We’re Still Family!

Cruise

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I imagine when you have spirited disagreements in your Sabbath school that you don’t call each others fools, but that is what Paul does in his letter to the Galatians.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? Galatians 3:1 KJV

As I hope we are, Paul was very passionate about the gospel and theology. He seemed to have pretty thick skin about it. His passion for truth and the right, remind me of this quote.

The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall. –Ellen White, Education, Page 57.

That passage sure sounds like Paul to me, but even though he had thick skin and a passion for standing for the right, and calling sin and incorrect theology by their right names, to the point of calling those who taught it “foolish,” he still had a soft heart.

Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Galatians 3:15 NKJV

Right after calling the Galatians, “foolish” he calls them his brothers! That’s why I think he had thick skin and a soft heart. As crazy as he thought the Galatians were, he still thought of them as family. Now I don’t suggest calling people in your Sabbath school class “fools” when you have a spirited disagreement, but I do suggest still considering them family. You have seen me share this quote a few times before, and here I go again,

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 257.

God wants us to stand for the right though the heavens fall. He wants us to preach the pure gospel. God also wants us to understand that when fellow believers disagree with us, they may be doing their honest best to follow the Holy Spirit, and they are still our brothers and sisters.

Why Circumcision?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Monday’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, and if the Gentiles ever needed to be circumcised. Some have wondered why in the world God wanted the penis involved in a sign of loyalty. Some atheists have made fun of Christianity and the Bible over this topic.

What we need to understand is, the penis was the part of the body Abraham was trusting instead of God’s promise. Confidence in the flesh had to be cut out so all Abraham believed in was God’s promise. In the New Testament Jesus went to the cross and crucified all of our flesh, so that we could live by faith in His promises and not in our self confidence.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NKJV

In baptism we crucify all of our flesh with Christ. Romans 6:3-7. Like circumcision of old, baptism is a sign casting away the confidence of the flesh and trusting God’s promises to make us a new creation, God’s own recreation.

The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating any more, so instead of trusting in God’s promise, he took Sarah’s much younger handmaid, Hagar, and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This represents the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of trusting God to write them on  our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (See Galatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.

So God gave Abraham circumcision as a reminder to trust Him, rather than trying to solve His own problems.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT

Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Because Abraham trusted in his flesh to work things out, God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh that he was trusting, so he would realize that he could do nothing to fulfill His promises. He had to leave it all to God.

For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 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. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98

Now, instead of circumcision, we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water, symbolically dying to self, we rise up to a new life, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.

Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual similar to female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance but is still widely practiced, even though it is harmful to women.

It is worth noting that there is evidence to suggest that certain male health issuesare less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practiced, and circumcision also appears to have benefits for the wives. Others suggest that the same benefits may be experienced by proper hygiene. Thus everyone considering circumcision needs to prayerfully consider the reasons for and against the practice today.

Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would suggest, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or embarrassing an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second,  most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available.

Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.

Paul’s Authority and Relationship With The Church.

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. Galatians 1:1 NLT

I remember sitting in church, no more than four years old, watching the preacher preach, and knowing (not hoping, not wanting, not thinking, but knowing!) that is what I would be doing one day. I am no Paul, and I did not have a Damascus road experience, but I realized, I was called by God and not man. Even though God has called me to ministry, He has still created opportunities for me to work within the church, even though I have my own self supportive ministry. The conference does not pay my salary, but I work along with them, and have no desire to run away from them, and they express their apprecaition for my team work. I say this, because there are those who feel that since they were called by God Himself, they do not need to work with the church.

Did Paul feel that being called directly by God allowed him to work independently of the church? No!

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. Galatians 2:9-10 NLT

We are all called to spread the gospel. Some of us do it as employees of the church, and some of us do it as lay members, or in self supportive independent ministries, but either way we are to work together as a team. This not only means that lay members cooperate with conferences. Conferences must also cooperate with lay members.

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”  “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. Mark 9:38-40 NLT

I remember back in the early ’90s, the church was battling independent ministries, and indepenadent ministries were battling the church. It has been a long time since I have heard of such battles and I am glad. Paul and the church cooperated together to spread the gospel. Jesus says don’t stop independent ministries from spreading the gospel. It is not the job of the church to destroy independent ministries, and it is not the job of independent ministries to destroy the church. It is the job of both to preach the gospel, and even though God may call some to work within church employment, and others to a self supportive or independent ministry, we may all work together as Paul did with the church in his day.

God may call and financially support us independently of the church organization, but He does not call us to minister independently of the church organization. The church needs us and we need the church. Paul was not called by human authority but he team worked with those in human authority. I encourage us all, lay members and conference officials to follow the Biblical example Paul has shown us.

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

God Doesn’t Want You Bringing Dead Cats to His Door

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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.

What Does it Mean to be Under Grace?

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Friday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson states,

“What do you say to those who claim that because of the grace of Christ, they are free from the law? What do they often really mean by that, and how would you answer them?”

I have heard Christians tell me not to worry about keeping the law because we are no longer under the law. We are under grace.(Funny thing is, they only tell me that when it comes to Sabbath keeping. They never tell me I am free to kill or steal. Just free to break the Sabbath. Some people say the ten commandments should be posted in our schools and courthouses, and then the moment you mention the Sabbath, they turn around and tell you the commandments were done away with.)Let’s take a look at that motif in its context.

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:14 NKJV

The context here, tells us it is sin that we are free from. 1 John 3:4 tells us sin is the transgression of the law.

…sin is the transgression of the law.

So grace frees us from sin so we can keep God’s law. Therefore we are no longer under the condemnation of the law. Let’s suppose that I am driving 160 KPH down a highway where there is no speed limit. An officer pulls me over and says, “You were going 160 KPH. I was thinking of giving you a ticket but I will just let you go.” Would that be grace? No! There was no speed limit. So what would I need his grace for? If there is no law I don’t need grace. I can’t break a law that is not there. The fact that we need grace tells me there is still a law. By electric company gives me a ten day grace period to pay my bill after the due date. A grace period would mean nothing without a due date, and God’s grace would mean nothing without a law.

Lets now suppose I am driving down a highway where there is indeed a speed limit of 75 KPH. I am driving the speed limit. Can an officer pull me over and give me a speeding ticket? No. Why? Because I am in harmony with the law and not under the officer’s condemnation. This is what Paul is talking about,when he says we are not under the law but under grace. He makes this clear in the following passage.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:15-18 NKJV

God’s grace keeps me in harmony with the law, so I don’t fall under its condemnation.

Are you a Prisoner of Circumstances or a Prisoner of the Lord?

I am writing today from the beautiful, yet slightly overcast, Tulsa Oklahoma area.

I am writing today from the beautiful, yet slightly overcast, Tulsa Oklahoma area.

Have you ever felt like you were a victim of circumstances? Due to lack of education or money you have missed opportunities? Maybe if you had not married right out of high school you could have explored the world instead of getting tied down. Now you are sacrificing your own dreams in order to create a better life for your family. Meanwhile someone else wishes they had married so they could be experiencing a family. Now those are examples of being a victim of your own choices and not necessarily circumstances beyond your own control. Other people feel like they were born victims.

Some blame the location of where they were born on how their lives turned out. Several years ago a friend came to visit me from South America. We were stopped at an intersection where a man was begging. My friend was amazed that their were poor people in the United States. She thought all Americans were wealthy. No matter where we come from or what our lot is in life, it is sometimes easy to see ourselves as victims of circumstances.

While I enjoy my freedom of being single, there are times I miss having a family. By the way, just because I am happy being single does not mean I have chosen to remain single. I am just happy being single until God brings me the right woman. I am not desperate. I am happily content. Anyway, I was talking to a friend the other day about one of the things I miss about not having my own family.  I miss having someone to share my story with. I don’t have a wife to share my school yearbook with and tell her my high school and college stories. I don’t have any children to tell my, “when I was a kid” stories to. Then again, I know married people who sadly, don’t have anyone in their family who wants to hear their story either.

My friend then made an amazing comparison. She told me while I have no family to share my stories with that I share them with my church family and extended family on my blog. She told me Paul was the same way. Maybe that is why he wrote so much and loved his church so much, because, having no immediate family, the church was his love and passion and he wrote sharing his story and testimony with them. Maybe that is why he wrote so much! Now I have no doubt Paul wrote because God told him to, and I write too (While I do not share Paul’s inspiration or authority) because God places things on my heart. But it got me to thinking about Paul’s circumstances and one thing I have always noticed.

While being persecuted and in prison Paul never thought of himself as a victim of circumstances. He never even though of himself as a victim of the Jews or Romans while in prison. Paul writes,

 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles..Ephesians 3:1

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you… Ephesians 4:1

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner:2 Timothy 1:8

Paul never refers to being a prisoner of the Romans or Jews. He does not talk about being a prisoner of circumstances. Even while in prison Paul saw himself as a prisoner of the Lord! He knew he was right exactly where God wanted him to be. Paul did most of his writing from prison. If he had been free to travel and talk to people in person, he would not have written so much, and we would not have had all of his writings preserved in the New Testament that we have today. Paul was well aware of how an angel freed Peter from prison. Paul was well aware of how Philip just disappeared from one place and appeared in another. Paul knew that the iron bars and soldiers were not really holding him there. He knew he was right where God needed him to be, so he calls himself a prisoner of the Lord instead of a prisoner of man or circumstances.

I have a friend who recently took a job that she was well over qualified for. Based on her education and degree she should be somewhere else making much more money. She may have even faced ridicule from her friends and family for “lowering” herself to take this job, but where she is living, and based on other “circumstances” this was the best she could do for now. However she never complains. Instead she tells me of the people she meets there who need Jesus, that she never would have been able to reach out to if she was not working with them. They never would have come to her church. She never would have met them working anyplace else. She is glad she is where she is because she is being used by God to reach people who need Him! And really isn’t that where we all should be?

No matter where we are born and raised and work, our real home is in heaven and we are just missionaries to this world, sent from God to share the good news with others. Some of us may be missionaries in places of poverty. Some of us may be missionaries in our families, or if we have no immediate family then in our church family and communities. Some of us may be missionaries in difficult work places, and some of us may be missionaries in literal prisons. Either way we are not prisoners of circumstances. If we love God and have chosen to serve Him, we are only prisoners of the Lord.

You can study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Rich People Have Needs Too

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A family I am friends with bought a huge home many years ago and their daughter invited her friends over for their first get together at the new home. Unfortunately jealousy set it in with one of the daughter’s friends who made a comment about the home and her thinking she is all that and so rich. The daughter was very hurt because the money her family has had never crossed her mind. Her friend saw the house and only thought about how rich they must be. The family saw the home and only thought, “What a nice place to have all our friends over.” Granted the kitchen pantry was bigger than my whole apartment at the time, but while the daughter’s friend associated the huge house with money, the family only associated it as a place to meet with friends!

The family had money but they needed friends. Money doesn’t buy real friendship. And in this case it was a stumbling block to a real friendship. Not on the part of the family with the big home, but on the part of the friend they invited and reached out to.

I was not born poor but I was not born rich either. Sometimes as a kid when I would see people with nicer things than we had, I would wonder, why couldn’t I have just been born rich? As an adult I read about a very rich American family, who had a daughter, born with a defect that surgery only made worse to where the daughter was totally incapacitated. I then realized while I had asked why I couldn’t have just been born rich, there were rich people asking why they couldn’t have just been born healthy.

Some rich (and poor) people have health issues not all the money in the world can cure. Some even use their wealth to squander their health. They need a health message. Rich people need healing.

Sometimes we forget all the needs of the rich when we drive by their huge mansions or see them drive by in their Lamborghini. We must be careful not to make assumptions that they are even rich. For all we know they are about to lose the mortgage on their mansion and are never going to get out of debt for that Lamborghini.  Are they really better off with all that? A rich man had a Lamborghini. So he has four wheels. My Hyundai has four wheels too. So he has a mansion. He has a place to lay his head. I have a place to lay my head too, and really don’t need 20 more rooms that I am not in.

After all, while I may tempted to think life would be just perfect if I only had what they have, there is someone thinking their life would be just perfect if they only had what I have. I’ve heard it said, the richest man in the world is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.

In Acts 26 we see Paul standing in his prisoner clothes, hands bound, while talking to King Agrippa who was dressed in all his splendor and glory. Paul tells King Agrippa,

“I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”Acts 26:29 NKJV

What Paul was telling Agrippa was, “I don’t need what you have. You need what I have!”

So today there are rich people who need true friendship. Who need true healing, and true forgiveness. We can reach the rich once we realize, we don’t need what they have. The world is after what they have, and God has promised to meet our needs in Christ Jesus and not in the rich people of the world. We will reach the rich once we realize we have what they need- a redeeming Savior!

You can study this week’s SS lesson on reaching the rich here.