Wednesday, March 25, 2015

“Two Dolls”

A Compassionate Theology: Creation


This conversation, or one very similar, took place between my daughter and I when she was in year 5 at a public primary school. I truly cherish Rachael and her beautiful heart.

Daughter: “Today, my teacher was telling us about how it took billions of years for the world to be made. Why doesn’t she believe in God? How can she believe in Evolution? Can’t she see that God made the World?”

Dad: “There are many people who believe in God and Evolution.”

Daughter: “But God made the world in six days!”

Dad: “Why do you say that?”

Daughter: “Because that’s what the Bible says.”

Dad: “Actually, there are two stories in the Bible about Creation. Things are created in different orders in the two stories. And, one story mentions days while the other story doesn’t. The two stories are back-to-back in Genesis 1 and 2.”

Daughter: “How can they both be in the Bible if they are different?”

Dad: “Good question! What do you think?”

Daughter: “Because one is right and the other is wrong?”

Dad: “Hmmmm. What if they are both right?”

Daughter: “What? How can they both be right?”

Dad: “Maybe the Bible presents two Creation stories so we can choose the one that speaks to us most clearly?”

Daughter: “I guess. But what does that have to do with Evolution?”

Dad: “Let me ask you a question.”

Daughter: “OK.”

Dad: “Pretend your birthday was today and you got a present from Mum – a beautiful hand-crafted doll. You say thanks and hug the doll. You ask Mum where she got the doll and Mum explains how she searched everywhere yesterday at the shops to find just the right gift and when she saw it, she knew it was for you! How do you feel about the gift?”

Daughter: “Amazing! I would love it!”

Dad: “Now let me change the story. You unwrap the present and it’s the same hand-crafted doll. You thank your Mum and hug the doll. You ask where she got the doll and she laughs and tells you she spent months making it, each night after you went to bed. Which doll would you like more?”

Daughter: “The second one!”

Dad: “But, you wouldn’t know the other story.”

Daughter: “Oh, I guess not. If she bought it at the store, I wouldn’t think about the doll she made. I guess I would like them the same because I would only know the one story.”

Dad: “Now let’s look at it from your Mum’s perspective. What difference is there in the two stories? Do both stories show that your Mum loves you?”

Daughter: “Yes. Because she got me a beautiful gift.”

Dad: “Which story do you like best?”

Daughter: “The one where Mum makes the doll.”

Dad: “Why?”

Daughter: “Because my mum made it for me and she was thinking about me for all that time!”

Dad: “What do these two doll stories and the two Creation stories have in common?”

Daughter: “I guess that there are different ways to provide gifts for your children.”

Dad: “Good point! Now think about the Christians who believe God took a long time creating the universe for them rather than doing it quickly in six days. How could the beauty of nature be just as meaningful to them as it is to those people who believe in a quick creation?”

Daughter: “Because God took so much time doing it, like the Mum who made the gift slowly rather than buying it quickly.”

Dad: “So, now what do you think about Christians who believe in Evolution?”

Daughter: “I think maybe they love God lots because He was thinking about them for billions of years before He gave them the gift He was making for them!”

Dad: “And what about Christians who believe God made the Earth in six days? Do they love God, too?”

Daughter: “Of course! Because God made the perfect place for them to live!”

Dad: “Which story do you think is true?”

Daughter: “I don’t know. I wasn’t there!”

Dad: “You’re funny.”

Daughter: “Maybe God put two different Creation stories at the beginning of the Bible because He knew about the Evolution story and wanted people to be ready.”

Dad: “Ready for what?”

Daughter: “To love each-other anyway.”

Dad: “That’s a good thought. I think you are right!”

Daughter: “Hey Dad, I just had a weird thought. Maybe my teacher does believe in God. I thought she didn’t because she teaches Evolution. But, maybe she does!”

Dad: “Well, there’s one way to find out.”

Daughter: “I’m going to ask her tomorrow.”

Dad: “That’s wonderful.”

Daughter: “But first, I’m gonna tell her the story of the two dolls.”

Dad: “Good idea! You’re a great storyteller, just like Jesus.”

Daughter: “Thanks, Dad!”

video

Friday, March 13, 2015

Moving on in the Spirit

Today we had our regional chaplaincy gathering. Sharing a meal and training with fellow chaplains is inspiring. I was asked to lead in a 20 minute worship time. As I was planning my worship, I realised what a long time it has been since I’ve been asked to lead a worship among fellow ministers. And then I realised a reality that I have been struggling to admit.

My ministry has moved house. My colleagues are a new group of ministers – school chaplains. We have our local communities, our ministry plans and strategies and our hearts deeply embedded in Christ. Today, breaking bread with them, praying with them, telling God’s stories to them… I realised it is time to accept reality.

In January of 2014, due to a indiscretion for which I take complete responsibility, my ordination as a Seventh-day Adventist minister was withdrawn, my role as an Adventist pastor was cancelled (I was fired) and my involvement as a church member was censured. For all of 2014, I was not allowed to participate in any form of leadership in any Adventist church – sermon, Sabbath school lesson, singing with a mic, or Children’s story. I apologised to the local conference president part way through the year because a Sabbath school teacher asked me to close in prayer. (I couldn’t figure out a polite way to say no!)

After the year finished, I asked for the Conference leadership’s will for my future church involvement. They responded that I can now be an active member but I may not preach from behind the pulpit in a Seventh-day Adventist church for the next 5 to 7 years. When probed, it was agreed that I can take Sabbath school lessons, children’s stories, sing with a mic, and lead in prayer. But not from behind the pulpit between 11 and 12 on Saturday mornings.  This decision, it was explained to me, is the will of the Victoria Conference leadership and Australian Union leadership. This stipulation was revealed to me in December 2014 - at the end of my time of censure.

I’ve now had nearly 3 months of being an almost active Adventist. I’ve lead one Sabbath school class (which was great fun!), sang with a mic a couple of times and have the children’s story tomorrow. I’m happy because I am with my family at church. I have so much fun worshiping with my wife and kids!

I also got back into my old habit of writing a Sabbath school study guide for group leaders to use in generating an active discussion. But, I've come to realise, this pseudo-pastoring is an exercise in false hope. Who am I to be telling Adventists what to talk about?

When I want to use my gift of preaching, I must go elsewhere. And that’s my primary gift. So, I preach in various churches on the occasional Sunday. It hurts to have my spiritual giftedness refused by the church I grew up in, got married in, brought my children up in and love ministering in. But I’m not supposed to, now. I accept, this is a response to a reality that I have brought on with my own actions. I know this. I do find it desperately sad that the Adventist church has no clearly stated restorative process for fallen ministers. 

Spiritually, I am closer to the heart of Jesus than I have ever been. Being thrown at His feet was a humbling and healing experience. I understand, like never before, Paul’s comment “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” It’s not about how much sin you’ve experienced but about how much grace you’ve needed and received. Only the shattered recognise the excruciating joy of being made whole.

So, I’ll still be at church on Sabbath. For family. For friends. For God.

But, I need to stop thinking like an Adventist pastor. Leading the Adventists is no longer my vocation or calling. Time to move on. So, I have a wonderful new prime directive: I will only be doing what the Holy Spirit leads me to do. And it looks like He’s got plans for me in chaplaincy and the many churches that support state school chaplaincy. No more Sabbath School Starters and no more hoping for church leadership to reconcile with me. My ministry, from now on, will be based on the Holy Spirit’s prompting rather than a sense of duty or pride.

Check my blog now and then. I’ll still be writing when inspired to do so.

Keep changing the World!

Dave


Friday, February 27, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1L9

The Godly Mind, Heart and Mouth
reflections on Words of Truth - Lesson 9, Quarter 1, 2015

The Godly Mind
Memory Text: I have written thirty sayings for you, filled with advice and knowledge. In this way, you may know the truth and take an accurate report to those who sent you. (Proverbs 22:20-21, NLT).

What does this text tell us about the person receiving Solomon’s 30 sayings?
How does Solomon ask for his 30 sayings to be used?
How might this strategy of Solomon, who received ambassadors from across the known world, have served to increase his reputation while also spreading the Wisdom of God?
Solomon’s collection of Wisdom sayings is in the Holy Bible, the most widely sold (and hopefully read) book in the world. How far do you think Solomon’s words reached during his lifetime?

What do you think of the idea (presented in Saturday’s lesson) that some of the ideas in Solomon’s wisdom were imported from Egyptian wisdom and altered to fit the Hebrew perspective? How does the memory text shed light on this?
With the understanding that humanity is created in the image of God, what does a discovery and implementation of ‘foreign wisdom’ suggest about the character of God?
What needs might it suggest in our personal and corporate (Church) character?
Does 2 Timothy 3:16 decrease or increase the possibility that God’s wisdom is present in human wisdom traditions around the world? Why?

The Godly Heart
Put these four words in the order that works best for you. Discuss why you put them in that order.  Belief      Desire      Hope     Faith

How do you feel about the following statement from Monday’s lesson?
“Faith in God and in His promises of judgment help give us some peace of mind regarding all the injustice we see in the world now.“
Is this really the hope we should have for those who do not know Jesus?
As followers of Jesus, what is a better “hoped for” outcome for the lost than judgement?
How does our own experience of repentance and forgiveness make a difference in our desired outcome for the lost?

The Godly Mouth
Compare Proverbs 23:1-8 with Mark 7:14-23
How are they related?
How is the hospitality of the proverb’s ruler or stingy man likely to lead to the evils listed in Mark 7:21-23?
If we are to take the words of Jesus seriously, what might the advice in Proverbs 23:1- 8 be teaching rather than the control of our (food) appetites?
What should we do or say when we see someone caught in the vices mentioned in Mark 7:21-23?
Consider Ezekiel 33:8 and Proverbs 24:11-12 before answering.

Conclusion
How does the gift of God for us, in the death of His Son Jesus, make possible the formation of a Godly mind, heart and mouth in us?
How does the gift of God to us, in the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, make possible the maturing of a Godly mind, heart and mouth in us?


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jesus Sandals

Walking Like Jesus
Walking around school each day, I look for little ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Last year, when I was new at school, one of the students commented that they liked my sandals.
"Thanks," I said. "They're my Jesus Sandals."
"Jesus sandals?" He said.
"Yeah, Jesus told his followers to walk like Him. He wore sandals. So, I assumed he wants me to wear sandals, too. Makes sense, right?"
"Not really."
"Why, what do you think He meant?"
And on the conversation goes.
I've had that conversation at least a dozen times with boys, girls and even teachers. Nobody has any confusion about who's shoes I'm walking in!

72 Pairs Sent Out
Jesus once sent 72 of his sandal-wearing followers to go into towns where He was planning to go in the future. He wanted their visit to prepare the hearts of the people for His arrival. When they arrived in a town, Jesus told them to look for compassionate people to stay with while they visited the town. If they were unable to find anyone willing to invite them to stay, they were to leave the town.
Once they settled in a home, Jesus told them to go into the town, heal the sick, and tell them, "The Kingdom of God is near you now." Near, because they were experiencing the miracle of God's healing. Near, because Jesus would be visiting soon, pouring God's Kingdom into their town.
If they did not find a home to stay in, they were to shake the dust off their sandals as they were leaving town. And they were to say, "Know this--the Kingdom of God is near!" When it happened this way, I wonder if Jesus' followers said these words with anger or in tears. It meant that their sick would not be healed. It meant that this town would not accept Jesus when He came. And perhaps, it meant Jesus would not even attempt to enter their town because so many towns were willing to welcome God's Kingdom as it approached.
Jesus said He came to help the blind be able to see and cause those who thought they saw everything to become blind. These towns were a good example of what He meant. They thought they were doing just fine. They were making perfect sense of the world. Until the Kingdom of God came to town. They rejected Jesus' followers because they refused to see their own sickness.
Towns that recognised their sickness were reassured by receiving miraculous healings. This led to increased faith and desire for the Kingdom of God to come even nearer. And when Jesus came to town, the lame walked, the deaf heard, the blind saw and the dead woke up. In short, the Kingdom of God arrived!

Kingdom Vision
How are we to understand the Kingdom of God being present, effective and powerful in one town and completely invisible and ineffective in a neighbouring town? It is as if there are two realities which are both fully real. People live in the reality they believe in most--the Kingdom of their choosing.
To help explain the concept of God's Kingdom being all around us, and yet unperceived by many, imagine we each have a reality filter through which we view the world. Like a volume knob on a stereo, we each have a slider that adjusts the depth-of-field of our reality filter. The further up the slider is, the more clearly we see the Kingdom of God. The lower the slider, the more earthly and carnal our worldview. The only way it slides up is if God nudges it and we, feeling the nudge, release our hold and allow it to slip into a new vision-field.
There are stories in the Bible that clearly show God changing the depth of field in individual's perception of reality. He adjusts the slider a notch either way, to demonstrate a point, and then takes things back to the way they were. Let's look at an example of each--a time when God turned things down a notch and a time when God turned things up a notch (or three!).
Our example of God turning things down a notch is found in Luke 24:13-35. It is the day of Jesus' resurrection. Two of his followers, believing Jesus to be dead, are walking home from Jerusalem. Jesus joins them on the road and they have a vigorous conversation. He explains everything to them, so much so that their hearts begin to burn within them. And yet, in a seemingly impossible twist, they do not realise that Jesus is Jesus. They think they are just talking to another man walking the same road as them. They didn't recognise Him until He said the blessing for dinner in their house, hours after He joined them on the road. Why didn't they recognise their friend, their mentor, their Messiah? The answer is blindingly obvious. Verse 16 says, "They were kept from recognising him." And Verse 31 says, "Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him." Jesus had pulled their worldview depth-of-field slider back a notch. They saw a man because that's all they were allowed to see. Then, when Jesus slid the knob back they saw Jesus, the King of Heaven--and they jumped for joy!
My favourite example of this worldview slider at work is found in the Old Testament. This time, God cranks the knob to full volume for some and for others takes it back a notch--at the same time!
The story is found in 2 Kings 6:8-23. Elisha, the prophet of God, is telling the army of Isreal every move the enemy army from Aram is about to make. When the enemy king hears of this, he sends his men to capture Elisha, alive, to bring him back and put him to work telling him the future, rather than his enemies. The army of Aram marches by night and surrounds the city of Dothan where Elisha is staying. Early in the morning, Elisha's servant goes outside and sees the massive army surrounding Dothan. In a panic he tells the prophet, to which Elisha says, "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
Can you imagine the look on the servants face? Two of us. Thousands of them. Has the prophet lost his mind?
Realising the problem, Elisha walks to a point where they can see the enemy army and the distant hills beyond. Then he prays, "Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see." On answer, God slides the servant's depth-of-field knob to full. Instantly, the servant sees the rolling hills all around come alight with armies--horses, chariots--of fire. Now he understood the prophet's lack of concern. The army of Aram was surrounded and outsized dramatically.
Then Elisha asks God to make another worldview adjustment--similar to the one Jesus made in the previous example--but this time for more than just one or two people. The prophet asks God to slide the reality knob back a notch for the entire army of Aram. God does and Elisha walks directly to the leader of the army, tells him this is not the right road or the right city and that if they followed him, he will lead them to the man they seek. Spiritually blinded, they could not see the prophet of God for who he was. They saw just another man walking the same road as them. Believing Elisha, they followed him through the army of fiery horses and chariots, down a long road, and into the city of Samaria where the king of Isreal was waiting.
Once the entire army was trapped in the city, Elisha asked God to put their vision back to normal. Suddenly, the army of Aram realises they are trapped and Elisha is standing right in front of them. Elisha then does a worldview altering trick of his own. He tells the king not to harm this army but to feed them and send them home. When the army of Aram returned home and told the king of Aram that they had been trapped, fed and sent home unharmed, the king of Aram stopped attacking Israel. Desert law, even today, states that one who has fed you in your time of need must be fed in return. In effect, a peace treaty was signed for the price of a meal, and two kingdoms stopped their fighting.

72 Pairs Return
When the 72 missionaries returned to Jesus, they had amazing reports to give. They told of the many healings and towns ready for Jesus to come into them. But the most exciting reports came because of something Jesus hadn't told them beforehand.
"Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!"
Jesus didn't seem at all surprised. In fact, he responded that even though demons do flee at His name, that is not what should be exciting. Jesus explains, they should be excited they are each registered as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying, "If you are casting out demons, you're operating by another Kingdom's power. Your actions prove, you are citizens of God's Kingdom. That should make you rejoice!"

Citizenship in the Kingdom of God isn't about where you are going, but where you are from. Your citizenship declares your allegiance, identity and values. Those who walk in Jesus Sandals overthrow the kingdom of this world as they walk through it--because they have been empowered by their King, Jesus, to do works in the power of His name, to the glory of His Father, and for the presence of God's Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. We have been commissioned to heal the sick and to declare, "The Kingdom of Heaven is near!"

Small Miracles
After the year-end break, I returned to school alongside the students. I continued my habit of walking around campus each recess and lunch to have random conversations with students. In the second week, a year 8 girl walked up and said, "Still wearing your Jesus Sandals, I see."
"Oh," I said, looking down at my feet. "They're new. The other ones broke."
"Yeah," she said, raising her eyebrows, "but they're still your Jesus sandals, right?"
I smiled. "Indeed they are! Do you like 'em?"
"Yeah, they're cool."
She had understood, better than I realised, who I really am. My citizenship in God's Kingdom defines any footwear I choose as Jesus shoes.

Once a week, I take bread to school. The bread is leftovers from Baker's Delight. The students make short work of the 100+ rolls during recess. Then I put a display of larger loaves in the staff room for the teachers.
As I finished arranging the bread for the first time this year, I realised all three teachers in the room were new. I said, "This bread is for you guys. I bring free bread once a week. Please cut a slice whenever you want. Or, take a loaf home with you. It's here for you!"
They all nodded and said thank-you. Then, from the far end of the room one of the teachers said, "Where are the fishes?"
"Fishes?" I said.
"Yeah," he said. "You've multiplied the bread. Where are the fishes?"
I smiled and told him the truth. "I'm still in training. Small miracles. He just has me doing bread, for now."
Everyone had a chuckle. This time, just by serving bread, my citizenship was recognised and mentioned by one who inferred greater meaning in my simple gift than I had meant. While I'm still wrapping my head around this Kingdom citizenship idea, others seem to see it easily.

While introducing myself to a class, a student asked why I decided to become a chaplain. I explained to him that I love listening to people and helping them take the next step in being healthy and happy. Later, while walking around at recess, he came up to me and said, "I want your job when I grow up. All you do is listen to people and give them bread!"
I smiled and said, "I want my job, too. I'm changing the world!"

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1 L8

From the Sabbath School section
Icebreaker

Memory Text: Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man? (Proverbs 20:6).

Some of us have known a person willing to stand against the prevailing evil of their day. Does anyone come to mind? Who, in your lifetime and experience does this text bring to mind?
Have you ever learned something from someone’s actions that you couldn’t learn from their words? What was it? How did their actions make the ‘learning difference’?


Introduction

The death of a little monk named Telemachus during Rome’s gladiator games in 404 AD was one of the stones to cause ripples that became waves which washed Roman culture away and replaced it with Medieval Christian culture. You can read Telemachus story on the following link.


Have a close look at the story and you will find two endings. You will also find plenty of material for this week’s lesson. This story can be used to create conversation on nearly all of the topics in this week’s lesson. You might want to print out the above website and take a few copies to class so people can use it in groups.

Tell the story of Telemachus. Then consider the following questions.


Words of Wisdom

Consider the two endings. The usually quoted ending (of all the people leaving in silence due to their disgust of seeing gladiators kill a monk) is from Foxes Book of Martyrs which was written more than a millennium after the story happened. The other ending (of the monk being stoned to death by the crowd because he interrupted their entertainment) was from the writings of Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria (393-457 A.D.) – a contemporary of Telemachus. It is clear that the oldest ending is the most accurate to the facts.

Which ending is more startling to you? Why?

What does the death of a monk at the hands of the populous of Rome tell you about the city?

What does the cancelling (forever!) of Gladiator games, three days later, by Emperor Honorius suggest? What effect do you think it had on the people?

Although Medieval Christianity was vastly different than Christianity today, Emperor Honorius enacted many laws protecting, encouraging and enforcing Christian practices. Christianity was overtaking the pagan culture of Rome. Why? What does this suggest about the wisdom of the scriptures (yet to be canonized) which were part and parcel to the Christian faith?


We are all equal

Read Proverbs 20:12
How did Telemachus demonstrate this text was alive within him?

How might Telemachus’ willingness to interrupt two massive gladiators demonstrate the common ground he felt with them?

While it is usually told that Telemachus’ reason was due to righteous indignation, might he have leaped into the Gladiator’s pit to save them from death? Might he have been treating them the way he would want to be treated if he were in a fight to the death? Saved, by one willing to interrupt and risk rejection.


The test of Life

When I went to work in a secular workplace, I wanted a way to spread the Kingdom of God without cheesy Christian-speak sounding clich├ęs. I spent many hours considering the meaning of God’s Kingdom. What is it? What does it mean for God’s Kingdom to be near? What does it mean to expand the borders of God’s Kingdom? What does it look like to be a Citizen of the Kingdom living in exile?

I toyed around with a few different phrases and finally settled on: “Keep Changing the World!” For the past two years I have signed off every email, to whomever, with that phrase. It has been amazing to see the responses. People love it. It encourages and challenges them at the same time. As followers of Jesus, how does the desire to “Keep changing the World!” reveal a life well lived? What other phrase would you use?

Telemachus died for what he believed in. You can only do that once. How does “living for what you believe in” compare? Is it harder or easier? Why? How does it have the potential to be more powerful?


Waiting for the Lord

This section of the lesson talked about not being quick to judge yourself or others. Wait for the Lord to do the judging. Is this easy? How hard is it to let the Lord handle the matter, in His time? Can you think of a time when you were successful at this? How did it change you?

Sometimes God asks us to act now. When has God asked you, or someone you know, to be like Telemachus and stop evil, injustice or unfair treatment of others? Did you do it? Was it hard? Was it rewarding?


Compassion for the poor

How does compassion for the poor reveal the character of the Christian?
Why do you think Jesus chooses this as His main criteria for judging between followers and fakes?
How did Jesus model this in His time on Earth?

How can we, like Telemachus, be driven by Christian love no matter the cost?


Education

Telemachus yelled, “In the name of Christ stop!” What did he teach in those words?

Then he jumped in the ring and stood between two gladiators. What did he teach in his actions?

It is often said that actions speak louder than words. Do you agree? Why?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1 L7

From the Sabbath School section
What Drives You?

There are two basic moral compasses that drive all of us – guilt and grace. We vacillate between the two and then, based on the way we were discipled by parents or teachers, we settle into one or the other – sometimes very deeply.

Grace driven people live knowing they are worthy of redemption. Love exudes from them. They know and believe that Jesus’ grace is enough for them – otherwise He would have provided something different. His death on the cross restored a right relationship between themselves and God. In daily living, these people are gracious with others and forgiving of their own faults. Because they are assured of their place in the Kingdom of God, they do not worry about their life, what they will eat or drink; or about their body, what they will wear. They rest well because Jesus has done the work for them! Grace is like a ripe piece of fruit handed to them which they eat freely, deeply, often.

Guilt driven people live believing they are unworthy of forgiveness. Law radiates from them. They treat themselves, and often others, harshly and never feel they have done enough, and what they have done isn’t good enough. Jesus’ perfect life makes them feel inadequate. So they work and work. They don’t rest well. Accepting forgiveness is very hard because to be forgiven you must accept defeat. This causes them to struggle to forgive or trust others. They know Jesus’ death on the cross is their salvation, they are just unsure how to accept it.  Grace is like precious stone frozen in the middle of a huge block of ice – they can see it, but they just can’t figure out how to get to it. So they keep chipping away.

Most Guilt driven Christians are that way because they were raised that way – either by legalistic parents or, if they were adults when they became Christians, legalistic Christians who discipled them. Nobody is born believing they are unlovable. That takes years of judgement, belittling and humiliation – first by others, then by ourselves.

Switching moral drivers from guilt to grace is difficult. It takes a shift in worldview and often the only way to change a worldview is to have your world turned upside-down. And that hurts! But, when your world does come crashing down around you and you fall, or are thrown, there in one place worth falling.

At the feet of Jesus (John 8:1-11)
 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Have you witnessed someone who has been caught in sin, dragged into public by religious leaders and thrown down in judgement in front of a congregation of watchers?
How did you respond to that person?
If Jesus was there how would he have responded?
How did you respond to the religious leaders?
If Jesus was there how would he have responded?
How does this story challenge anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus?

When a sinner is thrown at Jesus’ feet, the first thing Jesus does is drive away the accusers. In our lives, when we are caught in sin and shamed publicly, it often feels like we are being driven away. But in Truth, it is Jesus driving our accusers away so He can spend some quiet time with us - and forgive us. There is no better place to fall, or be thrown, than at the feet of Jesus.

As Jesus traced words on the dusty temple steps with his finger the teachers of the Law went away, one by one. The only thing Jesus ever wrote with His own hand drove religious leaders away from Him and saved a sinner from judgment and death. Jesus overwhelms Law with Love—writing His name on our heart and our name on His hand—this is salvation. God's Law produces guilt, God's Love produces grace.

What is Jesus revealing about the character of God?
What kind of people does this story suggest will accept God's grace?
What does this story teach us about those who value the Law more highly than Love?

How does Jesus’ action and answer reveal the difference between guilt and grace?
How do we respond to those caught in sin? Are we more like Jesus, the silent crowd or the teachers of the Law?

John was written later than the other gospels – after the early church was formed and growing. It is often called the Gospel of God’s Love. Perhaps the early church needed a reminder of God’s passion for the lost, blind and broken - and that He expected His people to love who and how He loves.

Biblical scholars tell us, the recounting of the woman caught in adultery was added to John sometime after it was originally written. This story, of a guilty woman thrown at Jesus’ feet, was shared from person to person until an editor of an early manuscript thought readers would benefit from hearing it in the context of John’s telling of the Jesus story. But, it’s not just a story of a guilty woman. It is also the story of judgmental leadership, silent bystanders and God’s grace in the forgiving actions of Jesus.

What need, in the early church, could this story have been addressing?
What purpose, in today’s church, should this story serve?

To explore this story, and it’s meaning in our lives, in more depth see “A Changed Woman” in the 28 Stories Bible study series.


Friday, February 06, 2015

Sabbath School Starter 2015 Q1L6

From the Sabbath School section
Because, Jesus!

Icebreaker 
Have you ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time? If it’s suitable for Sabbath school, tell that story.
What about the right thing? Have you ever had a word or phrase pop into mind right when you needed and witnessed your words make a difference? Tell that story.


Introduction
My 15 year old son Michael has a brain the size of a planet. Well, that’s the way it seems when he starts explaining some astronomical, gastronomical or otherwise complex process. My eyes glaze over and I regress to childhood, raising my hand and imploring, “But, WHY?” This usually leads to more pontification on his part and more glassy-eyed nodding on mine. Finally, when the inevitable last "WHY?” has been reached, Michael has developed a standard answer—an answer to all science questions that are beyond the understanding of poor-old-Dad. He stops talking. Looks at me for a long moment. Takes mercy and says, “Because, Science.”

Today’s discussion stems from the lesson this week about the fool, the wise and the difference between them. In our small groups we are going to explore these two categories that seem to lead to an unending list of proverbs. And, in the end, like my son, we will realise that God has given us a simple, two word, answer that makes sense of it all!

Because, Jesus!


Small Group Discussion
The following three group guides look very similar. But the discussions they will generate will be very unique. I will be breaking the class into three groups and then having them report back after 20 minutes of group time. You could choose to go through each as one group (if your class is small) but it will take a lot more time!

Group 1
Read Proverbs 15:1-9
What two types of people are discussed here?
What things can be seen in their actions that establish which camp they are in?
What makes the difference? What puts them in one group or the other?

Read John 3:1-21
What two types of people are discussed here?
What things can be seen in their actions that establish which camp they are in?
What makes the difference? What puts them in one group or the other?

Compare the two passages. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
Once you’ve finished this discussion, formulate a question which relies on these passages in which the answer is: “Because, Jesus!”

Q:

A: Because, Jesus!



Group 2
Read Proverbs 14:21-31
What two types of people are discussed here?
What things can be seen in their actions that establish which camp they are in?
What makes the difference? What puts them in one group or the other?

Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
What two types of people are discussed here?
What things can be seen in their actions that establish which camp they are in?
What makes the difference? What puts them in one group or the other?

Compare the two passages. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
Once you’ve finished this discussion, formulate a question which relies on these passages in which the answer is: “Because, Jesus!”

Q:

A: Because, Jesus!



Group 3
Read Proverbs 14:2-12
What two types of people are discussed here?
What things can be seen in their actions that establish which camp they are in?
What makes the difference? What puts them in one group or the other?

Read Galatians 5:16-26
What two types of people are discussed here?
What things can be seen in their actions that establish which camp they are in?
What makes the difference? What puts them in one group or the other?

Compare the two passages. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
Once you’ve finished this discussion, formulate a question which relies on these passages in which the answer is: “Because, Jesus!”

Q:

A: Because, Jesus!


Conclusion
The difference between a foolish life and a wise life can be quite difficult to explain. A thousand proverbs and a lifetime of stories can only begin to unravel the meaning of a well-lived life. And yet, you know one when you see it.
 
Any deeply honorable and wise person will explain the source of their peace comes from having a focus outside of themselves—a purpose, a people, a hero. For the follower of Jesus, there is joy because of all Jesus did for us in life and death and new life. This new life gives us purpose in our lives because of all Jesus promises to do in us and through us in the world.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

“A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!” Proverbs 15:21

There is no timelier Word than Jesus!
He arrived right on time. The Word became flesh and lived among us. Then died for us.
He reconciled us with God. Now He sends His Spirit to make us like Him so that we too may become like our neighbors, sharing bread and drink, reconciling them with God through our love.

All of our outward “wise” living is not us at all, but Him living in and through us. We are His temple, His reconcilers, His hands and feet.

The title for the Sabbath School lesson this week was:
“What you get is not what you see”
“Because, Jesus!” is probably not the answer you expected this week. 
But it truly is the best answer you’ll ever find!




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Brain surgery, take two!

Ok, here’s the good news! (and the story behind it)
My view from my room in St Vincents Hospital

I had radiation therapy in October to get rid of the last of the tumour (or at least arrest it’s renewed growth). That went perfect. I went to the Radiologist last Wednesday (Jan 21) for a three month check-up. He asked all the usual questions. All good. Then he said, “Anything else to report?” I told him there was a little leakage from the wound over the past month. He had a look and was truly surprised. “That’s not good, Dave. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s clear. Could be CSF (Cerebrospinal Fluid) and that is not good.” Leaking CSF can cause meningitis… often a death sentence. He wrote an Email to the Surgeon right then and asked me to watch. He was very serious. I love Mike Daly. Google him, you will too!
The next day was my first day back at school as Chaplain at Sunbury Downs College. At about 10AM I received a call from Jane, my Neurosurgeon’s Personal Assistant. “Dave, I have an email here from Mike. Not good! I need you to have a CT Scan tomorrow and come in to see Paul (Neurosurgeon) next Tuesday when he is back in the office." So, I did.
Dr Smith was befuddled. “Never seen anything like it, Dave. Two years after the surgery the wound opens and leaks? I saw the wound a year ago and it was perfect! First time I’ve even heard of such a thing!” I said, “Well, I do love to be first! Maybe you can write a paper about it and be famous!” He laughed and then sent me to get an MRI.
Then straight into hospital. I mean right then. MRI 45 mins after my neurosurgeon saw the wound. Admitted that afternoon. That was yesterday.
Yesterday’s MRI revealed no leak.
Neither did the CT Scan from last Friday.
But the fluid and hole in the scar were very evident.
They slotted me in for surgery today. They said they would open the scar, find the leak with a microscope, seal the leak, patch the wound with muscle and tissue from my leg and close up the wound. If necessary, they would move jaw muscles to assist in strengthening the area. An ENT came in yesterday afternoon and walked me through the possibilities of major reconstruction if they needed invade the aural canal. Jin, the assisting Neurosurgeon came in last night and ran me through the possibilities – Including death. Such is surgery when you are going fully under for awhile.
At 11:50AM they drove my bed (It’s a Rolls-Royce convertible! Remote control seat—back and feet, drop down rails on all four sides, powered-adjustable height suspension, built in TV [when parked in my room] and… It has wheels!) to the surgery ward. I met the anaesthesiologist, Andrew. He was really nice guy but was a vicious wrist squeezer (mine not his). Then there was the nurse who was prepping me. I wish I could remember his name! He was cracking me up. I hadn’t had any meds yet, he was just very funny. He turned the three tone beep of one machine into a song. He said it was a hymn to make me feel at home.
They wheeled my Rolls into the surgery room. The previous time I was completely out by the time I reached this room. Interestingly, I recognised the lights on the ceiling. Two huge spotlights on long arms. I told the doctors and they said, “This was the same room you were in last time.” In the days after my brain surgery (two years ago) I had memories of a moment in the surgery room. I had wondered if those memories were invented, or true somehow. I must have had a sentient moment!
They pushed my Rolls (sideways drive, even!) against the operating table and helped me change to a new bed. The two Neurosurgeons checked my head/neck mobility and allowed me to stay on my back and turn my head sideways for the surgery. SO MUCH BETTER than last time when they put me on my side for the nine hour surgery. I had a bone-bruised hip for weeks afterward – couldn’t walk for two days!
Once I was on the operating table, they put an oxygen mask on and started the drip. Bye Bye, Davy!
Soon, I heard my name (well the Australian version which sounds like ‘Dye-vud’) off in the distance. I was back in my Rolls! And new people were looking in through the open roof. They wanted Dye-vud to open his eyes. They really wanted that. The kept calling him. Finally I decided to help. He couldn’t be that far away with them all looking for him in my Rolls.
Compared to last time, coming too was soooo much better. No vomiting. No chipmunk voice (I had a speech therapist on call last time and the warning that my voice may never be the way it was before the surgery) from the breathing tube. I’m only a little hoarse this time (like a Shetland vs a Clydesdale). I’m still speaking in bass range. No teasing from my three teenagers! Sorry guys.
Once I was able to help the nurses with their chronic disorientation (they are always asking for their current location and the present date–maybe calendar and map skills should be in their training…”OK Google”) I flexed my leg muscles to see if I could feel where the doctors took muscle and tissue from. I could not. I lifted my sheet and saw a new tattoo on my leg. It was a cross. I smiled, “Funny-man nurse strikes again!” Then I realised what the tattoo meant. They had prepped a spot for removal of flesh and then not taken any. I asked why. They said, “It was quick and easy. All good. A doctor will come and explain everything once you’re back in your room.”  
After I helped a nurse with the time – 4:30PM – I asked how long the surgery had been. “Just about an hour. We’ve been having a tough time waking you up.” Perhaps if they had an American on staff to yell “DAY-VID” I may have come down the dark alleyway toward the voice with the suspiciously friendly tone. In all seriousness, they had to give me an extra dose of wakey wakey juice. And then it still took some time. Oh, well, it’s all the same to me – I got my Rolls back.  
Back in my room, I got to see my lovely wife again. She is my strength and the most beautiful thing in my life! She is so supportive and compassionate. She watched me nap. She rubbed my feet. She kissed my cheek. She went down two elevators to the vending machine in the basement carpark and bought me Iced Coffee. Love that lady!
A few hours later, Jin the Neurosurgeon, came in and explained things:
He told me it was not CSF and there is no leak.
He said, there was dead tissue between my skull and the scar. The tissue had been breaking down into fluid and looking for way out. So, it made a way through the scar. The dead tissue-become-fluid was most likely tissue killed by the radiation in October, slowly desolving.* They removed all the dead tissue, moved a bit of muscle in my head to strengthen the wound and sewed me up. They sent a sample of the fluid to the lab to have it analysed. And so, when the lab results come back in, they will tell me all about it.
He said my leg was still intact because they didn’t need to use it.
For now, the news is, I no longer have fluid behind the wound, I have a renewed scar and Endone every three hours. Can we say, “Ahhhh, Endone!”
Oh, and a random staple in my forehead… forgot to ask about that. (Funny-man nurse again?)

Thanks for your prayers, Peeps. You rock my world!

----------------------------------

*The primary Neurosurgeon Paul Smith saw me on Saturday and explained the fluid was actually dissolving bone from the reconstructed area. He said they removed all foreign matter (titanium plates, bone concrete) and replaced it with muscle tissue from my neck. They concluded that my body was rejecting the foreign substances. So, now, it's only me in my head!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sabbath School Starter — 2015 Q1 L4

The Beginning of Wisdom 



From Dave's Sabbath School Resource page
Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the doors and was readily welcomed into the villagers' houses. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by their fires.    -- Jewish Teaching Story
To explore this idea more fully, read “A Story Like Jesus” on my blog.
Two Types of Travellers
Read Proverbs 1:20, 8:1-4, 9:1-6
Where is she shouting from? Whose attention is Wisdom trying to get?
What kind of woman is she? What has she been doing? What is she preparing for?
Who is likely to be drawn to her calls?
Who is likely to resist? Why?

Read Proverbs 9:13-18
Where is she shouting from? Whose attention is Folly trying to get?
What kind of woman is she? What has she been doing? What is she preparing for?
Who is likely to be drawn to her calls?
Who is likely to resist? Why?


The battle for the mind is a territorial war over common ground—a walk through town—not the high places or the deep places. Both Wisdom and Folly approach the common person in everyday life, hoping to unsettle their step on the gentle rise and fall of daily terrain. It is the little steps—the small choices of attention, focus and interest—that lead toward the embrace of one or the other, Folly or Wisdom. The mind is formed first in infancy through baby steps, then in toddler tumbling and finally in practice, practice, practice. The big successes and mistakes are really not so big at all but simply the destinations reached by consistent trudging in one direction day after day.

Read Proverbs 8:17 and 36
What is the result of loving Wisdom? What does this look like in real life?
What is the result of hating Wisdom? What does this look like in real life?


Reflect on the Jewish teaching story from the top of this discussion guide.
“Truth wrapped in story (parable) is loved and embraced by common people.”
How did the teaching style and content of Jesus illustrate this?
How does the idea of “Truth wrapped in Story” help you approach the book of Proverbs?
How does it give you pause at each pithy parable and short story that pass so quickly in this book of Wisdom?



Three Worldviews

In the past 50 year or so, the western world has been shifting worldviews from Modern to the Post-Modern. As the Modern (Industrial/Scientific) Worldview developed and strengthened from the 1700’s until the mid-1900’s its adherents learned that truth was provable. The Scientific Method was born and—as much as we twist, turn, squish and squirm—in most areas of life, you and I understand the world (think/believe) using this worldview. In the Modern worldview, truth is provable. The Scientific Method tells us, when we receive new information, to create a theory, test it, retest it forming proof, show our proof (and entire working process) to others in order to demonstrate that what we are teaching is TRUTH because it is verifiable and reproducible.

The Post-Modern worldview is so named because, largely, it is a reaction to the excesses of the Modern worldview. Science as truth led to some amazing discoveries (vaccines, air travel, global communication) but it also deposited a post-apocalyptic wasteland in its wake because PROOF=TRUTH needs no conscience or compassion. Right is right. Right? Not for Post-Moderns. Your right may be provable and reproducible but it may be very wrong indeed. While it is easy to demonstrate what the Post-Modern mindset stands against, it is difficult to articulate it as a worldview that stands on its own. For the Post-Modern: Truth, to be believed, must be experienced.

The Proverbs were written to a world and within a worldview completely different than anything around today. To understand the Bible and Proverbs particularly (due to their direct, truncated format) it is immeasurably helpful to understand the world and worldview of that day. There are many books available on this topic. Have a look at last week’s study guide for a quick intro. In a nutshell the Ancient Biblical Worldview was that all reality (truth included) is brought forth from God and then God commissions His creation to bring forth more of its kind. I call it the God-begat Worldview.

God begat Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22) then God begat Creation (Genesis 1:1). Creation (earth/ground) begat flora (Genesis 1:11,2:9) and Fauna (Genesis 1:24, 2:19); Mankind was brought forth from the ground (Genesis 2:7); Adam and Eve begat children; They begat children until Abraham begat Jacob (Israel); And, in time, Israel begat the Messiah—Jesus the only begotten Son of God. See how it works?

Humanity, created by God in the Image of God, has the special task to begat children not just physically but spiritually—shaping them in the image of God. That’s why the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is important—as we explored last week. Likewise, Proverbs teaches us, our nature continues forming after we leave our place of nurture. Lady Wisdom calls us from her well-built house and invites us to enter in. God is proposing a life-long relationship with us. “I commissioned your parents to begat you, then to shape you as you went in and out of their house. Now I want you to join with me so that my Glory might be made complete in you.”

Yeah, it can be a bit weird thinking about God as a Lover. He doesn’t shy away from it, though. He created us. He knows how we think. And He wants us close. Close enough to keep us away from Folly—she’s calling as well.  

So, that’s the God-begat Worldview. It’s a bit science and a bit love-story. It’s almost Modern or Post-Modern… but, it’s not. To avoid altering our worldview, we go through the Bible squeezing, chopping, sanitizing, fluffing and cherry-picking verses to suit us. Imagine if we stopped forcing God to fit into our worldview and invited Him to fit us into His. It’s not easy to change worldviews. It requires letting go. And holding on. If we resist the temptation to make God in our image, He will be able to continue making us in His.


The Beginning of Wisdom

Read Proverbs 9:9-12
These are Wisdom’s final words. What touches you most deeply? Why?
Verse 9 & 10 are set between Wisdom and Folly, portrayed as two women. If we succumb to her calls, what will we begat with each woman? How are these two verses the key to choosing the right woman?


Proverbs chapter 9 is the conclusion of the Wisdom letters. The rest of the book of Proverbs is filled with the short pithy sayings we typically think of when we talk about Proverbs. We have set a foundation—a worldview—for Wisdom. Wisdoms teaching is only truly useful, the short one-liners are only truly meaningful and accurate, if we build them on the understanding that “The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom.” Then it will all make sense.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1 L3

From Dave's Sabbath School Resource page
Godly Parents

In Exodus 20 we find the telling of the Ten Commandments memorised by children and (most often) referred to in Bible studies by adults. In the book of Deuteronomy, there is a retelling of the Ten Commandments. In this retelling, Moses tells the people the story of the day they received the commandments. In this retelling, Moses has a point to make–a teaching point.
Compare the telling of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21. Next, explore the context of the story in Exodus 19:1-25, 20:18-21 and Deuteronomy 5:22-6:9.
(This is a sizable portion of scripture and will take some time. You may want to prepare an overview with the key points that stand out to you in the way you want to present the lesson).
What is different about the settings of the two stories? (Exodus 19:1-25, Deuteronomy 5:22-6:9)
How does the telling in Deuteronomy add to/develop the story in Exodus?
What is different about the way the presence of God is experienced by the people?
What is different about the way the various commandments are presented?
What did the people ask for after hearing God’s voice? (Deut 5:23-27)
What was God’s Response? (Deut 5:28-29)
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Who does Moses single out as the primary ‘retellers’ of the Law?
What ways does he suggest to create physical reminders of the Law?
It is said that repetition is the best teacher. How would these physical reminders reinforce the Law?
How would this benefit children?
The telling and retelling of God’s Law we have just studied was much more than a Bible study to God’s people in Solomon’s day. It was even more than a lifestyle. It was, in every sense, a worldview. By the words, actions and lifestyle of parents—day in and day out, as they slept, arose, ate, walked, worked and rested—the Law of the Lord was impressed upon their children.
Read Proverbs 6:20-23
Imagine you were raised as a Hebrew and lived in Solomon’s day. As a young person, about to leave home, you receive a letter from the Wiseman with the advice of Proverbs 6:20-23.
What would you have heard? What would it have reminded you of?
How would it have spoken into your worldview?
   (How is this passage reinforcing Deuteronomy 6:4-9?)
How would it have challenged what you have been taught?
   (How is this passage extending upon Deuteronomy 6:4-9?)
How is “the way of life” set for a young person by Godly parents?
This week, parents around the South Pacific Division (us included) welcomed over 8,000 children home from Pathfinder Camporee. How does a shared worldview give thousands of parents the confidence to entrust their children to the care of other adults? What does this demonstrate about a community who share common faith and values?
How does all of the wisdom in Proverbs rely on an understanding of the worldview implied in Proverbs 6:20-23? Why is this important?

 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1 L2

The Protection of Wisdom


From Dave's Sabbath School Resource page
Have you ever had a time when you needed to be protected? Tell that story. Who protected you? From what? How did they protect you?

Have you ever had a time when you protected someone else? Tell that story. Who needed protection? From what? How did you protect them?

When you think of being protected, what kind of situations come to mind? When do we need protection?

Public Protection
How seriously do world governments take their responsibility to protect their people? How do they demonstrate this? What roles in society exist to provide various levels of protection to the public?

Private Protection
Some people take the protection of their family very seriously. What are some examples you have seen? What does a responsible level of family protection look like?

When a country wants to protect itself, men and women are trained to protect others. Consider the various levels of leadership required to ensure a safe nation—Soldiers, Generals, Commander in Chief—and all the various levels in-between. Compare that ‘public protection’ with the ‘private protection’ of you family. How are the roles, from actual combat to strategic leadership, filled by you? How have you trained for these responsibilities?

Personal Protection
Consider the following question before and as you read Proverbs 6:1-19. Take turns reading. Ask the group members to stop when they have an answer to the question. Have someone take notes in two columns: “Protection Needed” – “Suggested Action”

Q. What is personal protection and how is it put into practice?
Group Reading Instructions: As you read the passage, whenever you read something that we each need protection from, stop and mention that thing. Whenever you read something that says what we need to do to protect ourselves, stop and mention that thing. We want to create a list of things we need to protect ourselves from and strategies to apply to ensure our safety!
Read Proverbs 6:1-19

When the world’s wisest man collected and created wise sayings, they all demonstrated one core reality – “Before it is anything else, Leadership is Character”. How is personal character related to protection of personal, private and public relationships?

Read back over your list. What does each suggested action demonstrate character strength and wisdom?

Add to the list. What other things do we need personal protection from? What strategies of “Suggested Action” can we apply to develop character and accomplish safety in each area?


Many Blessings as you explore and Experience Sabbath School this week!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1 L1


 
Three “ifs” of Gaining Wisdom

Read Proverbs 2:1-5
From Dave's Sabbath School Resource page
Q1. This passage reveals three “if” clauses for gaining wisdom. What are they?

1st Level of wisdom – A Gift to be received. 
2nd Level of wisdom – An Answer to be heard.  
3rd Level of wisdom – A Discovery to be found.  

 
Q2. What physical things in your life have come in these three ways? When? From whom?
 

Q3. What “Advice” have you received in these 3 ways? When? From whom?
 

Q4. How do these three levels of Wisdom apply to your life as a follower of Jesus?

1st Level of wisdom – A Gift. Given to those who willingly receive. Open the gift of salvation.
2nd Level of wisdom – An Answer. Given to those who call out for understanding. Call out in prayer.
3rd Level of wisdom – A Discovery. Given to those who search long and hard. Search God’s Word.

 
Many Blessings as you explore and Experience Sabbath School this week!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Secret of our Strength

          From the Sabbath School Section of this blog
 
 There is nothing more destructive for a household than a strongman who has lost his vision. From personal experience, I have witnessed this truth in all its desperate agony. I have also experienced the rediscovery of vision and rebuilding of strength that comes through the restorative beauty of a Christ-like family.
   While I’m happy to tell you my own story over a hot drink; in this article, I wish to explore the journey of another strongman and his lost vision. This strongman is the church I love.

Samson's Story
   A few thousand years ago, a strongman was born. His parents were told he would be a deliverer of God’s people. He was to be set aside at birth, consecrated as special to God. As one who had taken the Nazerite vow, he was not to cut his hair, ever. His parents named him Samson.
   Samson was strong. He ripped gates off their hinges—not garden gates from a picket fence but city gates ripped up with the supporting posts still attached. He killed a thousand men with a piece of bone and a lion with his bare hands. His strength became the stuff of legend and men made sport of trying to defeat him, always to their detriment. Because of his fame, it didn’t take long for him to become full of pride. Samson lost his vision long before his eyes were gouged out.
   Samson started toying with evil. He ate honey scooped from within a lion carcass (a Nazerite was not to touch a corpse), fed some to his parents, then spun the occasion into a riddle to trick 30 men, which caused them to want him dead and him to kill 30 other men. He tortured 300 foxes, tying them in pairs by their tails and fixing lit torches to each pair of tails before releasing them in grain fields of his enemies.
   Like many a fallen strongman, Samson had a weakness for the ladies. He married a woman his parents disapproved of, slept with a prostitute and shacked up with another beautiful woman (Not all at once, mind you!).  The final woman, the beautiful Delilah, constantly tried to discover the secret of his strength. She had been promised 1100 pieces of silver for the secret by men who wished to stop Samson and the Israelites he represented.
   Samson lied to Delilah many times. Finally, wearied to the point of death by her nagging, Samson revealed that the secret to his strength was his hair. In doing so, he didn’t only ask for a haircut but recommended a shave. “I was dedicated to God as a Nazerite from birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as anyone else” (Judges 16:17). The next time he had a nap, Delilah shaved his head and sold him out.
   Samson had never been without his strength. He didn’t know what it was like to be normal. When he woke and was set upon by an overwhelming group of men, he punched and kicked and fought like every other time but to no avail. He was swallowed up in the brutality of the hoard.
   His captors jabbed a hot poker in his eyes and threw him in prison. Occasionally they would bring him out for entertainment. “Step right up! Take your best shot at the legendary strongman, Samson!” The laugher was inevitable as Samson swatted at blows after they made contact. “Body blow! Head shot! Come on, Samson, defend yourself!”
   Time passed. His hair grew. Samson wondered, “Would God still honour the vow even after I have treated it with such disdain?” Another party. Another call for Samson the clown. After being mocked, punched and tired out, Samson said, “Place my hands against the pillars that hold up the temple. I want to rest against them” (Judges 16:26). Once his hands were in place, Samson prayed and pushed.    And the strongman, who had lost his vision, killed himself along with every man, woman and child in the house of Dagon that day.
   An oft-quoted proverb states, “Without vision, people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). This was certainly true with Samson. One strongman without vision and thousands perished. During his lifetime, he wrecked havoc in numerous random attacks before finally, like a dragon who knows his time is short, he tore the house down. All of this would have been very different if Samson had embraced his vow and lived true to the calling placed on his life from birth.

A New View
   I recently saw something familiar from a new perspective. This unique vantage point allowed me a new view an old thing, as if seeing it again for the first time. In the town where I serve as a state high school chaplain, I have been honoured to participate in numerous church services. In the last three months of 2014, I preached at an ecumenical youth program, a Baptist church, a Lutheran church, a children’s “Messy Church” program, a Uniting church, an Anglican church and a church in a pub. I worshipped in the style of high church, low church, traditional church, contemporary church, kids church, youth church and pub church!
   In each church I met generous, loving, godly people. Every service presented heart-felt worship to God, community for His people and a listening ear to me as I spoke about chaplaincy and Jesus’ heart for each of us.
   But, I noticed something missing. Or, more accurately, I missed something in each setting—something that, for me, is integral and meaningful in church attendance. What I missed is something deeply embedded in my experience of worship, due to my Seventh-day Adventist upbringing, something present weekly in my denominational tradition.
   I missed the time of small-group discussion in which the Bible is opened, read, studied and prayed over. I missed the circle of believers listening to each other’s needs and praying together. In short, I missed Sabbath school.
   Even though I had attended Sabbath school the previous day at my own church, I missed it each Sunday because I felt a desire to know each new group of believers more fully. For me, church is about connecting to each other as well as connecting to God. I felt the need for Sabbath school because I am accustomed to knowing those to whom I will preach, even if only in a quick fashion on the day. Instead, in nearly every situation, I drove into an empty car park, walked into an empty church, watched both fill up, then preached a few minutes later. It was only after the service that I met people, and then in a casual social manner rather than a spiritually nurturing time of sharing.
   The people at each church seemed to know each other well, so there must be more going on than just the quick worship service on Sunday. What I realised, more than anything, is that I love Sabbath school and am blessed by the group togetherness it provides which leads to a feeling of knowing the people of God joined together in worship on the day.

Haircuts and Hairstyles
   Like Samson, the Seventh-day Adventist movement started with a vow. Since our beginning we have been called the “People of the Book” because of our vow to study the Bible constantly—individually and together—reviewing and revising our understanding as the Word speaks more clearly to us. We are a creedless people, relying instead on the living, breathing Word of God. Sabbath school is the place where we learn, practice and model this constant commitment to studying the Bible.
   Adventists sat in the circle of Sabbath school long before they lined pews to listen to doctrinal dissertations, lifestyle lectures or other monotonous monologues. We engaged in discussion, enlivened through private study and personal relationships. Life was brought to us and through us as we engaged with the Word of God in conversation. Engaging in Bible study together increased our spiritual maturity. We grew from small group Bible studies into church communities worshipping together.
   Like Samson’s hair, Sabbath school has always been our strength. At our strongest, we are a people in active group discussion. To reduce the strength of the Adventist people, cut Sabbath school. Focus on only one or two of the four purposes of Sabbath school and ignore the others. Tell us we don’t have time to share our stories. Tell us mission—both global and local—isn’t part of Sabbath school. Turn it into a sermon rather than a group Bible study. Teach us what to think rather than teaching us how to think.
   There’s nothing wrong with a new hairstyle. Doing Sabbath school differently demonstrates life. But failing to build our church around a robust purpose-filled Sabbath school causes our people to avoid Sabbath school, and our strength is sapped. It is easy (and almost seems wise!) to cut Sabbath school when we loose the vision of what it means to truly be a Seventh-day Adventist people. We are not just a denomination with doctrines. We are a Sabbath school class; reaching in, out, up and across.
   Sacrificing any of the four purposes of Sabbath school demonstrates that we have lost our vision, or at least are beginning to let it become blurry. What are the four purposes, you ask? They are Nurture (reaching in), Local Evangelism (reaching out), Worship (reaching up), and Global Mission (reaching across the world). These four purposes have been the foundation of Sabbath school for more than 150 years! They build a people of God individually, locally, globally and eternally.
   A church without healthy Sabbath school groups can create very cold, judgmental people who are committed to Truth more than Love. The emotional maturity gained in patiently listening to others during Sabbath school discussions shapes a Christ like people. We need more than sermons to become loving people! The relationships of church members with each other and the reputation of the church in the wider community are tied closely to the health of Sabbath school. This is because a healthy Sabbath school teaches our people how to treat others with patience, respect and love.

Regaining our Vision
   To save our house, more than anything, we need our strongmen to have clear vision. In our Sabbath school classes, we learn to listen to viewpoints that differ from our own and give the people airing those views the benefit of the doubt because we care for them. The judgmental nature of some Adventists emerges from a failure to remain in harmonious dialogue as a people. Disciples who have spent years learning through listening—in addition to private study—are inclined to show mercy.
   Unfortunately, those who practice brutal honesty usually enjoy the brutality more than the honesty. A church with clear vision and a four-pillared Sabbath school foundation does not breed this type of strongman. When our vision is healthy and clear, we are proactive and use our ever-increasing strength to build others up, empowering them to glorify God.
   When our vision is lost or blurry, we are reactive and use our ever-decreasing strength to tear down others indiscriminately. People outside our church are derided, maligned and demonised. People inside are critiqued, pigeonholed and demoralised. We do this, not because we are evil but, like a blinded warrior, because we struggle with our own usefulness and the foggy memory of a purpose that once felt sure. A regained vision will lead to healthy relationships both inside and outside the church walls.
   Samson regained his strength and used it within the confines of his sightless reality. Our sight still remains, not yet lost completely. Only through fully regained vision and a renewing of Sabbath school will the church reclaim its strength.
   For now, having not lost our vision completely, we need not tear down anything, or anyone, for we can see. Our vision of the Kingdom—a people of the Book glorifying God together in word and action—will compel and constrain our strength to be used for increase rather than decrease, for shaping rather than slaughtering, for mercy rather than might.
   Sabbath school, our strength, done with clear vision creates growth in faith, mission, purpose and passion for the growth of the Kingdom of God. With Sabbath school as our foundation—actively reaching in, out, up and across—the Seventh-day Adventist movement will be a People of the Book, changing the world as we grow into the lovely and loving image of Jesus.