History Doesn’t Have to Repeat itself

 

Have you ever been haunted by your past?

Over a decade ago I was preaching during the first worship service and I guess I was all wound up in what I was preaching, because an elder motioned to me that it was time for Sabbath School. I had a real passion for what I was preaching at the moment and basically chastised the elder for telling me to stop. It came across kind of … no it definitely came across as high and mighty and condescending to the elder. The elder quickly ducked out of view of the congregation. I soon realized I did not react appropriately and even made a fool of myself. After church I told the elder I was sorry. He graciously accepted my apology and for the remainder of our time together in that congregation he acted like it never happened. But I had trouble shaking it. Four or five years later, he and I were talking in the hallway, and of course he was acting totally natural, while I was still cringing inside over what I did years ago. As we were talking, the obvious finally dawned on me. He does not even remember what I am cringing about! I am the only one who remembers it! He forgot about it years ago after he forgave me. Why am I holding on to this?  I had to forgive myself then and there, and now I no longer feel awkward when I see him, and, of course, I have never repeated the incident.

It appears in the days of Nehemiah Israel was still haunted by its past, going back to the days of Moses.

But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them,  even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, ‘This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!’ They committed terrible blasphemies. Nehemiah 9:17-18 NLT

This came during their time of confession. They are claiming God’s forgiveness but still going over things that happened long ago. The good news is, history does not have to repeat itself. Paul was haunted by his previous actions towards Christians, but he still was able to move on.

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13-14 NLT

Paul was able to get over his past by not continually thinking about it, but also by being sure not to let his history repeat itself. He pressed on to what was ahead instead of repeating what was behind him. When a runner trips over a hurdle she can’t waste time wallowing in self pity. There is no time to lose. She must get back up and run! But she also must make sure she does not trip over any more hurdles. There is no time for self-pity or for tripping over more hurdles.

David made some big mistakes, but we don’t see him making the same mistakes over and over. I think his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 offers us some clues as to how he moved forward instead of letting history repeat itself.

For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭51:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

So David was haunted by his rebellion just like Israel, and just like I was. Often times we try to ignore negative feelings and emotions but they have their place. Those negative feelings are symptoms telling us a problem needs to be fixed. If we only treat the symptoms then the problem remains and still needs to be fixed.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. Psalms‬ ‭51:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

David recognized that He hurt God. He is not sorry that he hurt himself. He is sorry he hurt God and others.

Forgive me for shedding blood…Psalms 51:14 NLT

David’s confession is specific, just like Israel’s in Nehemiah 9.

At the Christian school where I occasionally substitute teach, one of the classrooms uses what is called a fix-it ticket. When students do something inappropriate,  students writes down on a piece of paper exactly what they did wrong, and how they are going to fix that form of behavior. They sign the paper themselves, and then the teacher signs it and the student takes it home for the parents to sign. In Psalms 51 David appears to be writing a fix-it ticket. He is writing specifically about what he did wrong and also how the problem is going to be fixed. A while back I had an attitude that I knew was not right. I wrote a letter to God telling him specifically why I was wrong and asked for Him to help me in specific ways not to have that attitude any more. I have never had that attitude since.. I believe that actually writing things out, not typing but actually hand writing things out can be very therapeutic. If nothing else it shows God and ourselves that our repentance is earnest, rather than just giving a flippant “Please forgive me. I’m sorry.”

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭51:1, 7, 10, 12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We don’t see David repeating his history over and over because his repentance and confession were very specific and very deep. David realized and openly confessed his own weaknesses and how he was prone to sin.

For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. Psalms 51:5 NLT

Therefore instead of being self-confident David put his confidence in God’s powerful love and promises. We too can keep our sinful history from continually repeating itself by making our repentance deep and heartfelt, and by having no confidence in our flesh or human effort (Philippians 3:3), but rather put our hope and faith in God’s powerful love and promises.

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

And the Devotional Book I Recommend for 2020 is…..

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

… the Bible!

Apple pies are great. I love them, especially with whipped cream or ice cream on top. They make a great dessert, and yes, even with everything else that goes into them, the apples provide real nutrition. Even so, for a daily breakfast routine I would recommend an actual apple over an apple pie. I just think an actual apple is more nutritious than an apple pie. That doesn’t mean I’m throwing grandma’s apple pie recipe away. It just means on a daily basis I eat actual apples. My stomach only holds so much food and if its filled with apple pies, then there won’t be any room for actual whole apples.

Its the same with devotional books and the Bible. Of course God created us to be social creatures. I actually learn from other people’s  comments in Sabbath School class and on Sabbath School Net. I learn from books other writers have written. So I am not suggesting you throw away your new 2020 devotional book any more than I am suggesting throwing away grandma’s apple pie recipe. Just make sure you are eating plenty of whole apples, and make sure you are actually reading the Bible. While serving as a literature evangelist I learned that during the years Arthur Maxwell wrote the Bible Stories , he read only the Bible as he did not want anyone else influencing his depictions of the Bible stories.

The other day I was teaching a 4th-grade Bible class in a local Adventist School in which I occasionally substitute. I asked the children why do we pray before reading the Bible? I received several good answers, but my favorite came from a boy who answered “Because Proverbs 3 says we are not to trust our own understanding but to depend on God for understanding.” What a great application of Proverbs 3:5 I thought! 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that those who wrote Scripture were moved by the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13 Jesus assures us the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. The same Holy Spirit that moved the writers to write those words thousands of years ago, is the same Holy Spirit that teaches us as we read those words. The Holy Spirit can teach you as easily as any theologian.

When I preach on Sabbath I like to make sure I use plenty of Scripture. That way if my own thoughts are worthless at least people got to hear actual Scripture, which is valuable. Most of my illustrations are my own, but of course I get ideas from others as well. When we read the Bible for ourselves we also have ideas the Holy Spirit gives us to share with others. If we do not read the Bible for ourselves then we are only getting ideas from others. This is not fair to them or to us. We are  not contributing our fair share and others are doing all the thinking for us. A mother breastfeeds her infant with the hopes that one day the infant will grow up to feed him or herself. Likewise we should not always rely on other authors to feed us. God wants to teach us all how to find our own spiritual bread in the Bible.

In Ezra’s day there was a reformation and revival as the people turned back to the reading of the Word. I think our church today is in desperate need of a revival and reformation  inspired by the reading of the Word.

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

Paying Our Debts While Forgiving Our Debtors

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Earlier this summer I went to a baseball game with a friend who picked up the tickets earlier. I did not get the opportunity to pay him for my ticket the night of the game, so a few days later I took him to dinner. When the waitress  brought us the check, I took it and paid for both our meals. My friend asked me if I was sure I wanted to do that. I said, “Of course. Remember I owe you for the tickets.” He said, “Nobody owes me for anything.” Meaning he had an attitude of not keeping a record of debts.

Tuesday’s section of this week’s lesson asks the question, “Have you done wrong to anyone? Most of us, if honest, would have to answer “Yes”. What’s stopping you, in whatever degree possible, from making restitution, even now?”

In 1946 Mora Gregg’s parents checked out a book for her from the Silver Springs Maryland library, called “The Postman.”  Mora, only a toddler fell in love with the pictures, so instead of returning the book, Mora’s family ended up taking the book with them when they moved to Canada. Over the years Mora would see “Silver Springs Public Library” stamped on the inside cover of the book. Finally 73 years later, Mora realized the book was not hers and needed to be returned. She returned the book with a letter of apology. The daily overdue rate would have had Mora owing more than $9,000.00 but it turns out there was a $15.00 cap for late fees.

Has your conscience ever bothered you about something long ago that you just had to make right. For me it was a simple thank-you note. A lady in the church gave me a nice book journal when I graduated from high school. I failed to write her a thank-you note right away, and it got the point where it was too embarrassing or awkward to write a thank-you note. Over time, I kept thinking about it whenever I saw the book, and my lack of manners made me cringe. Finally in 2004, I was having dinner with friends in Florida and somehow the topic of my neglect came up. I told then how it was still bugging me  that I never wrote a thank-you note to that sweet lady. One friend suggested I go ahead and write a thank-you note now. That’s all the encouragement I needed. That night I mailed her a 20-year-overdue thank-you note. She did not respond to my late note, either because she was too old by then to write, or maybe she was waiting twenty years to respond. She has since passed away. As awkward as it may have been, I am glad I finally wrote the thank-you note. She knew I appreciated it, and it no longer bugs me like it did those twenty years.

Paul says,

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. Romans 13:8 NLT

I think this goes for gratitude and respect as much as it does for money and material items. We should not put off making things right today, no matter how we may have waited before.

On the other hand, what if we are the ones who are owed?

While conducting a grief counseling workshop, the issue came up  that sometimes people have guilt because they did someone wrong, and the person the person they did wrong died before they made things right. The survivor struggles with the guilt of never being able to tell them they were sorry and make things right. Matthew 18:21-35 tells the story about a servant who owed his master an incredible sum of money. Interestingly the servant never asks for the debt to be forgiven. He only asks for more time to pay the debt, but his master forgives him without even being asked. That reminds me of Jesus crying out from the cross, “Forgive them, Father!” even though no one was saying they were sorry yet! Peter, who had denied Jesus, was forgiven before he ever had a chance to say he was sorry. In Mark 16:7 an invitation especially mentions Peter, letting him know he  was forgiven before he even had a chance to say he was sorry.

In the grief counseling workshop, scenarios were brought up, like a child talks back to his father as he leaves for school, and then his father dies in an accident at work before the child had a chance to say sorry. Now the child is left with the guilt of those cruel words being the last thing he said to his father. Sure, we can say the child should have been careful with his words because we never know when that will be the last time we talk to someone. Still, I think Jesus offers another way to heal those feelings of guilt and remorse. What if we were so quick to forgive, without even being asked, that even if we died before someone could ask our forgiveness, they would just know they were forgiven? This is why I think having a spirit of forgiveness is so important. This way if we don’t have the opportunity to formally forgive someone, they will still know they are forgiven, because we were always quick to forgive and never held grudges.

Like my friend with whom I went to the baseball game and, more importantly, like Jesus, we need to pay our own debts, while freely forgiving all debts owed to us.

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

We are all Fallible

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In my ministry I have met people who claim the Adventist church is Babylon. I have also met people who think the Adventist church is infallible. Both ideas are wrong. The Adventist church is not Babylon, but it is not infallible either. Just because the Adventist  church is not Babylon does not mean it does not make mistakes. Remember at the cross it was not Babylon crying out “Crucify Him!” It was God’s chosen remnant people. The commander of the Lord’s army realized the fallibility of God’s chosen people when He met Joshua one day.

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” Joshua 5:13-14 NLT

“Neither one?” Seems like the Commander was taking a neutral stance on the situation. We can’t assume just because we are God’s chosen people that He is always on our side. Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes our foes do the right thing. God loves everyone in the world, not just us. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who is credited with saying, “The question is not if God is on my side but rather if I’m on His.”

Throughout history God had to punish His own people. Today when people tell me how “corrupt” the church has become, I ask them, when was the church ever perfect? When harlots got their business at the temple doors during Eli’s day? When God had to let Babylon destroy His holy nation because of their habitual apostasy and idolatry?  When people tell me the Adventist church has strayed too far from what it used to be, and we need to go back to how it was in the days of Ellen White, I ask them, “You mean when God had to destroy the Adventist publishing house with fire because they would not follow inspired counsel?”

In Ezra’s day it was no different.

When these things had been done, the Jewish leaders came to me and said, “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” Ezra 9:1-2 NLT

When the leaders and the majority of those in the church fall away from the truth no one detects it as apostasy because the apostasy becomes mainstream. Therefore apostasy looks normal. The only way to detect apostasy is to stop looking at the leaders and the majority, and look at the Word of God.

Years ago I attended a health seminar, where a doctor told us that many  Americans are obese and are close to having a heart attack. They don’t understand how unhealthy they are because they are no more obese than everyone around them, not realizing everyone around them is also on the verge of a heart attack. Just because obesity is mainstream in American culture does not make it healthy or any less deadly. It is the same with sin in the church.

In Ezra’s day there was a reformation as they stopped looking at those around them as role models and began comparing themselves to the Word of God. So today, we can have a reformation like never before as we compare ourselves to God’s Word instead of each other. In Daniel 9 Daniel confesses that his people have corporately sinned, and included himself as part of the sin problem. Nehemiah as well as Ezra brought about a great reformation, but even Nehemiah saw himself as part of the sin problem  when he prayed,

Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! Nehemiah 1:6 NLT

While praying for reformation in the church we must confess our individual sins as well as the sins of the church. We can’t divide the church into camps and then say God is on my camp’s side, because God is not choosing sides today anymore than He was in Joshua’s day.  Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. That goes for all of us. We are all fallible. We all make mistakes. That is why Jesus never told us to follow Christian leaders. He told us to follow Him. For true reformation we must recognize our own guilt and apostasy. We must not set ourselves or anyone else up as an example to follow. We must follow Jesus and His Word alone.

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

True Education

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Thursday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson asks the question, “In what ways, even today, might we need to unlearn a lot of what we have been taught from the world?”

When Jesus was telling Nicodemus in John 3:1-17 that he needed to be born again, I believe Jesus was including being re-educated. Nicodemus had a lot to unlearn. He had worked hard to get where he was by his own efforts to reach the standards of man which were built upon the traditions of man. This is why Jesus wanted Nicodemus to be born again  –that he could be taught the ways of God by God instead of the traditions of men by men . God was well aware of the power of tradition in that day, which is why God ordained that John the Baptist would not be taught in the schools of his day.

In the natural order of things, the son of Zacharias would have been educated for the priesthood. But the training of the rabbinical schools would have unfitted him for his work. God did not send him to the teachers of theology to learn how to interpret the Scriptures. He called him to the desert, that he might learn of nature and nature’s God. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 101

I am a big believer and supporter of our Seventh-day Adventist Christian schools, kindergarten through seminary. I attended Adventist schools from first grade into college. I have taught Bible classes, presented week of prayers and chapel services, and have  been a teacher’s aide and substitute teacher in our schools for  about 30 years. I have also given my own money to help pay the tuition for financially struggling families. I share this only so that you will understand I mean our schools no disservice by what I am going to write next.

I can go through all my Adventist grade school and high school yearbooks, and in all the yearbooks combined I will find a handful of students who are in the church today. Those of us who are in the church today have something in common other than going to an Adventist school. We had family worship at home. We were taught at home by the most powerful teachers and pastors in our lives  – our parents. As much as I love, support and enjoy being a part of the Adventist educational system, I cringe when on education Sabbaths, the preacher credits the school for people like myself remaining in the church. That credit belongs to my parents who showed me Jesus at home and taught me to have family worship as well as my own personal Bible study time even as a child. Now I would not have dedicated so much of my time and money if I did not believe in the importance of Adventist Christian education, but I also am afraid that we give our schools the credit that belongs to parents.

I believe one of the things we need to unlearn as a society is that all education takes place in a formal school. We need to learn the difference between having a diploma or degree and having an education. There are people without diplomas or degrees who are educated, and there are people with diplomas and degrees who are not educated. For example, I was talking to a friend who attended a university in Florida while a future famous pro athlete was attending who will not be named here. My friend told me while the athlete got his degree he was never seen on campus. He was never seen anywhere besides the football stadium.

While I did go to college and can say I am college educated, I did not finish my degree. I have worked with Adventist pastors who ,when we would have a slight difference of theological opinion, would mention their degree as though that gave more merit to their opinion. Some have mentioned their degree, implying it automatically trumped my understanding of the Bible. In other words, having a degree made them automatically right and me automatically wrong. Fortunately these situations have been very few and far between. Much more often, when I have  friendly “debates” or minor disagreements with people who have their master’s degree in theology, they never once mention their degree, but reason with me using the Bible and the Bible alone. They understand their degree does not make them automatically right. They reason with me from Scripture as something we both are familiar with, and we are on equal ground, both standing on the Word of God.

Satan is constantly endeavoring to attract attention to man in the place of God. He leads the people to look to bishops, to pastors, to professors of theology, as their guides, instead of searching the Scriptures to learn their duty for themselves. Then, by controlling the minds of these leaders, he can influence the multitudes according to his will. –Ellen White, The Great Controversy, Page 595

Recently, a pastor friend, who graduated with his Masters of Divinity from  Andrews University called me to see if his understanding on a passage in Revelation was correct. Even though he has his master’s in theology and I have no degree at all, I could tell in our conversation that he had great appreciation for my understanding of Scripture, so much so that he was asking me if he was right. While it does not happen every day, it was not the first time or the last. In 2 Corinthians 11:16 Paul admitted he was boasting a little for a purpose. If it sounds like I am boasting that some pastors from Andrews University call me for theological advice, it is only to make this point. You can be educated without having a formal degree. Like Nicodemus had to learn, we have to learn to stand on the Word of God and not our formal degrees.

I want to close by thanking my Adventist grade school and high school teachers who encouraged me as a child to be a Gospel Worker for Jesus and who even now encourage me and even financially support my ministry. There are too many to mention, but they know who they are, as I still communicate with them regularly. While I did not finish college, I will always be indebted to my professors, especially to the late Jan Haluska, who was my composition teacher. I love writing, and the writing skills he taught me have no doubt been the most practical skills that I have used daily throughout my life and ministry.

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

Christ is my Anchor

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. Psalm 91:2 NLT

In Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Uninvited,  She tells the story about finding refuge in a ravine near her childhood home. Her father, who was mean, made her feel unsafe at home, so she brought her favorite toys to the ravine and made herself a home there. The ravine was low-lying, where she could spy on the rest of the neighborhood while feeling safe and protected in her hiding place. She spent as much time as she could there to hide from her father at home. She said the ravine became her anchor of safety in an unsafe world. Yes, as an adult you saw this coming. Sure enough a rain storm came and her “anchor” and everything in it was washed away. She was heart broken. Her anchor turned out to be no anchor at all.

We have all had “anchors” that have been washed away. I bought a used car several years ago, and as I was getting ready to drive it off the lot I told the salesman, “Wait, I did not even check the trunk to see if there is a spare tire.” The salesman laughed and told me, “Of course it has a spare tire.” I took his word for it and drove off. It was not two weeks later that I was driving down the expressway and had a flat. As I pulled over to the shoulder, I patted myself on the back for making sure there was a spare tire. I opened the trunk, and, to my dismay, there was no tire! The salesman let me down. I put my hope in him, and he was wrong. I am not going to say he lied, because maybe he really thought it was in there. But even though the salesman let me down, God did not! At the exact time I discovered I had no spare, a co-worker recognized me and pulled over right behind my car. He loaned me his spare until I could get to the car dealership to get one and give the salesman a polite earful. I learned an important lesson. Even when people let me down, God still has my back, People are not my anchor. God is my anchor.

Many think the church is their anchor, only to be disappointed when the church lets them down and their hopes are swept away. Here is where we are  wrong with thinking the church is our anchor: Nowhere in the Bible does it say the church is an anchor. Christ is our anchor. When I was seven years old, I was lying in bed one night thinking about the cross and the love Jesus has for me. I decided to give my heart to Jesus and get baptized. When I gave my life to Jesus, I made Him alone responsible for all my needs. I obey my superiors in the church as long as it doesn’t conflict with the Bible or my conscience. God is my ultimate boss. Since God is my ultimate boss I also hold Him personally responsible for my pay. If the church doesn’t pay me, or no one contributes to my Bible Worker Fund, I have no one to blame but God. Paul says,

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people Colossians 3:23 NLT

Since I work as though I were working for the Lord and not for people, it is the Lord and not the people or the church that I hold accountable for my salary or benefits. That is not to say that God does not use the church to meet my needs. He does. But I do not trust or hold the church accountable. I trust Christ alone and I hold Christ accountable for all my needs. The church is not my anchor. The church needs an anchor. Christ is the anchor.

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