Monday, August 22, 2016

This week's lesson (August 20-26): Jesus ministered to their needs

Look! Up in the sky!

It's a bird!

It's a plane!

No, it's the subject of this week's Sabbath School lesson!

To be sure, δικαιοσύνης ("righteousness") does not sound like the kind of word that belongs in a comic book. No, it's a "church" kind of word -- a word that summons images of people whose shirts are white, whose shoes are polished, and whose meals consist of tofu and tapwater.

Reason enough that Batman and Superman were never joined by "Righteousnessman."

But as the NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words points out:
All the words in this group derive from dikê (justice, punishment). Dikê was the daughter of Zeus, who shared in his government of the world. . . . in order to make human life possible, he gave dikê, justice, whose implacable enemy is bia, violence.
The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology adds that:
[Dikê] was the enemy of all falsehood, and the protectress of a wise administration of justice. . . . [She] appears as a divinity who severely punishes all wrong, watches over the maintenance of justice, and pierces the hearts of the unjust with the sword made for her by Aesa.
Kind of like Wonder Woman, only without the Lasso of Truth.

Now obviously, the concept of  δικαιοσύνης is going to develop and change before it finds a home in our Bible -- but even there, it is more active, more public, and much more concerned with the state of our society than we usually give it credit for.

In short, the superheroes' "Justice League" was a league of δικαιοσύνης.

And this week's lesson tells us δικαιοσύνης is also something that God's people should encourage.

Even if we don't wear a cape.

This is a repeat of the lesson for March 10, 2010.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

This week's lesson (August 13-19): Jesus showed sympathy

Over the years, few things have tried the patience of the saints more than the patience of God.

Don't believe me?

Think of Revelation 6:9f.
When [Jesus] 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?"
Or Psalm 74:10f.
How long will the enemy mock you, O God?
       Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
       Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
Then there's the complaint of Habakkuk 1:2-4.
How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
       but you do not listen?
       Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
       but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
       Why do you tolerate wrong?
       Destruction and violence are before me;
       there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
       and justice never prevails.
       The wicked hem in the righteous,
       so that justice is perverted.
And who can forget that final fit of pique in Jonah 3:10-4:3?
When God saw what [the people of Ninevah] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." 
No, if we were running things, then judgment would be swift, sure, and automatic . . .

For other people.

Instead, we see God treating their sins with the same forbearance and compassion that He treats our own.

Needless to say, this really annoys us -- yet as we're reminded in II Peter 3:9 --
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 
In short, God is patient with us.

That's why we need to be patient with God.

This first appeared on January 28, 2010.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This week's lesson (August 6-12): Jesus desired their good

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. -- I Corinthians 13:12f, NIV
Some people just don't get it.

Take George Washington -- an admirable man in many ways. Brave. Loyal. Generous.

But when it came to African-Americans, he had a horrible blind-spot.

No, when he looked at African-Americans, all he saw were slaves.

Likewise, Mark 8:22-38 tells the story of two men who don't get it:
  • The first is a blind man at Bethsaida; the second is Peter.
  • The first is healed physically, while Peter is healed spiritually.
  • But the first sees men "as trees walking," while Peter "sees" that Jesus is the Christ . . . but has no idea what that means.
In short, they both "saw."
But neither understood what was right there in front of their eyes . . . 
Kind of like George Washington.
But in Washington's case, understanding came when he saw African-American troops from Rhode Island -- African-American troops who taught him to see them as men.
Likewise, Jesus kept working with the blind man of Bethsaida.
Jesus kept working with Peter.
And when I get discouraged by how slow my church is to "see" things that are perfectly obvious to me . . . 
Or when I get discouraged by how long it took me to "see" things that are perfectly obvious to those around me . . . 
Then I remember that Jesus keeps working with us.
Even when we don't get it.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

This week's lesson (July 30 - August 5): Jesus mingled with people

Let us now praise Nominal Adventists.

You know who I mean.
  • They're the ones whom the Nominating Committee asked to be deacons "so that maybe they'll start showing up in church more often."
  • They're the ones who drop-off their kids at Sabbath School -- then head over to Starbucks for coffee and a donut.
  • Yes, they're the ones whose ties to your church are tenuous, sporadic, and superficial -- the same people we often write-off as "Laodecian."
But myself, I thank God for those Laodecian Adventists; they're the sign of a healthy church.

Show me a church with nothing but True Believers, after all, and I'll show you a church that nobody else wants to attend.
  • Not the people who drop by to see friends.
  • Not the people who hope it might do their children some good.
  • Not the people whose ties to the church may be tenuous, sporadic, and superficial . . . but whose ties still remain.
No, all these people have been weeded out. Cut off. Sent on their way with nobody left behind -- nobody but a few saints with nowhere else to go.

That's why healthy churches have fuzzy boundaries between Those Who Are Definitely Inside and Those Who Are Definitely Outside -- a sort of "grey area" made up of people who are "just looking," people who are "still not sure," and people who are "ready to buy . . . but not sure they can afford it."
  • You can call them "window shoppers."
  • You can call them "Transitional Christians."
  • You can call them "Nominal Adventists," or even "Laodecian."
But when they disappear, it's a sure sign that your church is dying -- that nobody else has even the slightest reason to attend.
In this week's Sabbath School lesson, after all, we're told the Church must mingle with the World. And that's good advice, but it works both ways.
You see, there's only one way to know your church is mingling with the world.
That's when you see the world mingling with your church.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

This week's lesson (July 23-29): Jesus on community outreach

[Jesus] called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. . . . "Do not take any gold or silver or copper in your belts," [he told them]; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep." -- Matthew 10:1, 9f (NIV).
So how much do you need for the trip?

Once upon a time, I would have said, "everything" -- and I would have packed accordingly.

Two or three suitcases.

A couple of duffle bags.

A box of emergency supplies.

And all this, just for a weekend with friends!

Likewise, any call to follow Jesus can lead believers to "load up" with all the things we think we need
in order to do so.

Like seminars -- gotta grab some training seminars.

And study committees -- can't have too many study committees.

Now add the books, the manuals, the DVDs, and all the other impedimenta that just might come in handy someday, and . . .

Well, it's a wonder that anything ever gets done!

Perhaps that's why Jesus sends out his disciples the way he does -- in fact, it reminds me of the time I spent a week in New Zealand with nothing more than the clothes on my back and the contents of a very small gym-bag.

For just like me, those disciples discover something: they discover they don't need as much as they think they do.

Yes, they already have everything they need to follow Jesus.

The same as you.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

This week's lesson (July 16-22): Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament (part two)

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? -- Micah 6:8, KJV
I love this verse -- just so long as I remember the "and."
Justice without mercy is nothing more than vengeance, after all -- and if we all got what we deserved, then who of us would escape.
But mercy without justice? I've been in classrooms where that happened -- classrooms where any and all behavior was excused . . . and I've no desire to repeat the experience.
Take away the "walk with God," on the other hand, and both justice and mercy become legalism . . . while a "walk with God" that lacks justice and mercy becomes a study in irrelevance.
No, I need all three: justice AND mercy AND a humble walk with God.
But to practice all three, I need the "and."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

This week's lesson (July 9-15): Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament (part 1)

Read much of Ellen White, and one thing becomes clear: she was really bugged by the middle-class.

Take her advice on jewelry, for instance. Or music. Or even bicycles.

In each case, her chief concern was the effect of new-found wealth on the mission of our church.

And yes, this was a problem. (Still is!) Join the church, after all, and you stop drinking (which makes you a better employee). You start paying tithe (which forces you to keep track of your money). And you send your kids to an Adventist school (which almost guarantees that they’ll have a better job than you do).

As a result, the church becomes an economic escalator – one that picks up farmers and mechanics, gives them kids who are pastors and teachers, and eventually produces grand-kids who are doctors and lawyers.

So what happens when a “church of the poor” becomes a “church of the middle-class”?

Well . . . for one thing, the poor stop coming to church. They stop coming, because it’s no longer “their” kind of place!

That’s one reason Ellen White wrote against jewelry; she didn’t want the poor to feel out of place in our churches. That’s why she wrote against classical music; she wanted a church where anyone could feel at home. That’s why she wrote against bicycles; at the time, they were an outrageous example of conspicuous consumption (kind of like Hummers today).

In short, Ellen White was smart enough to know that money talks . . . and sometimes, what it really tells people is, “Go away!”

So how do we avoid that? 

And what do we do when the "economic escalator" has done its work, and we've become solid members of the middle-class?

That's what this week's lesson is all about.

This first appeared on August 18, 2005