communion.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29
Isn’t that an amazing promise – “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” We will be with Him in the kingdom!

Let’s not let Baptism, The Ordinance of Humility and the Communion Service become one more case of auto-pilot. Stay focused!

Monday, November 19, 2012

One God - One Goal - One Glory

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 11.24.12

Do you remember this song?

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored

We will work with each other
We will work side by side
We will work with each other
We will work side by side
And we'll guard each man’s dignity
And save each man’s pride

We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other
We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news
That God is in our land

And they'll know that we are Christians by our love
By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love [1]

That was one of my favorite songs as a young person. I hadn’t thought of it in years, but as I was thinking about ‘unity’ I found myself humming it. (And now it will be stuck in your head too. Ha!)

Did you read the lyrics? They provide an excellent picture of what unity among Christians should look like, don’t you think?

I was reading the dictionary definition of unity. It says, 
“1. the state of being one; oneness. 2. a whole or totality as combining all its parts into one. 3. the state or fact of being united or combined into one, as of the parts of a whole; unification. 4. absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character. 5. oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement.” [2]
It’s a good definition – it covers all the bases. Number 4 bothers me a bit, though. I don’t believe that one describes the kind of unity we should find among Christians. What do you think?

My understanding of unity within the church with our common belief in a loving, creator God, includes our common goal of bringing as many souls as possible into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and our shared expectation of spending eternity with our Savior. One God -- One Goal -- One Glory

Beyond that, though, I believe that our methods can be quite diverse. God made each of us individual. There are as many methods of sharing the gospel as there are Christians – and I believe that’s a good thing.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Ephesians 4:11-12
Can you imagine a football team where, even though the entire team agreed that they all wanted to win the game, everybody wanted to be quarterback? Would that team be able to fulfill its goal to win the game? Probably not. There’d be 11 men throwing the ball around, but nobody would be catching it. That team would be everybody’s joke.

Look at Jesus’ disciples. They did not look like clones of Jesus or each other? Did they all have the same personality? Absolutely not! The disciples were vastly different from each other, weren’t they? But they were unified in their belief that Jesus the Messiah.

What’s the trick to finding unity within the body of Christ? How can we be like the disciples and be “all in one accord” and ready to receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
“Notice that it was after the disciples had come into perfect unity, when they were no longer striving for the highest place, that the Spirit was poured out. They were of one accord. All differences had been put away. And the testimony borne of them after the Spirit had been given is the same. Mark the word: ‘The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.’  Acts 4:32. The Spirit of Him who died that sinners might live animated the entire congregation of believers.” E.G. White, Counsels for the Church, p.  98
So, what are you doing to further the cause of Jesus Christ? Have you found your ministry niche? If not, why not? Don’t want to stand up in front and speak – no problem. Can’t sing or play an instrument? That’s ok. For everything you think of that you say you cannot do, there is at least one other form of ministry that you can do. You can help the pastor in his office, clean the church, help in one of the children’s departments, help with potlucks, be a greeter, or become a prayer warrior for your spiritual family.

Jesus has a specific and unique mission for you that will fit in perfectly with what everyone else in your church is doing.

When you feel like complaining that someone isn’t doing their job right, pray instead that God will show you how you can help? Maybe that person has been holding that job just for you. If you turn it down, who else will fill your spot?
“Strive earnestly for unity. Pray for it, work for it. It will bring spiritual health, elevation of thought, nobility of character, heavenly-mindedness, enabling you to overcome selfishness and evil surmisings, and to be more than conquerors through Him that loved you and gave Himself for you. Crucify self; esteem others better than yourselves. Thus you will be brought into oneness with Christ. Before the heavenly universe, and before the church and the world, you will bear unmistakable evidence that you are God’s sons and daughters. God will be glorified in the example that you set.
“The world needs to see worked out before it the miracle that binds the hearts of God’s people together in Christian love. It needs to see the Lord’s people sitting together in heavenly places in Christ. Will you not give in your lives an evidence of what the truth of God can do for those who love and serve Him? God knows what you can be. He knows what divine grace can do for you if you will be partakers of the divine nature.”  E.G. White, Counsels for the Church, p. 290-291        
You can’t be a Christian from the sidelines. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. You’re either with Jesus or against Him. There is no middle ground. 
Remember, we share a belief in the “one, true God.”  Our shared mission is to introduce as many people as possible to our Redeemer.  And, by God’s grace, we will meet beside the Sea of Glass and spend Eternity in the presence of Jesus.  One God – One Goal – One Glory  

[1] Peter Scholte, “We Are One In The Spirit,”,


Monday, November 12, 2012

Full Metal Christian

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 11.17.12

Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.[1]

“Opposition lawmakers and human rights groups are criticizing German Chancellor Angela Merkel for claiming that Christianity is ‘the most persecuted religion worldwide.’”[2]
Two questions: Do you agree with Angela Merkel? and Why do you think that statement upset so many people?

I have to say that I agree with Merkel, but on a whole different level. I believe that every Christian, no matter where they live, is persecuted. Now before you get too excited, I’m not necessarily talking about jack-booted thugs breaking down doors and burning Bibles, I’m talking about Satan and his angels and their constant harassment of the children of God.

In some times and places, Satan has actually used those jack booted thugs, but he’s rarely that obvious…to start with, anyway. Life would be much easier if we could see Satan coming, wouldn’t it?

What we get instead is a barrage of innocuous seeming “little things” in our daily lives that will, if we’re not properly protected, pull our attention away from God.

What’s our protection? Paul tells us in Ephesians.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” Ephesians 6:10-18
Wow! That’s a whole lot of protection. Some might say that Christianity isn’t for weaklings. But I believe that following Jesus Christ is only for weaklings, because only after we’ve given up every delusion that we can handle things ourselves are we able to accept the grace of Jesus – our only hope of winning this war.
“There is a warfare in which every soul must engage who ould have the crown of life. Inch by inch the overcomer must fight the good fight of faith, using the weapons of God’s word. He must meet the foe with, ‘It is written.’ He must keep the armory well supplied with, ‘It is written.’ In this way he must meet the advances of the enemy, and educate and train the soul for the still more severe attacks of the foe. Truth, the word of God, faith and righteousness, and the hope of salvation, must be the armor of the successful warrior, and his eyes must be anointed to be keen and sensitive to detect the devices of the enemy. … If God had not made provision by which you might be thoroughly equipped for your warfare with the powers of darkness, then these commands and promises would be but mockery to you, and would tantalize your soul; but our God is true. We may depend upon him under all circumstances. The word of God cannot fail, and in it we are to find our assurance.”[3]
Are you ready to stand for Jesus Christ? Do you have your armor on? Where do we get the armor?

The armor comes with our relationship and knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Savior. We can’t just give lip-service to being Christians and then go do our own thing. Putting on the armor of God can only be done when we accept His complete control over every part of our lives.

Contrary to what many people believe, becoming a Christian will not necessarily make our lives easier and more peaceful. Walking with Jesus brings us into the view of the enemy – the one who hates Jesus (and by extension, His followers) with the white hot hate of jealousy.

In the face of that, we want to be safe, but there is no safety apart from Jesus. Jesus is our only refuge from the wiles of the devil.

Author Erwin McManus writes:
“One summer Aaron went to a youth camp. He was just a little guy, and I was kind of glad because it was a church camp. I figured he wasn't going to hear all those ghost stories, because ghost stories can really cause a kid to have nightmares. But unfortunately, since it was a Christian camp and they didn't tell ghost stories, because we don't believe in ghosts, they told demon and Satan stories instead. And so when Aaron got home, he was terrified.
“‘Dad, don't turn off the light!’ he said before going to bed. ‘No, Daddy, could you stay here with me? Daddy, I'm afraid. They told all these stories about demons.’
“And I wanted to say, ‘They're not real.’
“He goes, ‘Daddy, Daddy, would you pray for me that I would be safe?’ I could feel it. I could feel warm-blanket Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety.
“I said, ‘Aaron, I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room.
“And he goes, ‘All right. But pray I would be really, really dangerous, Daddy.’
“Have you come to that place in your own life where you stop asking God to give you a safe life, and make you a dangerous follower of Jesus Christ?”[4]
Christianity is a rough and tumble contact sport. We can’t stand on the sidelines waiting for the game to be over. We have to be out there, in it…but not of it and the only way to do that is to put on the full armor of God and stand with God.

And remember, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” 1John 4:4

[1]Sun Tzu, Chinese General and Strategist, in The Art of War, written in the late sixth-century BC
[2] Associated Press, Merkel's 'Christian Persecution' Comments Draw Ire, ABC News, November 6, 2012,
[3] E.G. White, Signs of the Times, December 3, 1894.
[4] Erwin McManus, "Seizing Your Divine Moment," Preaching Today, Issue 252

Monday, November 5, 2012

Count It All Joy

Thought on the Sabbath School lesson for 11.10.12

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,” James 1:2
Have you ever considered how completely foreign that philosophy is to pretty much every other way of thinking on the planet these days? Most folks spend considerable time and money to avoid any kind of trial. Our lives (in the United States, anyway) are all about easier, better and faster – trials of any kind just don’t figure in. When a trial does, inevitably come along, our first instinct is not to meet it with joy but with anger and frustration.

That is doubly true for Christians, sometimes. If we’re stuck in traffic we might get a little indignant with God. “God, you know I have to be to work on time. Why are you letting this happen to me?” In fact, there’s a whole brand of Christianity (Prosperity Theology) that preaches if you are doing it right, your life will be smooth sailing – you’ll have a great job, nice house and plenty of money. It’s a very appealing theory, but pretty hard to sustain even if you have any knowledge about the Bible at all. Many texts say just the opposite.
“‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’” John 16:33
If you have a red letter Bible, those words are in red. Jesus, Himself, said them.  I don’t see any way around them – we are going to have to admit that “in the world, we will have tribulation …”

But it’s a pretty big leap between accepting those trials and tribulations and being happy about them, right? Facing trials with joy would be like trusting God enough to give Him complete control of our lives. That’s pretty radical!

The apostles and the early Christians seemed to understand that Christian life wasn't going to be all lollipops and rainbows. They lived every day, knowing that today could be the day that they are arrested, tortured and put to death.

We, as North American Christians, need to remember that we are not so very far removed from people who live every day with the threat of religious persecution.

Another question we need to answer would be, just what constitutes persecution.
“In a recent article on the suffering church, FaithWorks listed the degrees of persecution one could face for practice of religious faith:
1. Disapproval
2. Ridicule
3. Pressure to conform
4. Loss of educational opportunities
5. Economic sanctions
6. Shunning
7. Alienation from community
8. Loss of employment
9. Loss of property
10. Physical abuse
11. Mob violence
12. Harassment by officials
13. Kidnapping
14. Forced labor
15. Imprisonment
16. Physical torture
17. Murder or execution”[1]
Don’t you wish we could ask Peter and John how they were able to face each new day as a gift from God.  Remember the story in Acts 5:12–42? The apostles are standing together on Solomon’s Porch in Jerusalem and they’re preaching and working miracles and “multitudes” of people are giving their hearts to Jesus when up march the Sadducees and the High Priest. The High Priest has the apostles arrested and thrown in jail. He and the Sadducees trot off home to supper thinking they've handled that whole situation pretty neatly.

Meanwhile, Peter and the apostles are sitting in prison. An angel comes and lets them all out of prison and tells them to go back to the temple and start preaching again. Now, I’m thinking at this point, I’d be having some doubts as to whether or not going back to the place I was just arrested and doing the same thing for which I was just arrested is a wise choice…in fact, I’m pretty sure I’d be having a heart to heart discussion with that angel.

Peter and the apostles didn’t question their task at all, though. They went right back and started preaching again,
“Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them,  saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.’” Acts 5:26-32
Finally, the apostles were beaten and released.  
“…when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Acts 5:40-43
Can you imagine? “… rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  Thrown in jail and beaten and they’re happy about it. Wow.

Are we at a place where we can praise God for sending trials into our lives? I’m pretty sure I’m not, but Mrs. White explains why we need to get involved.
“The watchful Christian is a working Christian, seeking zealously to do all in his power for the advancement of the gospel. As love for his Redeemer increases, so also does love for his fellow men. He has severe trials, as had his Master; but he does not allow affliction to sour his temper or destroy his peace of mind. He knows that trial, if well borne, will refine and purify him, and bring him into closer fellowship with Christ. Those who are partakers of Christ’s sufferings will also be partakers of His consolation and at last sharers of His glory.”[2]
Are we doing everything we can to advance the gospel? Are we telling people at work? at the store? on the plane? at school? Are we being working Christians? Are we being bold sharers of the truth about Jesus Christ? We don’t have much time left. We need to get the job done.

[1] Andrew Black and Craig Bird, "The Risk of Faith," FaithWorks (July/August 1999), pp.17-20
[2] E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, page 261