Saturday, April 30, 2016

This week's lesson (April 30 - May 6): Resting in Christ

Remember the Sabbath, to keep it . . . busy.

Look at the way Jesus spends his Sabbaths, after all.
  • He heals a demoniac (Mark 1:21-26).
  • He heals Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31).
  • He heals a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:9-13).
  • He heals a crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17).
  • He heals a man suffering from edema (Luke 14:1-6).
  • He heals a crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15).
  • He heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
What's more, all of these miracles are elective procedures. They are not needed to save lives; they all address chronic conditions that could have waited until sundown to be healed.
But Jesus heals these people now. 
On the Sabbath.
In front of people who get all kinds of grief from the Gentiles -- who are continually being told they are lazy and shiftless -- because they follow God's command to rest on the seventh-day.
And no, I'm not entirely sure myself just what these miracles say about the way we keep Sabbath.
(Though I am a little nervous about parents who use them as an excuse to schedule community service activities on the Sabbath for their children -- community service activities that just happen to look good on their college applications.)
But if nothing else, it tells us something about the way God keeps Sabbath.
Yes, it tells us that God is always ready to heal us, always ready to mend us, always ready to give us a taste of what heaven is like.
We can rest in God's love, in other words -- and the Sabbath can be a reminder of that rest.
That's because God is always on the job.
Even on the Sabbath.

This is a repeat of the lesson from April 29, 2014.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

This week's lesson (April 23-29): the Seen and Unseen War

We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's, and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which, by chance or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.

Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

Okay, so it’s the opening lines from The War of the Worlds – not The Great Controversy; the author is H. G. Wells, and not E. G. White.

Still, it’s worth remembering that “all the world’s a stage” with ETs out there lurking in the audience . . . well, it’s not going to strike everybody as good news.

Add to this the fact that we really don’t know who or what is out there watching. Take angels, for instance – both fallen and unfallen. Do they live on other worlds? Do they have bodies? Do they have mass, a charge, or spin? Say “yes,” and you’ve just answered the question of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” Say “no,” and you’re left with the question of just exactly what these creatures might be.*

Finally, it’s worth remembering that a fascination with angels is often the sign of a bankrupt theology. Angels give us a way to be “spiritual,” after all, without having to mess around with God – reason enough for the current interest in them . . . and reason enough for Paul to warn us off such things in Colossians 2:18.

All of which is why I’d recommend you be real careful with the theme of this week’s lesson. In fact, I’d recommend you stick with the examples in Matthew 11:4-6 -- the examples of Christ healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching good news to the poor.  
Talk about the Adversary, yes. 
Bring up the example we provide to Unfallen Worlds, yes.
But focus on Christ's forgiveness and power to save.
Even if the whole Universe is watching, after all, there’s only One Person in the audience who really matters. 

*Just so you know: if you believe that angels do have mass, then the answer is "one." If you believe that angels don't have mass, then an infinite number of angels can dance on the head of a pin. Charge and spin, however, don't seem to make a difference.

This is adapted from my commentary on the  Sabbath School lesson 
for June 29, 2006 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

This week's lesson (April 16-22): "Get up and walk!" - Faith & Healing.

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 leads 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 bring 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.

This lesson commentary first appeared on May 2, 2008.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

This week's lesson (April 9-15); the Sermon on the Mount

The Beatitudes are good news.


To be sure, we often view them as a burden -- as a long list of commands that would be impossible to keep in the best of times, much less in the face of troubles. ("Gotta be meek. Gotta be humble. Gotta be pure in heart.")

Yet as John Calvin pointed out, there is really only one command in the Beatitudes: the command to "rejoice and be glad!"

That is because the Beatitudes are best read as a survival manual -- as a guide that shows us three ways to endure suffering.

First, they list the tools that help us cope with adversity: meekness, humility, mercy, purity, and all the rest.

Second, they list the rewards that follow adversity -- rewards summed up in Christ's phrase, "the kingdom of heaven," then explained in terms of "finding comfort," "seeing God," and "being shown mercy."

Third, they describe the One who endured adversity -- both in terms of his character (i.e. humble, meek, and pure in heart), and his reward (i.e. the kingdom of heaven).

In short, the Beatitudes are:

  • ethical ("This is what we should do now!")
  • apocalyptic ("This is what God will do in the future!")
  • and salvific ("That is what Christ has done in the past!")
What more do you need to rejoice?

This post first appeared on December 28, 2007.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people." At once, they left their nets and followed him. 
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
- Matthew 4:18-22, NIV 

In this text, we learn three things about following Jesus:
1. Jesus makes the first move. 
Andrew and Peter were not searching for enlightenment; James and John were not looking for a guru or sensei to teach them a better way. Instead, Jesus went looking for them . . . just as he goes looking for us.
2. Jesus surprises us.
Casting nets, mending nets -- these are routine tasks, performed by men who expect nothing more from that day than "the same old thing." But Jesus made that day special for them . . . just as he does for us.
3. Jesus is worth it.
Each of these men left something behind: Andrew and Peter a hand-net, James and John a fishing boat. Yet each one did so willingly in order to follow Jesus.
In short, discipleship is not like exercise; it is not a program we choose to follow at a time and a place and a cost of our own choosing.
Instead, it is more like falling in love: 



And utterly transforming.

(Adapted from the post on January 11, 2008).