Sunday, July 31, 2016

We've moved!

If you'd like some help on this week's Sabbath School lesson, then try my new blog: The Oregon Adventist Pastor.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

This week's lesson (July 30 - August 5): Jesus mingled with people

Let us now praise Nominal Adventists.

You know who I mean.
  • They're the ones whom the Nominating Committee asked to be deacons "so that maybe they'll start showing up in church more often."
  • They're the ones who drop-off their kids at Sabbath School -- then head over to Starbucks for coffee and a donut.
  • Yes, they're the ones whose ties to your church are tenuous, sporadic, and superficial -- the same people we often write-off as "Laodecian."
But myself, I thank God for those Laodecian Adventists; they're the sign of a healthy church.

Show me a church with nothing but True Believers, after all, and I'll show you a church that nobody else wants to attend.
  • Not the people who drop by to see friends.
  • Not the people who hope it might do their children some good.
  • Not the people whose ties to the church may be tenuous, sporadic, and superficial . . . but whose ties still remain.
No, all these people have been weeded out. Cut off. Sent on their way with nobody left behind -- nobody but a few saints with nowhere else to go.

That's why healthy churches have fuzzy boundaries between Those Who Are Definitely Inside and Those Who Are Definitely Outside -- a sort of "grey area" made up of people who are "just looking," people who are "still not sure," and people who are "ready to buy . . . but not sure they can afford it."
  • You can call them "window shoppers."
  • You can call them "Transitional Christians."
  • You can call them "Nominal Adventists," or even "Laodecian."
But when they disappear, it's a sure sign that your church is dying -- that nobody else has even the slightest reason to attend.
In this week's Sabbath School lesson, after all, we're told the Church must mingle with the World. And that's good advice, but it works both ways.
You see, there's only one way to know your church is mingling with the world.
That's when you see the world mingling with your church.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

This week's lesson (July 23-29): Jesus on community outreach

[Jesus] called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. . . . "Do not take any gold or silver or copper in your belts," [he told them]; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep." -- Matthew 10:1, 9f (NIV).
So how much do you need for the trip?

Once upon a time, I would have said, "everything" -- and I would have packed accordingly.

Two or three suitcases.

A couple of duffle bags.

A box of emergency supplies.

And all this, just for a weekend with friends!

Likewise, any call to follow Jesus can lead believers to "load up" with all the things we think we need
in order to do so.

Like seminars -- gotta grab some training seminars.

And study committees -- can't have too many study committees.

Now add the books, the manuals, the DVDs, and all the other impedimenta that just might come in handy someday, and . . .

Well, it's a wonder that anything ever gets done!

Perhaps that's why Jesus sends out his disciples the way he does -- in fact, it reminds me of the time I spent a week in New Zealand with nothing more than the clothes on my back and the contents of a very small gym-bag.

For just like me, those disciples discover something: they discover they don't need as much as they think they do.

Yes, they already have everything they need to follow Jesus.

The same as you.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

This week's lesson (July 16-22): Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament (part two)

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? -- Micah 6:8, KJV
I love this verse -- just so long as I remember the "and."
Justice without mercy is nothing more than vengeance, after all -- and if we all got what we deserved, then who of us would escape.
But mercy without justice? I've been in classrooms where that happened -- classrooms where any and all behavior was excused . . . and I've no desire to repeat the experience.
Take away the "walk with God," on the other hand, and both justice and mercy become legalism . . . while a "walk with God" that lacks justice and mercy becomes a study in irrelevance.
No, I need all three: justice AND mercy AND a humble walk with God.
But to practice all three, I need the "and."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

This week's lesson (July 9-15): Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament (part 1)

Read much of Ellen White, and one thing becomes clear: she was really bugged by the middle-class.

Take her advice on jewelry, for instance. Or music. Or even bicycles.

In each case, her chief concern was the effect of new-found wealth on the mission of our church.

And yes, this was a problem. (Still is!) Join the church, after all, and you stop drinking (which makes you a better employee). You start paying tithe (which forces you to keep track of your money). And you send your kids to an Adventist school (which almost guarantees that they’ll have a better job than you do).

As a result, the church becomes an economic escalator – one that picks up farmers and mechanics, gives them kids who are pastors and teachers, and eventually produces grand-kids who are doctors and lawyers.

So what happens when a “church of the poor” becomes a “church of the middle-class”?

Well . . . for one thing, the poor stop coming to church. They stop coming, because it’s no longer “their” kind of place!

That’s one reason Ellen White wrote against jewelry; she didn’t want the poor to feel out of place in our churches. That’s why she wrote against classical music; she wanted a church where anyone could feel at home. That’s why she wrote against bicycles; at the time, they were an outrageous example of conspicuous consumption (kind of like Hummers today).

In short, Ellen White was smart enough to know that money talks . . . and sometimes, what it really tells people is, “Go away!”

So how do we avoid that? 

And what do we do when the "economic escalator" has done its work, and we've become solid members of the middle-class?

That's what this week's lesson is all about.

This first appeared on August 18, 2005

Sunday, July 03, 2016

This week's lesson (July 2-8): restoring dominion

God always keeps His promises.

Even when we make it tough for Him to do so.

In the first chapter of Genesis, for instance, God promised that:

  • we'd have dominion over the earth, 
  • lots of food,
  • and lots of children.
Now in chapter two, God shows how He plans to deliver on those promises.
  • God plants a garden, then gives us the job of tending and guarding it -- and yes, the phrase here is the same phrase you'd use to describe the duties of a priest in a temple. What's more, we're giving "naming rights" to the animals, i.e. we're allowed to determine the role they'll play in God's world.
  • God fills the garden with every kind of tree that looks good and tastes good; this was one place, in other words, where food literally grew on trees.
  • Finally, God creates sex. (And yes, I know that sounds a little blunt, but how else can you describe the creation of the first man and the first woman?)
In chapter three, of course, our first parents will make it terribly difficult for God to keep these promises -- so difficult, we might have thought it far easier for God to forget them entirely.

But skip ahead to Revelation 20-22, and you'll find that every single one of God's promises will be fulfilled in the end.
  • We shall rule as priests and kings.
  • We shall eat from the tree of life, "and the leaves of the trees [shall be] for the healing of the nations."
  • And "a great crowd beyond number" will praise God as its saviour and king.
In short, God's plans for His people have not changed -- and God's promises to His people will all be kept . . .

Yes, God always keeps His promises.

No matter what it costs.

This is adapted from my commentary on the Sabbath School lesson 
for October 19, 2006.