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.

My 2021 Devotional Book Recommendation is….

I am writing tonight from beautiful hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

… the Bible!

Apple pies are great. I love them, especially with whipped cream or ice cream on top. They make a great dessert, and yes, even with everything else that goes into them, the apples provide real nutrition. Even so, for a daily breakfast routine I would recommend an actual apple over an apple pie. I just think an actual apple is more nutritious than an apple pie. That doesn’t mean I’m throwing grandma’s apple pie recipe away. It just means on a daily basis I eat actual apples. My stomach only holds so much food and if its filled with apple pies, then there won’t be any room for actual whole apples.

Its the same with devotional books and the Bible. Of course God created us to be social creatures. I actually learn from other people’s comments in Sabbath School class and on Sabbath School Net. I learn from books other writers have written. So I am not suggesting you throw away your new 2021 devotional book any more than I am suggesting throwing away grandma’s apple pie recipe. Just make sure you are eating plenty of whole apples, and make sure you are actually reading the Bible. While serving as a literature evangelist I learned that during the years Arthur Maxwell wrote The Bible Stories , he read only the Bible as he did not want anyone else influencing his depictions of The Bible stories.

Last year while I was teaching a 4th-grade Bible class in a local Adventist School in which I occasionally substitute, I asked the children why do we pray before reading the Bible? I received several good answers, but my favorite came from a boy who answered “Because Proverbs 3 says we are not to trust our own understanding but to depend on God for understanding.” What a great application of Proverbs 3:5 I thought! 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that those who wrote Scripture were moved by the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13 Jesus assures us the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. The same Holy Spirit that moved the writers to write those words thousands of years ago, is the same Holy Spirit that teaches us as we read those words. The Holy Spirit can teach you as easily as any theologian.

When I preach on Sabbath I like to make sure I use plenty of Scripture. That way if my own thoughts are worthless at least people got to hear actual Scripture, which is valuable. Most of my illustrations are my own, but of course I get ideas from others as well. When we read the Bible for ourselves we also have ideas the Holy Spirit gives us to share with others. If we do not read the Bible for ourselves then we are only getting ideas from others. This is not fair to them or to us. We are not contributing our fair share and others are doing all the thinking for us. A mother breastfeeds her infant with the hopes that one day the infant will grow up to feed him or herself. Likewise we should not always rely on other authors to feed us. God wants to teach us all how to find our own spiritual bread in the Bible.

This is one reason why I love Michael Fracker’s Sabbath School Lesson Teaching plans. With his teaching plans the Sabbath School class actually studies the Bible instead of just reading the quarterly.

Apple pies are great but we need to eat a lot more whole apples than apple pies. Likewise we need to read the actual Bible for ourselves a lot more often than we read devotionals or commentaries. We need to read the Bible every day. That is why I am recommending the Bible as the devotional book for 2021.

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

Obedience is the Only Acceptable Expression of Respect

I am writing tonight from my beautiful hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

When I tell one of my students at school to clean the dry erase board he does not come up to me several minutes later saying, “I memorized what you told me to do.” Memorizing is not the goal. Obedience is the goal. This is why I find this week’s Sabbath School lesson so crucial as it stresses the importance of not only understanding or even memorizing the Bible but actually doing what it says. I know people who show great respect for the Bible by not placing anything on top of it or by not setting it on the ground, treating it much the way we do our nation’s flag. This is commendable, but I believe and I’m sure you do too, that the greatest way to show respect for God’s Word is to do what it says. Otherwise not stacking things on top of the Bible or not letting it touch the ground is meaningless if we are not doing what it says. After all what traitor could stand before a judge and say, “Sure I traded military secrets to the enemy but I never let the flag touch the ground.” Treating the flag with respect is meaningless if we are betraying the nation it represents.

Today when writing even a pronoun for God like “He” and “Him” we capitalize the pronouns referring to God out of respect. However you may have already noticed that in the Bible the pronouns for God are not capitalized. What gives? Did the Bible translators have no respect for God and His holiness? No, they had great respect for God, but they realized that the best way to show respect for God is to do what He says, and not just simply write His name with capital letters. After all, writing pronouns referring to God with capital letters is quite hallow if we are not exhibiting the greatest form of respect which is obedience. 

After all, nowhere in Scripture does it tell us not stack anything on top of the Bible or make sure we write pronouns referring to God with capital letters. Nowhere in Scripture are we told the importance of merely memorizing Scripture if we are not prepared to actually  do what it says. In Luke 10 a lawyer engages Jesus in a theological discussion regarding the law and salvation. Jesus commends the lawyer for his theory on theology. But even as Jesus commends his theory as being theologically correct He also lets him know more than head knowledge and theory is required. 

Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” Luke 10:28 NLT 

Jesus was not satisfied with theological head knowledge. Jesus wanted the lawyer to do what the law says. Jesus then illustrates His point with the story of the good Samaritan, who practiced loving his neighbor. The Samaritan was doing in the story what the lawyer was only talking about. At the end of the story Jesus reiterates the importance of doing what the law says instead of just studying and memorizing the law. 

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:37 NLT 

A few years ago I was a part of a discussion where someone was saying that we don’t need to obey the health and temperance principles in the Bible. We only need to call upon the name of the Lord and we will be saved. He referenced Romans 10:13. I agreed that Romans 10:13 does indeed say those who call upon the Name of the Lord will be saved, but we can’t call Jesus “Lord” if we are not obeying Him. Matthew 7:21-23 makes it clear that we are calling on the name of the Lord in vain if we are not obeying His laws. After all obedience is the result of salvation. 

 Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. Philippians 2:12 NLT 

When Jesus was at the wedding party with His mother, and they ran out of wine, His mother told the servants something extremely simple but equally  profound.

“Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:5 NLT 

Many years ago I was the guest speaker at a church where a family had just lost a child. The pastor explained to me that they would take up an offering for the family to help with funeral expenses and assured me they would still take up the customary offering to cover my expenses traveling to their church. When the plea was made for the family’s offering someone testified how poor the family was. I perceived the Holy Spirit nudging me to tell the pastor sitting on the platform with me to collect all of the money for the family  and not to take up an offering for me. I sat there a few moments considering what I felt the Holy Spirit telling me. Did I have the money to pay for this trip myself? Then I perceived the Holy Spirit speaking to my conscience again, “What is there to think about or consider? I just told you what to do!” I then leaned over and whispered in the pastor’s ear to forget about my offering and give it all to the family. I never missed the money I would have received that day. More importantly I did what I knew God was telling me to do. 

It was not enough for me to know what God was telling me to do. It was not enough for me to memorize what God was telling me to do. The minimum God was requiring of me was to actually do what He was telling me to do. So it is with studying God’s Word. It is not enough to study. It is not enough to understand. It is not enough to memorize. We must obey the Word of God. 

Video-Three Angels Message in Light of the Cross

 

https://ssnet.org/blog/thursday-why-interpretation-is-important/

https://williamdearnhardt.com/2011/09/16/the-three-angels-message-and-the-gospels-triumph-over-babylons-legalsim/

https://williamdearnhardt.com/2016/02/23/the-three-angels-messages-and-the-triumph-of-the-gospel-over-legalism-part-2/

It’s the Little Things That Make a big Difference

Arkansas River

I am writing today from my beautiful hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Its funny the memories that stay lodged in my mind. The impromptu summer afternoon trip to the ice cream shop with grandma ranks right up there with Thanksgiving dinner. The meaningful 30 minute conversation with my friend on the west coast who accidentally pocket dialed me at 2 AM my time was more fun than the call I got on my birthday.  Sometimes its a simple compliment from the heart of a stranger who you never see again, but never forget just because of the way they made you feel that one time you met. I’ve heard it said, and I’m sure you have too, that what we remember most about people is how they made us feel. I believe this is especially true about our leaders.

As I studied this week’s Sabbath School lesson about leaders I found my self reminiscing not only about leaders in the church, but also leaders in the secular work place. And why not? After all, while we discuss the theory of the Gospel in Sabbath School class, the workplace is where we exercise the Gospel. While I have been a full time Bible Worker most of my career there have been times I also had to pick up a secular side job to support myself and my ministry. I believe my example in the workplace is so crucial that over the years, when I arrive at my secular job I pray the same prayer I pray before taking the pulpit to preach Sabbath morning. I would say its even more crucial because behind the pulpit I am just talking for maybe 30 minutes, but at work I am demonstrating the Gospel for several hours.

One the jobs I had several years ago when I was a Bible Worker and lay pastor in Texas was being a part time supervisor at UPS. And its there that I had three simple encounters with my own supervisors that years later I have never forgotten, and this week’s lesson brought them to mind once again.

I supervised the people loading the brown delivery trucks. When a worker could not show up and I could not find a replacement I sometimes had to load a few trucks myself. When this would happen I would always go to the break room to get my favorite cold drink and some chips, set them in the back of the truck so I could  enjoy them as I was going in and out of the trucks. Early one morning the packages were already stacking up in an area before I realized the worker was not there. I had no time to find someone or even alert my own supervisor as to what was going on, much less go to the break room for my ritual. I had to jump in there  right away and get to work. About thirty minutes later my own supervisor came by with my favorite drink and chips and placed them in the back of the truck for me. A very simple gesture but it meant a lot because it showed she knew me, and even though it was not necessary for my work she wanted me to be happy.

Drinks and chips are not the only things I had in the back of the trucks. I often placed my cell phone in the back of the trucks. One morning after the trucks had all left to run all over town, I realized my phone was still in the back of one of them. I told the day time supervisor who called the driver to see where I could meet him to retrieve my phone which I did. Later in the day my cell phone rang. It was the daytime supervisor making sure I got my phone okay. Wow! I thought. Those daytime supervisors are so busy how did he even remember me? And why would he remember? My phone wasn’t his problem or responsibility. It meant a lot to me that in such as busy time crunched place like UPS a full time supervisor for another shift, with plenty of responsibilities and problems of his own, took the time to make sure I found my phone.

Before I became a part time supervisor in the loading area I was a sorter. One morning while sorting away I turned to the belt behind me and my eye caught the zip code of a package right as it went by. I instantly realized that zip code did not go on that belt. Another sorter miss sorted it. I quickly grabbed it and placed it on the correct belt as I kept up sorting my own packages. My supervisor walked by and patted me on the back telling me he saw what I just did. He commended my eagle eye. A couple years later was when I became a part time supervisor in the loading area. At the end of one of my shifts I failed to realize that a next day air package was still left on the belt. The next day the manager over the entire building was very upset with me. I probably would have been in hot water had it not been for my former supervisor years ago when I was a sorter. He took it upon himself to go to the building manager and tell him how he thought I was one of the best workers he ever had. When the building manager later talked to me, he told me my old supervisor told him about the package I caught on the wrong belt and how I corrected it, even though in my position I was not expected to. The building manager told me I was not going to be in any trouble.

Again UPS is a hard nose job and it amazed me that a former supervisor took the time and effort to stand up for me even though he had nothing to gain one way or the other if anything happened to me or not.  In these stories I recall each leader showed true character even though they were outside of church and in a place where it is a struggle for even the best of church members to show good character. Each experience may have been small within itself, but I will never forget them. I also try to be what I admire in each of these leaders.

Love Comes First

Indian Rocks 5

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT

Jesus didn’t say, “if you want to go to heaven, obey my commandments.” He did not say, “if you don’t want to go to hell, obey my commandments.” Okay we already knew all that, but while studying Monday’s lesson about the works of the law, it occurred to me something else Jesus did not say. He did notsay, “If you obey my commandments then I will love you.” He said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” I believe this is what Paul meant when he said we are not justified by the works of the law. The works of the law don’t lead us to God’s love. God already loves us! His love leads us to His law of love.

Paul does not teach earning love by our works, but rather working because we are already loved.

working through love. Galatians 5:6 NKJV

What is important is faith expressing itself in love. Galatians 5:6 NLT

The Adventure’s pledge goes, “Because Jesus loves me, I will always do my best.” The pledge does not go, “I will always do my best so Jesus will love me.”

Please take a look with me at a couple of passages, where Paul uses the phrase “Works [or deeds] of the law.”

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. … Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. Romans 3:28-31 NLT

Notice, justification by faith establishes the law. That’s because God is the One doing the justifying and God is love and His law is love, which is why Paul says that justification by love will establish the law of love.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! Galatians 2:16-17 NKJV

Paul makes it clear that our works will not lead to God’s favor, but God’s favor will lead us to works of love. God’s love and justification will not lead us to sin. Paul says Christ is not the minister of sin. He does not give us grace so that we can continue in sin and disobedience. Suppose I promised to pay everyone’s speeding tickets here in Florida. An officer pulls a man over and gives him a $200.00 speeding ticket. “No problem!” the man says, “I will just take this ticket over to William and he will pay for it.” And the next time he does the same thing and the next time. By paying his speeding ticket all the time I would be encouraging him to speed! This is very dangerous. Paul says this is not how grace works. Grace and justification by faith lead to obedience.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV

Notice God’s grace does not respond to our faith. Our faith responds to God’s grace. God does not say, “William has faith so I will give him grace.” God gives me grace and that is why I have faith. Notice too in the passage that while works do not lead to grace, grace leads to good works. In legalism our works lead to God’s favor.  In the gospel God’s favor leads to our good works.

As with us, this is how Jesus justified the woman taken in adultery.

“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” John 8:11 NKJV

Notice Jesus did not tell her that if she would go and sin no more that He would not condemn her. It is because He gave her favor instead of condemnation that she could go and sin no more.

In legalism and pagan religions, the works of the law lead to the gods love and acceptance. In the gospel God’s love and acceptance lead us to express our love by doing good works, because we love Him because He already loves us!

Thus Jesus said,

If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT

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.

Luther’s Understanding of Grace

Rays Port Charlotte-Skyway Bridge 065

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One day, while I was studying the Gospel Presenation with a retired couple, we read this verse.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

The husband had been raised Catholic, and while many of my Catholic friends understand grace, he told me, when we read that passage, that it was the first he had ever heard of us being saved by grace alone, without any works. That moment was an ephiphany for him, just like when Luther read, “The Just shall live by faith” in the Bible chained to the dungeon wall.

During our studies I learned the retired gentleman wanted victory over alcohol. He understood that works don’t save us, but he also understood that grace saves us from more than just death. Grace saves us from the power of sin.

Martin Luther understood this as well. After all, Luther read that “the just shall live by faith,” not the unjust. Luther understood that faith and grace makes us just as well as declaring us just. Luther understood that grace changes our lives. While visiting Rome, Luther was appalled at the sins he found even in the church. Luther understood being saved by grace instead of works, but he also understood that grace is not a license for sin.

He [Luther] entered the city, visited the churches, listened to the marvelous tales repeated by priests and monks, and performed all the ceremonies required. Everywhere he looked upon scenes that filled him with astonishment and horror. He saw that iniquity existed among all classes of the clergy. He heard indecent jokes from prelates, and was filled with horror at their awful profanity, even during mass. As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. “It is incredible,” he wrote, “what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 125.

Luther knew full well good works don’t save us, but he also knew grace saves us from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin. The Bible clearly teaches wherever we find grace, we also find, good works, obedience, and godly living.

After Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us we are saved by grace and not by works, Eph 2:10 tells us,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..

Grace produces the good works our strength and effort could never accomplish.

Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience….Romans 1:5 NKJV

Grace produces the obedience our human nature could never render on its own.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,  teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 NKJV

Titus 2:11-14 painted a totally different picture of grace than the one Luther saw in Rome. Actually Luther did not see grace in Rome. He saw every kind of sin, and Titus 2:11-14 tells us grace enables us to deny sin and live godly lives in this present age.

My retired friend took hold of God’s grace, and after praying with a mentor in the church one evening, he left the bottle behind and entered the baptistry. Grace has saved my friend from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin.

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

The Jesus Peter Knew

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I have met a few people who have an image of Jesus in their minds, not based on Scripture, but on pure speculation. As a child I became interested in futball (soccer for U.S.A readers) and mentioned to my family that the game is so old Jesus may have played a form of futbal as a child. A matriarch in my family told me there was no way Jesus would ever play a game. I asked her why she said that. She said, “Jesus would never do anything to dishonor His Father!” I left it at that, but always wondered why she thought kicking a ball around with friends would be dishonoring to His Father? She had a picture of Jesus that was not based on Scripture, but on her imagination.

Some have an imaginary Jesus in their minds, nothing like the Jesus Peter knew. Some believe Jesus found doing the right thing quite easy since He was after all God. In their imagination perfection came easy for Him. It was no sweat. Really?

Luke told Theophilus that Peter was only about a stone’s throw away from Jesus, when, 

And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became

like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:44 NKJV

I don’t know if Gethsemane was a state park or not, but it was no walk in the park for the Son of God. There was nothing easy about His victory. He didn’t go back to heaven and tell the angels it was no sweat. He sweat drops of blood! Peter would not be familiar with the Jesus that many imagine in their heads. So when we got the throne of grace in Hebrews 4:15-16, we see that our high priest is touched with our human weakness as His victory came by sweat and tears! Later in Hebrews Paul tells us,

You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. Hebrews 12:4 NKJV

Paul is referring to Jesus sweating drops of blood to get His victory over self and sin.

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41 NKJV

Jesus showed and told Peter that he too must pray in order to overcome temptation. He acknowledged that Peter had a willing attitude, but his flesh was weak and needed strengthened through prayer. After vehemently promising to never deny Jesus, weary Peter would fall asleep again, and end up denying Jesus three times that night. Did the Jesus Peter knew disown him?

How careful is the Lord Jesus to give no occasion for a soul to despair. How He fences about the soul from Satan’s fierce attacks. If through manifold temptations we are surprised or deceived into sin, He does not turn from us and leave us to perish. No, no, that is not our Saviour….-Ellen White, Our High Calling, Page 49

The Jesus Peter knew didn’t want Peter to despair, so at the resurrection the angel gave this message.

But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” Mark 16:7 NKJV

The Jesus Peter knew was the real Savior and did not want Peter to despair! He made sure Peter knew he was included even after failing three times in one night! The Jesus Peter found and fell in love with was perfect and yet so forgiving of others. Peter tells us how we can become like the Jesus he knew.

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:3-4 NKJV 

Peter learned real quick not to make his own promises anymore, but instead to trust in Jesus’ exceedingly great and precious promises. While Jesus took on our humanity, Peter invites us to partake of Jesus’ divine nature. I have heard many arguments over just how human Jesus was. We saw in Gethsemane just how human He was, but Peter makes the debate of Jesus’ humanity unnecessary, when he tells us we can participate in Jesus’ divine nature, escaping the corruption in the world.

The Jesus Peter knew had to sweat to overcome. He sympathized with Peter’s struggles and weaknesses. He forgave Peter. When Peter’s promises failed, Jesus promised to share His divine nature with Peter so he too could overcome the corruption in the world. Peter has invited us to have faith in the same Jesus he had faith in.

To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 2:1 NKJV

Study more about Peter’s letters here. 

Hugs From Heaven

Rays Port Charlotte-Skyway Bridge 082

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I love giving and receiving bear hugs at church. Of course I realize not everyone does, so if you’d rather have a hand shake that’s fine, and if you’d rather, a fist pump will do too, especially if you think you have a cold. If you would rather not touch at all, I am happy to just smile and wave at you. With my Christian sisters I accept sideways hugs, so as not to misconstrue the intent of the hug. Of course some of the old-fashioned elderly ladies have no concept of a sideways hug, and just give me a huge bear hug as though I was their son, and so I graciously just grin and “bear” their big bear hugs. I know their motives are pure.

Some people are afraid to hug or touch others, for fear of it being misinterpreted, and that is exactly what Satan wants! Satan knows how important appropriate hugs and touching are to one’s physical and emotional health. In Matthew 8:2-3 Jesus heals a man’s leprosy by saying “I will, be thou clean.” But He touched the man in order to heal his loneliness. Of course we should only touch people who want to be touched, and only the appropriate ways I already described.

Now in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26 Paul says to greet each other with a “holy” or “sacred kiss,” depending upon the translation you use, but it all translates to a literal kiss. I am not suggesting we give literal kisses today, and would prefer a hug myself, but my point is that the Bible encourages appropriate touching beyond husband and wife. If you are not sure what appropriate touching means in your Christian culture, I strongly recommend, no, demand that you stick with just smiling and waving. Smiles cure loneliness too.

Do you know that the Holy Spirit likes to give big bear hugs too?

And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. Luke 15:20 NKJV

This is one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. The father, who represents our heavenly Father, ran out and fell on his son’s neck. Does that mean he tripped and fell on his neck? No, of course not! It means he gave his son a big bear hug. The phrase, “fell on” is an old English term for “bear hug.”

When Peter was speaking to the Gentiles, and the Holy Spirit “fell upon” them, we can see that as the Holy Spirit giving them a big bear hug!

Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. Acts 10:44 NLT

Again we see the phrase “fell upon” which does not mean tripping and falling, but actually giving a big bear hug! The Holy Spirit loves to give bear hugs! Let that sink in.  When God sends His Spirit, He’s not sending us power to do legalistic works in legalistic self righteousness. No! When God gives us the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit gives us a big bear hug, giving us all of heaven’s love so that our works and righteousness will be filled with God’s love!

I published an article a while back, about how I was praying one night that God would continue supporting my ministry so I could continue sharing His love with others. The following morning I went to my church community center, where an elderly lady from church gave me a big bear hug, and told me that God knew about all my needs and that He would continue supporting my ministry. It was as though she heard my conversation with God the night before. That is when I realized the bear hug she gave me was just as much from God, as the words of hope she shared.

Friend, as important as physical hugs are, you may have had some unfortunate experiences that prohibit you from giving hugs or receiving them. And when I say prohibit, I mean  you may even be legally prohibited because of a mistake you made in the past. God wants to restore and heal you. He wants to forgive and change your life, and if you are never able to physically hug another person on earth, please know the Holy Spirit’s hugs are real. Ask for the Holy Spirit and let God give you a big bear hug!

You can study this week’s SS lesson on the Holy Spirit here.