Wednesday, December 25, 2013

This week's lesson: exhortations from the sanctuary

There are some places you just don't go.

When I was in school, for instance, the one place that was strictly off-limits in that building was the teacher's lounge. This was the places teachers hung-out when they weren't in the classroom; there they'd grade papers, drink bad coffee, and swap jokes about the School Board . . . 

Or so I was told. I'd never actually been in the teacher's lounge; no student had. And the reports of what happened to students who had even so much as knocked on its door meant that we all steered clear of that lounge!

So you can imagine my thoughts when I knocked on that door.

And you can imagine my thoughts when the door opened, and I was invited inside.

And no, I had no right to be there -- no more than we have the right to "come boldly" into the presence of God.

But my mother taught in that school. She had told me to meet her there. And because of her, I was welcomed to a place that I had no right to be.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

This week's lesson: the cosmic conflict over God's character

Think of him as a bureaucrat -- a fussy little bureaucrat in a cheap suit with a bad haircut who shuffles into your office, opens his battered briefcase, and starts asking for your receipts.

That's the literal meaning of "satan," after all; it means "auditor" -- and throughout Scripture, the Auditor continually tries to poke holes in anything good that comes along.
  • Take Eve, for instance -- as far as the Auditor's concerned, she's good only because she doesn't know what she's missing. 
  • As for Job, the Auditor's sure that he's good only because he's been bribed to follow God.
  • And with the Auditor's help, Jesus will realize there's an easier way to get what He wants than to follow God --right? 
Well, no -- though not for lack of trying.
But as Kierkegaard and C. S. Lewis have both pointed out, the Devil may be a lion in his effects -- but in his tactics, he's more of a weasel. 
Yes, he slinks, he skulks, he insinuates . . . 
He whines, he nags, he prevaricates . . . 
He points out the lemon in the lemonade, the cloud behind the silver-lining, and the bug that's floating in your half-full glass . . . 
But despite his worst efforts, it turns out that he's no match for God.
If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39, NIV).


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

This week's lesson: our prophetic message

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 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 fall.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

This week's lesson: the Eschatological Day of Atonement

So what do you do with the 2300 days?

Our church has been remarkably consistent in our interpretation of Daniel 8:14 -- we haven't changed much on what it meant . . . 


But when it comes to our application of that text (i.e. not just what it meant, but what it means for our lives today), then we've been more than happy to change and adapt -- and you can sum up these changes and adaptations with three words: sieve, spur, and shibboleth. 


Sieve

  • The problem: hypocrisy in the church.
  • Message: during the Investigative Judgment, Jesus separates the the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the true Christians from those who only claim to be such.
  • Consequences: we should "practice what we preach" -- that is the only way to make it through the Judgment.
  • Criticism: this approach can easily turn into "salvation by works.".
Spur
  • The problem: complacency in the church
  • Message: the names of some will come up in judgment while they are still alive -- and if there is still some taint of sin in their lives when this happens, then they will be lost.
  • Consequences: we must "press on to perfection" while there is still time.
  • Criticism: this approach can leave us with the belief that we've committed the unpardonable sin.
Shibboleth
  • The problem: disloyalty in the church.
  • Message: our view of Daniel 8:14 draws together a wide body of highly technical material -- material in which few people may claim expertise on their own.
  • Consequences: the highly technical nature of this doctrine makes it an easy way to distinguish those who trust the judgment of the Church and its leaders from those who "lean on their own understanding." 
  • Critique: reason has its limits -- but as Ellen White said:
It is important that in defending the doctrines which we consider fundamental articles of faith we should never allow ourselves to employ arguments that are not wholly sound. These may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth. We should present sound arguments, that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny. (Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, page 708).