Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV
Ever been haunted by your past? Sometimes I will have a flashback of some off-the-cuff smart remark I made to an elder when I was kid, and I will still cringe and want to go hide under a rock 40 years later! I believe Paul’s history of persecuting Christians may have haunted him too. Except for the fact that Paul never persecuted the Christians. That was Saul. Paul was a new creature,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV
Saul the persecutor was converted, and became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 233
God wants to give us all a fresh, new start.
The story goes of a man who was driving down an old highway out in the country when he accidentally ran over a cat. He pulled over and inspected the cat, which sure enough was dead. He looked and saw a house in the distance at the top of a hill. He took the dead cat to the door and knocked. An old lady answered the door, and he said, “I am sorry Ma’m is this your cat?”
“Well it was she responded.” The man told her how sorry he was that he had just hit and killed her cat. She forgave him and they both took the cat to the backyard and buried it. A few weeks later the man found himself driving past the house again. The terrible memories came back again, and he drove up to the house, went in the backyard, dug up the dead cat and took it to the front door again. When the lady answered, he started telling her all over how sorry he was! She reminded him she already forgave him and she helped the man bury the cat again. A few more weeks went by and the man found himself driving by the house again and once again was overcome with grief, and went and dug the cat back up and took it to the house. By this time the woman was fed up and ordered him to stop bringing the dead cat to her door!
God does not want us bringing dead cats to His door either. Don’t go digging up what His grace has buried. He wants us to leave our dead cats behind us and press for the goal. God wants to make you a new creature, just like He made Saul a new creature and turned him into Paul.
You may study this week’s SS lesson here.
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
Abstain from all appearance of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV
A misunderstanding of this verse has crippled the success of many missionaries. A young student loses his parents, and his teacher is afraid to put her arm around his shoulder and comfort him for fear she might be accused of evil. A pastor is having studies with a bar tender in his home and needs to swing by the bar to pick up his umbrella he left, at the bar tender’s home. What will people think if they see him walk into a bar? Is that giving the appearance of evil? No! It is just giving the appearance of walking into a bar!
My purpose here is not to lessen the accountability of Gospel workers. My point is to help us, as missionaries, be healthy and balanced. Yes we must be careful not to put ourselves in compromising positions, but at the same time we must realize, there are some unbalanced people out there who will misconstrue and misrepresent just about everything, and we can’t allow them to cripple our ministry. It reminds me of when, after 9-11, President George Bush told his fellow citizens to go on with their daily lives, regardless of terrorist threats, otherwise the terrorists win. Likewise, if Satan can cripple our ministry by making us over-analyze and stretch our imagination to see how each action and motive can be misconstrued into something evil, then Satan wins.
The truly converted soul is illuminated from on high, and Christ is in that soul “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” His words, his motives, his actions, may be misinterpreted and falsified; but he does not mind it because he has greater interests at stake. –Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 5, Page 569
There is a line between giving “the appearance of evil” and someone else judging us.
I have seen other gospel workers’ ministries become totally paralyzed by their understanding of what Paul said about not appearing evil. The NLT version of Paul’s earlier quote simply says,
Stay away from every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 NLT
Just because someone else judges us does not automatically mean we have given the appearance of evil. And by the way, just because someone claims to have the gift of discerning spirits does not mean they really have that gift. They may just have the gift of judging and causing dissension. Jesus’ own disciples were surprised when they saw Him talking to a woman at the well. The Pharisees judged Jesus for hanging out with prostitutes and publicans, but He never gave “the appearance of evil”! They were judging.
A teacher can put her arms around a hurting child and still stay far from evil. A pastor can walk into a bar without it appearing to be evil, so long as he does not walk like he is drunk or make jokes about drinking. Joking about drinking oractually insinuating you are doing something evil is when you give the appearance of evil. Just because something can be misconstrued by someone with a dirty mind does not mean it is giving the appearance of evil. It simply means someone has a dirty mind.
Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15 NLT
Satan will use unhealthy, unstable people to misconstrue and misjudge our every move. We cannot let God’s work be paralyzed by people with wild and dirty imaginations. The key, I believe, is to have a healthy understanding of where the line is between giving the appearance of actual evil, and someone else just judging according to their unhealthy imagination. We can’t let unhealthy imaginations dictate our mission. It’s a matter of healthy boundaries – knowing where our responsibility ends and others’ responsibility begins.
Joseph had his motives and actions misjudged and misconstrued but in the end Pharaoh himself said,
“Can we find anyone else like this man [Joseph] so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Genesis 41:38 NLT
Obviously the prior accusations against Joseph did not mean anything to Pharaoh. He could see right through the false accusations and see Joseph’s mission was filled with the spirit of God. So long as our mission is filled with the Spirit of God, balanced healthy people will see through any false insinuations and God will make our mission successful just like He did for Joseph.
You may study this week’s SS lesson on Biblical Missionaries here.
One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent. Matthew 12:38-41 NLT
When I am on the campus of our Community Adventist school, and a student walks up to me with their Bible and asks a question, it makes me feel important and needed. When a student walks up to me with their composition paper and asks for me help it makes me feel like my passion for writing is recognized and appreciated. When a student walks up to me with their history book it makes me feel knowledgeable and helpful. But when a 5th grader walks up to me with their math book it makes me feel stupid and useless! Math was never my thing. But I don’t feel alone. I know a lot of parents who have trouble helping their kids with math, and I have met a few teachers who are lost without their answer sheets. Math baffles the best of us, and the math in Matthew 12:38-41 has baffled many.
Because of a misunderstanding of the point Jesus is making here, many have lost faith in the Friday crucifixion and have tried to move it to Wednesday, so they can fit Jesus in the tomb for three full days. Others have lost faith in the Bible completely because they say the math just does not add up here. That is very sad and unfortunate because believe it or not, Jesus’ point and the sign He is giving is really not about math at all.
Okay, some of you are not convinced, so let’s address the math issue first there. I will do so quickly because I want to get to the point, and I am not a math teacher. There are two theories. One theory is that any part of the day counts as a whole part of the day. The same is true for years. If a king became king on December 31 and lost his throne on January 1 the record books would say he ruled for 2 years, even though it wasn’t even a full year or even a full two days. So since Jesus was in the grave part of Friday, all of Sabbath, and part of Sunday, it was three days.
The second theory is that the heart of the earth is not even the grave. Remember how the Millerites thought the sanctuary was the earth that was going to be cleansed by fire in 1844? Turns out they had the time of the prophecy right, but the place wrong. They made an assumption that the earth was the sanctuary with no Biblical confirmation to their assumption. When it says “God so loved the world” inJohn 3:16 it is not saying God loved the rocks and the dirt. He loved the people. So when Jesus says the son of man will be in the heart of the earth, could He have simply been talking about the people and the population? If you take a day for a year in Bible prophecy (See Ezekiel 4:6) you have Jesus preaching in the heart of the earth for three years or three prophetic days. After all Jesus was in a tomb not the earth or ground.
I am not going to recommend which theory to believe here, because like I said, math is not my thing. I will say this. I am sure there was nothing fuzzy about Jesus’ math. He created math! I am also not going to recommend which theory to believe because the math part distracts us from the whole point Jesus was making.
In the story of Jonah you had a prophet who was more worried about his status and reputation as a prophet than he was about the salvation of souls. When his prediction of Ninevah being destroyed did not come true Jonah says,
Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” Jonah 4:3 NLT
Say what?! Jonah cared more about his status and reputation than he did about the salvation of 120,000 souls! If he wasn’t going to look good he did not want any part of it. Sadly this is how the religious leaders in Jesus’ day thought too! This is why Jesus used the sign of Jonah. In the story of Jonah you had the wicked Ninevites humbling themselves so they could be saved, and you even had the pagan sailors praying to God when they had throw Jonah overboard. In the story of Jonah everyone humbled themselves except the prophet who should have known better and been the first to humble himself! The sign of Jonah is that while Jesus was walking the earth Samaritans and gentile kings humbly worshiped Jesus but the proud Jewish leaders were not about to humble themselves and do so. This is the point Jesus was making. Don’t let the math distract you either way. Don’t let your pride get in the way of accepting Jesus as your Savior and don’t let your pride get in the way of leading others to Jesus. Pride was the downfall of Jonah and the religious rulers of Jesus’ day.
Is pride and arrogance still an issue in our church today? Are there some who are more worried about their status and reputation than the salvation of souls? Like I said before, I am no mathematician. A few times when I have had to sub for the entire today at our church school I have problems with the math part. A 5th grade girl brought a math problem to me one day, and I had to confess I was just as stumped as she was. Then I thought to myself, why are you telling a kid how dumb you are? Then I told myself, hey, if me looking stupid made the little girl not feel better about herself for not understanding then I did my job! Sometimes we can help people by humbling ourselves and not looking so high and mighty.
Unlike Jonah and the rulers of Jesus’ day, Jesus had no pride. Jonah would rather the whole world perish than for him to look like a fool. On the other hand, Jesus chose to look like a fool on the cross rather than let the world perish. Are you more like Jonah or more like Jesus?
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.