Sabbath School Teaching Plan in Light of the Cross, for October 20, 2018

The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,–the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.

 Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 315

 

 

Teaching Plan for this week’s Sabbath School lesson.

Goal: Share with your class how the cross makes us all one in Christ.

A. StudyJohn 17:1-26

Examine: What are the key words and thoughts in this passage?

Discuss: Why is it so important to a parent that their children get along? Why is it so important to Jesus that His disciples love each other?

Apply:  What did Jesus do to unify His disciples? Hint:  Mark 10:42-45 ,John 13:1-17John 15:13. How can we help answer Jesus’ prayer for unity? Can you share an example of how someone help unify a church or family?

B. StudyJohn 13:18-30

Examine: What are the key words and thoughts of this passage?

Discuss: Have you ever felt betrayed? How did it feel?

Apply: One day I was helping a friend weed her garden before a big party. Being careless I accidentally uprooted a beautiful flower as I was grabbing up all the weeds. How can we apply the same policy Jesus had towards Lucifer and Judas towards those we feel are our enemies? Why did Jesus allow Lucifer in heaven and Judas in his group of disciples? Why does Jesus allow people to betray us today?

C. StudyMark 9:38-41

Examine: What are the key words and thoughts of this passage?

Discuss: Why are there so many different Christian denominations? Do we need to start a new denomination every time we have a disagreement on doctrine? See “Do We Have to Agree About Everything to Have Unity.”

Apply: What example in Mark 9:38-41 did Jesus give us, that we can apply towards our relationship towards independent ministries and other denominations?

D. Study1 John 2:3-6

Examine: What are the key words of this passage?

Discuss:  How does the cross unify us? How do the commandments unify us? Can we have unity with just the cross? Can we have unity with just the commandments?

Apply: How can we live in God and live our lives the way Jesus did?

Reflection: How does the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross help you understand this week’s lesson and apply it to your daily life?

The God-Forsaken God

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As millions study about the death and resurrection of Jesus this week, I feel impressed to share an article I wrote several years ago.

Critics of Christianity will often argue that Jesus knew beforehand that, though He would die, He would be resurrected to life. Thus, they ask, what was the big deal about His death when He knew it would be only temporary?

My mother knows that flying in an airplane is safer than traveling by car. She knows the sad statistics that people are killed every day on the highways, while a rare jet crash makes headlines around the world. Knowing all this, when my mother gets on an airplane she sure does not feel that it is safer! There is a difference between knowing and feeling. Jesus died as a man, not as God.

As a man, this is what Jesus experienced;

“In that thick darkness God’s presence was hidden. He makes darkness His pavilion, and conceals His glory from human eyes. God and His holy angels were beside the cross. The Father was with His Son. Yet His presence was not revealed. Had His glory flashed forth from the cloud, every human beholder would have been destroyed. And in that dreadful hour Christ was not to be comforted with the Father’s presence. He trod the wine press alone, and of the people there was none with Him.”-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 753, 754.

“The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.” -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 753.

Foxe’s book of Martyrs tells us John Huss was singing songs of praise as he burned at the stake for his faith. We wonder if John Huss, a mere mortal man, could be singing songs of praise as He died at the stake, why couldn’t Jesus sing songs of praise instead of crying out “My God My God why have You forsaken me?”

It is because John Huss died a totally different death than Jesus died. John knew he would be resurrected. He knew he was at peace with the Father. But on the cross Jesus was being treated the way we deserve to be treated so we can be treated the way He deserves to be treated. Think about this, Jesus always called God His Father.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
“I always do those things that please my Father.”
“I and my Father are one.”

But when Jesus was on the cross being treated the way we deserve to be treated He could not call God His Father! He did not know that He would be resurrected. Instead He cried out, “My God! Why have you forsaken me?” This fulfilled the prophecy of Psalms 22 of Jesus dying the second death.

Jesus was not crying out, “Why have you forsaken me till Sunday morning?” You don’t forsake someone when you leave them for the weekend. When I tell my Sabbath School class I will be preaching at another church next Sabbath, none of them ask me why I have forsaken them. They know I will be back the following week. When Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He felt abandoned forever. He felt what the wicked will feel.

Obadiah 1:16 says the wicked will be as though they had never been. Jesus was not facing a mere six-hour pain endurance marathon. A lot of cancer patients would gladly trade their years of battling cancer for six hours on a cross. The physical pain is not what made it the supreme sacrifice. What Jesus was facing was going into total oblivion and being as though He had never existed! While Satan was willing to sacrifice anyone who got in his way of being number 1, Jesus was willing to go into total oblivion if He could just save even one of us.

Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus tasted death for everyone. Jesus and Paul both refer to the first death as sleep. Jesus did not save us from that death, as we plainly experience that death ourselves. Paul did not say Jesus tasted sleep for every man. No, He tasted death, the death of the wicked. Yes, He prophesied of His own resurrection, but that was while He still felt the presence of His Father. When Jesus felt the Father turn His back on Him, He felt, as a man, that the promise of the resurrection had left with the Father. Jesus became the God-forsaken God.

Some say, how could Jesus have died the second death while He never lost faith in His Father? Remember Jesus had no sense of self-preservation. The sense of self-preservation belongs to Satan. Jesus had faith, but His faith was not that He would be saved but that you and I would be saved!

Some have a hard time wrapping their minds around this awesome love. Some refuse to believe that Jesus would be willing to die forever to save us. In that case they have made Moses more loving than Jesus. In Exodus 32:32 Moses is willing to be wiped out of eternity in order to save the children of Israel. Do you think Moses loved them more than Jesus loves sinners? Of course not! Only when Moses experienced the self-sacrificing love of God could he express such love. If you don’t believe that Jesus was willing to say good-bye to life forever in order to save us, then you believe that Moses demonstrated more love than Jesus.

Since the Jews were accusing Jesus of blasphemy they could have just stoned Him to death. According to Leviticus 24:16, blasphemers were to be stoned and not crucified. Yet Jesus was crucified. Why? Because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 tells us those who are hung are cursed by God. Someone could plead for mercy and have the hope of salvation, just like John Huss had, even though they were stoned to death. However, being hung was a sign you were cursed by God. Joshua 10 tells the story of five kings who refused to accept Israel’s God and were hung from five trees, telling the world they had rejected God and so there was no salvation for them. It was good-bye to life forever.

Friend, does this help you understand how much Jesus loves you? He could have come down from the cross and returned to heaven where He could wear His kingly Crown instead of the crown of thorns. He could have left the road to Calvary and walked on streets of gold. He could have left the mocking mob and returned to hear angels sing His praise. He could have returned to His mansion. Why didn’t He do just that? Because the thought of going back to heaven without you did not appeal to Jesus. Heaven would not be paradise without you, as far as Jesus is concerned.

There is nothing I would rather be preaching than this message here. It is the everlasting gospel in the three angels’ messages. This kind of love changes everything. It changes how we look at the cross and how we look at sin. Most of all it changes our hearts. The disciples were just a bunch of self-ambitious men until they saw this love displayed on the cross. After they saw this love they were willing to give everything – even their own lives. Revelation 15 tells us there will be a multitude singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. They will be filled with this self-sacrificing love just like Moses and Jesus. They will hate sin more than they hate death and they will love God more than they will love their own lives or self preservation.

Jesus’ love for you goes deeper than the nail scars. He loves you more than He loves life itself. He was willing to go into total oblivion and be as though He had never existed if that is what it took to save you!

Proverbs in Light of The Cross; What Stewardship Really Means

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine. Proverbs 3:9-10 NLT 

When I was four years old, A family came by, who had lost everything in a fire. My parents gave them some of their own lamps and other things around the house. While the grownups were exploring the house, their little boy was watching me ride my tricycle up and down the driveway. When the grownups came out of the house, my dad walked over and told me, “the little boy does not have a tricycle or any toys.” I jumped off my tricycle and gave it to him.

Even after returning tithes and offerings, my family realized everything we had belonged to God. Some have the idea that stewardship is just about giving tithes and offering and then keeping what is left over for ourselves. Solomon says to honor God with our wealth and the best of everything we own. Stewardship is realizing everything we have belongs to God and should be used to His glory.

My car does not belong to me. It belongs to God. I use it to get to Bible studies, but also to give others a ride who need a ride. My neighbor calls me for a ride to work sometimes because she does not have a car. Actually she does have a car-mine! And she even has a chauffeur-me! I use my personal computer for blogging Bible studies and devotionals, and Bible study presentations. The food in my cupboard is not just for me. Its for whoever comes over and needs a meal, or if need be, I can bring it to them in my car. Sorry! I mean God’s car.

Honoring God with our wealth is not just about giving 10% plus an offering. Its about everything we have and are belonging to God. Stewards are managers, not owners. Stewardship is realizing everything we posses belongs to God, and we own nothing!

That is why I give thanks when I eat the food in my house, I mean God’s house. Because even the food in the house where I live belongs to God. That’s why I thank Him for letting me eat His food.

What does a Relationship With Jesus Look Like?

I am writing tonight from beautiful and historic St. Augustine Florida.

I am writing tonight from beautiful and historic St. Augustine Florida.

A member of my New Believer’s Sabbath School class, in the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, had been struggling with getting Sabbaths off at work so she could observe the Bible Sabbath. She told me she had to work on Sabbath, and I would gently tell her that she did not have to work. She had a choice and was choosing to work. Consequences be what they may, she had a choice.

Recently I was giving a Bible study to the 7th and 8th graders at our church school, on the second coming, when we came to this verse,

The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places. Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive? Revelation 6:14-17 NLT

I told my students how sad it would be, for us to be hiding from the One who died for us when He came! How can we make sure we aren’t the ones running from Jesus? The students answered wisely, we must have a relationship with Jesus. I asked them to describe what a relationship with Jesus looks like. They gave some good answers, like prayer and Bible study. “Is that all”, I asked? I shared 1 John 2:4 NLT,

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.

While prayer and Bible study are crucial, that alone does not define a relationship with Jesus. John tells us, knowing God (having a relationship) involves obedience.

Jesus said,

If you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments. Matthew 19:17 NLT

The commandments are relational. The first four define our relationship with God and the last six define our relationship with family and friends. This is why John said if we say we have a relationship with God but do not obey the commandments we are lying.

My Sabbath School class member finally exercised faith, and told her boss she must have Sabbaths off. It was granted. A couple of weeks ago things were busy at the store where she works. Her boss offered her a store gift card and sales bonuses if she would come in to work on Sabbath. As much as she needed the money, she answered “No. I will be in church Sabbath.” She gave her testimony that Sabbath in class. It did my heart good to see faith growing her relationship beyond just reading the Bible to actually doing what it said.

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

Twice His

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. Genesis 2:1-3 NLT

I can imagine God walking Adam and Eve through the garden that very first Sabbath. Having been created the day before, Adam and Eve didn’t have a long week where they needed a physical rest. As God showed them all His works, that first Sabbath, they rested in the fact that it was God who made them and not they themselves. See Psalms 100:3

“It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit. John 19:30 NLT

When God had finished our creation He rested and gave us the Sabbath as a sign that He created us. We mark a year by the sun. We mark a month by the moon. We mark a day by the earth’s rotation. What do we have to mark a week? The Sabbath, which takes us to creation and reminds us that we have a Creator.

When Jesus finished the work of our redemption He again rested on the Sabbath, this time in a tomb. The Sabbath is not only a sign of God’s power to create, but also a sign of His power to redeem and make us holy.

Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Exodus 31:13 NLT

The story* goes of a little boy who had built a wooden sailboat and took it down to a creek by his home. He had tied a string to it so he could watch it float, and then reel it back in, but the string broke. His boat went sailing down the rapids and out of sight.
After doing several chores the boy earned the money to buy his boat back. He walked out of the story, clutching the boat to his heart, and was overheard saying, “Little boat you are twice mine. First I made you. Then I bought you.”A few days later the boy went window shopping with his father downtown, and he saw his boat in a toy store window. “That’s my boat!” The boy exclaimed. He went inside and told the store keeper, who informed him, that since he had no way to verify the boy’s story, if the boy wanted the boat back, he would have to buy it.

Today the Sabbath is a sign from God that we are twice His. Once, at creation He made us, then on the cross He bought us.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

You can study more about the Sabbath here.

If You Love Me…

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave.  So they earnestly begged Jesus to help the man. “If anyone deserves your help, he does,” they said,  “for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.”  Luke 7:2-5 NLT

 

This story illustrates the difference between the gospel and legalism. Legalism tells us the officer has given so much that he deserves special treatment from Jesus. Meanwhile the gospel teaches us that Jesus helps those who need His help, regardless of who they are.

 

 So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. Luke 7:6 NLT

 

While the Jewish elders thought the officer had earned special favors, the officer himself understood the gospel. The officer had no sense of entitlement because of his works. You may read on how Jesus heals his servant, but my point is that the officer was not giving for the sake of a reward or special treatment, but out of love.

Jesus says, 

 

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

 

Notice Jesus does not say, “If you don’t want to go to hell, keep my commandments!” or “If you want to go to heaven, keep my commandments.” He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

 

Keeping God’s commandments to get a reward does not make you a good person. Many people disobey God’s commands to get rewards. They cheat on their income tax reports to get a larger refund. They lie about achievements they have never attained to get praise from man. People who obey God for the sake of a reward will also just as easily disobey God if they could achieve a greater reward. Being motivated by the hope of a reward does not make you a good person fitted for the unselfish society of heaven.

 

Keeping God’s commandments out of fear of punishment does not make you a good person either. Remember in Daniel 3 the three Hebrew children were threatened with punishment if they did obey God! While they told the king that God would protect them, they also made it clear that was not the point.

 

He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”Daniel 3:17-18 NLT

 

The Hebrew children were obeying God out of love, no matter what. They were not motivated by hope of reward or fear of punishment. In the same way,

 

We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 NKJV

 

Love to God is the very foundation of religion. To engage in His service merely from hope of reward or fear of punishment would avail nothing. -Ellen White, Patriarch and Prophets, Page 523.

 

It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour’s matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary’s cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him. -Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, Page 480.

 

Once, I was in a literature evangelist meeting with our conference president. We were discussing which book to promote. The Great Controversy or the Desire of Ages? Some people said the Great Controversy because it warns us about last-day events. I suggested the Desire of Ages because it helps us fall in love with Jesus, so that when last-day events occur, we will make the right choices for the right reasons – because we love Jesus. Unless we are in love with Jesus, knowledge about last-day events will avail nothing.

 

Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Revelation 14:12 NKJV

 

All those who have faith in Jesus’ love keep His commandments.

Right Place at the Right Time

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Ever have one of those days where it seems nothing is going right? I had one of those a while back. I went to my regular barber shop, wrote my name on the waiting list and sat down to wait only for my name to never be called. People were coming and signing after me and getting waited on before me, so I went to another nearby barbershop, only to find the wait was too long.

I had no more time to waste as I had to get to a Bible study on the other side of town. After the Bible study I saw a barber shop nearby. I got waited on right away. The barber asked me where I worked, and I told him I gave Bible studies. He told me he wanted to learn more about the Bible. He did not want personal studies, but he did want the Bible study guides and some literature I had in my car. As I drove away I realized why the first couple of places never waited on me. The Holy Spirit was working on the barber’s heart across town, and so He worked things out to get me where I needed to be.

Something Similar happened to Paul and Silas.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Acts 16:6 NLT

I wonder if Paul and Silas saw it that way? I mean did they realize it was the Holy Spirit that was preventing them from preaching in Asia or did they blame it on the devil? What may have looked like a victory for the dark side was actually a victory for God. Often when I lose control of a situation and things don’t go my way, I am tempted to think that evil is getting the upper hand, when in reality God is still in control. He is just not doing things my way!

God had a plan to save Asia, but Paul and Silas’ current missionary tour was not a part of God’s plan to save Asia at that time. Earlier I asked if Paul and Silas saw it that way, and maybe they did. However, I know many times today when we set out with goals we get discouraged when they are not carried out according to our plan. Its not necessarily that things did not go according to God’s plan, but they just did not go according to our plan. God had another plan for Paul.

Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. Acts 16:7-8 NLT

Wow nothing seemed to be going right. Ever have one of those days or even years where it seems nothing was going your way? Several years ago I lost my job and my fiancée, and nothing was going right at my new job. It was so bad it made me wonder if I was even suppose to be born, or if I was an accident that God did not know what to do with! Looking back now, it was just a little bump in the road to better things and the best years of my life. Stay with me here.

That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. Acts 16:9-10 NLT

Ah! That is why there was a roadblock on the way to Asia, Mysia and Bithynia! It wasn’t evil getting the upper hand, just like it wasn’t evil getting the upper hand when I could not get my hair cut. The Holy Spirit was using those roadblocks to get Paul and Silas to where they needed to be!

Remember God has a plan for your life even when it seems things are going wrong.

Remember when everything seems to be going wrong, God is still very much in control. He just may not be doing things our way.

The Holy Spirit is working on hearts all over the world. Instead of telling the Spirit where to work, we need to be willing to work wherever the Spirit is working. That may mean going to another side of the world, or another side of town.

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

Everything About Him Was All Wrong, Except For The Fact That He Was Perfect

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Have you every brought up an idea in a committee meeting, only to have it ignored, and then ten minutes later someone a little bit more popular than you, says the same exact thing you just said, except this time, instead of it being ignored everyone loves the idea! And you are sitting there thinking to yourself, “That’s what I just said ten minutes ago!”  

Sometimes its not what is being said but who is saying it. A while back, after teaching a group of young people how to chain reference their Bibles, to give Bible studies, I then had one of them lead out in an actual Bible study group. I was there for encouragement, but they were the teacher. Maybe I should not have even showed up at all, because what happened was, while the young person had all the answers from the Bible, the people in the group kept directing their questions at me, instead of the young person who was teaching the class. Awkward! Somehow the group members thought my life experience trumped the authority of this young person, but not so! This young person was getting all their information from the Word of God, and I don’t care how much life experience someone has or titles behind their name, nothing trumps the Word of God!

In John 4:1-54 Jesus meets with a woman at a well, and counsels her about her promiscuous relationships. What gave Him the right? He had no marriage counseling license. He had no marriage experience. Yet this is not the only time He counseled people about their sex lives. In John 8:1-11 Jesus not only counsels with a woman taken in adultery, but He also counselled the men involved, by writing in the sand. In Matthew 5:27-32 Jesus preaches about marriage, sexual temptations and divorce.  Instead of referencing His personal life as many do today, Jesus referenced the Scriptures. The Scriptures trump human experience.

Jesus counsels the woman at the well about her relationships, by helping her realize that she has been trying to fill a void in her life that only God can fill. Each sexual escapade just left her thirsty. Just like people try to use Pepsi to quench their thirst, only to find Pepsi actually dehydrates you and leaves you even more thirsty for water, likewise inappropriate sex was leaving this woman thirsty for the living water that is only found not in sex, but in a relationship with God.

Could it be that while having no wife or children, Jesus was an authority on relationships because He had a perfect relationship with God the Father? While giving counsel in John 8, Jesus says “let him without sin throw the first stone.” This was from the Levitical law, so Jesus was basing his counsel on Scripture as well as His relationship with His Father.

In Matthew Matthew 6:24-34 Jesus is giving financial advice. What gives Him the right? He was not a Wall Street wizard. He has no place to lay His head and relied on friends for a place to stay. If a man with no money in the bank and no home or property were to hold a financial seminar today, how many people do you think would listen to him?

The story goes of a very rich business man who tried to school a poor man about wealth. The rich man from Chicago was vacationing in Mexico and doing some fishing. A local came along and threw his reel in the water and a few minutes later had caught four fish, which he put in his bucket and started to leave. The rich business man stopped him and asked,

“Why are you leaving already? You are doing great!”

The local replied, “I caught all the fish I need for my family. I am going home now to eat with them and relax and spend time with the family.”

The business man exclaimed, “But you are doing so well! If you stay longer you can catch even more fish!”

“What would I do with them?” The local asked.

“You could catch enough fish to sell them and buy a boat!” the man answered.

“Then what?” The local asked.

“You could catch even more fish with a boat! Then you could sell even more fish and buy more boats and catch and sell even more fish.” The business man exclaimed, somewhat frustrated that the local was not catching the vision.

“What would I do after all of that?” The local replied,

to which the rich business man answered, “Then you could retire.”

“What would I do while I’m retired” asked the local.

“You can eat with your family and relax and spend time with them!” The rich man declared! Wondering why this simple local could not follow his logic and financial advice! But was it logical? Wasn’t the local already on his way to eat and spend time with family now? Why should he spend his life planning only for tomorrow never knowing for sure if there would even be a tomorrow?

Ever heard the saying, “Some people are so poor all they have is money?” The local, like Jesus realized you need more than money to be wealthy. Some people give up their health and friends in an effort to make more money, only to find out that money is not the substance of life. Good relationships are what make you wealthy in the long run. Years ago a friend of mine went to hear a financial motivational speaker. The speaker told them, “In order to be rich, the first thing you need to do is drop your poor friends and only hang out with rich people.” Some one raised their hand and asked, “Won’t we be losing a lot of good friends doing that?” “Sure the financial wizard explained, “But if they are are good friends they will understand.” True story! My point here is financial wizards don’t always give the best advice. Sometimes the best advice comes from a Teacher who had no money in the bank and “no place to lay His head.”

While Jesus had no marriage or financial experience according to our standards, He was the perfect counselor. Like my young friend teaching the Bible study group, Jesus was often heard saying, “It is Written.” When asked questions instead of relying on personal experience Jesus would often say, “What saith the Scriptures?” Jesus made the perfect counselor, not because He had a degree or license  or the perfect wife and children and perfect home, but because He had a perfect relationship with His heavenly Father and a perfect understanding of the Scriptures.

Looking at first glance Jesus was totally the wrong person to be giving advice, except for one thing, He was perfect.

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

Circumcision; Gospel or Barbaric Ritual?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, which some people in some cultures now classify as barbaric. I have heard a few good Christians question why God chose circumcision for a sign that you belonged to Him? I have heard Christian men ask, “why the penis of all places?”

We all know circumcision is no longer a sign of a covenant between God and us – thank goodness! Still it puzzles some believers as well as unbelievers alike as to why God ever had anyone do this. My purpose here is to answer the question, “why did God ever tell us to do this” and in the process we will see the gospel where before many people only saw a painful ritual.

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 anymore, so instead of just trusting in God’s promise, he took his much younger handmaid Hagar and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This is the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of just 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” (SeeGalatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.

So God had Abraham practice circumcision.

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. Abraham was trusting in his flesh to work things out, so God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh he was trusting in, so that he could realize the gospel is not “me plus Christ” but “Not I but Christ.”

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

Abraham had that part of his body circumcised because that was the part of his body he was trusting, more than he was trusting in God’s power. Now we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water washing self away, and dying to self, we rise up taking the new breath we now live, 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. For example, female circumcision,  which has no Scriptural significance is still widely practiced. It is seriously harmful to women and its practice often has ulterior motives.

It is worth noting that there is some evidence that circumcision does have health benefits. There is evidence to suggest that certain health issues are less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practised (http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/circumcision/basics/why-its-done/prc-20013585)

Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer Biblical or morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would say, 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. And with the health benefits, your parents may have made no mistake at all.

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.

Raising the Standard

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

My 9th grade algebra teacher graded our tests on the curve. This meant that the highest grade would be counted as 100%. So if the highest grade was 80, our 70 would be considered 70/80 instead of 70/100, thus raising our percentage and grade considerably. There was only one problem. The same girl got 100% right on every test, so we never got a break! The standard always stayed right where it belonged at 100, instead of 70 or 80. The mornings after our tests, we would be anxious to get out results, and to see what kind of a break we got with the curve, and every morning following our tests, we would be disappointed to find that there was no break. Someone kept the standard right where it belonged. That someone was not a popular person with the rest of the class. Why? Because they kept the standard where it belonged, and left the rest of us with no excuse for getting the poorer grades that we got. She was plenty popular the rest of the school year when she acted just like us, but when it came time for tests, her study habits made the rest of us look bad, and it was just easier to ridicule her for her study methods, than it was to actually study ourselves. Likewise, as long as our church blends in the world we will never be ridiculed or persecuted either. Satan has no reason to persecute a church that looks just like the world. As long as this girl was acting like us it was fine, but we found her study habits to be annoying.

I imagine Judas found the woman washing Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume to be quite annoying. Not that the perfume did not smell good, but Judas clearly had no intentions of giving all he had for Jesus. On the contrary, instead of giving he tried to take whatever he could. But how do you justify your selfishness in the face of someone else’s giving spirit? Easy, you make them look like a fanatic. “What a waste” Judas said, “The money she wasted on perfume could have been better spent on the poor.” I guess Judas considered himself to be poor, since he wanted the money himself. So he makes the woman out to be fanatical. Do we do this today? Someone gives more of their time and effort for Jesus than we are willing to give, and so to make us look balanced, we portray them as extreme. The woman was no fanatic. She was in love with Jesus! But when people are doing more out of love than we care to do, we label them “legalistic,” “extreme,” or “fanatical” when in fact they are just simply in love with Jesus. Judas was not irked by her behavior when she was sinning all over the place. That did not make Judas look bad. But when she gave all she had to Jesus out of love, that exposed Judas’ selfishness and Judas became offended by her converted behavior.

In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus gives us the beatitudes which are also stepping stones to a complete conversion. Once the conversion is complete Jesus says,

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:10 NLT

Once God’s people become filled with righteousness and pure in heart, by God’s grace they will keep the standard right where it belongs, not because they are legalistic or fanatical, but because they are in love with Jesus. Now here is the key. Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for doing right. Sometimes we bring persecution on ourselves by doing what is wrong. We deserve that, and there is no reward for that. I once heard a man who kept getting harassed by creditors, saying he was being persecuted for being a Christian. No he wasn’t! He was persecuted for not paying his bills!

When God’s grace converts  us our standards will rise above the world’s standards, and just like the kids in my algebra class, and Judas, they will not like that. They will persecute us, but Jesus says to rejoice! For ours is the kingdom of heaven.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.