So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. Genesis 2:1-3 NLT
I can imagine God walking Adam and Eve through the garden that very first Sabbath. Having been created the day before, Adam and Eve didn’t have a long week where they needed a physical rest. As God showed them all His works, that first Sabbath, they rested in the fact that it was God who made them and not they themselves. See Psalms 100:3
“It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit. John 19:30 NLT
When God had finished our creation He rested and gave us the Sabbath as a sign that He created us. We mark a year by the sun. We mark a month by the moon. We mark a day by the earth’s rotation. What do we have to mark a week? The Sabbath, which takes us to creation and reminds us that we have a Creator.
When Jesus finished the work of our redemption He again rested on the Sabbath, this time in a tomb. The Sabbath is not only a sign of God’s power to create, but also a sign of His power to redeem and make us holy.
Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Exodus 31:13 NLT
The story* goes of a little boy who had built a wooden sailboat and took it down to a creek by his home. He had tied a string to it so he could watch it float, and then reel it back in, but the string broke. His boat went sailing down the rapids and out of sight.
After doing several chores the boy earned the money to buy his boat back. He walked out of the story, clutching the boat to his heart, and was overheard saying, “Little boat you are twice mine. First I made you. Then I bought you.”A few days later the boy went window shopping with his father downtown, and he saw his boat in a toy store window. “That’s my boat!” The boy exclaimed. He went inside and told the store keeper, who informed him, that since he had no way to verify the boy’s story, if the boy wanted the boat back, he would have to buy it.
Today the Sabbath is a sign from God that we are twice His. Once, at creation He made us, then on the cross He bought us.
When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave. So they earnestly begged Jesus to help the man. “If anyone deserves your help, he does,” they said, “for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.” Luke 7:2-5 NLT
This story illustrates the difference between the gospel and legalism. Legalism tells us the officer has given so much that he deserves special treatment from Jesus. Meanwhile the gospel teaches us that Jesus helps those who need His help, regardless of who they are.
So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. Luke 7:6 NLT
While the Jewish elders thought the officer had earned special favors, the officer himself understood the gospel. The officer had no sense of entitlement because of his works. You may read on how Jesus heals his servant, but my point is that the officer was not giving for the sake of a reward or special treatment, but out of love.
Notice Jesus does not say, “If you don’t want to go to hell, keep my commandments!” or “If you want to go to heaven, keep my commandments.” He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Keeping God’s commandments to get a reward does not make you a good person. Many people disobey God’s commands to get rewards. They cheat on their income tax reports to get a larger refund. They lie about achievements they have never attained to get praise from man. People who obey God for the sake of a reward will also just as easily disobey God if they could achieve a greater reward. Being motivated by the hope of a reward does not make you a good person fitted for the unselfish society of heaven.
Keeping God’s commandments out of fear of punishment does not make you a good person either. Remember in Daniel 3 the three Hebrew children were threatened with punishment if they did obey God! While they told the king that God would protect them, they also made it clear that was not the point.
He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”Daniel 3:17-18 NLT
The Hebrew children were obeying God out of love, no matter what. They were not motivated by hope of reward or fear of punishment. In the same way,
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, The Desire of Ages, Page 480.
Once, I was in a literature evangelist meeting with our conference president. We were discussing which book to promote. The Great Controversy or the Desire of Ages? Some people said the Great Controversy because it warns us about last-day events. I suggested the Desire of Ages because it helps us fall in love with Jesus, so that when last-day events occur, we will make the right choices for the right reasons – because we love Jesus. Unless we are in love with Jesus, knowledge about last-day events will avail nothing.
Ever have one of those days where it seems nothing is going right? I had one of those a while back. I went to my regular barber shop, wrote my name on the waiting list and sat down to wait only for my name to never be called. People were coming and signing after me and getting waited on before me, so I went to another nearby barbershop, only to find the wait was too long.
I had no more time to waste as I had to get to a Bible study on the other side of town. After the Bible study I saw a barber shop nearby. I got waited on right away. The barber asked me where I worked, and I told him I gave Bible studies. He told me he wanted to learn more about the Bible. He did not want personal studies, but he did want the Bible study guides and some literature I had in my car. As I drove away I realized why the first couple of places never waited on me. The Holy Spirit was working on the barber’s heart across town, and so He worked things out to get me where I needed to be.
Something Similar happened to Paul and Silas.
Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Acts 16:6 NLT
I wonder if Paul and Silas saw it that way? I mean did they realize it was the Holy Spirit that was preventing them from preaching in Asia or did they blame it on the devil? What may have looked like a victory for the dark side was actually a victory for God. Often when I lose control of a situation and things don’t go my way, I am tempted to think that evil is getting the upper hand, when in reality God is still in control. He is just not doing things my way!
God had a plan to save Asia, but Paul and Silas’ current missionary tour was not a part of God’s plan to save Asia at that time. Earlier I asked if Paul and Silas saw it that way, and maybe they did. However, I know many times today when we set out with goals we get discouraged when they are not carried out according to our plan. Its not necessarily that things did not go according to God’s plan, but they just did not go according to our plan. God had another plan for Paul.
Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. Acts 16:7-8 NLT
Wow nothing seemed to be going right. Ever have one of those days or even years where it seems nothing was going your way? Several years ago I lost my job and my fiancée, and nothing was going right at my new job. It was so bad it made me wonder if I was even suppose to be born, or if I was an accident that God did not know what to do with! Looking back now, it was just a little bump in the road to better things and the best years of my life. Stay with me here.
That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. Acts 16:9-10 NLT
Ah! That is why there was a roadblock on the way to Asia, Mysia and Bithynia! It wasn’t evil getting the upper hand, just like it wasn’t evil getting the upper hand when I could not get my hair cut. The Holy Spirit was using those roadblocks to get Paul and Silas to where they needed to be!
Remember God has a plan for your life even when it seems things are going wrong.
Remember when everything seems to be going wrong, God is still very much in control. He just may not be doing things our way.
The Holy Spirit is working on hearts all over the world. Instead of telling the Spirit where to work, we need to be willing to work wherever the Spirit is working. That may mean going to another side of the world, or another side of town.
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.
Have you every brought up an idea in a committee meeting, only to have it ignored, and then ten minutes later someone a little bit more popular than you, says the same exact thing you just said, except this time, instead of it being ignored everyone loves the idea! And you are sitting there thinking to yourself, “That’s what I just said ten minutes ago!”
Sometimes its not what is being said but who is saying it. A while back, after teaching a group of young people how to chain reference their Bibles, to give Bible studies, I then had one of them lead out in an actual Bible study group. I was there for encouragement, but they were the teacher. Maybe I should not have even showed up at all, because what happened was, while the young person had all the answers from the Bible, the people in the group kept directing their questions at me, instead of the young person who was teaching the class. Awkward! Somehow the group members thought my life experience trumped the authority of this young person, but not so! This young person was getting all their information from the Word of God, and I don’t care how much life experience someone has or titles behind their name, nothing trumps the Word of God!
In John 4:1-54 Jesus meets with a woman at a well, and counsels her about her promiscuous relationships. What gave Him the right? He had no marriage counseling license. He had no marriage experience. Yet this is not the only time He counseled people about their sex lives. In John 8:1-11 Jesus not only counsels with a woman taken in adultery, but He also counselled the men involved, by writing in the sand. In Matthew 5:27-32 Jesus preaches about marriage, sexual temptations and divorce. Instead of referencing His personal life as many do today, Jesus referenced the Scriptures. The Scriptures trump human experience.
Jesus counsels the woman at the well about her relationships, by helping her realize that she has been trying to fill a void in her life that only God can fill. Each sexual escapade just left her thirsty. Just like people try to use Pepsi to quench their thirst, only to find Pepsi actually dehydrates you and leaves you even more thirsty for water, likewise inappropriate sex was leaving this woman thirsty for the living water that is only found not in sex, but in a relationship with God.
Could it be that while having no wife or children, Jesus was an authority on relationships because He had a perfect relationship with God the Father? While giving counsel in John 8, Jesus says “let him without sin throw the first stone.” This was from the Levitical law, so Jesus was basing his counsel on Scripture as well as His relationship with His Father.
In Matthew Matthew 6:24-34 Jesus is giving financial advice. What gives Him the right? He was not a Wall Street wizard. He has no place to lay His head and relied on friends for a place to stay. If a man with no money in the bank and no home or property were to hold a financial seminar today, how many people do you think would listen to him?
The story goes of a very rich business man who tried to school a poor man about wealth. The rich man from Chicago was vacationing in Mexico and doing some fishing. A local came along and threw his reel in the water and a few minutes later had caught four fish, which he put in his bucket and started to leave. The rich business man stopped him and asked,
“Why are you leaving already? You are doing great!”
The local replied, “I caught all the fish I need for my family. I am going home now to eat with them and relax and spend time with the family.”
The business man exclaimed, “But you are doing so well! If you stay longer you can catch even more fish!”
“What would I do with them?” The local asked.
“You could catch enough fish to sell them and buy a boat!” the man answered.
“Then what?” The local asked.
“You could catch even more fish with a boat! Then you could sell even more fish and buy more boats and catch and sell even more fish.” The business man exclaimed, somewhat frustrated that the local was not catching the vision.
“What would I do after all of that?” The local replied,
to which the rich business man answered, “Then you could retire.”
“What would I do while I’m retired” asked the local.
“You can eat with your family and relax and spend time with them!” The rich man declared! Wondering why this simple local could not follow his logic and financial advice! But was it logical? Wasn’t the local already on his way to eat and spend time with family now? Why should he spend his life planning only for tomorrow never knowing for sure if there would even be a tomorrow?
Ever heard the saying, “Some people are so poor all they have is money?” The local, like Jesus realized you need more than money to be wealthy. Some people give up their health and friends in an effort to make more money, only to find out that money is not the substance of life. Good relationships are what make you wealthy in the long run. Years ago a friend of mine went to hear a financial motivational speaker. The speaker told them, “In order to be rich, the first thing you need to do is drop your poor friends and only hang out with rich people.” Some one raised their hand and asked, “Won’t we be losing a lot of good friends doing that?” “Sure the financial wizard explained, “But if they are are good friends they will understand.” True story! My point here is financial wizards don’t always give the best advice. Sometimes the best advice comes from a Teacher who had no money in the bank and “no place to lay His head.”
While Jesus had no marriage or financial experience according to our standards, He was the perfect counselor. Like my young friend teaching the Bible study group, Jesus was often heard saying, “It is Written.” When asked questions instead of relying on personal experience Jesus would often say, “What saith the Scriptures?” Jesus made the perfect counselor, not because He had a degree or license or the perfect wife and children and perfect home, but because He had a perfect relationship with His heavenly Father and a perfect understanding of the Scriptures.
Looking at first glance Jesus was totally the wrong person to be giving advice, except for one thing, He was perfect.
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.
Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, which some people in some cultures now classify as barbaric. I have heard a few good Christians question why God chose circumcision for a sign that you belonged to Him? In certain safe circles faithful Christian men have asked, “why the penis of all places?”
We all know circumcision is no longer a sign of a covenant between God and us – thank goodness! Still it puzzles some believers as well as unbelievers alike as to why God ever had anyone do this. My purpose here is to answer the question, “why did God ever tell us to do this” and in the process we will see the gospel where before many people only saw a painful ritual.
The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT
God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating anymore, so instead of just trusting in God’s promise, he took his much younger handmaid Hagar and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This is the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of just trusting God to write them on our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (SeeGalatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.
So God had Abraham practice circumcision.
Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT
Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Abraham was trusting in his flesh to work things out, so God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh he was trusting in, so that he could realize the gospel is not “me plus Christ” but “Not I but Christ.”
For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT
… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98
Abraham had that part of his body circumcised because that was the part of his body he was trusting, more than he was trusting in God’s power. Now we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water washing self away, and dying to self, we rise up taking the new breath we now live, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.
Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual. For example, female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance is still widely practiced. It is seriously harmful to women and its practice often has ulterior motives.
Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer Biblical or morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would say, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or “embarrassing” an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second, most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available. And with the health benefits, your parents may have made no mistake at all.
Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.
My 9th grade algebra teacher graded our tests on the curve. This meant that the highest grade would be counted as 100%. So if the highest grade was 80, our 70 would be considered 70/80 instead of 70/100, thus raising our percentage and grade considerably. There was only one problem. The same girl got 100% right on every test, so we never got a break! The standard always stayed right where it belonged at 100, instead of 70 or 80. The mornings after our tests, we would be anxious to get out results, and to see what kind of a break we got with the curve, and every morning following our tests, we would be disappointed to find that there was no break. Someone kept the standard right where it belonged. That someone was not a popular person with the rest of the class. Why? Because they kept the standard where it belonged, and left the rest of us with no excuse for getting the poorer grades that we got. She was plenty popular the rest of the school year when she acted just like us, but when it came time for tests, her study habits made the rest of us look bad, and it was just easier to ridicule her for her study methods, than it was to actually study ourselves. Likewise, as long as our church blends in the world we will never be ridiculed or persecuted either. Satan has no reason to persecute a church that looks just like the world. As long as this girl was acting like us it was fine, but we found her study habits to be annoying.
I imagine Judas found the woman washing Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume to be quite annoying. Not that the perfume did not smell good, but Judas clearly had no intentions of giving all he had for Jesus. On the contrary, instead of giving he tried to take whatever he could. But how do you justify your selfishness in the face of someone else’s giving spirit? Easy, you make them look like a fanatic. “What a waste” Judas said, “The money she wasted on perfume could have been better spent on the poor.” I guess Judas considered himself to be poor, since he wanted the money himself. So he makes the woman out to be fanatical. Do we do this today? Someone gives more of their time and effort for Jesus than we are willing to give, and so to make us look balanced, we portray them as extreme. The woman was no fanatic. She was in love with Jesus! But when people are doing more out of love than we care to do, we label them “legalistic,” “extreme,” or “fanatical” when in fact they are just simply in love with Jesus. Judas was not irked by her behavior when she was sinning all over the place. That did not make Judas look bad. But when she gave all she had to Jesus out of love, that exposed Judas’ selfishness and Judas became offended by her converted behavior.
In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus gives us the beatitudes which are also stepping stones to a complete conversion. Once the conversion is complete Jesus says,
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:10 NLT
Once God’s people become filled with righteousness and pure in heart, by God’s grace they will keep the standard right where it belongs, not because they are legalistic or fanatical, but because they are in love with Jesus. Now here is the key. Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for doing right. Sometimes we bring persecution on ourselves by doing what is wrong. We deserve that, and there is no reward for that. I once heard a man who kept getting harassed by creditors, saying he was being persecuted for being a Christian. No he wasn’t! He was persecuted for not paying his bills!
When God’s grace converts us our standards will rise above the world’s standards, and just like the kids in my algebra class, and Judas, they will not like that. They will persecute us, but Jesus says to rejoice! For ours is the kingdom of heaven.
Many years ago when I was a literature evangelist, I found myself working one day in the rolling green hills of North East Oklahoma. I remember meeting a lot of rejection early in the day. What bothered me the most as I was selling Christian books, was that many saw me only as a salesman, instead of appreciating my passion for sharing Jesus. Rejection plus being misunderstood equaled loneliness for me. About midday, I walked into a Taco Mayo restaurant for lunch. Long before cell phones were common, and Bible apps created, I carried my Bible with me everywhere I went. I sat down at a table and opened my Bible “randomly” and found this verse,
Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him. Psalms 126:5-6 NKJV
That verse hit the spot! My career in soul winning was just beginning, and this was long before I would begin Bible studies with a family who would start attending church only after I studied with them for seven years in their home first. This was long before I would meet Fred, a man I studied with in Oklahoma, who got baptized later after I had already been serving in Texas years later. It was also years before I would meet the members of a small Pentecostal Sabbath keeping church, who would all become members of the Mineral Wells, Texas Seventh-day Adventist Church, after studying with them and just as importantly befriending them for four years. (I tell people the entire Pentecostal church became Adventist which is true. I also tell them the entire church consisted of 5 members.)
As a rookie evangelist I had only had time to plant seeds, but not to watch them grow. I needed to learn patience. If I could have seen the future harvest, I doubt I would have felt so discouraged, as I sat there eating my burrito, before I found that verse full of comfort and hope. Still, I could have remembered a passage that my leader had written inside the Colporteur Ministry book he gave me.
Christ did not fail, neither was He discouraged, and His followers are to manifest a faith of the same enduring nature. They are to live as He lived, and work as He worked, because they depend on Him as the great Master Worker. Courage, energy, and perseverance they must possess. Though apparent impossibilities obstruct their way, by His grace they are to go forward…. They are to have power to resist evil, power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master, power that will enable them to overcome as Christ overcame. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 679-680
While I sat in that Taco Mayo in Grove Oklahoma back in 1990, my evangelistic career was too young to see the results that years and years of patient toil brings. However I had stories and testimonies from veteran laborers, like Denton James, my union publishing director. He and his family found the way, when they moved into a home, and found an old Bible Readings for the Homelaying in the attic. Denton found the Adventist church through that book and became a literature evangelist, who trained many more people, like myself to be literature evangelists. Back in 2008 I worked with his granddaughter in Tampa Florida, who was serving as an ASI Bible Worker. Not long ago, Denton fell asleep, after many years of soul winning. All those souls and trained Bible Workers and Literature evangelists can all trace their success back to Denton James, who traced his success back to an old book found in an attic.
I often wonder who the Literature Evangelist was, who sold that book to the family, that left it in the attic to be discovered by Denton’s family moving in years later. Whoever it was, I wonder if they ever got discouraged like I did, that day I was working in North East Oklahoma. Whoever it was they may have seen many people get baptized as a result of their labors, or it is possible they saw no one get baptized. One thing is sure, that literature evangelist went to their grave with no clue that years later a man would pick up one single book that had been laying around in an attic for years, dust the cover off and read it, and not only become a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, but lead hundreds to find Jesus, who would also lead hundreds more to find Jesus.
Since I don’t know who sold the book Denton found, I can speculate. Is it possible that was the only book he or she ever sold? Is it possible they quite soon after that because “it just wasn’t working out?” Still there will be thousands in heaven because of that one single book, that lied lost in an attic for who knows how long. I can see the evangelist coming home at the end of that day when they sold that one single book, and writing in their journal,
“It was a terrible day today. I worked hard all day long and met nothing but rejection, and doors slammed in my face over and over. Finally a man bought just one copy of Bible Readings for the Home,from me, but I heard his wife scoffing at him, saying something like, its just going to end up thrown away up in the attic with all the other junk you buy from peddlers. This is so discouraging I might as well quit. At this rate I will never help anyone find Jesus.”
Or I could have it all wrong, but I do know this. The literature evangelist who left that book, walked away from that home having no idea that hundreds would be in the kingdom because of an exchange that probably only took a few moments and netted only a few dollars or even cents.
Just like that book, that was buried in a dark attic for years, so it is with the literature and words I shared on that frustrating day in Oklahoma so many years ago,
The good seed may for a time lie unnoticed in a cold, selfish, worldly heart, giving no evidence that it has taken root; but afterward, as the Spirit of God breathes on the soul, the hidden seed springs up, and at last bears fruit to the glory of God. In our lifework we know not which shall prosper, this or that. This is not a question for us to settle. We are to do our work, and leave the results with God….. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:6. -Ellen White, Christ Object Lessons Page, 65.
It is also true of the seeds you sow as well.
Click here for an archived copy of the March 1968 Southwestern Adventist Record magazine as Denton’s story was told long ago. His story is on page 19.