Tag Archives: Sabbath School

What Makes my Country and my Church Strong!

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

In my almost 50 years, I have seen leaders of my country come and go. Some were called good, some were called bad. There have been some fierce debates over whether or not a certain leader was good or bad.

Still my country remains strong. You know why I think that is? While some leaders are good and others not so good, I believe it is the common citizen who keeps my country strong.

Leaders may compromise their integrity for greed or political favor but my country stays strong because of teachers like my 2nd grade teacher, Miss Tubbs, who stayed after school to help me finish my math assignment even though she really wanted to go home, and was under no obligation to stay. I did not thank her for her extra effort. It made me resent her. She didn’t care that her extra effort was not endearing her to me. She wasn’t doing it for me to thank her. There was really nothing in it for her. Yet by going the extra mile she made each of her students a stronger link in the fabric of our country.

Then you have fathers like my dad, who while working a full time job and a couple part time jobs, volunteers at the city library to teach adults how to read. One of his pupils needed help moving, so dad, who has already gone the extra mile in just teaching him how to read, goes another mile more, and helps him move. I never heard dad complain about all he was doing and he still made time to take me to the baseball games. (He should have had me help his student move instead!)

This country has mothers like my mom, who kept the home in order, worked at various jobs off and on, and still volunteered to lead the parent-teacher association, and was always there to give rides on our field trips. My mother taught me integrity with time, money and hard work. Growing up, Wednesday was the day we got to eat out, because that was the day the enchilada dinner was $1.00 off at the Monterey House Mexican Restaurant. Mom knew the value of saving a dollar, but she still had no problem waiting for the waitress to redo the ticket, after reminding her of something she forgot to charge us for.

This country is full of pastors like Pastor Kelly of the Highland Park Christian Church in Tulsa, where my family worked in the nursery for years. Since we were Seventh-day Adventists, we were Christians who were available to babysit while everyone else was in church Sunday. During my teen years I sometimes needed a mentor to talk to who was not necessarily in the picture of my routine life at school, home and even my own church. While I was not a member of Pastor Kelly’s flock or even his denomination, and he knew good and well there was no chance I ever would be, still he made time for me and always returned my phone calls if I missed him. Just like my second grade teacher, he went the extra mile even though there was nothing to gain for himself. He cared.

Then you have Eneida, who is now 20 and serving in the military getting ready to go to Afghanistan. She was 13 when I met her and her family. We all started studying the Bible together. I have watched Eneida give up things for herself, which were rightfully hers, so her younger siblings could have them instead. Being Hispanic, when it came time for her Quince, while her other friends were throwing big parties she told her parents not to waste any money on her, and enjoyed a quiet celebration with family instead. I have watched her caring for her younger siblings like a mother hen. Now she is in the military. At 20 years of age, the only life she knows is looking out for her family and country even at the expense of her own welfare. Her life has been full of sacrifices, none of which anyone else has ever asked her to make.

Just like Paul could go on and on in the “Hall of Faith” chapter of Hebrews 11, I could go on and on too, about the rest of my wonderful family and community. I think you get the picture. As long as my country has people like Miss Tubbs, mom and dad, Pastor Kelly and Eneida, I don’t think any political leader can destroy the strength of the common people, who make our country strong. It’s not any one leader who is holding this country together and making it strong. The strength of this country is found in the millions and millions of everyday people, like the ones I have just mentioned.

So in my church, it is not any one leader who keeps it strong even with all its challenges. Elijah was once tempted to think he was holding things together during a time of great spiritual crisis in Israel, when he was reminded about 7,000 everyday people who had never bowed the knee to another any other god besides the true God. See Romans 11:4 NLT So while the King and Queen of Israel worshipped Baal, Israel survived because of 7,000 everyday people who we don’t even know their names!

In Hezekiah’s day God’s people experienced another revival. The priests or leaders were not necessarily prepared for the revival the laity was experiencing.

But there were too few priests to prepare all the burnt offerings. So their relatives the Levites helped them until the work was finished and more priests had been purified, for the Levites had been more conscientious about purifying themselves than the priests had been. 2 Chronicles 29:34 NLT

So it is today, often the revivals are led by the lay members. Sometimes it is the lay members who lead the paid gospel workers back to God. I may be a paid full time Bible Worker, but I can’t tell you how many times I have been educated, mentored, and yes even corrected by the most humble of lay members. During times of spiritual crisis it has been the common lay members who have held our church together. The grandmother praying through the night, the small child who quietly slips the money given to him for his birthday into the offering plate, fearing embarrassment if anyone was watching, the mother and father who were just cursed out after a board meeting, right in front of their children, who never retaliated, but went home and prayed in the family circle for the ones who cursed them; yes these are the people who revive and reform our church in times of crisis. These are the people who make our church strong. When I look to myself and then look at the challenges ahead I want to faint! Then my Savior comes and takes me by the hand. He tells me not to look to myself for revival and reformation but to look to Him. Then He tells me not to worry. Not because He will make me a great leader, but because He is a great leader. The church will survive. It will be revived and reformed, not by any one leader. No. It will be revived and reformed by the 144,000. Literal number or symbolic it’s all the same. God will not save, revive or reform his church through any one person. Like the days of Elijah, God will raise up a multitude of everyday common no-name individuals who will reflect the character of God instead of themselves. And it’s because of My God, and His loyal, selfless, unpaid, unrecognized and un-thanked followers that my church is strong!

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

The Gospel and Creation

100_1623

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Friday’s section of this week’s SS lesson asks the question, “Critics of Christianity will often argue that Jesus knew beforehand that, though He would die, He would be resurrected to life. Thus, they ask, what was the big deal about His death when He knew it would be only temporary?”

My mother knows that flying in an airplane is safer than traveling by car. She knows the sad statistics that people are killed every day on the highways, while a rare jet crash makes headlines around the world. Knowing all this, when my mother gets on an airplane she sure does not feel that it is safer! There is a difference between knowing and feeling. Jesus died as a man, not just a God.

As a man, this is what Jesus experienced;

“In that thick darkness God’s presence was hidden. He makes darkness His pavilion, and conceals His glory from human eyes. God and His holy angels were beside the cross. The Father was with His Son. Yet His presence was not revealed. Had His glory flashed forth from the cloud, every human beholder would have been destroyed. And in that dreadful hour Christ was not to be comforted with the Father’s presence. He trod the wine press alone, and of the people there was none with Him.”-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 753, 754.

“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.

Foxe’s book of Martyrs tells us John Huss was singing songs of praise as he burned at the stake for his faith. I ask you, if John Huss, a mere mortal man could be singing songs of praise as He died at the stake, why couldn’t Jesus sing songs of praise instead of crying out “My God My God why have You forsaken me?” The answer is John Huss died a totally different death than Jesus died. John knew he would be resurrected. He knew he was at peace with the Father. But on the cross Jesus was being treated the way we deserve to be treated so we can be treated the way he deserves to be treated. Think about this, Jesus always called God His Father.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

“I always do those things that please my Father.”

“I and my Father are one.”

But when Jesus was on the cross being treated the way we deserve to be treated He could not call God His Father! Instead He cried out, “My God! Why have you forsaken me?” This fulfilled the prophecy of Psalms 22 of Jesus dying the second death.

Jesus was not crying out, “why have you forsaken me till Sunday morning.” You don’t forsake someone when you leave them for the weekend. When I tell my Sabbath School class I will be preaching at another church next Sabbath, none of them ask me why I have forsaken them. They know I will be back the following week. You don’t forsake someone when you leave them for the weekend. When Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He felt abandoned forever. He felt what the wicked will feel.

Obadiah 1:16 says the wicked will be as though they had never been. Jesus was not facing a mere six hour pain endurance marathon. A lot of cancer patients would gladly trade their years of battling cancer for six hours on a cross. The physical pain is not what made it the supreme sacrifice. What Jesus was facing was going into total oblivion and it being as though He had never existed! While Satan was willing to sacrifice anyone who got in his way of being number 1, Jesus was willing to go into total oblivion if He could just save someone else.

Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus tasted death for everyone. Jesus and Paul both refer to the first death as sleep. Jesus did not save us from that death, as we plainly experience that death ourselves. Paul did not say Jesus tasted sleep for everyman. No, He tasted death, the death of the wicked. Yes, He prophesied of His own resurrection, but that was while He still felt the presence of His Father. When Jesus felt the Father turn His back on Him, He felt, as a man that the promise of the resurrection had left with the Father. Jesus became the God-forsaken God.

Some say, how could Jesus have died the second death while He never lost faith in His Father? Remember Jesus had no sense of self-preservation. The sense of self- perseveration belongs to Satan. Jesus had faith, but His faith was not that He would be saved but that you would be saved!

Some have a hard time wrapping their minds around this awesome love. Some refuse to believe that Jesus would be willing to die forever to save us. In that case they have made Moses more loving than Jesus. In Exodus 32:32 Moses is willing to be wiped out of eternity in order to save the children of Israel. Do you think Moses loved them more than Jesus loves sinners? Of course not! Only when Moses experienced the self sacrificing love of God could he express such love. If you don’t believe that Jesus was willing to say goodbye to life forever in order to save us, then you have Moses showing more love than Jesus. This is impossible.

Since the Jews were accusing Jesus of blasphemy they could have just stoned Him to death. According to Leviticus 24:16, blasphemers were to be stoned and not crucified. Yet Jesus was crucified. Why? Because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 tells us those who are hung are cursed by God. Someone could plead for mercy and have the hope of salvation, just like John Huss had even though they were stoned to death. However, being hung was a sign you were cursed by God. Joshua 10 tells the story of five kings who refused to accept Israel’s God, and were hung from five trees, telling the world they had rejected God and so there was no salvation for them. It was goodbye to life forever.

Friend, does this help you understand how much Jesus loves you? He could have come down from the cross and returned to heaven where He could wear His kingly Crown instead of the crown of thorns. He could have left the road to Calvary and walked on streets of gold. He could have left the mocking mob and returned to hear angels sing His praise. He could have returned to His mansion. Why didn’t He do just that? because the thought of going back to heaven without you did not appeal to Jesus. Heaven would not be paradise without you as far as Jesus is concerned.

There is nothing I would rather be preaching than this message here. It is the everlasting gospel in the three angel’s messages. This kind of love changes everything. It changes how we look at the cross and how we look at sin. Most of all it changes our hearts. The disciples were just a bunch of self- ambitious men until they saw this love displayed on the cross. After they saw this love they were willing to give everything-even their own lives. Revelation 15 tells us there will be a multitude singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. They will be filled with this self -sacrificing love just like Moses and Jesus. They will hate sin more than they hate death and they will love God more than they will love their own lives or self preservation.

Jesus’ love for you goes deeper than the nail scars. He loves you more than He loves life itself. He was willing to go into total oblivion and it be as though He had never existed if that is what it took to save you!

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.

Growing in Christ; From Flower Girl to Bride

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  1 Corinthians 13:11

Many of us became Christians for childish reasons. We just wanted to go to heaven. That is okay. Jesus tells us to come as children, but He does not tell us to stay like children. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children…” Ephesians 4:13-14 In 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, Paul tells us, when it came to love he used to think like a child. Children obey when there is a reward involved. But as Paul grew and became a man, be put those childish motivations away, and his love developed into a mature, agape love.  An immature Christian may offer their body to burned or martyred if there is a reward involved, but a mature agape Christian will do it purely out of love. A mature agape Christian loves and obeys because Christ first loved us.

“ It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour’s matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary’s cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him.” –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 480

In the church today, we often hear the phrase, “salvation issue.” Some people will say they are not worried about a certain standard because it is not a salvation issue. That may be so, but wouldn’t we be selfish and un Christian to only concern ourselves with things that only relate to our own personal salvation? What about  concerning ourselves with glorifying God issues, rather than just salvation issues?

In Exodus 32, the children of Israel, worship a golden calf, and God threatens to wipe them out, and raise up a race named after Moses. However, it is Moses who intercedes and tells God if He does this, His reputation will be at stake. “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?” Exodus 32:12 Moses even goes so far as to say, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” Exodus 32:32 Moses is more interested in honoring God’s reputation than he is in his own salvation! Moses has grown up from “salvation issues” to “glorifying God issues.”

Revelation 15 speaks of an entire multitude in the last days who “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” Many songs are about stories or experiences. What experience do Moses and the Lamb have in common? Like Moses, Jesus the Lamb was willing to say goodbye to life forever if that’s what it took to honor the Father. “The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb.” –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 753 In Revelation 15 an entire multitude have grown up from thinking only of their own personal salvation issues, to glorifying God issues. Glorifying God is more important to them than their own salvation.

A flower girl comes to a wedding all prepared and ready. She is prepared and ready for the cake and punch that comes after the service. The bride has made herself ready, not for the cake and punch, but for the groom. We may come to Jesus like a flower girl all excited about the cake and punch, golden streets and mansions, but let’s grow up into a bride who cares about the Groom. We love Jesus not for the cake and punch, golden streets and mansion. We love Him because He first loved us.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Glimpses of Our God; Love Stories

I am writing today from the beautiful Lake Placid Florida Seventh-day Adventist Church.

This week I have been holding revival meetings at the Lake Placid Seventh-day Adventist Church. I love this place! The people are spectacular. Very warm and friendly, and very much interested in learning more about the cross and the love of Jesus. The meetings were designed to be a revival for the church, but anytime a church has a revival it also becomes more fruitful and evangelic. As well as the church members coming for a week of spiritual emphasis, they have also been bringing their friends, and we will be having two baptisms this Sabbath!

I have not written any new material for this week’s Sabbath school lesson, so since this week’s topic is on “love stories” I would like to share a previous post that I wrote a while back on what romance means to me.  Thank you for keeping our meetings in your prayers!

Glimpses of Our God; God as Artist

This week’s SS lesson portrays God as an Artist in various ways.  Once while taking a walk near my apartment in Benbrook, Texas I saw a patch of Bluebonnets along with some Indian Paintbrushes. Unfortunately someone had mixed a little garbage in with the beautiful flowers. Still, I thought to myself, even in a world marred by sin, God still preserves His beauty amongst all the litter and garbage. “The whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

As beautiful as a sunset on the sea may be, God is just too glorious and beautiful for that one scene to express His majestic splendor. Same with an enormous snow capped mountain, or valley filled with Bluebonnets and Indian Paint Brushes.

Please allow me to share just a morsel of the beauty I have captured with my camera over the last few years.

^This picture was taken last week near the Skyway Bridge near St.Petersburg, Florida. I had hoped to catch a cruise ship sailing under the bridge, but God blessed me with this scene instead.

This was taken at St, Pete Beach around 2007. I love the sunsets on the beach. As the sun sets on the beach, an erie calm and mysterious quietness seems to settle on everyone as they watch the spectacular sunset. Most people want a clear sky to watch the sunset, but often the couds reflect some interesting colors, adding to the beauty. Sunsets are my favorite photo subjects, but I have learned to take pictrures of other things too, after friends back home have asked me, “Are sunset pictures the only thing you can take pictures of?”

I took this pictue at Pine Lake Retreat, In north central Florida, back in 2007. I took several pictures for a friend back in Texas who loves horses. I call this picture, “More Than Friends.” God can express the beauty of love through animals as well as people.

In 2006 I went on a mission trip to Peru where I was a part of a large team holding meetings all over Chiclayo. All together we had over a thousand baptisms. Later we toured Machu Picchu. This is a picture I took from the bus as we were still climbing the mountain.  Every part of the world has its own beauty. Again, God is too great of an artist to be able to portray His greatness in one scene or one work of art.

God’s best artwork is with His people. While we are still in Peru, I want you to meet Juan Carlos and his family. Juan, seated on your right, was 18 years old in this picture. He had cancer, to which he had already lost one leg. Still, once hearing about our meetings, He walked, on crutches and one leg, over a mile each way to get to the meetings we were having. I might add these roads were full of pot holes and probably not the easiest to maneuver with crutches. He gave his heart to Jesus and was baptized before dying shortly after we left. I can’t wait to see Juan again in heaven! Juan and all the people we met in Peru were beautiful people. The people in the church were amazing! When we arrived from the bus to our Hotel, we were greeted my several Pathfinders welcoming us on a school night. I knew they did not have much, and I offered one who could speak English, money so they could go out and get some ice cream, but she said they did not want money for ice cream, they were just very excited we were in their city to tell people about Jesus. What really impressed me was that after flying from the United States to Peru, the same church, or Body of Christ, that bid us farewell from Florida, was there to welcome us when we got to Peru. God is everywhere! No matter where you go God is already there waiting on you! I thought the people in America were wonderful, but just like God has His beauty in nature all around the world, He also has his beautiful people all over the world. When I came to Peru I did not meet any strangers, only hundreds of friends I just hadn’t met yet!

Back in Florida now, God has created some beautiful Jacaranda trees. Mostly seen in Central and South America, but a few are found in South Tampa.

I took this picture recently at a friend’s house where I have had a few Bible studies. God’s artwork is seen in both the catepilar and butterfly, illustrating God’s artistic nature in re-creating us and making us all new creatures.

At my friend’s home, I also found this female cardinal guarding her nest.

I found the father not far away. I think cardinals are one of the most beauitful birds God has made, even though I don’t appreciate what they did to my Texas Team in the world series last year!

Even though I have shown my friends back home, that I can take pictures of more than just sunsets, still they are my favorite artwork of God. This was taken last Christmas season at Marco Island.

Key West Christmas season before last.

Naples

St. Pete

St. Pete

Clearwater, Florida

Glimpses of Our God; Creation Care

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As you can see by this picture, I enjoy the great outdoors. I appreciate the environment. I don’t know that I can really call myself an environmentalist though. It’s not really a soap box issue for me. I do like to recycle. I hate picking up a napkin while at Taco Bell and using it one time and then throwing it away. It is such a waste. And while I don’t make it my soap box, personally I do like to recycle and not waste things. I am aware I am a steward of this earth, and if I am faithful in small things God will give me an even greater world to inhabit.

However, while studying this week’s SS lesson, I have to be honest. I did not have any real inspirations to write about this week’s topic. However, I have read a couple of amazing posts on the Sabbath School Network website. Apparently somebody was inspired and I would like to share their posts here.

Lillianne lopez writes, A Thin Green Line – Christian Environmentalism

Cindy Tutsch writes, Was Ellen White Green?

Click here for the SS Lesson phone app.

Enjoy!

Worship: Rejoicing Before The Lord: The Sanctuary and Worship

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While studying this week’s SS lesson, I ran across some interesting articles from the Spirit of Prophecy.

Keep Silence Before Him

  The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. Habakkuk 2:20

From the sacredness which was attached to the earthly sanctuary, Christians may learn how they should regard the place where the Lord meets with His people. There has been a great change, not for the better, but for the worse, in the habits and customs of the people in reference to religious worship. The precious, the sacred, things which connect us with God are fast losing their hold upon our minds and hearts, and are being brought down to the level of common things. The reverence which the people had anciently for the sanctuary where they met with God in sacred service has largely passed away. Nevertheless, God Himself gave the order of His service, exalting it high above everything of a temporal nature.  {FLB 189.2} 

     The house is the sanctuary for the family, and the closet or the grove the most retired place for individual worship; but the church is the sanctuary for the congregation.  {FLB 189.3} 

     In the name of Jesus we may come before Him with confidence, but we must not approach Him with the boldness of presumption, as though He were on a level with ourselves. There are those who address the great and all-powerful and holy God, who dwelleth in light unapproachable, as they would address an equal, or even an inferior. There are those who conduct themselves in His house as they would not presume to do in the audience-chamber of an earthly ruler. These should remember that they are in His sight whom seraphim adore.  {FLB 189.4} 

     Those who assemble to worship Him should put away every evil thing. Unless they worship Him in spirit and truth and in the beauty of holiness, their coming together will be of no avail.  {FLB 189.5} 

     It is your privilege, dear young friends, to glorify God upon the earth. In order to do this, you must direct your minds away from things that are superficial, frivolous, and unimportant, to those that are of eternal worth. {FLB.189.6} 

  Reverence for the House of God

  Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:30 

God is high and holy; and to the humble, believing soul, His house on earth, the place where His people meet for worship, is as the gate of heaven. The song of praise, the words spoken by Christ’s ministers, are God’s appointed agencies to prepare a people for the church above, for that loftier worship.  {ML 286.2} 

     When the worshipers enter the place of meeting, they should do so with decorum, passing quietly to their seats. . . . Common talking, whispering, and laughing should not be permitted in the house of worship, either before or after the service. Ardent, active piety should characterize the worshipers.  {ML 286.3} 

     If some have to wait a few minutes before the meeting begins, let them maintain a true spirit of devotion by silent meditation, keeping the heart uplifted to God in prayer that the service may be of special benefit to their own hearts and lead to the conviction and conversion of other souls. They should remember that heavenly messengers are in the house. We all lose much sweet communion with God by our restlessness, by not encouraging moments of reflection and prayer. . . .  {ML 286.4} 

     Elevate the standard of Christianity in the minds of your children; help them to weave Jesus into their experience; teach them to have the highest reverence for the house of God and to understand that when they enter the Lord’s house it should be with hearts that are softened and subdued by such thoughts as these: “God is here; this is His house. I must have pure thoughts and holiest motives. . . . This is the place where God meets with and blesses His people.” . . .  {ML 286.5} 

     Parents should not only teach, but command, their children to enter the sanctuary with sobriety and reverence.  {ML 286.6} 

     Practice reverence until it becomes a part of yourself. {ML 286.7}

Garments of Grace; The Prodigal’s New Clothes

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Download SS Lesson Guides to your cell phone here.

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

 

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

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

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

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

Garments of Grace; Garments of Splendor

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Download SS lessons to your cell phone here.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Worship: Is it all About God?  

 

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

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

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

 

Speaking: Is it all About God?

 

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

 

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

 

Music: Is it all About God?  

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Dress: Is it all About God?  

 

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

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

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

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

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

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