Monday, June 18, 2018

This week's lesson (June 16-22): Babylon & Armageddon

The line between good and evil cuts through every human heart." - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956.
Two things you need to know about the Battle of Armageddon:

One: there's no such place - not literally, at any rate.

And two: there's no such battle - again, not literally.

No, "Armageddon" literally means "the Mountain of Megiddo" - and while Megiddo is a real place (and the site of many famous battles), it is not a mountain; it is a plain (which is why it was able to host so many famous battles). The name is a contradiction in terms, in other words - much like "the Alps of Kansas," or "the Great Tillamook Desert."

Which is reason enough not to take it literally.

And while Revelation 16:14-16 speak of "the kings of the whole world" being gathered for battle on "the great day of God Almighty," there's no mention of any such battle actually taking place. No, when God shows up in Revelation 17, the fight is over before it even begins.

Which is reason enough not to try and fight against God.

In short, the Battle of Armageddon is not fought in the Middle East.

Instead, it is a symbol of the ongoing battle inside every human heart.

Which is reason enough to decide which side you're on.

Monday, June 11, 2018

This week's lesson (June 9-15): God's seal or the Beast's mark?

God's seal is a sign of His love and protection . . . 

Until it's not.

Think of Cain, for instance - the man who murders his brother, then whines that someone might go after him for what he's done.

"Not going to happen," said God. "I'm putting my mark on Cain so that everyone knows he's under my protection - and anyone who messes with him gets it back from me times seven."

Well and good - but then one of Cain's descendants by the name of Lamech goes and kills a man . . . 

Then he claims the same protection God gave Cain (only more so).

"I have killed a man for wounding me," he says, "a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech [is avenged] seventy-seven times."

Which is not a nice thing to say.

In fact, the way he turns a sign of God's love into an excuse for vengeance is downright "beastly."

And no, there was nothing wrong with God's gift to Cain; like all of God's gifts, it was a blessing.

But any blessing can be turned into a curse.

And given Lamech's example, I suspect that any "Seal of God" can be turned into a "Mark of the Beast."

Thursday, June 07, 2018

This week's lesson (June 2-8): America & Babylon

This election, I've noticed a number of candidates running on the platform of "strong Christian values."

You know - the kind you read about in Luke 6:
  • Blessed are the poor - but woe to the rich.
  • Blessed are those who hunger - but woe to those who already have their fill.
  • And love your enemies - not just those who love you in return.
At least, I think those are the values they're talking about.
Or maybe they'd prefer the values of a different god . . . 

Like Marduk?

Monday, May 28, 2018

This week's lesson (May 26 - June 1): End-time Deceptions

Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceive you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many." - Matthew 24:4f, NIV
This is prophecy has come true.

Many times.

History is full of people who promised to Make Things Great, after all.
  • Sometimes, they promised a "Thousand-year Reich."
  • Sometimes, they promised a "New World Order."
  • But always, they promised that, under their inspired leadership, Thing Will Finally Go the Way They Should.
What's more, history is full of people who believed them.
Voted for them.
Even fought for them.
Only to discover that God's kingdom had not yet arrived.
And still hasn't.
If there's one thing we can learn from this prophecy, in other words,   it is humility -- humility in the expectations we have of our leaders.
Some of them may be better than others, after all.
But none of them are Jesus.
And yes, that's true of church politics too.

Monday, May 21, 2018

This week's lesson (May 19-25): Worship the Creator

The Bible doesn't spend a lot of time asking why bad things happen to good people.

No, with the clarity that comes from living between two aggressive empires, God's people have always assumed that Bad People are out to get us . . .

And this has led to the question the Bible does ask over and over again: why don't Bad Things happen to Bad People?

Consider the cry of Revelation 6:9-10:
When [the Lamb] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
And so they wait - as we wait - through the rest of the seals . . . and the Spanish Inquisition . . . and the Great Persecution of Revelation 12-13 . . . and the Great War of Africa . . .

And as they wait, the bodies pile up and the question remains: when will God finally do something about the people who cause so much suffering and pain?

The answer comes in Revelation 14:6-12 -- an answer that warns:
  • the time has come for God to deal with injustice,
  • the powers that foster injustice have already been defeated,
  • and if you think it's tough to follow God, then just wait until you see the alternative.
The powers-that-be are doomed, in other words.
The Evil Empires that inspire so much fear are all on the wrong side of history.
And the next time somebody tries to make your life miserable, then remember the Three Angels and their subversive message: the bigger they come . . .
The harder they will fall.
- This commentary on the lesson
 first appeared December 11, 2013.

Monday, May 07, 2018

This week's lesson (May 12-18): Matthew 24 & 25

You may not be going through a "Time of Trouble" just now.

But somebody else might be.

In Matthew 24, remember, Jesus discusses two events: the Fall of Jerusalem (i.e. "these things"), and the Judgment (i.e. "that day").
  • The first took place in AD 70, the second will take place at a time known only to God.
  • The first can be predicted by carefully watching "the signs"; the second cannot -- it will be completely unexpected.
  • The first can be survived only through immediate flight; the second requires us to always be ready, watchful, and prepared.
Having said we need to be ready, Jesus tells us how to do this in Matthew 25.
  • In the Parable of the Talents, he tells us to use the gifts God gave us.
  • And in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, he tells us to use these gifts for the good of others.
In short, these chapters are a kind of User's Guide to the Apocalypse. They do so by telling us how to make it through tough times in the future . . . 

And they do so by reminding us to help others through their tough times today. 

As Ellen White said in The Ministry of Healing: "The faithful discharge of today's duties is the best preparation for tomorrow's trials."

Go, and do likewise.

-- adapted from my February 20, 2008 
commentary on the Sabbath School lesson 

This week's lesson (May 5-11): the "change" of the Law

Every church is an experiment.

No sooner did we start baptizing Gentiles, after all, then we started arguing about the extent to which they should be Jewish.
  • The Ebionites said they should be totally Jewish -- and yes, that included circumcision.
  • The Gnostics (some of them) said they should ignore Judaism -- and yes, that even included its laws against adultery.
  • And the rest of us stammered, and stuttered, and muttered that Gentiles could learn a lot from the Jews -- I mean, it was clear to one and all that nine of the Ten Commandments were still in force . . . 
Though some said the Fourth Commandment was an Eternal Principle that should be kept . . .

While others said was a Cultural Artifact that should be ignored . . .

And still others said it was a Cultural Artifact pointing to an Eternal Principle -- and so long as we remember that Eternal Principle, then we are free to keep or ignore the Sabbath as we see fit!

In short, Christians have disagreed on the Sabbath -- just as they have disagreed on polygamy, the role of women, same-sex marriage, and a host of other issues.

And in each case, the same texts that one side views as Eternal Principles that must be kept are dismissed by the other as Cultural Artifacts that no longer apply.

All of which is another way of saying that hundreds of different churches deal with God's law in hundreds of different ways . . . and that's why:
  • If you want to know what happens when a church decides that marriage is an eternal contract that cannot be broken, then you don't need to guess. No, all you need to do is look around.
  • If you want to know what happens when a church decides that marriage is a Cultural Artifact that can be discarded, then you don't need to guess. No, all you need to do is look around.
  • And if you think that some of the Bible's laws are absolutely ridiculous because nobody in their right mind would even think of doing something like that . . . then look around, and you'll find a church that didn't just allow it, but turned it into ritual.
No, you can learn about theology, just by watching what happens when that theology is turned into practice.
That's why every church is an experiment.
That's why you can learn from other church's experiments.
And that's why you may want to ask . . . 
Just what are they learning from your church's experiment?
-- this first appeared on May 20, 2014.

Monday, April 30, 2018

This week's lesson (April 28 - May 4): Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary

Back in the day, you needed three things to meet with God:
  • You needed a special place (i.e. a temple).
  • You needed a special gift (i.e. a sacrifice).
  • And you needed a special person to act as go-between (i.e. a priest).
And yes, you still need them all -- but in Christ, we have all three. 
  • Yes, Jesus is our temple ((John 2:15-21).
  • Jesus is our priest (Hebrews 8:1-6).
  • And Jesus is our sacrifice (Romans 3:25).
You don't need anything (or anyone) else to meet with God, in other words.

No, Jesus does everything we need.

That's because Jesus is everything we need.