Sunday, January 31, 2016

This week's lesson (January 30 - February 5): Victory in the Wilderness

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'll be surprised by what he leaves out.
Unlike the accounts in Matthew and Luke, you see, there's nothing in Mark 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 this laconic account:
  • 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 (or better yet, "a deserted place").

And every time Jesus goes someplace by himself to pray -- yes, every time he's by himself in an eraemos -- we learn a little more about the temptation Jesus faced there in the desert . . . 
The same temptation, as a matter of fact, Jesus faced all through 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.

Instead, we need to continually choose -- to continually decide who we trust . . . and it's a decision we need to make over and over and over again.
And every time we make that decision, we learn a little bit more about God.
Every time we make that decision, we learn a little bit more about ourselves.
Mind you, Mark doesn't come right out and say this -- not exactly.
In his gospel, it's what he doesn't say that's important.

(This is an edited version of the commentary I wrote for the Sabbath School lesson on March 23, 2008.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

This week's lesson (January 23-29): the Controversy continues

By this time in the quarter, you're probably familiar with the concept of The Great Controversy, i.e. the idea there's a fight of good against evil.

Light against darkness.

People like King David against . . .

Wait a minute -- people like King David? The same King David who committed adultery with Bathsheba?


Who had her husband killed?


Whose last words make him sound like a Mafia don ordering hits on his rivals?

Yes -- and that's important.

If you need to be perfect before God can use you, after all, then none of the people in this week's lesson would qualify.
  • Elijah? Got scared and ran.
  • Hezekiah? Showed-off to the Babylonians.
  • Nehemiah? Definite problems with anger-control.
  • As for Esther . . . well, put it this way: nobody knew she was Jewish until she came right out and said so.
If you're looking for stories of amazing people doing amazing things, in other words, then go someplace else.

But if you want to hear about the God who can do amazing things with all kinds of people -- even people who aren't always brave, aren't always humble, don't always live the kind of life you expect God's people to live . . .

And yes, even people like King David?

Then take another look at the Great Controversy.

You might not like all the people in it.

But you'll probably recognize more than a few.

Monday, January 18, 2016

This week's sermon: "Slow, Messy Miracles"

If you'd like a hard-copy of last Sabbath's sermon on Genesis 11, then drop me a note (or leave your email address in the comments section).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

This week's lesson (January 16-22): Conflict & Crisis - the Judges

Children love stories that end "happily ever after."

Adults learn from the stories that don't.

While they seldom make pleasant reading, stories about things that go wrong can help us avoid a similar fate.
  • That's why hospitals have Post Mortem Committees.
  • That's why business students look at case studies of failed corporations.
  • And that's why we have the Book of Judges: a book about all the things that happens when God's people wander away from Him.
Granted, it's not all gloom and doom -- in fact, the book takes its name from the "judges" (or "deliverers") God uses to rescue His people from their just desserts.

Then too, God doesn't send these judges because His people have finally shaped up. No, He sends them because He is "moved by pity" for their distress.

Finally, the judges He sends are an amazing testament to God's grace; if He can use people like Jael and Samson, after all, then there ain't nobody He can't use.

But in the end, there's only so much that God can do for the people who continually reject Him.

That's why Judges doesn't end "happily ever after."

But read it carefully -- learn from it's examples . . . and maybe you will.

(This lesson is adapted from my book, The QuickStart Guide to the Bible, published by the Pacific Press Publishing Association (c) 2002.)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

This week's lesson (January 9-15): Global rebellion and the Patriarchs

If anyone's ever come up with a worse plan, then I have yet to hear it.
The message of Genesis, remember, is that the Creator of the Universe -- the Ruler of Time and Space -- has put all His eggs in one basket.
And it's the scruffiest-looking basket you ever saw.
Yes, God has decided the best way to resolve the Great Controversy is to strike up a friendship with a miserable band of desert nomads -- the kind of nomads who would get kicked out of Jersey Shore for their lack of class. 
I mean, they lie. They cheat. They betray members of their own family -- and don't get me started on who they sleep with!
No, if God's plans depend on people like these, then He must be running out of options.
Which is true.
  • You think He should deal just with perfect people in a perfect world? He tried that.
  • You think He should leave people alone to sort things out for themselves? The story of Cain and Abel (not to mention everything else that happens between the Fall and the Flood) tells you how that works out.
  • As for hitting the "RESET" button and beginning again? Tempting . . . but the aftermath of the Flood (i.e. both Noah's nap and the Tower of Babel) suggests that's not going to work.
In short, God's been there, done that -- and if He chooses now to work with Abraham, and Jacob, and all the other miscreants you'll find in the Book of Genesis . . . 
Then don't be surprised if He works with the people around you -- the people who drive you crazy at work, at church, and in your family.
To be sure, you may not think much of the people God uses.
Then again, what kind of alternative does He have?

Sunday, January 03, 2016

This week's lesson (January 2-8): crisis in Eden

It didn't need to be an apple.

It could have been a brown M&M.

Van Halen was infamous, remember, for its contract stipulation that "there will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area" -- a demand that seems incredibly petty . . . 

Kind of like God's demand that Adam and Eve not eat from the "Tree of Know-it-all."

But as David Lee Roth explains:
Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We'd pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors, whether it was the girders couldn't support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren't big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. 
So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say, "Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . . " This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: "There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation." 
So I would walk backstage, if I saw brown M&Ms in that bowl . . . well, line check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract. Guaranteed you'd run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.
In much the same way, God gave humanity a god-like authority -- one that enabled us to rule this earth and give it meaning. 

And no, it's not easy to exercise that kind of authority without taking yourself a little too seriously -- without thinking your powers are not just "god-like," but downright "godly."

Which may be why God included a little test -- one remarkably similar Van Halen's. "Do not eat from the Tree of Know-it-all," He said, "upon pain of forfeiture of the show."

A small thing, to be sure.

But if they got it wrong, it was a sign of a much bigger problem -- something that "would threaten to just destroy the whole show."

So . . . no, it didn't need to be an apple.

It doesn't even need to be a brown M&M.

But if God needs to know that you're paying attention . . . 

Then what would it be for you?