Extending Grace to Others

Is there someone to whom you need to show mercy, who perhaps doesn’t deserve it? Why not show this person that mercy, no matter how hard that might be to do? Isn’t that what Jesus has done for us?

After running from God, Jonah had given up on life, and told the men on the boat in the storm to throw him overboard. However God’s grace provided a fish to save his life! God’s grace never gives up on us, even when we give up on ourselves.

On December 2, 1979 Elvita Adams woke up in the Bronx, and decided she had given up on life. She went to the Empire State Building, and went to the 86th floor observation deck and jumped! She was in midair and had nothing to hold on to, but God’s grace was holding on to her! A gust of wind came and threw her inside the 85th floor. She had a full and complete physical and emotional recovery.

When God’s grace miraculously saves us, it usually creates in us a graceful attitude towards others, but not for Jonah. Instead of praising God for His amazing grace Jonah is angry that God is graceful.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Jonah 4:1-2 NKJV

Apparently Jonah did not appreciate the fact that the same grace that saved Nineveh was the same grace that provided a fish to save him. Jonah was given grace, but he did not extend that grace on to others, like Paul, who wrote,

But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Jonah had a wonderful opportunity to go to Nineveh and use himself as an example of what God’s grace can do for the worst of sinners, so they could believe and have eternal life too. Thankfully God’s amazing grace worked in spite of Jonah to save Nineveh instead of because of Jonah.

I heard an old-time Adventist preacher once say that God will finish His work in spite of the church, not because of the church. Let’s not be stingy with God’s grace and force Him to finish the work in spite of us. Let’s extend the grace we have received to others, so God can save others through us instead of in spite of us.

Its Not About Me

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV

Romans 9 is not about Jacob or Esau being predestined for salvation or not. It is about the role they were to play. Some of us are given “greater” roles than others, but we must remember, whatever role we are given, there is a greater picture beyond just us. When life becomes challenging, and things don’t go my way I like to claim Jeremiah 29:11 as a personal promise. I want to believe everything is going to work our for me personally. I read about how David faced challenges, but he always came out on top. But I have to admit, I also read some things in the story of David that disturb my “hope” that everything will work out for me personally. In 1 Samuel 22:18 85 innocent priests become co-lateral victims in the friction between Saul and David. in 2 Samuel 11, Uriah is killed for being loyal to his country! How does the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 apply for Uriah and the priests?

This may shatter the ego of a lot of western minds, but the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 was not given to an individual. It was given to a nation. The western mind loves to internalize the Bible, to the point that we actually believe it is all about us! We love to think that we are living in the last days, (which we are!) because that makes our role pivotal in the Great Controversy. After all, how could God win the Great Controversy without me? I have an important role to play in the church you see! With the game on the line and only seconds left in a basketball play off game, star player Scottie Pippin was outraged when his coach had him on the bench for the final play. There are “Scottie Pippins” in the church today, who cannot imagine God winning the Great Controversy while they just “sit on the bench” or rest in their graves.

Yes, Jesus is a personal Savior, and loves us individually, and would die just for you, but that does not make it all about you. Jesus died for the world. Believe it or not, as much as Jesus really and truly loves you, it still is not all about you, or me. In Exodus 32:32 Moses grasped who it was all about when he asked to have his name blotted from the book of life to save a nation. Had Moses been privy to Jeremiah 29:11 he would not have internalized it and made the promise all about himself. He would have realized the promise was given to a corporate nation. Esther may have very well been familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, when in Esther 4:16 she said, “If I perish I perish.” She was not applying Jeremiah 29:11 to herself. She was applying it to the entire Jewish nation it was given to. She was willing to perish to help fulfill the promise to save the nation.

Paul writes Romans in a corporate mindset, instead of the individualistic western mindset. In Romans 3:23-24 Paul writes how we all have sinned and all been justified. In Romans 5 he writes how we all sinned corporately in Adam, and were all saved corporately in Christ. In Romans 9:3 Paul is looking at the big corporate picture when he writes, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” While pointing out that Jacob and Esau had different roles to play, Paul was willing to be totally written out of the play for the greater good of the nation.

I believe the 85 priests and Uriah, will be in heaven. I believe Esther and Paul will be there too, and obviously Moses already is. After all didn’t Jesus say,

He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 10:39 NKJV

Yes God loves us individually. I am just asking those of us with a western mind to think outside ourselves if we are not already. After a mission trip, my flight home was cancelled. I ended up spending the night, sleeping on the floor in a foreign airport. I asked God why I had to sleep on the floor instead of my nice comfy bed. God asked me, “What makes you think you ever deserved a bed in the first place? People a lot more deserving than you have been sleeping on the floor for years, and you are complaining about one night? Who do you think you are?”

Dear Jesus, I know you love me just as much when I am sleeping on the floor as when I am sleeping in my bed. I know you loved the 85 priests and Uriah as much as you loved David. Forgive me for the times I thought it was all about me, and help me to see the big picture, like Moses, Esther and Paul all saw the big picture. Instead of working for personal prosperity, help me to work for the prosperity of your church.

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

No Condemnation

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1 NKJV

He told her he loved her. Said she was beautiful. Promised her she would be special. Next thing she knew she was being dragged out of bed by the friends of him who had dragged her into bed, and he who had praised and flattered her just stood and watched her being dragged away.

Now she was kneeling half naked, humiliated before Jesus. Eyes closed, not wanting to see the stones that would soon be crushing her head, she waited in terror. It seemed like eternity. When would it be over?

“Woman…”Barely peeking through one eye she sees Jesus doing something in the sand. Not sure what. She hears footsteps as men walk away. What is going on? Then she hears a word she had not heard in years directed at her.

Jesus didn’t call her a “slut,” or “whore.” He called her “woman.” He was addressing her with the same title of respect that He gave to his own mother, who spoke with angels and gave birth to the Son of God.

“….where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” John 8:10 NKJV

She opens her eyes and looks around. They are all gone! She makes no accusations against the men. We know little about the background of this woman. She may or may not have been a victim of sex trafficking. But we do know that, terrified as she was, she was ready to face the consequences without blaming anyone else for the choices she had made, and the role she had played, which now brought her half-naked and humiliated into the presence of Jesus. Yet incredibly, as guilty as she was, it was her accusers who slunk away. As she lay helpless at His feet, there was no one to condemn her! When we fall helplessly at the feet of Jesus, there is no condemnation for us either.

He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10 NKJV)

She said, “No one, Lord.” (John 8:11 NKJV)

What was next? A sermon? A lecture? Nowhere is it recorded, but I can imagine Jesus placing His coat over her near-naked body.

The Holy One Who would be hanging naked on a cross in front of the entire universe one day, takes off His robe and covers this woman, protecting her human dignity more than just covering her sexuality.

He doesn’t preach to her. He ministers to her.

Did you know you don’t have to be a preacher to be a minister? Ministering to sinners doesn’t always have to include a sermon. An-ill timed sermon can do more harm than good. Jesus could preach with the best of them, but He knew when to preach and when not to preach. He also knew when to minister.

He called her “woman.” He placed His coat over her near-naked body and gave her the sense of dignity she had been promised by the man who betrayed her trust. Then He did not preach to her with words, He ministered to her with words.

“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” John 8:11 NKJV

His words were brief and clear, yet somehow we get them mixed up. Have we ever told someone “Go and sin no more, and then I will stop condemning you!” That’s notwhat Jesus said.

Jesus said clearly, “Neither do I condemn you.” Present tense.

“Go and sin no more.” Future tense.

The world told her they would stop condemning her once she stopped sinning. Jesus promised not to condemn her, so she could stop sinning.

They called her a whore and a slut.
Jesus called her a woman.

A man promised her she would be special, and then humiliated and betrayed her.
Jesus gave her dignity back and made her special.

There was no condemnation for this woman at the feet of Jesus, and there is no condemnation for you, when you kneel at the feet of Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1 NKJV

Jesus does not condemn us, so we too may walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh.

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

Religious Toleration

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A while back, I was a member of a church that joined other community churches of various denominations, in a social justice group. The idea was good. They wanted to help homeless people get cell phones, so they could leave a number on job applications. They wanted buses running later at night for people who work various shifts. My first red flag something was not healthy in the group came before one of our meetings, with a city councilman. Our social justice group was instructed by the leader not to applaud or even smile at the councilman until he agreed to all our demands. The message was basically, be ice cold towards him until he does what we want. After we manipulate him, we can make him feel loved and welcomed. To me, this was not social justice. This was bullying! I left the “social justice” group, because it wasn’t very social or just.

This is nothing new. Martin Luther thought he had a just cause for wanting Anabaptists put to death. After all, in his mind they were cutting children off from God by not baptizing them at birth. In his mind Jews were also worthy of death since they rejected Jesus. Luther had a lot of good ideas, but even he was tempted by the reasoning, that a just cause excuses us from being loving and civil to each other. Luther wanted religious tolerance for himself, because he considered his cause just. But he did not exercise tolerance towards those whose causes he did not consider just.

While the Reformers rejected the creed of Rome, they were not entirely free from her spirit of intolerance. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 293

Do we do the same?

While traveling through Samara, James and John did not like the way Jesus was being rejected, so in their religious zeal they offered to call down fire from heaven and burn those Samaritans up! Like Luther and the rest of us, they had a lot to learn about the love of God. Jesus said,

 “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Luke 9:55-56 NKJV

Jesus never condoned sin, but always loved the sinner. Too often we love the sin and hate the sinner!

The same John who wanted to burn up the Samaritans, later realized, “God is love.” 1 John 4:8. Since God is love, I don’t care what you believe or how well you understand the Bible, without love your theology is incorrect! I heard Wintley Phipps say, “Our love for God is no stronger than the love we have for the person we like the least.”

Even Martin Luther and John the Beloved needed to learn how to love. Do you think we still need to learn to love? May God help us all to love!

You may read this week’s SS lesson here.

Overcoming Sexual Sin When You are Single

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I have talked to more than one single Christian, who told me, “When I promised God I would wait until I was married, I figured I would be married by now.” Other singles, even in the church, seem to think no sex before marriage just means no sex while you are a teenager. Age isn’t the issue.

Today there are more and more divorced Christians, and people who have other ambitions, who are putting off marriage until later in life. Being single, I find myself in single circles, where single Christians, both men and women voice their sexual frustration. They are not trying to be provocative or seductive. They are just being real. They want to be Christians, but they are still sexual. We are not made sexual at marriage. We are made sexual at birth.

Being made sexual at birth, how do Christians control sexual appetite until they are married? How do Christian divorced people control their sexual urges? How do Christian widows and widowers satisfy their sexual needs? I don’t imagine after 60 years of healthy sex, that the desire dies when your spouse dies. Does God meet the sexual needs of all these single people?

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 NLT

If it says God will supply all our needs, we have to understand that includes sexual needs of single people. If we can trust God to provide for our financial needs, we can trust Him to provide for our sexual needs as well. We can go to Him and tell Him about all our needs. Then we can trust Him to provide in a way that is best for us. We are familiar with a phrase in Desire of Ages,

Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 330.

Was sex the context here? No. Am I taking things out of context if I say God has a thousand ways to provide for our sexual needs, when we serve and honor God? Maybe, but please hear me out. First, we need to understand that marriage does not guarantee sex. Sadly there are celibate marriages for various reasons we won’t get into here. Having said that, sex does not guarantee intimacy. I once read in a sexual purity book long ago, that some people will have sex to avoid intimacy! Instead of talking and being intimate with their hearts and emotions, they will just be physical to avoid being intimate. Now that’s not good either, because sex should involve intimacy. But here is my point: Many of us think we crave sex when we actually crave intimacy. All sex should be intimate, but not all intimacy has to be sex.

I think we crave healthy relationships more than we crave sex. I think Mary Magdalene found something in Jesus that satisfied her desire for sex, even though it wasn’t sex, and Jesus was the perfect Gentleman with her. I think she found something in Him greater than sex. She found true love and intimacy. She needed true love and intimacy more than she needed sex. So do we.

God does not require us to give up anything that it is for our best interest to retain. In all that He does, He has the well-being of His children in view. Would that all who have not chosen Christ might realize that He has something vastly better to offer them than they are seeking for themselves. –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 46.

I have to believe this passage includes sexual activity. If God has not given you a Christian sex life right now, it is only because He has something vastly better for you right now. He knows all your needs, not just the needs of your bank account. He knows your sexual needs too. He cares for you in all your ways.

The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right. Psalms 84:11 NLT

If sex was good for single people God would give it to them, but sex is not good for single people, which is the only reason He does not give it to them. But love and intimacy is good for single people, and He gives that to them, through church, family, and a personal relationship with Him.

Though I don’t have all the answers, I believe God can supply the sexual needs of His single people, with pure love and intimacy, and a thousand other ways we know nothing about. The solution is to trust God with your sexual needs just like any other need.

Please let me paraphrase a popular passage.

Keep your [sexual] wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the [sexual] wants of His children. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” James 5:11. His heart of love is touched by our [sexual] sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything [including sex] that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our [sexual] peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No [Sexual] calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. “He healeth the [sexually] broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son. -Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 100.

God loves single people just as much as He loves married people, and He makes single people just as happy as married people.  God can appropriately meet the sexual needs of single people as easily as He can meet the sexual needs of married people. Believe in His love, and He will meet all your daily needs.

You can study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here.

Eden Restored

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As a child on family vacations, I loved standing on the ocean’s shore, imagining what lay on the other side. I would watch the waves roll in from who knows how far away. I would see ships sailing for far-away lands that I could only dream about.

After I grew up and became very busy, I was looking at a picture of the ocean and sighed, realizing that I was much too poor and busy to ever see the ocean again. For a while, I was so busy working two jobs that I never even got to enjoy a sunset. I could not see out of the busy rut I was in. Finally one weekend, while living in North Texas, I sneaked down to Galveston for a weekend to see the ocean. It had literally been decades since I had seen the Gulf or ocean, and, for all I knew, it would be the last time. Little did I know, that the next year, God would be moving me to the Gulf coast of Florida!

I now have thousands of ocean sunset pictures that I thought I would never see again!

Have you ever lost something you thought was gone forever, only to find it again?

One of the most romantic things I ever saw my father do for my mother was when she accidentally dropped a beautiful precious collectible plate that shattered into hundreds of pieces. My mother was crying, she was so heartbroken. Dad swept up the hundreds of pieces and took the dustpan into the garage, but he did not throw them into the waste basket. He placed them on his work bench, and over the next few nights carefully glued all the pieces back together. He did a great job! When my dad presented the plate to her, all put back together again, my mother cried tears of joy!

When Adam sinned he lost his precious home. With bitter regret Adam had traded paradise for tears of sorrow. Instead of leisurely enjoying the fruit of the garden, with sweat he worked the cursed ground for his food. As sad as this story is, it has a happy ending!

In another garden, Jesus, the Second Adam, sweat drops of blood as He clung to the cursed ground. Jesus died on a tree if you will, so Adam could have the tree of life back again! Now that I have access to the ocean again, I treasure every moment I am on the beach. I am glad I have the memory of my dad making my mother so happy when he presented her with the once-shattered plate he made whole. But what really gives me Godbumps is realizing one day we will see this:

Transported with joy, he [Adam] beholds the trees that were once his delight–the very trees whose fruit he himself had gathered in the days of his innocence and joy. He sees the vines that his own hands have trained, the very flowers that he once loved to care for. His mind grasps the reality of the scene; he comprehends that this is indeed Eden restored, more lovely now than when he was banished from it. The Saviour leads him to the tree of life and plucks the glorious fruit and bids him eat. He looks about him and beholds a multitude of his family redeemed, standing in the Paradise of God. Then he casts his glittering crown at the feet of Jesus and, falling upon His breast, embraces the Redeemer. He touches the golden harp, and the vaults of heaven echo the triumphant song, “Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and lives again!” The family of Adam take up the strain and cast their crowns at the Saviour’s feet as they bow before Him in adoration. -Ellen White, Adventist Home, Page 541

Thanks to Jesus, our Second Adam, all the damage the first Adam caused has been totally undone! Adam’s dream, once shattered, will be handed back to him whole. Eden will be restored more lovely than it even was before!

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

Saved by His Life

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s lesson asks,

How successful have your efforts in law-keeping been? What should that answer tell you about the futility of trying to be saved by keeping the law?

What if I told you that just as assuredly as you already sinned in Adam, you have also already lived a perfect life in Christ?

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 NKJV

Paul is not merely saying Adam’s sin caused us all to sin. He is saying we all sinned in Adam when Adam sinned. It’s the same idea Paul was using in Hebrews 7:5 when he said Levi paid tithes in Abraham since he was in Abraham’s loins when Abraham paid tithe. Likewise, we were all in Adam when Adam sinned, causing us all to sin in Abraham. Romans 5:19 goes on to say that we are all made righteous by one man’s obedience.

How so? After we all sinned in Adam, Jesus became one with our flesh,

Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh…Romans 1:3 NKJV

Since the wages of sin is death, (Romans 6:23) Jesus took our sinful flesh to the cross, where we all died the death we deserve in Christ.

by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh…Romans 8:3 NKJV

What has happened so far? We all sinned in Adam, and deserved death. Jesus took our sinful flesh and went to the cross. Therefore our sinful flesh was crucified with Christ. The wages of sin is death, and I died that death with Christ.

knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him…Romans 6:6 NKJV

So I have died the death I deserve in Christ. I still need a perfect life but fall short of God’s glory. See Romans 3:23.  Here is the good news! Just assuredly as I died in Christ I have also lived a perfect life in Christ. Jesus did not only die for me, He died as me. Jesus also did not only live a perfect life for me, He lived a perfect life as me! I am not only saved by His death. I am saved by His life!

much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:10 NKJV

I don’t have a perfect life to offer, but Jesus’ perfect life counts as my perfect life! Jesus is not cheating when He credits His perfect life as my perfect life, because He took my flesh and lived a perfect life with my flesh, just as Abraham paid tithes with Levi’s flesh.

The good news is, when I accept Jesus I am accepting way more than just forgiveness. When I accept the life of Jesus the power of His life becomes the power of my life!

…reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Romans 6:11-12 NKJV.

Thus Jesus’ life is my justification and sanctification! I am saved by His life!

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