The Day God’s Love Made the Universe Stand Still

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

There is a saying, “kids who are loved at home come to school to learn. Kids who are not loved at home come to school to be loved.” Is it any different in Sabbath School? Is it also true that God’s children (ages 0-125) who know they are loved come to Sabbath school to learn, and those who don’t yet know they are loved, come to Sabbath School to be loved?

I can still remember sitting at my desk in my 4th-grade classroom at Tulsa Adventist Academy, listening to my teachers, Miss Fisher and Mrs. Krueger, lecturing us about something. I don’t really remember exactly what it was about, but we must have been struggling with our grades, because all I remember is, both teachers told us, “If you only learn one thing this year learn this. We love you!”  Now we were loved at home. We were loved at church and school, but as educated as my teachers were, they knew the most important thing is not money or a degree. It’s love. Without that nothing else matters, and when you know you are loved, nothing can stop you!

For the love of Christ controls and compels us, because we have concluded this, that One died for all, therefore all died (2 Corinthians 5:14 Amplified Bible)

So while humanity tries harder, and reads self-help books and tries 12-step recovery programs, Paul says it is by looking at the cross and knowing we are loved that we get all our power to succeed. I remember John the Baptist telling everyone to “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John 1:29. He didn’t tell them to try harder next time. He told them to look at the Lamb. Let His love soak into you.

As legalistic humans we are always wanting to promise to try harder next time. But the answer is not promising to try harder. The answer is letting yourself be loved.

In Jeremiah God mentions how Israel had not kept the promises they had made, so He was going to make a better promise. His promise would be better because He is the the One making the promise instead of them. He is the perfect Promise-maker while we are lousy promise-makers!

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33 NLT)

So God promises to do for us what we could never even promise to do for ourselves, much less even try harder to make happen. God is the One promising, and He is the One who is accountable to make it so. Please notice something very important though. Its in Jeremiah 31:3 NLT, several verses before He promises to write His law on our hearts.

I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.

Just like my teachers realized all the book knowledge in the world doesn’t mean a thing without love, God feels the same way. Knowing all the laws and having them memorized in your mind and knowing them all by heart doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know how much God loves you!

Friends, there is no reason for you to promise God you are going to try harder and do better next time. He has already promised you! We don’t need to promise God what He has already promised us! What? I don’t have any work to do myself? Well yes, and I will let Jesus tell you Himself, exactly what your work is.

 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29 NLT

Our work is to believe God’s promise that He loves us with an everlasting love, and He will place the principles of His love (also known as His law) in our hearts!

This is why John never told us to try harder! Just look at the Lamb and let His love soak into your heart till your heart is saturated with His love, which is also His law. You don’t need to promise God anything. Your work is to believe the promises God has made to you!

In 2017, I don’t need too many self-help books. I don’t need to try harder. I just need to look at the Lamb in 2017 and fall in love with Jesus! His love will change me in ways I could never change myself. After all, all the self help books and promises of better performance don’t mean a thing without love!

So just how good is God at keeping His promises to love and save us? For brevity, let me share one example. You can read about it in Joshua 9-10.

The Gibeonites used deceit to trick Israel into letting them in on the covenant God had made with them. Even though Israel was not supposed to make a covenant with anyone living as close as the Gibeonites, they did. Later when the Gibeonites were under attack, they called upon Israel to save them, and even though the Gibeonites had used deceit to secure this covenant, God was so relentless in keeping His promise of love, that He caused the sun to stand still until the Gibeonites were all rescued! God fought for Israel as Israel fought for the mischievous Gibeonites. Let that soak in. The Gibeonites were in no way worthy of any of God’s blessings, but God was still so loving and faithful to His promise that He made the sun stand still until they were all rescued! Talk about a love that moves heaven and earth! And this powerful love was given to the most undeserving people! So, scientifically speaking, the greatest power in the universe is not gravity or the suctioning power of the black hole. God’s love overruled all those powers and made the solar system stand still. Imagine what this love can do in your heart! 

God’s powerful promises and love are also for you and me. In Hebrews 13:5 God promises to never leave us or forsake us, but the Amplified Bible is the only English version that even begins to grasp what God is actually promising.

for He has said, “I will never under any circumstances desert you nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless, nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you- assuredly not!” Hebrews 13:5 Amp version.

If we know we are loved we can come to Sabbath School to learn, and we can learn while we are loved, but we can’t learn without love.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 NLT

—and the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT 

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Liberal Towards Others, Conservative Towards Ourselves

“I could say the same things if you were in my place. I could spout off
criticism and shake my head at you. But if it were me, I would encourage you. I would try to take away your grief.” Job 16:4-5 NL
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Seems Job’s friends were being easy on themselves, but hard on Job. How often do we see this today? In the church and in politics we hear of two camps – liberals and conservatives. However we are seldom in one camp or the other. Many of us are liberal in some ways and conservative in other ways. Or we are liberal towards ourselves, but conservative towards others. In other words, we cut ourselves some slack, but we expect everyone else to step it up a notch and hold to the standard. Is that how we should be?

Let’s look at Jesus as our example. Was He in the liberal camp or the conservative camp? Like us, He was in both camps, but instead of being liberal towards Himself, and conservative towards others, He was the exact opposite. When He fasted in the wilderness 40 days, He was conservative towards Himself, but when He worked a miracle to feed the multitude He was liberal towards others.

It is rare to find someone who is truly 100% liberal or 100% conservative. I have heard some preachers preach some pretty liberal sermons, but saw them actually live pretty conservative lives, while I have also heard preachers who preach quite conservative sermons on such topics as diet and Sabbath keeping, but in their personal lives, they are quite liberal in what they allow themselves to eat or do on the Sabbath.

I have met several families who follow Jesus’ example of being liberal towards others but conservative towards themselves. One Sabbath I brought my cheese enchiladas to church, only to find out there was no fellowship dinner that day. A family that was strictly vegan, invited me to their home. They told me, “bring your enchiladas over to our house, and fellowship with us. You can warm them up in our oven, and eat them while we eat what we have prepared.” First they realized how important fellowship is, and did not tell me how terrible I was for eating cheese or tell me I could not bring it into their home. They were liberal towards me, but conservative towards themselves.

Years later I was eating with another family, who had generously given large sums of money to the church for evangelism and had recently given an extremely generous contribution for a youth mission trip. However, in the course of conversation they mentioned, what appeared to me, to be a relatively modest vacation one of their children wanted to take, but the parents said, “We don’t have that kind of money.” Wow! I thought to myself, they can give thousands to evangelism and mission trips, but when it comes to their own vacations they say, ‘We don’t have that kind of money to take a modest vacation for ourselves.” They were liberal towards the needs of the church but were conservative when it came to their own wish list.

As I read the book of Job, it appears to me that he was conservative towards himself but liberal towards others. It appears to me also that his friends were liberal towards themselves but conservative towards Job. So when Job’s entire community, including himself, were conservative towards Job, but everyone including Job were liberal towards his friends, this created a very unbalanced and unhealthy community. A church and community become balanced when like Jesus, each member is liberal towards others but conservative towards themselves.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

The Man Who Never Got to Die

Heron Channelside (5)

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Job 2:8-10 NLT

Like Job’s wife, many have been pushed to the breaking point, to where they see death as the only way out. Fortunately Job realized how foolish this is. Sometimes when we focus on our problems they become bigger than the solution. For example the Sun is infinitely larger than a coin. But if you hold the tiny coin close enough to your eye it will block out the huge sun, only because the coin is closer to your eye than the sun. Sometimes our problems are closer to our minds than God is, and so the tiny problems seem bigger than they really are. This leads some to foolish thinking, and illogical solutions, such as suicide.

It can happen to anyone. After boldly standing for the right, Elijah had a meltdown while running from the queen.

He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die.1 Kings 19:4 NLT

Elijah was short sighted and could only find one solution-death. His problem was like a tiny little coin so close to his eyes that it seemed larger than the sun. This caused him to act and pray foolishly. Look at what happened next.

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. 1 Kings 19:5 NLT

Elijah was stressed and just needed some rest. When we get tired our emotions get the best of us, and we start thinking foolishly, just like Elijah and Job’s wife. Thank God for the Sabbath rest!

God often uses three different ways to answer prayer. He may say “yes,” “no,” or “wait a while.” In his nearsighted desperation Elijah asked to die. God did not grant this request when it was given, or later. God said “No!” Elijah asked to die, and is one of only two people to never get to die! God had a better idea than death. Instead he took Elijah to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). God had a solution Elijah had could never dream up! In our desperate times God is not confined to our shortsighted solutions.

When we, like Job’s wife and Elijah, feel like giving up, let’s remember that the Son is so much bigger than the little problems before our eyes, just like the sun is so much bigger than the little coin we hold before our eyes. Thoughts of giving up and dying are foolish thoughts. Both Job and Elijah saw brighter days, and so will we, when we let God answer our prayers according to His infinite love and wisdom, instead of taking matters into our own foolish hands.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

When Everything Goes Wrong

Fort Desoto Love Letters 030

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. Job 3:10 NLT

While our experience may be different than Job’s, many of us have been in situations, so dire, that we even question our existence.

Wayne’s parents never married. Growing up, he learned to shrug off the names he was called on the church school playground, and ignore the older ladies whispering behind his back in church.

Wayne managed to work his way through school. He got a job, and then got engaged to his best friend. Finally he had someone who loved him and would never leave him, unlike the father he never even knew. He vowed to himself as much as to his fiancee that he would create the perfect home for her, and unlike his biological father, would always be there to provide for his future children. As he looked forward to the wedding, he hoped to begin a new and better life.

But then Wayne’s whole world came crashing down. First, his fiancee broke off their engagement. Then he lost his job. And when he thought he had found a new job at least, his new supervisor told him things were not working out.

Wayne came home to his empty apartment and threw himself down on the floor. Feeling as low as you can get, Wayne felt a huge void in his life.

No one called from church to check up on him either. What’s the point of surviving in a world where no one cares if you survive or not?  Wayne cried out, asking God why nothing was going right. Suddenly a thought came to him – but not from God. He reasoned that his parents never should have had the affair that brought him into this world, and therefore he was never supposed to be born! That has to be it, Wayne reasoned. Nothing works out for me, because God does not have a plan for my life, seeing how my parents never should have made me. His fiancee did not want him. His old job did not want him. Now things were not working at at his new job, and he wondered if anyone needed him or wanted him at all? It sure did not feel like he was wanted or needed by anyone. He was all alone, and it seemed nobody cared if he lived or died. And if no one cared if he lived or died, why should he? Who would miss him if he just vanished away? Obviously no one from his work, or his ex-fiancee.

Wayne was so sure his theory was correct, that the following day at lunch he shared it with a friend from church. When Wayne explained that nothing was working out because he was not supposed to be born, his friend surprised him, by responding, “That is the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard!” Wayne’s friend was close enough that only he could get away with a response like that, but it woke Wayne up enough to realize his theory simply was not true. After all, Solomon was a product of Bathsheba and David’s sinful encounter, yet Solomon went on to write inspired proverbs and became an ancestor of the Savior.

Long story short, Wayne discovered that God did have a plan for his life. Although he’s had his ups and downs, he has had many opportunities to see God’s hand in his life. And God used him and is continuing to use him to pastor his flock.

Like Job, even though God greatly loved and had a plan for Wayne’s life, did not mean his life was just a walk in the park. Even Mary, Jesus’ mother had her moments.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you! ” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! Luke 1:28‭-‬30 NLT

Mary was chosen. She was favored and the Lord was with her. I’m sure she didn’t feel that way when she heard her Son being called a demon and folks questioning the legitimacy of His birth, or when she watched Him being crucified. Still, she was chosen and favored, and God was with her.

If your heart is fully surrendered, take heart. Whatever storm you are going through. You are chosen. You are favored, and the Lord is with you. And yes! God has a plan for your life!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Was Job Just a Guinea Pig?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Occasionally I hear people ask why God used Job for a guinea pig. Why did God allow Job to be tortured just for the sake of making a point to Satan? Was Job just a pawn in God and Satan’s chess game?

At first glance it may appear so, but let’s look a little closer. Fist of all it is said of God,

In all their suffering he also suffered, Isaiah 63:9 NLT

Whatever pain Job felt, God felt it too. While watching a documentary on the holocaust, I heard a woman talking about seeing a small child killed by a concentration camp officer. She said, when that happened, she stopped believing in God. If only she had understood that God was suffering with that poor child. No, that in and of itself does not answer all the questions as to why God allowed Job to suffer and the holocaust to happen, but it does tell me God is not using humanity or Job as a guinea pig or as pawns in some chess match with Satan, if He is suffering just as much as everyone else. I don’t have to have all the answers to trust God. If God allowed sin and suffering, knowing it would cost Him His own dear Son on the cross, then I know there must be a good reason.

Job’s friends came up with a quick answer to the problem of suffering. Surely Job brought this upon himself! For some reason we feel better about God allowing pain and suffering if we figure they somehow deserve it. When we do this we misunderstand the character of God. Fact is God does not want to see anyone suffer, even if they deserve it.

Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

So while we are prone to draw peace form knowing people deserved to suffer, or brought it upon themselves, the fact that they may deserve it is no consolation to God. He hurts just the same.

Even though Job’s friends might not have had the right attitude, Job did learn and grow through his suffering. While he maintains his innocence for the most part of the story, at the end, Job said,

I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance. Job 42:6 NLT

While Job’s friends may have been more than a little rough on him, Job did have some precious lessons to learn, and yes, some precious revelations of God’s grace that could only be found through suffering. Even though God bragged on Job in the first chapter, He did not imply that Job had “arrived.” Job still had some things to learn about himself, and his need for God’s righteousness. Theologians have been trying to answer the question for ages, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” In fact, they’ve come up with a fancy name for it – theodicy. 1 The question why bad things happen to good people is actually hypothetical, because, there are no good people for bad things to happen to!

No one does good, not a single one. Romans 3:12 NLT

Job grew throughout the story, and in his suffering became more intimate with his Redeemer.

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Job 19:25-27 NLT

God did not allow Job to suffer like a guinea pig so God could prove a point to Satan. Job had to suffer to learn obedience just like Jesus did.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:8 NLT

The suffering and obedience led both Jesus and Job into intimacy with the Father. Again, I do not know why. Maybe you do and can comment below. But for now it is enough for me to know that if Jesus had to suffer too, there must be a good reason. My theory is simply that anything that was proven to Satan was not the main event. Job’s character growth and intimacy with God was the main event. The things Job endured were not just to put on some show for the devil to see. They were to bring Job closer to God, and to realize joys and victories, and yes and intimacy with God, that could not have been realized any other way.

  1. Theodicy covers a little more ground than just the question of why good people suffer. It deals with the questions of God’s goodness in the presence of evil.
  2. You may study this week’s SS lesson here.