Sunday, May 26, 2013

Going Home

Probably all of us can remember a time when we were homesick. Can you remember coming home after being away for more than just a weekend? You just can’t get there fast enough, right? I’ve even read that animals can sense when they are going home.
“Shepherds say that sheep that have spent the summer in the high country and are on their way back to the shepherd's fold anticipate their homecoming. Even though they have to go through difficult terrain and sudden storms that make them cold and wet, you can sense in the flock an excitement and enthusiasm as they come nearer and nearer to the shepherd's fold.”[1]
My first year out of college I got a job teaching at the junior academy in Indianapolis. I packed up all my worldly belongings and moved into an efficiency apartment in a tall apartment building all by myself. It was one of the loneliest years of my life! As the school year came to an end, I realized just how much I did not want to spend another year so far from my family, but I also felt like I was failing at the whole adult, living on my own, thing. I hated to make the call to my folks to tell them that I wanted to come home. My mom had redone my bedroom so that it actually looked like a guest room and I was messing up all of her careful redecoration, not to mention not letting my parents enjoy the whole empty nest thing. Even so, as soon as I called, my mom was on a plane to Indianapolis to pack me up and move me back home. I still felt kind of guilty though – until about a month or so ago.

My older son moved to Loma Linda about a year and a half ago. Just about four months ago, we redecorated his room into a sewing room – filled his dresser with lengths of fabric, moved in my sewing machine and a table to cut patterns on, moved a couple of the things he’d left behind into the garage. Then he called and said he’d put in his two-week notice and he wanted to move back home.

I flew out to meet him, packed up his car and headed for Texas. I teased him a bit about changing my sewing room plans.  My younger son suggested that I lay out a pattern on his bed, asking him not to disturb anything, and sleep on the couch, but I don’t want him to ever think that where my sewing machine sits is more important than he is.

I think sometimes when we think of going to Heaven, we think about how we will feel. But try to imagine for a minute how God will feel. He’s been separated from us since Adam and Eve sinned. We forget that God has been holding our rooms ready in Heaven all this time, just waiting for the moment when He can come to bring us Home.
“The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a Mighty One, a Savior [Who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 AMP
STOP! Go back and re-read that verse – try to let it sink in. Get a mental picture of God…GOD, Himself, rejoicing over you, singing with joy because of you. Can you wrap your mind around that? I’m not sure I can. It’s hard for me to imagine the enormity of God’s love for each of us, no matter what we’ve done.

I have to come back to the story of the Prodigal Son again. Remember the reaction of the father? He didn’t tell the son he could come home, but he’d better straighten up and fly right from now on. He didn’t tell the son he had to go take a bath before any of the neighbors saw him.
“Little did the … thoughtless youth, as he went out from his father’s gate, dream of the ache and longing left in that father’s heart. When he danced and feasted with his wild companions, little did he think of the shadow that had fallen on his home. And now as with weary and painful steps he pursues the homeward way, he knows not that one is watching for his return. But while he is yet ‘a great way off’ the father discerns his form. … He ‘had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck’ in a long, clinging, tender embrace.
“… In his restless youth the prodigal looked upon his father as stern and severe. How different his conception of him now! So those who are deceived by Satan look upon God as hard and exacting. They regard Him as watching to denounce and condemn, as unwilling to receive the sinner so long as there is a legal excuse for not helping him. His law they regard as a restriction upon men’s happiness, a burdensome yoke from which they are glad to escape. But he whose eyes have been opened by the love of Christ will behold God as full of compassion. He does not appear as a tyrannical, relentless being, but as a father longing to embrace his repenting son.
“Do not listen to the enemy’s suggestion to stay away from Christ until you have made yourself better; until you are good enough to come to God. If you wait until then, you will never come....
“He will bring you into His banqueting house, and His banner over you shall be love. (Song of Solomon 2:4) ‘If thou wilt walk in My ways,’ He declares, ‘I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by’ even among the holy angels that surround His throne. (Zechariah 3:7).
“‘As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.’ Isaiah 62:5. ‘He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing.’ Zephaniah 3:17. And heaven and earth shall unite in the Father’s song of rejoicing: ‘For this My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’”[2]
Even though it’s hard to comprehend with our sinful, human minds, God is more anxious for us to be with Him than we are! He has been planning our “Welcome Home” celebration and making sure our mansions are just right. He’s ready for us. Are we ready to go home?

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?
Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.
Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.[3]

[1] Leith Anderson "Next Life in the House of the Lord," Preaching Today, Tape No. 157.
[2] E.G. White, A Call to Stand Apart, page 13
[3] Will L. Thompson, Softly and Tenderly, 1880

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Does anybody remember the call-in radio show with Dr. Laura? For a while, Laura Schlessinger had a very popular radio advice program where she told people exactly what she thought about their behavior and how they should fix themselves. She often didn’t let the caller get to the actual question before she started telling them how to fix themselves.

Anyway, I will never forget the day I heard her tell a caller that she didn’t have to forgive the person who had wronged her – that some things were just unforgivable. I guess I had never really thought about how I felt about forgiveness, but as soon as Dr. Laura told me what she believed, I knew that my belief was different.

I had a similar experience when I was teaching fourth graders. I was talking to the parents of one of my students and one of the parents said, “I’ve told [Tommy] that if anybody hits him, he’s to hit them back harder.” I don’t believe I had ever heard a parent make that comment ever before. I’m not sure I was able to completely hide the shock I felt at that moment.

I realize I have led an extremely sheltered life and it was good that my closed little mind was forced to expand to take in these other ways of looking and dealing with the world.

Given the opportunity to review my belief system alongside these other two philosophies, I still can’t fit either statement into the way I believe followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to live their lives.
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
You’re right, Micah doesn’t say the word “forgiveness” in that verse at all. But try to picture for a minute what a person who is Godly, humble, merciful, and just would look and sound like. See if you can pick him out in this parable:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.” Matthew 18:23-30
Ellen White commented on this parable in the January 1, 1892 edition of Home Missionary.
“While we must depend so entirely upon the mercy of a sin-pardoning Saviour, shall our hearts remain hard and unsympathizing? Can any provocation authorize unkind feelings, or should it cause us to harbor resentment or seek revenge? Can we cast the first stone in condemnation of a brother, when God is extending his mercy to us, and forgiving our trespasses against him? Should God enter into judgment with us, our debt would be found to be immense, yet our heavenly Father forgives the debt. Men will be dealt with by God, not according to their opinion of themselves, not according to their self-confidence, but according to the spirit they reveal toward their erring brethren. We are not forgiven because we forgive, but as we forgive.” (Home Missionary January 1, 1892)
Is there anything that another human can do to us that we can, with good conscience, refuse to forgive? I could be oversimplifying yet again, I don’t believe so.

Now that doesn’t mean I always feel like forgiving. I haven’t gotten to the place where letting go of hurt is easy. Knowing what is right and being willing to do right every time are two very different things.

A friend of mine once defined forgiveness as “giving up the right to continue to punish someone for the wrong they have done us.” Using that definition, if someone has wronged us and we say that we have forgiven them, can we still go from person to person recounting the terrible thing they did to us? Can we still glare at them from across the room? Forgiving them says that we have decided not to punish them for what they’ve done.
Again, our example has to be Jesus. He has every right to punish each and every one of us, and yet he forgives us instead. He even goes a step farther and refuses to remember that we ever did anything wrong.
“He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:19
I read a great story this week that illustrates this text.
“One old father was reading Micah 7:19 about God’s putting away of our sins by throwing them into the depths of the ocean. He rejoiced over it and shouted, ‘Glory to God!’ His unbelieving son did not like it, so he brought a scientific encyclopedia for his father to read instead of the Bible. After some time, his son again heard his father shouting, ‘Glory to God!’ The son came and asked his father, ‘What do you read here that you are so excited about?’ The father replied, ‘I read that scientists, even with the best modern equipment, are sometimes unable to go deep enough to explore all the depths of the ocean. It means that our sins are buried there, and no one can dig them up!’[1]
Jesus forgives us for the unforgivable every single day – He gives up the right to ever punish us for those actions. In light of that kind of mercy, how can we do any less than forgive anyone who has wronged us?
“How did the birth of Jesus change the world? Historian Rodney Stark argues that there was one huge factor that helped capture the attention of the ancient world—Christianity's revolutionary emphasis on mercy. Stark writes:
In the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security ….. It started with Jesus ….
“In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice …. [Thus] humans must learn ‘to curb the impulse [to show mercy]’; ‘the cry of the undeserving for mercy’ must go ‘unanswered.’ ‘[Showing mercy] was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up.’
“This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that … a merciful God requires humans to be merciful.”[2]
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

[1] Jiri Moskala , The Lesson in Brief, Lessons 1–13, and The Learning Cycles 7, The Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide
[2] Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, (HarperOne, 2012), page 112

Monday, May 6, 2013

And Justice for SOME

We humans are a funny bunch. We love to talk about fairness and justice and everybody getting what they deserve…just as long as we get to decide just what that means.

Jonah is a prime example. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the folks there that if they don’t make some big changes, He’s going to destroy the whole place. Jonah’s response is to hop on a ship going as far in the other direction as possible. Why? Because he’s afraid to give them the bad news? Nope, because he knows that if the Ninevites actually do repent and change things around, God won’t punish them.

Huh. Why do you think Jonah was so anti-Ninevite?

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about it. Did a bully from Nineveh beat Jonah up and take away his lunch money every day? Did he get his heart broken by a Ninevite girl? Whatever it was, Jonah wanted them to get the punishment he thought they deserved – whether or not they repented.

Part of it may have been just plain, old-fashioned bigotry – those folks from Nineveh weren’t like the people around whom Jonah grew up. He didn’t know anything about them except what he’d heard…and what he’d heard was all bad.

Does that kind of prejudice effect the way we decide who gets the chance to hear about salvation and who doesn’t today? Do we have prejudices grown out of ignorance or past experiences that keep us from exposing certain groups of people to God’s mercy?

Harvard has put out the “Implicit Association Test,” or IAT ( It’s a test that attempts to answer certain questions about prejudice. The makers of this test aren’t looking to see if a person is or is not prejudice. They assume that everyone favors one group of people over another, and that is what they are measuring. Taking the IAT and receiving my results was very interesting – not at all what I expected.

According to Clayton McCleskey’s article in The Wall Street Journal, our biases can be based solely on a person’s accent.
“Most of us like to assume that we're enlightened, tolerant, and unprejudiced people. Unfortunately, a new study reveals many of us have a hidden bias against anyone with a foreign accent. … ‘The further from native-sounding an accent is, the harder we have to work, and the less trustworthy we perceive the information to be.’ It gets worse: ‘Researchers found that the heavier the accent, the more skeptical participants became.’ In other words, if it sounds like you're not from around here, my suspicion radar is on high alert. My bias about you isn't based on your character; it's based on the fact that you talk ‘different.’
“The researchers want to reassure us that we're not really racist or prejudiced (thank goodness). Apparently, we're just lazy. Well, again they don't want to pass judgment: we're not actually lazy; our brains are lazy. In the researcher's words, ‘Our brains prefer the path of least resistance.’
“That seems like a nice way to say that, despite our best intentions, we all have pockets of prejudice and bias. In biblical terms, we show favoritism toward people who resemble us. Perhaps this study shows why we need Jesus' help to uproot our partiality and love people who don't resemble us, especially people from different racial, ethnic or national groups.”[1]
So, to what extent are our prejudices shaping our ministry? Think about it – I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t support a mission trip to some third world country, but what about ministering to inmates in our county jails or state and federal prisons. What about sharing Jesus with the folks who live in homeless shelters, or the ones who aren’t lucky enough to live in a shelter. How many of us have considered ministering to the intellectually and/or physically challenged?

Paul reminds us that every human is the same in Jesus’ eyes.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“God desires that we should have tender, sanctified regard one for another, and as dear children in his family, we need to have the pure love of Christ. O, shall not the seed that produces roots of bitterness and unseemly fruit be banished from our hearts, that we may cherish the heavenly plant of love? As mature Christians we shall love more and more, not less and less. We need the warmth and glow of Christ in our cold, stony hearts. We want our hearts broken by the love of Christ, and then we shall defend the characters of those who are giving their lives to the service of him who has died for them. We shall not then act the part of accusers, and treat our brethren and their labors as worthless. Let us daily pray that we may be led to a higher plane of thought and living, that we may love in sincerity and Christlike deeds.” (E.G. White, Review and Herald, October 24, 1893)
It’s important to remember that we aren’t the ones who decide who needs/deserves forgiveness. Technically, no one deserves mercy or forgiveness but we all need it! And no matter who we are, or what we’ve done, Jesus died to make sure it’s there if we want it.
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
Even at the end of the book of Jonah, Jonah is still bitter about having to share God’s mercy with the people of Nineveh. He reminds me of the Prodigal Son’s big brother. 
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:25-31
Let’s not be like either Jonah or that older brother. Jesus died so that we could all spend eternity with Him. 

Let’s not miss it!

[1] Clayton M. McCleskey, "Accentuating Bias," The Wall Street Journal (10-2-10)