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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is God enough?

What if Adventist men lived seven years less than average?

What if paying tithe was a sure route to bankruptcy?

And what if following God meant giving up any chance at eternal life?

Would you still believe? Would you still have faith? Would you still be a Christian anyway?

Those are the question posed by this week’s lesson – questions exemplified by God’s command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac.

In giving up Isaac, remember, Abraham was giving up everything that God had ever promised: life, hope, blessings, and promises. All gone, just because God said to give them up.

Likewise, we come to God for all kinds of reasons – because we seek purpose. Because we seek meaning.Because we want our kids to pick up some moral values. Or maybe we’re just looking for a group of like-minded people who will help us chase away the blues on Saturday morning. Whatever.

And sometimes, we find these things and God besides – and yes, it’s great when that happens.

But sometimes, it seems as though we can follow God only by giving up everything we’d ever wanted from him. No purpose. No meaning. No happy family or like-minded friends – all gone, with nothing left but God.

So what do we do when this happens? Is God enough? Or was there something else we really wanted – something we wanted even more than Him?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Such a deal!

Abraham was not the man you’d send out to buy a good used car – not if you could help it.

No, the sad fact is that Abraham got snookered just about every time he tried to make a deal. Think of what happened, for instance, the time things got too crowded for both him and his nephew.

Abraham: “Lot, it’s time we split up – and since it’s only polite, I will give you the opportunity to choose first just exactly where you want to go. Then you will defer to me as the eldest, and once you’ve do that, I will then go ahead and make my choice.”

Job: “How about I just pick what I want and be done with it?”

Abraham: “Oh.”

And then there was the time Abraham bought a piece of land to use for Sarah’s grave.

Abraham: “How much?”

Ephron the Hittite: “For you, it’s free!”

Abraham: “But seriously – how much?

Ephron the Hittite: “400 shekels of silver” . . .

. . . an outrageous price, since this would be more than thirty-years wages for a working man! In short, Ephron’s reply is nothing more than an opening bid; he’s obviously expecting Abraham to make a counter-offer. But what does Abraham say?

Abraham: “Oh . . . well, I guess that’s okay.”

I mean – really, where’s the Consumer Protection Agency when you need it?

In fact, the only time Abraham seemed to get the better of his opponent is the time he bargained with God. You remember the story – God reveals to Abraham that He’s going to destroy Sodom. Abraham objects; “What if there are fifty righteous people in that town? Would you destroy them too?”

“Okay,” says God. “I won’t do it if there are fifty righteous people in that town.”

“What if five people are missing,” says Abraham. “What if there are only forty-five righteous people in that town? And what about forty? Or thirty-five?”

And so it goes, until Abraham has finally talked God into saving Sodom for just the low, low price of ten righteous men.

All of which would be amazing enough, until you remember that it’s Abraham doing the bargaining here. Abraham – the one man on the planet who’s paid the sticker-price on every car he’s ever bought!

So how does Abraham manage to make such a great bargain with God?

Either there are untapped depths to this guy that we never see anyplace else . . .

Or maybe . . . maybe when people’s lives are at stake, God doesn’t bargain so hard?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Guiding Light

With immigration a “hot-button issue” all across this country, are we ready for a TV series about an illegal immigrant?

At least one network thinks so. This week marks the prime-time debut of Abramos – an extended soap opera (or telenovela) about the title character and his thoroughly dysfunctional family. In this week’s episode, for instance, Abramos lies to an immigration officer about his wife’s identity. Complications ensue when the officer asks his wife for a date!

Future episodes promise to be even more dramatic, thanks to a strong supporting cast that includes Abramos’s scheming (but unlucky) nephew, his long-time employee (and former lover), and even the occasional “voice over” from the show’s director.

Not surprisingly, the show has generated considerable controversy. “We’re afraid some people will see this character as a role model,” says Tony White, a spokesman for the National Legion of Decency. “What does it say when you feature someone who lies, who sleeps around – and who shouldn’t even be in this country!”

Still, the program’s director show no sign of backing down. “No matter what happens, we’re going to see this project through,” said a spokesman from His office. “And if you think this show is controversial . . . well, just wait until you see the sequel!”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fragment of a manuscript recently discovered on Mt. Ararat

. . . Treasurer’s Report was accepted as read.

Old Business:

Voted to table the Interim Report from the 2448 BC Study Committee (2448SC) until the next meeting, in as much as the Committee’s chairman has been stepped on by a wooly mammoth.

Voted to send a card expressing our sympathy to his widow.

Voted to accept the report from the Sub-Committee on Grammar, Punctuation, and Cleaning Supplies (SCoGPaCS) on the Revised Statement of Practices and Beliefs (RSPaB). As it now stands, the RSPaB reads:

  • Whereas God directed His people to build an ark . . .
  • And whereas God’s people put a lot of time, thought, and money into building that ark . . .
  • And even more whereas that same ark carried God’s people to safety during the Great Flood of recent memory . . .
  • And an extra-special whereas it is still too soon to determine the truth of reports to the effect that the ark has grounded on the mountains of Ararat, the Flood waters have receded, and God has opened the door of the ark and commanded us all to leave . . .
  • And a really important whereas it would make no sense for God to command us all to leave the very same ark that He'd once told us to enter . . .
  • Therefore, it is RESOLVED by the True Friends of Noah’s Ark (Third-floor, Starboard Side) that we should continue living in the ark.
Voted to table the report from the Committee That's Supposed to Try and Figure Out Where All the Animals Have Gone (CTStTaFOWAtAHG).

New Business:

Voted to establish a Committee on Outreach to Those Now Living on the Plains of Shinar (CoOtTNLotPoS) to invite them all to rejoin us here on the ark.

Voted to establish an Advisory Council on Decks, Railings, and Bulkheads (ACoDRaB) to see if the current structure of the ark may need updating.

Voted to establish a Special Commission to Determine Why So Many of Our Youth Are Leaving the Ark (SCtDWSMoOYALtA) . . .

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fragment B of Archeteknos’s “Dialogue with Siderohippos”

Archeteknos: Could you explain what you mean when you say, “God does not play dice with the Universe?”

Siderohippos: God does not govern this Universe in a manner that is irrational or unpredictable; He does not subject His creatures to the whims of “chance” or “fortune.”

Archeteknos: An admirable sentiment – one that suggests God’s acts are always rational.

Siderohippos: Yes.

Archeteknos: And predictable?

Siderohippos: Subject to our own, limited understanding – yes.

Archeteknos: Without any hint of “chance”?

Siderohippos: Again, this would be subject to our own, limited understanding.

Archeteknos: Good – then you would have no objection to joining me in a simple game of dice?

Siderohippos: I do not play games of chance.

Archeteknos: Trust me – with these dice, “chance” has nothing to do with it!

Siderohippos: Then I would be a fool to play with you.

Archeteknos: We will leave aside the question of your foolishness for now . . . but I am puzzled, Siderohippos, for I have done exactly what you want me to do.

Siderohippos: I did not ask you to cheat.

Archeteknos: But you have said that “chance” should have no place in our world.

Siderohippos: No, I said that God does not . . . I mean . . . that is to say . . .

Archeteknos: Let me see if I can help – you admit that some things may appear to be the results of nothing more than pure chance?

Siderohippos: If your dice were honest, then that would be true.

Archeteknos: So there is such a thing as chance?

Siderohippos: It would appear so. Then again, we do not know if these things are truly a matter of chance, or if there is an underlying cause we cannot determine at this time. If I could know everything there is to know about the dice you threw – their weight, their size, the way they react to the ridges of your fingerprints or the incidental puff of air . . .

Archeteknos: To be sure, a sufficiently omniscient observer might be able to predict the outcome. But as for us?

Siderohippos: We could not possibly hope to do so.

Archeteknos: In short, a process that we perceive to be random, chaotic, and even “purposeless” may not be perceived as such by God. Consider the Great Flood, for instance. Was it subject to God’s control?

Siderohippos: Yes.

Archeteknos: And He knew the outcome of that particular event?

Siderohippos: God knew exactly what He hoped to achieve by it; otherwise, He never would have allowed the Great Flood to take place.

Archeteknos: Yet to a human observer . . .

Siderohippos: It was a chaotic event – one in which everything was mixed-up, scrambled, and truly “without form and void.”

Archeteknos: Could a human observer have predicted the outcome of the Great Flood?

Siderohippos: Such an observer may have been able to predict potential outcomes . . .

Archeteknos: Just as you or I might predict that rolling a pair of dice will give us a result somewhere between "Snake-eyes" and "Boxcars." What is more, we should be able to give odds on how often a given outcome may result.

Siderohippos: True, though I have never been able to master that art.

Archeteknos: I would be happy to give you lessons, though you may find them expensive! But for now, let us both agree that, to speak of an outcome as "random" does not mean that anything and everything could have taken place.

Siderohippos: No, it would appear there are limits, even to chaos.

Archeteknos: Thus, can we affirm that God is in control, even when it looks to us as though everything is out of control?

Siderohippos: Certainly that is true of the Great Flood.

Archeteknos: And God may be able to predict the outcome of an event, even when we are unable to do so?

Siderohippos: That is only reasonable. Are you saying, then, that there are times when it may appear as though God does play dice with the Universe?

Archeteknos: Perhaps – but if so, then I suspect the diced are "loaded" in a way that only He understands. And speaking of which, I believe it is time for your first lesson in probability . . .