Tag Archives: Sabbath School Lessons

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!

 

Strange Laws for Strange People

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

There are some pretty strange laws out there.

In Oklahoma it is against the law to spit on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what the penalty is though. But I do know the penalty for making an ugly face at a dog is a fine or jail sentence. I guess it depends on just how ugly of a face you make. In Texas it is against the law to milk another person’s cow, or to shoot a buffalo from the second floor of a hotel. In Alaska it is considered an offense to shove a live moose out of an airplane.*

While these laws sound pretty crazy, I bet if we searched the history behind them, some of them might actually start to make sense. Apparently someone at one time in Alaska must have tried to shove a moose out of an airplane. There is a spirit behind each of these strange laws, which is consideration for other people and creatures. Spitting on the sidewalk may seem innocent enough, until your ten year old son walks barefoot down a sidewalk that a man with a hacking cough just passed by! Making an intimidating face at a dog that brings it to the point of violent frustration is not very considerate either. Therefore we have come up with millions of laws, some of them quite bizarre, just because there are people out there who have no consideration for others.

In heaven Lucifer rebelled against God’s law of love. He thought it would be better to have a lawless society. Well, guess what? The more lawless a society becomes, the more laws it needs. The Spirit of God’s law is simple,

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.  Luke 10:27

Apparently Lucifer thought being considerate of your Creator and His created beings was just too much to ask for.  However, if we would have just respected our Creator and His creatures we would not need all the millions of strange and not so strange laws we have today. If we loved others and were thoughtful of their needs, we would not need a law book at the courthouse telling us we can’t spit on the sidewalk or take milk from our neighbor’s cow. Likewise if we would just love our spouses we would not need divorce laws, alimony laws, child custody laws, child support laws and even restraining orders.

It is not so much strange lawmakers who create strange laws but rather strange and selfish behavior. Even in the Old Testament we have some laws that some people find quite strange, for example, why did God have to give this command in Leviticus 20:2?

Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death.

If parents would have just been faithful to their children we would never have needed this “strange” law.  It is not God who was strange, thus necessitating this strange law but rather a strange society. Strange and unnatural laws become necessary for a society that does not have natural love.  Natural love creates natural laws that are simple and brief, written on our hearts so that obeying them comes as naturally as following our own hearts.   As a matter of fact God’s law could be as simply stated this, “Have a heart people!” And with that one simple law being accomplished we would need no other law, for having a heart for God and his creatures would make laws about offering your children to Molech and shooting buffalo from the second floor of a hotel totally unnecessary.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

* http://www.dumblaws.com/

Pray a New Prayer

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

My parents tell me, when I was two years old, one Sabbath morning the elder kept praying and praying in church, and I got tired of kneeling on my two year old little knees, so I finally stood up on the pew and started shouting, “Amen! Amen! Amen!” Well let me tell you something, I have felt like doing it a few times since then. Even at two years old I must have realized that public prayers are suppose to be brief.

“Our prayers in public should be short…” -Ellen White, Prayer, Page 176

In recent years I have been kneeling in congregational prayer for what felt like an eternity, and have thought to myself during the long drawn out prayer, “Why doesn’t the elder praying just ask the pastor if he can preach sometime. I am sure he would let him, and then that way the elder wouldn’t have to use prayer time to preach a sermon.” 

Jesus mentored His disciples to pray longer prayers in private, Or at least He tried to in Gethsemane the night of His arrest, in Matthew 26:36-46. Jesus led by example, in long personal prayers, even lasting all night (Luke 6:12). He also taught that prayers should be genuine and not rehearsed.

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” Matthew 6:7 NLT

When we pray we are to talk to God as a friend. I even heard of an elderly Bible Worker, who when driving to Bible Studies, would make sure nothing was in the passenger car seat, because He pictured God sitting there, riding with Him to the Bible study as he prayed and drove. (I hope he kept his eyes opened as he prayed and drove!)

Many times in my Bible studies I ask people to have the opening prayer, and many are shy and say they don’t know how. I never pressure anyone to do anything they don’t feel comfortable doing, but several have been surprised how easy it is when I tell them. One man, who had already heard me pray many times, told me he wanted to pray but did not know what to say. I told him, “Just say “Dear heavenly Father, please send your Holy Spirit to be with us in this Bible study, in Jesus’ name amen.” His eyes opened wide and he smiled when he realized how easy it was.

God wants us to talk to Him as a friend. God also does not wanting us just babbling the same words over and over. He wants to have a real conversation with us. The psalmist talks about singing a new song (Psalms 40:3) and a song is like a prayer as songs and prayers are stories of our experiences. Just as God enjoys new songs He also enjoys new prayers.

While Jesus mentored His disciples to pray in private, He also mentored them to pray in public. He gave them a model prayer, not to be repeated over and over word for word necessarily, but a model for us to use to form our own prayer. God loves creativity. Not every song has to be sung the exact same way and by no means does every prayer have to be prayed the same way. While Jesus prayed long private prayers, notice how short His public prayer is.

Our Father in heaven,may your name be kept holy. Matthew 6:9 NLT

Jesus starts by addressing His Father and setting a tone for reverence and awe. Our prayers may also be prayed with confidence knowing our requests are reaching the throne of the universe.

May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10 NLT

I have a friend who was taught long ago by his parents to always ask people how their day was, and listen to them, before going on about yourself and your day. You may think you had a tough day, but before you dive into your prayer, telling God all about your heartaches, have you ever asked God how His day went? God saw way more heartaches in one day than we will see in a lifetime. We want God’s will to be done and His kingdom to come soon, not just to end our suffering, but to end God’s suffering, as He suffers not just with you and me, but with everyone in the world who suffers.

Give us today the food we need, Matthew 6:11 NLT

When Daniel asked for God to reveal the kings dream to him, Daniel did not save himself only, he saved the lives of all the kings men (Daniel 2:24). InMark 4:39 Jesus calms the storm at the disciples request, but the sea was not only calmed for their tiny boat. Like wise, all the other boats on the water benefited from the calmness. Jesus does not pray for Himself alone to have food. He prays for everyone to have the food they need. There is no selfishness in Jesus’ prayer. There is no selfishness in any genuine prayer.

“and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12 NLT

Jesus could have prayed, “Father forgive everyone else for their sins, but as you know I have never sinned,” but again there is nor self or pride in Jesus’ prayer.

And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6:13 NLT

Jesus overcame by asking for the Father’s help along with everyone else. We can ask for His help and overcome as well. Jesus ends His prayer the way He began, by exalting the Father, Who gives us the confidence we need in our personal lives and ministry when we worship and follow Him.

You can study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Discipling the Nations, or Being Discipled by the Nations?

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

In the Old Testament God wanted to be Israel’s king, but in 1 Samuel 8:5-7 Israel rejected God as their king and said they wanted to have a king like all the other nations have. Centuries later, Pilate asks the Israelites,

Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.  John 19:15

So for centuries God’s own people were basically saying, “Give us any king but God!”  Instead of discipling the nations, they were discipled by the nations.

God’s own people wanted to be like the other nations so much so that they were willing to deny their Savior so they could fit in with the world. Much of their compromise with the world was to avoid being persecuted or even just laughed at. In John 11:50, Caiaphas suggests getting rid of Jesus so that the whole nation does not perish. What He was suggesting was, getting rid of Jesus’ teachings which, if not done away with would bring down the wrath of Rome. What Caiaphas was forgetting was, if they did away with Jesus then the nation had no reason to exist! What is the point of preserving something if it no longer serves a purpose? Why exist just to exist?

Do we find the same mentality in our day? For example–

Let’s water down our teachings lest someone ridicule us. No reason to invite persecution, we can preserve ourselves by making our teachings look as much like all the other churches as possible.

If we do that, we have defeated our entire purpose of existing as a church! After the reformation, during a religious awakening, God did not bring the Seventh-day Adventist Church forth to blend in and look like all the other churches. Think about it. There were already churches, even Sabbath-keeping churches, that looked like all the other churches. Why would God bring forth a church if it would be like what was already there?

Other churches have a gospel that will prepare you to die, and that is all well and good, but God has brought forth the Seventh-day Adventist Church with a sanctuary message and a gospel that will prepare you to never die! See Malachi 3:1-3. Should we be ashamed of this gospel? Should we try to water it down to look like all the other gospels out there?

Even now Rome is extending her hand to the Protestant churches, saying we all understand salvation by grace instead of works. We all get what Luther was saying now, so let’s all come together. However, you cannot say you understand salvation by grace while observing a man-made day of worship, one that man worked out on his own! When you understand salvation by grace, you rest from your works and man-made religion by resting your faith in the Creator on the day that He made holy.

Years ago I met with another Adventist family in my neighborhood for a Neighborhood Youth Bible Study on Sabbath afternoons. One Sabbath our church was having a “revival” with some Christian rock music. Someone from the church invited me and my youth study group to come. I thought, why not? Instead of a Bible study for this week, let’s just show the kids that we also have fun. After the concert, I asked a teenager in my group how they liked the concert. I was hoping they thought it was really cool. Instead, they looked at me disappointed, and said, “I wish we would have just had the Bible study instead.” Their statement hit me like a two-by-four right between the eyes! I realized then, what was being offered they could find anywhere, but we have a special message that is not just found anywhere.

Instead of blending in we need to stand out. In Samuel’s day Israel had a special message that would have saved the world, but instead of discipling the nations they were discipled by the nations. Likewise, we are told by Jesus to go and make disciples of other nations, not become disciples of other nations.  Caiaphas thought the best way to preserve the church of his day was to get rid of Jesus and His gospel.

The Lord directed Ezekiel in giving His message. And I believe it is still valid today:

“You must give them my messages whether they listen or not. But they won’t listen, for they are completely rebellious!” Ezekiel 2:7 NLT

Today, companies will sometimes change their products to meet consumer demand, but we cannot do that, because the product (the message) is the Lord’s. However, we can learn something else from modern companies. More often they change the packaging of a product to make it more appealing to customers, and that’s what we can and should do in our culture. We need to communicate the same age-old truth in a way that our culture can understand.

I pray that the Lord will give us the wisdom to present His unchanging truth in a way that this generation can understand.

You can study this week’s SS lesson here.

Living My Life So People Will Remember me When I die is too Small a Cause to Live for!

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

I sat at a funeral dinner, with the grown children of the dear lady whose service I had just conducted.  One of her sons was talking about adding a patio to the back of his house. Her daughter was talking about doing some work on her home too. I sat there listening, and thought to myself,“This lady has just died and her children are talking about everything but her! I don’t even have kids, just think how quickly I will be forgotten when I die!” I started getting depressed thinking about how quickly I will be forgotten. As the family talked on, not necessarily to me, I discreetly checked my Facebook on my phone beneath the table. I was stunned when I read one of the first status updates from a friend. It read, “Living my life so that people will remember me after I die is too small a cause to live for.” I felt like I had just been hit between the eyes with a 2 X 4! That day I realized, even though I had already been baptized long ago, I still needed to make a full surrender. Just because I told people I had surrendered all, and even sang the song with tears in my eyes, did not necessarily mean anything had actually been surrendered. Full surrender is an action not a profession.

Many times we think diet and dress reform and other topics are important issues, but what they all boil down to is one primary issue, the issue of a full surrender. I have met people who are proud of their extravagant wardrobe and I have met people who are proud of their simplicity. On both sides of the issue there is a pride problem! There is need for full surrender.

Jesus met and conquered the self and pride for us when He made a full surrender in Gethsemane. He cried out,

“If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.”Matthew 26:39 NLT

Here Jesus was praying in His humanity what all humanity has prayed. Is there a way for me to get around this issue other than a full surrender?  Hebrews 5:8says Jesus learned obedience by suffering. His flesh, like ours, suffered when it did not get its own way. In describing the destruction of the wicked, Obadiah 1:16 NLT says they will “disappear from history.” That was my fear at the funeral dinner, and Jesus faced this fear for me and overcame, when He made a full surrender and prayed,

“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Matthew 26:39 NLT

Whatever issue we face, we can try to skirt around it with all kinds of human reasoning and logic as to why we don’t need to make a full surrender, but surrender is the only solution, no matter the issue.

Surrender is the key to being anointed when we are sick.

Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. James 5:14-15 NLT

The anointing is saying the sick person is the property of God. Their sickness is now God’s problem and not theirs. They have made a full surrender and have given everything to God including their sins and diseases. God may heal them by removing the sickness right then, or He may heal them through a recovery process that will reveal God’s love and power day by day. Still, God may heal them by letting them go to sleep. The KJV of James 5:15 reads,

“ And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up”

Jesus may raise the person up that very moment, or He may heal them by letting them sleep, and “raise him up” at the resurrection. The key to this passage of Scripture is that sins are forgiven and there is salvation when one has been anointed and become fully surrendered.

You can study this week’s Sabbath School lesson on discipling the sick here.

Discipling Children By Integrating Not Segregating

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As we contemplate the Sabbath School lesson on discipling Children, I am reminded of a blog post someone shared with me on Facebook a while back, that really hit home with me and  my personal observations. The article, “Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith” mentions that many (not all) church youth groups help teens connect with each other, but fail to connect teens with the church or God. So, when they outgrow the youth group, they leave the church and God, which they never were connected to anyway.

Some youth leaders have even confessed to me that they had no relationship with Jesus themselves, and wanted me to teach the kids how to have the assurance of salvation, since that was something the youth leaders confessed they have not even experienced themselves. The youth leaders connected with the kids, but were not connected to Jesus, therefore it ended there, instead of going on to becoming disciples for Jesus.  What we need are youth leaders who can connect with kids and connect with Jesus.

If not designed and executed properly youth groups can actually shoot themselves in the foot. Some youth groups isolate kids from the church family instead of integrating them into the church. For example, I once had a 20 year old lady tell me, “I don’t want to go to that church meeting tonight because it will all just be grownups and I want to hang out with kids my age.” The youth group failed this young woman, because at age 20 she still saw herself as a kid instead of identifying herself with the grownups which she is now a part of! She is now too old for the youth group, but does not realize that she is now an adult. She is now on the outside as she is too old for the youth group, but never was connected to the church family, let alone God. And no, the solution is not a young adult group. I am not saying it is wrong to have one, I am just saying there is a problem when a 20-year old does not realize they are not a little kid anymore, and putting them in another bracket will not fix the problem. At age 12 Jesus did not become a youth or young adult. He became a man. The term teenager was not even recognized until the 19th century.   There were no youth groups as anyone 12 or older was now a part of the regular church congregation. 

I have served in smaller churches with no youth groups so to speak, and saw teens thriving in the church family. There was no segregation between young and old. In one church in West Texas, the bulletin editor was 13 years old, and was probably the most responsible bulletin editor I ever saw. She was home schooled, and if I did not have my sermon information called in before 1 pm Wednesday, she was calling me! She is now married with two children, in her early 30′s and still very active in her church family, and more importantly has an experience with God. She never made the transition from youth church to the “real” church, because she was brought up in the  “real” church from the git-go. Unlike the 20-year old woman I mentioned earlier, she sees herself as a grownup and has for a long time. She stopped seeing herself as a little kid, back when she was 13 putting the bulletin together every week.

Youth groups, like any other type of Church group, is purposeful only as it helps young people feel connected to Christ and a part of the entire church family, instead of just a part of a little group only connected with themselves.

Beyond Metaphors, The Real Reason why only Christ Could die for us.

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

In 2006, a gunman walked into an Amish school. The teacher ran for help, 13-year old Marian Fisher realized help would not arrive in time before the gunman started shooting. To buy time for the other students, this young girl told the gunman, “shoot me first.”  This young girl was prepared to make a sacrifice that a few older men on the Titanic shied away from. She made a great sacrifice as Jesus said,

                Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:13

Yes, she did make that sacrifice, as the gunman obliged her request and shot and killed her first. I just can’t imagine! You would think the young girl’s willingness to sacrifice herself would have broken what little heart the gunman had left.

As great as this sacrifice was, notice I called it a great sacrifice, but not theultimate sacrifice. Her sacrifice is a metaphor of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, but Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice when He died the second death for us on the cross. Marian Fisher, the true men on the Titanic, John Huss and many other martyrs throughout history, have died valiant deaths, but none have ever tasted the death that Jesus died. They all died with the hope of eternal life. For a while, beginning at Gethsemane to the cross, Jesus was not able to imagine Himself living beyond the grave.

 Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 753

Jesus used Metaphors. We all enjoy using metaphors. They help us to illustrate our points in ways people can relate too. When we use metaphors and illustrations from everyday life, we show how practical Christianity is, and how it does not take us away from everyday life and hide us in a monastery, but rather changes our behavior in everyday life. Jesus did not call Peter to stop fishing altogether, but He changed the way Peter fished. His illustrations about the lost sheep may have changed the way some shepherds cared for their charges. I love golf and like to use golf illustrations, and make metaphors that other golfers can relate too, so they can understand the gospel. Occasionally I meet someone who has no interests or hobbies, and it greatly limits their sphere of influence, and ability to connect with others. Since I have begun golfing it has broadened my sphere of influence as I have met many people on the golf course that I never would have met any other way, and the game has given me many more practical illustrations of the Christian life so that I can relate the gospel to these people.

Still, as helpful as parables, metaphors and illustrations are, they still come short of the real thing. Jesus used metaphors, not as an end, but as an invitation to contemplate the reality of His love and sacrifice. I remember as a boy being told a story about a mother who had scarred hands. One day her daughter asked her why her hands were so ugly. The mother explained that when the girl was just a baby, their home caught fire, and the mother burned her hands saving her. The daughter then decides those are beautiful hands. The story ends with the comparison to Jesus’ hands being scarred when He died for us. Nice metaphor but it falls way short! Jesus did not just get His hands scarred when He saved us. He felt abandoned by His Father when He cried,

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matthew 27:46

John the Baptist realized that metaphors fell short when He exclaimed,

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.John 1:29

Hundreds of years before, a young boy climbing a mountain with his father, said something similar.

Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? Genesis 22:7

What he was beholding was a metaphor. His father, Abraham either wittingly or unwittingly referred beyond the metaphor when he replied,

My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering:Genesis 22:8

God not only provide a lamb for the sacrifice He provided Himself to be that sacrifice!

In last quarter’s Sabbath School lessons, we talked about how only Jesus could be the sacrifice to atone for sin. Yes He had to be a perfect sacrifice without blemish, but it goes beyond that. The purpose of the cross is to heal us from sin. In order to heal us from sin God had to restore our faith in His love. Satan had been spreading terrible lies about God, from the Garden of Eden to the halls of the Pharisees and Sadducees, making God look stern, uncaring, and unloving.  The cross heals our rebellion and lack of faith in God’s love, as God symbolically cries out from the cross, “Would you believe I love you if I died for you?”  Friends this is why no angel could atone for our sin of unbelief and rebellious natures. If God had sent an angel to die for us, it would hardly heal our doubts about His love, if He said, “Would you believe I love you if I sent someone else to die for you?” That would not be love. That would just be throwing one of His created beings under the bus! The only way that God could cure our rebellion and sin of unbelief in His love, is if He died for us Himself! Saying I love you enough to die for you, means a lot more than saying I love you enough to send an angel to die for you. This is the sacrifice that heals our rebellious natures and makes us want to Be Christ’s disciples, when we see that He loves us enough to die for His own creation. See John 1:1-3.

Metaphors and illustrations are great in leading us to the cross, but nothing will heal our hearts and minds like beholding the real thing-the cross itself.

It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.  –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 83. 

You may study the Sabbath School lesson on metaphors here.

Discipling or Cloning?

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma.

While living in Texas I was taking a Texas history class at a community college. In writing a paper for class, I mentioned a political figure who was assassinated. I contrasted the pomp and circumstance of his funeral with the plain funeral of the man who killed him and was killed shortly after. I pointed out in my paper that, humanly speaking, the political figure was not any more of a saint than the man who killed him, yet he received greater honor. I then feared that my opinion might cost me a grade. Yet when I got my paper back, the professor had circled where I had written my opinion, and he wrote “Good point!” I got an “A”.

Later I told my friends that maybe the professor was not a big fan of the political figure I referred to. He agreed that that was probably why I got the good grade. Another friend responded, “Your professor may or may not have agreed with your statement. He did not give you an A because he agreed with your thinking. He was just glad to see you thinking!” In other words, my history professor was not trying to clone himself. He was trying to get people to read, study and think for themselves.

In evangelism it is very easy to try to clone people instead of making disciples for Jesus. Sometimes, while telling people to go by the Bible and the Bible only, we are blinded by our own traditions and can’t see to separate our traditions from plain Bible teaching. We end up teaching our view of what the Bible says instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible to others.

2 Timothy 3:16 reads,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

A while back I was working as a Bible worker in a church out in West Texas. A young man from a nearby college would visit our church and attend prayer meetings. We were glad to have him! He would come wearing a t-shirt and shorts. One night after prayer meeting an elder came up to me and said, “You need to talk to that boy and tell him we don’t dress like that for church.” There was only one problem. I couldn’t find anywhere in the Bible where it said you can’t come to church dressed like that. Sure there is counsel that we should wear our best and so forth, but who was I to decide what this young man’s “best” was?

Once a lawyer asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Jesus, while being God, set us an example on how to answer such theological questions. Jesus did not give His personal opinion or philosophy. He directed the man to the Scriptures.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” Luke 10:25-26 NKJV

Notice Jesus pointed the man to the law in the Scriptures and then asked him how he understood it, instead of telling him how to understand it. Jesus was allowing both the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to do their work. We mustn’t think that people have to think just like we do in order to be led by the Spirit.

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ.-Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 257.

Did you catch that? They were all led by the Holy Spirit even though they were not thinking exactly like each other.

I have met too many Christians who believe that if you are led by the Spirit that you will think exactly like them, because, of course, they are led by the Spirit. I have heard people say, the Holy Spirit will lead everyone to become vegan because that is what the Holy Spirit led me to become, and so if they are led by the same Spirit they will do the same. But consider this, Jesus was led by the Spirit and never became vegan! He did, however, practice a Bible principle of eating and drinking only to glorify God. See 1 Corinthians 10:31. Jesus followed the Bible principle of eating the best foods available, which were also biblically clean, in His time and place. We are to do the same. In some places that may mean eating vegan. In other places it may not.

We need to be careful not to confuse our personal preferences with biblical truth. While the Bible teaches religious liberty, many think that means they can just follow their personal whims and tastes, instead of real personal convictions of Bible truth. This is why Ellen white wrote,

Ministers who labor in towns and cities to present the truth should not feel content, nor that their work is ended, until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the effect of its sanctifying power and are truly converted to God. God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors than to have sixty make a nominal profession and yet not be thoroughly converted. These ministers should devote less time to preaching sermons and reserve a portion of their strength to visit and pray with those who are interested, giving them godly instruction, to the end that they may “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  -Testimonies to the Church  Vol. 4, p. 317. 

Consider this,

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. John 16:13 NKJV

 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21 NKJV

Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given.-Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 93.

Instead of cloning people to think and act exactly like us, shouldn’t we rather train them to study the Bible and rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth? When they study the Bible, the same Holy Spirit that moved the writers to write those words thousands of years ago is right there with them to help them understand those words today.

We need to remember that we all are human, and we all have human philosophies and traditions, no matter how biblically sound we think we are. Our job is not to clone people to be exactly like us, but to point them to the Perfect Example which is Jesus. This example is found in the Scriptures.

Ellen White, one of the primary founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spoke these as her last words to the church body, as she held the Bible extended on her hands:

“I commend unto you this Book.” – W. A. Spicer, Certainties of the Advent Movement, p. 202.

Our church founder’s job was not to do our thinking for us, just as my professor’s job was not to do my thinking for me.

Let’s exalt the Scriptures as our church founders did and, even more importantly, as Jesus did. As we study this quarter’s lesson together, let’s ask God to show us the difference between just cloning people to be like us, and making disciples for Jesus.

From Disappointment to Discovery!

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

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and while he thought he was finding a short cut to India what he found was a whole “new world.” Now granted, the millions of people already living there already knew about it, and there is evidence of visitors well before Columbus. Still that does not change the point of this story. The fact is that while Columbus’ calculations were off, and his trip a “disappointment” as far as finding a new way to India, he still discovered for himself a whole new world!

In 1844 a group of Bible students also had some miscalculations, but even though they had a disappointment they still discovered something very new to them.

So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach.Revelation 10:9-10

Seventh-day Adventists understand this passage to be referring to the great disappointment in 1844, when the Millerites expected Jesus to come. The scroll is the book of Daniel which contains the 2300 day prophecy, and the sweetness was the expectation of his coming in 1844 and the bitterness is the disappointment.

Some believe that the seven thunders (see Revelation 10:4) actually told John about the great disappointment, but when he went to write it he was told not to. If you go with this theory, then you understand that some things must be learned through experience. Sometimes that is the best way to learn, and it is not that God had not already told us that we do not know the day, or the hour of the second coming. There was enough Biblical evidence already in the Scriptures to prevent the great disappointment from happening. Sometimes we have to take our lumps for not appreciating what Biblical evidence is already there, and learn from experience.

Remembering that there were no chapter divisions in the original Scriptures, the first two verses of Revelation 11 give us a strong clue as to what actually happened in 1844.

Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshipers.  But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. Revelation 11:1-2 NLT

What these Bible students discovered after their great disappointment was the wonderful truth about the investigative judgment and cleansing of the sanctuary!

Still, that did not take away the sting of the great disappointment.

Here is the account of one of the Millerites, Hiram Edson of that great disappointment when Jesus did not return in October 22, 1844:

“Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.” -Christ and His sanctuary, Page 4.

Many people mocked Hiram and his friends while they were already grieving. Does that make any sense to you? Making fun of hurting people, just because they made an honest mistake in misunderstanding the Bible?

1844 was not the first time such a thing happened. After the crucifixion, God’s true followers, the disciples, were severely disappointed. Of course their disappointment came from their misunderstanding of Jesus’ clear words. Still pain is pain, and there was no reason to make fun of them while they were hurting. And their mistake in misunderstanding and not comprehending the Scriptures regarding the cross, did not stop them from still being true disciples of Jesus! They were still God’s people even though they still had a lot to learn, some of which they would have to learn by going through bitter disappointments, and even what they (both the disciples in A.D. 31 and A.D. 1844) perceived as public embarrassment, in addition to grief.

I want to make two points here.

  1.  We should never make fun or mock people who misunderstand the Scriptures. Since 1844 other people have set dates for the second coming and been sorely disappointed, and I hear Adventists joking, poking fun at them for not realizing that Jesus says nobody knows the day of the hour of His return. So they should have known better, so should William Miller and the Bible students of his day. Still, why are some Christians, more eager to mock people’s pain rather than sympathize with them! Telling someone “You should have known better” does not ease the pain. It only makes it worse. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, and binds up his wounds, I don’t recall the shepherd ever telling the sheep “Hey you made a mistake! This is your own fault!” Such words would bring no healing for the wounds. We are told to cry with those who cry, instead of making fun of them.
  2. Hiram and his friends were heartbroken when Jesus did not return. He wrote, “our fondest hopes were blasted.”Is Jesus coming soon your fondest hope? Would you rather be with Jesus than with all your friends on earth? Dare, I ask, are some of us even relieved that Jesus has not come yet? Do some of us find a delay, whether real or apparent, as no disappointment whatsoever?  Is the second coming of Jesus your fondest hope, or are you relieved instead of disappointed that He has not come yet?

On the cross, there was a thief who was mocking Jesus and making fun of all of His claims. This thief was belligerent and would have just as easily mocked Jesus’ followers. But somewhere in the midst of that dark afternoon, this thief stopped mocking Jesus and started looking at his own heart. When he did, an amazing revival took place. Maybe it would be a good idea for us, instead of mocking the claims and theology of others, to take a good look at our own hearts, and our own attitudes about meeting Jesus one day soon.

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

Judged by our Works?

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

Since 1981, when I began preaching in high school, I have preached in many churches from Chiclayo, Peru, to Torrington, Connecticut.  I have spoken to large and small congregations with various needs.  I have illustrated to some conservative churches the need to be a little more liberal, and to liberal churches, how to be a little more conservative, as we all seek a Christ-like balance.

One Sabbath several years ago, I was preaching in one of the most conservative churches I have been in. No, “conservative” is not the word for it. Right-out legalistic is more like it! You’ll see why I say so in a moment.

I was preaching about how we are saved by grace – fairly fundamental Adventist Bible belief, so I thought. After the sermon I barely made it off the platform before I was greeted by a woman who had appointed herself to be the theology police for the church. She had a copy of The Great Controversy in her hand. Condescendingly she asked me if I had ever read The Great Controversy. I told her I had. She retorted, “How dare you then tell these people we are saved by grace when The Great Controversy clearly says we are saved by works! Your sermon today almost deceived even me. And if it almost deceived me I know you deceived everybody else!” (Did this woman maybe have a pride issue?)

Now let me stop before I go any further. If you have never read The Great Controversy, let me assure you that it does not say we are saved by our works. I have read the book several times cover to cover, and the theme I find over and over is that we are saved by grace and not by works, and that we should worship God according to our conscience and not according to man-made traditions and regulations. One of the star characters in the book is Martin Luther, who is applauded by the author for presenting salvation by grace and not works!

So, where was this lady coming from? Sure she was way off, but she had to get her idea from somewhere. She told me where it was. She told me to read the chapter, Facing Life’s Record, and I read:

The books of record in heaven, in which the names and the deeds of men are registered, are to determine the decisions of the judgment. –Ellen White, The Great Controversy, Page 480

True. Deeds are mentioned here, but if I remember correctly from diagramming sentences in my third grade English class, which I thoroughly hated doing by the way, “books” is the subject of the sentence, and the books determine the decisions, not the deeds.

However the Apostle John mentions deeds or “works” as well:

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  Revelation 20:12

So do we have a conflict here? Not at all. In any investigative judgment you need evidence to determine your verdict. Our works provide evidence of salvation, but grace is the source of our salvation.

Speaking of Abraham, Genesis 15:6 says:

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Abraham’s belief or faith was counted as righteousness. God said it is enough that Abraham believes in my saving grace.

But when Abraham’s name comes up in the judgment what evidence will there be that he believed? Especially since he lied about his relationship with Sarah in order to save him from Egypt’s ruler. He trusted a lie to save him instead of trusting God to save him. No evidence of faith there.

However if we go to Genesis 22:1-24, we will see the evidence of Abraham’s faith, when he obeyed God and offered up his son on the altar. Now we have evidence that Abraham believed in God’s grace! Abraham will not be saved by his works, but his obedience of God’s soul-shattering command later in life – his “works” – demonstrates his faith in God. And God could count his faith as righteousness.

Just like smoke is evidence of fire, works are evidence of  God’s grace at work in the life. Where there is smoke there is fire, and where there is grace there are good works. Let’s do a little detective work ourselves here, and investigate three passages.

Let’s begin with Romans 1:5.

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.

Hhhmm … Seems to me here that Paul is telling the Romans that the grace they received was to lead to their obedience. Hence their works of obedience are evidence of grace at work.

Our next clue is found in Ephesians 2:8-10

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Sure enough the passage tells us that we are saved by grace and not by works, but still we find God creating good works in us at the scene of grace. Let’s move on. We need more evidence.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.  Titus 2:11-14

Just as you see smoke where there has been a fire, so we again see good works where there is grace. Just like smoke is evidence there has been a fire, likewise living soberly, righteously, godly lives zealous of good works, is evidence that grace has been here.

If we trust God we will obey Him. Our works of obedience are presented as evidence in the judgment that we trust God’s amazing grace.

Satan may still point at Abraham’s lie in Egypt, but,

The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.  –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 57.

When your name comes up in the judgment, will there be evidence that God’s grace was allowed to penetrate your heart?

Now there is also such a thing as false evidence. Legalistic works done for the glory of self would be false evidence that the Judge can see right through.

Yet a faith that works by love (See Galatians 5:6) is the exact evidence that will convince the Judge that we have received His amazing grace. I hope the lady who confronted me that day, with the Great Controversy, understands that doing works in order to be saved is just conjuring up false evidence. The faith that saves us is the faith that is motivated by love and grace and not a hope of reward and self-glory.

It’s just like the little girl standing by the side of the pool. She can’t swim, but her father promised to catch her if she jumps in. If she jumps we know she believes in her daddy. If she refuses to jump it is clearly evident she does not believe in her daddy.

Abraham showed a lack of faith in God’s love when he trusted a lie instead of God to protect him in Egypt. Yet when Abraham placed his son on the altar the whole universe saw the evidence that God’s grace was now in Abraham’s heart.

The Bible is clear. We are saved by grace and not by works. The Bible is also clear that where there is grace, there are good works.

A smoking gun is evidence that it has been put into action. Good works are evidence of grace put into action. Where you find smoke you find fire. Where you find grace you find good works.

Good works, done out of love, are evidence that we have been saved by amazing grace.

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