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 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?

Yes.

Should you take it for granted?

No.

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

Discuss.

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.

Monday, April 02, 2018

This week's lesson (March 31 - April 6): the Cosmic Controversy

On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components. -- Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
"And there was war in Heaven" -- a war that pitted God against Satan, Good against Evil, the Forces of Light against the Forces of Darkness" . . . 

In Heaven, yes.

Here on earth?

It's a little more complicated.

And it's not that good and evil don't exist . . . that we can't choose between them . . . and that our choices don't make a difference.

No, all of these things are true.

But not every disagreement is the Battle of Armageddon -- in fact, there's usually a little bit of good, even in the worst of Them . . . and a little bit of bad, even in the best of Us.

And again, this doesn't mean our choices don't make a difference.

But when we choose, let us do so with humility.

When we disagree, let us do so with kindness.

And if we must fight, then let us do so with the knowledge that God loves Them just as much as He loves Us.

There may be a war in Heaven, after all.

But that doesn't mean we're always fighting it here on Earth.

Monday, March 26, 2018

This week's lesson (March 24-30): the Results of Stewardship

Read the Book of Ruth

1. Describe each character's approach to stewardship -- what is important to each of them, and how does this affect how they deal with risk?
   *Naomi
   *Orpah
   *Ruth
   *Boaz
   *Ruth's next of kin

2. Which of these characters do you resemble -- and why?

3. What is the result of each character's approach to stewardship?
   *Naomi
   *Orpah
   *Ruth
   *Boaz
   *Ruth's next of kin

4. What do you learn about stewardship from this story?


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

This week's lesson (March 17-23): the Habits of a Steward

Read 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, and 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15.
1.  What does Paul ask believers to do in these verses? What habits does he think are important in donors? 
2. What does Paul say he will do in these verses? What habits does he think are important in those who receive donations? 
3.  Based on these verses, what changes should you make in your giving? In your expectations of those to whom you give?