Do we Have to Agree on Everything to Have Unity?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa bay area.

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? Amos 3:3 NKJV

Amos asks how two people can walk together unless they are agreed. Does this mean they have to agree about everything in order to walk together?  I think the New Living Translation helps to clarify the question:

Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? Amos 3:3 NLT

The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary supports the NLT  by saying the meaning of this text is, “How can two walk together unless they have a common purpose?” 1 You don’t have to agree upon every little thing in order to go in the same direction. I have traveled with friends who, when we stop to eat choose a different restaurant than I want. I go to one, while they go to the one next-door. We eat, get back in the car and continue our journey in the same direction.

I have shared this passage a few times before:

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ.Ellen White, Great Controversy, page 258.

We talk about how we need to study the Bible with an open mind. Well, I believe we need to study The Great Controversy with an open mind as well. Many staunch Adventists talk like the book is all about proving which day is the real Sabbath. Of course that becomes clear in the book, but one major theme I see in The Great Controversy is that we should all worship according to our own convictions and none should force others to believe just like them or just like us. I have talked with several Adventists in the past, who would dispute this passage, because they strongly believe that if you are led by the Holy Spirit you will think exactly like they do. They are mystified by the idea in this passage that two people can be led by the same Holy Spirit without totally agreeing on every point of doctrine. Yet I believe inspiration is telling us that people can be led by the Holy Spirit without being  carbon copies of us!

Here is another passage from Great Controversy, which I believe contains a very strong warning to Seventh-day Adventists.

Yet honest and God-fearing as they were, the Pilgrims did not yet comprehend the great principle of religious toleration. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others. “Very few, even of the foremost thinkers and moralists of the seventeenth century, had any just conception of that grand principle, the outgrowth of the New Testament, which acknowledges God as the sole judge of human faith.” The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply  rooted of papal errors. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 292  

I have encountered Seventh-day Adventists who were just as papal as the papacy.  When we try to dictate what others believe or exactly how they worship, are we not  imitating the papacy?  Again, a major theme I find in the Great Controversy is that everyone should worship according to their conscience, and that includes people who don’t agree with us.

Tolerance for different opinions is not just something Ellen White preached. She also practiced tolerance in her own home.

We must remember that there are a great many different minds in the world, and we cannot expect everyone to see exactly as we do in regard to all questions of diet. Minds do not run in exactly the same channel. I do not eat butter, but there are members of my family who do. It is not placed on my table; but I make no disturbance because some members of my family choose to eat it occasionally. Many of our conscientious brethren have butter on their tables, and I feel under no obligation to force them to do otherwise. These things should never be allowed to cause disturbance among brethren. I cannot see the need of butter where there is an abundance of fruit and of sterilized cream. Those who love and serve God should be allowed to follow their own convictions. We may not feel justified in doing as they do, but we should not allow differences of opinion to create disunion. May the Lord help us to be as firm as a rock to the principles of the law spoken from Sinai, and may He help us not to allow differences of opinion to be a barrier between us and our brethren.-Ellen White, Counsels on Diets and Foods, Page 269 

Now butter may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but what I truly appreciate in this passage is how Ellen White recognizes that people who do not see things her way are still her “conscientious brethren.” She does not question the hearts of people who disagree with her. This is in contrast to a discussion I once had with a brother who told me I would see things his way, “once I get closer to Jesus.” Ellen White recognized you can be close to Jesus without thinking exactly like her!

Amos 3:3 says we should all be heading the same direction, but that does not mean we have to agree on every little thing. We don’t have to start a new church or denomination every time we have a difference of opinion.

I once worked in an area that had one main church. It seemed perfectly balanced to me. A leader in the church had some evangelistic meetings which spawned  a new church plant. The church plant was more liberal than the main church, so all the liberal members of the main church joined the new church plant. This left only conservative members in the main church. Suddenly in my opinion, the church plant became too liberal and the main church became too conservative. I thought it was much better when the liberals and conservatives went to the same church, because together they kept the church balanced. Now neither church seemed balanced, as far as I could see.

When we surround ourselves only with people who think exactly like us, our thinking becomes skewed!

Of course there needs to be a balance between tolerance for other opinions and letting every wind of doctrine freely blow through the church.

How tolerant should we be of other people’s opinions in the church?

What example did Jesus give us for tolerance within the church?

How do we decide which doctrines are worth splitting the church over, and which ones we should just show tolerance?

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

Cannibalism in the Church

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I am writing today from beautiful Florida.

The other night I tried a new restaurant, and the food was horrible! It actually made me sick. So I got a to-go box and took it home so I could chew on it for several days and share it with my friends.

Sound crazy? Of course it is. Thankfully my story never actually happened. I just wanted to illustrate how foolish it is for us to keep dwelling (chewing) on negative experiences and sharing them with our friends. Sometimes we feel we have been offended and we share the painful experience over and over with out friends. Sometimes we want them to validate our negative feelings. However whenever our friends justify our hurts and feelings of being offended, they are encouraging us to walk in the flesh instead of the Spirit. Sometimes we share the bitter experience to turn our friends against the person who hurt us. This is when we start tinkering with Cannibalism.

My brethren, clear your souls before God. Cease your criticizing and fault-finding. Satan will keep you at this till the Lord comes, if he can. He knows that thus he can most effectually hinder the Lord’s work. Backbiting is cannibalism. -Ellen White, General Conference Bulletin, April 2, 1903

When the serpent tempted Eve, he started off with a very subtle slander.

“Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”Genesis 3:1 NKJV

Notice he forms the insinuation as a question. Not accusatory. Maybe even “sincerely” seeking for clarification, but the idea is now thrown out there that God is restrictive and holding good things back from us. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices, and of course we are not. We even use his devices! Gossipers and slanderers in the church will often start off very subtly, hoping to gain an ear. Once they have that ear, they turn from subtle hints to outright slander just like the serpent did with Eve.

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden;  but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. Genesis 3:2-4 NKJV

Now the serpent has called God a liar! He started off subtly to gain an audience. Now that he has captured his audience, he has moved into outright slander! There are predators who groom entire congregations by sweet-talking them and buttering them up, even lending a helping hand whenever needed. Then they will subtly point out that they are helping the congregation more than anyone else. After their sweet talk and “good deeds” they insinuate that they deserve your loyalty more than the pastor, since after all, they have helped you more than the pastor, haven’t they? Then they begin to slander the pastor and usurp his influence. And you owe them your loyalty, because, after all, they have helped you so much with all their “kindness” and “encouraging” words. Absalom, in 2 Samuel 15:2-6, is an excellent example of grooming people, pretending to have their interest at heart, when in reality just wanting to promote self.

Jesus has a cure for slandering, gossiping and backbiting. It is the exact opposite of those things.

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.  Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. Luke 6:27-31 NKJV

Paul adds,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14 NKJV

Peter describes Satan as a lion looking for someone to devour with his mouth. When we gossip and slander others we too are like the lion looking for someone to devour with our mouth. This is cannibalism. Revelation 16:13 talks about three unclean spirits like frogs. Frogs catch their prey with their tongues. When we gossip about someone are we trying to catch our victim with our tongue? When we gossip are we practicing Satan’s device? In Genesis 3:1 the NKJV says the serpent was “cunning.” The KJV says he was “Subtle.” The NIV says he was “crafty.” Satan is too cunning, subtle and crafty to just walk up to you and invite you to practice cannibalism. So what does he do? He relabels it “white lies” and “gossip.” Or even more benign than that, he will label it “just venting to a friend.” Remember, when a friend validates your feelings of being offended and wronged, he is encouraging you to walk in the flesh instead of the Spirit. Love keeps no record of being wronged. (1 Corinthians 13:5 NLT)

2 Corinthians 2:11 tells us we are aware of Satan’s devices. This means we are not supposed to use them ourselves in the church! Subtle and outright slander, lying and cursing are all Satanic tactics and should not be practiced by Christians. As Seventh-day Adventists preparing for translation, let’s remember the seal of God is not just about the Sabbath. There will be many in heaven who kept Sunday and many who kept Saturday, but there won’t be anybody in heaven who made a practice of slandering. I personally fear more people will be excluded from the 144,000 over gossip and slander issues than Sabbath issues. John says the 144,00 have no guile in their mouths. (Revelation 14:5 KJV) Google “guile meaning” and you will find, “cunning,” “craft,” etc. basically all the things that make up gossip and cannibalism.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Psalm 15:1-3 NLT

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

Faith During the Storm

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Monday’s lesson, The Shipwreck, reminds me of another storm at sea and the faith of a young girl. Below is a remarkable account of Ellen Harmon, no more than eighteen years old. She is on a steamboat leaving Portland Maine that has just run into a very dangerous storm. While many were fearful for their lives, this young girl, when asked by an older woman why she was not afraid like everyone else, could answer with assurance.

“I told her I had made Christ my refuge, and if my work was done, I might as well lie in the bottom of the ocean as in any other place; but if my work was not done, all the waters of the ocean could not drown me. My trust was in God, that he would bring us safe to land if it was for his glory.” Ellen White, Life Sketches, p. 241

Young Ellen was confident like Paul, not that she would necessarily survive the storm, but that God’s purpose would be fulfilled and the Gospel would be spread around the world, regardless of her fate in the storm.  God did indeed have a work for Ellen to do. Ellen later married James White, an Adventist pioneer, and the rest is history.

God also has a purpose for each of us. Our goal in this world should not necessarily be to live a long life, but to live a faithful life. Sometimes we ask God where the safest place to be is, when what we should really be asking God is simply, “Where do you want me to be?” As long as we have the assurance young Ellen Harmon had, that we are in God’s care and doing God’s work, the longevity of our life is not consequential, and we shall be prepared to walk away from this world either by death or the Second Coming at any time.

Each has his own experience, peculiar in its character and circumstances, to accomplish a certain work. God has a work, a purpose, in the life of each of us. Every act, however small, has its place in our life experience. – Ellen White, Testimonies Volume 3 Page 541

I Don’t Need What the World has. The World Needs What I have.

 

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

You may listen to the podcast version of this post here. 

Paul before Agrippa, shows us the attitude of someone who has truly experienced the unconditional love of Jesus and has a genuine relationship with Christ. When someone has a sincere conversion, the things of this world lose their appeal. The tenth commandment, “Thou Shalt not covet” is not a struggle to keep. When Christ abides in the heart, the Christian is not looking at the things everyone else has and wishing they could have those things too. Instead they look at the world and desire for the world to have what they have. This was Paul’s attitude as he stood before king Agrippa.

Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.” Acts 26:28-29 NLT

Paul is standing in chains and his prisoner uniform before king Agrippa in all of his royal splendor. Yet Paul does not desire what Agrippa has. He wants Agrippa to have what he has! Likewise those who have had a real experience with Jesus will not be looking at the world longing for what the world has. Instead we long for the world to have what we have.

Coveting becomes an impossibility when your heart is filled with God’s love. When your heart is filled with God’s love you do not envy the world. Instead you feel sorry for the world because it does not have the love and joy that you have. Instead of having worldly ambitions we have the ambition of Paul, when he said,

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. Acts 20:24 NLT

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

Circumcision of the Heart

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I am writing today from beautiful South Florida

While I was away on a brief vacation this summer, a friend covering a family Bible study in my place called. Apparently the family was reading through Genesis on their own. After learning what circumcision is, the family’s young daughter asked my friend a question the family could not answer. “God wanted boys to be circumcised, but what did He want girls to do?” A very sincere and relevant question from a young girl wondering if she fit into God’s plan.

Of course the man represented his entire family. However as Paul was trying to rid the Galatians of legalism, I believe he was hinting towards the circumcision of the heart when he said,

there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 NKJV

Paul wasn’t presenting a gender neutral agenda. Circumcision was the theme of Galatians, and over the course of the entire book he makes the point that circumcision of the heart is what matters, and that applies to girls as well as boys.

This was actually the original idea.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, And take away the foreskins of your hearts, You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 4:4 NKJV

Notice circumcision was of the heart and for all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Just as Abraham originally put confidence in his flesh instead of God’s promises, (See my previous post on why circumcision.) All of God’s people are to put away their confidence in themselves and trust God’s promises. Pride must be rooted from the heart, and this can be as painful as a literal circumcision!

What is ironic to me is, God gave circumcision as a way to remove the pride in the flesh, and the Galatians turned around were proud of their circumcision! So the pride never went away. Today it would be the same as an Adventist being proud that they don’t wear jewelry. In 1 Peter 3:3-4 Peter explained that our dress should be modest, leading us away from pride. But if we become proud of our modest dress the pride is still there!

Baptism not only crucifies the foreskin, it crucifies the entire flesh. See Romans 6:3-6. Baptism crucifies all pride and confidence in the flesh. Jesus said,

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23 NKJV

“Anyone” applies to women as well as men. It is pride and self that must be circumcised from the heart. The problem with general Christianity today is not that people have forgotten there is a Sabbath. Many have forgotten or were never even told there is a cross! Self must be put crucified and put away. I say some were never even told, because many pastors like to skim over or just ignore what may appear to be unpleasant. They are not alone. Even Moses found it hard and unpleasant.

While many pastors today try to skirt around crucifying the flesh, Moses seemed to try to skirt around circumcision. In Exodus 4 his wife has to carry out the rite as he neglected it for his own son. Then in Joshua 5 all the men born in the wilderness had to be circumcised upon entering the promised land. Apparently Moses neglected following up on that in the wilderness. But God could not skirt around it. Joshua had to have all the men circumcised upon entering the promised land. What this tells me is that regardless if pastors today skirt the issue of crucifying self and circumcising the heart, everyone will still have to have their hearts circumcised and self crucified before entering into heaven.

So the young daughter in the family Bible study group fits into God’s plan just like any boy. We all must circumcise our hearts and crucify our flesh before entering into heaven.

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

70 X 7 Turns out to be a Great Deal After all!

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 70 X 7 times, Peter may have raised his eyebrows, questioning if that was a little much. But after Peter cut off a man’s ear, and denied he even knew Jesus, while weeping in bitterness for his own sins, I imagine 70 X 7 didn’t seem too much after all.

Much hope can be drawn from Peter’s ministry. He made big mistakes, like cutting off a man’s ear and even denying he knew Jesus. If Peter was anything like us, I imagine those mistakes deeply haunted Peter while Jesus was in the tomb. Imagine his surprise and joy, when the angels said,

go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” Mark 16:7 NKJV

After a series of disgraceful blunders Jesus still loved and wanted Peter to stay with Him. Not only did Jesus live, but hope for Peter lived as well! No matter our mistakes, hope lives for us as long as Jesus lives! When Jesus and Peter first met, Peter said,

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5:8 NKJV

Jesus refused to leave Peter to perish in his sins. Its ironic that while Peter tried to convince Jesus he was a sinful man, Jesus knew way more than Peter did as to just how sinful Peter really was. When they both met there were two things Peter had no comprehension of. He was much more sinful than he could even imagine, but he was also more loved than he could ever dream possible!

Jesus did not leave Peter to perish in his sins when he first met him. As time went on Peter made even bigger and more disastrous mistakes than before, but Jesus still refused to leave him to perish in his sins. I imagine resurrection morning Peter was pretty glad the limit for forgiveness had been raised from his suggested 7 times to an astronomical number of times. Peter thought 70 X 7 was a great deal for his brother, but it turned out to be a great deal for him too!

The amazing grace Jesus had for Peter was not in vain. This relentless loved drastically changed Peter’s life. When Peter surrendered to this love he was just like Jesus in many ways. Many think that walking on water was a sign of divinity, but even in the midst of Peter’s blemished ministry, he too walked on water while surrendered to God’s love. Many think Jesus raised the dead as a sign of His divinity, but Jesus said in John 14:10 that it was actually His Father doing all the work. In Acts 9 the same God that worked in Jesus was working in Peter when Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. And now wonder, didn’t Jesus say,

“he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” John 14:12 NKJV

And didn’t Paul say,

that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19 NKJV

Peter was practicing what he preached when he wrote:

you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:4 NKJV

When Peter walked on water, raised the dead, and even surrendered his own life to crucifixion he was partaking of the divine nature. Peter’s ministry became very amazing when he became immersed in God’s forgiveness and love. Peter’s ministry is an example of what your ministry will be as God immerses you in His forgiving love.

When Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 70 x 7, Peter may have thought that was a little much. I imagine when Peter was bitterly weeping over his terrible mistakes, he was glad the forgiveness bar had been raised from his suggested 7 times, to 70 X 7. Don’t hesitate to forgive your brother and sister 70 X 7. If you are like Peter and me, it will turn out to be a great deal for you too.

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