Friday, May 30, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: the compassion of Christ

At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:1-11, NIV).

I knew she was trouble the minute I saw her. Maybe it was the tears. Maybe it was the couple of bruisers who hustled her across the pavement toward me. And maybe it was the crowd of Highly Respectable People who followed behind at a much more dignified pace.

"We have a case for you," said the leader of that crowd when it finally arrived. "And frankly, it has us stumped. This woman's been caught in the act, if you know what I mean -- and in the old days, we'd have known what to do with her. But now . . . "

I nodded. Ever since the Occupation, capital cases were out of our hands. And the authorities took a dim view of the death penalty in situations like this.

"So you're the smart guy," he continued. "You tell us what to do: Do we follow God's law or . . . "

He kept talking -- you could tell he'd been rehearsing this speech a long time. But the more he talked, the more it looked like a put-up job. Usually, there was no way you could prove a charge like this; you needed two witnesses who'd been there and seen everything the whole time.

Not likely.

Especially when the first thing the defense would ask those two witnesses is why they didn't try to stop it -- just as the law required you to do.

No, there was no way you could claim to be a witness in a case like this -- not unless you were lying.

And everybody knew the penalty for lying in a case like this was death.

So where were the witnesses? That's what I couldn't figure out. They were supposed to stick around after the trial. In fact, they were supposed to carry out the sentence; that was the rule: the witnesses always threw the first stones.

So the man talked, and the woman sobbed, and I doodled in the dust while I thought about those missing witnesses. And the more I thought about them, the more clear it was that I faced a trap -- and this woman was just the bait.

No, the real target was me.

Play along with this crowd, in other words, and I'd get in dutch with the authorities. Tell them where to get off, and I'd look like a traitor.

Not good, either way.

Not unless I played this game even better than they did.

"Looks like an open and shut case," I said, standing up. The woman moaned a little when she heard that, and the crowd got real quiet. "Now all we have to do is find those fine, upstanding citizens who testified in this case . . . all we have to do is find them, and get on with the execution. Anybody know where they are?"

The crowd thought about that one for a bit . . . and then, one by one, they all found a good reason to be someplace else. Say you were a witness, after all, and you risked getting nailed as a liar -- and not one of the people there was willing to take that chance.

Finally, nobody was left except the woman -- still snuffling a little.

"Look around, sweetheart," I said to her. "You see any witnesses?"

"Just you," she said. "Are you going to condemn me?"

"Not my job," I said to her. "Now go on home -- and let that be a lesson to you."

Friday, May 23, 2008

New Stuff

Couple of additions to that long list on the right-hand side of this site:
  • Resources for Ministry now includes a link to Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries -- the organization of choice for ministers whose parish is a prison, hospital, or military unit.
  • I've added a section on Christian Higher Education in the Pacific Northwest, with links to every Christian college I could find.
  • And I've also added a section on SDA Radio Stations.
Check them out, and let me know what you think!

This week's Sabbath School lesson: Christ's walk with God

At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him -- Mark 1:12f (NIV).
Read Mark's account of Christ's temptation, and you're sure to be disappointed. There's nothing about the nature of that temptation -- no request that stones be turned into bread, no challenge to prove God's care, no offer to trade the kingdoms of this world for an act of worship. Instead, we have a laconic account that:
  • the Spirit sent Jesus into the eraemos -- a desert place.
  • He was there 40 days.
  • Satan tempted him.
  • There were wild animals in that desert.
  • And the angels took care of him.
That's it. Nothing more. A big disappointment all around . . .

Until you read Mark 1:35 and you realize that Peter's critique of Christ's priorities also took place in an eraemos -- a desert place.

And every time Jesus goes someplace by himself to pray, we learn a little more about the temptation Jesus faced there in the desert -- the same temptation, as a matter of fact, that Jesus faced throughout his ministry.

No, I'm not going to tell you what this temptation really was; you need to read the Gospel of Mark for yourself.

But in telling this story the way he does, Mark makes the same point that's at the heart of this week's lesson: it's the fact that following God is a process. We don't defeat temptation and move on, in other words; we don't get it over and done with so that we can get on with our lives.

No, following God is a decision we make over and over again -- and every time we do so, we learn a little more about ourselves, and a little more about God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

We're simply going to ignore any remarks about "the shaking of the church."

If the kind of earthquake that just hit China took place in Oregon, it would knock down roughly a third of our schools and public buildings.

That's the gist of a very scary article in The New York Times -- and it raises the question: what about our schools and churches? Anybody know what we could do to prepare for this kind of quake? (And remember -- it's not a matter of if but when.)

(Click on the title of this post for a link to the article.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Seniors slower but smarter

Good news from The New York Times for those of us who are gradually gaining on geezerhood -- it turns out that old people think slower because we have more to think about. Add that to the incredible amount of data we' over a lifetime, and it means that we really do get smarter as we age.

(Click on the title of this post for the link.)

Friday, May 09, 2008

El brazo derecho del evangelio

Two pieces of information:

One is an article in The New York Times on the use of traditional healers in this country by illegal immigrants from Mexico. No sooner do they arrive, it seems, then immigrants start coming down with the same ills that plague Americans: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, etc. Add the problems that come from working long hours at tough jobs, and you have a large group of people with real health needs.

Now add this piece of news from May's Oregon Conference PresReport:
Roger Hernandez reports over 1,000 guests came through the doors of the Hillsboro Spanish Church for Healing 2008. Volunteer medical professionals provided quality care. The need was great enough that some individuals lined up at 3:30 AM to receive medical and/or dental care.
Okay, so now let's put together these two pieces of information -- what does this suggest?

This week's Sabbath School lesson: the puzzle of Christ's conduct

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn."

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He has a demon." The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." But wisdom is proved right by her actions (Matthew 11:16-19, NIV).
This week's lesson is a wrap-up of all the things we really wish Christ had never done.
  • He disobeyed his parents (Luke 2:41-51).
  • Asked to heal a demoniac, he showed signs of irritation (Matthew 17:14-20).
  • He cursed a fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22).
  • Having asked if it was right to heal on the Sabbath, he was angry when people refused to answer (Mark 3:1-5).
  • He cast out demons -- then allowed them to destroy a herd of pigs (Matthew 8:28-34).
  • He hung out with the wrong crowd (Matthew 9:10-13).
  • He cleared the Temple of money-changers and animal-sellers (Matthew 21: 12-13).
What's more, this lesson talks about two things Jesus did not do that we really wish he'd done:
As you deal with these incidents in your class, you'll want to deal with two questions:
  • Why did Jesus behave the way he did?
  • Should we do the same?
In dealing with the first question, you'll find it helpful to study the background of each text -- and to help you do this, I've linked each text to the relevant section of the InterVarsity Press New Testament Commentary .

As you study, you'll notice how Jesus was absolutely intolerant of anything that got between people and God . . . and this will lead you to the question of why we so often tolerate these things -- especially when other people are inconvenienced, and not ourselves.

When Jesus cleared the Temple, for instance, he did this so that Gentiles would have a place to worship -- one of the first examples, I suppose, of a "seeker-sensitive service." Likewise, he ate with tax collectors and "sinners," even at the risk of his own reputation -- a standing rebuke to churches that would rather look good than do good.

In short, Jesus was loving. Jesus was kind. Jesus would give his life for us.

But Jesus did not live up to our expectations of Him.

Why not?

Friday, May 02, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: Christ's miracles

A man with leprosy came and knelt down before [Jesus] and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:2-3, NIV)
You've studied this week's lesson.

Now make sure your class doesn't take it to its logical conclusion.

That's because any discussion of Christ's miracles inevitably leads to the question of "Why don't we see this kind of miracles today?" And that will lead class members to declare we need more faith -- and that will leave some of your people thinking it's all their fault Cousin Charley didn't survive . . . "because he would have lived if we'd had more faith."

How do I know this?

Been there. Seen that. Dealt with the aftermath.

So . . . I'd suggest you lead your class through a list of Christ's miracles -- say, the one in Matthew 8 & 9 -- and ask them a simple question: "Who had faith?"
  • In the healing of the leper, it was the leper . . . maybe.
  • In the healing of the centurion's servant, it was the centurion.
  • In the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, it was . . . okay, this one's ambiguous; nobody's faith is mentioned here.
  • In the calming of the storm, Matthew goes out of his way to point out the disciple's lack of faith.
  • The same is true of Christ healing the two demoniacs -- and no, you're not going to convince me the demons had faith!
  • In the healing of the paralytic, it was his friends who brought him to Jesus.
  • In the healing of the sick woman, Jesus goes out of his way to commend her faith.
  • But you can't tell me the little girl Jesus healed showed faith -- in fact, she was dead! As for the crowd around her, they mocked!
  • Two blind men are then healed "according to their faith" . . .
  • But a mute demoniac is also healed -- and just like the paralytic, the only sign of faith is shown by the people who brought him to Jesus.
In short, the one constant in this story is not faith. No, there are times when the person being healed might have faith -- and there are times when he or she doesn't, but other people do.

Then again, there are also times when it seems as though nobody has faith . . .

Nobody except Jesus.

And there you have the point of this week's lesson -- a point that will save your class members a lot of grief and guilt in the years ahead.

It's the fact that Jesus doesn't heal us because we have faith.

No, Jesus heals us because he is faithful.