Monday, December 31, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (December 29 - January 4): the Gospel from Patmos

In a parking-lot full of muscle cars, nobody would have noticed that Plymouth Valiant. No, it looked like the kind of car your grandmother would drive, right down to its faded-yellow paint. 

Likewise, nobody back in John's day would have looked twice at God's people.
  • They were few in number -- maybe 0.1% of the population.
  • They were low in status -- many of them were slaves, remember, and most of them were women.
  • And their proclamation that "Jesus is Lord" was ridiculous -- I mean, everybody knew the only "lord" that mattered back then was Caesar.
Like that Valiant, in other words, God's people didn't look like much on the outside . . . 
And that's why God "popped the hood" to show them what's inside.
That's what "revelation" means, after all -- it comes from the ancient Greek work APOKALUPTO, which means "to pop the hood so you can see what it's got inside."*
"Pop the hood" on that Valiant, for instance, and you'd get a "revelation"of everything you need made to make a car go fast (including a nitrous-oxide system).
In much the same way, the Book of Revelation "pops the hood" on God's people to show you:
  • They may look small -- but in reality, they are "a great crowd that no one can number."
  • They may seem insignificant -- but God has made them "a kingdom and priests."
  •  And while the caesars of this world may call themselves "lord," the Book of Revelation shows us just who really is "the lord of lords" and "king of kings."
Just like that Valiant, in other words, God's people may not look like much on the outside.
But God knows what's inside.
And it's what's inside that really counts.

*This is from the Revised Brothers Version of scripture -- your mileage may vary.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Adult Sabbath School Lesson (December 22-28): Final Restoration of Unity

You want to make a complaint about . . . Heaven?

Yeah, I'm just not comfortable worshiping with "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language."

You were hoping for a smaller group?

That's part of it -- I mean, you can't blame me for thinking Heaven would be a little more "selective" about who got in . . . 

God's love is a net that pulls in all kinds of fish.

And don't get me wrong -- I'm glad that all kinds of people made it here.


But I'm used to worshipping with people like me -- people with the same background, the same education, the same income, the same taste in music . . . 

The same voting record?

That too -- so you can see why all this came as a shock!

You thought Heaven was just for people like you?

No, no, no, no -- in fact, some of my best friends are . . . 

Don't say it!

Ha! Who knew that Heaven would be politically correct!

Coming back to your complaint -- what do you want?

Nothing much -- just a chance to hang out with my kind of people.

And everyone else would hang it with their kind of people?

Most of the time, yes -- that's pretty much what I expected.

What made you think Heaven would be that way?

That's the way we worshipped back on Earth, after all. Why should Heaven be any different?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (December 15-21): Church Organization and Unity

Think again: church organization

There are a lot of good reasons to rethink the way we've organized our church -- but there are some bad reasons too. Here are a few:

"Our church's denominational structure goes back to horse-and-buggy days."
It would be more accurate to say it goes back to the days of trains and trolley cars -- and outside of rural areas, pastors would have found it just about as easy to get around back then as they do today.

"Modern technology allows us to eliminate local conferences."
We've seen a revolution in finance and communications -- and certainly this ought to make us rethink how we handle tasks such as running payroll or training church officers. But no one has found a way for leaders to develop relationships with more than 120 people or so . . . and that means we'll always need something about the size of a conference to place, evaluate, and mentor both pastors and teachers.

"Union Conferences duplicate the work of local conferences."
A quick look at the NPUC directory indicates roughly a third of its employees work in finance -- and a large share of those are auditors. Another third is made up of evangelists, or specialists in fields such as Information Technology, communications, religious liberty, or ministry to various ethnic groups that would be difficult to handle at the Conference level.

"We need to cut the fat and put more money into front-line workers."
The three largest departments in the Oregon Conference are Education, Treasury, and Trust Services; together, they employ roughly the same number of administrative staff as all the other departments put together. Cutting jobs in Education, Treasury and Trust Services is possible, I suppose, but not easy at the present time. As for the rest . . . let's be honest: most deal with ministries that get little attention (not least because their local leadership is often provided by women) . Just because we don't know what 
someone is doing, in other words, doesn't necessarily mean their work is un-necessary.

"Our church's organizational structure hasn't changed in a hundred years."
As Jeff Crocombe and others have pointed out, the Adventist church did not really have much in the way of local church pastors until the late-1940s. Evangelists, yes. Pastors, no. The creation of an Adventist pastorate, in other words, has been one of the biggest changes and one of the biggest forces for change in our church's structure -- and this despite the lack of notice it has received.
"Top-down leadership is a major threat to our church."
There's a clear chain-of-command for our schools -- and as such, they are certainly vulnerable to pressure from leadership. Our denomination began hiring pastors, however, without ever really deciding just who is in charge of them. That's one reason why there's so little oversight of what they do; that's also why it's difficult to make pastors do anything they don't want to do. (You can always move or fire them, of course -- but when the Conference does this, it's usually responding to someone in the local church who is not happy.)
-- adapted from 01/04/2009

Monday, December 10, 2018

Adult Bible Study Guide (December 8-14): Unity in Worship


Busy, hardworking, a strong believer in "practical godliness."
Favorite part of church: workbees
Worst thing they can say about a church: "They just talk -- they never do anything."

Sociable, gregarious, desire nothing more than to love and be loved 
Favorite part of church: potlucks
Worst thing they can say about a church: "Those people are so cold and unfriendly!"

Innovative, creative, always looking for new ways to serve God and His people 
Favorite part of church: Praise Teams, Dialogue SermonsPuppets, Improv Comedy . . . let me get back to you on that.
Worst thing they can say about a church: "It's always the same, old thing."

Thoughtful, studious, wants to be informed and "spiritually fed."
Favorite part of church: the Sabbath School lesson, and the sermon. (Owls often refers to the rest of the worship service as "the preliminaries.")
Worst thing they can say about a church: "I didn't get anything out of it."

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Adult Bible Study Guide (December 1-7): Unity and Broken Relationships

I'm so glad I found this church -- the people here are so friendly . . . 

Not like the last church I attended. No, the people in that church were nothing but a bunch of stuck-up snobs; they were only there for the music . . . 

And yes, the music was nice -- much better than the junk they played at my old church. I mean, you wouldn't believe the fights we used to have in choir . . . 

Yes, I was in the choir of that church -- none of the others. But things got so bad, like I said, that . . . 

Other churches? Well, there's this one, of course, and the other two I've mentioned. 

Then there was the one with the pastor whose sermons went too long . . . 

And the one that didn't have anything for serious Bible students; no, it was nothing but a social group . . . 

And the one that talked about nothing but money -- I guess they had some kind of building-campaign going on . . . 

And the church where one family ran everything . . . 

But I'm glad all that's behind me!

Yes, I'm so glad I've finally found the perfect church!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Adult Bible Study Guide (November 24-30): the Most Convincing Proof

It all began with the piano.

"The New Testament doesn't say anything about musical instruments," pointed out some church members at a Business Meeting. "So why do we use them in worship?"

Someone pointed out the New Testament doesn't say anything about PA systems either . . . 

So we ended up getting rid of both the piano and the PA system.

It seemed like a small price to pay for church unity.

And yes, that's when we also stopped using hymnals, bulletins, and PowerPoint; that's also when we banned neckties, watches, and ballpoint pens.

But getting rid of the pews? That came later -- only after someone noticed that nobody in the Bible ever sat in God's presence. (We did end up making an exception for wheelchairs, however; it's not like we're fanatics).

In short, we've done everything we could to avoid controversy -- yes, we've given in to anyone who kicks up a fuss.

And if that's not church unity, then what is?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Adult Bible Study Guide (November 17-23): Unity in Faith

FROM: Special Commission on Doctrines and Practices
TO: Interim Church Advisory Group
RE: Pauline Statement of Belief 
As you know, Paul's been using the following Seven Statement for believers in Ephesus:
One body.
One Spirit.
One hope.
One Lord.
One faith.
One baptism.
One God and Father of us all.
While it is not objectionable per se, I wonder if this is yet another attempt of Paul's to minimize the difference between Gentile and Heritage believers. Thoughts?

FROM: Interim Church Advisory Group
TO: Special Commission on Doctrines and Practices
RE: Pauline Statement of Beliefs (Amended)
Good catch! As you said, there is nothing objectionable about this per se -- but given recent events in the church, it would be wise to add another three statements:
One Bible.
One Law.
One Way of Life for all His people.

FROM: Special Commission on Doctrines and Practices
TO: Interim Church Advisory Group
RE: Pauline Statement of Beliefs (Revised Amendments)
I like where you're going with this -- but given the special needs of our new believers, I'm wondering if we need to spell out the implications of these beliefs. For instance:
 One body (of believers whose Doctrines and Practices are in agreement).
 One Spirit (whose leading will confirm -- not contradict -- established truth and practice).
 One hope (of resurrection from the dead -- not immortality of the soul).
 One Lord (who return is yet future, but we have good reason to believe it will be soon).
One faith (which shall be defined as that Body of Beliefs that have been accepted by the Church in Council).
One baptism (by immersion of believers whose membership has been accepted by a vote of the local church.)
One God and Father of us all.One Bible (which does not include the Books of the Apocrypha you'll find in the Septuagint).
One Law (which was given by Moses).
One Way of Life for all His people (as decided by the Church in Council).

FROM: Interim Church Advisory Group
TO: Special Commission on Doctrines and Practices
RE: Additional Statement of Belief?
Better and better -- but I'm wondering if we need to say something about prayer?

FROM: Special Commission on Doctrines and Practices
TO: Interim Church Advisory Group
RE: More Additional Statements of Belief
Prayer would be good -- but add something about Creation, and that gives us twelve. 

FROM: Special Commission on Doctrines and Practices
TO: Interim Church Advisory Group
RE: More Additional Statements of Belief
You should be getting something from us soon with regard to prayer and Creation; we're also working on some statements about Family Life, and Christian Stewardship. (That brings us up to fourteen, which is twice as good as seven!)

FROM: Interim Church Advisory Group
TO: Special Commission on Doctrines and Practices
RE: Even More Additional Statements of Belief?
Looking forward to your statements -- and yes, I'd agree that Fourteen Statements of Belief is good, but I've got some ideas for another seven . . . 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Adult Bible Study Guide (November 10-16): When Conflicts Arise23-41


1. Cast lots (Acts 1:23-26).
2. Confront them -- and watch Lord strikes them dead (Acts 5:1-11).
3. Complain until things change (Acts 6:1-7).
4. Tell them what you saw God do (Acts 11:1-18).
5. Call a church council to decide (Acts 15:1-35).
6. Go your own separate way (Acts 15:36-41).
7. Let the government sort it out (Acts 18:12-17; 19:23-41).
8. Make a show of loyalty to your critics (Acts 21:17-26).
9. Confront someone "to their face" in church (Galatians 2:11-16).
10. Write letters -- lots and lots of letters (cf. the New Testament).

Monday, November 05, 2018

Adult Bible Study Guide (November 3-9): Images of Unity

FROM: Jerusalem Church, Editorial Advisory Board,
TO: the Apostle Paul
RE: your recent manuscript submission

Again, we are sorry that the first manuscript you submitted has apparently been lost in the mail; we feel that your second manuscript, however, can stand on its own -- so much so, that we have given it the working title of "Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth."

As for the manuscript itself . . . while we certainly appreciate your "vigorous" approach to the situation in Corinth, we are concerned by your repeated statements that believers there are "the Temple of the Holy Spirit," and "the Body of Christ." Surely this cannot be true -- not in light of the numerous and flagrant sins that you describe. Either they are sinners or saints, in other words, but not both.

Then too, we are puzzled by your belief that some kind of "mutual love" is the best way to deal with the issues there in Corinth. At best, this is naive; at worst, it risks compromise. Either way, we believe it sets the wrong kind of precedent for dealing with problems in the church.

Given our concerns, you can understand why we are returning your manuscript at this time. If you write anything in the future, however, please don't hesitate to let us know.

(By the way -- angels are popular just now; could you send us something about angels ASAP?)

Friday, November 02, 2018

Adult Bible Study Guide (October 27 - November 2): the Experience of Unity in the Early Church

FROM: Jerusalem Church Advisory Group (JCAG)
TO: the Apostle Paul
RE: Church Unity

It has come to our attention that you have consistently ignored our church's historic policy with regard to to baptizing Gentiles. What is more, you have continued to do this in spite of the threat it poses to the unity of our church.

And yes, we are aware of your reports that the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives. Even if this is true, however, you fail to realize the difficulties this may cause in our older and more established churches -- churches that are still dealing with the organizational changes required by the baptism of Greek-speaking Jews!

And yes, we have always supported a mission to the Gentiles, even if it is not your mission to the Gentiles. But mission must not come at the expense of unity; that is why we are asking you to stop baptizing Gentiles immediately.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Adult Sabbath School Lesson (October 20-26): the Key to Unity

I think we can all agree that Paul's argument in Ephesians in just plain wrong.


I mean, all this stuff about God giving each of us something that the whole church needs . . .


Obviously wrong.

And if you don't think it's wrong, then take a look at your local church.

Most churches, after all, only need a few key people who do a few, important things: Yes, you need:
  • Someone to play the piano.
  • Someone to keep the books.
  • A couple of big donors.
  • A couple of people to run the children's Sabbath School divisions.
  • And someone to preach -- someone who is married, male, and preferably in their mid-30s or so.
That's it!
Everyone else is superfluous . . . 
And to be honest, we've made it pretty clear that everyone else should just sit down, shut up, and let us run the church.
So don't give me this stuff about "God gives everyone a gift that the whole church needs."
No, not until you can show me a church that needs everyone.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (October 13-19): That They All May Be One

Read John 17
  • List the specific things for which Jesus prays. How much of Christ's prayer has already been answered? How much has yet to be answered?
  • As N. T. Wright suggests, try reading this prayer as though it were your own (substituting "Jesus" for "I" etc.). How much of this prayer has already been answered in your life? How much has yet to be answered?
  • "Unity is the result of love -- and lack of unity comes from a lack of love." Agree or disagree?

Monday, October 08, 2018

Adult Sabbath School Lesson (October 6-12): Causes of Disunity

TO: Rehoboam
FROM: Transition Advisory Group
RE: Proposed Tax-relief

With all due respect, we disagree with the Senior Advisory Group's advocacy of tax-relief -- indeed, we feel the opposite policy should be followed, i.e. taxes should be increased for these reasons:

1) The request came from the ten northern tribes -- a fractious group that has repeatedly caused trouble for your grandfather. Agree to their demands, and you strengthen those who would oppose you anyway.

2) The opposition is led by Jeroboam -- a notorious rebel against your father who survived only because of Egypt's help. Once again, giving in to his demands only strengthens someone who is already against you; stand up to him now, on the other hand, and his support will vanish.

3) Finally, it's worth pointing out that your father's policies made this country both strong and prosperous; you cannot change them without risking the support of everyone who benefitted from these policies.

In short, a strong kingdom needs a strong king -- and for that reason, we urge you to continue the policies that have done so much for us in the past. Let others counsel weakness; we advocate strength.


Thursday, October 04, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (September 29 - October 5): Creation & Fall

FROM: Planet Earth Study Team (PEST)
TO: Free Angel Strategic Working Group (FASWG)
RE: TTESPfPE Project Update

Glorious news! Our continuing efforts to Thwart The Enemy's Stupid Plan for Planet Earth (TTESPfPE) have moved from strength to strength; as a result, our inevitable success should take place at any time.

To recapitulate:
  • The Enemy's plans to put perfect people in a perfect place: THWARTED (see Project Snake).
  • The Enemy's plans to care for imperfect people in an imperfect place: THWARTED (see Project Cain).
  • The Enemy's plans to hit "reset" and start again: THWARTED (see Project Vineyard).
As a result, The Enemy has resorted to what is obviously a last-ditch (and inevitably doomed) attempt to recruit an elderly nomad and (I quote) "make him a blessing."

Pathetic, right?

Onward to Victory!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (September 15-21): Confinement in Caesarea


As we all know, you should always do the right thing, even if it gets you in trouble.

Just kidding.

Fortunately, the Bible gives many examples of civil servants who successfully struggled with sensitive situations - just like you!

Put yourself in the place of the Roman officials who are dealing with Paul, for instance. Paul is in custody, remember, because of a riot - a riot for which he is not responsible.
  • Since Paul has done nothing wrong, you should set him free.
  • And since Paul is a Roman citizen, you will get in trouble if you don't set him free.
  • But Paul's enemies are both rich and powerful - just the kind of people, in other words, you don't want to annoy by setting Paul free.
Sounds like an no-win situation, right?
But no situation is hopeless - not in you remember three simple strategies for success:

Strategy #1: Blame the Victim
Paul had been accused of bringing Gentiles into the Temple - an accusation, ironically enough, that did bring Gentiles into the Temple, i.e. the Roman soldiers who rescued Paul! Obviously, you need to find out just who started those rumors, and bring those people to justice.
Again, just kidding.
Instead, you'll notice how each official assumes that, since Paul has a problem, then Paul must be the problem. He must have done something wrong, in other words - otherwise, Paul wouldn't be in trouble! 
Fortunately, it's easy to do this. That's because it's easy to resent people with intractable problems - to resent the student who always flunks a test, for instance, or the patient who never seems to get better. 
So don't fight that resentment.
Instead, you need to use that resentment: use it convince yourself (and others!) that IT'S ALL THEIR FAULT. 
And while you're doing this, don't forget:

Strategy #2: Stall
This may sound simple, but you need to be careful; nothing kills a career faster than a reputation for dithering and delay.
That's why Felix doesn't just postpone his decision - no, he announces that he will decide Paul's case . . .

Just as soon as Lysias shows up.

I mean, you can't expect Felix to make this kind of decision without all the facts . . . and it's obviously not his fault that Lysias isn't there to make sure Felix has all the facts . . . and you can't blame Felix for the fact that Lysias never did show up - not when it was convenient to discuss Paul's case, at any rate!

In short, this delay is the fault of somebody else.

Not Felix!

Go and do likewise . . .

And while you're waiting, don't forget:

Strategy #3: Pass the Buck

At first glance, it may seem as though each official passes the buck in a very different way.
  • Lysias does so physically when he moves Paul to Caesarea.
  • Felix does so chronologically when he leaves Paul's case for the next governor. 
  • And Festus passes the buck to King Herod by asking for a favor. "You're the expert when it comes to religion," he says in effect. "What do you think I should do?"
In each case, however, the buck-passer makes it almost impossible to have the buck passed back to him. 
  • Felix will not send Paul back to Lysias, after all - not without looking like a coward.
  • Festus cannot make Felix decide this case; he's already gone! 
  • As for Herod . . . well, who's going to turn down a chance to show how smart they are?
When it comes to problems, in other words, you need to give them away in a way that makes them stay away . . . 
Just like they did in the Bible!

Discussion questions:
1. What kind of victims are the easiest to blame? When is it dangerous to blame them?
2. Why is it useful to delay decisions? What are some of the ways you can do this?
3. When is best to "pass the buck" up the ladder (i.e. to someone more important), and when is it best to "pass the buck" down the ladder (i.e. to someone less important)? 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (September 8-14): Arrest in Jerusalem


Tell Luke I love what he's done with this story -- some sly humor at the Roman commander's expense, and a boffo finish with Paul riding off into the night.

But it needs more miracles.

And yes, the visions add just the foreshadowing this story needs -- but I can't help but notice they are the only signs of supernatural power in these chapters. No earthquakes. No angels. Nothing in the way of deus ex machina except that Roman commander, muddling through as best he can.

Oh yes -- and the nephew. Nice touch with the nephew . . . but with 40+ people involved in that plot against Paul, it was only a matter of time before word got out.

So . . . tell Luke to dig around, and see what he can find in the way of sign and wonders. Surely God must have done something spectacular while all this was going on?

One more thing: tell Luke to leave out that part about James. This is not the time to be criticizing our leaders.



Monday, September 03, 2018

Adult Sabbath School lesson (September 1-7): the Third Missionary Journey

Once again, Paul has muddied the line between God's people and those who know nothing of Him.

If there's one thing history has taught us, after all, it's the clear distinction between Us and Them - between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

Clearly, nothing is more important than maintaining that distinction

But in Ephesus, we see that "wall of separation" has been torn down.

And yes, it's bad enough when Paul and his followers point out the weaknesses of saints - saints such as Apollos and the un-named disciples of Acts 19:1-7 . . .

But is it really necessary to point out that Paul was saved by sinners?

The Asiarchs who beg Paul to stay away from the rioting crowd, for instance - the Asiarchs who are said to be Paul's friends?

Idol-worshippers - every one of them.

As for the clerk who dismisses the crowd?

Read his speech, and you'll see that he's obviously a follower of Artemis.

In short, Paul's stay in Ephesus suggests that Saints may need to be corrected - and that Sinners may be used by God.

Obviously, this is wrong.

And even if it's not wrong, it's still unhelpful.

Monday, August 27, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 23-31): the Second Missionary Journey cir

We never should have allowed Gentiles into the church.

And if you need proof, then look at Paul's second mission trip.

No sooner does he get back from Jerusalem, after all, then what happens?

He gets into a fight with Barnabas.

So he grabs Silas, goes through Syria and Cilicia, and does what?

He circumcises Timothy. (Talk about hypocrisy!)

On to Philippi, where Paul is thrown in jail.

On to Thessalonica, where there's a riot.

On to Berea, where he leaves just before a riot breaks out.

And in Athens, he's brought before the town council on the same charges that got Socrates killed!


Kicked out of the synagogue, then brought before the proconsul on charges.

In short, Paul and his message have brought nothing but chaos, confusion, and trouble. He has been rejected by every synagogue he tried to reach - and by most of the Gentiles too!

It's time we admit, in other words, that Paul is wrong. That the Jerusalem Council made a mistake. And that this reckless experiment in so-called "outreach" to the Gentiles must finally come to an end.

No, Paul's second mission-trip is proof - proof that Paul's "gospel" is not enough.

Not if it gives us the kind of results it did.

Monday, August 20, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 18-24): the Jerusalem Council

What part of "everlasting" don't you understand?

"You are to undergo circumcision," said God.

"It will be the sign of the covenant between you and me," said God.

"My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant," said God - and then he added these words: "Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."




Sounds pretty clear to me!

To be sure, this is not the first time we've faced this challenge. Two hundred years ago, remember, Antiochus Epiphanes tried to ban circumcision - in fact, he made it punishable by death!

And in truth, some believers gave in to his threats - gave in, and urged other believers to do the same!

But others stood against this threat - stood against it and won!

So now we face a the exact, same threat - the same threat as that posed by Antiochus Epiphanes.

If he wins, then we lose; it's that simple.

That is why we must defeat Paul in Jerusalem.

Yes, that is why we must make sure that any Gentile who follows Jesus takes part in the "everlasting covenant" of circumcision.

Monday, August 13, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 11-17): Paul's First Missionary Journey

You need to understand: I didn't sign up for this.

My cousin was going to Cyprus, remember - the place he grew up.

He was going to teach and preach to Jewish people in their synagogues - to familiar people in familiar settings.

What's more, he would be in charge - it was Barnabas and Saul, remember, not Saul and Barnabas.

Yes, I signed up for something that was well within my comfort zone!

But everything changed after that run-in with Elymas the sorcerer.

And yes, I'm glad that impressed the governor - impressed him enough to become a believer.

But he is a Gentile.

And he's wants us to visit his people in Pisidian Antioch.

And I can't help but notice that nobody talks about Barnabas and Saul, anymore - no, now it's Saul and Barnabas!

In short, this trip is going in a new direction - a new direction with a new leader.

So I'm sure you can understand why I'm going home.

I mean, I did everything I said I would do.

What more could God want?

Thursday, August 09, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (August 4-10): the Ministry of Peter

I'm not saying, "I told you so" . . . 

But it all started on the Day of Pentecost: the day when Peter preached to those Hellenists - to those Greek-speaking Jews.

I mean, who demanded change in the way we took care of the poor?

They did - and Peter supported them!

Who reached out to the Samaritans?

One of them - and again, Peter supported him!

And yes, I tried to say something when the very same Hellenist who'd reached out to the Samaritans went and baptized that Ethiopian . . . 

"But what's the harm?" people said.

"The Samaritans may not be Jews," they said, "but at least they're circumcised."

"He may not be Jewish," they said about that Ethiopian, "but circumcision isn't an option."

True enough - but now we see where all this was going!

And yes, the same kind of people will make the same kind of excuses for him that they did for all the others. "Cornelius may be a Gentile," they'll say, "but he's a nice Gentile. He may be a Gentile," they'll say, "but he still loves Jesus. And he may be a Gentile," they'll say, "but who are we to judge?"

All of which goes to show just where this kind of compromise will get you.

Yes, you start baptizing Hellenists . . . 

And the next thing you know, you're baptizing Gentiles!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (July 28 - August 3): the Conversion of Paul

You weren't there when it happened.

No, you didn't watch your friends and family getting dragged off to jail.

You didn't stay awake nights, wondering if you should stay-put and risk arrest, or take-off and live in exile.

And you didn't see what they did to Stephen - what he and his friends did to Stephen . . . 

But if you had, then you'd understand.

And sure - now he says that he's a believer . . . now he says that God has forgiven him . . . and now he says that he wants to worship with us?

Well, you can do what you want.

But if you'd gone through what I've gone through, then you'd understand why I could never forgive a man like Saul!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School lesson (July 21-27): the First Church Leaders

It's all politics - nothing but politics.

Church politics.

Mind you, I've nothing against those Hellenists -- those Jews who speak Greek.

No, I'm glad they're following God.

I'm glad that more than 3,000 of them decided to follow Jesus on Pentecost.

And you can't fault them for their enthusiasm. No, they're all eager to share the little they know with their fellow believers . . .

Just so long as those fellow believers speak Greek.

But I can't help but wonder what this sudden influx of "outsiders" will mean for our church.

I mean, there's already talk of changing the way we run things -- talk of giving them some say in who gets help from the church . . .

And the next thing you know, they're going to be teaching, and preaching and stirring up all kinds of trouble!

It's all politics, if you ask me -- the kind of politics that comes from "outsiders" with their foreign ways, and their foreign ideas, and their lack of respect for the way we do things here in Judea.

And no, I've nothing against those Hellenists -- not the ones who joined our church, at any rate.

But why do they keep trying to change things?

If twelve apostles was good enough for Jesus, after all, then what's all this talk of "deacons"?

Monday, July 16, 2018

This week's Adult Sabbath School Lesson (July 14-20): Life in the Early Church

Just as God is One, so should be God's people - One in faith, One in practice, and One in loyalty. 

For that reason, we have watched with concern as various schismatic "movements" have spread among our people; that is why all we ask all believers to carefully consider the following questions as  they seek God's guidance in these troubled times:

1. Does this "movement" place undue emphasis upon controversial beliefs, i.e. the resurrection?

2. Does this "movement" show respect for the established symbols of our faith, i.e. the Temple?

3. Does this "movement" encourage trust in the leaders of God's people, i.e. the priesthood?

4. Does this "movement" lead to undue familiarity (and even compromise) with those who have rejected the truth, i.e. tax-collectors and other sinners?

5. Does this "movement" follow the teachings of someone who has already been judged and found wanting, i.e. Jesus of Nazareth?

Organizations, groups, or individuals that answer in the affirmative to any of these five questions should not expect any kind of endorsement from the Sanhedrin . . . 

Even if they did heal a man born lame.

Monday, July 09, 2018

This week's lesson (July 7-13): Pentecost

Dear Diary:
Pentecost was GREAT! I mean, we had miracles! Crowds! Thousands converted in a single day! I can hardly wait until we do it again tomorrow.

Dear Diary:
Something must have gone wrong - I mean, NOTHING happened. Maybe tomorrow?

Dear Diary:
A lot of those people who joined on Pentecost need help - a LOT of help! Well, what can you expect? Still praying for another Pentecost.

Dear Diary:
They got some Bible-studies going for all those people who joined, and they're talking about some kind of feeding program for those in need. All valuable in its own way, I suppose . . . BUT IT'S JUST NOT THE SAME!

Dear Diary:
Am I the only one around here who sees the need for ANOTHER outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

Dear Diary:
Somebody asked for a donation to the feeding program - I told them this kind of thing attracts the WRONG kind of people. She said the people in her group would pray for me. THE NERVE!

Dear Diary:
One of the new people asked me to join their study group - said I'd find it a blessing. Told them I was too busy praying for ANOTHER Pentecost. They asked what was wrong with the one we'd already had. THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!

Dear Diary:
Almost two weeks have gone by, and still nothing!

Dear Diary:
We began with such high hopes.
What went wrong?

Monday, July 02, 2018

This week's lesson (June 30 - July 6): You Will Be My Witnesses

Overheard in the Upper Room before Pentecost:

. . . "No luck - Joseph says he's not interested in trying for two out of three.". . .

. . . "Samaria? That can't be right! Are you sure He said we're going to Samaria?". . . 

. . . "Given the way he behaved, you'd think Peter would be too embarrassed to show up - much less say anything.". . .

. . . "I know He said we won't know dates or times - but if you look carefully at the time-prophecies of Leviticus, you'll find . . . "

. . . "Okay, maybe He didn't actually mean the literal place we call Samaria; maybe He was using this as some kind of metaphor." . . .

. . . "Are you sure that really happened to Judas? I mean, ewwww!". . .

. . . "I'm not saying we should get rid of them, but I am worried about precedent. If the Holy Spirit falls on everyone here, after all, that means some of the people who receive it will be women.". . .

 . . . "It's so nice we can all be together like this; I wish we could stay here forever!" . . . 

Friday, June 29, 2018

This week's lesson (June 23-29): the Return of Our Lord Jesus

Christ's return is like falling in love:
  • It is the culmination of everything you've ever thought and done . . . 
  • But at the same time, it is a complete and utter surprise.
As such, you are always ready for it . . . 

And you are never ready for it.


Monday, June 18, 2018

This week's lesson (June 16-22): Babylon & Armageddon

The line between good and evil cuts through every human heart." - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956.
Two things you need to know about the Battle of Armageddon:

One: there's no such place - not literally, at any rate.

And two: there's no such battle - again, not literally.

No, "Armageddon" literally means "the Mountain of Megiddo" - and while Megiddo is a real place (and the site of many famous battles), it is not a mountain; it is a plain (which is why it was able to host so many famous battles). The name is a contradiction in terms, in other words - much like "the Alps of Kansas," or "the Great Tillamook Desert."

Which is reason enough not to take it literally.

And while Revelation 16:14-16 speak of "the kings of the whole world" being gathered for battle on "the great day of God Almighty," there's no mention of any such battle actually taking place. No, when God shows up in Revelation 17, the fight is over before it even begins.

Which is reason enough not to try and fight against God.

In short, the Battle of Armageddon is not fought in the Middle East.

Instead, it is a symbol of the ongoing battle inside every human heart.

Which is reason enough to decide which side you're on.

Monday, June 11, 2018

This week's lesson (June 9-15): God's seal or the Beast's mark?

God's seal is a sign of His love and protection . . . 

Until it's not.

Think of Cain, for instance - the man who murders his brother, then whines that someone might go after him for what he's done.

"Not going to happen," said God. "I'm putting my mark on Cain so that everyone knows he's under my protection - and anyone who messes with him gets it back from me times seven."

Well and good - but then one of Cain's descendants by the name of Lamech goes and kills a man . . . 

Then he claims the same protection God gave Cain (only more so).

"I have killed a man for wounding me," he says, "a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech [is avenged] seventy-seven times."

Which is not a nice thing to say.

In fact, the way he turns a sign of God's love into an excuse for vengeance is downright "beastly."

And no, there was nothing wrong with God's gift to Cain; like all of God's gifts, it was a blessing.

But any blessing can be turned into a curse.

And given Lamech's example, I suspect that any "Seal of God" can be turned into a "Mark of the Beast."

Thursday, June 07, 2018

This week's lesson (June 2-8): America & Babylon

This election, I've noticed a number of candidates running on the platform of "strong Christian values."

You know - the kind you read about in Luke 6:
  • Blessed are the poor - but woe to the rich.
  • Blessed are those who hunger - but woe to those who already have their fill.
  • And love your enemies - not just those who love you in return.
At least, I think those are the values they're talking about.
Or maybe they'd prefer the values of a different god . . . 

Like Marduk?

Monday, May 28, 2018

This week's lesson (May 26 - June 1): End-time Deceptions

Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceive you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many." - Matthew 24:4f, NIV
This is prophecy has come true.

Many times.

History is full of people who promised to Make Things Great, after all.
  • Sometimes, they promised a "Thousand-year Reich."
  • Sometimes, they promised a "New World Order."
  • But always, they promised that, under their inspired leadership, Thing Will Finally Go the Way They Should.
What's more, history is full of people who believed them.
Voted for them.
Even fought for them.
Only to discover that God's kingdom had not yet arrived.
And still hasn't.
If there's one thing we can learn from this prophecy, in other words,   it is humility -- humility in the expectations we have of our leaders.
Some of them may be better than others, after all.
But none of them are Jesus.
And yes, that's true of church politics too.

Monday, May 21, 2018

This week's lesson (May 19-25): Worship the Creator

The Bible doesn't spend a lot of time asking why bad things happen to good people.

No, with the clarity that comes from living between two aggressive empires, God's people have always assumed that Bad People are out to get us . . .

And this has led to the question the Bible does ask over and over again: why don't Bad Things happen to Bad People?

Consider the cry of Revelation 6:9-10:
When [the Lamb] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
And so they wait - as we wait - through the rest of the seals . . . and the Spanish Inquisition . . . and the Great Persecution of Revelation 12-13 . . . and the Great War of Africa . . .

And as they wait, the bodies pile up and the question remains: when will God finally do something about the people who cause so much suffering and pain?

The answer comes in Revelation 14:6-12 -- an answer that warns:
  • the time has come for God to deal with injustice,
  • the powers that foster injustice have already been defeated,
  • and if you think it's tough to follow God, then just wait until you see the alternative.
The powers-that-be are doomed, in other words.
The Evil Empires that inspire so much fear are all on the wrong side of history.
And the next time somebody tries to make your life miserable, then remember the Three Angels and their subversive message: the bigger they come . . .
The harder they will fall.
- This commentary on the lesson
 first appeared December 11, 2013.

Monday, May 07, 2018

This week's lesson (May 12-18): Matthew 24 & 25

You may not be going through a "Time of Trouble" just now.

But somebody else might be.

In Matthew 24, remember, Jesus discusses two events: the Fall of Jerusalem (i.e. "these things"), and the Judgment (i.e. "that day").
  • The first took place in AD 70, the second will take place at a time known only to God.
  • The first can be predicted by carefully watching "the signs"; the second cannot -- it will be completely unexpected.
  • The first can be survived only through immediate flight; the second requires us to always be ready, watchful, and prepared.
Having said we need to be ready, Jesus tells us how to do this in Matthew 25.
  • In the Parable of the Talents, he tells us to use the gifts God gave us.
  • And in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, he tells us to use these gifts for the good of others.
In short, these chapters are a kind of User's Guide to the Apocalypse. They do so by telling us how to make it through tough times in the future . . . 

And they do so by reminding us to help others through their tough times today. 

As Ellen White said in The Ministry of Healing: "The faithful discharge of today's duties is the best preparation for tomorrow's trials."

Go, and do likewise.

-- adapted from my February 20, 2008 
commentary on the Sabbath School lesson 

This week's lesson (May 5-11): the "change" of the Law

Every church is an experiment.

No sooner did we start baptizing Gentiles, after all, then we started arguing about the extent to which they should be Jewish.
  • The Ebionites said they should be totally Jewish -- and yes, that included circumcision.
  • The Gnostics (some of them) said they should ignore Judaism -- and yes, that even included its laws against adultery.
  • And the rest of us stammered, and stuttered, and muttered that Gentiles could learn a lot from the Jews -- I mean, it was clear to one and all that nine of the Ten Commandments were still in force . . . 
Though some said the Fourth Commandment was an Eternal Principle that should be kept . . .

While others said was a Cultural Artifact that should be ignored . . .

And still others said it was a Cultural Artifact pointing to an Eternal Principle -- and so long as we remember that Eternal Principle, then we are free to keep or ignore the Sabbath as we see fit!

In short, Christians have disagreed on the Sabbath -- just as they have disagreed on polygamy, the role of women, same-sex marriage, and a host of other issues.

And in each case, the same texts that one side views as Eternal Principles that must be kept are dismissed by the other as Cultural Artifacts that no longer apply.

All of which is another way of saying that hundreds of different churches deal with God's law in hundreds of different ways . . . and that's why:
  • If you want to know what happens when a church decides that marriage is an eternal contract that cannot be broken, then you don't need to guess. No, all you need to do is look around.
  • If you want to know what happens when a church decides that marriage is a Cultural Artifact that can be discarded, then you don't need to guess. No, all you need to do is look around.
  • And if you think that some of the Bible's laws are absolutely ridiculous because nobody in their right mind would even think of doing something like that . . . then look around, and you'll find a church that didn't just allow it, but turned it into ritual.
No, you can learn about theology, just by watching what happens when that theology is turned into practice.
That's why every church is an experiment.
That's why you can learn from other church's experiments.
And that's why you may want to ask . . . 
Just what are they learning from your church's experiment?
-- this first appeared on May 20, 2014.

Monday, April 30, 2018

This week's lesson (April 28 - May 4): Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary

Back in the day, you needed three things to meet with God:
  • You needed a special place (i.e. a temple).
  • You needed a special gift (i.e. a sacrifice).
  • And you needed a special person to act as go-between (i.e. a priest).
And yes, you still need them all -- but in Christ, we have all three. 
  • Yes, Jesus is our temple ((John 2:15-21).
  • Jesus is our priest (Hebrews 8:1-6).
  • And Jesus is our sacrifice (Romans 3:25).
You don't need anything (or anyone) else to meet with God, in other words.

No, Jesus does everything we need.

That's because Jesus is everything we need.

Monday, April 09, 2018

This week's lesson (April 21-27): Salvation and the End Time

Can you know that you are married?


Should you take it for granted?


Now replace the word "married" with "saved."


This week's lesson (April 14-20): Jesus and the Book of Revelation

Don't worry about the Time of Trouble -- not the one in Revelation 12-14, at any rate.

Before it begins, remember, God has sealed His people -- all 144,000 of them . . . 

And no, what follows next isn't pretty: the Devil goes after those people with everything he's got. Like an unholy Marine Corps, he attacks the 144,000 by air, land, and sea.

And when he's done.

God has not lost a single one of His people; no, He's still got all 144,000. 

In short, God's people have nothing to fear -- not even in the worst of all worse-case scenarios.

And if you really don't need to worry about the Time of Trouble . . .

Then why should you worry about anything else?

This week's lesson (April 7-13): Daniel and the End Time

The Book of Daniel does not have a beanstalk.

But it's definitely a story about giant-killers.

Just like Jack in the fairy-tales, after all, Daniel is up against some pretty big bad-guys.

And just like the giants in those fairy-tales, Daniel's enemies are stupid, cruel, violent, and capricious.

In fact, they're downright beastly.

And no, I won't give away the ending -- you need to read it for yourself.

But the next time you're up against giants, you may want to take a tip from Daniel: "The bigger they are," he'd tell you, "the harder they fall . . . "

The same as that giant on Jack's bean-stalk.