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.

Glimpses of the Cross Day 10; Jesus Cares For His Mother

 
I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27 NLT 

 

As the eyes of Jesus wandered over the multitude about Him, one figure arrested His attention. At the foot of the cross stood His mother, supported by the disciple John. She could not endure to remain away from her Son; and John, knowing that the end was near, had brought her again to the cross. In His dying hour, Christ remembered His mother. Looking into her grief-stricken face and then upon John, He said to her, “Woman, behold thy son!” then to John, “Behold thy mother!” John understood Christ’s words, and accepted the trust. He at once took Mary to his home, and from that hour cared for her tenderly. O pitiful, loving Saviour; amid all His physical pain and mental anguish, He had a thoughtful care for His mother! He had no money with which to provide for her comfort; but He was enshrined in the heart of John, and He gave His mother to him as a precious legacy. Thus He provided for her that which she most needed,–the tender sympathy of one who loved her because she loved Jesus. And in receiving her as a sacred trust, John was receiving a great blessing. She was a constant reminder of his beloved Master.
The perfect example of Christ’s filial love shines forth with undimmed luster from the mist of ages. For nearly thirty years Jesus by His daily toil had helped bear the burdens of the home. And now, even in His last agony, He remembers to provide for His sorrowing, widowed mother. The same spirit will be seen in every disciple of our Lord. Those who follow Christ will feel that it is a part of their religion to respect and provide for their parents. From the heart where His love is cherished, father and mother will never fail of receiving thoughtful care and tender sympathy. –Desire of Ages, Page 752

Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 1

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:30-35 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.  –Desire of Ages, Page 98

Mary was not filled with the Holy Spirit by any works that she had done, but because she believed the promise.

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. Luke 1:38 NLT 

Many believe Jesus had an advantage over us in living a victorious life because, while being born in human flesh He was also born of the Holy Spirit. However Jesus offers to us the same advantage, if we like Mary will only believe!

 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” John 3:3-8 NLT

Does a Revival Have to be Traditional to be Genuine?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

 

Last week I pulled up behind a stopped car at a red light. We both were waiting to make a left turn. The light turned green but the car in front of me just sat there. I politely honked my horn. The car continued to just sit there. Frustrated I decided to just go around the parked car and make my left turn! As I did I almost hit a fire truck with lights flashing and siren blaring! Suddenly I realized why the car in front of me was just sitting there during the green light. Apparently I had my Philips Craig and Dean Best Hits CD blaring so loudly, I could not hear the siren like the car in front of me could. I felt like a fool for honking at the car in front of me and then for trying to just go around it. I thought I knew what was going on but obviously did not really understand the situation.

A couple thousand years ago, Joseph thought he understood the situation when his fiancée Mary got pregnant. Even so, Joseph decided to keep quiet about his suspicions and divorce Mary quietly. Smart man! He did not go off spouting accusations publicly that he would have to retract later. And with the evidence, you couldn’t blame Joseph for thinking he understood the situation. Like Joseph, how slow we should be to judge even when we think we have all the evidence we need for a verdict.

Joseph was a man who loved truth so an angel comes to assure him that what is going on with Mary is nothing sinister, but on the contrary is of the Holy Spirit.

“As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20 NLT

How often have we been quick to judge something in the church and condemn it because it is not normal or strange to us? While we do not want to fall for a false revival, let’s also be aware that a genuine revival may not come just the way we expect it, just like Jesus did not come the way Joseph expected!

“Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention. We must be deadly in earnest. We are on the very verge of times of trouble and perplexities that are scarcely dreamed of.” –Ellen White, Evangelism pages 122-123

When it comes to revival for the church or evangelism for the community, let’s not put God in our traditional boxes and limit Him to work within our conventional imagination.

You say, “Oh but we must be so careful we don’t fall for a counterfeit revival!” I understand. So did the angel talking to Joseph. While the situation with Mary was very strange to say the least, the angel assured Joseph it was also Biblical!

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel which means ‘God is with us.’”Isaiah 7:14 NLT

 

So just because something is strange to us does not mean it is not of the Holy Spirit or UN-Biblical! Mary’s situation was both strange and nontraditional while still being absolutely Biblical!

 

So if we see something new going on in the church let’s not condemn it just because it is strange or new to us. Like Joseph, let’s be slow to judge before we condemn something that may actually be of the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray and be open to heavenly Beings leading us in accordance with Scripture.

You may study this week’s SS lesson on revival here.

The Resurrection and the Presence of God

Shields Home 019

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Several years ago I was flying from Fort Worth Texas to g home to Tulsa Oklahoma for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a short flight and I was on what was called a commuter plane. Upon landing, instead of pulling up  to the terminal like the big jets, we were let out on the tarmac. I went up the stairs into the terminal and saw my family staring out the window looking for my plane, which they thought would pull all the way up to the terminal. This was well before 9-11 when family and friends could greet you right at the gate.

Since they were still looking out the window I and did not know I was already there I decided to play a joke on them. I found a newspaper and went to sit down beside them. I listened as mom said, “Is that William’s plane landing now?” Dad replied, “No. That is an American Airlines plane. He is coming in on Delta.” My two year old niece, Hannah was the first to notice me. She was very intelligent, even back then, because instead of saying anything, she just smiled at me with a huge smile, and twinkle in her little eyes as though she understood the joke and was playing along too. She knew I was near, though the grown-ups were clueless of my presence.

Finally I realized the rest of my family was not as adept as my two-year old niece, so I finally put my paper down and turned to my sister sitting next to me. “Ma’am, will you please tell me what time it is?” She glanced at her watch and then glanced back at me in shock. “He’s here!” she exclaimed. The whole family was shocked to find that I was sitting with them while they were still expecting me to come. The other day I mentioned this to my mother who remembered how startling it was to find I was with them while they thought I was far off.

For years now I have been using this experience as an illustration when preaching about the resurrection of Jesus. Mary stood at the tomb and in her grief was unaware of Jesus’ presence.

 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). John 20:15-16 NLT

In her grief, Mary did not recognize the presence of Jesus, but He was still there just the same. On that beautiful day Mary was not the only person mistaking His presence and identity. Later in the same day Jesus is walking down a road that led to Emmaus. Luke fills us in.

As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  But God kept them from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.  Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

“What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.  But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report.  They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:13-27

For years I have been using this passage when studying about the Scriptures, on how Jesus could have just opened their eyes and showed them his nail sacred hands and said, “Look it’s me!” But He did not do this. Instead of going by sight, He wanted them going by the Scriptures. So instead of opening their physical eyes it was their spiritual eyes, their hearts that He opened. Seeing will never become believing, until you can finally see it with your heart and not just your eyes. So today, Jesus does not want us putting our faith in feelings or in signs and wonders. He wants us to put our faith in the Scriptures.

I realized last Sabbath though, that while having this understanding of the above passage, there was more. While listening to our associate pastor, Claudette Aleman, speak last Sabbath she read,

“As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  But God kept them from recognizing him.”

Then she asked the question, “Have you ever gone through a hard time in your life, only to find that Jesus was with you and you did not know it?”

Again I was reminded, just like Mary, these two men were grieving, and Jesus came near and joined them, but they did not perceive that it was Jesus who was with them.

Friend, you may be going through a hard time right now and wonder where God is. I promise you He is with you. I know this because the Scriptures, which Jesus saw as more valid than sight say so.

Even when I walk   through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Psalms 23:4 NLT

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. Isaiah 43:2

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20 NLT

For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”Hebrews 13:5 NLT

Today we have Facebook, text messaging and even Skype to keep us close to each other, but even better than that Paul tells us in Acts 17:27,

“He [God] is not far from any one of us.”

Today when I go through a dark valley and don’t necessarily feel God’s presence, I just open the eyes of my heart, my childlike heart, and smile at God with a twinkle in the eyes of my childlike faith. He smiles back at me. The grown- up skeptics may be clueless of His presence. My little niece was not imagining things when she saw me, though no one else could. I know my childlike heart is not imagining things when it sees God. We smile at each other. I know He is near.

The Spirit of Christmas

Christmas gallaria

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

It was my first Christmas season in Florida. Shortly after Thanksgiving, a father showed up to our Bible study, very discouraged. It was his daughter’s 11th birthday, and due to finances at home he did not have a single dime to buy her a gift. Several days later, I was surprised when his daughter called me at the church, asking to put an ad in the church bulletin. She was organizing a group at her school to collect Christmas gifts for kids who had no gifts. In talking to her, it was clear that she was excited about this, and she definitely was not thinking about any gift for herself. That really touched my heart. This child understood more than the meaning of Christmas. She understood the meaning of life! She was so busy thinking of others that she had no time to feel sorry for herself. I appreciate the Christmas season as it helps me to see the good that is in people all year long. I’m sorry not everyone sees it that way.

Imagine this scenario. It’s a beautiful sunny Florida day. You call me and say, “William, let’s go to the beach and enjoy a beautiful sunset.” I respond, “No way! Don’t you know that some pagans worship the sun, therefore we should have nothing to do with it!” Not very balanced thinking huh? Likewise just because there may be some pagan things pertaining to Christmas it should not keep us from worshiping the Son on that day! I have heard that Christmas is a Catholic holiday. Does that make it wrong? Just because you are not a Catholic does not mean everything they do or have done is bad. Catholics operate good hospitals all over the world where people of all faiths and beliefs receive compassionate care. If we are not Catholic does that mean that we should not have good hospitals just because they do? There are many good Catholics who pray every day. Should we refrain from prayer because Catholics pray? Of course not. So why should we refrain from celebrating a holiday that makes the whole world think of Jesus? Remember, like Christmas, Martin Luther’s origins were Catholic too, so as good protestants should we reject him too? No. We need to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21  Please remember that in Romans 13 Paul tells us to go along with things as long as they don’t go against the Word of God. While Sunday observance opposes the Sabbath observance, celebrating Christmas does not oppose anything Biblical.

Please remember, that while Paul clearly taught that the feast days were no longer binding, but were a shadow of things to come (See Colossians 2:14-17) that he still went up to Pentecost, as it was an opportunity for him to share Jesus with everyone. (See Acts 20:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:8) with the same missionary Spirit that Paul had, should we not also take advantage of celebrations that enable us to share Jesus, including Christmas and Easter?

The Spirit of Prophecy that rested upon Paul stays consistent as it rested upon Ellen White, who tells us Christmas serves a good purpose.

As the twenty-fifth of December is observed to commemorate the birth of Christ, as the children have been instructed by precept and example that this was indeed a day of gladness and rejoicing, you will find it a difficult matter to pass over this period without giving it some attention. It can be made to serve a very good purpose. –Ellen White, Adventist Home, Page 478

I believe that if Christmas was a day that we should ignore, that God’s prophet would have instructed us so very clearly. She does not instruct us to ignore this day. God gave her no such message.

Nor does the Spirit of Prophecy tell us that a Christmas tree within itself is pagan.

God would be well pleased if on Christmas, each church would have a Christmas tree on which shall be hung offerings, great and small, for these houses of worship. Letters of inquiry have come to us asking, Shall we have a Christmas tree? will it not be like the world? We answer, You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible. There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen, and placing it in our churches; but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action, and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree.  –Ellen White, Review and Herald, December 11, 1879 par. 15

Yes, we all know Jesus was not born on December 25. We do not need to celebrate it as Christ’s actual birthday. We celebrate the fact that Jesus became a man and died for our sins. Maybe Christmas was inspired by pagan motives. Joseph’s brothers had “pagan” motives when they sold him to the Ishmaelites. No matter. God used it for good and made Joseph a savior of his times. So today, we have an excellent opportunity to allow God to use a day set up by sinful mankind to turn peoples’ minds and hearts to the Savior. The original motives good or bad do not matter at this point. God can use it for good. This does not contradict Bible doctrine.

My mind goes back to another Christmas I celebrated with my church in Fort Worth Texas. Christmas fell on a Sabbath that year. My church decided to spend Sabbath feeding lunch to the homeless downtown. We had several kids of all ages with us. They were delighted to serve. Now, most of these families waited till sundown to celebrate Christmas and open their gifts, so even though it was late in the afternoon, these children had not opened their gifts yet. After we served and cleaned up I figured, and the parents figured too, that the kids would now be in a hurry to rush home in time for sundown to open their gifts. That is not what happened. These kids begged us to let them stay and serve the evening meal as well, even though another group was coming in to do that. The kids were so excited that they got to stay and serve total strangers instead of rushing home to open their gifts.

Friends the Christmas Spirit these kids manifested, and the Christmas Spirit of my Bible study student’s  daughter was not a pagan spirit. It was a spirit of self sacrificing love, which is what true Christianity is all about!

When Joseph found out Mary was with child, he thought it was rather obvious she had an affair. Wouldn’t it seem obvious to you too? Joseph was wise to hold his peace and not say anything publically against Mary. Good thing he didn’t say anything, because Joseph found out that what had happened was actually done by the Holy Spirit. I am saddened when people judge the motives of people celebrating the Christmas Spirit, by calling them pagan, when in fact they are actually moved by the Holy Spirit celebrating the meaning of life which is Christ Himself.

John 18-19; The Closing Scenes

I am writing from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

   It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.  {Desire of Ages  83.4} 

John 19:25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 

 19:26    When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 

 19:27    Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own [home]. 

  As the eyes of Jesus wandered over the multitude about Him, one figure arrested His attention. At the foot of the cross stood His mother, supported by the disciple John. She could not endure to remain away from her Son; and John, knowing that the end was near, had brought her again to the cross. In His dying hour, Christ remembered His mother. Looking into her grief-stricken face and then upon John, He said to her, “Woman, behold thy son!” then to John, “Behold thy mother!” John understood Christ’s words, and accepted the trust. He at once took Mary to his home, and from that hour cared for her tenderly. O pitiful, loving Saviour; amid all His physical pain and mental anguish, He had a thoughtful care for His mother! He had no money with which to provide for her comfort; but He was enshrined in the heart of John, and He gave His mother to him as a precious legacy. Thus He provided for her that which she most needed,–the tender sympathy of one who loved her because she loved Jesus. And in receiving her as a sacred trust, John was receiving a great blessing. She was a constant reminder of his beloved Master. 

     The perfect example of Christ’s filial love shines forth with undimmed luster from the mist of ages. For nearly thirty years Jesus by His daily toil had helped bear the burdens of the home. And now, even in His last agony, He remembers to provide for His sorrowing, widowed mother. The same spirit will be seen in every disciple of our Lord. Those who follow Christ will feel that it is a part of their religion to respect and provide for their parents. From the heart where His love is cherished, father and mother will never fail of receiving thoughtful care and tender sympathy.  {Desire of Ages, p. 752}