Wednesday, July 12, 2017

This week's lesson (July 8-14): the Unity of the Gospel

Peter deserves our thanks.

Few have done more for the Gentiles, after all.
  • It was Peter who baptized Cornelius.
  • It was Peter who backed Paul at the Council of Jerusalem.
  • It was Peter (along with James and John) who confirmed Paul's mission to the Gentiles.
  • And when Peter visited Paul's converts in Antioch, he was delighted to work with them. Worship with them. And even eat with them.
In short, Peter has consistently defended the right of Gentiles to be Christians, even though they are still Gentiles.

So why shouldn't he recognize the right of Jews to be Christians, even though they are still Jewish?

That's all these "men from James" were asking: nothing more than the right of Jewish Christians to practice their traditional (and God-given) way of life.

And if this caused some ill-feeling among the Gentiles . . .

Well, nothing is gained by blurring the distinction between God's chosen people and the world.

No, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles -- even within the church.

And if Peter is willing to defend the things that make us different . . .

Then who among us would not do the same?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

This week's lesson (July 1-7): Paul's Authority & Gospel

 Detective: "Is there any other point to which you could wish to draw my attention?" 
Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." 
Detective: "The dog did nothing in the night-time." 
Sherlock Holmes: "That was the curious incident." 
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze.
One of the most curious things about the Book of Galatians is something Paul doesn't say.

In most of his other letters, remember, Paul begins with some kind of compliment:
  • In Ephesians, he praises the church because it "loves all the saints."
  • In Philippians, he thanks the church for its "partnership in the gospel."
  • And even the church in Corinth -- a church riven by factionalism, and marked by sexual immorality -- is told that it "does not lack any spiritual gift."
Yes, Paul finds something good to say about every church . . . 
Except the one in Galatia.
And it's not as though the Galatians had abandoned all standards; if anything, just the opposite. No, they'd added rules. They'd stiffened requirements. They'd raised the bar for church membership -- raised it back to what it had been in the past.
"You can't be too careful," was their motto; "You can't be too strict," was their policy. "There's no such thing as too many rules" -- that was the way they did church.
But did Paul thank them for their devotion?
Did he commend them for their dedication?
Did he thank God that, whatever their faults, they're not as messed-up as the church in Corinth?
No.
And its just that lack of appreciation that is so odd.
If Paul could say something nice about the church in Corinth, after all, then you'd think he could say something nice about anyone!
But when it came to those careful, earnest, and dedicated believers in Galatia?
Paul doesn't say anything nice.
Given the choice between "too strict" and "too loose," in other words, Paul silence seems to suggest that "too strict" is worse.
Which is . . . curious.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

This week's lesson (June 24-30): Paul - apostle to the Gentiles

All through Scripture, it is clear that God has a people who love and follow Him.

All through history, it's been clear that we are that people.

And ever since Abraham, it's been clear that the definitive mark of God's people has been circumcision -- in fact, the Bible even refers to it as "an everlasting covenant."
  • Jesus was circumcised, remember.
  • The apostles were all circumcised.
  • And while God may have reached out to the Gentiles in love, there is no evidence from Scripture that He has ever intended them to be the leaders of God's people.
To be sure, the Apostle Paul has written that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" -- but however true this may be spiritually, the fact remains that all these distinctions are still binding socially.
That is why we must resist recent attempts to make our churches "politically correct."
Yes, that is why Gentiles must not be ordained. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

This week's lesson (June 17-23): major themes in 1 & 2 Peter

"Respect all human authority," it says in 1 Peter.

"Submit to governing authorities," it says in Romans.

"Pray for all those in authority," it says in 1 Timothy.

So that's what I've been doing.

Ever since January 20, I've added a prayer for the President to my pastoral prayer at church. "Bless our President," I say, "that he might govern with wisdom, humility, and justice."

Has it changed him?

Dunno.

Has it changed me?

Dunno.

Have I received a lot of feedback on this from church members?

Oh yeah!
  • Some have taken this as a show of support for the President.
  • Some have wondered if this is an ironic critique of the President.
  • And one member told me that, "You can pray for him -- but he's not my President!"
All of which suggests that we're still struggling with the central question of 1 & 2 Peter -- the question of how we follow God in an imperfect world. (Or as Bruce Springsteen put it, "How do we keep our ideals after we've lost our illusions?")

Do I have an answer?

Not yet.

Do my church members agree on what that answer might be?

Not yet.

And that, in itself, is reason enough to pray.

Friday, June 16, 2017

This week's lesson (June 10-16): the Day of the Lord

I may need to rethink this whole business of survivalism, a.k.a. "prepping."

Read 2 Peter 3, after all, and you'll find lots of stuff about THE END OF TIME . . .

But not much stuff about bug-out bags.

Or MREs.

Or how to prevent scurvy with spruce-needle tea.

And yes, it tells us to prepare for THE END.

But it does so by urging us to live "holy and godly lives."

To live "peaceful lives that are pure and blameless."

And "to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ."

All of which may be useful in THE END OF TIME . . .

But all of which sound suspiciously like the way I'm supposed to live every day.

Friday, June 09, 2017

This week's lesson (June 3-9): False Teachers

The best commentary on 2 Peter 2:1-22 comes from a Conference President -- one who told me "there are three things that get pastors in trouble: power, sex, and money."

"And since their sexual problems usually grow out of control issues," he added, "this means the three things that get pastors in trouble are are power, power, and money."

"And yes, their money problems also grow out of control issues -- and you know what that means? It means the three things that get pastors in trouble are power, power, and power."

Go -- and don't do likewise.


Friday, June 02, 2017

This week's lesson (May 27-June 2): Prophecy and Scripture

You know the drill:
1. An issue comes up -- could be weddings rings, could be same-sex marriage, could be the age-old question of "Will my dog be in heaven?" . . . but whatever it is, it seems to pit the personal experience of church members against the message of Scripture and/or Ellen White. 
2. A team of theological experts is assigned to look into this issue -- and after much study, a report is issued that explains What Inspiration Actually Says About this Subject (WIASAS). 
3. Upon completion of the WIASAS report, the issue is Official Declared to be Settled (ODS), and the church moves on . . . 
Or not.

Now compare this with what happens in 2 Peter 1:16-20:
1. The author gives his story, i.e. what he actually experienced. 
2. The author gives the message of Scripture, i.e. what it actually says. 
3. And the author explains how he story of his personal experience helps shape his understanding of Scripture . . . AND his reading of Scripture helps shape how he understands his own personal experience.
In short, it's not Personal Experience OR the Meaning of Scripture that is definitive; instead it's the two of them acting on each other in a kind of interpretative dance.

All of which suggests that the issues of our day need more than just a team of experts to tell us What Inspiration Actually Says About this Subject.

No, we also need to hear what all of God's people are saying about this subject, based on God's leading in their lives..

And then we all need discover just how these two messages -- Scripture and Experience -- can both inform each each in our church.

Just like they do in 2 Peter 1:16-20.

Friday, May 26, 2017

This week's lesson (May 20-26): be who you are

What would it be like to have a super-power . . .

But while everyone else has superpowers that are really terrific -- you know, powers like super-strength, supper-speed, or the ability to read minds . . .

Yes, they've all got the kind of super-powers that people want . . .

But your super-powers are kind of lame.

Like maybe you have the ability to communicate with small, household appliances.

Or maybe you can determine the age of rocks by their taste.

Or maybe you just smell good to cows.

So while everybody else is out there battling crime, thwarting villains, and signing movie contracts . . .

You're in a field.

Surrounded by cows.

Talking to an electric can-opener.

About that new patch of limestone, down by the creek.

Lame, right?

But that's the way I feel when we talk about the spiritual gifts listed in scriptures such as 2 Peter 1:5-7.

I mean, here we have the Creator of the Universe -- the Master of Infinite Power, and Infinite Wisdom . . . somebody, in short, who can do a lot better than the Avengers or the Justice Society.

But does He give us X-ray vision?

Does He give us a freeze-ray?

Does He give us the ability to shoot lightning bolts from our fingertips?

No.

Instead, we get things like faith.

Goodness.

Self-control.

Kindness.

And love.

Really lame stuff -- right?

But if the Master of Infinite Power and Infinite Wisdom chose to give us these gifts . . .

Lame as they seem to be . . .

Then what kind of people does this world really need?

What kind of powers should those people have?

And what kind of powers are the most difficult to practice?

Friday, May 19, 2017

This week's lesson (May 13-19): Jesus in the writings of Peter

A true story.

Maybe.

It's 1962, and a heavy-duty theologian by the name of Karl Barth is visiting the heavy-duty seminary at the University of Chicago . . .

And while he's there, a student asks him to sum up his life's work in one sentence.

So he says, "Jesus love me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

And that's it.

That's all he said.

A true story?

Maybe.

But if you were asked the sum up your beliefs in one sentence . . .

Then what would you say?

Friday, May 12, 2017

This week's lesson (May 6-12): servant leadership

1. You can't be a leader if you don't have followers.

2. That's why leaders need to take care of their followers.

3. If you want to be a leader, but you don't want to take care of your followers, then refer back to Rule #1.

-- I Peter 5:1-10 (Campbell's Condensed Version)

Friday, May 05, 2017

This week's lesson (April 29-May 5): Suffering for Christ.

1. Everyone suffers.

2. Try to be one of those who suffer for a good reason.

--I Peter 3:13-4:19 (Campbell's Condensed Version)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This week's lesson (April 22-28): living for God

I Peter 3:13-16
1. Live the kind of life that makes people ask questions.

2. When they ask questions, give gentle and respectful answers.


3. If they're not asking questions, then take another look at the kind of life you're living.

Friday, April 21, 2017

This week's lesson (April 15-21): social relationships



  • "To live outside the law, you must be honest." -- Bob Dylan
  • "In 1968, Allard K. Lowenstein and his anti-Vietnam War "Dump Johnson movement" recruited Eugene McCarthy to run against incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson. . . . A number of anti-war college students and other activists from around the country traveled to New Hampshire to support McCarthy's campaign. Some anti-war students who had the long-haired, counter-cultural appearance of hippies chose to cut-off their long-hair and shave their beards, in order to campaign for McCarthy door-to-door, a phenomenon that led to the informal slogan, 'Get clean for Gene.'"-- from the Wikipedia article on Senator Gene McCarthy
  • ". . . there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'An unjust law is no law at all.'
"Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. . . ." 
"Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. 
"We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was 'legal' and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was 'illegal.' It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws . . . "   -- excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail, published in The Atlantic Magazine.



Friday, April 14, 2017

This week's lesson (April 8-14): a royal priesthood

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Spiritual Food & Drug Administration (SFDA) warns of continuing problems with sales of tainted milk.

"We're seeing record levels of contamination" says SFDA spokesman Peter Johnson. "Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander of every kind . . . people are just guzzling the stuff."

And the result?

"Sick, weakly believers," says Johnson. "You just can't 'grow up in salvation' if you're living on this kind of thing."

Johnson adds there's plenty of pure, spiritual milk out there, "but for some reason, it's just not as popular."

Still, he's hopeful.

"They've tasted and seen that the Lord is good," Johnson says. "Maybe they'll try Him again."

#1PETER2:1-3
#ROYALPRIESTHOOD
#SPIRITUALCOUNTERFEITS


Friday, April 07, 2017

This week's lesson (April 1-7): an inheritance incorruptible

Maybe you don't have much in common with the people at your church.

And maybe that's not a bad thing.

Read I Peter 1:1-12, after all, and you can't help but notice who put you there; yes, it says:
  • God chose you.
  • God gave you the new birth.
  • Yes, God gave you "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade."
In short, God made you part of His family.
And if God did that for you . . . 
Then why should they be any different?
Even if they are.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

This week's lesson (March 25-31): the Person of Peter

When was Peter "born again"?

When he began following Jesus part-time?

When he began following Jesus full-time?

When he recognized that Jesus was the messiah?

When he saw the empty tomb?

When he saw the risen Lord -- and was told to feed His sheep?

When he received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?

When he recognized that Gentiles could be members of the church?

Or . . . when?

And how many times?

Friday, March 24, 2017

This week's lesson (March 18-24): the work of the Holy Spirit

Jesus is a carpenter.

And so is the Holy Spirit.

Way back in Genesis 1, remember, the Spirit "brooded" over the chaos of creation, much like a contractor mulls over an especially difficult job-site. And with that done, the Spirit rolls-up its sleeves and gets to work.
  • On the first three days, it creates homes for everything.
  • On the second three days, it creates everything that's going to live in those homes.
  • And with that job done, the Spirit now had a place for everything, with everything in its place.
Likewise, the Book of Acts is another creation story.
  • First, the Spirit creates a home for all of God's people: the church.
  • Then the Spirit creates the people who live in that home: church-members.
  • And when it's work is finally done, the Spirit will have a place for all of God's people, with all of God's people in His place . . . 
But we're not there yet.

No, we're living on a construction-site.

And God's Holy Spirit is still on the job.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

This week's lesson (March 11-17): grieving and resisting the Holy Spirit.

There's one sin you never see -- that's the unpardonable sin.

You can't spot it in someone else, after all; that's because you don't know how grace has been offered to that person, or how it's been received.

Moses committed murder, remember.

David committed murder AND adultery.

Peter denied Jesus.

Yet all of them ended up forsaking their sin and following God.

No, you just can't tell if someone else has committed the unpardonable sin.

But if you think they have . . .

Then what does that say about you?

Friday, March 10, 2017

This week's lesson (March 4-10): the Holy Spirit, the Word, and Prayer

When you pray, you talk with God.

And what you say, of course, depends on the God to whom you're praying.
  • If your God is an impersonal force, for instance, then your prayer will be a recipe, i.e. a list of directions that must be followed precisely in order to get the results you want. (See also Magic.)
  • If your God is a grudging bureaucrat, on the other hand, then your prayer is an attempt to make sure the right forms have been completed in order to get the results you want. (See also most books on "How to Pray with Power.")
  • But if your God is a loving Father, then you talk with Him -- and even if you "say something wrong" (whatever that means), then you know that's okay. Yes, you know He knows you well enough to know what you were trying to say, and loves you enough that He doesn't hold this against you.
In short, it's not so much how you pray that counts.
It's who's listening.

Friday, March 03, 2017

This week's lesson (February 25-March 3): the Holy Spirit and the Church

What if there was no Holy Spirit?

Yes, what if your church was on its own, with:
  • No Spirit to guide -- just your own wits.
  • No Spirit to gift -- just your own talents.
  • Not Spirit to empower -- just whatever enthusiasm you could drum up on your own.
In short, imagine that God had nothing to do with your church.
Would you notice any difference?
And would you do anything different if He showed up?


Thursday, February 23, 2017

This week's lesson (February 18-24): the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit

Even Moses couldn't do it all.

You remember the story: Moses is the sole leader of Israel: President, Chief Justice, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and County Dog-Catcher, all rolled into one.

Needless to say, he's run ragged trying to do everything that needs to be done -- and what's more, nothing's getting done when it needs to be done.

That's why the LORD tells Moses to bring 70 elders to the Tent of Meeting; there He will put the Spirit on them and they "will help [Moses] carry the burden of the people so that [he] will not have to carry it alone" (Numbers 11:16f, NIV).

To be sure, none of those leaders were as gifted as Moses -- which is another way of saying that Moses had to delegate work that he could have done better himself.

And there you have the most difficult thing to believe about spiritual gifts.

It's not believing that God has gifted you.

It's believing that God has gifted someone else.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

This week's lesson (February 11-17): the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit

To be honest, I think you should skip this week's lesson -- just go straight to next week's.

You see, next week's lesson is about spiritual gifts.

This week's is about "the fruits of the Spirit."

I mean, next week you get to talk about exciting stuff:
  • Signs!
  • Wonders!
  • Miracles!
But this week, you need to talk about love . . . and patience . . . and gentleness . . . and kindness . . . and all the other "touchy-feely" stuff that you already know you should do.

What's more, you already know how God develops these "fruits" in your life: yes, you know He's going to put you in situations where you need them!

(That's why you should never pray for patience, by the way. No, you do that, and He's going to give you people with whom you need to be patient!)

In short, this week's lesson deals with all the ways God helps you deal with difficult people in a difficult world . . .

And who needs that?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

This week's lesson (February 4-10): the Holy Spirit and living a holy life

You meet someone.

You fall in love.

You decide that you want to spend the rest of your life with them.

So you get baptized.

Or if they're human -- and feel the same way -- then you get married.

Either way, that means no more dating around.

Either way, that means "you have forsaken all others," and "shall cleave only unto that person for as long as you both shall live."

And either way, this doesn't mean you're perfect.

Doesn't mean you don't make mistakes.

Doesn't mean you don't need forgiveness.

But there's something going on between the two of you that's not going on with anyone else -- something that you don't want to break.

In short, salvation means you've fallen in love.

And holiness means you want to stay in love.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

This week's lesson (January 28 - February 3): the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit

Going through my wallet this week, I found a gift-card -- one that:
  • I'd been given last Christmas,
  • Tucked-away for safe-keeping, 
  • And promptly forgotten.
But now that I've found it -- or rather, now that I've discovered I had it all along -- I get to use it. Enjoy it. Find out what it can do.
In much the same way, God gives us His Spirit -- and the key word, remember, is "give." It's not something we earn, in other words; we don't get it because we've been extraordinarily nice.
No, God's Spirit is free.
It's a gift.
And if you're a Christian, then you've already got it -- the same as I already had that that gift-card last I got last Christmas.
So now that you've got it . . . 
Why not use it?
Enjoy it?
Find out what He can do?
You don't need to "get" the Spirit, in other words.
No, you need to remember what you've already got.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

This week's lesson (January 21-27): the Personality of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force; instead, He is a person -- like God the Father, or God the Son.

Pity.

If the Holy Spirit was an impersonal force, after all, then we could use Him to get what we want -- the same as we do with electricity. Yes, we could channel Him. Manipulate Him. Maybe even hold seminars and write books on "How to be Filled with the Power of the Holy Spirit."

But we can't.

No, He's a person. That means we can work with Him. Talk with Him. Maybe even hold seminars and write books on how to have a relationship with Him.

But reduce this relations to a set of techniques -- to a series of steps that will get us what we want?

It doesn't work when we try this with people.

And that means it doesn't work when we try it with the Holy Spirit.

Pity.

Friday, January 20, 2017

This week's lesson (January 14-20): the Divinity of the Holy Spirit Spirit

Something will go wrong.

And someone will be there to help.

That's the advice on travel I got from Rick Steves' radio program . . .

And that's pretty much what Jesus says in John 14-17.

Anytime I'm on the road, after all, there's always a glitch -- yes, wallets go missing, flights get delayed, reservations are made for the wrong week. This used to frustrate me; I used to believe that proper planning would ensure a perfect trip . . . but now, I just take it in stride. (Mostly.) "Something's gone wrong," I tell myself, "and that means . . . "

Sure enough, somebody's always there to help. Could be my wife. Could be a clerk. Could be the stranger who stops what they're doing to ask if I need help (and it's amazing how often that happens).

But when things go wrong (as they always do), both Rick Steves and John 14-17 have always been right: I've never had to deal with it on my own.

That's why the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is important.

That's why the divinity of the Holy Spirit is important.

You see, we know that things go wrong.

But as believers, we also know that Somone's always there to help.




Sunday, January 08, 2017

This week's lesson (January 7-13): the Holy Spirit - working behind the scenes.

The Holy Spirit works behind the scenes.

Except when He doesn't.

Read the Book of Acts, for instance, and it's clear that Things Happen when the Holy Spirit shows up.
  • Yes, the sick are healed.
  • The dead are raised to life.
  • And sometimes, the healthy are smitten with sickness -- or even killed!
Yet in each case, the Holy Spirit does not perform a miracle in order to draw attention to Himself; instead, its purpose is to glorify Christ.

Like Jesus Himself, in other words, the Spirit exists to make somebody else look good . . .

Even if this means He needs to make a scene.

Go, and do likewise.

Friday, January 06, 2017

This week's lesson (December 31-January 6): the Spirit and the Word


God provides tech support.
Not only that, but He doesn't outsource. 
Some companies, after all, don't provide any help; no, you buy their product and you're on your own . . .

Like the time I bought a cheap MP3 player that turned out to have no manual, no website, and no toll-free number I could for help in figuring out how to turn it on.

In consumer electronics, this is called "lousy customer service."

In philosophy, it's called "Deism" -- the idea that God made us, then kind of . . . lost interest.

Then you have the manufacturers that do provide tech support -- or rather, they've given this job to another company located somewhere in South Dakota India the Philippines that is committed to providing fast, friendly service at the lowest possible price (with an emphasis on "the lowest possible price").

In business, this is called "outsourcing."

In philosophy, it's called "Neo-Platonism" -- the idea that God does not deal directly with His creation, but does so only through a near-infinite "chain of creation."

But when we need help, our prayer does not go to an angel . . . who passes it to an archon . . . who turfs it to a saint . . . who transfers it to a call center located somewhere in South Dakota India the Philippines South Dakota.

Instead, God picks up the phone Himself -- and sometimes, He doesn't even wait until we call to get in touch! No, He calls us to see how we're doing. He drops by to see how we're doing. And if He needs to be there with us all the time, then we know where you'll find Him.

In business, this is called "on-site support."

In philosophy, this is called "immanence" -- the idea that God is close to us.

But if you need a personal name for God when He does this, then you call Him, "the Holy Spirit."

This first appeared in 2014.