Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sabbath Revolution (Isaiah 56 & 58)

Let’s step back in time 500 years to the year 1512.  Look up with me into the sky?  What do you see?  You see the sun moving across the sky, from east to west.  Move 12 hours forward to night time.  What do you see now?  You see the stars and planets moving across the sky, again from east to west.  What is the most stable, most durable, least movable, physical thing you know?  The earth.  It was patently obvious to everyone 500 years ago that the earth is the stable center of the universe, and the sun, the moon, and all the stars and planets revolve around the earth.  This was so obvious that there was no argument.  Just look up.  How could it be any other way?
Then, there was this pesky astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus.  He looked up and looked up and looked up, and he just couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing.  The patterns of movement for the sun, the planets, and the stars just didn’t make sense.  Finally, just before he died in 1543, he published an “earth shattering” book called: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.  He argued that the whole world had been wrong.  
Even though we can look “up” and see what seems like the sun moving, it isn’t.  We’re the ones moving.  The earth and all the planets actually revolve around the sun.  It’s like when you’re sailing down a river and the trees on the bank look like they’re moving.  This started the Copernican Revolution which completely changed not only our understanding of astronomy but also our understanding of the world and our place in it.  Copernicus was one of the chief sparks of the scientific revolution that is still happening today.
But what most people don’t know is that Copernicus was not the first person to propose this theory.  Someone else beat him to it - by almost 2,000 years.  In the 3rd century BC, Aristarchus, an ancient Greek astronomer, suggested that the sun is fixed and earth is one of many planets revolving around the sun.  Almost without exception, he was shamed and condemned for promoting scientific foolishness and theological heresy.  What would have happened if people had doubted what seemed “obvious” to “everyone” to consider the possibility that the universe might work in more mysterious ways?  How would our world be different?
Let me describe another prevailing world-view.  More work = more productivity.  More activity = more happiness.  More study time = better grades.  Better grades = a better life.  More status = more satisfaction.  More success = a better life.  More stuff = a better life.  More pleasurable experiences = a better life.  Basically, quantity = quality.   Success, status, stuff, and pleasure are the keys to a good life.  And the more the better.  This is the prevailing view of our world.  It is “obvious.”  Just look up.  Just look at the stars and the rich people and the geniuses.  They’ve got it made.  It’s obvious.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Is It Acceptable to Study on the Sabbath? (Talk Back Series)

Question: Is it acceptable to study on the Sabbath?
[This question can in on a Talk Back card at our church.]

Unless we want to be really legalistic, we can’t say that studying is NEVER allowed on the Sabbath.  But let’s think about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20: 8-11.  God says, "Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.  On that day no one in your household may do any work.  This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy."  
This passage - along with loads of others - talks about "keeping the Sabbath holy".  God created the world and everything in it in six days, but on the seventh day, he didn't work.  He rested. 
One thing we need to consider is whether or not studying is actual work.  In our sermon series on Sabbath, we have talked a lot about making sure that we don't do anything on the Sabbath that we consider to be work.  For students, school and studying is basically their job.  They work hard at it - harder in Korea than in any other developed nation.  We all need a break sometimes, and the Sabbath is the break that God knew we would need.  If students are studying on the Sabbath, are they really getting a break?  Are they really able to take time to de-stress, not worry about grades or test scores, or just have fun with their friends and family? 
In the 10 commandments, God said that not only the parents or adults who have a job are to rest from their work, but even the children, servants, animals and foreigners should observe the Sabbath.  No one was excluded from the command to rest. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why does God create people with mental illnesses? (Talk Back Series)

Why does God create people with mental illnesses (i.e. depression, bipolar disorder, etc.)? 
[Answered by Shannon and Josh]

  This is not the easiest question to answer because there isn’t any clear answer in Scripture about this.  Genesis 1:27 says that we are "created in the image of God".  If we are created in the image of God, then God doesn’t create people with any illness, whether mental or physical. 
Many people attribute illness and disabilities to “the fall of man” in Genesis 3.  There is some justification for this, because before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they didn't know any wrong or even that they were naked.  At the fall, sin entered the world.  There was now the opportunity for people to choose between good and evil.  
God didn't create all of the bad things that happen to people and all of the suffering that many people face.  People throughout the generations have chosen to disobey God and to live sinful lives. We are all born sinners, and sin and its consequences have been passed on from generation to generation. Because of this, there have been negative results on our world and in our lives as human beings.  People are born into a world that is literally being destroyed by the people living in it.  
On the other hand, when Jesus was asked about the reason for the man's blindness in John 9:1-3, Jesus said that his blindness was not because of his sin or his parent's sin, but to bring glory to God.  That's not that reassuring for someone who is suffering with an incurable disease or a mental illness, but God has used the faith and lives of many people who have suffered to draw people to himself and to bring glory to His name.  
When we are suffering with something, it's really hard to be positive and think about the good that can come from a situation that we are going through. After we get through it though, we often look back and realize that God was with us the whole time and that we were never alone. Through everything that we have faced or are facing, God walks with us, and we can praise Him for strengthening us, healing us, and sustaining us regardless of what we are going through.   
       Also, the collective effects of human sin throughout the world are basically an un-creation, a descent into chaos.  However, God is constantly working for re-creation, healing our brokenness, setting things right.  God wants us to be healthy and whole here in this life, and God is working through his Spirit and people to move us toward more health.  But eventually, when Jesus comes again, he will set everything right.  He will make everyone whole and cure every disease and heal every wound.  For now, we keep taking baby steps toward healing in God's love, but we also look forward in hope to the total healing God will eventually give.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why do so many people do good with bad results or do bad and are constantly blessed? (Talk Back Series)

Question: I 1000% disagree that what you plant, you harvest. Why do so many people do good with bad results or do bad and are constantly blessed?

There are several ways to answer your question.  Each answer is a little different, but all are true.
  1. There is the idea of what it means to have bad results.  As Christians, we believe in the idea of God controlling ultimate justice. There are eternal consequences, both good and bad, for our actions here on Earth.  In the end, we are subject to God's judgement.  (See Psalm 1: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked...but his delight is in the law of the Lord...for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”) Blessings are not derived from health, wealth or earthly success, but by knowing and living with and for Christ. John 17:3 talks about eternal life in knowing Jesus. If we envy the wicked, we are being shortsighted. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says that the suffering of the righteous is nothing compared to the weight of glory.
  2. Often, when we think about God giving us good and bad things, we tend to think of people being either good or bad.  We say, why do bad things happen to good people and why do good things happen to bad people?  The truth is, none of us are good people.  We are all sinners, and we all deserve death and hell.  But we are saved by God's great grace and mercy. Romans 5:8 states: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  All of the good in our lives is already from God, and God loves all of us, even those who have not accepted Christ.
  3. The idea that we reap what we sow is more the idea that if we treat others well and with love, then that often comes back to us in the form of love and friendship and seeing good happen to those we care about.  Those who live lives that are selfish and uncaring may still gain fame and fortune, but they will drive people away from them.  Eventually, people will see through someone and will know a snake when they see one. 
  4. Often, the Bible actually presents two sides of the same issue.  The “reap what you sow” concept that Josh talked about last week is a great example of this.  Some parts of the Bible (like Proverbs) speak heavily toward justice here and now on earth.  The basic premise of Proverbs is that if you make wise choices, you will be blessed in this life.  This is the basic “rule of life,” the way life normally operates.  If you eat well and exercise, you are probably going to be pretty healthy.  However, if you eat pizza and icecream while watching TV all day, you’re going to need a fork lift to get out of bed by the time you’re 50.  You reap what you sow.  However, other books of the Bible speak more to the “exception to the rule.”  Sometimes, even if you do everything right, you’ll still get cancer and die at 30.  Sometimes, life simply isn’t fair.  Ecclesiastes is a book that goes more in this direction.  Both are true.  There are definitely basic principles for wise and healthy living, but just like English grammar, there are always annoying exceptions to the rules.

(Answered by Matt and Josh)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sabbath Laws? (Nehemiah 13:15-22)

Jerusalem had been destroyed.  The best and brightest Jews had been carried off into slavery in Babylon.  The prophets said God sent Israel into exile because they neglected their covenant with God, especially the Sabbath - the sign of the covenant.  Jeremiah tried to prevent the exile.  He warned Israel: 
“If you obey me, says the LORD, and do not carry on your trade at the gates or work on the Sabbath day, and if you keep it holy, then kings and their officials will go in and out of these gates forever.  There will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem. ... But if you ... refuse to keep the Sabbath holy, and and if on the Sabbath day you bring loads of merchandise through the gates of Jerusalem just as on other days, then I will set fire to these gates.  The fire will spread to the palaces, and no one will be able to put out the roaring flames.”  (Jeremiah 17:24, 27)
Later, while Israel was still in exile, Ezekiel explained that bad Sabbath practice lay at the root of Israel’s troubles for many generations.  Listen as God speaks through Ezekiel:
I gave them my decrees and regulations so they could find life by keeping them.  And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me.  It was to remind them that I am the LORD, who had set them apart to be holy.  But the people of Israel rebelled against me ... They wouldn’t obey my regulations even though obedience would have given them life.  They also violated my Sabbath days  ... I swore I would scatter them among all the nations because they did not obey my regulations.  They scorned my decrees by violating my Sabbath days and longing for the idols of their ancestors.  I gave them over to worthless decrees and regulations that would not lead to life.  I let them pollute themselves with the very gifts I had given them ... so that I might devastate them and remind them that I alone am the LORD.”  (Ezekiel 20:11-26)
For the prophets, there were some clear connections here that may not be obvious to us.  First, Israel’s relationships with God was a blessings/curses covenant.  Obey the covenant, and God will bless Israel.  Disobey the covenant, and God will curse or punish Israel.  Second, keeping the Sabbath was the sign of keeping the whole covenant.  Not keeping the Sabbath was like abandoning God and God’s covenant.  So then, third, for the prophets before and during the exile, there was a clear connection between keeping the Sabbath and experiencing God’s blessings or curses.  
But exile didn’t last forever.  Eventually, Israelites started to return home.  With the leadership of godly governors like Ezra and Nehemiah, there was a great organizational, structural, moral, and religious revival in Jerusalem.  But then, Nehemiah was called back to Babylon for several years.  We don’t know who the governor of Jerusalem was at that time, but he wasn’t very good at running the city according to God’s rules.  When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem several years later, he had to begin several reforms all over again.  Listen as Nehemiah describes with shock what he found:
But in those days, I saw men of Judah treading out their winepresses on the Sabbath.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why Does God Allow Suffering? (Talk Back Series)

If God is love, and God is good, then why does a good God allow suffering (emotionally, physically, socially, etc.)?
[This is a response to a question shared on a "Talk Back" card at our church.]

When I was in Europe, I took a midnight train from Paris to Zurich. I was too cheap to pay for a sleeping car, so I ended up talking all night with a man named Yacov. Yacov described himself as a secular Jew. He is Israeli and grew up in Israel. He was educated in the Jewish faith.
However, when he saw a documentary on the Holocaust in school, he became an atheist. He said to himself, “There is no such thing as God or the chosen people, or else this would not have happened.”
Yacov is not alone. Many people have lost faith in God because of the suffering they see in the world. How can a loving God allow so much suffering? This is a huge question.

Take a minute and think about one instance of serious suffering. It can be something you went through, something that happened to someone you know, or something you just heard about. You can make it as personal or impersonal as you want.

How can a loving God allow so much suffering? This is one of the hardest questions for both Christians and non-Christians. I want to give a few disclaimers before we set into our discussion tonight.
1. The Bible does not give a complete answer to this question. The Bible is more focused on how to overcome suffering rather than focusing on why there is suffering in the first place.
2. There is no way that I can give a complete answer today. You and I both will probably leave here feeling at least a little unsatisfied with the answers we talk about today. Even though I can’t answer the question completely, I hope that I can at least make this issue more manageable for us.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sabbath Sign (Exodus 31:12-18)

Every child who attends Sunday School knows the story of Noah’s Ark.  Humanity had become so sinful that God decided the best thing was to start over with Noah’s family.  Following God’s instructions, Noah built an huge boat (called an “ark”) and gathered representative animals to keep them safe. Then, a huge flood came that covered the earth, but Noah and the animals were safe in the ark.  
If you’re like me, you have 1,001 questions about this story.  However, for just a few minutes, skip past those questions to the end of the story.  
After the floodwaters went down and the earth became livable again, Noah and the animals left the ark and had a worship service to thank God for keeping them safe.  In that great moment in time, God made a covenant with humanity and the animals and every living creature.  
Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life.  When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.”  (Genesis 9:12-17).
God is saying, “OK, after this big flood, you guys might be a little skittish.  You might get scared every time it rains, but don’t worry, this huge flood was a one-time deal.  It will never happen again, I promise.  In fact, I’ll give you the rainbow as a sign of my promise. When you see the rainbow, you’ll remember that I promise to keep the waters under control so that life can flourish on earth.”
The rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant commitment to life on earth.  It’s a sign that we have no control over, but it is a sign that God has control over us and our earth.

The next sign of the covenant comes as part of Abraham’s story.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What does the Bible say about drinking? (Talk Back Series)

What does the Bible say about drinking? The Church of the Nazarene?  KNU International English Church?  Is there such a thing as drinking in moderation? Acceptable drinking?
[This is a response to a question shared on a "Talk Back" card at our church. Answered by Adam Jantz and Josh Broward.]

These are all very good questions, and we're glad you asked! 
First, let’s start with what the Bible says about drinking.  The Bible talks about alcohol over 70 different times, and many of them can seem confusing or contradictory. It is very common to hear one of two answers. “Yes, it is okay to drink as long as you don’t drink too much.”  Or “No, you should not drink at all because it is a sin!”
For example Leviticus 10:9 says “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.”  Judges 13:4 says “Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, “ - So we should never drink – check!
But according to Ecclesiastes 9:7 “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.”  And Psalm 104:14-15 “ You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. “  - So we can drink?!?
Also, Paul told Timothy to stop drinking only water and to drink some wine because it was good for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23).  Furthermore, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11.  It had to be real, high quality wine because the people said that Jesus’ wine was the best wine at the party!
On the other hand, though, the Bible is clear that drunkenness is dangerous and sinful (Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:19-21, Proverbs 23:29-35).  We should not be mastered by anything on this earth (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19), and drinking alcohol can easily become addictive to many people.   Also, the Bible explains that we shouldn’t do anything that might offend other Christians or that might encourage them to sin (1 Corinthians 8:9-13).
So what do we get when we put all of this together? 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sabbath Liberation (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

       Meet Chan and Tin.  They worked most of their lives in the rice fields of Thailand.  After working all year on the farm, there was barely enough money to feed the family.  They struggled year after year in desperate poverty.
One day a recruiter for a company called Global Horizons came to their village promising high paying jobs on farms in America.  In one month in America, they could earn what they make in a full year in Thailand.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime to change the lives of their children and their whole extended family.
There was just one catch.  To enter the program, they had to pay a recruitment fee of almost $15,000.  They mortgaged their farms and their houses.  They talked their relatives in to mortgaging their farms and homes.  Tin’s loans ranged up to 80% annual interest, but Chan’s loans reached 152% annual interest.
When they got to the airport, Global Horizons forced them to sign a host of new documents - including a visa renewal fee of $8,000.  When they reached America, the recruiters confiscated their passports “for safekeeping.”  This meant that they had no identification and no way to prove that they were in the USA legally.
At first, there was plenty of work and on-time pay.  After a few months though, the work began to run out and the pay started coming later and later.  Often, they sent 100% of their pay checks back to Thailand so that their families could make the payments on their loans.  That meant they often didn’t have enough to eat, so they caught wild animals for food and gathered wild vegetables from forests.  They usually lived in overcrowded housing without enough beds for each person.  Sometimes the toilet wouldn’t work for weeks at a time.  They often lacked kitchens, washing machines, and sufficient heating. To limit their contact with outsiders, their handlers told them that Americans are greatly prejudiced against Asians and that leaving their housing grounds would be very dangerous.  
Surely this couldn’t really happen in today’s world, right?  They are free people.  They could just change companies, right?  Wrong.  Global Horizons was their legal sponsor and guarantor.  If they quit, they would lose their visas and be sent home to Thailand ... and their families would lose everything.  
Well, then, they could complain.  They could talk get help from the police, right?  Oh, you mean, the same police who arrested them as illegal aliens because they didn’t have proper identification?  They thought that if they went to the police, then they would be sent home - either by the police or by Global Horizons ... and their families would lose everything.
Well, then, surely, they could at least go on strike and protest for better working conditions, right?  Managers continually reminded them that if they complained, they would be sent home to Thailand.  Then, they would have no way to repay those huge loans ... and their families would lose everything.  The U.S. Justice department decided that Chan and Tin were “victims of human trafficking.”  They were officially, legally, modern day slaves ... in the United States of America ... in 2007.

They aren’t the only slaves.  The US government estimates that there are somewhere between 4 million and 27 million slaves in the world today - at this moment.
  This is a horrific tragedy, and the Church of the Nazarene and many other Christian and secular organizations are actively working to stop human trafficking and to protect those most vulnerable.  

However, today I ask you to consider that the problem of modern slavery is far more widespread than we have ever imagined.  I think you will begin to understand as we read our Old Testament lesson for today. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sabbath Texts

Last week, I told our church that during September, I'm going to try to talk about all the major Sabbath texts.  Today, I made a list.  These might not all qualify as "major," but they are all the places in the Bible that say something unique about the Sabbath.  To make it easier, I've added a brief summary for each text.

  • Genesis 1-2 - God created the universe in six days, and on the seventh day, God rested.  That’s why we rest one day a week.
  • Exodus 16:21-31 - God sends enough manna on the 6th day so that the Israelites can stay home and rest on the seventh for a Sabbath.
  • Exodus 20:8-11 - Rest on the seventh day because God rested after 6 days of creation.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why is it possible to try so hard and constantly pray and have faith and still fail?

That’s a good question.  Success and failure depend on a complex network of factors.  You mentioned three: effort, prayer, and faith.  These are definitely very important, but what about wisdom, knowledge, skill, and support for example?  
I may have the dream to climb Mount Everest, but effort, prayer, and faith aren’t going to get me there.  I’m going to need a whole lot of knowledge, skill, and support from a team.  However, that doesn’t even take into account the bigger question of whether climbing Mount Everest is the right dream for me to pursue.  Wisdom is knowing the right mountain and the right approach path.
But even beyond that, we have to acknowledge that there are simply many factors that are beyond our control.  For reasons that we can only guess, God doesn’t protect us from many of those: storms, disasters, drunk drivers, illness, the sins and mistakes of others, etc.  Sometimes failure comes from within, and we can rightly blame ourselves.  Other times, we just have to acknowledge that we had a few bad breaks, and it didn’t work out for us.  There doesn’t have to be “a reason for everything.”
I suspect that most of the time, when we fail after trying hard and praying hard, we are really missing wisdom and support from others.  Thinking that we can handle anything with just us and God sound all nice and holy, but it just doesn’t work in practice for most people.  There is something mysteriously powerful about humbly gathering with our brothers and sisters, confessing our failures, and honestly asking God to heal us together.  This is why Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step groups have spread around the world.  There is an aspect of God’s grace and healing that can only come to us through other people.  
Whatever it is that is frustrating you these days, here is my advice.  Get together with some good friends and get really honest with them.  Tell them exactly what you’re struggling with, and ask for their support and prayer.  You may find the truth of this ancient verse: “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

[This is a response to a question shared on a "Talk Back" card at our church.]