Tag Archives: creation

Glimpes of the Cross Day 19; Why Jesus Lives

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. Hebrews 7:25 NLT

Charles Spurgeon was born to preach. Mother Teresa was born to care for the poor. Abraham Lincoln was born to break the bonds of slavery. Everyone was born for a reason. The verse above tells me Jesus was born with a purpose too. His eternal existence before birth also was not without purpose. It also tells us what His purpose for living and existing is. He does not live so He can be a tyrant and force people to worship Him. He does not live so He can hear angels sing His praises. He does not live so that He can sit on a throne in a golden castle in the sky. You can look as far back into eternity as eternity goes, and you can look as far into the future as eternity goes, and you will find that Jesus’ purpose for living is to be your eternal provider and Savior! “He lives forever to intercede with God on your behalf.” Not so much that He is trying to reconcile God to you as much as He works to reconcile you to God. God never ran from Adam. It was Adam who ran from God. Jesus never told the demoniacs He could not tolerate their presence. It was the demoniacs who could not tolerate His presence.

“It is no arbitrary decree on the part of God that excludes the wicked from heaven; they are shut out by their own unfitness for its companionship. The glory of God would be to them a consuming fire. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them.” – Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Pages 17-18.

Jesus’ passion is winning you back to God. Again, that is why He lives.

 ”So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:14-16 NLT

In the moment of temptation we can go to our High Priest, and find the grace to overcome the temptation.

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

However if for whatever reason we do not ask for the grace to overcome, Jesus has made a fool proof way to sustain us still. We can come to the throne and ask for mercy and forgiveness.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” 1 John 1:9 NLT

“How careful is the Lord Jesus to give no occasion for a soul to despair. How He fences about the soul from Satan’s fierce attacks. If through manifold temptations we are surprised or deceived into sin, He does not turn from us and leave us to perish. No, no, that is not our Saviour…. He was tempted in all points like as we are; and having been tempted, He knows how to succor those who are tempted. Our crucified Lord is pleading for us in the presence of the Father at the throne of grace. His atoning sacrifice we may plead for our pardon, our justification, and our sanctification. The Lamb slain is our only hope. Our faith looks up to Him, grasps Him as the One who can save to the uttermost, and the fragrance of the all-sufficient offering is accepted of the Father.

If you make failures and are betrayed into sin, do not feel then you cannot pray … but seek the Lord more earnestly.

The blood of Jesus is pleading with power and efficacy for those who are backslidden, for those who are rebellious, for those who sin against great light and love. Satan stands at our right hand to accuse us, and our Advocate stands at God’s right hand to plead for us. He has never lost a case that has been committed to Him.” –Ellen White, Our High Calling, Page 49

“We may plead for our pardon, justification, and our sanctification.” Before I fall, I can go to Jesus, and find grace so I don’t have to fall. His grace sanctifies me and frees me from the power of sin.

“ For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.  He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” Titus 2:11-14 NLT

Even though grace leaves me with no excuse to sin, Jesus still offers mercy and forgiveness!

“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalms 51:17

The question is not how long will God be willing to forgive me, but rather, will I ever ask for forgiveness? I can go to a home to give a Bible study, and knock on the door. As long as I can hear somebody inside making their way to the door, I will wait as long as it takes. However, if I realize I could wait forever and they will never open the door, then and only then do I walk away. It is the same with Jesus. Probation closes when the sanctuary is forced out of business, because it no longer has “customers” asking for mercy. Jesus has reconciled those who are willing, and sadly walks away from the heart’s door of those who will never accept His reconciling grace. The fact that they would never accept God’s grace is seen by the fact that no one repents during the last plagues and of course nobody repents at the end of the thousand years. The problem is not that they can’t but that they won’t. God did not send them to the point of no return. They reached that point by themselves.

When Jesus forgave the repentant thief, while hanging naked on the cross, he was sending out a message to men and to Satan. “You can take away my clothes and dignity. You can take away my crown and replace it with thorns. You can even take away my life, but you will never take away my power to forgive sin!” Imagine that! Jesus-King of the Universe let go of all of His divine rights, except for the right to forgive sin! Jesus would rather die than give up His right to be your sustain-er and Savior. Why? Because the only reason why He lives is so He can save you! His death was all about you. His life is all about you. He is in love with you!

 

Creation Again; Death and the Resurrection in Light of The Cross

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

It’s that time of year when the leaves spring back onto barren trees and flowers bloom back to life. Every spring reminds me of the second coming and resurrection. I believe God lets everything die in the winter and come back in the spring to demonstrate for us His re-creation and resurrection power. Just as sure as the leaves come back to the dead and barren trees in the Spring, we can be sure our loved ones who sleep in Christ, will come back at the resurrection.  This week’s Sabbath School lesson touches on death and life, so I thought this may be a good time to share the study “Death in Light of the Cross” from the “In Light of the Cross Bible Study Guides.” By the way, there is also a Spanish version available.

Death

Brief overview:

Death is a state of unconscious sleep. The dead do not know anything at this time and are not awakened until the last trump at Christ’s second coming. See Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, Job 14:12, 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Why is it important to know the truth about Death:

The teaching that you don’t really die is a lie Satan started in the Garden of Eden when he told Eve, “Ye shall not surely die.” By telling this lie Satan hoped to get Eve and all mankind to believe that there is really no consequence for disobeying God. He also wants us to believe that we are all immortal regardless if we have a relationship with God or not. This opens the door for spiritualism where people may actually be communicating with the devil and his angels, thinking they are speaking with their loved ones. Our salvation does not come from knowing what happens when we die. Our salvation is found alone in God’s love. However, no lie is ever harmless, and when Satan told the lie, “Ye shall not surely die”, not only was he lying but he was also calling God a liar. Not a safe path for us to follow.

Why understanding death in the light of the cross is important:

First of all if you don’t really die then Jesus did not really die for us and we still need a Savior. The lie that we don’t really die destroys the cross and everything Jesus endured and accomplished on it. If Jesus was not really tasting death like Hebrews 2:9 says He did, then we have just minimized the cross to a six hour pain endurance marathon.

I remember sitting in a funeral a while back for a little girl who was hit and killed by a car. Her mother sat on the front pew sobbing uncontrollably. Meanwhile the pastor talked about how happy the little girl and Jesus were right now up in heaven. Do you know how cruel that made Jesus look to the poor mother? Would Jesus tear a mother’s heart apart just to go have fun with her daughter? I think not! The little girl is resting in her grave and will be united with Jesus in heaven when the mother is reunited with her at the second coming.

For Further study on Death:

What did Adam become?

And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Genesis 2:7

Whose spirit returns to God?

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:7

What is the Spirit?

All the while my breath [is] in me, and the spirit of God [is] in my nostrils; Job 27:3

What does God take that turns the body to dust?

Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Psalm 104:29

What age old question did Job ask?

But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where [is] he? Job 14:10

What is the Bible answer?

So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens [be] no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. Job 14:12

Do the dead know what happens to the living?

His sons come to honour, and he knoweth [it] not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth [it] not of them. Job 14:21

How much do the dead know?

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any [thing] that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6

What did Jesus call death?

These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. John 11:11-14

How long had Lazarus been dead?

Then when Jesus came, he found that he had [lain] in the grave four days already. John 11:17

Did Martha believe Lazarus was in heaven?

Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. John 11:24

What did Mary say?

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. John 11:32

Was Lazarus called from heaven, hell or the grave?

And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. John 11: 43, 44

When are the dead raised?

For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith [is] vain; ye are yet in your sins.Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man [came] death, by man [came] also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 1 Corinthians 15:16-23

When do we receive immortality?

Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54

Our hope and comfort:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. for this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Texts that are difficult to understand about death and other topics.

Extremism is Extremely Evil

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Genesis 3:1 NLT

Twenty-nine years later, there are still some things I remember from my Composition class at Southern Adventist University. One thing I was taught is to avoid using the word “never” because it is extreme and usually unrealistic. For example, I heard someone say once, “I never golf, because when I do I play terrible.” Wait a minute? If they never golf how can they say they play terrible? Obviously they golf some, or they would not say that they play badly. So they can’t realistically use the word “never.”

Satan baited Eve into a discussion by asking a question which was obviously wrong so that Eve would feel obligated to clear up the misconception and join in a dialogue with him. He went to extremes by suggesting God told them not to eat of any of the trees.

Today, Satan likes to suggest that Christians are not allowed to have any fun, but that is no more true than that Adam and Eve were not to eat of any of the trees. Some of the Puritans believed that the more things they called evil and abstained from, the more holy they would become, but that is not how holiness works. Now I am not suggesting that we must sin a little every now and then just to stay balanced and moderate. God’s grace is well able to keep us in harmony with God’s law at all times. The problem comes when we make extreme standards that God never intended. God never said “don’t eat of any of the trees.” On the contrary there was only one tree they were told not to eat from.

There is a term I have come up with which I call, “overcompensating for the past.” For example, a young person becomes a born-again Christian and decides to burn all their satanic music in a bonfire. However they get a little carried away, and throw their John Denver and Joshua Bell CD’s in the fire too, declaring them satanic since they are not sacred. They vow to listen only to Jamie Jorge and the Heritage Singers from now on. I am sorry, but throwing your John Denver CD’s into the fire is not going to make up for having listened to real satanic music in the past, and only listening to the Heritage Singers is not going to make you more holy. We do not become more holy by finding more things to call satanic.

It was Satan who suggested that all the trees were evil, so I conclude that calling everything evil is not only extreme but also satanic within itself! (Some older manuscripts suggest Satan actually implied all the trees were okay to eat, which would be an extreme statement in the other direction.)

Another danger of extremism shows up when we have one favorite pastor or author. We decide everything they preach is the truth, never considering they could be wrong once or twice. At the same time we decide this other pastor or author is always wrong, never considering he could be right occasionally. Fact is that none of us are perfect. If Matthew had been “all that,” then we never would have needed Mark, Luke and John. Now I know they all agree with each other, yet the Bible gives us an array of authors so we can have a balanced theology. We learn from all of them.

Several churches have sprung up lately and drawn large congregations. The pastors seldom take a vacation because everyone loves to hear them preach. And if a pastor seldom takes a break from the pulpit I have to guess he loves to hear himself preach too! However after the pastor gets promoted and leaves, the congregation shrinks. Why?  It is because they were following a man and not God. It is not healthy to become attached to one individual.

When I have been having long-term Bible studies with individuals and they come to church, I am happy when I see them mixing with other people besides myself. I am glad when they choose to attend somebody else’s Sabbath School class besides mine! They have been listening to me teach the Bible to them for months, maybe years, and now they can get other people’s views and ideas, so they can form their own balanced theology. I only have so much to offer. I don’t know it all. I may have strengths, but I definitely have weaknesses, and other teachers can complement my weaknesses. A well-rounded Bible student has more than one teacher.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it definitely takes a congregation to raise a newborn babe in Christ. Over the years I have had several pastors ask me to give their children Bible studies for baptism. Since they are pastors, why don’t they just do it themselves? Because the pastors realize their children hear them teach at church and then every day in family worship. They realizes that for their children to be balanced, they will need to have other teachers in their lives besides just them. This is the difference between a good pastor and a cult leader.

I once talked to a member of a church who had the same pastor for over 15 years. He said they kept that pastor because he preached the truth while the other pastors are preaching heresy. I asked him how he knew their pastor preached truth while all others preach heresy. Turns out it was the pastor himself who told them this! That is not a balanced pastor. That is a cult leader. When Elijah claimed he was the only good prophet left, God let him know he was being a little extreme, as God had 7,000 back in Israel who had not run away like him.

Not only is hitching your wagon to one preacher or author extreme, but labels can be extreme also – conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive. Some people like to call themselves conservative and look down on liberals. Some like to be progressive and look down on traditionalists. Problem is they all can become extreme. Jesus was not extreme, as He was all four. Jesus was conservative with His rebukes and on one occasion just wrote them in the sand to avoid embarrassing anybody. But He was liberal with the bread and fish when He fed the multitudes. Jesus was traditional with his custom of going to church every Sabbath, but He progressed beyond man-made traditions and the pompous ceremonial hand washing the Pharisees had concocted.

I visited with a member of a church where I was a guest speaker. The member told me, the goal of their church was not to be conservative or liberal. Their goal was to just go by the Bible. Where the Bible said be liberal, they wanted to be liberal, but in other phases of life where it said to be conservative they wanted to be conservative. I like that! They avoided the extreme labels of conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive and just purposed in their hearts to be like Jesus.

Daniel purposed in his heart to be conservative when it came to his diet in Babylon, but when it came to getting the wicked magicians off the hook for not telling the king his dream he was very liberal!

Again, please do not confuse what I am saying by thinking I am suggesting we make a compromise with sin in order to avoid extremes. I am actually saying just the opposite. If we become extreme in having one favorite pastor or author, we will follow him not only when he is right, but also when he is wrong. If we have been exposed to several pastors and authors, we will more likely follow each one only as far as they are right. We don’t have our wagon hitched to any one person except Jesus.

If we label ourselves conservative, we will fall into sin when a brother needs mercy and forgiveness. If we label ourselves liberal, we will fall into sin when a brother needs to be warned about sin. If we label ourselves traditional, we will fall into sin when tradition contradicts the Bible. If we label ourselves progressive, we will fall into sin when we forsake traditions that are biblical.

Let’s avoid Satan’s temptation to follow extremes and let’s purpose in our hearts, like Daniel to follow God in all His ways, by studying the Bible and following it, without adding or subtracting anything.

 

You can study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

He Grew the Tree He Knew Would be Used to Make the Old Rugged Cross

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Around a hundred years ago, when I was a teenager, a country singer by the name of Barbara Mandrell, sang, “He grew the tree that He knew would be used to make the old rugged cross.” The song brought out, that even at creation Jesus was planning our redemption. This song could not be any truer.

In Genesis 2:17 God says, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” We all know Adam and Eve did not die the day they ate of the forbidden fruit. Man has been trying to make excuses for God ever since.

Some say, well they began to die. However that is not what God said. He did not say you will begin to die the day you eat of the fruit. He said you will die in the day you eat of the fruit. Others say, they died spiritually that day. I don’t even know what the means! Sounds profound enough, I guess, but what does it mean? Besides, God did not say you will die spiritually the day you eat of the fruit. He said you will die – drop dead the day you eat of it. So what kept Adam and Eve from dropping dead the day they ate of the fruit?

Instead of trying to make up weak excuses for God, let’s let God’s Word explain itself. He does not need any help from us to get out of this so-called jam. We find the answer at the other end of the Bible. Revelation 13:8 tells us Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. There is our answer! God did not need us bailing Him out by making up our own theories about beginning to die or dying spiritually that day. Revelation 13:8 lets us know that Jesus’ death on the cross had already taken effect. God calls things that are not yet, as though they already were. Just like I can cut and paste, as I am writing this post on Microsoft Word, God can cut and paste through time and eternity and put the cross at the foundation of the world.

Jesus is truly the Savior of the whole world, as His sacrifice sustains not only the believer but the unbeliever as well. Adam and Eve were not believers; they were running from God. But they still had their breath that day because of the cross of Christ and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. God told Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “and in thee [Abraham’s Seed which was Christ] shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Notice God said all families will be “blessed,” or benefit from the cross. That includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. They all benefit the same way Adam and Eve did.

The reason Adam and Eve did not drop dead the same day they ate the fruit was because Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and His death had already taken effect. The reason we do not drop dead the same day we sin, is because of the cross of Christ as well. Believer and unbeliever benefit from the cross. This is what John was talking about in 1 John 2:2. He writes, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” John was writing to believers when he said not only for ours, the believers, but the whole world! An inspired writer, 1,800 years after John, echoes the same sentiments. “To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf.” – Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 660.

Every breath we breathe is brought to us courtesy of the cross. People curse God with the very breath that He died to give them!

This idea of Jesus beginning our redemption even at creation runs all through the Bible. In the following references italics are supplied.

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Ephesians 1:4

“In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” Titus 1:2

Yes! Jesus created the tree He knew would be used to make the old rugged cross. Even at creation He was beginning our redemption. He died to give us probationary time. Not a probationary time to see if God will accept us – He already has accepted us from the foundation of the world – but time to see if we will accept Jesus and His life-changing love.

If we choose to accept His love, Jesus tells us in John 11:26, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Sure, we may fall asleep like Lazarus did, but God will not abandon us in the grave. We will not experience the death and God abandonment that Jesus experienced for us on the cross when He cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”

The cross echoes throughout time and space from every corner of eternity, telling us God is love! The Gospel begins at creation.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Dominos, Sabbath School and Controversy!

Dominos

I am writing from my home tonight in the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Dominos is a game played around the world, but I have found lately, it is not played the same way around the world. I was raised in Oklahoma, where my grandmother there taught me how to play, by playing off the ends as well as the sides, so that you are going in four different directions. (As seen in the picture) You score when all four sides add up to a 5, like 5, 10, 15, 20 and so on. For example in the picture the score would be 10. When the total does not round of to a five you get no points. Fact is, I did not know anyone played any other way. That is until I moved to Florida and sat down to play with some friends from Cuba. When I played off the side instead of the end my friends started laughing. They had never seen anyone play off  of the side before and thought it was a joke. I thought they were joking. Come to find out, they were serious. Where they were raised, you only play in a straight narrow line, and you don’t even score by fives. You don’t even score at all! You just play till you are out of dominos. We were both raised to play the same game in different parts of the world, each one, thinking our way was the only way it could be done. Obviously the other way they were taught was wrong. So we both thought.

This led me to do some research. My first reaction was I was right and they were wrong. Later I realized I thought I was right, only because that is how my family taught me to play. My friends also thought they were right only because that is how their family taught them. I decided to have an open mind and go to the rule book and find out what the exact rules are. I Googled “Dominos rules” and come to find out I was right! Actually we all were right. Seems there is more than one way to play Dominos. In the meantime I learned a valuable lesson about tradition, and how we all come from different parts of the world, with different views and opinions, each thinking our way is the Gospel truth, and we are going to save the world, by making the rest of the world just like us. I am being sarcastic, but how many times have we been tempted to correct someone, for no other reason than they weren’t like us? How many times has a country sent missionaries to another country, and instead of just teaching them how to be like Jesus, actually taught them how to be like the country the missionaries came from?

A while back a gentleman joined my Sabbath School class. When I write, I enjoy giving all the details about places and times, however I can’t or at least should not do that this time, because this story also involves another Sabbath School class that may not wish to be identified. You see, the gentleman joined my class because he had basically been thrown out, or so he thought, from another Sabbath School class. He was not an Adventist. He did not believe in the Sabbath, and so he was asking questions that may not be usually asked in a traditional Adventist Sabbath School class. The class he was in, had a theology as narrow minded as those who can only play dominos in a straight line. They could not vary from the regular “cookie cutter” questions and answers that were to be given in a traditional study. Now I am not here to knock the way people play dominos, but, you may be able to play dominos in a narrow little line, but our God is too big for a narrow line.

Since the first class did not want to deal with his questions he showed up in my class. Instead of me telling him how my grandmother kept the Sabbath, or how we kept the Sabbath back in Oklahoma, we went to the rule book. We compared his questions to the Word of God and used that as our standard instead of how we each had been raised. (See 2 Timothy 3:16) My Sabbath school class was not intimidated by his challenging questions, because we did not have an agenda to defend ourselves. We were open to his suggestions, and compared them to the Scriptures to see if those things were so. (See Acts 17:11) When he saw that we treated him with respect, he treated us with respect. I wish I could tell you more, but the gentleman moved away before too long and I lost contact with him.

The Sabbath school class this gentleman originally joined apparently forgot that the whole purpose of Sabbath School is for evangelism! That’s right. Adventists got the idea of Sabbath School from Sunday keeping protestant churches’ Sunday Schools. After the dark ages, these Sunday Schools were instituted in addition to the regular worship service as a way to evangelize and teach people about Jesus.  In my church, the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, I teach what is called a Seekers class or new believer’s class, but actually the purpose of my class is the purpose of every Sabbath School class, which is evangelism.

In evangelism you have to allow people to ask questions. That is how we learn. I have preached sermons during the worship hour, and then gone home, quite satisfied that my points were well made. I only got that notion because in the worship hour nobody asks questions. Later I found I was not as convincing as I thought. I also found some people with Scripture that seemed to contradict my point. As we sat down and looked at all the Scripture on that point, there have been times that the people saw that I was right. There have been times we have seen we both were right, and there has been a time or two I have seen I was just plain wrong. That’s okay. Being wrong does not scare me. I have no personal agenda that I have to defend. All I want to do is go by the Bible and teach others to do the same. After all, isn’t that how the Seventh-day Adventist church was formed? By people coming out of other churches and saying, let’s sit down and study the Bible, and just go by what the Bible says?  If that is how the Seventh-day Adventist church was formed, should that not be our mode of Sabbath School evangelism?

Richard Tibbits, in his book Forgive to Live, says studies show Seventh-day Adventists have a harder time forgiving than the rest of the general population. Why is that so? Is it because of our unique beliefs, that we have always been taught to defend our faith and stand our ground, and show the world that we are right, that we get defensive? Even when there is no reason to be defensive? If you stand alone of the Word of God the B-I-B-L-E you don’t have to be defensive. You have no agenda, no dog in the fight so to speak, other than to go by the Bible.

In our Sabbath School classes we should not be afraid to ask questions, even untraditional questions, and just let the Bible answer them. This is what Sabbath School evangelism is all about. While you normally don’t ask questions during the sermon, Sabbath School is the place to be asking them, and questions should be encouraged, not discouraged.

Now I totally understand that at the same time, people should be respectful with both their questions and their answers. There have been times I have been teaching a class, and the debate has become a little heated, and so I tell everyone to direct their questions to me and not each other. That way nobody feels they are being personally attacked.

Remember in Sabbath School class we examine ideas. We don’t examine the people. We compare Bible verses with other Bible verses. We do not compare people with other people.

A while back two elderly ladies were in my class. One was extremely short. The other lady would playfully refer to the smaller lady as the “little lady.” I told the lady calling her that, that it was not appropriate to be commenting about people’s bodies in the class. People don’t come to Sabbath School to have their bodies discussed. She told me she meant no harm and continued calling her “the little lady.” I realized I now had to contact her outside of class to let her know the seriousness of the issue. I told her that these comments would not be tolerated in my class, and that if she refused to refrain from such comments she would be asked not to return to my class. A very awkward position for an evangelistic Sabbath School teacher to be in, but I had no choice! Thankfully the lady refrained from her comments and continued in our class.

When Jesus met Nicodemus He treated him with respect and let him ask his questions. When Jesus met the woman at the well He also treated her respectfully and let her ask her questions.  In both cases there was mutual respect. Honest, sincere questions with no personal attacks.

Around this last election time in the United States, at my Bible study group which meets after school at a nearby Adventist grade school, I was surprised how passionate the youth were about the candidates. One student who supported Obama said something not so nice about Romney and offended another student. I pointed out to the Obama supporter that the other student had been hurt. I asked if the point could be made without having to insult Romney and his supporters. The Obama supporter was grieved when they realized their comment had wounded their friend, and quickly apologized and rephrased their comment more appropriately. We all decided, as we discussed vital social issues facing the youth, neither the Democrats, nor the Republicans have all the answers. Furthermore, while both candidates have good points they also have negative points, and neither one was all right or all wrong. We decided that since we all have good points and weak points, the solution would be for us all to work together combining all our good points.

In Sabbath School, I doubt any of us are all right or all wrong. We all have something to bring to the table. In the mid 1800s a Seventh-day Baptist lady by the name of Rachael Oaks introduced to a new Bible study group of Adventists the idea of keeping the Seventh-day Sabbath. The first reaction of the group was similar to the reaction my friends had, when they saw me playing dominos a different way than they traditionally played. However, this new group of Advent Bible studiers opened their minds, knowing like my after school Bible study group, that everyone should be treated with respect, and searched the Scriptures to see if what Rachael Oaks said was so. Turns out this Seventh-day Baptist lady did have something to offer the group of Adventists. Think it could happen again? Let’s be respectful of others and use the Bible as our only guide and we will find out.

Just a parting thought as I close. I realize not all Bible studies will end with everyone agreeing. Some disagreements are inconsequential. Other disagreements may actually have consequences concerning church membership, but even so that does not bar people from worshiping and studying together, and while there is such a things a baptism vows, and rightfully so, there are no Sabbath School class vows nor should there be. Again the Sabbath School serves a totally different purpose than church and the worship hour. As long as people can still be respectful of other people and their ideas, they should not only feel welcomed to attend Sabbath school, but also join in the discussion and be a part of the class.

You can study the current Sabbath School lesson here.

The Gospel versus Legalism

MLK Day 013

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

You know, there are probably plenty of valid reasons why God waited till He had created everything else, before He finally created man. Obviously the environment was not inhabitable for mankind yet, but I would like to suggest another reason. I think it has to do with why I was not around at Calvary either. If man had been around while God was creating the earth, he may have come up with the crazy notion that he actually had a part in creation. It is the same with thing with Calvary. Sure, mankind was there, but everything that was good was because of God. Think of all the things that could have gone wrong. Jesus could have turned Pilate to dust. He could have called for ten thousands of angels to set Him free. Yet everything concerning my redemption went absolutely perfectly, and you know why? Because I wasn’t there to mess it all up! Paul sums up sound Biblical theology for us in four words, “Not I but Christ.” Galatians 2:20. The theory of evolution is legalism, because it involves man bettering himself on his own. This is impossible. Yet some people have a theology where Jesus forgives us, but then we get better on our own. Some people have a “me plus Christ” theology instead of a “Not I but Christ” theology. Anytime “I” become a part of my theology, my theology becomes corrupt because “I” am corrupt. Legalism struggles to make “I” part of the solution but it simply is not, so much so that the only way pure theology can work is if “I” am crucified. The Sabbath is a sign of rest, both at creation and redemption to remind us, that we are not saved by the works of the flesh, and therefore the works of the flesh, known as legalism must be put to rest. Only God Himself could first create me in His own image, only God Himself can re-create me in His own image. Let’s take a careful look at the gospel as opposed to human legalism.

 

The Gospel versus Legalism

 

 

Legalism: We make sacrifices to obtain God’s love.

The Gospel:  God provided a sacrifice to obtain OUR love.    Romans 5:10-12:  “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”

Note:  In pagan religions the sacrifice enables the god to love the humans, while in Christianity the sacrifice enables the humans to love their God.

Legalism: We keep the commandments in order to be saved.

The Gospel: We keep the commandments because we love Jesus.  John 14:15:  “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

Legalism: We want to get sin out of our lives because of the investigative judgment.

The Gospel: We want to get sin out of our lives because sin crucifies Jesus.  Isaiah 53:4-6:  “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Legalism: We want to give our heart to Jesus today because He is coming soon.

The Gospel: We want to give our heart to Jesus today because He loves us. 1 John 4:19:  “We love him, because he first loved us.”

Legalism: Good behavior is motivated by a hope of reward or fear of punishment.

The Gospel: Good behavior is motivated by our love for Jesus regardless of consequences.  2 Corinthians 5:14:  “For the love of Christ constraineth us.”

Legalism: God’s grace is a response to our faith.

The Gospel: Our faith is a response to God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-9:  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Legalism:   Me plus Christ.

The Gospel:  NOT I, BUT CHRIST.   Galatians 2:20:  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet NOT I, BUT CHRIST  liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Legalism: Self- centered obedience according to my own standards, in my own power, for my own glory.

The Gospel: God- centered obedience according to God’s standards, in His power for His glory.

Legalism: All about pride and rewards.

The Gospel: All about love and humility.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson on Origins and Creation here.

Grace – The Greatest Evidence There is a God

Sunset Bradenton

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves….Psalms 100:3

I entered the ICU in a Tampa Hospital, to pray with a family who was about to lose their mother. The mother was a Christian. The daughter was near believing, but I soon found out where her two sons stood. When the daughter announced I was here to pray, the two grown sons said, “no!” When the daughter said it was the mother’s wish, and I was going to pray, both sons stormed out of the room. As the youngest son went through the door, he shouted at me, “There is no God!” I kept silent, but wanted to ask him,”if there is no God, what are you running from?”

You can tell me I’m crazy, but I think a lot of people “don’t believe” in God, because they can’t manipulate Him to do exactly what they want, so they “hurt Him” by not believing in Him.   Some people tell me God is just some fairy tail made up to give people a make believe hope beyond the grave. Here is my question. If there is no God then why do we die? That’s right, why do we die if there is no God? Scientists do not know exactly why we die. They can’t explain death. It seems our cells should just keep on recreating themselves. Why do they stop? I mean if we just all happened to be here, and the universe is millions of years old, why aren’t we millions of years old too? I will tell you why. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. In order to get an explanation for death you have to go to the creation story in Genesis 1-2 where God tells Adam and Eve they will die if the disobey.  Without the creation story you have no explanation for death. While people accuse me of making up God so I have a fantasy hope beyond the grave, fact is, the grave proves to me there is a God! There is no scientific explanation for death. The Creation story gives us the only explanation.

Many Christians try to disprove the big bang theory by saying, it takes more faith to believe “bang! There is life” than it does to believe there is God. While I fully believe in God, I did not think that was a good argument. To me, “bang there is God” is no more or less a coincidence than “bang there is life.” That is until it dawned on my feeble brain, with God there was no bang! He did not just happen. Fact is He never “happened” He has always existed! Do you see the difference? Nothing coincidental caused God to exist because He has always been. I can’t wrap my brain around it, but it makes sense and satisfies my mind that it makes more sense than something out of nowhere just causing a universe to exist. I can set off a million firecrackers and I will never get a universe out of any of them.

Okay, back to Christians just want a make believe hope beyond the grave. The accusation is we dreamed up this God to give us life beyond the grave. Fact is I can see man making up some form of god who rewards you for being good. That is legalism, and legalism is human nature, so sure it is in our nature to invent legalism and a God who rewards those who are good. But seriously folks, could any of us left on our own invent a god who rewards bad people? Could any of us dream up this god coming to die and give hope beyond the grave to sinners? In pagan religions man sacrifices himself to get the blessings of the god. Aztecs used to have a human sacrifice everyday just to get the so-called sun god to rise.  But Christianity offers something none of us could dream up. The God sacrifices Himself! And He sacrifices Himself to give life beyond the grave to sinners! Paul saw this contrast too in Romans 5:7-8, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul is making a contrast between Christianity and man- made religion. Mankind is legalistic by nature, so it is in our ability to invent a religion where someone may save a good person, but Christianity is unrivaled in that is presents a God who died to save bad people! Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to look logical to be believed. Truth can defy logic because it is truth regardless if it is logical or not. A God coming to die for bad people defies all human logic. It is not in the human psyche, therefore it is an idea out of this world. Man can invent a religion where man saves himself in his own strength by his own works, which is legalism. But Paul says we were saved without any strength of ourselves. Christianity defies legalism and human logic! The Sabbath also defies legalism. The Sabbath reminds us we are not saved by our works. We are saved by resting our faith in our Creator.

“The Sabbath was instituted in Eden, as a memorial of creation. It points men directly to the true God as the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Thus it stands as a mighty barrier against idolatry, atheism, and infidelity. Had the Sabbath been universally kept, not one of these evils could have gained a foot-hold in our world. There could not have been an infidel nor an idolater.  –Ellen White, Signs of the Times, September 14, 1882.

The Sabbath is a sign of creation. After all, you have the sun to mark a year, the moon to mark a month, and the earth’s rotation to mark a day, yet the only thing that marks a week is the Sabbath from the seven day creation story. Like death, the seven day week can only be explained by the creation story in Genesis 1-2.  More than that, the Sabbath is a sign of rest and grace as opposed to works and legalism. It is a sign we have a Creator. Not just any creator, but a loving Creator. None of the pagan man-made religions offer a loving god, but always an angry god which man must make sacrifices for. The Sabbath not only tells us we have a Creator, it tells us we have a Creator full of love and grace. Something mankind could never dream up.

I wish  those two young men would not have ran away that day from their mother’s ICU room. Maybe one day they will get tired of running and rest. When they do, I know a great resting place. In my Creator’s arms of love.

You can study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Its 2013 And Jesus is Breaking Out The New Wine!

thur-nov-13-08-018

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Every creation of Jesus is better than His creation before.

Bruce Springsteen sings a song called “Glory Days.” In the song he talks about running into old friends and talking about glory days gone by, when they were much younger. I can relate. When I was young I loved to play basketball. However, about a year ago, after teaching an evangelism class at the nearby church school, I walked into the gym and saw a basketball. I picked it up and started shooting baskets. No, truth is, I tried shooting baskets. I could not make a basket to save my life. As I walked out of the gym I told myself, this must be why old men like me play golf. We just can’t do what we did when were young anymore.

This morning I picked up my Bible started reading the book of John, as I am reading through the New Testament. I read in chapter 2, where after Jesus turned the water into the wine, the host of the party accuses the servants of saving the best wine till last. I thought to myself, that is how it is with Jesus! God’s plan is not for us to grow old and talk about glory days gone by. The best is always yet to come! Jesus has created a new year, and like the new wine, every creation is better than before.

A couple weeks ago at a home game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a ceremony remembering their super bowl championship 10 years ago. Some friends of mine and I kind of laughed to ourselves, that you know things are pretty sad for the team when you have to go back ten years to find something to celebrate. This is not how God has designed life to be. In Psalms 23:6 David declares, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” David did not serve a God of glory days gone by.  He served a God ready to bless and prosper Him every day. After years of captivity, when Israel was tempted to long for their glory days gone by, Jeremiah reminded them that the best days were yet to come! “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV

As I enter 2013, I am not looking to make it like the good ole days. No, I am looking for it to be better than ever!  When the Israelites entered Canaan they were to take all of the land. However Judges 1 tells us, “And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.” Really? Those chariots of iron were just too much for God, huh? I don’t think so. That was no excuse, and God knew it.

Earlier in Joshua 17:18 God Commanded, “for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong.” So what was the problem? Zephaniah wrote about the church, “And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees.” Those who are settled on their lees, are riding on their past experience. I imagine this was true of the Israelites when they entered Canaan. They had crossed through the Red Sea and the Jordan River. God had seen them through a lot. Let’s stop now and just rest. Why go further? The iron chariots were just the excuse they used to stop where they were, content to rest. They became a bunch of has-beens, relying on past experiences.

When I was in my early 20s I drove out to a little town in Western Oklahoma to preach one Sabbath. I went downstairs into the basement where the drinking fountain was and I saw several nice large children’s Sabbath School rooms- all empty! During lunch after church, an old patriarch told me those rooms used to be filled with children, and I could tell by the way they looked, that he was telling me the truth. He explained how those children have all grown up and moved away and started families elsewhere. Logical explanation, and I am sure a lot of children had grown up and just moved away. Even so, even as a young Bible Worker at the time, I had enough experience to know that if you gave me a church directory from a few years ago, I could still find a lot of them right there in town. I will never forget the feeling I had, standing alone in that empty hallway on Sabbath morning, peering into all those empty classrooms, imagining what they looked like full, back in their day. Back in their day? That is a term God does not even know! He is the Great I AM! Not the Great has been!

Friends I can guarantee you, God never would have given us 2013 if He did not think it would be better than any year before! There are fresh victories to be gained. We may even have to change our ways and try something new. When I was a kid I tossed the basketball around and never thought about golf. Today I stand in tee boxes facing fairways I have never seen before, or even thought about when I was younger. I’m not a kid anymore. Life is moving on and my God is moving along with me, taking me to new challenges and victories. I remember when my late grandmother went into a nursing home for a while. Many would have seen that as the end, but my grandmother made new friends!

In 2013 we will meet new people, new opportunities and new victories! Let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrate their super bowl of ten years ago- while I celebrate new victories each and every day in 2013. By God’s grace, instead of looking at how vibrant my church was in days gone by, I will be looking at it in 2013 and think, wow! I have never seen such life before. Sorry Bruce. I can’t sing that song of glory days gone by with you. I am still experiencing God’s glory today!

It’s 2013 and I can see Jesus breaking out the new wine!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

How Was The Earth Made?

Bible Studies Made Easy

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The Origin of the Earth

Genesis 1:1 —————————————- Who created the earth?

Genesis 1:26 ——————————– What does “let us” indicate?

Genesis 1:2 ————————– Who else was involved in creation?

Hebrews 1:2 —————————— Who actually did the creating?

John 1:1-3, 14 ——————————— How much did He create?

Psalm 33:6-9 —————————————— How did He create?

Isaiah 45:18 ——————————- Why did He create the earth?

Exodus 20:11 ——————————- How long did creation take?

Hebrews 11:3 ————————— What enables us to accept this?

Colossians 1:16, 17 —————————– Who sustains the world?

2 Peter 3:3-5 ————— What would people doubt in the last days?

Revelation 14:7 —————– Whom are we called upon to worship?

Why Go To Church?

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa Oklahoma (Boston Avenue Methodist Church)

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:25

Over the years, I have heard many people tell me they don’t need a church. They can just study the Bible for themselves. They don’t need to go to a church that is filled with hypocrites, even if there is always room for one more. However, you can’t have a “one-person” church and fulfill the counsel in Hebrews 10:25. By setting up His church, God does more than command us to study and worship. He commands us to do more than spread the gospel by ourselves. Hebrews 10:25 is a command to be social. Paul does not merely say, “Do not give up hope and do not stop studying the Scriptures. He says, “Do not stop meeting together in a social setting.”

Paul, of all people, knew the importance of a church. Once he was converted in Acts 9, God directed him to the city where he met Ananias and Barnabas and the rest of the church. Even though Paul had a one-on-one encounter with God, he still needed to understand the importance of living and growing in a church setting.

Paul counseled us to keep being social, because he knew it was not good for man to be alone. Now think about this for a moment. God creates Adam. Adam has God and God has Adam. Yet God does not say, “Adam has Me, and I am all that he needs.” No, God Himself says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18

Now let this soak in. God Himself is saying, “I am not all Adam needs! He needs a community.”

If you believe God is all you need and that you don’t need anyone else in your life, then you are contradicting the God you serve! He Himself says He is not all you need. You need a community of believers. God created a mate for Adam, and thus fulfilled some other obvious needs of Adam, but ultimately they fulfill God’s purpose of creating a community. God knew Adam needed more than just to be able to worship God alone. He needed to be able to worship and serve God with a community of believers.

If you ever date someone who tries to isolate you from your family and friends, be very concerned about that. If their love is a Godly love, they will love like God and encourage you to be social and active in your family and community. If God Himself realizes we need more in our lives than just Him, how dare a mere mortal human being tell us they are all we need!  If their love is from God they will not be egotistical and tell us we don’t need anyone but them. God’s love is a healthy love which does not isolate. A love that tries to isolate is very unhealthy.

Worshiping in a social setting such as a church, means we will meet hypocrites, and they will meet hypocrites when they meet us. Hypocrites are just people who do not live up to all of their ideals, and that is all of us. But by God’s grace, He is getting us there and will get us there. In the meantime we need each other to get there.

I have a community Bible study where people of all faiths are invited to our church on Wednesday mornings. One morning an elderly lady said something that has always stayed with me. She said, “If someone in the church keeps rubbing you the wrong way, maybe God is just using them to polish your character.” I think she is right. God says it is not good for us to be alone. We need a community of believers. Some will encourage us, and even those we don’t get along the best with, will help polish our characters.

We need each other!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.