Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ's kingdom and the law

"Another way again of using the law lawfully, is when we keep it, but as a thing superfluous. And how as a thing superfluous? As the bridle is properly used, not by the prancing horse that champs it, but by that which wears it only for the sake of appearance, so he uses the law lawfully, who governs himself, though not as constrained by the letter of it" -- John of Chrysostom (AD 347-407), homily on I Timothy. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ's church and the law

It's not 42.

And with all due respect to Douglas Adams, you probably don't need the world's largest computer to find the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

No, all you had to do was visit a special place on Planet Earth.

And there in that special place, you would have found a special building.

And in that special building, there was a special room.

And in that room was an even more special room.

And in that most special of all rooms, you would have seen a box made of wood, all covered in gold.

And in that box all covered in gold, there was . . .
  • And not the definitive proof that God exists, that life has meaning, and that all dogs go to heaven when they die.
No, in that box was a list: a list of ten ways to show that you love God and the people He made.

That's it.

And yes, there are a lot more things that we would have liked to know -- a lot more things that we could all wish had been in that box.

But even if the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything isn't 42 . . .

It would seem that 10 is good enough for now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

This week's lesson: the apostles and the law

"You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him." -- Peter, speaking to Cornelius (Acts 10:28, NIV).
You might be an Adventist if you know that . . .
  • "Haystacks" aren't just for cows.
  • "Pathfinders" aren't just made by Nissan.
  • And when the pastor says he's going to quote his "favorite author," then he's probably not going to read you something by Stephen King.
No, there's more to being Adventist than just the 28 Fundamental Beliefs; there's that bundle of habits, mores, expectations, and inside jokes that make up TAL: The Adventist Lifestyle.
Or if you like, then you could call it "the Adventist Torah."
When the Bible talks about "the Law," after all, then it's talking about more than just the Ten Commandments -- and more than just the 613. No, it's talking about the bundle of habits, mores, expectations, and inside jokes that formed and defined Jewish identity.
In fact, you'd get a much more accurate view of the New Testaments's attitude towards the Law if you just took out that word every time it appeared, and substituted the phrase, "Jewish Lifestyle."
To be sure, there's nothing wrong with that lifestyle per se -- no more than there's anything wrong with our lifestyle per se.  No, it gives us a sense of identity. It fosters a sense of cohesion. And if nothing else, then it makes it a lot easier to plan meals for Saturday night.
(And just for the record: I love haystacks. Really.)
But when God's Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and the members of his household, then God made it really, really, really obvious that you could be one of His people . . . 
Even if you didn't follow the Jewish Lifestyle.
Did Peter believe this? 
With reluctance.
Did the Church in Jerusalem believe this? 
With reluctance.
Do we believe this?
Well, you're not an Adventist if you don't say, "yes."
But you wouldn't be human if you didn't say "yes" . . . 
With reluctance. 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ, the Law, and the Covenants

You can't make deals with God

If you've ever driven past a dealer's lot, for instance, then you seen those rows and rows of cars, each with its own price prominently displayed on the windshield . . .

But if you've ever stopped at a dealer's lot, then you know those prices are only a suggestion, a starting point, an idea of what you could pay unless you're able to work out some kind of deal -- a deal as in, "I know you're asking $800 for this car, but I'm willing to offer $650 plus this fine collection of baseball cards."

Likewise, you spend much time in church and you're going to hear that "Jesus is the way."

But spend much time around church members, and you might start wondering if he's the only way -- if there's some way to avoid paying this particular "sticker price."
  • Maybe I could just live a good life, for instance.
  • Or maybe I could be one of those intensely "spiritual" people who collect whale songs and wind chimes . . . 
  • And if I'd lived back in the days of King Solomon, then I could have brought a lamb to the Temple and called it a day.
Yes, there must be some kind of way to make a deal with God!
But there's not.
No, if there was some other way to save us, then Jesus would not have done what He did; if there was some way to avoid the cross, then Jesus would have found it in the Garden of Gethsemane. 
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved [Ephesians 2:4f, NIV].
And no, we don't always know how this grace works in our own lives -- much less in the lives of others. We don't know how it's been offered; we don't know how it's been received . . . and that's why we don't know who will be saved or lost.
But we know God loves everyone.
We know God wants to save everyone.
And that's why we can't make some kind of deal with God . . . 
Not when He's made the best deal He can -- through Christ -- for everyone.