Friday, August 15, 2014

Love Your Neighbour - Jesus in Words VS Jesus in Action

Compare Luke 10:25-37 with Matthew 15:21-28

“Jesus in Words”
Luke 10:25-37
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

“Jesus in Action”
Matthew 15:21-28
Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”
But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”
Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”
“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

Discussion Questions
Jesus was being directly addressed in both situations.
In each story:
Who was addressing Jesus?
What did they look like?
What mood were they in?
Why did they choose to talk to Jesus rather than someone else?
What need were they bringing to Jesus?
What would an answer from Jesus solve for them?
What were their qualifications to be questioning Jesus?
Which one needed an answer most? Why?
Which question was more important? Why?
Which person left satisfied? Why?
Which person was Jesus’ neighbour?

Love Your Neighbour

The Good Samaritan, as the perfect poster child for altruism, has leapt off the page of Christianity and gone viral. It’s the international phrase for helping those who cant help themselves.

Jesus told great stories. But what about His actions? When was the last time you heard someone say, “You really know how to feed dog-food to the ladies, Mate!” It just fails, on so many levels. Jesus’ response to the Gentile woman is desperately different to the answer he gave the Jewish legal expert. It doesn’t even seem possible that the same man could have said both things. What Jesus was saying and what he was doing… Well, they were different! Right?

Jesus was the best teacher to ever walk this Earth. And if He was the best teacher, then we need to allow Him to teach. Far too often we get caught up in trying to make Jesus politically (and emotionally) correct for the 21st century rather than exploring the context in which He lived. Political correctness was the furthest thing from Jesus’ mind and mission. In fact, His lack of it played a part in getting Him crucified.

What must I do to be saved?
When Jesus asked the Jewish legal expert what the Law of Moses says, He wasn’t asking a rhetorical question. Jesus was probing the depth of the man. The standard answer, which every Jewish schoolboy could recite was the first few lines of the Shema found in the preamble to the Deuteronomy presentation of the 10 Commandments. “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).

The man’s answer must have made Jesus smile. It was brilliant in both its new beginning and its new ending – together revealing a singular purpose. The man left off the all-important beginning: (literally) “Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is One.” And added “Love your neighbour as yourself” which is an excerpt from Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am Yahweh.”

Do you see it? Where previously, the Shema at the core of the Law of Moses had been used to incite love for Yahweh (by putting His name at the beginning), this Jewish legal expert combined and quoted the two sources in such a way that Yahweh’s name did something new to the heart of the listener. For those, like the expert and Jesus, who had memorised their scripture as a child, the missing beginning of the Shema would have been playing on their minds all the way through the Expert’s answer and the juxtaposition of texts would have been all the more sweet when he stopped, leaving the next phrase unspoken (but in the educated listener’s mind the memorised morsel, in the way of oft-repeated things, would fill the silence) … “I am Yahweh.” In this legal expert’s mind, love for his neighbour was, indeed, love for God. And Jesus smiled.

The Jewish legal expert had done amazing things to the Jewish story through his deft use of Scripture. Now he invited Jesus to do likewise. “Who is my neighbour?” he asked.

Jesus’ answer, much like the expert’s use of scripture, caused the listener’s lips to twitch. This time, not into a smile but a grimace followed by a grunt.

The answer was obvious. It was, as they say, in the question. Again, unheard that day but clearly written on hearing hearts and minds, the answer was in the source material. “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am Yahweh” (Leviticus 19:18). Your neighbour, whom you are to love, is your fellow Israelite. Anyone with ears that day would have heard exactly this.

Until Jesus told His story.

A gentile woman approached a Jewish Rabbi and said, “Good teacher, my daughter is…” no.

A non-Jewish woman approached a Jewish Rabbi and said, “Good teacher, my daughter is…” still, no.

A non-Jewish woman approached a Jewish Rabbi and said, “Son of David, my daughter is…” not quite.

A non-Jewish woman approached Jesus and said, “Son of David.” Bingo!

A gentile woman called Jesus “Son of David.”

Have you ever been watching a play and seen an actor mouthing the words of another actor, like it was the part they wanted but didn’t get? That’s this woman.

You can hear the disciples, “This Gentile woman has heard about Jesus and because she has a sick daughter, she comes running!”

“Yeah, she’s using our lines ‘Son of David’ – like she even knows what that means!"

“As if she’s even read the prophets!”

Jesus plays to the script. First, He ignores her. Then, he responds with the callous response of a Shema-believing Israelite because, according to the cultural script, the Jewish people get a Messiah because they’ve been waiting patiently and playing nice with the neighbours.

Jesus sighs, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

So, she falls to her knees in worship and says the sinner’s prayer, “Lord, help me!”

Jesus, the timeworn Master of divine delayed-gratification, stays on script even though it breaks His heart not to answer such a prayer immediately.
“It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

“I am a dog!” She knows she’s off script and she doesn’t care. “Dog’s get crumbs after you share with your neighbours. I’m not your neighbour, I know that. I’m a dog under your table! Please just drop a tiny piece of your Son of David flavoured, Messiah seasoned, life giving bread!”

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

Jesus asked the man, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (Luke 10:36).
Notice Jesus didn’t say, “like a neighbour.” Jesus isn’t looking for similes or metaphors … He’s looking for the real thing. The bandits and beatings are real enough. Now it’s time for the love of Yahweh to show up.

Two of those three men were neighbours of the burgled and beaten man. One was a foreigner. There were rules for helping neighbours and there were rules for helping foreigners. Jesus didn’t change the rules, He just let us know we have new neighbours. Neighbours who have been beaten by bandits. Neighbours who are under our table because we’ve convinced them they are dogs. Neighbours shouting “Lord, save me!”

The follower of Jesus asks, “If I am saved, what kind of neighbour am I?”
The expert replies, “One who shows mercy.”
Jesus says, “Yes, now go and do that.”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

SDC Chaplain's Chat 2 - A Story like Tory

While spending some extra time in the Melbourne airport, I met a lovely four-year-old girl named Tory. Tory was with her Mum, Dad and older brother. Tory was talkative, playful and very happy. She absolutely radiated self-confidence and a love for life.

It wasn't hard to see Tory’s parents really enjoyed their kids. The kids interacted freely in our conversation and laughed at our banter. They were just normal kids. While her parents didn't treat her any differently than they treated her brother,  to everyone who walked by, Tory was the centre of attention. She was anything but 'normal'. People stared and smiled. Some people stopped and talked - to Tory, or about Tory to her parents.

Later, as we boarded the plane to LAX, I noticed Tory and her parents boarding with us long after the first class, business class, premium economy, etc. They could have boarded first - when the announcer called: "Any parents with young children or those in need of extra time to board, please come forward first." But they didn't.

Tory's parents are telling her a powerful story about herself. They are teaching Tory that she is just like everyone else. Yes, she is a dwarf. Yes, she moves slower and is a lot smaller than everyone else. And yes, she is cute beyond belief. But, Tory's parents treat her like a normal kid. And, having spent a few hours observing her, she is just that - a super awesome normal kid!

The story we live in front of our children and the children around us tells them the truth of our lives and theirs. If we tell the positive stories in life, our kids will see the world as a positive place where they can interact and make a difference.

If, on the other hand, we constantly comment on the negative state of the world, the problem with the neighbours, the unfair hand we've been dealt - our children will learn to be critical and afraid. Being negative can cause our children grow up to be judgmental and self-centred. They will see others as dangerous and suspicious rather than unique and beautiful. In our words, our actions and our attitudes toward others – whether they are different in faith, culture or lifestyle – our children are watching us and becoming like us.

As parents, we need to send consistent positive messages to our children. Tell stories that empower rather than impede. There are so many positive messages that lift others up.
We all, like Tory, are beautifully unique. We need to tell our children and ourselves this truth. The stories we tell, both verbally and with our lives, will either empower the next Generation or limit them. Don't repeat bad news. Tell good stories. Live with joy and passion. Smile.

Keep changing the world - one story at a time.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Party Kingdom

Jesus’ ministry and message cleared up a few misconceptions about God. First, God loves throwing parties. Second, God’s parties are well planned. Third, God is the life of the party.

Jesus modelled the nature of God in his earthly ministry. He said, “God is Love” and then put flesh on his words by going into places where people celebrated community. Jesus loved parties – it’s where people let their hair down. He did his first miracle at a party. He accepted invitations to parties at sinner’s houses, and showed up. Jesus loved crowds. He felt his power heal someone on a crowded street. He stopped a funeral procession to reunite a mother and son. He broke bread and fed a crowd of thousands, twice. He raised a child from death in a home filled with mourners. If there wasn’t a party happening before Jesus showed up, there was one by the time he left.

Jesus never turned down an invitation to a party, but he purposely came late to funerals. Every party is different; you might miss something. But funerals are all the same, until Jesus shows up. When Jesus comes to your funeral, it turns into a party – You’ll hear his invitation. It sounds something like: “Lazarus, come forth!” or “Talitha, rise!” and is followed soon by “Where’s the food?” You can’t have a party without well-fed guests. Ever wonder what would have happened if Jesus didn’t say their name before waking them up? We will find out on Resurrection morning! That’s when all funerals turn into one massive party. Have you heard about the banquet table filled with food and the tree with enough desert-fruit hanging from its branches to feed the entire Kingdom?

If God ran a shop in the main street of your town, it would be called “Party Kingdom.” Jesus loved telling stories about his Father’s Kingdom. Some were really obvious, because he started them: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” A pearl, a treasure, yeast, a net, a mustard seed. But the stories that ended with parties – they are the greatest Kingdom stories. The Woman who lost and found a coin – Party! The shepherd who lost and found his sheep – Party! The man who lost and found a son – Party!

One of the Party Kingdom stories is about a King throwing a wedding feast for his Son. The entire list of invited guests sent their apologies. The kind of people who refuse to go to parties are the kind of people who wont like God much at all.* Since there is no party without a crowd, the King threw open the doors and invited anyone dawdling near the castle. The guest list isn’t important, the Son is. Once in, they were told to wear the wedding clothes provided by the King or the party's over. It seems the King’s primary concern is that the party plays right for his Son and lovely bride!

And that’s just a snapshot of Jesus’ picture of God. Go deeper into the stories Jesus told that end in parties and you’ll see a representation of God so different than the misguided one people often assumed of him. It’s an amazing picture of an amazing God who loves to celebrate with well-planned parties! 

*Just ask the prodigal's brother!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kingdom Citizenship

What if the Kingdom of God
was less about pie in the sky by and by
and more about footprints and fingerprints?

What if gathering by the river was less about crossing over
and more about bringing water back to a thirsty land?

What if Jesus’ example on Earth was meant to teach us about
making a difference rather than making an exit?

What if living in the Kingdom of Heaven
was less about changing post codes
and more about posting code changes?

What if Kingdom building was less about walls while we wait
and more about loosing the white-knuckle grip on our purse strings?

What if the sheep who feed the poor and clothe the naked
   — and the goats who don’t —
was less about Kingdom metaphor
And more about the King they’ve met before?

What if Saved by Grace was less about
the line we are standing in and more about
a thousand lines in which we stand
as we pass through and through and through this World
and it's many kingdoms of sand?

What if “in but not of” was our headlights
rather than our bumper sticker?

What if Citizenship in the Kingdom of God
was less about where we are going
and more about who we are?

Saturday, June 14, 2014


We all, like Israelites born in captivity, are living freed-slaves in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land. In Egypt, we lived and died by Pharaoh’s law. In the desert we discovered God’s law. Freedom isn’t lawlessness, it’s choosing which law you will live under.

Freedom from Pharaoh’s law is death.
Freedom from death is God’s Law.
Freedom from God’s Law is grace.

Grace doesn’t mean God’s Law is gone. God knows, it’s easier to take Israelites out of Egypt than it is to take Egypt out of Israelites. Grace means God is ready. We slip, we fall – slavery calls. And rather than let death have us, God sent his son as the perfect sacrifice to take our place. When we fall, we fall on the cross of Jesus. Those wooden beams that took His life, in their eternal reach, break our fall. Grace embraces the fallen, holding each of us, and presents us with a choice: Which Law will you live under? One leads to life eternal, the other to death.

The desert is better than Egypt. You know it is. But the Promised Land – that’s worth living for!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

SDC Chaplain's Chat 1 - New Shoes!

I bought a pair of new shoes last Sunday: Keen Gypsum hiking boots. I wore out my last pair and love them like I’ve loved no other shoe! They are amazing and I’m proud to show them off anyone and everyone!

For the first half-hour of school every morning, the Student Services team does “Roll Rack” where we sit in front of the rack of pigeonholes that hold the class rolls and deal with any students with late, uniform, planner or other roll oriented issues. On the way to Roll Rack, I carry a box of ‘loaner’ shoes for students who haven’t brought their own.

As it makes sense to do so, I am slowly letting staff and students know that I am deaf in one ear and struggle to hear in noisy environments. Mr Ricciardo, from Student Services, learned this through repetition on Monday morning.

We were walking to Roll Rack and I heard him say, over his shoulder, “You got new shoes!” I was so happy that he had noticed! I nodded, proudly looked down at my new boots, and said, “Yeah! Like ‘em?”

Mr Ricciardo turned sideways, still walking quickly through the crowded school ground, and looked at me very oddly. He pointed down to his feet and I heard him say, “No, I’ve got new shoes!” I looked down. They were very clean and looked new enough. I laughed and said, “Me too! That’s funny!”

Mr Ricciardo put out his hand and stopped me. We stood facing each other and he shouted, “You forgot the shoes!”

Indeed I had.

I laughed all the way back to the Student Services office where I retrieved the box of shoes.

I have used this story numerous times this week to tell people about my single-sided deafness. It’s a keeper! It’s also a great way to share something about myself that sometimes I don’t like talking about. My “New Shoes Story” is a way for me to talk about a part of myself that is sometimes frustrating, embarrassing and limiting. Having good stories is a great way to talk about tough things.

We all have things about ourselves that make us unique. Sometimes these things make us feel good. Sometimes they don’t. In either case, it is important to tell others about yourself. You can’t expect people to speak up if they don’t know you’re half deaf! So, find a funny story you are comfortable telling about you and your weakness. It brings your uniqueness into the open and does so with gentle effectiveness!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

School Chaplaincy

In May of 2014 I started full time work for ACCESS Ministries as a Government school Chaplain. While I have served as a part time chaplain at various Christian schools over the past 15 years, this is a first for me in two ways - it is full time and it is a government school.
 The primary difference is that the chaplain at a Christian school runs chapel (worship) programs, Bible studies and individually ministers to the students while a chaplain at a government school runs proactive values-based programs and provides pastoral care to students, staff and families as part of the Student Services Team at the school without any religious instruction or manipulation (proselytising). 
While chaplaincy in spiritual and secular schools are completely different roles, there are similarities. They both have students, staff and families with emotional, relationship and family needs. That said, I find the separation of 'church and state' (so to speak) to be very useful in Chaplaincy. As I am not expected to enforce or proclaim a particular faith (proselytising is specifically prohibited), I am able to care for the needs of each student without bias as they present themselves. The primary expectation of me as a government school chaplain is that I will listen, care and refer students to appropriate professionals - be they internal Student Services Team members or external mental health professionals. 

Below are some of the things I have written as a chaplain or about chaplaincy:

Chaplaincy is...

Found on the Rock - a piece about community involvement with children 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Chaplaincy is...

I recently interviewed two chaplains working in government schools. After interviewing them, I combined what they shared and my own experience as a chaplain and wrote the following to send to Access Ministries as part of my qualification for becoming a chaplain in Victoria.

The first thing I noticed in my two interviews was the difference between the chaplains. Different personalities. Different abilities. Different backstory. Different strengths. Different words.
But one thing was similar. They both exuded a love for school chaplaincy and in particular a love for one on one experiences of mentoring, listening and care. They both spoke of the primary task of the chaplain as one of being involved daily in conversations with the students.

Reflecting on the interviews, three things stood out.

First, the chaplain’s is a ministry of presence. Conversations. Side by side. Passing comments. Intentional randomness. Strategic Stealth. Saying ‘hi’ until you’re not a stranger. Chaplaincy is a ministry in which you leave the stage-lit pulpit and work the crowd in the shadows. It is an art that requires laughing eyes and a listening heart. It’s a God thing that comes with experience. Chaplaincy is a string of God things. Every day.
The chaplain becomes a safe space that is a person rather than a place. Recognising the secular space of friendship is also the sacred space of relationship, the chaplain juxtaposes humour with pastoral care in a way that open hearts – allowing stories to be told. And the chaplain listens.

Second, the chaplain must find their identity in a higher power. A chaplain either finds legitimacy in their role from above or suffers alone and misunderstood – because people (both secular and sanctified) misunderstand the purpose and pursuit of the chaplain. A chaplain embodies the reality that programs lack the power of presence. A program comes and goes and can be celebrated, but presence continues today like yesterday. It’s not shiny.
Suicide. Rape. Abuse. Death. The present chaplain listens to horrible stories – recognising a time to cry – and then rises out of the ashes to give hope. Seeing the strength of all who suffer — crucified and risen — the chaplain knows there is always hope.

Third, the effective chaplain is one who recognised they are building a legacy. The only thing you leave behind, as a chaplain, is your legacy. A legacy in the hearts of the students for whom you cared. A legacy in the memories of the staff who reflect on your words and ways. And, perhaps most importantly for the longevity of the ministry of presence, a legacy for the chaplain who arrives after you. A new chaplain, following a chaplain with an empowering legacy, will go from strength to strength.

In conclusion, I have learned through these interviews (and my own experience as a chaplain over the years) that the chaplain is a gifted conversationalist, engaged socialite, pastoral listener and a servant leader. That said, no two chaplains are alike. And therein lies my reason for wishing to become a chaplain. I am like no other and yet shine the same Light. I am cut from the same cloth and yet fight in my own armour. I am a chaplain in heart, mind, spirit and body! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Leaning on Questions

4H Bible Study - or the "28 Stories" story

A few years ago, I had just started working as Children’s Ministry Director and as Adult Sabbath School Director for the Victoria Seventh-day Adventist Church and was passionately trying to get people (be they Adult Sabbath Schools, Children’s Sabbath Schools, families, friendship clusters or work groups) into small groups. I kept hearing the same comment from them all: What resource should we use? 

I searched and found only a few options and they all left me with that dry-mouth feeling. You know the one — when you wake up, having been asleep with your mouth open. That dry-mouth feeling is the best way I can explain the spiritual/emotional feeling I was having to these studies as I tried to use them. They were so dry! And linear. And proof driven. 

Around that time, my eldest son, Cyrus, wanted to do group Bible studies in preparation for baptism. And he wanted me to lead them. What an honour! Suddenly I was asking myself the same question others had been asking: What studies will I use? As I read through a few “youthy” sets of studies, my breathing slowed and my tongue sleepily thickened with wall-paper paste. Dry. Boring. Right. Answers. 

I wanted a way to teach the beautiful Truth without feeling like I was forcing a dog to swallow a pill (if you’ve ever had to put your finger down the back of a dogs throat, you know what I’m talking about!) or playing the role of mother bird, regurgitating a previous meal so my little ones could gulp it down. 

I wanted a gracious way to share the Truth I love, to give the presence and presents of God. Like Christmas morning presence and presents. If you are a parent, you know the intense joy of watching your children opening the gifts they have been aching for since October - that kind of presence, for both of us. I wanted our studies to be as joyful as the faith I hold dear. So, I decided to write a series of Bible studies. 

Now the real dilemma hit me. OK, Mr Smartypants, what are you going to write? Think it’s so easy, do ya? How are you going to create a series of Bible studies that draw out the beauty, joy and majesty of God’s Word while still transferring that core of wisdom and truth? 

I searched for months. I needed the right hook. The right strategy. I read books, blogs, websites, listened to lecture series. Then, I discovered something in a theology text. In “The Heart of Christianity” theologian Marcus J Borg explores four ancient aspects of what we moderns have reduced to one word: Faith. He used the latin words Assensus (a proposition), fiducia (trust), fidelitas (loyalty) and visio (a way of seeing). I’ll leave you to ponder on the latin and jump ahead to my synthesis of these concepts.

Head, Heart, Hands, Horizon. I call it the 4H Bible study. The hook was firmly set. I was ready to write the stories. I had known since first deciding to write the studies, they should start with stories - Bible stories, retold as I love to do. But, the study after the story had been the struggle. Once I had a strategy for the studies, I started writing. 

I wrote two a week. One to discuss with Cyrus' group. One to send home with them as a journalling exercise. 28 Studies - 14 Weeks. Write! Write! Write! The studies were on Thursdays. So, I set aside each Tuesday morning for writing. And, when that didn’t work, I crammed! Luckily there were breaks and cancellations that gave me the occasional extra week. I wrote, we tested and the kids critiqued the studies. After finishing them, they were published by Signs Publishing Company as “28 Stories”.

After developing the 4H approach, I applied it to the adult Sabbath School lesson. Rather than write a “teaching guide” for teachers to use verbatim, while I was the Sabbath School Director, I produced an enrichment tool called SS4H to broaden the teacher’s experience with the lesson topic. Each week, I read through the lesson and came up with two questions that approach the —
Head: building a foundation of knowledge. What more can we learn about this topic?

Heart: learning to love what God loves. How can we experience this emotionally?
Hands: choosing to act as God desires. What can we or should we do?
Horizon: exploring the Kingdom beyond my walls. What can we learn from others?

This 4H approach to Truth has reshaped my life - my parenting, my ministry, my listening skills, my busyness, my desire for God and His presence, power and purpose. I don’t have answers anymore. I have questions. At least, I try to have questions. A believer with only answers is no longer seeking. A teacher with all the answers is not teaching but preaching. A leader with all the answers is walking toward a wall, or a drop-off. 

In our search for Truth, and our ever growing experience of faith, we will only grow to know if we are never satisfied with answers, but always framing the next question. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Harmony Day

On Friday, the 21st of March, I was on my way to Aquinas College in Ringwood to tell stories at their Harmony Day festival when the most amazing thing happened. I was riding my motorcycle through the Mullum Mullum Tunnel when the tunnel came to life.

Do you ever sing in the shower? (You know you do!) Have you ever hit a particular note that caused something in the room (usually the walls, because there are so many tiles) to vibrate? If you have ever discovered the resonance frequency of a bathroom, you heard the pitch you we singing double, triple or even quadruple in volume as the room joined you in song. Everything has a natural frequency. Everything.

While travelling in the eastbound tunnel, the combination of vehicles joined together in a rumbling tone that, remarkably, matched the natural frequency of the tunnel. I say this because, wearing an open face helmet, I was there when it happened. The tunnel came to life and began to sing with the collective resonance of the engines around me. It was so loud I have nothing with which to compare it.

It was like being a flea inside the tailpipe of a Harley as the throttle opens.
It was like being a bird inside the largest flute of a massive pipe organ as its foot-petal is pressed.
It was like being a remora clinging to a whale as he breaks into courtship song.
It was, in a word, wonderful!

This blissful resonance frequency created by the collective vehicles in the tunnel, quickly formed itself into the perfect introduction to my story-set for Harmony Day. What is harmony if not the result of multiple things becoming one and achieving heights unreachable before their unity in diversity?

What worth does a tunnel coming to life, singing its guts out, have – if not told as story? Experience only becomes truly meaningful when it is formed into story. It’s meaning becomes full when attached to my story, shared into your story and owned as our story.

And so, I asked the year 10 kids, to imagine if the people of Ringwood said, “What is it about Aquinas College? When that school shows up, things are different – wonderful even. It’s not that they send us one or two students as exceptional examples but that they, as a school, make our community sing.”

Then I told them some stories that, I hope, gave them hooks to hang harmony on.
Story: Jimmy and the Black Dot
Activity: I See an Angel (Video)
Story: Brave Kwame 
Activity: Indoor Rain (Video)

I finished by explaining to the students that at Cultural Infusion we have Harmony Day every day. We empower Australian artists from cultures all around the world to come together in schools and resonate. And as those artists do their thing, one after the other, the students experience the diversity and beauty of the many World cultures represented in Australia. The sum total of the dance, the drums, the singing, the didgeridoo – all the stories told in so many ways – causes Australia to start to sing. It’s like a Harley, a pipe organ, a whale – like a tunnel filled with everything it needs to make a new, beautiful song. And that new song can only begin when we all sing, dance, play and perform in our own unique way.

May you go into the world and be your true self.
May you celebrate the diversity around you.
May you join in the song; and may it be ever so loud.

May you enjoy Harmony Day, every day!

Friday, March 21, 2014

28 Stories - Study 28: Tomorrow's Promise

Fundamental: Death and Resurrection

Bible Story  

“Well,” Moses said, “This is it. God has told me to look at the Promised Land from atop this mountain peak. I have seen it.”
Joshua’s eyebrows furrowed. “What you are hinting at?”
“Hinting?” Moses said. “It’s not a hint. I will obey God. He said to come to this place and look across to the Promised Land. He said this is as close to it as I will get.”
“But, you can barely see anything from here,” Joshua argued. “All I can make out is the outline of walls of a city in the distance.”
“Jericho,” Moses said. “And beyond the Jordan Valley with Jericho, I can see as far as Zoar. I can see from Gilead as far as Dan, and all the land of Naphtali.”
Joshua interrupted, “You can see all that?”
Moses nodded in silence.
Moses laughed. “Wait, I’m not done. My old eyes can see the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah, extending to the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev, and more!”
“How?” Joshua asked again. “I mean, I know you’ve got great eyes for someone 120 years old, but what you are describing is impossible for human eyes!”
“I am a seer, Joshua. God shows me what he wants me to see,” Moses said. “Up until now, God has shown me things I will experience with His people. But this time...” Moses’ voice faded away.
Joshua had been suspicious of this journey to the mountain top. Over the past few days Moses had been blessing people left, right and center. He had blessed the people of Israel finishing with:  “How blessed you are, O Israel! Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your protecting shield and your triumphant sword! Your enemies will cringe before you, and you will stomp on their backs!”
The people had cheered at the finish. How could you do anything else? God was truly going to bless His people.
Then, in front of all Israel, Moses laid his hands on Joshua and ordained him as the new leader of God’s People. He blessed Joshua and handed leadership into his hands. Again the people cheered. It seems they had been expecting it as much as Joshua had been fearing it.
“This time,” Moses continued, “I have seen a vision of the future of God’s people without me. They are your people now, Joshua.”
“What are you saying?” Joshua asked, confused.
“You are going back down the mountain to the people, as their leader,” Moses explained. “I will head down the other side of the mountain into the valley of Beth-peor where I will die.”
Joshua stared at his mentor and friend. The words would not come. Finally he managed a squeak, “Die?”
“Yes,” Moses said, matter-of-factly, “God has made it very clear to me that I will not enter the Promised Land. That’s why He sent me up here to look into and throughout the land.”
Joshua folded his arms across his broad chest, “But, forty years ago you sent 12 spies into this very land,” Joshua waved one arm at the land beyond the Jordan. “Are you saying that God would have stopped you at that time?”
“Much has happened since that fateful day,” Moses said. “I have failed many times and I have learned many things.”
“As have we all,” Joshua retorted. He was getting angry. “What’s wrong with God? Why is He so mad at you that He is withholding the land which He promised?”
“It is right that it happens this way, Joshua.”
“How?” Joshua was pacing the mountaintop. “How could it possibly be right that you lead us through that despicable dessert and then, at the doorway of the Promised Land, you are denied entry? How is that right?”
Moses reached out and caught Joshua as he stomped past. He turned the younger man to face him and gripped both shoulders. “Because God has said it, Joshua!” Tears came to the old man’s eyes. “If there is anything you can learn from me, it is this: God alone is God and He is always right. Accept that and all will go well with you.”
Joshua studied the face of the man who had been his spiritual father for four decades. In that face he read so much. There was pain. There was trust. And, most evident of all, there was the presence of God.
“I wish to be as humble as you,” Joshua whispered. “How is it that you can be so at peace with God’s will when it is directed against you?”
“I choose to believe God has something better in mind for me,” Moses said.
“Better than the Promised Land?” Joshua explored Moses’ face.
“Yes,” Moses said. “Better than anything this dying world can offer an old man like me.”
“Have you been shown this?” Joshua leaned in, excited.
Moses shook his head from side to side, “No, not this time. The last thing I saw with a seer’s eyes was the land which you will now enter. But, I believe that God has a land awaiting us all where sin, sorrow and death are no longer at work.”
“A place like Eden?” Joshua asked, recalling the stories of their ancestors. “A place where the lamb nestles into the chest of the lion for a mid-day nap?”
Moses’ eyes filled with tears of joy, “Yes, my boy! A place where one’s lifetime makes my 120 years like a mere blink of an eye.”
“And this place comes after death?” Joshua asked.
Moses nodded and then gestured to the river. “Lead God’s people into the Promised land.” Then after a pause, he added, “I’ll see you on the other side.”
Joshua smiled at the thought.
The two men embraced and then walked down different sides of the same mountain.

My Reflection

Imagine being Moses and seeing the Promised Land but knowing that you would not be allowed to enter it. How would you feel? Could you be as humble as Moses?

Imagine being Joshua. What would it be like to lead people into the unknown after following a leader as great as Moses?

My Story

Have you ever spent time with someone as they neared the end of their life? What emotions did you go through during that time? What impact did their view of the afterlife have on them and on you? (If you have not had someone close to you die, try to imagine what it would be like).

Have you ever known someone who has a humble passionate faith in the goodness and righteousness of God? What was that person like? What impact did that person have on others?

How does the hope of life beyond the grave help you in your daily life?

My Assurance

Death is one of the unnerving certainties of life. What hope and comfort to these verses give you?

Romans 6:23 ~ For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 ~ The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ~ But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown.

My Commitment

Ultimate trust should only be invested in someone who can always come through. Because Jesus has power over death, we can trust Him! What do these verses challenge you to consider?

Psalm 146:3-4 ~ Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 ~ And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

John 5:28-29 ~ Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.

My Outlook

It is hard to imagine a life beyond or without death. How do these verses help you to see God, life and your own future differently?

1 Timothy 6:15-16 ~ For at just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Colossians 3:4 ~ And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

1 Corinthians 15:54 ~ Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

My Response

The following statement is the 26th of the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Review the doctrine and then write a personal response. What difference does this make to your life?

Death and Resurrection

The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later.

Bible Story

The Stories of Moses’ death and Joshua’s empowerment are found in Deuteronomy 32-34 and Joshua 1.

Further Reading

John 11:11-14, Revelation 20:1-10

Friday, March 14, 2014

28 Stories - Study 27: Pillars of Presence

Fundamental: God the Holy Spirit

Bible Story 

Moses stood next to Joshua, looking into the Promised Land from their mountain-top vantage point. They had been through a lot together in the past 40 years. Now it was time to hand the leadership of this people -— God’s people -— to the man who God had chosen to lead them into their next phase of reality.
“Why can’t you come with us,” Joshua said, trying to understand the reason Moses had been given from the Lord.
“I’ve already told you, Joshua.” Moses turned and placed his age-spotted hands on the younger man’s shoulders. “I have run the race set before me. God has called you to lead the people into the land of promise. My steps end on this mountain.”
“How will I do it,” Joshua paused to regain his composure, “without you?”
Moses’ face smiled with wisdom, “God is always with us, Joshua, always has been, always will be.”
“You have always been with us,” Joshua said. “God speaks to you. All that we have done, all that we have become is because of your conversations with God. Without you...” a look of terror filled his eyes, “without you, we have no one to tell us God’s words!”
“I am not the only mouthpiece for the Lord!” Moses said. “I am barely worthy of such an honor. Another will be chosen, just as you have been chosen to lead.”
“How am I to lead?” Joshua asked. “How will I know which way to go, when to attack and when to run?”
“God will go with you,” Moses answered. “You have seen Him lead us through this barren desert. The Lord went ahead of us. He guided us during the day with a pillar of cloud, and He provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed us to travel by day or by night. He will remain with the people when I am gone!”
“I remember the first time we saw the pillar of God’s presence,” Joshua said smiling at the memory.
“What is it that you remember?” Moses prodded.
“We were trapped between the Red Sea and the approaching armies of Egypt.”
“That seems like a lifetime ago,” Moses interjected.
“Yes,” Joshua continued, “and then a massive cloud appeared and blocked the view. We couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see us.”
“And then God opened the waters,” Moses closed his eyes visualizing the story he had told a thousand times to the children who were born afterward.
Joshua continued, “The cloud became fire on our side, providing light and cloud on the Egyptian side blocking their view of us. As the cloud moved along behind us, revealing the path we had taken, Pharaoh’s men rushed madly into the open sea corridor.”
Moses couldn’t help interrupting, “But just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion.”
“That’s right,” Joshua said, rubbing his hands together. “Their axles bent, wheels came off, horses went crazy. And then the water closed over them.”
Silence overtook the two men as, lost in the memory of God’s leading in the past, they peered across the Jordan into the land God promised as their future.
“That same God,” Moses said seriously, “will be your guard and your guide in the new land. Just as he came to speak to me in the Sanctuary, so he will come to speak to you.”
“I am unworthy,” Joshua said.
“None are worthy but God himself,” Moses said.
“I remember the cloud hovering at the door of the sanctuary as God spoke to you,” Joshua said.
“So many conversations,” Moses remembered. “So much joy.”
“Your face would glow for days after each encounter!” Joshua said. “It was as if God lived within you.”
“I believe He does,” Moses said. “And within you. It is God’s desire to have His Spirit live within each of us. Just as the cloud of His presence would hover above the Sanctuary  -— as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night -— so God’s Holy Spirit wishes to hover above and within each of us.”
Joshua considered this thought for sometime before responding. “If that were the case, then we would know when to move and when to stand still.”
“How so?” Moses asked.
“The pillar that hovered above the Sanctuary in the heart of our camp stayed put when we were to stay in one place and it moved away from the Sanctuary when we were to follow it.”
“Keep going,” Moses invited.
“Well,” Joshua was getting excited, “If God’s Spirit lives within our heart, then we should be able to feel when it moves. If we are required to stay still, we should feel a sense of wellbeing in our resting. And if we are to move, we should do so because we feel the Spirit moving, thus tugging us along after it!”
“Sounds like you’ve got a plan,” Moses said. “Just make sure your relationship with God stays strong.”
“Do you think we could loose the connection?” Joshua wondered aloud.
“God has chosen us,” Moses said. “But He also allows us the freedom to choose Him.”
“Will the pillars of God’s presence always guide us, as they have these past forty years?” Joshua asked.
“I don’t know,” Moses said. “But what I do know is that God will always be with His people and He will always send His Spirit to lead them into His will.”
The silence returned and lingered as the two men peered longingly into the Promised Land, both lost in their pondering of God’s leading -— past, present and future.

My Reflection

What do you think Moses would have been thinking as he stared into the Promised Land?

What about Joshua, what might he have been thinking?

Imagine being God. Do you think the transitions from one leader to the next are difficult for God? Do you think He grows attached? Does He get excited about the relationship with the new leader? What might that be like?

My Story

Would you like a pillar of fire or cloud to lead you? Can you imagine a time when it would be a blessing? What about a time when it would be frustrating?

Have you had a time when you felt God leading in your life  — a time when the pillar of presence moved or stayed you —  and you followed that leading? Tell that story.

My Assurance

God has been present and leading His people since the beginning of time in the form of the Holy Spirit. How do these verses give you assurance that the same God who lead Moses through the desert will lead you in your life?

Genesis 1:1-2 ~ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

2 Peter 1:20-21 ~ Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

John 14:16-18 ~ And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.

John 14:26 ~ But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

My Commitment

When Jesus declared His mission on Earth he was very specific. Before returning to Heaven, he handed that mission on to His followers. What is that mission? How are we to fulfill it? By what power?

Luke 4:14-21 ~ Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Acts 1:8 ~ But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

My Outlook

The same Holy Spirit which was present and active at Jesus’ birth and baptism is now active in our lives. What do these verses tell us about the impact the Holy Spirit should have on this world through us? What effect would a people “like Jesus” filled with the Holy Spirit have on planet Earth?

Luke 1:35 ~ The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

Acts 10:38 ~ And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

2 Corinthians 3:18 ~ So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

John 16:7-9, 13 ~ It is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. ... “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.

My Response

The following statement is the 5th of the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Review the doctrine and then write a personal response. What difference does this make to your life?

God the Holy Spirit

God the eternal Spirit was active with the Father and the Son in Creation, incarnation, and redemption. He inspired the writers of Scripture. He filled Christ’s life with power. He draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond He renews and transforms into the image of God. Sent by the Father and the Son to be always with His children, He extends spiritual gifts to the church, empowers it to bear witness to Christ, and in harmony with the Scriptures leads it into all truth.

Bible Story

The story of the Holy Spirit in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire is found in Exodus 13 and 14, Numbers 9, 12 and 14, Deuteronomy 1 and 31.

Further Reading

John 15:26-27

Friday, March 07, 2014

28 Stories - Study 26: 40 Years in the Desert

Fundamental: The Millennium and the End of Sin

Bible Story   

As Moses made his way back up the mountain, he rehearsed what he would say to God, “The people make me so angry! I didn’t mean to break the stone tablets you gave me. I am so sorry. Please forgive me!”
When he finally arrived at the place where they had met last time, he waited, hoping he was still acceptable to God.
Finally, a quiet voice came from all around Moses, “Welcome back.” It really sounded like the rock, the air, the sky and the ground were each responsible for the voice. It came from everywhere. It seemed as if even his own body was generating the sound. “You broke my law, Moses.”
“Yes, Lord. I am so-”
“I’ve heard it already,” God interrupted. “You’ve been apologising over and over the entire time you’ve been climbing the mountain!”
“You were listening?”
A deep rumble caused a few pebbles to vibrate off of a ledge above Moses. “Yes,” God was laughing. “Yes, of course I was listening! It is impossible for me not to hear the cries of my people—whether they come from the heart or the tongue. I hear everything! I am the Creator, after all.”
There was a long pause before Moses spoke. “They just make me so angry! Why did they make that calf? They knew I would come back from visiting you! Why would they worship a golden image from Egypt? What did Egypt ever do for them? Don’t they remember being slaves?”
“You have many questions, my child,” God said. “Know this, you are not alone in your anger. Their actions anger me, often. Even I, at times, need reminding of my own grace!”
Moses knew exactly what God was talking about, “Well, you did threaten to destroy every last one of them! I had to say something! I couldn’t believe that you would rescue us all from slavery and then, in a moment of explosive anger, obliterate us!”
“So you said,” God responded. “And I listened.”
“Were you really going to destroy them?”
“What do you think?”
“You promised to take us to a beautiful land,” Moses was thinking out loud, “and if you destroyed us, you would have broken your promise—or at least been unable to fulfill it.”
“It would seem you have answered your own question,” God replied, “and quieted your own doubting heart. Now, You need to chisel a couple of new tablets out of the rock wall next to you.”
“But,” Moses said, “Last time you-”
“Yes, but you broke those tablets,” God reminded. “We often value that which we create with our own hands and by the sweat of our own brow. So, this time, you will make them!”
Moses nodded his head in agreement. He turned to the wall and began working. As he chiseled away, he continued talking to God. “How can they be so forgetful?”
“How can the Israelites forget so easily?” Moses clarified. “You parted the waters of the Red Sea as Egypt’s armies were baring down on us. We ran headlong into that impossible corridor of wet-walled dry-grounded sea-that-was-no-more and out the other side!” A chip of stone flew over Moses’ head as he took his anger out on the cliff side. “How can they forget and go back to the useless God’s of their captors?”
“The Egyptian gods were all they knew,” God said. “Well, all they had been told of, anyway. I was with them through every brick, every whip and every generation.”
“What about the Manna? They even complained about food falling from the sky—in the desert, free food! Delicious food.”
Moses gently took one stone slab and set it on a large rock. “That’s one done,” he said and returned to the wall to claim another tablet from its stony flesh.
“Meat! They wanted meat.” Moses laughed. “That was hilarious. They asked for meat and when you gave it to them—or failed to stop giving it to them, to be more precise—They didn’t know what to do. They were knee high in quail until even the thought of meat made them sick!”
“You have a good memory,” God said.
“Lot’s of good memories,” Moses answered. “Great memories, because you were there with me. When they feel unsure or alone, why can’t the people look back and remember all you have done?” Moses worked in silence for a while and then turned, another tablet in his hands.
As he placed it on the rock next to the first one, God spoke, “The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”
Moses threw himself to the ground and worshiped. At hearing God declare his name and purpose, worship was the only response imaginable. As he worshiped, Moses prayed, “Oh Lord, if I have found favor with you, please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.”
 God replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you. I will perform miracles never performed anywhere on earth. And all the people around you will see the power of the Lord—the awesome power I will display. But listen carefully to everything I command you today. Then I will go ahead of you and drive out every person who fails to believe in Me—the one true God.”
Then God wrote the terms of the covenant between Him and his people—the Ten Commandments—on the stone tablets Moses had prepared.

My Reflection

Why do you think it was so easy for the Israelites to forget the miracles that God had done for them?

How do you think Moses felt when he got so angry he broke the first tablets? Do you think that situation helped him understand God better? How?

If you were Moses on that mountaintop, and you could tell God anything or ask Him any question, what would you have said?

My Story

When we get to Heaven, God is going to let us explore the record books. We will be able to ask any question, explore any topic or person’s life we wish. Can you think of any time in your life that you would like to understand better? Is there a time when you wondered what God was doing?

God has done things that we do not understand and failed to do things we are sure he should have done. During the millennium (1,000 years in Heaven) we are going to be able to explore God’s actions and intentions. What situation from before you were born (as far back as you want to go) would you like to understand better and know how God was involved?

Moses discovered that, although he had experienced God’s tremendous anger, God was merciful and just. Do you think we will discover the same thing during our 1,000-year research project? Why do you think God gives us 1,000 years for this task?

My Assurance

The spiritual world, unseen to us right now, will go through extreme changes after Jesus’ second coming. What do these verses tell you about the changes that will take place during the millennium?

Revelation 20:1-3 ~ Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished.

Malachi 4:1 ~ The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.

My Commitment

Just as God has given us a part to play in sharing the Gospel with the world, we will also have responsibilities after His return. What do these verses tell you about our involvement during the 1000 years in heaven? How do they challenge you today?

1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ~ Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life.

Ezekiel 28:18-19 ~ You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade. So I brought fire out from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more.

My Outlook

During the thousand years while God’s people are in Heaven, this world will be a desolate heap of rubble. Then it will be made new. What do these verses tell you about the way the earth will look and feel during and after the millennium?

Jeremiah 4:23-26 ~ I looked at the earth, and it was empty and formless. I looked at the heavens, and there was no light. I looked at the mountains and hills, and they trembled and shook. I looked, and all the people were gone. All the birds of the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness. The towns lay in ruins, crushed by the Lord’s fierce anger.

Revelation 21:1-5 ~ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

My Response

The following statement is the 27th of the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Review the doctrine and then write a personal response. What difference does this make to your life?

The Millennium and the End of Sin

The millennium is the thousand-year reign of Christ with His saints in heaven between the first and second resurrections. During this time the wicked dead will be judged; the earth will be utterly desolate, without living human inhabitants, but occupied by Satan and his angels. At its close Christ with His saints and the Holy City will descend from heaven to earth. The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected, and with Satan and his angels will surround the city; but fire from God will consume them and cleanse the earth. The universe will thus be freed of sin and sinners forever.

Bible Story

The story of Moses spending 40 days with God and receiving the second set of stone tablets is found in Exodus 34. The rest of the stories referred to are from various places in Exodus.

Further Reading

Revelation 20. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

28 Stories - Study 25: Promised Land

Fundamental: The New Earth

Bible Story 

Joshua and Caleb headed to the rendezvous point at the edge of the Jordan River. They walked at a fast pace, talking as they went.
“I can’t believe we were both selected!” Joshua said.
“I know,” Caleb answered, “all of our hint dropping must have worked!” Both young men laughed.
They had been chosen to represent their tribe on a special mission. The people of Israel were just a stone’s throw away from Canaan and the elders had decided to send a party of fit men to spy out the land. Each of Israel’s 12 tribes provided one man for the mission.
“It’s going to be so much fun!” Caleb continued.
“Yeah,” Joshua replied, “but it will be dangerous, too. We are going to need to be very careful.”
“To be honest,” Caleb’s voice quieted to a whisper as they walked through the rows of tents, “I don’t really understand why this mission is happening.”
Joshua glanced over at his friend to see if he was serious. “Because the elders want to know the strengths and weaknesses of the land before we go in. It’s a smart military move. Know your enemy!” Joshua answered, studying the face of his friend, intrigued. “You don’t want to take our wives and children across the river if there’s a huge army just inside the walls of Jericho, do you?”
“Well,” Caleb chose his words carefully, “God led us here from Egypt. And Moses keeps calling the land across the Jordan “the promised land” because God has promised to give it to us. Why are we questioning what God has promised?”
Joshua stopped walking. Caleb slowed to a stand still and then turned to face his friend. The look on Joshua’s face was a combination of respect and wonder. “You are amazing, Caleb,” Joshua said. “Your faith is unlike anyone I have ever met. And, I think you make a very good point! Do you think we should talk to the elders and ask them to reconsider the mission?”
“No,” Caleb shook his head seriously, “They are God’s chosen leaders and this mission is where their prayers and planning have led them. Let’s go on the mission with the intention of finding every blessing the land has to offer. Let the other 10 worry about the power of the enemy. We’ll focus on the promise and power of God!”
“Genius!” Joshua laughed and playfully punched Caleb in the shoulder. “You’ve got a sanctified devious streak, my friend. That will make the entire mission great fun! God is good!”
“All the time!” Caleb continued the familiar phrase loved by the children and then added, “All the time!”
“God is good!” Joshua finished.

40 years later

Joshua and Caleb stood together on the shore of the Jordan River peering across to Promised Land. The silence deepened as they both remembered the unfortunate result all those years ago.
They had spied out the land. They had brought back a glowing report. They carried back samples of the land’s bounty to win the hearts of the people of Israel. But, the other 10 spies had nothing good to say about Canaan. The Giants were too big. The walls were too strong. The land God had promised was a horrible land, they said.
And God had become enraged. He threatened to destroy every last one of the Israelites. It was only the brave heart and words of Moses that saved them. He reminded God of how much He loved the people he had called out of Egypt. He had set them free not because they were worthy but because He was gracious. God listened to Moses. And forgave the people.
But they didn’t go into the Promised Land. God let them wander throughout the desert on the wrong side of Jordan for 40 more years. He allowed Israel time to recognise their mistake.
God’s promise to give His people the land “flowing with milk and honey” still stood. And now, all these years later, they had returned to the Jordan River, this time fully intending on taking the land promised to them.
They were not the same people they had been 40 years before. As a nation, they were older and wiser. And a new crop of young families now lived among them that did not remember Egypt -— they only knew what they heard in the stories told by parents and grandparents. All, old and young alike, were tired of the desert and ready to accept God’s promise.
“It seems like a lifetime ago,” Joshua said peering across the river.
“Yes,” Caleb replied. “But I’m still excited about it! It really is a glorious land.”
“True,” Joshua said. “Do you realise, of the twelve who spied out the land, we are the only two who will enter it?”
“Oh my,” Caleb said, “Have they all died? All ten of them?”
Joshua nodded his head, “Living with such bitterness and negativity clearly shortens one’s lifespan.”
Caleb gave a little laugh in response. “Indeed. And a complainer’s life is not much of a life, anyway.”
Joshua nodded. “I’m not sorry for them. They were nothing but trouble since that trip into Canaan. But I am sorry for Moses. He would have crossed over with us.”
Caleb placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder, “He is at peace now. No more leadership stresses for him. They are all yours now!”
“Oh thanks,” Joshua said, turning to look at Caleb. “And just like always, you will be my right-hand man!”
“Lead on, fearless leader!” Caleb said with a smile. “Take us into the promised land!”

My Reflection

Imagine the different emotions that would have gone through the minds of people as they re-approached the Jordan River — 40 years after their first visit. Consider what thoughts and emotions would have been going through the mind of:

Moses (standing on a high mountain looking into the promised land, realising this is as close as he will ever get):

Joshua (the new leader after Moses):

Caleb (having stood beside Joshua since they were children):

The people of Israel (knowing they had rejected God’s leading last time they reached this place):
My Story
Consider the response of your heart when you consider this statement: “Jesus is coming soon to take us to Heaven. This earth will be changed. Our lives will never be the same again.”

How would you encourage someone (maybe yourself?) who says, “There is so much I still want to do before Jesus comes”?

It is easy to think, “What was wrong with those Israelites? They were in a barren desert and thought the Promised Land wasn’t worth the effort!” How are we like them in our thoughts about the land God has promised us?

My Assurance

The eternal Kingdom God has planned for his people is similar and yet different to the world in which we now live. How do the following verses give you confidence in God’s plan and purpose?

2 Peter 3:13 ~ But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

Revelation 22:4-5 ~ No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 11:15 ~ Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.”

My Commitment

There are very few verses which tell us what we “must” do once we are in the new Earth. What do you notice in these verses about the actions that we are called to participate in? How would it impact others if we did them now?

Isaiah 65:17-18 ~ “Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore. Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy.

Matthew 5:5 ~ God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.

Isaiah 35:4 ~ Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.”

My Outlook

If you could imagine a perfect world, what would it look like? How do the following verses reveal the future existence God has planned for His people?

Revelation 21:1-5 ~ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

Isaiah 35:8-10 ~ And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. . . . Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

My Response

The following statement is the 28th of the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Review the doctrine and then write a personal response. What difference does this make to your life?

The New Earth

On the new earth, in which righteousness dwells, God will provide an eternal home for the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, love, joy, and learning in His presence. For here God Himself will dwell with His people, and suffering and death will have passed away. The great controversy will be ended, and sin will be no more. All things, animate and inanimate, will declare that God is love; and He shall reign forever. Amen.

Bible Story

The Bible story of the 12 spies going into Canaan is in Numbers 13 and 14.

Further Reading

 Isaiah 35, Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelation 21 and 22.