Garments of Grace; The Prodigal’s New Clothes

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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Many look at the story of the prodigal son, in this week’s SS lesson as a story about one man in the church and one who was out. However, it is interesting in the end, the one who is out comes in and the one who is in goes out. The prodigal son asks for his inheritance before he leaves. What the son is saying to the father is, “I want all your blessings but I don’t want to live under you roof and abide by your rules.” I don’t think the prodigal son is alone in his way of thinking. Remember earlier in these lessons we spoke of Joseph’s brothers being jealous of the special coat that their father had made him. His brothers wanted all the blessings Joseph had, but did not want the intimate relationship with their father that Joseph had. Do we do the same today? Do we ask God to bless us while we are willfully ignoring His commandments? If so, we are just like the prodigal son who said, give me my inheritance and I am going to go live somewhere else where you can’t tell me what to do. Unfortunately the inheritance only lasted as long as the relationship. Lesson learned: The relationship is the inheritance!

 

When the son realizes this, he heads for home. Now feeling unworthy of the relationship or inheritance, he seeks to become a hired hand. His Father would have none of that. While the son is a great ways off, the father runs to him and hugs and kisses him. I am reminded of a story in the Great Controversy, of a religious leader during the dark ages, making a ruler stand out in the snow before he would forgive him. What a gross misrepresentation of my heavenly Father! My Father does not make people stand out in the snow before He forgives them. He runs to where they are and hugs and kisses them, and welcomes them home.

Meanwhile the other brother who stayed at home is not the least bit happy to see his brother return. It makes him so angry he leaves the house! When you read his argument you see he thought all these years he was working for all he had. Come to find out it was all a gift given to him and not of works.  The son who stayed home benefited from grace as much as the one who ran away.

On my trip home from Tulsa I ran into weather problems in Dallas-Fort Worth, where I was to make my connection flight. My flight was cancelled and I ended up spending the night on the chapel floor at the airport. I was frustrated because I lived in the Dallas area for ten years and still have many friends there, but I could not ask them to come get me in the storm which included tornados.  So I laid down on the airport floor with my laptop case for a pillow. I had just begun to feel sorry for myself, when I realized, that many people more noble than I sleep on hard floors every night. People more noble than I had just lost their homes and even lives in the Joplin tornado. People more noble than I sleep on the hard ground under bridges every night! I realized my nice comfortable apartment back home in Tampa is not something I have earned or deserve. It is a gift from God! I then realized that the nice little chapel floor in the airport was not a curse, but rather a gift of grace from God. A gift that I had not earned or deserved.

Since I could not sleep well, I prayed for the prayer requests coming in from my Facebook. Surprisingly they came in all night long. That morning I woke up feeling the presence of God in that chapel more vividly than when I am even at home. I realized my gift from God’s grace is a relationship with Him and not a comfortable place to sleep. I realized I was just as much my heavenly Father’s son while sleeping on the airport floor, as when I will be resting in my heavenly mansion.  Interesting…..Jesus was just as much His Father’s Son while laying in a manger as He is now sitting on the throne in heaven.

Garments of Grace; A Brand Plucked From The Fire

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 

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On my current vacation to my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a couple of things made me think of this week’s SS lesson  memory verse. “Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment” (Zechariah 3:4

When I fly I love to have the window seat. I have flown a hundred times, and each time we taxi down the runway and takeoff, while other seasoned passengers read their magazines or lull off to sleep, I am looking out the window thinking “man this is cool!” I never cease to be amazed by the wonders of aviation. Each flight is as exciting to me as my very first one. I love looking down from above and recognizing places and streets on the ground. Sometimes though when we are coming into a city to land, even a city I am very familiar with, it takes a while for me to recognize the highways and streets, especially if I don’t know which direction we are entering the city from.  I do remember my first flight over Chicago, I saw Wrigley Field, and was so moved by the historical masterpiece that when I got home, I planned a road trip with my friend Tom, to go back and see it. So I don’t think the lady really understood what a sacrifice she was asking me to make, when she asked  if her little boy could have my window seat. I boarded the American Airlines jet in DFW to make the final leg of my journey to Tulsa. I headed to seat 30F. A window seat I had reserved months in advance. When I got to my seat, the young mother in the isle seat, asked if her little boy, about 5 could have the window seat. I complied. After all, I have flown a hundred times before, but I was looking forward to seeing my favorite city of Dallas from the sky again. Who can say “no” to a cute little kid? So the mother moved over a seat, letting her son take the window seat, and I took the isle seat.

Not long after take- off, the little boy closes the window and falls asleep! I started to ask the mother if we could change seats since the boy was not looking out the window any way. I did not. I just sat there and thought, how could the mother ask me to give up something the boy did not even really appreciate or was not using. She obviously did not appreciate my sacrifice. Then I thought of all the sacrifices God has made for me. Do I appreciate them all? Do I use all the gifts God has given me? God has given me some wonderful experiences that should strengthen my faith, but do I sometimes doubt? Then I am just casting those experiences aside, like the boy seemed to be casting my window seat aside. God has promised me strength in time of temptation. Do I sometimes cast those promises aside for the sake of sin? God has given His life for millions to be saved, but will they accept and appreciate that sacrifice? This made my little sacrifice seem so tiny. After all, I would not have seen anything I had not seen before.

 

Soon we landed in Tulsa. I walked outside of the Tulsa International airport, into the city of Tulsa, and suddenly it was like I had never been gone. I have always found that amazing. I have not lived in my hometown for about 18 years now. I visit about once a year. This last time, though it has been more like a year and a half. Still, when I get back home everything is familiar again. It is like I have never been gone. My favorite restaurant, Chimis, is right there at 15th and Peoria where it has always been. My school has changed since I attended 27 years ago but the neighborhood looks the same. So does my old church, though the sanctuary has been remodeled over the last 45 years, and there are a few new smiling faces. Still, its home. It is familiar, and no matter how far I have travelled, and no matter how long I have been gone, the moment I get back, and see my family and friends, it is like I never left. I wonder, when I sin, and ask Jesus’ forgiveness, and He wipes away my sin, and gives me that robe of righteousness that He sacrificed so much to give me, does He look at me as if I had never sinned? Even after I have wandered away so far and for so long, when He welcomes me home, is it as though I had never been gone? Yes. I think so!

Garments of Grace; Garments of Splendor

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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Sunday’s section of this week’s SS lesson asks how we worship God. While the Bible clearly teaches us there are many different ways to worship God, Satan also has his counterfeit ways of worship. While we should always be open minded to different ways of worship lets also be careful that we don’t adopt any of Satan’s ideas for worship.

 

Various forms of worship are condemned today which the Bible actually endorses. We condemn them today simply because they are not a part of today’s tradition in the church. For example I have seen people raising their hands in worship only to be met with condemning stares. Why? Because while David talks of lifting his hands in worship in the 141st Psalm, that just is not the way we do things today.  So raising hands is condemned by some today, not because it is unbiblical but rather just because it is not largely our tradition.  We don’t need to condemn new ideas in worship just because they are new, especially when some forms of worship are not new at all but are just new to us. Some forms of worship that are new to us were actually approved of in the Bible we just don’t happen to worship that particular way today so we think they are wrong. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”.  Let’s keep an open mind and hold what is good.

 

Below are some thoughts I have on worship. As I have studied, what I have found is what really separates wholesome worship from unwholesome worship is our motive of worship. We are often tempted to seek and please self while claiming the whole time we are actually worshiping and seeking God. I am not saying we always give in to that temptation, but I believe the temptation is always there. 

 

 

Worship: Is it all About God?  

 

I recently purchased a CD with worship music. In one of the songs the lyrics say, “Lord I’m sorry for the thing that I made it to be, when it’s all about you it’s all about you.” For centuries, mankind has tried to worship God their own way, forgetting that it is all about God and not about us. When David worshipped the Lord he cried out “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” PS103:1  But how often do we worship God with the intention of blessing Him rather than being blessed by Him? How often do we worship God seeking His glory and not our own?  

For centuries man has made self the center of his worship experience, and in the process the worship experience has been designed to feed the ego of the worshiper instead of the One being worshipped. Instead of offering a lamb as God instructed, Cain offered the fruits of his own works. In so doing, Cain put trust in his own ego instead of the Lamb of God. He also changed the system of worship that God had commanded to make it more convenient and pleasing for himself.

Around the first century AD certain people in the church started worshipping onSunday in order to entice the Eastern religions. They disregarded God’s command to keep the Sabbath day holy in order to make their worship more convenient for themselves and to feed their own egos by increasing the number of believers to their religion. Thus, we can be certain that when we disregard one of God’s commands or lower His standard of worship to increase membership, our motive is not God’s glory but rather our own egos! “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye [were] the fewest of all people” Deut. 7:7 Let’s take a little inventory of our worship service, to see if our worship is truly all about God, or like Cain’s worship service, all about self.  

 

Speaking: Is it all About God?

 

“Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” Eccl. 5:1-2  

 

It has been said that a preacher will cross the ocean to give a sermon but will not cross the street to hear one. Before sharing an opinion in Sabbath School or a testimony during the Sacred Service or even giving a sermon it would be well for us to ponder our motive for speaking in God’s House. Is it to give glory to God, or frankly is it to hear ourselves talk? I have witnessed “Testimony and Prayer” times that were nothing more than gossip sessions! Just because we begin talking about some one by saying “pray for John…..“ does not keep it from being gossip.   True worship does not call for much speaking. “The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him”. Hab. 2:20  

 

Music: Is it all About God?  

 

 ”I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” PS 69:30  

 No doubt God calls upon us to rejoice and praise Him with our songs and music. At the same time there is a type of “feel good ” music that makes us not only feel good about God but even more so about ourselves. So what’s the problem with that? First of all our worship is to be all about God and not about us. Secondly scripture tells us to examine ourselves when we come to worship God.“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves….” 2 Cor. 13:5 “ But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of [that]cup.” 1 Cor. 11:28  There is a type of music that plays upon our emotions and keeps us from taking an honest look at ourselves.

Not only do we need to be careful of the music but even the words we sing. Jesus in the sermon on the mount warns against vain repetitions. Vain repetitions can be more than just meaningless words in prayers but also our songs. Just because we can belt out the chorus “When we all Get to Heaven” does not mean we are all getting to heaven, even though the emotions may be there. Just because we respond to an altar call as the congregation sobs through “I Surrender All” does not mean we surrender all, unless we do so during the week when the music is no longer heard.  

 Music must be a response to our emotions, and not our emotions a response to music! 

 

There is much more I could say about this, but I will let inspiration be the final word.  “The things you have described . . . the Lord has shown me would take place just before the close of probation. Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting, with drums, music, and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods for making of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time. . . . A bedlam of noise shocks the senses and perverts that which if conducted aright might be a blessing. The powers of Satanic agencies blend with the din and noise, to have a carnival, and this is termed the Holy Spirit’s working. . . . Those participating in the supposed revival receive impressions which lead them adrift. They cannot tell what they formerly knew regarding Bible principles. No encouragement should be given to this kind of worship. The same kind of influence came in after the passing of the time in 1844. The same kind of representations were made. Men became excited, and were worked by a power thought to be the power of God. . . . I bore my testimony, declaring that these fanatical movements, this din and noise,were inspired by the spirit of Satan, who was working miracles to deceive if possible the very elect. {Mar 234.5} We need to be on our guard, to maintain a close connection with Christ, that we be not deceived by Satan’s devices. The Lord desires to have in His service order and discipline, not excitement and confusion.” {Mar 234}  

 

Dress: Is it all About God?  

 

“For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?”  James 2:2-4    

A friend of mine once complimented her boss on her nice watch. Her boss then explained that since she was not allowed to wear jewelry growing up she always wore the nicest watch she could find. Here is the problem; the sin of jewelry is pride. However, if we get rid of the jewelry but do not get rid of the pride it will just show up somewhere else as it did in the case of my friend’s boss in her watch.

Do we dress for God when we prepare for church or is it an ego thing? Do we worship to glorify God or make a fashion statement? I am reminded of a story I heard about a man who went to a church where he was shunned for his long hair, sandals and plain clothes. He noticed a picture of Jesus with long hair, sandals and a plain robe and began to pray asking Jesus why the people at the fancy church shunned him that day. Jesus answered him, “I don’t know about that church, I never go there.”

  “Now wait a minute” you say. We are suppose to wear the nicest clothes possible, for God when we go to worship Him. You are correct. We are to wear the nicest clothes possible FOR GOD, not for MAN. Is our dress all about God when we worship? What is on our mind when we shop for our worship clothes, God or what is vogue? Do we ask ourselves what God will think and say or about what our friends may think and say?

There is a versethat many Christians use to condemn jewelry when actually it condemns more than jewelry but all pride in dress. Let’s take a look,: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” 1 Peter 3:3,4   By the way, this verse teaches us that it is the wearing of jewelry that is legalistic, while some try to say that abstaining from jewelry is legalistic. In this verse Peter is telling women that God will make them beautiful as He fills them with his goodness. That is the gospel. Men and women who depend upon their jewelry to make them beautiful are not trusting God to make them attractive but are trying to work out their own beauty themselves instead of just letting God’s grace do it’s work. That is legalism in its truest sense!  

It’s All about God when it comes to worship. God is more interested in the heart than the “outward adorning”. He is also more interested in the heart than the words we say and music we play. He is also more interested in the conversion of the hearts of those worshipping than the number of those in the congregation . If our numbers fall we are tempted to change our format of worship to attract more people. If our worship is all about God would it not make more sense to have a format of worship that would attract God rather than man? If we did thus, would God not draw people to our worship services who are seeking Him with all their hearts? Would He not draw people who realize, true worship is all about God?   

Garments of Grace; In the Shadow of His Wings

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While this week’s SS lesson takes a look at King David, here is something I think is worth taking note of.

While it is said, we are our own worst enemy, I don’t think that is seen any more clearly than in the life of David. Goliath never hurt David. Saul tried but never did David any harm and neither did Absalom or anyone else. In the end, the only person who actually hurt David was David. I thank God for our critics who keep us humble and relying on God. Actually, if David did have another enemy, it would be his so called friend Joab. When David sent the letter to have Uriah murdered, Joab did not hesitate to carry out the kings command. He could have stood up to David and told him he was wrong to do such a thing, but Joab played the role of yes-man instead. If Joab had been a real friend he would have said no to David even if he was King. “And Joab, whose allegiance had been given to the king rather than to God, transgressed God’s law because the king commanded it.    

     David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1.  {Patriarch and Prophets,  719} 

Joab should have had the same constitution as Peter, when Peter said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.” Acts 5:29. Peter also said “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 1 Peter 3:14 NIV.

I began my professional ministry over 20 years ago, when I first became a literature evangelist and then a Bible Worker. During that period I have been threatened more than once that my financial support would be discontinued if I did not go along with something even if I knew it was wrong. Three times in the last 20 years I have been threatened with my job if I did not give my loyalty to someone or something that I knew to be wrong. Those threats do not work. When I was 7 years old, laying on my bed at night, contemplating the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, I gave my life and my loyalty to Him because He died for me. Twenty years later, when people threaten me for their loyalty, my mind goes back to that night so long ago when I gave my heart to Jesus. I have decided to be loyal to the One who died for me, and not those who threaten me. I have never had to defend myself when being threatened. The Jesus I gave my heart to when I was 7 years old has taken good care of me! I always encourage those who are new in the gospel work to always remain loyal to the One who died for them. A ministry or a person that can be bought, sold or threatened has no meaning or purpose.

The greatest want of the world is the want of men,–men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.–Education, p. 57.

Garments of Grace; Elijah and Elisha’s Mantle

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This week’s SS lesson, (download the SS app here) dwells on one of the low points of Elijah’s life when he was discouraged and actually asked to die! (1 Kings 19:4). Kewl thing is, God did not grant Elijah’s request. Instead of giving Elijah what he asked for, God takes him to heaven in a chariot. Elijah, who asked to die, is one of only three men who have ever left this world without ever having to die first! I am glad God deals with us in the same way, often giving us something much better than what we are asking for ourselves. While Elijah’s prayer  was indeed foolish, let’s not be too critical. Consider what he was up against.

 And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, [Art] thou he that troubleth Israel?  And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim. 1 Kings 18: 17-18

“In every generation God has sent His servants to rebuke sin, both in the world and in the church. But the people desire smooth things spoken to them, and the pure, unvarnished truth is not acceptable. Many reformers, in entering upon their work, determined to exercise great prudence in attacking the sins of the church and the nation. They hoped, by the example of a pure Christian life, to lead the people back to the doctrines of the Bible. But the Spirit of God came upon them as it came upon Elijah, moving him to rebuke the sins of a wicked king and an apostate people; they could not refrain from preaching the plain utterances of the Bible– doctrines which they had been reluctant to present. They were impelled to zealously declare the truth and the danger which threatened souls. The words which the Lord gave them they uttered, fearless of consequences, and the people were compelled to hear the warning. 

     Thus the message of the third angel will be proclaimed. As the time comes for it to be given with greatest power, the Lord will work through humble instruments, leading the minds of those who consecrate themselves to His service. The laborers will be qualified rather by the unction of His Spirit than by the training of literary institutions. Men of faith and prayer will be constrained to go forth with holy zeal, declaring the words which God gives them. The sins of Babylon will be laid open. The fearful results of enforcing the observances of the church by civil authority, the inroads of spiritualism, the stealthy but rapid progress of the papal power–all will be unmasked. By these solemn warnings the people will be stirred. Thousands upon thousands will listen who have never heard words like these. In amazement they

  hear the testimony that Babylon is the church, fallen because of her errors and sins, because of her rejection of the truth sent to her from heaven. As the people go to their former teachers with the eager inquiry, Are these things so? the ministers present fables, prophesy smooth things, to soothe their fears and quiet the awakened conscience. But since many refuse to be satisfied with the mere authority of men and demand a plain “Thus saith the Lord,” the popular ministry, like the Pharisees of old, filled with anger as their authority is questioned, will denounce the message as of Satan and stir up the sin-loving multitudes to revile and persecute those who proclaim it. 

     As the controversy extends into new fields and the minds of the people are called to God’s downtrodden law, Satan is astir. The power attending the message will only madden those who oppose it. The clergy will put forth almost superhuman efforts to shut away the light lest it should shine upon their flocks. By every means at their command they will endeavor to suppress the discussion of these vital questions. The church appeals to the strong arm of civil power, and, in this work, papists and Protestants unite. As the movement for Sunday enforcement becomes more bold and decided, the law will be invoked against commandment keepers. They will be threatened with fines and imprisonment, and some will be offered positions of influence, and other rewards and advantages, as inducements to renounce their faith. But their steadfast answer is: “Show us from the word of God our error”–the same plea that was made by Luther under similar circumstances. Those who are arraigned before the courts make a strong vindication of the truth, and some who hear them are led to take their stand to keep all the commandments of God. Thus light will be brought  before thousands who otherwise would know nothing of these truths.”   —- Great Controversy pages 606- 607