Conservative Towards Ourselves, Liberal Towards Others

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Monday’s section of this week’s lesson reads,

Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Try placing your name where the word “love” appears. How well does it fit? Ask Jesus to bring these qualities of love into your life by His Spirit. What changes might the Spirit prompt you to make in order to reach this Christian ideal?

I heard of this idea several years ago, and now whenever I am asked to perform a wedding ceremony, I always include 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. I read it twice, The first time I replace the word love with the groom’s name, and the second time I replace it with the bride’s name. It always brings smiles to the  bride and groom as well as the entire wedding party. Still I trust the Holy Spiriting is impressing the sacredness of love upon their hearts.

For some reason, what seems to bring more smiles than anything else is the part in 1 Cor 13:5 where it says in several versions that love keeps no record of being wronged. Now remember, God is love. So we can just as easily replace the word love with the word “God” and get an accurate description of God. But doesn’t God keep a record of all of our wrongs? Let’s let Scripture answer that.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you. Psalm 130:3-4 NLT

Remember resurrection morning when the angels told the women in Mark 16:7, to tell Peter  as well as the others that Jesus would meet them in Galilee? Peter had denied He even knew Jesus just a few nights before, but apparently Jesus didn’t have any record of that in His heart. For the sake of unity Paul pleads with us to have the same attitude with others.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:13 NLT

Make allowances for each other’s faults? But what about character development? What about Bible standards? First, forgiveness is a Bible standard and should be included in our own character development. Second, Jesus gave us an example of being conservative towards ourselves while being liberal towards others. In other words hold yourself to a higher standard while cutting everyone else some slack. Jesus was conservative towards Himself when he fasted 40 days in the wilderness, but we was liberal towards others when He fed the multitudes. Jesus was conservative towards Himself while He prayed all evening in Gethsemane, but He was liberal towards the disciples when they fell asleep while praying. Jesus could have been hard on them and still spoken truth had He told them, “Hey, I have come down here in the same flesh you have, so if I can pray without falling asleep so can you!” According to Romans 8:3 that statement would have been exactly true!

He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. Romans 8:3 NLT

But as true as such a statement would have been, instead of condemning them for not being like Him, He sought to excuse them by saying, “For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” See Matthew 26:41.

Paul endorses this idea of being conservative towards ourselves while being liberal towards others. We’ve seen in Colossians 3:13 how he says to make allowances for each other’s faults, which is being liberal towards others. Then, in Romans Paul says,

Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14 NLT

Paul is teaching us to make allowances for the fault’s of others while not indulging in sin ourselves. Conservative towards ourselves, liberal towards others. This attitude of keeping no record of the wrongs of others, while reaching a higher standard for ourselves, is not just for grooms and brides. Its for children and parents, and brothers and sisters, and cousins and neighbors. We have all heard, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” What happy homes and churches we can have if we will all shred those records of other people’s mistakes, and be liberal towards others, while being conservative towards ourselves!

Sleeping in While Jesus Knocks at the Door

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While this week’s lesson mentions Song of Solomon, a passage comes to my mind from chapter 5, that maybe should be compared with Jesus knocking on the heart’s door of the church of Laodicea. Most of us are familiar with this passage in Revelation:

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Revelation 3:20 NLT

We are familiar with Revelation, borrowing imagery from the Old Testament. Christ’s message in Revelation 3 is to His beloved church.  Song of Solomon could be a metaphor of Christ’s love for His church. In Song of Solomon 5 we find a man possibly representing Christ knocking at a woman’s door, and we all know a woman represents the church throughout the Bible. Could this passage be a sad ending to the scene in Revelation?

I slept, but my heart was awake, when I heard my lover knocking and calling: “Open to me, my treasure, my darling, my dove, my perfect one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.” But I responded, “I have taken off my robe. Should I get dressed again? I have washed my feet. Should I get them soiled?” My lover tried to unlatch the door, and my heart thrilled within me. I jumped up to open the door for my love, and my hands dripped with perfume. My fingers dripped with lovely myrrh as I pulled back the bolt. I opened to my lover, but he was gone! My heart sank. I searched for him but could not find him anywhere. Song of Solomon 5:2-6 NLT

By, “I Slept, but my heart was awake,” many take this to be a dream. The woman hesitates to open the door, and apparently hesitates too long, as by the time she opens the door, the dream turns into a nightmare as her lover is gone. The seventy weeks of Daniel 9, tell us God knocked on the door of Israel’s heart for 490 years. The stoning of Stephen in A.D. 34 as a nation Israel closed the door on Jesus. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus seems to cry over Jerusalem as they closed the door on His love. If Laodicea represents the last day church, then we have examples of the 5 foolish virgins in Matthew 25 being locked outside the wedding. While a whore represents the apostate church in Revelation, a virgin represents Christ’s remnant people. (See Revelation 14:4). So the parable in Matthew 25 is about the remnant church, and five of them are foolish and locked outside of the wedding feast.

Let’s not be lulled into a fatal false sense of security. The dream which turned into a nightmare in Song of Solomon may be a wake up call. In Song of Solomon the woman finds her lover gone when she left the door closed while she was sleeping. In Matthew 25,five virgins find the door closed because they slept. Belonging to the right church is not enough. If we are asleep in the remnant church then we might as well just be asleep anywhere. Sleeping in the remnant church won’t save you. While God loved and cherished His Old Testament Church they still had some pretty severe wake calls, like their captivity in Babylon for just one example. While Jesus loves and cherishes His Remnant last day church, we too have had some severe wake up calls. The burning of the Review and Herald in 1902 for just one example.

The five wise virgins were not welcomed into the wedding feast just because they were virgins, or the remnant church. They were welcomed because they woke up. They had their lanterns or Bibles, and they had their oil which was the Holy Spirit. I am a 5th generation Adventist. My family Adventist heritage goes back to the beginning of Adventism. My great grandparents, who were 2nd generation Adventists were married in Uriah Smith’s home in Battle Creek. They would have met Ellen White had she not been in Australia at the time, but my great aunt did meet Ellen White. But my Adventist heritage means nothing. Being 5th generation Adventist does not get me or my family anywhere. If I am going to boast about anything, rather than boasting that I am 5th generation Adventist, I should boast that my family has always known and loved Jesus, probably well beyond 5 generations!

But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken! Jeremiah 9:24 NLT

Song of Solomon 5 is about a nightmare that could happen to us, but definitely does not have to happen to us. Let’s wake up now and answer the door to God’s love!

What if I Told You Life is not About Being Married?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” Revelation 19:9 NKJV

I talk to people right along, and I am sure you do too, who are very lonely, isolated and feeling unfulfilled in their marriages. You might think such experiences would make me feel validated in my singleness but they don’t. Jesus validates me, without comparing me to others. Jesus wants married people to be just as happy as single people, and so do I. But what if I told you marriage was never designed to bring fulfillment? What if I told you marriage is not the goal in life? What if I told you, rather than making you fulfilled, marriage was designed to point you to the God who brings fulfillment? What if I told you marriage only points you to the real goal in life, which is the marriage of Christ to His church at the second coming?

I believe that is the point Jesus was making In Matthew 22. Some rulers tried to trick Jesus by asking him about marriage in heaven. Jesus said there would be no marriage in heaven. Why? I suppose because everything marriage ever pointed to will be fulfilled. Christ and His church will be married.

But wasn’t marriage the goal when God said, “It is not good for man to be alone?”  I believe God was implying something vastly greater than marriage. He was implying a community for Adam. Of course by nature and design that had to start with Eve and marriage. But marriage was a means to the goal which was a greater community. When people tell me that they can worship God at home and don’t need to go to church, I tell them God disagrees. Adam had God when God said Adam should not be alone. Obviously even God recognized He was not enough for Adam. Adam needed community and so do we. That is why we should not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together.”

Marriage is not the goal for intimacy or the cure for loneliness.  As a matter of fact we miss out on many forms of companionship and intimacy by believing marriage is the goal in life that brings fulfillment. When David’s best friend Johnathon died, David cried,

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me; Your love to me was wonderful, Surpassing the love of women. 2 Samuel 1:26 NKJV

Now we know from all of David’s wives and concubines, including his escapade with Bathsheba, that David was very much heterosexual. So what did he mean by saying his love for Jonathan surpassed his love for women? He meant there was a level of intimacy with Jonathan that went deeper than sex and romance. David’s love for Jonathan was deep and intimate but had absolutely nothing to do with sex. It’s sad that we live in a world that thinks sex and romance is the only kind of love there is. We see it in all the love songs we hear on the radio. Very seldom do we hear a love song about anything other than a sexual relationship. The idea that sex and marriage is the only kind of love there is places undo stress on the marriage relationship, expecting it to meet and fulfill our needs that God and community were meant to fulfill. It also makes us miss out on all the other loves and meaningful relationships that are meant to fill our lives.

The idea that life is all about being married and is the goal in life is an unhealthy idea for both married people as well as singles. It makes a god out of your spouse by expecting your spouse to meet all of your needs and fulfill you. Philippians 4:19 says God supplies all of our needs, not a spouse. God supplies all of our needs regardless if we are married or single. God’s love is too great to be experienced by sex and marriage alone. Marriage is too small to teach us everything about God’s love. It takes community.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Enjoy all the Days of Your Life

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

But the godly will flourish like palm trees…..Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. Psalm 92:12-14 NLT

When I was young I was inspired by John Kennedy, because he was the most youthful U.S. president, and he showed what younger people can do. Now that I am older, I am inspired by Ronald Reagan, because he showed us what older people can do.

When I was 19 I was invited to join a home Bible study group. Everyone else was in their mid twenties to early forties. As well as studying the Bible together we did a lot of social activities, and as a 19 year old I thought it was cool that people in their twenties and even forties would hang out with me. Over thirty years later, I found myself at a restaurant, eating nachos with one of my college age Bible study groups, and I thought it was cool that people in their early twenties will hang out with someone in his fifties!

Its funny how our perspective changes as life changes. Many people fear getting older. I don’t. Long before I turned 50 a few years ago, a few people in their 70’s and 80’s told me the 50’s were the best years of their life. There are three reasons to love being in your 50’s. 1. People take you seriously. 2. Usually you are financially solid by 50. 3. Most people in their 50’s are still in reasonably good health. Some joke that while 50 is the new 30, 9 pm is the new midnight. It is true that in my early twenties whenever I would have a Bible study finish early in the evening, I would run over to the baseball stadium to catch the rest of the game. Today whenever a Bible study finishes early in the evening, I think, “Great! I can get to bed early tonight!” Sometimes I will force myself to do things I used to do, just to prove to myself that I am still young.

There are other advantages to growing older. Having worked with so many different churches and conferences over the years I know a lot of people. My friends list keeps growing. A couple of years ago when I had to evacuate Florida for a hurricane, there were several families between Texas and Tennessee that let me know their homes were open for me. As you get older you get wiser in choosing your friends, and over the years you have more friends to choose from. Also as more young faces appear in my life, I have more people to share my old stories with, who have not already heard them a hundred times. By the way, when an older person tells you the same story a hundred times, it is not because he forgot he already told you. It is because he gets to relive it every time he tells the story.

Speaking of younger faces, I have found working in the education field that everyone likes working with young people whether it is coaching and teaching, or just coming to school one day on career day to talk to kids about their career. I believe we all find hope for ourselves by believing we are making a positive difference in a young person’s life. Also kids keep us full of life. I remember a few months after my mother died, I was visiting family, which of course made me think of my mother. I left the visit to go join the 5th and 6th grade class from the school I worked with at an outdoor ed camp. While driving I became very sad thinking about my mother. I told myself once I got to the camp and was surrounded by youthful 5th and 6th-graders their presence would cheer me up and I would be happy again. Sure enough that is what happened. Those kids had no clue how they helped me overcome my grief!

Two thousand years ago, Mary, a young girl, probably around 14, was told by an angel she was having a baby. She went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who was on the other side of the child-bearing age margin, but was also with child. Their visit must have been very meaningful as Mary’s youth must have inspired aging Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s experience must have inspired a very young Mary. They both needed each other. Today we all need each other. We should not be afraid of growing old. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago. Psalm 23 tells us God’s goodness and mercy follows us all the days of our life. As a youthful Kennedy and an aging Reagan have both inspired my life, we all need both young and old people in our lives. What is more, whether we are old or young, people need us in their lives. Enjoy your youth. Enjoy your old age. Enjoy all the days of your life!

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

All the Days of my Life

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; Psalm 23:6 NKJV

This week’s Sabbath School lesson is about the seasons of life.

“A time to be born, And a time to die; Ecclesiastes 3:2 NKJV

Several years ago, I was talking to a friend who recently lost her mother. I had not lost my mother yet, so while being concerned for my friend, I also had my own reasons to see how she was dealing with her loss. I always had this fear that when my mother died I would just curl up in a little ball and lay there till I died too. I asked my friend how she found the will to continue with her life. Her response was unique. She smiled, almost shrugging her shoulders, she said, “My mother lived her life without me before I was born. I can live my life without her now that she is gone.” I had never heard a response like that before, but I realized she was right.

Reading this you may think it sounds heartless, but I assure you my friend was not being heartless at all. She was being real and practical. From the day of her birth till the die she died, God’s goodness and mercy was with my friend’s mother all the days of her life. Even before she had a family, God’s goodness and mercy was with my friend’s mother just as much as when she had a family. She enjoyed her life, and every day had purpose with or without a family. God’s goodness and mercy is also with my friend all the days of her life. My friend’s life is filled with purpose the days following her mother’s death just as much as the days which she had a mother. When I am preaching at a funeral I always assure the family that God’s goodness and mercy followed their loved one all the days of his or her life, and I assure them that now that their loved one is resting, God’s goodness and mercy will follow them all the days of their life as well, and not just the days that they had their loved one alive.

Its been almost three years now since I did indeed lose my own mother. I wrote a post for SSNET the week my mother died, and I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciated all the heartwarming comments that followed! I was surprised that I could even write that week. I was surprised I did not curl up in a little ball and lay there till Jesus came. I was surprised how my life continued. A couple weeks later, after my sermon, a friend commented that she was surprised I could preach so well right after losing my mother. I was just as surprised as she was, but I realized the obvious. As much as I dearly loved my mother, when she died, the reason I did not curl up in a little ball and die with her was because I live for Jesus!

My life continues because I continue living for Jesus. His mercy and goodness follow me all the days of my life. While my mother was living I lived for Jesus. Now that she is resting I live for Jesus. Every day has purpose. My mother would tell me wonderful stories about when she was younger before I was born. I loved hearing her stories. When I meet her again in heaven, I will be telling her wonderful stories about my life while she was resting. When we compare her wonderful stories about her life before I was born, and the wonderful stories about my life while she was resting, we will both joyfully proclaim, God’s goodness and mercy were with both of us all the days of our life! 

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

Good News for a Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked Church!

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Picture it. Wewoka Woods, July, Oklahoma Adventist Conference Camp meeting 1992. I had planned on going down for the day, but some friends encouraged me to stay the night in a tent they had available next to theirs. When I went to lay down on the cot, my friends offered me blankets. I told them no one needs blankets in Oklahoma during July. Well guess what? Come three in the morning it gets cold in Oklahoma in July! While shivering on a cot at 3 am I realized why Jesus said,

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. Revelation 3:15 NKJV

When I was cold I wanted to go get a blanket and change my situation. As I laid there shivering I sensed my need. Lukewarm people don’t sense their need of anything. They have no desire to change their situation.

But how can we be lukewarm when Jesus knows we have good works? When we do good deeds for others it “warms” their hearts. Malachi 4:2 talks about the Sun of righteousness. The Bible likens righteous deeds with heat. In John 3:19 as well as other places, the Bible likens evil to darkness, which without light or heat is cold. I go and see grandma in the nursing home every week and that is good. That is hot. But the only reason I go is to make sure I’m in her will, which is dark and cold. So in the end, after seeing grandma I am just lukewarm, and my hypocrisy makes Jesus so sick He wants to throw up! See Revelation 3:16.

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. Revelation 3:17-18 NKJV

Why does Jesus say to buy the gold and white garments? Isn’t salvation free? Jesus is referring to the bartering system.  He wants us to trade in our self-righteousness which makes Him want to throw up, in exchange for His robe of righteousness. He wants to take self out of righteousness since it is self that makes righteousness lukewarm. Lukewarm is not the absence of good works. It is the presence of self.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20 NKJV

Its hard to sense our need of Jesus when we are full of ourselves. But if we find our self-righteousness unappetizing, and hunger and thirst for Jesus’ righteousness (See Matthew 5:6) He will come into our hearts and dine with us and feed us His own righteousness.

Remember the door in heaven, in the message to Philadelphia? That door was open. Heaven’s doors are wide open. But when Jesus comes to Laodicea, He finds a heart that has works, but is so full of self it has locked Jesus out! Heaven’s door is open but Laodicea’s door is closed. When Jesus came to earth He was born in a stable because there was no room for Him in the inn. Later Jesus tells us there is plenty of room for everyone in His Father’s house. (See Luke 2:7 and John 14:1-3). Heaven has plenty of room. Heaven has an open door. If we are lost it’s because we had no room for Jesus and our heart’s door was closed.

Jesus hasn’t given up on Laodicea. He hasn’t given up on us! He has high expectations for His lukewarm, poor, miserable, blind and naked church!

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Revelation 3:21 NKJV

Working at UPS one day, my supervisor got frustrated about a mistake I made and berated me. He made me feel like I was useless and about to get fired, when he turned around and said something that gave me hope! He said, “You may think I am overreacting by getting so upset about this, but when you become a supervisor, you will understand why I got so upset.” In the middle of censoring me, he told me he expected me to get promoted. In the same message Jesus calls His people poor, wretched, miserable, blind and naked, He also talks about them overcoming just as He overcame!” Jesus encourages all of the 7 churches to overcome, but the church that represents the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, He expects to overcome “as I also overcame.”

There is wonderful news for a wretched, poor, miserable, blind, and naked church that recognizes it is cold and needs a Savior. Jesus stands at the door of your heart. Open the door. Give Him your rags, which only make you lukewarm and still leave you naked. He will clothe you with His robe of righteousness, so you won’t have to be cold, miserable and naked any longer. Heaven’s door is open. There is plenty of room. What do you say?

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

An Open Door No One Can Close

What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open: “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. Revelation 3:7-8 NLT

The church of Philadelphia represents the church that found the open door into the Most Holy Place in 1844.  This church also found a book open that had previously been sealed.

But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end. Daniel 12:9 NLT

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. And in his hand was a small scroll[book] that had been opened. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. Revelation 10:1-2 NLT

If the details in Revelation 10 follow the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1840 in Revelation 9, then the time period is around 1844, when the book of Daniel became an open book and the time of the end began.  Revelation 10:4 says that John was getting ready to write something down that the Thunders spoke, but was told not to write it.

What did they say and why was he told not to write it down? Obviously I have no clue for sure! But I do have an idea. In Revelation 10:8-10 John is told to eat a book that tasted sweet in his mouth but turned bitter in his stomach. Many believe that refers to the great disappointment in 1844 when people misunderstood that Jesus was coming to earth instead of going into the Most Holy Place ministry which had just begun. I wonder if the Thunders told John about the great disappointment, but he was told not to write it down? If I happen to be right, why would they tell him not to warn everybody so they wouldn’t be so disappointed? Because some things have to be learned by experience. Sometimes we have to experience problems personally so we can work out the solution clearly in our minds and see why that is the solution.

Most math books have some or all of the answers in the back. But it is not enough to just write the answer down. The teacher wants to see your work. She doesn’t just want you to know the answer, she wants you to write out and work out the problem so you know why it is the answer. The Bible tells us Jesus is the answer, but we encounter problems in life so we can know why Jesus is the answer. God wanted his precious church represented by Philadelphia to work out the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation so they would know by experience what the answer is, instead of just reading what the answer is.

Now back to the open door. While many believe the door is the door into the Most Holy Place, other scholars point at doors of evangelism that were open in those days. The American Bible Society was opened in the early 1800’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of all places! Publishing and spreading sacred literature became easier during this time. Add to this that when Jesus said, “what he opens no one can close, and what he closes no one can open,” I don’t think that applied to just one door. I think that is true about any door. If anyone has ever closed a door of opportunity on you, you can be sure of this, Jesus never opened it for you! If He had opened it for you no one would have been able to close it. No matter how things turn out for us we can be sure that man does not control our destiny. The same hands that were nailed to the cross and turned around and opened the seven seals holds our destiny.

It is also interesting that the church of Philadelphia is shown an open door in heaven, yet later when Jesus comes to the church of Laodicea He finds a closed door. If we are lost it won’t be because Jesus would not open heaven’s door. Heaven’s door is open. If we are lost it will only be because we would not open our heart’s door to Jesus. Next time we will take a look at the message to Laodicea.

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