Circumcision of the Heart

fb_img_1527902060544938515662.jpg

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!

20140501_205343

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.

Jesus Heals All Wounds

20140403_205006_LLS

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Saul honestly thought he was doing God service when he was persecuting the Christians. Jesus may have been thinking of Saul, when He said,

For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. John 16:2 NLT

Down through the ages, Christians, even Seventh-day Adventists, have caused needless pain to those purchased by Christ’s blood, thinking they were doing God service. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to give us words to say, when needed, but sometimes no words are needed, but we still think we have to talk! Often that is when people are wounded. When I find myself the idiot in these situations, I draw strength from this short story.

When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Luke 22:49-51 NLT

Apparently Matthew, Mark and Luke were not snitches, but John tells us it was Peter who slashed the servant’s ear. Peter got carried away, thinking he was doing God service, but all he did was hurt someone Christ died for. Here is the good news. Jesus healed the servant’s ear. Jesus undid the damage Peter caused.

Throughout history, people, thinking they were doing God service, have hurt others with their words or even with guns and swords! For some, Jesus will undo the damage at the resurrection. In the meantime, when we cringe, like Saul and Peter did, thinking of the needless pain we’ve caused, we can draw comfort from the fact that Jesus can heal and undo the needless damage we have inflicted, just like when He healed the servant’s ear.

He will not shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Isaiah 42:2-4 NLT

Thanks to Jesus healing those we have needlessly wounded, we don’t have to lose heart.

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

Equal But Not The Same

wp-1481429297405.jpg

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

We were in our last couple nights of evangelism meetings when a water pipe burst, flooding a room behind the sanctuary, near the baptistry entrance. One of the deacons told a local elder to help the other deacons pump the water out. The elder politely replied that he could not do that, because he had to visit with the baptismal candidates to clear them for the baptisms coming up. The deacon then accused the elder of being on an ego trip, thinking he was too good to do manual labor. But that was not the case at all. As an elder he had a job to do in getting people ready for the baptism, and could not do both at the same time.

The early church ran into a similar problem where certain necessary duties were keeping them from preaching and teaching.

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-4 NKJV

Hence the office of deacons came into the church. Like the elders, the deacons were to be men full of the Holy Spirit. They are not less than elders, but their duties are not the same. Yes, Steven preached in Acts 7 and Philip baptized in Acts 8. Every office in the church carries the equal responsibility of sharing the gospel. But deacons and deaconesses are also given responsibilities of caring for the physical upkeep and maintenance of the church, and even caring for the physical needs of the members. This frees the elders from “waiting on tables” so they can be spreading the gospel.

That evening that the water pipe burst, the deacon told the elder that a real leader should never ask anyone to do a job he would not be willing to do himself. He then handed him a bucket insinuating that he should get to work and show a little humility and lead by example. There was only one problem. The elder had appointments with several candidates for the baptisms the next couple nights. They were waiting for him right then, and they worked the next day before the baptisms the following nights.

It wasn’t that the elder thought he was important. It wasn’t even necessarily that he thought clearing people for baptism was more important than fixing a water break. Obviously the water break had to be fixed to have the baptisms! Both the deacon’s job and elder’s job were equally important but not the same. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about different gifts and ministries in the church. He talks about how the foot and hand are both needed. However while the foot is equal to the hand, the foot is still not the hand. While being equal they are not the same. Each has their own distinct purpose.

Deacons are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and able to preach. And elders have gladly taken up the offering and locked up the church after a meeting, taken out the trash, so long as they can still accomplish their gospel responsibilities. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us one ministry is not superior to another, while Acts 6 tells us our offices are not the same.

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

When Was The Last Time You Invited Someone Home From Church?

Rays Port Charlotte-Skyway Bridge 082

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

 

When was the last time you had people from your church over to your house?

The New Testament speaks of churches in homes. See Romans 16:51 Corinthians 16:9Colossians 4:15,Philemon 1:2.

Years ago, when I became a Bible Worker at a church in Texas, an elderly saint informed me of a group of people who began having church in one of their houses. She wanted me to get them to come back to the “real” church because, according to her, having church in a house was not “real” church. Realizing that having church in a house was indeed “real church,” I reached out to them and began a wonderful friendship. We worked together and played together, even though they “assembled themselves together” for worship in a house, while the rest of us assembled at the church building.

God’s remnant church will look like the original church, and the original church first met in homes as well as meeting in the temple court. Meeting in buildings dedicated to Christian worship came later.

By the way, the order of service most Adventists follow for worship service does not come from the New Testament. It comes from the Methodists. Nothing wrong with that. Just saying. Occasionally I have gone to preach in a church building that only had about 15 members present. Instead of having church in the sanctuary “Methodist style” I persuaded them to come into the fellowship hall where we all sat in a big circle and had a “home church.” Instead of preaching a sermon I led out in a group Bible study. It was informal yet reverent and Bible-based. Many told me they found it refreshing. It was what I imagine church to have been like in the New Testament.

Notice even the churches that met in temple courts also met in homes.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Acts 2:46-47 NIV

To me, the fact that they met in each others’ homes shows me how dedicated they were to the church. They took the church home with them! The New Testament church was not compartmentalized. There were no boundaries between what belonged to the church and what belonged to them. Their home dining room was just as much church property as the fellowship hall.

Do we compartmentalize today? For example, let’s look at church fellowship lunches. Are they social or anti-social? For instance, do we meet for lunch at church so we don’t have to actually invite each other over to our house? We say we all meet at church so we can all socialize together. Really? Then tell me why when I visit various churches I see so many people eating alone at fellowship lunch. I often see families sitting alone at tables that could have just as easily been sitting alone at home. But it makes us feel more sociable if we eat alone at church?

Of course many people do actually fellowship during fellowship lunches. Still, I have to wonder why we aren’t meeting in homes more often? Again do we compartmentalize? Do we fellowship on neutral ground while protecting the privacy of our home? Does our church have borders, or do we hold all things common?

It may be said that we can’t invite the entire church over to our house at once, so some may feel left out. To that I would say, over time invite several people, and those who feel left out can invite people to their house! It works both ways, you know. 🙂

The New Testament church did not compartmentalize. They held all things common, even meeting in their homes. I believe the remnant church should reflect the New Testament church. In the last days Satan is working hard to polarize us and make us unsociable. Meanwhile God is drawing us together to make up, not an isolated people but a great multitude which no man can number, who reflect His character of love and hospitality.

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

What Does it Mean to Be Absent From the Body and Present with the Lord?

Archives 701

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A song goes:

One day Jesus will call my name As days go by, ‘hope I don’t stay the same. I wanna get so close to Him that it’s no big change, On that day that Jesus calls my name! -Phil McHugh, One Day Jesus Will Call my Name

This takes us head on to the point of a Scriptural passage that many Adventists shy away from.

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 NKJV

Does this verse put us into defense mode? Do we feel pressured to explain what it is not saying? We should never study God’s word in defense mode. Acts 17:11commends people for searching the Scriptures with open minds, not defensive minds. So instead of getting defensive let’s look at what Paul is saying. I find the expression Paul uses being absent from the body and present with Christ similar to the same type expression he makes in Colossians.

For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, Colossians 2:5 NKJV

Paul is simply using a figure of speech as when he says absent from the body is to be present with Christ.

As I read all of 2 Corinthians, I seem to pick up on a theme, and it is not the state of the dead. The theme to me seems to be living in the Spirit as opposed to living in the flesh or the body. In 2 Corinthians 5 that theme is very apparent. For example,

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 NKJV

To me, Paul’s reference to being absent from the body and to be present with Christ is ongoing as we live on this earth. I see it here in Ephesians too.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:4-6 NKJV

To be present with Christ, and to sit together with Him in heavenly places would be the same, and is a currently ongoing process. In all of Paul’s writings he talks about living in the Spirit as opposed to living in the flesh. I see 2 Corinthians 5 as a continuation of his theme. Paul is describing the life in the flesh or body which separates us from Christ, as opposed to living by faith and being present with Christ right here on earth. He goes on in verse 17 and describes a new creation right here on earth.

This leads me back to the point of  Phil’s song, I want to be so close to Jesus now that it is no big change when He comes.  2 Corinthians 5 is teaching us to crucify the flesh, and live with Christ here on earth. Paul strongly hits this point again in Titus.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 NKJV

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 and again in Titus 2:11-14 grace changes us right here on earth in the present age. And it is because of this that we look forward to Jesus’ glorious appearing.

I am in my 50’s now, and to be honest, when I was young I thought I would be a lot more like Jesus by now. I know it’s possible for me to be more like Jesus, because I see people half my age or less, who haven’t known Jesus a fraction of the time I have, and yet they are way so much more like Jesus than I am! But instead of comparing myself to others and getting discouraged I stay focused on Jesus.

forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV

I know Jesus loves me, and I keep my eyes focused on Him as His grace draws me closer to Him day by day. The Scriptures describe how Jesus’ coming will drastically change the world with earthquakes and islands and mountains falling into the sea. But the plan is that it won’t change me much. I left the flesh when I was baptized and crucified to self.The plan is, that long before the second coming it will be seen that every day I am not living in the body or flesh, but in the Spirit as I practice the presence of Jesus. See Romans 6:3-6 and Luke 9:23. My heart is not with my body. My heart is already with Christ. When Jesus comes I will continue in eternity the life Jesus began for me here on earth. Today I want to crucify the flesh and be absent from the body and live with Christ here today as well as in heaven after Jesus comes.

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