Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
August 31st, 2022
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” John 3:16
Over the years, I have really been convicted that, in the later part of life, God continues deepening our understanding of him, and drawing us into deeper appreciation of him, by sharing with us experiences that represent his relation and perspective to us.
This is shown in a couple places in scripture by examples of God telling his servants to do strange or seemingly terrible things: First, he commands Abraham to offer-up his son Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:2), and, generations later, he tells Hosea to marry a prostitute, and then to pay money to bring her back into his house from her continued prostitution (Hosea 1:2, 3:1). While the emotions these prophets went through were no doubt shocking to the point of agonizing (and God could be considered cruel for asking this of them), it shares with us the intensity of emotion of what God must go through with us.
A while back I experienced a similar ‘lesson’ of God’s perspective that hit me to my core. It was many years ago, but I still remember it vividly. Perhaps the new school year, and seeing kids and (some new) teachers heading towards their classrooms have brought that lesson back to memory just now.
I was doing my student-teaching program at Mesa Grande Academy, and had been observing my master teacher teach his Bible class for about a week. In all honesty, I didn’t think he was that great, and that I could do better. My first opportunity to teach a class was approaching, and I was looking forward to it! I was going to revolutionize Bible Teaching!
As I planned my up-coming lesson, I was imagining a dynamic discussion, in which the kids would be on the front of their seats, raising their hands, eager to contribute to the conversation… their eyes would glisten as they perceived the profound truths presented! As I looked at the lesson in the textbook that was to be covered, I thought “oh yeah, this is going to be so great! So sweet!” and, really, the culmination of years of imagining myself as a Bible teacher was coming up fast. This was so exciting for me, and I was prayerfully excited as I developed my lesson plan.
Then the class period itself came. Particularly as it was the first period after lunch, the kids were not enthusiastic to be there. Many of them came wandering in late & distracted, and chatting with friends, even as I tried to call the class to order. After prayer, I enthusiastically dove into the discussion topic, but was surprised to not get proportionate zeal in response from them: they were dozing, passing notes, looking at the clock and sighing, playing with the hair of their neighboring student, etc, and I think someone even threw a crumpled-up piece of paper. Frustrated and perturbed, I soldiered on, doing the best not to let my disappointment show.
When I handed out activity sheets, it was to rolled-eyes. And when a kid did raise their hand, it was for "Can I go to the bathroom?" Talk about pricking a pin into a balloon!
A few minutes before the period ended, my master teacher left to go make some photocopies in the office or something. So when the bell rang and the kids left, I was left alone to reflect on the class period.
After a few minutes of stewing in my frustration and disappointment at them, I was overcome with a thought that pierced right into my soul, and sent me into racks of sobs. When my master teacher returned from the office, he found me hunched-over, red-faced, mucus-covered, tears streaming down; utterly inconsolable in my devastation.
“Whoa, whoa! Take it easy on yourself! It wasn’t that bad!" He said. "These guys are just teenagers, that’s how they often are no matter how well you do”. “No, it’s not that!” I responded, pained. My intense grief was in a whole nother arena than my master teacher thought I was upset about.
What I’d realized (and it still makes me tear-up to think it), is that the way those unappreciative students had appeared to me, is just how we, humanity, must appear to God! And my feelings toward them must have been similar to how he often feels toward us. Here He has prepared things in high hopes! He’s prepared the most marvelous environment for us, has revealed His perfect nature to us, has opened himself up to be known by us. And when we threw it in his face in rejecting him, he sent His Son to us to teach us, and assure us of his love. And what did we do? We despised and rejected him, tortured and mocked him, and put him on a cross to kill him. “Ungrateful wretches!” must’ve been the thought frequently going through Jesus’ and God the Father’s mind.
And it continues today! So many of us who know the Gospel shrug our shoulders at it, and metaphorically ‘fall asleep in church’. We’d rather share the latest gossip with a friend, or mess with our appearance in front of a mirror. We’d rather follow “influencers” on social media. We’d rather pedestalize sports and music stars, and make idols out of money, success, and fame. We’d rather pursue power. We’d rather get into political back-biting and conspiracy theories. We’d rather roll in the mud than come to Him and be clean.
I feel God shared his perspective with me on that frustrating-turned-devastating afternoon. Here He’s prepared so much for us: messages through His prophets: promises of love, protection, and future glory. Jesus is literally preparing a place for us in heavenly places!(John 14:2), and how do we respond as individuals, as a church, as a broader society?!
I can’t help but think we look like sniveling, unappreciative dunces to heavenly intelligences. I would not blame him in the least for slamming the book closed and angrily saying that class is dismissed. But the profound thing is that God keeps the instruction going! Keeps the invitation open! Keeps the arm extended, the hand outstretched, the invitational look in his eyes! Not unlike Hosea returning to his prostitute of a wife, God keeps wooing us to himself persistently (Hosea 2:14-20), and I just can’t fathom why.
Jesus says not to “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6), but that is not too far a description from what he really does to us! His love and persistence are really incomprehensible to the place of dismay.
So I just resolved that day, that I am never again going to be in the place of a dozing, distracted, or defiant student before Him (I had my share of those too, over the years). I am going dedicate myself to be astute, involved, appreciative, enamored! It’s of course something I’ve briefly lost sight of at times (we’re all fallible, after all), but when I’m reminded, I repent and come back to that place of humility before God and eagerness to learn.
I pray this story has some value for you as well. I pray it makes you perceive a bit, and somewhat understand God’s point of view, and hopefully love him more for putting up with it. I promise, I don’t mean to instill guilt in sharing this story, but I rather hope for us to soberly consider our position before and attitude toward God, who has been so over-the-moon, so bend-over-backwardsly gracious to us. He really is far-and-beyond a better God than we could’ve deserved or even hoped for.
I pray a blessed remainder of the week for you and your families. I pray love and affirmation in your households. I pray safety, peace, and health, until we can see each other again, hopefully in person at church, if not in some other context.
I conclude in sharing the "priestly blessing" God instructed in Numbers 6:24-26. Hear God speaking it to you now.
“The Lord Bless and Keep You,
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
That’s my prayer for you. Go in the love and grace of God, today and always.
Pr. Mark Tatum