Trusting God’s Promises Alone

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

It is better to trust in the Lord Than to put confidence in princes. Psalm 118:9 NLT

When you read this week’s lesson on how Ahaz sought support from surrounding nations instead of God alone, did it remind you of times you trusted in people and they let you down? It did me. I almost hesitate to share this example with you because I am sure you have enough examples of your own! But because this is a blog post and I am expected to give examples I will share a couple.

I bought a used car at a car lot, and I was getting ready to drive away I told the salesman that I never thought to check the trunk to see if there was a spare tire and jack. The salesman grinned and assured me it was in there. So without checking, I drove away. Not a week later, while on the Interstate, I had a flat tire. As I pulled to the shoulder of the road I was patting myself on the back for making sure I had a spare and a tire jack. I opened up the trunk and saw the spare tire but no tire jack! I thought what am I going to do now? Before I could even call for help, it had already arrived. A friend who just happened to be passing by spotted me and pulled over in front of me. He had a tire jack. I was saved! Even though things worked out, I still went back to the car lot and gave the salesman an ear full. He apologized and gave me a tire jack out of the trunk of another car. I thought oh great now the same thing is going to happen to whoever buys this car. I don’t remember if I told the salesman to be sure and replace the jack in that car. Hopefully whoever bought that car actually looked in the trunk!  Through this experience,  I learned an important lesson. While man misled me and let me down, God still had my back. God caused a friend to pass by at exactly the right time.

A married couple I will call John and Jane were working with me in an Adventist conference many years ago. One of the conference leaders was not treating the employees fairly. When I went to confront the conference leader, John and Jane told me this conference leader was “The Lord’s anointed” and therefore could do no wrong. I knew better than that. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect. The Bible also gives us plenty of examples of the Lord’s anointed still making mistakes and needing faithful Christian confrontation. 2 Samuel 12 gives us the example of Nathan confronting the Lord’s anointed. It was not a year later until this same conference leader seriously wounded John and Jane. Since their confidence was in the human leadership of the church, instead of God alone, they not only left their positions in the conference, but they left the church completely. Thankfully after a little over ten years God led them back to the church. Still they never would have left, if their confidence had been in God instead of man.

I think we all already know, but it bears repeating that the only way not to be disappointed by people is to never expect anything from them. A few years ago a church I had worked with a long time could no longer afford to keep me but still gave me a very generous severance check as a parting gift. Around that time a friend told me she was behind on her child’s tuition at the local church school and had no way to pay it. I decided since God was generous to me, I wanted to be generous as well. I went into the office to pay off my friend’s tuition bill. The school administrator asked if I wanted her to tell my friend who paid the bill. I thought for a second and then realized over the years many people have supported my ministry, and while some of them have come and gone, over time it was always God who was providing the support. I had learned to trust in God instead of specific individual contributors. I recognized that while God was using me this time to help my friend, that next time it may be someone else God uses. Therefore it was actually God who was supporting my friend and not me. I just happened to be the instrument He was using this time. I told the administrator not to tell who paid the bill. My friend needed to know that it came from God not from me. My friend needed to know she could trust in God and not that she could trust in me!

We all have heard people say after going through a trial, “No one helped me but God!” Well that is not necessarily throwing shade at their friends. It is very possible God did not cause anyone else to help because God did not need anyone else to help. Like a center fielder calling the left fielder off as he catches the ball by yelling “I got it!” God may be waving our friends off by yelling, “I’ve got it!” It’s not that the left fielder was unwilling to help. He just wasn’t needed. Likewise sometimes God wants us to know He is all we need. He is ultimately the one taking care of us. He loves us. The healthiest thing we can do is to not trust people or hold them accountable for our wellbeing. Let’s trust God alone and hold Him totally and entirely accountable for our well-being.

Physical Unity can be an Illusion

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Isaiah 29:13 NLT

As I write this many Adventist Church buildings around the world are open for full services. Some have restricted services while some churches are still closed or have recently closed after the COVID spike over the holidays. While churches offer services on Zoom and Facebook live,  etc., I still hear some people say it’s not real church. To some, real church means sitting together physically in the same pew at the church building. At the risk of sounding cynical, here are some things I think we need to consider.

To think that you are worshipping with someone just because you are in the same church building can be an illusion. Their hearts and minds can still be miles away. They may even be worshipping self while you worship God. Judas was plotting the betrayal of Jesus while sitting with the other disciples. Physical proximity does not guarantee unity. When Paul said in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together, they were meeting in homes and not church buildings.

Today when we read that passage many have the idea that Paul was saying to go to a formal Sabbath church service like we have had the last hundred years or so. Here is what we need to keep in mind. When Paul wrote those words he did not even know about the ritual worship services we conduct today. Adventists do not get our worship service rituals from the Bible. We get them from the Methodists. Our “method” of worship is from the “Method”-ists. The method of worship Adventists have been doing for years now is neither Biblical or unbiblical. It is acceptable, but so are many other methods as well. While many do not think Zoom church is real church, I have no doubt that Paul would have included Zoom as assembling ourselves together. It is real biblical church.

Jesus did not promise blessings for worshipping in a building, but for worshipping in the Spirit.

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem….But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:21-24 NLT

Jesus did not promise to be with us for meeting in a building but for meeting in His name.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20 NKJV

Just as one person from Sydney and one person from London can be together on a Zoom Bible study likewise they can be gathered together in the name of Jesus while one is still in Sydney and the other is in London.

While it may be more ideal to worship in person Zoom and similar venues are still real worship venues. Just like in 3 John 1:13-14 John says he does not want to just write letters but meet face to face. Still the letters were legitimate forms of communication. The idea that true worship and unity must involve physical proximity is an illusion. Real worship is not done in a building. It is done in the Spirit.

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

Video: Why Did Jesus let Lazarus Suffer?

Friday’s section of this week’s lesson asks, if God is in charge why do innocent people suffer?

The question reminded me of the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead that I recently read about in John 11:1-44. Let’s take a look at some of the points in this story that may help us answer this question.

When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4 NKJV

The good news for all of us is that even though Lazarus dies that is not how the story ends! Lazarus is resurrected. Dear friend if you have recently laid a loved one to rest be assured that is not how the story ends. Death is not the final chapter. The resurrection is. still, Jesus allowed one of his best friends to get sick and die. Why? Verse 4 tells us so that God would be glorified. Are you willing to get sick and even face death if it will give God glory? This reminds me of a sermon I heard a long time ago on Hebrews 11:35-38 which mentions people who were killed for their faith. The preacher said many say they have enough faith to be healed but do we have enough faith not to be healed? What if more people became converted through our death than our life? What if our sickness glorified God more than our health? This new year I realized God does not need me to make goals and plans. He needs me to make a total surrender. This new year I rededicated my life to Jesus and told Him I was totally surrendered to Him. He can take me and do with me as He pleases in 2021. He can promote me if that will glorify His name. He can also let me get sick and die if that will glorify his name. After all, by giving my life to Jesus I am only giving what I was not going to be able to keep anyways.

So Jesus allows Lazarus to get sick and die so it would glorify God. How so? Well this is why it was so important for Jesus to let him actually die and then not show up to the home till four days afterwards. Had Jesus forsaken Lazarus and his sisters by seeming so distant? Not at all! It was all part of a magnificent plan that would bring glory to God with a happy ending for all. Remember when Jesus healed the little girl in Mark 5:21-43? He said the girl was not dead but only asleep. Everyone laughed at Him. Of course Jesus calls death sleep since the dead person is going to be resurrected. However the Sadducees and Pharisees both loved to twist the words of Jesus. The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection especially had something at stake in the miracle Jesus performed for this little girl. Jesus’ statement that the girl was not dead but asleep could have given the Sadducees opportunity to say that even Jesus admitted Himself that the girl was only asleep and had never actually died. Thus Jesus did not actually resurrect her. I believe this is very possible because even today people love twisting the words of prophecy and Scripture to their own destruction. I believe the Sadducees very well could have used that as an opportunity to twist Jesus’ words when He said she was not dead but only asleep.

If the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to twist Jesus’ own words (Incidentally I think this is why a colleague years ago told me to use as few words as possible when talking thus reducing the opportunity for my enemies to twist my words.) to discredit His miracle of raising the girl to life, thus making many people lose faith in God this could explain why Jesus allowed Lazarus to get sick and die. Not only die but by waiting four days there is no way anyone could say he was not actually dead but just literally sleeping as they insinuated with the girl. Obviously Jesus’ plan worked because the story says,

Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  John 11:45 NKJV

By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions who have faced death have been comforted with the hope of the resurrection. By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions have believed in Jesus as their Savior from sin and death. God wants us to prosper in heath and strength as we love and serve God with all of our health and strength. But if God could win more people to His kingdom by letting you suffer and die would you be okay with that?

The one who stands nearest to Christ will be he who has drunk most deeply of His spirit of self-sacrificing love,–love that “vaunteth not itself, . . . seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil,”–love that moves the disciple, as it moved our Lord, to give all, to live and labor and sacrifice even unto death, for the saving of humanity. –Ellen White, Conflict and Courage, Page 314.

Why did Jesus Allow Lazarus to Suffer?

I am writing this morning from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Friday’s section of this week’s lesson asks, if God is in charge why do innocent people suffer?

The question reminded me of the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead that I recently read about in John 11:1-44. Let’s take a look at some of the points in this story that may help us answer this question.

When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4 NKJV

The good news for all of us is that even though Lazarus dies that is not how the story ends! Lazarus is resurrected. Dear friend if you have recently laid a loved one to rest be assured that is not how the story ends. Death is not the final chapter. The resurrection is. still, Jesus allowed one of his best friends to get sick and die. Why? Verse 4 tells us so that God would be glorified. Are you willing to get sick and even face death if it will give God glory? This reminds me of a sermon I heard a long time ago on Hebrews 11:35-38 which mentions people who were killed for their faith. The preacher said many say they have enough faith to be healed but do we have enough faith not to be healed? What if more people became converted through our death than our life? What if our sickness glorified God more than our health? This new year I realized God does not need me to make goals and plans. He needs me to make a total surrender. This new year I rededicated my life to Jesus and told Him I was totally surrendered to Him. He can take me and do with me as He pleases in 2021. He can promote me if that will glorify His name. He can also let me get sick and die if that will glorify his name. After all, by giving my life to Jesus I am only giving what I was not going to be able to keep anyways.

So Jesus allows Lazarus to get sick and die so it would glorify God. How so? Well this is why it was so important for Jesus to let him actually die and then not show up to the home till four days afterwards. Had Jesus forsaken Lazarus and his sisters by seeming so distant? Not at all! It was all part of a magnificent plan that would bring glory to God with a happy ending for all. Remember when Jesus healed the little girl in Mark 5:21-43? He said the girl was not dead but only asleep. Everyone laughed at Him. Of course Jesus calls death sleep since the dead person is going to be resurrected. However the Sadducees and Pharisees both loved to twist the words of Jesus. The Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection especially had something at stake in the miracle Jesus performed for this little girl. Jesus’ statement that the girl was not dead but asleep could have given the Sadducees opportunity to say that even Jesus admitted Himself that the girl was only asleep and had never actually died. Thus Jesus did not actually resurrect her. I believe this is very possible because even today people love twisting the words of prophecy and Scripture to their own destruction. I believe the Sadducees very well could have used that as an opportunity to twist Jesus’ words when He said she was not dead but only asleep.

If the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to twist Jesus’ own words (Incidentally I think this is why a colleague years ago told me to use as few words as possible when talking thus reducing the opportunity for my enemies to twist my words.) to discredit His miracle of raising the girl to life, thus making many people lose faith in God this could explain why Jesus allowed Lazarus to get sick and die. Not only die but by waiting four days there is no way anyone could say he was not actually dead but just literally sleeping as they insinuated with the girl. Obviously Jesus’ plan worked because the story says,

Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  John 11:45 NKJV

By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions who have faced death have been comforted with the hope of the resurrection. By allowing Lazarus to suffer and die millions have believed in Jesus as their Savior from sin and death. God wants us to prosper in heath and strength as we love and serve God with all of our health and strength. But if God could win more people to His kingdom by letting you suffer and die would you be okay with that?

The one who stands nearest to Christ will be he who has drunk most deeply of His spirit of self-sacrificing love,–love that “vaunteth not itself, . . . seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil,”–love that moves the disciple, as it moved our Lord, to give all, to live and labor and sacrifice even unto death, for the saving of humanity. –Ellen White, Conflict and Courage, Page 314.

The Sabbath Teaches us to Love God and Others

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 NLT

I have always been told and even taught myself that the first four commandments tell us how to love God and the last six tell us how to love our family and neighbors. lately my eyes have been opened to the fact that the fourth commandment not only tells us how to love God but also how to love others.

but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. Exodus 20:10 NLT

The Sabbath embraces the spirit of loving God with all our heart as well as loving our neighbor as ourselves.  In Exodus 16 the preparation day was brought to our attention as well as the Sabbath. No one was to gather and prepare food that day. By observing the Sabbath today we give all our family and servants the day off. We do not require anyone to work for us. The Sabbath was made for the needs of the people and not our needs only. Years ago the pastor in my church was studying with a lady who was a waitress at a local diner. When the pastor explained to her that the Bible teaches us to rest from work on the Sabbath she asked, “Well then who will serve all your members who come to eat at my restaurant after church?” The Sabbath commandment is clear that no one is to be working for us on the Sabbath, even the stranger, meaning those who may not even believe as we do. The grace that has been extended to us we shall extend to others. The rest that has been given to us has been given to all people.

Extending grace and rest to others has been something God’s people have struggled with. Yes even though we struggle we are still God’s people. Nehemiah addressed this issue in his day, and he calls the people he rebuked nobles. I am sure it is because he thought so highly of them that he gave them special instruction.

In those days I saw men of Judah treading out their winepresses on the Sabbath. They were also bringing in grain, loading it on donkeys, and bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of produce to Jerusalem to sell on the Sabbath. So I rebuked them for selling their produce on that day. Some men from Tyre, who lived in Jerusalem, were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise. They were selling it on the Sabbath to the people of Judah—and in Jerusalem at that! So I confronted the nobles of Judah. “Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?” I asked.  “Wasn’t it just this sort of thing that your ancestors did that caused our God to bring all this trouble upon us and our city? Now you are bringing even more wrath upon Israel by permitting the Sabbath to be desecrated in this way!” Then I commanded that the gates of Jerusalem should be shut as darkness fell every Friday evening, not to be opened until the Sabbath ended. I sent some of my own servants to guard the gates so that no merchandise could be brought in on the Sabbath day. Nehemiah 13:15-19 NLT

I want to challenge us to be careful to guard our gates on the Sabbath and making sure even the foreigner or stranger is given rest. Do the donuts we bring to Sabbath School have to be picked up that morning to be hot and fresh? Could they actually be picked up on preparation day? I know Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath but last time I checked donuts did not contain any grain or anything essential to our well being on the Sabbath. Plus the disciples were not buying or selling or causing anyone else to serve them. Could our fellowship dinners after church Sabbath be made a little simpler? Should other church members be slaving in the kitchen while we enjoy the sermon? I am not trying to be old school. I just want to be Biblical. I want to remember that the Sabbath is not just about God and myself. It is about God and all of His creation.

In Matthew 12:10-12 Jesus met some people who would rescue a lamb on the Sabbath because it affected their livelihood but had no compassion for a man in need of healing. They could not see beyond their own noses when it came to Sabbath keeping. Isaiah 58:1-14 teaches us that true Sabbath keeping and true worship on any day for that matter is to put self aside and care for others. The Sabbath teaches us to put God and others first. The Sabbath teaches us not only to love God but our family and neighbors as well, including strangers and foreigners. The Sabbath teaches us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. In the KIV Isaiah 58:12 says we are to restore the breach. The Sabbath commandment restores a breach bridging the gap between loving God in the first three commandments and loving our neighbor in the last six commandments. The Sabbath commandment is right there in the middle telling us to love God and our neighbor.

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