Category: Sabbath School Lessons

Ramblings of a Wimpy Christian

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23 NLT

In Jesus’ time and place, people picked up their cross just like Jesus did to go and die. Jesus said this must be done every day. Years later He told the Church of Smyrna

But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10 NLT

I have to wonder if people fully grasp what Jesus meant by, “take up your cross daily” and “remain faithful even when facing death.” I fear I live in an age with a very shallow concept of faithfulness. Athletes change teams as easily as changing underwear. People promise at the altar to love until death, but disappear when the next flirt comes along. Today’s employers don’t even want faithful long term employees, because they don’t want to pay anyone enough to be faithful to their company.

I fear we live in an age where everything is supposed to be convenient. Suffering long simply means waiting a couple seconds for a webpage to download. When was the last time you heard baptismal vows read before a baptism? How many know what baptismal vows are? Its easy to be faithful when there is no standard to be faithful to. God said, “Let us Create man in our own image” and for the last six thousand years, we have been saying, “No! Let’s create God in our own image.” Its easier to be faithful when we are the ones who make the rules.

Recently, while reading The Great Controversy, I understood the importance of everyone worshiping according to their own convictions. But how many times do we call it conviction when it is actually personal taste? There is a difference between following your personal convictions, and just following your personal desires.

Occasionally, I get a call from someone, telling me they were sorry they missed church, but they had a really hard week. What I don’t tell them is, millions attended church that weekend, who also had a really hard week.

Families will tell me its hard to get out to midweek service, with school and homework and all. Really? Did school and homework just begin around 2014? Millions of folks have been attending midweek services for ages now, and I am quite sure they had kids in school too. Homework is nothing new.

Yet in an age of shallow faithfulness and outright selfishness, John see that God has produced a special people like no other people before.

They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. Revelation 14:4 NLT

The Lamb went to the cross and gave up His life. Am I right in assuming this is included in “Following the Lamb wherever He goes?”

Now, while I’m whining and even meddling, about people not understanding what it means to be faithful, there are people dying for their faith around the world in the face of terrorism. While I look around and question if others are living up to their conscience and convictions, God is tapping my shoulder and telling me, “Why are you so worried about everyone else? William, you are not exactly the best Christian I have on earth right now. Not even close. I have seven thousand who have never bowed the knee to Baal, and to be honest William, you are not one of them! Why don’t you pray for yourself while praying for everyone else?”

There are people in every church from Adventist to Catholic, and every church in between who know what it means to take up their cross and be faithful, even in the face of death. And here I am sitting in my cozy house on my nice comfy chair with my laptop just typing about it. What a wimp I am! And to think I’m the one wondering if everyone else knows what it means to be faithful! I think I still have a few things to learn about sacrifice and faithfulness. How about you?

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Idols in the Church

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In Numbers 21 the Children of Israel wanted the luxuries of Egypt instead of the presence of God. So God allowed snakes to enter the camp, providing the opportunity to learn how much they depended on Him. The people soon realized they had made a mistake and begged for the snakes to be removed. That is when God instructed Moses to make the brass snake and lift it on a pole, so when people looked at it they could live. The snake was a reminder that God was the source of their healing. The snake was not the goal, but a means to the goal. The goal was the Messiah, later known by name as Jesus.

And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. John 3:14-15 NLT

The purpose of the bronze snake on a pole was to lead people to worship Jehovah, the same Person who later walked this earth as Jesus Christ. However, over time, people began to worship the bronze snake itself! During a revival, Hezekiah destroyed the bronze snake so that people would worship God instead of making idols out of the things that pointed to God.

He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan. 2 Kings 18:4 NLT

So we see here that even good things can become idols when they become the focus of our worship instead of God. Worshiping the creation instead of the Creator is a very easy yet dangerous thing to do! The snake on the pole is not the only God-ordained symbol that God’s people made an idol out of instead of worshiping God Himself. The Sabbath is an eternal symbol and memorial pointing us to our Creator.

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. Exodus 20:11 NLT

Yet when Jesus walked the earth He had to remind people that the Sabbath was an eternal, never to be removed symbol to lead us to God, and not something to be worshiped in and of itself. The Sabbath was not to be an idol.

Christ reiterated the truth that the sacrifices were in themselves of no value. They were a means, and not an end. Their object was to direct men to the Saviour, and thus to bring them into harmony with God. It is the service of love that God values. When this is lacking, the mere round of ceremony is an offense to Him. So with the Sabbath. It was designed to bring men into communion with God; but when the mind was absorbed with wearisome rites, the object of the Sabbath was thwarted. Its mere outward observance was a mockery. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages Page 286

So an idol is anything that absorbs our affections more than Jesus, even if it is something in the church. We may not have statues of Mary in our churches, but is it possible there are still some idols lying around in our church? Let’s not be too smug. If God’s true people had idols in Hezekiah’s day, and again in Christ’s day, chances are good we need to take a good look around, and see if there are any symbols,  traditions or dates – as good and noble as they may be – that are absorbing more of our focus and worship than Jesus.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

How do You Accept Rebukes?

I am writing today from beautiful Florida.
I am writing today from beautiful Florida.

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. Proverbs 27:6 NLT

Long ago, I was writing a blog post about humor. I compared the humor of my friends in different areas. Just a few minutes after publishing my post, I got a call from a friend here where I live. He told me I better rethink what I wrote about my friends in another area. He told me even though he knew no offense was intended, it could offend them. I edited my post as suggested. I thought, how wonderful that I have a friend who was so concerned about me, that he called so quickly to warn me, even though he was busy with his own day, and had no vested interest other than looking out for me. Instead of taking offense and taking his call as being critical, I took it as a compliment. He thought enough of me and my ministry to make that call right away.

Unfortunately, many people in Jeremiah’s day did not appreciate his rebukes, even though they were given out of love. It takes a lot of love to tell someone what they need to hear, instead of patronizing them with what they want to hear. I realize the success of my ministry depends upon Jeremiahs of today, who will rebuke me when needed, in a Christlike way.

Christ Himself did not suppress one word of truth, but He spoke it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact, and thoughtful, kind attention in His [association] with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes.  –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 353 

Years ago, the church I was attending at the time was going through a little crisis. I was having dinner one evening with a couple of friends who supported me wholeheartedly on my view of the crisis. In the course of the evening I made a comment out of frustration that was out of place. They both quickly let me know what I had just said was not appropriate and was not a healthy attitude. They showed me how much they loved and supported me but did not hesitate at all to let me know when I stepped out of line. I thought, “Wow! Now I know they are really looking out for me and my ministry!” I felt loved and secure, knowing these friends were not going to let me step out of line and make a fool of myself and disgrace my ministry.

When people rebuke me I take it as a compliment. It means my ministry is worth something in their eyes, and they are looking out for me. How do you accept rebuke?

How Much Are You Worth?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn’t that what it means to know me?” says the Lord. Jeremiah 22:16 NLT

George W. Jenkins not only began his Publix grocery store incorporation during the depression, but he also set up several foundations and charities so that even after his death, in 1996, he could continue giving to the community and those less fortunate.

After setting up and giving to so many charities, someone asked Jenkins what he would be worth had he not given so much away. He quickly answered, “probably nothing.”

Jenkins saw his worth in what he could give instead of in what he could get. He did not figure he would be worth anything if he could not give. Unfortunately four of the “Last Five Kings of Judah” did not share that understanding. Only Josiah recognized that his worth lay in serving the Lord by serving his people.

One of my favorite quotes that helps us keep a perspective on money is,

“Some people are so poor, all they have is money.”

This quote reminds us that life is not about things. Jesus says,

Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own. Luke 12:15 NLT

Jesus goes on to say,

..a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Luke 12:21 NLT

Life is about relationships not money and things.

Another one of my favorite quotes is,

The richest person is not the one who has the most but the one who needs the least.

Several years ago my friend’s daughter was having her 12th birthday during a holiday season, and I felt bad for her almost being “forgotten” with so many other celebrations. I gave her a card and twenty dollars, which I thought was a generous gift back then. Later I found out she had taken my gift along with the rest of the money she had been given and gave it to a fund at our church to help parents with children in the hospital. Turns out my young friend did not need to be remembered with money. She did not need money at all. She needed to be a blessing to others. I reckon she too figured she would be worth nothing if she was not giving to others.

So, what are you worth?

We’re All Okay, Right?

 I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 2 Corinthians 10:12
A couple of years ago I attended the “Best Weigh” program at my church. While I wanted to lose a little weight I was not aware of just how much weight I really needed to lose. The doctor presenting the class pointed out that many people compare their weight to those around them, thinking since they are within the normal range of everyone else that they must be healthy. However, most Americans are overweight, and a third are obese. The majority of Americans are prime candidates for a heart attack. So, by making sure my weight fell within the norm of those around me, I was setting myself up for a heart attack!
Many people accept the health issues that their diets create because they are the same health issues everyone else has, so they just consider it normal. However, if we would eat according to Bible standards we may not have the same health issues everyone else has. You don’t have to accept the normal diet of those around us, and we don’t have to accept the health issues that are prevalent around us as being “normal.” A lot health issues that we consider a normal part of growing older, are only normal to those who don’t take care of themselves properly.
This week’s SS lesson mentions how people were so far away from God in Jeremiah’s day, while thinking their relationship with Him was perfectly fine. They were making the same mistake many make today. They looked around and found themselves within the norm, not realizing the norm does not have a healthy relationship with God.

Let me share a quote I have not heard in a while, partly because it scares us and makes us uncomfortable. Didn’t a lot of Jeremiah’s counsel make people uncomfortable? Here it is,

It is a solemn statement that I make to the church, that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history, and would be as verily without God and without hope in the world as the common sinner. –Ellen White, Last Day Events, Page 172

Apparently the “norm” do not have a healthy relationship with God today, anymore than Jeremiah’s day.

It’s past time for us to stop looking around at how everyone else eats, exercises, dresses, spends the Sabbath, gives offerings, spends time in Bible study and prayer, and start comparing ourselves to the Standard of God’s Word. The “norm” is not the standard. God’s Word is the standard.

We cannot consider ourselves physically healthy just because we are like those around us. They may not be physically healthy either. In the same way we cannot consider our relationship with God to be healthy just because it is like those around us.

We Are Not Their Only Opportunity for Salvation

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 NKJV

While working as a Bible Worker and lay pastor in a small church in west Texas, several of the members told me they hoped I would stay there forever, because they could not survive without me. I was young and stupid enough to believe them. Fact is though, the church membership more than doubled, but not while I was there, but after I left! And, the people who came in after I left were not people I studied with. They were people who never heard of me and didn’t know I existed.

While taking the gospel and the salvation of souls seriously, I have learned not to take myself so seriously. I can rejoice even when someone rejects me because I know I presented them with an opportunity to make a choice. While I want everyone to choose Jesus I know not everyone will. Still, once the gospel has gone into all the world, and that last decision has been made for or against Jesus then He will come. Every decision for or against Jesus is one decision closer to the second coming. This is why its important to spread the gospel even if people do not accept it. Either way we hasten the second coming by just being the angel that takes the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people allowing people the opportunity to choose. So don’t be too disheartened when your missionary project does not yield the results you hoped for. It was successful in giving people an opportunity to choose either way.

But we are just that. An opportunity. Not The opportunity. Let’s not take ourselves so seriously. People can reject us and still accept Jesus. What people think about me is extremely trivial in the scheme of the great controversy. So don’t lose heart or take slights and rejections to heart. Just because someone says no to me, does not mean they will say no to the next person God sends. There is still hope.

After leaving Texas, and working in Florida as a Bible Worker for a few years, a pastor friend, from Texas called me. He asked how many baptisms my church had so far. I told him 90, with 48 of those being in the current year.

“Wonderful!” He exclaimed.

“And how many of those were from your work?” He asked.

“None of them!” I said.

Yup. After a church in Texas more than doubling its membership AFTER I left, I finally learned a thing or two.

Is Book Knowledge Enough?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While living in Texas, near Southwestern Adventist University I was good friends with a theology student and his wife. They recently had a baby one night when I called. The husband was quick to get off the phone with me. I thought nothing of it, but apparently he thought he owed me an explanation when he called back the next night.

He explained he had an argument with his wife when I called. His wife was trying to breastfeed but wasn’t succeeding, and was becoming frustrated. He then started instructing her how to breastfeed and she became very angry at him. I asked him, “How in the world can you tell your wife how to breastfeed?” His answer Was the classic example of how some students over estimate book knowledge when he very authoritatively responded, “I read it in a book!

Around the same time, I talked to another theology student who was telling me how wise his grandfather was but then lowered his head in disappointment and said, “but he never got a degree, so all of his knowledge was wasted.”There are some things you just can’t learn in a book. A book might make you smart but it can’t make you compassionate, understanding and caring, and those are very important traits in a theologian missionary.

Degree or no degree, knowledge is never wasted. Also many confuse a degree with an education. There are actually many people who are educated through personal studies and practical experience who do not have degrees and there are people with degrees who have no practical knowledge. And of course there are plenty of people with both practical and theoretical knowledge. Those are the best!

It has been many years since that night I called my friend in Texas. He has gone on to become a wonderful pastor and an even more gracious, caring and understanding husband and father. He has learned some wonderful things from books, but it has taken more than books for him to learn to be caring, compassionate and understanding. It takes experience. It takes time alone with God in prayer as well as reading the Good Book.

When I am encouraging a Bible student who is discouraged with doubt and disappointments they will listen a little as I quote Bible promises, but they really become attentive, when I tell them how I have practically applied those verses in my life when I too have been disappointed and discouraged.

I can easily understand why my friend’s wife got so frustrated with him when he was trying to tell her what he had read in a book. Book knowledge is great, but it is pretty useless unless you yourself have put it into practice and succeeded. And I seriously doubt my friend ever put that book knowledge on breastfeeding into practice! Therefore with all the book knowledge in the world he had no right telling his wife how to nurse their baby. Likewise unless we are putting the Bible into practice we have no right to teach it to others.

You may study this week’s SS lesson on missionaries here.