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. 

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.

The Letter of the law and the Spirit of the law

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The question has been asked, “What is the difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law?” To me, it all comes down to motivation.

When I stop at a red light to avoid getting a ticket, I am only obeying the letter of the law. Would I go ahead and run the red light and risk hurting someone if there was no risk of paying a fine? If so, then that doesn’t really make me an obedient person. It only makes me  afraid of getting fined.

If I keep from running a red light because I don’t want to hit and hurt someone, then I am now obeying the spirit of the law, which is “others first” or “consideration for others.”

Here is one example of how the pharisees were looking at the letter of the law, while Jesus was looking at the spirit of the law.

At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them.  But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”  Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat.  And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath?  I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple!  But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’[ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” Matthew 12:1-8 NLT

First of all, I think the Pharisees were greatly exaggerating by calling taking a few heads of grain “harvesting”! Today some Sabbath keepers will not flip a light switch to avoid “starting a fire” on the Sabbath. But I do not think God was referring to light switches when He said, “don’t start a fire on the Sabbath.”  See Exodus 35:3. back then a lot more work was involved in starting a fire than today. There is also a lot more involved in harvesting, than taking a few heads of grain. Now if you disagree with me, obviously that is fine. We all have our own convictions when it comes to these matters. For example, I do not eat out on the Sabbath because I do not want anyone to work for me on Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), and I do not want to buy and sell on Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-18).  Some of my Sabbath-keeping friends do not see it that way, and do not consider the cooks or waitresses as their servants, and they consider Nehemiah was referring to a lot more work in loading and unloading food, than just serving it. Fine. Each to his or her own. We must all be convicted ourselves, but the motivation should always remain the same, which is love and consideration for God and others.

Second, Jesus refers to David eating the bread that was only for priests when he and his men were hungry. When you consider the fact that the law of God is love, then you can see how mercy here would be a higher priority than the letter of the law. Another example is in the story of the Good Samaritan. Many wonder if the priest and Levi thought the hurt man might be dead. If so they were not to touch him by law (See Leviticus 21:1-3 and Numbers 19:11-122). But even so, mercy always takes priority over the letter of the law. The law is love. If we put the letter of the law above love then we have just defeated the whole purpose of the law which is love.

Paul explains what it means to keep the Spirit of the law, which is love.

If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. Romans 13:8-10 NLT

Love does not do away with the commandments. It is because we love God and others that we keep the commandments. I can’t say I love my neighbor if I lie about her and steal from her. Love fulfills the Spirit of the law, which is love and consideration for God and others, while a sense of self preservation and selfishness fulfills only the letter of the law.

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

How NOT to Study the Bible With Others

As we study this week’s Sabbath School lesson, about turning hearts in the end of time, I know many of us are praying for loved ones who have turned away. Sadly, many have been brought up in the Adventist church under legalistic and even abusive home and church situations. Because of this they have a hard time separating the message of the church from the people who abused them. I have talked with not just a few people who were raised in the church, who told me they left because of abuse and emotional reasons. Later though, while discussing doctrine they tell me the exact opposite of what they told me previously. They will say emotional reasons had nothing to do with it. They left solely because of doctrinal reasons. I tend to believe what they first told me.  Our emotions are tied closely to our theology, which is why all our doctrines need to present God’s love in the light of the cross.  This is why we must stay focused on the love of God while talking about every Bible doctrine.

At a funeral service a few years ago, I was talking to a lady who was raised in an Adventist home. She explained to me that she was no longer Adventist because the Adventist church talked about the law instead of love. She since has joined a church that she considers more loving. However, her new church believes in an eternally burning hell. I am not sure why she thought a church that teaches an eternally burning hell was a more loving church. I also wonder why she felt the law was against love, while it actually promotes love by helping us put people and relationships first. It makes me wonder if she was wanting to get away from the message of the church or just the people who did not show her real love?

We need to pray for and love people who have been hurt by legalistic and abusive Adventists, instead of just preaching to them. Jesus met many in His day who were hurt by legalistic leaders. He ministered to those who were hurt by legalistic and abusive Pharisees, instead of just preaching at them. Sometimes He did not need to preach at all. The woman taken to Jesus in John 8:1–11 had been abused by the very church leaders who dragged her to Jesus. She may have made some mistakes on her own, but Jesus did not preach to her. He did not tell her, “If you stop sinning, then I will stop condemning you.” No! He never condemned her in the first place! His message was “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The “go and sin no more” was not just  a command as much as it was a declaration of her freedom from the abusive lifestyle she had endured by abusive church leaders. Jesus healed her emotions and theology by ministering instead of preaching.

Understandably, many like the woman in John 8, who have been hurt by the church are angry. Anger often gets misdirected. Ty Gibson talks about himself being an atheist, because he does not believe in the God most of the world does not believe in either. His point is that the God so many people hate and don’t believe in does not even exist. God has been so misrepresented that the God they reject is not the real God. So many are angry at God when the God they are angry with does not exist. That is misdirected anger. Likewise in Adventism, many former Adventists are angry at an Ellen White who does not even exist. Her writings have been taken out of context literally and blatantly in many compilation books. Her writings have been used to beat people over the head. Thank God my family never beat me over the head with or crammed Ellen White down my throat. I grew up reading her writings for myself, and  I read how she always talked about love and grace. I would dare say that Ellen White herself would not appreciate the “Ellen White” that many have to come to know through abusive parents and teachers who used her writings in ways that were never intended, which was more like weapons instead of the testimony of Jesus.

A while back I was talking to a woman who told me Ellen White was legalistic and only taught we are saved by works. Of course this is  totally untrue. Later in the same conversation, she told me she knew Ellen White was a false prophet because she says Martin Luther will be in heaven, while we all know he drank and ate pork. I suggested that maybe Ellen White believes Martin Luther and everyone else will be saved by grace alone. This woman was so angry at an “Ellen White” that did not even exist, that she rejected the real Ellen White who believed salvation was by grace and not by works.

In ministering to many hurt former Adventists, we must realize their issues are not only doctrinal if at all. They are emotional. Instead of defending Ellen White, we need to realize the  “Ellen White” they reject may not even exist. Do not attempt to win them to Ellen White. Win them to Jesus, He is the One who saves. Show them the God of love in the Bible, and show them the love in all of the Bible teachings.

Seeing how our emotions and personal experiences are so closely tied to our theology, it is important to refrain from emotional mind games, while studying (debating?)  with and ministering to former Adventists who are hurting. I have talked with and tried to reason with  many former Adventists who tell me they are totally healed emotionally, while they continue attacking the church and Ellen White. Hurting people hurt people. As long as they are on the attack I know they still need love and healing. Emotionally healthy people don’t make a religion out of attacking others.

These mind games work both ways. It’s human nature to try some of these tactics, so we need to watch ourselves that we don’t use these tactics and don’t allow others to use them on us. Of course this applies to general Bible studies even within the church as well as outside. Here are four suggestions of what not to say while studying the Bible with others.

  1. When you get closer to Jesus you will understand. 

It’s been a while since I heard this one, but I have heard it. Just a few years ago  a lady in the church was disagreeing with me about Jesus dying the second death. She was getting frustrated that I was not seeing things her way, so she finally rested her case by smiling and assuring me, ‘When you get closer to Jesus you will understand.” In my frustrated humanity, I wanted to assure her, that while there are 9 billion people on the face of the planet now, probably a good 8 billion of them could teach me what its like to get closer to Jesus, but she was not one of them!  Now that would not have been nice of me either.
Maybe when we see we are not “winning our case” it would be better to just agree to disagree and leave it at that, rather than to say something silly we will later regret. We all know the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say, but there were times when even Jesus was silent in the judgment hall. If Jesus did not feel the need to answer every question, neither should we. Being silent is better than saying something foolish. By the way, I was talking with this lady again recently, and she was agreeing with everything I said years earlier about the cross, as if she did not even remember ever disagreeing with me.

2. You only believe that way because you were raised that way

I  have had several former Adventists tell me I am only an Adventist because I was raised Adventist. Of course they themselves are evidence this is not true! If they can leave, so can I. This also is not true when you consider the millions who have joined the Adventist Church with no previous family ties to the church. Ironically the people who use this argument on me are complaining about how judgmental the church is. Then they turn around and judge me. That’s human nature. Even as Adventists it is tempting to tell Sunday keepers they are keeping Sunday only because they were raised that way. When we do that we are judging their motives, which we really know nothing about. It’s best to just stick to Scripture. What happened generations before really doesn’t have anything to do with what Scripture is telling us.

3. Sounds like an idea from someone who was hit in the head with a rock when she was little!

It’s ironic that people who feel they were abused and mistreated in the church would turn around and make fun of a little girl getting hit in the head with a rock, but that is what many do. I have read it online and heard it in person. An idea from the Spirit of Prophecy is introduced and the person who doesn’t like it exclaims, “Sounds like something someone would say who was hit in the head with a rock!” A former Adventist with his doctorate explained to me that when Ellen White was hit in the head with a rock that it gave her a mental disorder which caused her to become a prolific writer. Of course when I asked non-Adventist medical doctors what he was talking about, they all said no such condition exists. Such comments are not only disrespectful; they are also irrelevant. When people make such comments, it shows they are still hurting. Remember, hurting people hurt people. There are those who do not accept Ellen White as a prophet, but would also never make fun of her getting hit in the head with a rock, because they are emotionally healthy and have no reason to hurt others. To these emotionally healthy people, the fact that she was hit in the head with a rock is irrelevant to her doctrine. Other comments that are irrelevant are, “So and So was a Jesuit.,” or “So and So was influenced by the Masons.” Such accusations are all hearsay. Furthermore it does not matter if the person making a statement was hit in the head with a rock, or had ties to the Jesuits or masons.  I have heard people say that the Secret Rapture teaching is wrong because it is a relatively new idea. No. It is wrong because it is not Biblical. I am sure when Rachael Oakes introduced the Sabbath to a group of Advent believers in the mid 1800’s several of them could have said, “That is a new teaching we have never heard before.” Or even, “Rachael Oakes in just a woman.” Or “Rachael Oakes is a Seventh-day Baptist. Baptists teach some things that are not right.” Fact is it did not matter if the Sabbath was a new idea or if it was introduced by a woman with a Baptist background. The only valid question is whether or not the seventh-day Sabbath is Biblical. Once again we need to stick to Scripture instead of discussing and judging  people and their possible motives.

4. The Bible translation you are using is a bad translation

I covered this idea more thoroughly in a previous post.  I have heard people call the NIV the Non-Inspired Version. They tell me you can’t preach the sanctuary message from the NIV. Well, sorry, but I have taught the sanctuary message from the NIV! No translation is perfect, including the KJV, but God has protected His Word through the ages so that everything that pertains to our salvation will be understood. If you can only prove your beliefs from the KJV, then you may want to question your own beliefs. Valid beliefs can be proven from all the translations. I find that various translations actually complement each other and help us get the big picture. For example in the KJV Job 27:3mentions “spirit.” In the NLT Job 27:3 mentions “breath.” The big picture is that the spirit that returns to God when we die (see Ecclesiastes 12:7) is simply our breath. Having said this, do not discourage someone from reading a version you may not like. The important thing is they are reading the Bible! When I became a Bible Worker over 26 years ago, I was surprised how many adults had trouble reading anything, let alone 17th century English. What good does it do for someone to stumble over all the words in the KJV  if by the time they finish a sentence they have no idea what they just read? When people ask me what the best Bible translation is, I tell them, “the one you are reading.” When people open their Bibles in any version it gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to work on their hearts. Please do not discourage a Bible student by telling them they have a poor translation. Instead encourage them to read whatever version they are reading.

In turning people’s hearts to their heavenly Father in the end times, it is futile to argue about motives for believing, or if a belief is new or where it came from. The only thing that matters is, is it biblical and does it represent biblical teaching correctly?