Grace and Addiction

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

You may listen to the podcast version here.

People often insinuate that we had the law in the Old Testament but found grace in the New Testament. Fact is, the law and grace co-exist in both the Old and New Testaments.

“And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Genesis‬ ‭15:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If we are saved by faith in the New Testament, why keep the law? For the same reason they kept the law in the Old Testament while they were saved by faith alone. We have the law in both the Old and New Testaments, while salvation is by faith alone in both the Old And New Testaments. Grace and faith were not new to the New Testament. And the law was not done away with in the New Testament.

“Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” Romans‬ ‭3:31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We cannot assume we can continue in sin just because we are saved by grace, any more than I can assume I can continue living under water without air after being saved from drowning. If I am saved from drowning, that means I am saved from being under water without air.

Grace saves us from sinful living.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:11-14 NLT

I have heard statements condemning “cheap grace” and the idea that grace makes us free to continue willfully sinning. However I don’t think any of us wants “cheap grace.” I don’t believe we want to break God’s heart by continuing sinful addictions. I believe most of us want freedom from sinful addictions, because we love Jesus. Here is the good news. Grace breaks sinful addictions. Before I go into that, let me say this. A few years ago I went to my regular Bible study with a young man who had overcome a sinful addiction. He was very upset because after several good months he had a relapse. He was beyond discouraged, thinking he had out sinned God’s grace. I shared with him how Psalm 51:17 tells us God will never despise a broken and contrite heart. The number of times that heart has been broken or contrite before does not matter. God will never despise a broken and contrite heart, no matter how many times sin has broken that heart before. That is good news.

May I share some more Good news?  A few years ago I was walking in a nearby park. The park had a path for those fighting cancer. Every few feet there was a marker with an inspirational quote on how to cope with cancer. I remember one marker had a quote that simply read, “There are people who have survived every form of cancer.” Those simple words gives hope to everyone who has been diagnosed with any type of cancer. There are people who have survived the most deadly of cancers. Titus 2:14 reads, “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin.” You may be struggling with an addiction that is overwhelmingly embarrassing to you. Don’t despair. Jesus has freed people from every kind of sin.

Grace produces obedience. 

Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience….Romans 1:5 NKJV

A preacher from the General Conference office (sorry I forget his name) was preaching years ago at an Oklahoma camp meeting. He told the story about how he was going to a breakfast diner before work one morning and saw an empty parking space close to the restaurant. He also saw a car coming from the other direction towards the same space. His first reaction was to step on the gas and get int here before the other car could. However, he explained that He had submitted himself to Jesus that morning. Instead he eased off the gas, let the other car take the space as he parked much farther away. When he entered the restaurant the man who got the closer space was waiting to be seated. He thanked the preacher for letting him have the closer parking space. The preacher told him, “That wasn’t me.”  The man inquired, “Then who was it?” The preacher replied, “It was Jesus. I would have taken the closer parking space!”  Galatians 2:20 tells us it is Jesus who lives in us and does all the good things. It is not us.  Salvation by grace is a practical salvation, where grace gives us real and practical obedience.

Grace gives us good works. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

In the  90’s I watched a documentary by Oprah Winfrey on child abuse. Abuse victims gave their testimonies. In many cases their abuser had been abused as a child. In several cases the abuser was a “pillar” in the church. I observed that this epidemic was handed down from generation to generation even in the church. Around this time I had seen bumper stickers reading, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I wondered if that alone was really good news. If Christians are only forgiven, that means the child abuse epidemic is doomed to continue from generation to generation in the church. But God’s grace can free us from the cycle of abuse. It does not have to continue from generation to generation in the church. The same documentary had a story about a girl who was abused by her father. The father had served his sentence and had been rehabilitated to the point that he and his daughter were enjoying a healthy relationship. Now I have to be honest. Even though I share this, I believe the vast majority of abuse victims will never be safe around their former abusers until we are inside the pearly gates. I discourage abuse victims from going back to their abusers, and I cringe when they do so. However, this one story in the documentary showed a young woman, who was abused as a little girl by her father, holding her father’s hands, smiling naturally and comfortably as they talked about his recovery and the total reconciliation of their relationship. By grace Christians are more than just forgiven. By grace we are saved from a sinful lifestyle. By grace Jesus lives His obedient life of Good works through us.

You can study today’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

The Word of God in Action in the Flesh

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area

Three weeks ago I was writing about how our community service centers provide practical ways for us to worship God, and serve the community. Currently, I have a group Bible study with several of our friends in the Homosassa Florida community, while they wait to get their food at the Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist Church’s food pantry on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Not everyone who comes for food chooses to join my Bible study, and that is totally okay. But you know what? They all get a Bible study anyway. When they meet our community service volunteers, who are full of Jesus’ grace they are seeing God’s Word in action in the flesh.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NKJV

Every place where Jesus spread grace and truth He was spreading the Word of God. He was the Word of God in action in the flesh. I believe I can say, that when people meet our community service volunteers it is like meeting Jesus. Paul says that by having the love of Christ, we too can be filled with all the fulness of God.

to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19 NKJV

Satan wanted to have God’s power but he did not want to have God’s self-sacrificing love and character. Of course we cannot be God. That is not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that we can be filled with God’s love and self-sacrificing character. When we are emptied of self, and filled with the grace and truth of Jesus, our works themselves will be the Word of God in action in the flesh.

Most assuredly, I say to you, 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

Jesus says,

Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Luke 17:33 NLJV

Of course Jesus is talking about being empty of self in this life so we can have eternal life. I believe Dorcas is the perfect illustration of Jesus’ teaching on this point. Keep in mind, In the New Testament no mention is every made of a priest or elder be raised back to life, but we do see a selfless community service leader who was totally empty of self raised back to life.

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.  But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.  And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them.  Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.  But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.  Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. Acts 9:36-41 NKJV

I remember when I was a child, Seventh-day Adventist Churches named their community services centers after Dorcas, and they were called Dorcas buildings. Like Dorcas (Dorcas means gazelle in English), community services volunteers demonstrate to the community the love and compassion of Jesus today. Through community services centers we see a practical demonstration of the very essence God’s Word. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing practical services for the community, this is the one branch of the church the community would most obviously miss if the church were to disappear. More than that, our community service programs may very well be the most accurate picture the church portrays of God and His Word.

I know we are not saved by works. I realize many a hard worker has died at an early age. Still, I wonder if Dorcas was such a wise steward of her time and blessed so many people in the community, demonstrating God’s Word in action in the flesh, that God felt it necessary to extend her life? High priests, apostles, pastors and head elders have never been raised from the dead yet, but God raised a humble community services center worker back to life. That tells me community services workers have a very special place in God’s heart! Thank you to all of you who minister to the community at your local Seventh-day Adventist Community Service Centers!

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

Abigail and the Least of These

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay Area.

A couple of years ago, the divorced mother of a young girl I was studying with for baptism called me. Her daughter had a piano recital that Sunday afternoon and her father was going to be a no-show, as usual. The mother shared that it would mean a lot if I could be there. I dropped what I was doing and ran to the recital. Sure, the daughter was happy to see me, but when a daddy rejects his little girl, it leaves a hole in her heart that an entire village will never fill. There are private wounds that a million public accomplishments will never heal. 

I can’t read David’s heart, but if he was anything like the rest of us, I’m sure he had a private wound in his heart. The prophet Samuel came to the house to anoint someone in David’s family as king, and Jesse, the father, invited everyone but David. You can read about it in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. Wow! David’s dad invites everyone but him. Talk about rejection. When Samuel passes over the other brothers and asks Jesse if there are anymore, look at the father’s response. 

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.” 1 Samuel 16:11 NLT 

That “but” might as well have been a “never mind. He is out in the fields watching the sheep and goats. That’s all he’s good for. That’s why I didn’t bother inviting him.” Its not like someone else could not have watched the sheep for the family so David could have been invited to meet the prophet with his family. Rejection. Rejection by your own dad and brothers. Yes, Samuel calls for him and anoints him as king. God did not reject David and neither did the prophet. To a little girl at a piano recital, smiling while the crowd cheers, the clapping sounds hollow as she listens for her daddy’s missing applause. Just so, David had a prophet who believed in him, and he would one day hear the crowds singing, “David has slain his tens of thousands!” But that would never drown out the screams of REJECTION! My own father and brothers did not even include me in the family meeting. I’m just a worthless shepherd boy to them. 

Maybe the private hurt and rejection explains why David wanted to  react with such bitter revenge against Nabal’s rejection. While running from Saul, David hears the news of Samuel’s death. Samuel believed in David even when his own family did not, Now Samuel is gone.  Saul the king is out to kill David. His own family rejected him. Samuel, the one person who believed in David is gone now. David could be struggling with insecurities right now. Yes he stood tall and strong before Goliath. I am not saying David lost faith. What I am saying is, that while we all stand strong as we do our duties for God, there can still be a hole in our heart that no one can fill, except for the loved one who never filled it. That one single hole in the heart of a mighty conqueror makes him no stranger to rejection and insecurities. And while all of this is going on, David sends his men to ask Nabal for some food, and this was Nabal’s response,

“Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters.  Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” 1 Samuel 25:10 -11NLT 

Samuel, the one who believed in David is gone, and Nabal slaps David in the face with rejections and insecurities. “Who is this David?” He’s a nobody! Just like his father suggested when he told Samuel he was not invited to the family meeting because all he was good for was watching sheep. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is?” Sounds like David’s brothers in 1 Samuel 17:28. When David was ready to fight Goliath, they told him to go back and watch those few sheep. Who do you think you are? You’re not even that great of a shepherd, which is why we only left you a few sheep to watch. Go back to where you came from. You are not wanted here. Uninvited. Uninvited to family meetings. Uninvited to the battle. Uninvited to anything that matters! And Nabal confirms all those rejections and insecurities haunting David’s heart. David is once again uninvited! This time to Nabal’s home. 

So when David declares he is gong to kill all of Nabal’s men, it wasn’t just one rejection that set David off like that. It was probably a life time of rejections all adding up until he just couldn’t take it any more. I know I am showing you the side of a mighty warrior you may have never seen before. David stood like a man before Goliath, but speaking for all men, I know there are times we feel like a little boy inside, no matter how tall we stand before the rest of the world. Why would it be any different with David? Elijah stood tall before the Baal worshipers and then ran away from the queen like a little boy. I have been a boy and now I am a man, and I can tell you, there is a man inside every little boy and there is a little boy inside every man. And when David meets with Nabal’s condescending rejection, I believe it was the voice of a very hurt little boy that said, 

May God strike me and kill me if even one man of his household is still alive tomorrow morning!” 1 Samuel 25:22 NLT 

David and Nabal’s egos are both flaring out of control. How is God going to solve this when both men are mad beyond reason? Enter Abigail, Nabal’s wife, God’s perfect solution. You see, Abigail is a woman. Later when Haman’s ego was out of control and countless Jews were about to be destroyed, God sent a woman to save the day.Esther, a  woman with no ego, whom God brought in for such a time as this, to save the Jewish race by putting her ego aside and saying, “If I perish I perish.” Now, right here in 1 Samuel 25, God is using a woman to save the day as well as lives! Just like in Esther’s day, Abigail uses the same humility as Esther to diffuse two egos that are about to explode. 

Look how Abigail heals David’s ego. 

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him. 1 Samuel 25:23 NLT

Abigail showed respect. She didn’t treat David like some outlaw bandit as Nabal suggested. She respected him as the new king of Israel. 

She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say. 1 Samuel 25:24 NLT 

Abigail forsook her ego and took all the blame on herself so she could be  a peacemaker. By looking like the fool in the situation, which she wasn’t, she saved David from making himself into a fool. She also saved the lives or her husband and his men. By making herself look like an idiot she was the hero! 

The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles. And you have not done wrong throughout your entire life. 1 Samuel 25:28 NLT

Abigail confirms the dynasty of David’s kingdom. He is not a runaway shepherd boy as Nabal and his brothers and even father insinuated. He is a king. Samuel is not the only one who believes in him. 

Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch! But the lives of your enemies will disappear like stones shot from a sling! 1 Samuel 25:29 NLT 

I love this woman! She knows all the right things to say. David is running from Saul, and while Saul’s attacks and Nabal’s rejection makes him feel insecure, Abigail tells him his kingdom is secure! He is established!  I love her reference to the stones and sling. She is reminding David of his great victories. In the story she feeds David some food. He is invited! But more than feeding his stomach food, she feeds his insecure heart with confidence! 

Abigail will hear the words, from Jesus, “When I was hungry you fed me.” She will hear Jesus say, “When you did it for one of the least of these,” (and at that point David probably felt like the least of all his brothers), “you have done it for me.” 

But as I said at the beginning. There are  private wounds that a million public accomplishments will never heal. A little girl playing the piano for a pleased crowd would rather be playing alone for her daddy instead. A shepherd boy whom everyone hails as a king, except his own daddy who thinks the only thing you can do is watch a few sheep, is hurting. Public accomplishments will never heal those wounds, but God will! I know God will because David himself said, 

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. Psalm 147:3 NLT 

Abigail ministered to a man who felt rejected like a dog, and was the least of these in his family and possibly even nation. Turned out she was ministering to a king, and that is how she saw him. When we reach out to the least of these around us let’s do so as if we were ministering for a king. If we do, we will one day be thanked by the King of Kings. 

You may study this week’s lesson here. ssnet.org

Why You Can’t Go Home Again, And Don’t Really Need to

While some folks say, things aren’t what they used to be, I say, yes, but they never were what they are now.

I am a historian by nature. When I visited the Litchfield Congregational church, built in Connecticut in 1721, I tried to imagine all the sin-weary souls who had come to hear the Gospel preached for over three centuries inside those consecrated walls.

In 1991 I drove  to a remote little town in extreme western Oklahoma, to preach. When I arrived at the church, I went downstairs to get water. While downstairs I saw several Sabbath School classrooms, all totally vacant and abandoned.  The elderly couple who invited me home for lunch explained that all those rooms were packed with children back in the day. But they all grew up and moved away to find jobs. The husband was the school master back in the day, but had since  retired for decades, and, with no children around any more, the only traces of the school were distant memories. I remember a feeling of sadness coming over me as I thought of the hollow classrooms once full of life. I can’t say if it was the evangelist or the historian in me that made me wish there was a way to fill those classrooms with lively children again.

Over the years those hollow classrooms occasionally haunt my mind. Of course in my lifetime, I have seen changes in my own childhood church. It still has a thriving church school and Sabbath School department, but when my friends and I go home to visit, we remember days gone by when the church was much fuller. But I have to keep in mind that when we were kids our church was The Adventist Church in the area.  Today there are several Adventist churches in the area, and there really is no “The”  Church now. This is where the evangelist in me wars with the historian in me. The historian in me wants to re-create the church I grew up in. I want to go home again. The evangelist in me rejoices that there are new churches, and the gospel is being preached all over the area now, instead of in just one place. I understand my childhood church is slightly smaller now because people are spreading out to other churches to share the gospel beyond my little neighborhood.

Now my mind looks  back to those empty Sabbath School classrooms in the middle of nowhere in  Western Oklahoma. Is it really sad that the kids grew up and moved on to bigger places where they could find jobs? Not if moving gave them more opportunities to share Jesus with those in need! Now I look back at those empty classrooms in a different way. Maybe the primary Sabbath School teacher did not realize it at the time, but she was doing a lot more than teaching the children in her small town about Jesus. She was training them to be missionaries and take the Gospel from those little rooms and spread it all over the world! The historian in me looks into those vacant rooms and sees a church that died. The evangelist in me looks into those hollow rooms and sees scores of children leaving those sacred halls to share the Gospel in new places, meeting people around the world who need Jesus.

The church is a movement, not a history museum. The church is a people and not an old building standing out in a field where there used to be a town. While reality tells me that many of the kids probably left the church, I am sure many stayed in the church. Many of the children who  filled those old Sabbath School classrooms in western Oklahoma took the church with them when they moved away! The Sabbath School class did not die in those classrooms in western Oklahoma; the class just outgrew its walls! They grew all over the world! I look back now and realize children with whom I sat in Primary Sabbath School class in my home church are now scattered from the South Pacific Islands to New England and beyond. And you know what’s cool? We left four walls we used to meet in, but we never left the church. We took it with us! Just as importantly, we never left each other. We are in touch on Facebook and Sabbath School Net, where we still share ideas from theology to evangelism strategies. And of course we still get together personally when we can. A couple years ago, a former classmate, now a teacher, helped me put my Bible curriculum together while living 1200 miles away. You see, our little Sabbath School classroom did not die. Just the opposite. We grew so big we exceeded the boundaries of our four little walls.

I believe it to be the same with the little classrooms in a small town in Western Oklahoma. If I ever get a chance to return, and I hope I do, I will go downstairs and look into those empty classrooms again. This time instead of trying to imagine a class that once was, I will see a class that still is and even more. I will see a classroom that has grown into something much bigger and greater than it ever was. I won’t see a class that died in a little room. I will see a class that grew all over the world to help people all over the world who need Jesus.

When I think of my experience in the church, I realize in one sense, I can never go home again. The building I worshiped in as a child will never be what it was. That’s just fine. It was never meant to stay what it was. It was meant to grow. It was meant to grow beyond those walls into the rest of the world where people need Jesus. My church is now all over the word. So in one sense, I can never go back to my home church  again. In an even more real sense, my home church is all over the world now and is everywhere I go. And the even greater reality is, that I’ve never been home and never will be until Jesus comes. While the historian in me wants to reminisce about the way the church used to be, the evangelist in me says to keep growing the church. It’s not finished yet!

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

Why God and Teenagers Find Some Worship Services Repulsive

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I want no more of your pious meetings.

Does the above phrase sound like a rebellious teenager?

How about this?

I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!

You may think that sounds like an even more rebellious teen, but fact is that’s God Himself speaking! That’s right, teens are not the only ones who have a hard time stomaching pious, hypocritical religious worship services. God may actually have more in common with rebellious teenagers than He does with pious worshipers! Not in all cases of course, but in many still, when a worship service is conducted with a Pharisaical attitude,  God Himself rejects it as well as some teenagers. God tells us exactly why He rejects some religious worship services.

When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?  Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.  I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.  Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 1:12-17 NLT

God and teens are both  repulsed by false worship. False worship is not only worshiping on the “wrong day,” it is also worshiping the wrong way on Sabbath. God is not impressed with stuffy, dry, formal, ceremonial worship any more than your teenager is. But worship service doesn’t have to be that way.  Just earlier this summer I was visiting a church out of state with a friend. They were having communion service. When it came time during the service to dispense the bread, the pastor realized he had forgotten the bread, and his wife had to run out to the car to get it. Everyone chuckled. The pastor had announced earlier that he was going on Sabbatical right after the service. I joked with my friend that it appeared he was already on Sabbatical. I joked about it not to be critical, but because I could identify with his need to get away. Waiting for his wife to run to the car to get  the bread did not ruin the service at all. I hardly imagine the original communion service in the upper room being a “formal” service. I imagine it to be quite casual, though very sacred and meaningful. You don’t have to be formal and stuffy to be sacred. Sometimes formal and stuffy can be a way to cover our sin and hypocrisy. When that happens, both teenagers and God Himself turn up their noses at our so-called worship services.

We tell our teenagers straight from the Bible,

“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, Isaiah 58:13 NLT

Then, many of us shake hands with the visitor, and smile to let them know they are welcomed. Then we quickly forget they are even there, so we can go to our favorite Sabbath School class, where we love to debate theology with our best friends. Debating theology while ignoring the needs of others on the Sabbath? Sounds like pleasure seeking to God! Here, I will let God speak for Himself.

What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. Isaiah 58:4 NLT

Isaiah 58:1-14 describes what Sabbath keeping and true worship is all about. Pleasure seeking is not just when a teenager plays a video game on the Sabbath. Pleasure seeking on the Sabbath also includes church leaders ignoring the needs of those around them, so they can enjoy their own Sabbath School class and worship service just the way they like it, before inviting their favorite friends home for lunch.

While the offering system is a systematic way to get outside of ourselves with our possessions, Sabbath worship is a chronic way to get outside of ourselves with our time. God tells us what Sabbath keeping and worship looks like to Him.

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!  Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Isaiah 58:6-10 NLT

How do I know God means Sabbath keeping and worship by calling it a fast? Because right after this He says,

“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.  Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Isaiah 58:13-14 NLT

Following our own interests on the Sabbath is not limited to secular entertainment. Following our own interests on the Sabbath includes doing church your favorite way with your favorite people while ignoring the needs of the least of these around you.

The Tampa First  and Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist  churches are a couple of the several churches I currently work with here in Florida. Both of these churches have worship service on Tuesday. Oh, they still have Sabbath services, but they keep worshiping God throughout the week. On Tuesdays they have worship service by feeding and clothing the hungry in their community. Before you laugh and say, “That is not a real worship service,” read Isaiah 58 carefully again. It is exactly a real worship service. It is worshiping God by serving others. See Matthew 25:31-46. Real worship services are not formal and stuffy. One of the biggest mistakes we make as Adventists is thinking formal and stuffy means sacred and reverent. Sacred and reverent can also be casual and informal. Sacred and reverent does not mean formal worship. Sacred and reverent means sincere worship.

I have seen teenagers eager to get involved in clothing the homeless and feeding the hungry, because they can sense they are making a real hands on, practical  difference in the community, unlike sitting on the back pew listening to a dull sermon. If we do worship the way God describes in Isaiah 58, we can create a worship service both God and teenagers can accept.

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

The Class of ’57 Had Their Dreams

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

…people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NLT

In 1972, the Statler Brothers released the song, “The class of ’57 Had Its Dreams.” The song talks abut how their high school class had their dreams and then goes on to describe how each class member “today” has turned out to just be working regular jobs and living an “everyday” life. After describing various class members everyday life the chorus rings,” but the class of ’57 had their dreams.” The point of the song is that their dreams never came true. They just turned out to be ordinary people living ordinary lives.

This has me wondering, am I the only one who is living the dream, just enjoying everyday life?  My life is very routine. I am your everyday Bible Worker, except that I am the only Bible Worker I know who has never had a baptism by just going door to door, and believe me I have tried. I read stories about evangelists having interesting life-changing visits with the person seated next to them on the plane. I fly on a plane and no one knows I am there, until I accidentally push the stewardess call button while turning on the light. I duck into a quiet restaurant for an appetizer with a couple of close friends and I am just another face in the crowd. No one sees anything out of the ordinary about me, because there isn’t anything special about me.

I drive a Hyundai. My home is very modest, the kind you overlook. If I want to take a vacation from my church responsibilities, it is easy to find a nearby church where nobody knows my name. I am just an average guy living an average life, and you know what? I love it! I love my everyday life! I love my everyday routine! I love being an average everyday guy living an average everyday life. This is my dream! I enjoy my one-on-one Bible studies. I enjoy my quiet friends at the neighborhood restaurant. I enjoy reading at home alone late in the evening, just my iced water with a hint of orange juice, and  soft background music, as I bask in my solitude and anonymity.

Is it okay that I don’t have more ambition and loftier dreams? I don’t suppose I would be the dream son-in-law for an ambitious father. That’s okay. I know I am fulfilling my purpose in life by simply doing what I know is right – the best I can at least – being merciful to those in my community, and walking humbly with my God. There! That is my ambition in life – to walk humbly with my God! No wonder I feel so fulfilled while living such an ordinary everyday life. I am sorry the class of ’57 does not realize they are living the dream! Everyday ordinary life is the dream! God does not call upon us to do anything “great.” He only requires that we walk humbly with Him.

One night earlier this summer, I went with my men’s small study group to a baseball game. We didn’t have a suite. We sat in the grandstands like everybody else and spilled nacho cheese on our shirts, as we enjoyed being just another face in the crowd. We enjoyed each others’ company on the drive home, as we studied the small study group lesson via our cell phones. The driver listened as he watched the road. They dropped me off at my humble home, where I went inside to enjoy my late-night reading in anonymity and solitude. While reading on my laptop I saw an email. It was from a student I had a long time ago in my Bible chain-referencing class at school. She is all grown up now and doing well. In the email she asked if she could call me to ask a Bible question. A couple of seconds later we were talking on the phone. After all these years, she said she thought to call me, because in her words, I was one of the greatest influences on her life and why she is a Christian today.

When I hung up the phone, I sat there in my humble little chair in my humble little home, marinading in the recent conversation. Sure, to the usher that night who showed us to our seats and to the stranger sitting next to me, on whose jeans I accidentally spilled cheese sauce, I was a total nobody, If I was anything at all to them I was a minor nuisance and nothing more. But to one young woman who had a Bible question that night I was somebody. I remembered what I had heard before, “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

So to the Statler brothers I want to say, the class of ’57 is living the dream! Enjoy your everyday life. Enjoy just being an ordinary everyday face in the crowd living an average ordinary everyday life. That is the dream! Live the dream of walking humbly with your God. It’s okay if you are just one person to the world. By just walking humbly with God every day you will still be the world to one person. Probably more.

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

The 7 A’s of Confession and Reconciliation

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa bay area.

Like King David in 2 Samuel 12:1-12, we all get mad when we hear about oppression and injustice. Like King David, most of us have been guilty at some point of oppression and injustice. When we find ourselves guilty, it is important to make confession and reconciliation, not to get rid of our guilt and heal our conscience, but to heal the pain of those we have hurt. In Ken Sande’s book, Resolving Everyday Conflict, he shares the 7 A’s of confession and reconciliation. I would like to look a further look at them here along with God’s Word. In so doing, I believe we can find a sincere, genuine and successful approach to healing the pain we have caused others. Please keep in mind not all the steps need to be followed for lesser offenses. You will need to pray and let God lead you as to exactly what steps to follow. Please keep in mind too, that after Adam’s sin the Garden of Eden was no longer a safe place for him. While God forgave Adam, he was never permitted back into the garden here on earth. What a thrilling moment that will be, when in the New Earth, Adam is reconciled to his garden and Eden is restored! Likewise there are some extreme cases of oppression and abuse, where certain relationships will only be safely reconciled and restored in the New Earth. Meanwhile what a precious blessing and responsibility it is to restore and reconcile what can be reconciled here on earth.

The 7 A’s of Confession and Reconciliation. 

  1. Address Everyone Involved. 

Sins committed only in the heart need to be confessed to God alone. Public sins need to be confessed to all those who were hurt.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16 NLT

2. Avoid Using the words, “if” “but” and “maybe.”

Say “I hurt you.” Not, “If I hurt you.” Say “I was wrong.” Not, “I was wrong but so were you.” Say, “I know I made a mistake.” Not “Maybe I made a mistake. Don’t shift, minimize or excuse your guilt.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. Proverbs 28:13 NLT

3. Admit Specifically Where you were wrong. 

Don’t be vague.

Forgive me for shedding blood…Psalm 51:14 NLT

4. Acknowledge the Hurt.

You can even ask, “Do I understand how much I’ve hurt you?”

When Saul sinned, the throne was taken from him, because he was only sorry about what his sin had cost him personally. David sinned an even greater sin, but kept the throne, because He was truly sorry about what his sin had cost God.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; Psalm 51:4 NLT

5. Accept the Consequences.

Genuine repentance accepts any due penalties.

Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Luke 19:8 NLT

6. Alter Your Behavior.

You are not really sorry if you keep willfully repeating the same offense. Ask people to hold you accountable.  You may even put your plan for change into writing. One of the reasons I am writing about this topic is to reinforce it in my own mind.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Ephesians 4:28 NLT

7. Ask for Forgiveness (And Allow Time)

If it took you a while to confess, it may take them a while to forgive. Don’t push it or rush it. If you are sincere and genuine in these 7 steps most people will be quick to forgive.

Often times when we try to place the blame on others they will turn around and place the blame on us. Often times when we accept full responsibility for our actions, others will then accept responsibility for their actions. Here I have attempted to simplify and paraphrase the ideas in Ken Sande’s book, to again reinforce them for myself, and to help others to make reconciliation. When we find ourselves being oppressed or treated unjustly it is easy to just run away, or attack back. When mankind rebelled against God, He neither ran away or attacked back. Instead He presented Himself as the peace offering for our offense!  Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 deals mainly with God’s attempt at reconciliation. This tells me reconciliation is very important.

It may seem hard to make confession and reconciliation. It may seem easier to run away. It may cost us our pride to make reconciliation, but that is a small price considering it cost God His dear Son. If reconciliation is worth God’s Son, then its definitely worth anything it would cost us.

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