Tag: Sabbath School

Idols in the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Exodus 20:11 NLT

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

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

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

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

How do You Accept Rebukes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Are You Worth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus goes on to say,

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

Life is about relationships not money and things.

Another one of my favorite quotes is,

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

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

So, what are you worth?

“That’s Why I’m Here!”

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

The late evangelist Ron Halverson tells a story where he was knocking on a door one night in Harlem New York. A young woman answered the door who grew up a pastor’s daughter, but had become a prostitute. The woman looked at the Bible in Halverson’s hand and said, “I’m not interested!” Quick witted Halverson responded as she tried to slam the door, “I know you’re not interested! That’s why I’m here!”

Granted, such an approach would not normally work, but this time it woke the young lady up to a need she had been neglecting. Sometimes we look at our mission field and think the grass is greener in other mission fields. Fact is, the green mission fields don’t need us as much as the parched fields do. The young lady, who answered the door to Pastor Halverson, may not have looked promising, but she actually needed his message more than anyone else in Harlem that night.

Once I was working in a church that seemed just as worldly as the….well, world! The youth teachers openly confessed to me, that they entertained the kids instead of teaching them, because they themselves did not know anything about the Bible. When I held evangelistic meetings the greeters were never around to hand out lesson outlines, because they went home when the meetings started! The musicians would come in and play before my presentation, and everyone would watch as they walked out and went home as soon as they were through playing. An elder in the church told me his neighbor wanted to come to the meetings and would I please give him a ride. I asked the elder why he could not just bring his neighbor to the meetings himself, since after all, they lived right next door. The elder told me he would not be coming to the meetings since he already heard it all before. It was very discouraging! I asked God why he sent me to such a spiritually parched church. God told me, because the church was my mission field just as much as the community. This changed my attitude, and instead of getting upset because the youth leaders did not know their Bibles, I took advantage of the opportunity to teach them about the Bible and Jesus. The leaders in the church became my mission field. Before long God sent other missionaries more skilled than myself, to help turn the church around. When I left, the church was not at all like I first found it. Thanks to God, and the other missionaries He sent, the youth leaders grew (and sadly some left) and there was a totally different spiritual climate among the entire church family.

I would rather have been in a church where the youth teachers knew their Bibles and the members were are on fire to do evangelism, but you know what? A church like that would not have needed me as much as this one did. While it may be easier and a lot more fun to work with people who are spiritually mature and on fire for the Lord, Pastor Halverson realized he was needed where people did not seem interested. I learned the same lesson.

When I was 11, I started piano lessons but quit after just a few weeks. A couple years ago, at the age of 48 I started taking lessons again. So I don’t like to say I actually quit when I was 11. I just took a 37 year sabbatical. When I started back up, my teacher just happened to be a college musician who I actually met a few years ago when she was only 11. She is more than young enough to be my daughter. Fact is, if I had stayed with my piano lessons when I was 11, I may have been able to teach her instead of her teaching me. Instead, at the age of 48 I began taking piano lessons from a 19 year old. She’s never said anything like, “You are almost 50 you should know all this by now.” She never said, “Look at how old you are. You should be teaching me but instead I am teaching you.” Instead she enthusiastically seized the opportunity to teach me in the here and now.

Sometimes we get discouraged when we see people in the church who we think should know more by now. Maybe they should, but instead of getting discouraged let’s seize the opportunity to teach. I need a good teacher like my piano teacher, because I don’t have it all together. I struggle with my timing among other things, so I need a good teacher. If I was a polished musician I would not need her. If everyone in the church already knew their Bibles and had it all together they would not need me. There may be more gifted musicians in the world that are easier to teach than I am, but it is because I am not a gifted musician that I need my piano teacher so much.

So if your mission field looks parched and pitiful, and you are tempted to think the grass would be greener in another mission field, remember, a greener mission filed would not need you, like the parched pitiful mission field does. If you look around your mission field and don’t see much potential or interest just remember what Pastor Halverson remembered, that’s why you’re here!

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

Salvation is Not Based on Rank or Title

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

Years ago Brett Favre, a famous American football quarterback said in a commercial,

“the history books won’t record me as a quarterback, but as a football player.”

As well as setting all kinds of passing records as a quarterback, Favre also was not afraid to block or even make tackles if the other team got the ball. While the quarterback position is considered a glamorous position, Favre was eager to work just like everyone else to win. He did not let his position define who he was. He let his hard work define him. When I saw that commercial I remember thinking to myself, I don’t want to be remembered as a Bible Worker or lay pastor. I want to be remembered as a Christian.

Jesus received His authority by his behavior and not by any title. Jesus was willing to work as a Servant to help others become winners.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 NKJV

While Jesus had not titles or glamorous positions neither did Enoch. Yet God took Him to heaven not because He was a high priest. He wasn’t. He wasn’t a king either. He was not the head elder at church or Bible Worker or pastor. Enoch was known for one thing. And that one thing is why He went to heaven without ever seeing death.

And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:24 NKJV

Enoch was not taken to heaven for being a priest or king. He was taken to heaven because He walked with God.

Ellen White, In Gospel Workers Page 255 tells this story.

God’s messengers must tarry long with Him, if they would have success in their work. The story is told of an old Lancashire woman who was listening to the reasons that her neighbors gave for their minister’s success. They spoke of his gifts, of his style of address, of his manners. “Nay,” said the old woman, “I will tell you what it is. Your man is very thick with the Almighty.”

No matter what your talents, gifts or positions or titles are, your success comes from being “very thick with the Almighty.” Your entrance into heaven will be because you walked with God.

No one was ever taken to heaven for being a king or priest, pastor or elder. God takes those who walk with Him.

Proverbs in Light of The Cross; Teaching the Wise

Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more. Proverbs 9:9 NLT
As we cherish and obey the promptings of the Spirit, our hearts are enlarged to receive more and more of His power, and to do more and better work. Dormant energies are aroused, and palsied faculties receive new life.
The humble worker who obediently responds to the call of God may be sure of receiving divine assistance. To accept so great and holy a responsibility is itself elevating to the character. It calls into action the highest mental and spiritual powers, and strengthens and purifies the mind and heart. Through faith in the power of God, it is wonderful how strong a weak man may become, how decided his efforts, how prolific of great results.
He who begins with a little knowledge, in a humble way, and tells what he knows, while seeking diligently for further knowledge, will find the whole heavenly treasure awaiting his demand. The more he seeks to impart light, the more light he will receive. The more one tries to explain the Word of God to others, with a love for souls, the plainer it becomes to himself. The more we use our knowledge and exercise our powers, the more knowledge and power we shall have.
Every effort made for Christ will react in blessing upon ourselves. If we use our means for His glory, He will give us more. As we seek to win others to Christ, bearing the burden of souls in our prayers, our own hearts will throb with the quickening influence of God’s grace; our own affections will glow with more divine fervor; our whole Christian life will be more of a reality, more earnest, more prayerful.
The value of man is estimated in heaven according to the capacity of the heart to know God. This knowledge is the spring from which flows all power. God created man that every faculty might be the faculty of the divine mind; and He is ever seeking to bring the human mind into association with the divine. He offers us the privilege of cooperation with Christ in revealing His grace to the world, that we may receive increased knowledge of heavenly things.
Looking unto Jesus we obtain brighter and more distinct views of God, and by beholding we become changed. Goodness, love for our fellow men, becomes our natural instinct. We develop a character which is the counterpart of the divine character. Growing into His likeness, we enlarge our capacity for knowing God. More and more we enter into fellowship with the heavenly world, and we have continually increasing power to receive the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of eternity. —Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 354-355. 

Proverbs in Light of the Cross; Motivated by Love

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

My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Proverbs 2:1 NLT

The other day I was substitute teaching at my local church school. The kids were all good, but a little hyperactive. I finally said, “The next one who talks without raising their hand will get their name on the board.” No sooner had I said that, when a girl talked without raising her hand. I wrote her name on the board. She looked shocked. I told her, I had warned them that the next person to talk without raising their hand would get their name on the board. She replied, “I only heard you say to raise our hand before we talked, but I never heard you say we would get our name on the board if we didn’t do what you said.” I asked, her, “If you heard me say raise your hand, isn’t that enough for you to obey? Is the only reason for obedience to avoid punishment?”

Obeying to avoid punishment is missing the whole point of obedience. I have heard people say, “be careful going through that school zone because traffic fines double in a school zone.” But shouldn’t the whole point of driving carefully through a school zone be so we don’t hurt a child?

Legalism tells us to be careful driving through a school zone so we avoid a fine.

Love tells us to be careful going through a school zone so we don’t hurt a child.

Shouldn’t love be all the motivation we need to follow God’s commands? My young student missed the whole point of obedience when she admitted she would have obeyed had she known there was a penalty for disobedience. Do we miss the point of obedience when we obey only to avoid a penalty?

 “If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT