Why Circumcision?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Monday’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, and if the Gentiles ever needed to be circumcised. Some have wondered why in the world God wanted the penis involved in a sign of loyalty. Some atheists have made fun of Christianity and the Bible over this topic.

What we need to understand is, the penis was the part of the body Abraham was trusting instead of God’s promise. Confidence in the flesh had to be cut out so all Abraham believed in was God’s promise. In the New Testament Jesus went to the cross and crucified all of our flesh, so that we could live by faith in His promises and not in our self confidence.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NKJV

In baptism we crucify all of our flesh with Christ. Romans 6:3-7. Like circumcision of old, baptism is a sign casting away the confidence of the flesh and trusting God’s promises to make us a new creation, God’s own recreation.

The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating any more, so instead of trusting in God’s promise, he took Sarah’s much younger handmaid, Hagar, and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This represents the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of trusting God to write them on  our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (See Galatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.

So God gave Abraham circumcision as a reminder to trust Him, rather than trying to solve His own problems.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT

Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Because Abraham trusted in his flesh to work things out, God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh that he was trusting, so he would realize that he could do nothing to fulfill His promises. He had to leave it all to God.

For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT

… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98

Now, instead of circumcision, we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water, symbolically dying to self, we rise up to a new life, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.

Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual similar to female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance but is still widely practiced, even though it is harmful to women.

It is worth noting that there is evidence to suggest that certain male health issuesare less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practiced, and circumcision also appears to have benefits for the wives. Others suggest that the same benefits may be experienced by proper hygiene. Thus everyone considering circumcision needs to prayerfully consider the reasons for and against the practice today.

Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would suggest, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or embarrassing an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second,  most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available.

Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.

Paul’s Authority and Relationship With The Church.

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. Galatians 1:1 NLT

I remember sitting in church, no more than four years old, watching the preacher preach, and knowing (not hoping, not wanting, not thinking, but knowing!) that is what I would be doing one day. I am no Paul, and I did not have a Damascus road experience, but I realized, I was called by God and not man. Even though God has called me to ministry, He has still created opportunities for me to work within the church, even though I have my own self supportive ministry. The conference does not pay my salary, but I work along with them, and have no desire to run away from them, and they express their apprecaition for my team work. I say this, because there are those who feel that since they were called by God Himself, they do not need to work with the church.

Did Paul feel that being called directly by God allowed him to work independently of the church? No!

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. Galatians 2:9-10 NLT

We are all called to spread the gospel. Some of us do it as employees of the church, and some of us do it as lay members, or in self supportive independent ministries, but either way we are to work together as a team. This not only means that lay members cooperate with conferences. Conferences must also cooperate with lay members.

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”  “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. Mark 9:38-40 NLT

I remember back in the early ’90s, the church was battling independent ministries, and indepenadent ministries were battling the church. It has been a long time since I have heard of such battles and I am glad. Paul and the church cooperated together to spread the gospel. Jesus says don’t stop independent ministries from spreading the gospel. It is not the job of the church to destroy independent ministries, and it is not the job of independent ministries to destroy the church. It is the job of both to preach the gospel, and even though God may call some to work within church employment, and others to a self supportive or independent ministry, we may all work together as Paul did with the church in his day.

God may call and financially support us independently of the church organization, but He does not call us to minister independently of the church organization. The church needs us and we need the church. Paul was not called by human authority but he team worked with those in human authority. I encourage us all, lay members and conference officials to follow the Biblical example Paul has shown us.

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

Luther’s Understanding of Grace

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One day, while I was studying the Gospel Presenation with a retired couple, we read this verse.

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. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

The husband had been raised Catholic, and while many of my Catholic friends understand grace, he told me, when we read that passage, that it was the first he had ever heard of us being saved by grace alone, without any works. That moment was an ephiphany for him, just like when Luther read, “The Just shall live by faith” in the Bible chained to the dungeon wall.

During our studies I learned the retired gentleman wanted victory over alcohol. He understood that works don’t save us, but he also understood that grace saves us from more than just death. Grace saves us from the power of sin.

Martin Luther understood this as well. After all, Luther read that “the just shall live by faith,” not the unjust. Luther understood that faith and grace makes us just as well as declaring us just. Luther understood that grace changes our lives. While visiting Rome, Luther was appalled at the sins he found even in the church. Luther understood being saved by grace instead of works, but he also understood that grace is not a license for sin.

He [Luther] entered the city, visited the churches, listened to the marvelous tales repeated by priests and monks, and performed all the ceremonies required. Everywhere he looked upon scenes that filled him with astonishment and horror. He saw that iniquity existed among all classes of the clergy. He heard indecent jokes from prelates, and was filled with horror at their awful profanity, even during mass. As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. “It is incredible,” he wrote, “what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 125.

Luther knew full well good works don’t save us, but he also knew grace saves us from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin. The Bible clearly teaches wherever we find grace, we also find, good works, obedience, and godly living.

After Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us we are saved by grace and not by works, Eph 2:10 tells us,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..

Grace produces the good works our strength and effort could never accomplish.

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

Grace produces the obedience our human nature could never render on its own.

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

Titus 2:11-14 painted a totally different picture of grace than the one Luther saw in Rome. Actually Luther did not see grace in Rome. He saw every kind of sin, and Titus 2:11-14 tells us grace enables us to deny sin and live godly lives in this present age.

My retired friend took hold of God’s grace, and after praying with a mentor in the church one evening, he left the bottle behind and entered the baptistry. Grace has saved my friend from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin.

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

God’s Word is our Authority

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Occasionally, at church or the Adventist school where I teach Bible and evangelism, someone will ask me, “What do we believe about such and such?” My response has always been, “I don’t know what you believe, but here is what I, and many Seventh-day Adventists believe,” and I show them in the Bible what I believe and why. I am not going to tell someone what they believe. That is not teaching. It is brainwashing.

During the dark ages, when people did not have access to the Bible, people trusted their priests to tell them what they believed, and because of that there was a lot of brainwashing going on.

Even before the dark ages, priests abused their authority, and tried to brainwash people into believing whatever they believed. This happened in Jesus’ day when those in “authority” were trying to capture Jesus.

When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded. “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? John 7:45-48 NLT

The guards experienced and heard the Word of God speaking to them, and believed. Since the pharisees did not want to believe, they mocked at this. in John 7 the pharisees miscounstrued Scripture to try and prove their point, but amazingly instead of hanging their hat on Scripture, they hung it on the fact that none of the rulers or leaders believed.

So if someone in “authority” believes something it is automatically right, and if they don’t then it is automatically wrong? The pharisees seemed to think so. Do some think that way today?

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. Acts 17:11 NLT

Like the Temple guards, the Bereans were interested in new ideas as long as they were found in Scripture. They didn’t believe something because Paul and Silas believed it or becasue a ruler did. On their own they searched the Scriptures daily to find truth.

I have heard Seventh-day Adventists telling their Baptist and Methodist friends to search the Bible for themselves because their pastors could be wrong. I have watched some of the same Seventh-day Adventists listening to their own favorite Adventist preachers, wihtout bothering to search the Scriptures, because after all, their pastor is Adventist so he is automatically right, right? Wrong! We all make mistakes, as we all continue to learn and grow.

Let’s not be like the foolish pharisees in John 7, who hang their hats on whether or not the rulers or those in authority believed something or not. Let’s be like the temple guards and hang our hat on the Word of God.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

3 Quick Reasons Why it is Logical and Reasonable to Believe the Bible

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Last Sunday, at a graduation party, I had the pleasure of visiting with one of my former students from the Adventist school where I teach and give Bible studies. She is now attending a public high school in a different city. She told me how sad she is that at least half of her school population is self-proclaimed atheist. She said she is often asked, “How do we know the Bible is true?” She shared she needed some help answering that question, so here is what I shared.

While it takes faith to believe history books as well as the Bible, there are some ways to know if it is valid to put faith in a history book as well as the Bible. Here are some quick examples of why logic and reason warrants my faith in the Bible.First of all we all have to believe in something. Some people believe in evolution only because they read about it in a science book written by humans, and then turn around and say they don’t believe in the Bible because it was written by humans. Where would we be if we did not believe anything that humans wrote? For example, I believe Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, disappeared while swimming on December 17, 1967. How do I really know though? After all, I was a toddler on the other side of the world when this happened. I didn’t actually see or hear anything, and there is no body to prove anything either way. I have not even met anyone who ever actually saw Holt in the first place. How do I know his very existence was not made up? I believe it simply because I read about it in a history book. See, I have to put my faith in something.

  1. Here is one we don’t hear about much, but Revelation 9, written some 1,700 years before, gives us the exact day and year of the voluntary surrender of the Ottoman empire. When this prophecy was fulfilled, August 11 1840, many Bible skeptics became believers, when this prophecy was fulfilled.

2. Over 2600 years of earth’s history was accurately foretold by the image in Daniel 2. This includes Napoleon’s and Hitler’s defeats, as the prophecy says there will never be another one world empire. Clifford Goldstein revisited this prophecy affirming our faith is both logical reasonable.

3. Jesus perfectly fulfills all the Old Testament prophecies regarding the birth, baptism, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

Of course there are many more reasons why I believe, but here are three quick examples why it is logical and reasonable for the skeptic to put faith in the Bible. While we have all had emotional experiences with God’s Word, God does not want us to put faith in our sight or emotions. This is why in Luke 24, Jesus showed the men on the road to Emmaus Bible prophecy about Himself, instead of having them go by sight or feeling. what are some logical and reasonable examples of why you put faith in the Bible?

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

Suffering for a Purpose Brings Happiness

 

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I often begin my group Bible studies by having each member share a high and a low for their week. I wonder, if we asked God how His week went, what He would say? We may have seen a child mistreated, but God cried with every child on earth who was mistreated. We may have comforted a friend who just lost a parent. God cried at the bedside of every soul that died that week. We may cheer when our friend accepts salvation. God rejoices with every sold around the world that accepts salvation!
In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he explains how people survived concentration camps in world war 2. Without anything to be happy about, the survivors found a purpose for their lives to make living meaningful. Since then, many psychologists have written about how our lives need more than happiness. We need purpose and meaning. In the concentration camps it could mean encouraging another prisoner to hang on.

In Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ, he described how those in prison for their faith would “tithe” their soap and bread, by giving them to a weaker brother. Even in prison, their life had meaning and purpose by helping someone else and expressing their love for Jesus in the process.  Instead of just being happy, having meaning and purpose made them thrive even in dire situations.

I was going door to door, asking people to take a survey, to see if they were interested in Bible studies or any other service the church had to offer. A man answered the door cursing me, ordering me off his property. It seemed I could not comply fast enough. I felt I had been treated harshly. While this was not the first time I had been treated rudely, what happened next was unprecedented. As I walked down the street, I could sense the presence of Jesus, telling me, “Thank you for sharing in my suffering. Everyone left me at Gethsemane. Now I don’t feel so alone, knowing you have suffered with me.”  Granted I did not taste even a sip of the harshness Jesus drank. Still, as I prayed as I walked, I realized, while I could not be there to wipe the sweat from His face in Gethsemane, I could share in His sufferings today in my own realm. Somehow knowing I had shared a little sip of what Jesus tasted, made my afternoon meaningful. It brought me closer to Jesus. We shared something together.

Instead of asking God to remove suffering, the key might be to ask God to help us find a purpose for our suffering. Sometimes that purpose may be just as simple and yet meaningful as sharing God’s week with Him, so He doesn’t feel so alone.

How do we Become God’s Elect?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This quarter’s Sabbath School lessons, provide interesting discussions on predestination and election, making me examine what I believe. I became especially intrigued by the word “elect.” What does it mean, and how does one become elected?

God has not elected only a select group to be saved

I find nowhere in the Bible that God has a special select group composed of only those He wants to save, or that there is anyone He does not want saved.

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 NKJV

As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ Ezekiel 33:11 NKJV

Ezekiel 33:11 is crucial, because we are going to see that the elect are those who turn from their wicked ways and live.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NKJV

God has not elected anyone for destruction since it is not His will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11 NKJV

While God may call some to “greater” roles than others, nowhere does the Bible teach that there is a group which God has decided He is not going to save. This is important, because I have visited with people who keep falling back into addictions and are tempted to give up, resigned that God does not want to save them. After much labor in trying to overcome, they are still heavy laden with the burden of guilt. Wait! Such people should not give up! These are the very ones Jesus calls! And He calls all of them!

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

God has not elected anyone for condemnation. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16-17 KJV

Since Judas was one of the twelve, even he was “chosen.”

Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? John 6:70 KJV

Many assume Jesus is referring to Judas as the one who had a devil, but Jesus and Scripture never say that. In Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter “Get thee behind me Satan.” In Luke 22, Jesus tells Simon Peter He has prayed for his conversion. So, regardless who the “devil” was in John 6:70, he was not elected to be a devil, nor had to remain a devil. In John 6:70 Jesus has chosen all 12 while He understands there is still some work to be done. This should give us all hope.

So who are the elected? Paul describes the elected.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:12-17 NKJV 

Ellen White expresses the same thought:

Every soul is elected who will work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. He is elected who will put on the armor and fight the good fight of faith. He is elected who will watch unto prayer, who will search the Scriptures, and flee from temptation. He is elected who will have faith continually, and who will be obedient to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. The provisions of redemption are free to all; the results of redemption will be enjoyed by those who have complied with the conditions. –Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 208

Now let’s finally answer the question in our title. How do I get to be elected by God?

God elects those who have been working on the plan of addition. The explanation is given in the first chapter of Second Peter. For every human being, Christ has paid the election price. No one need be lost. –Ellen White, SDA Bible Commentary  Vol. 7 Page 944.

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;  for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-11 NKJV  [Bold print supplied]

Those who are elected turn from their sins, remembering they have been forgiven and freed from sin. God wants everyone to be elected. God has not willed or elected anyone to be lost. Jesus has paid the price to justify, sanctify and turn us from our sins which have been forgiven, so we can choose to make our election certain.