Where in the World Are You Studying the Bible?

Al Lopez Park

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

To me, the Bible is the  most personal and universal book ever written. When I read it I know God is personally talking to me, just as He was personally talking to Martin Luther as he read the Bible chained to the monastery wall in Europe in 1517, and Ellen White as she read the Sacred pages on the  Alameda as it sailed the South Pacific on its way to Australia is 1891, and the business secretary who read the Bible app on her tablet commuting on the New York subway last evening. The Bible brings me into a one on one personal relationship with Jesus. It also ties me to billions of people around the globe throughout earth’s history.

Last Christmas while I was on vacation, I went golfing with a buddy in Western Arkansas near Ozark Adventist Academy. On our way to the golf course we stopped in a diner for brunch, where we coincidentally ran into my cousin Paul, who was sitting at the community table, studying his Sabbath School lesson on his tablet. We joined him and had an enjoyable conversation, before we went chasing golf balls all through the woods. I had never seen a community table before, where everyone was welcome to sit together, where strangers become friends. Now that I think about it, I guess its like the bar stools at diners back in the 50’s so maybe the idea isn’t so novel. The small town diner enchanted me with its social atmosphere, with people visiting, coming and going at their leisure.

It made me think about SSNET, the Sabbath School lesson website I write for, as well as my personal blog, In Light of the Cross. Both are a social online community where people can come and visit, study and share ideas at their leisure. I got to thinking about my cousin Paul who was studying his Sabbath School lesson at the diner, in a social setting. It made me think about people studying their Bibles and Sabbath school quarterlies around the world. I got to wondering where all people are studying their own Bible around the world. Are people studying right now at a  Starbucks in Seattle? You know Starbucks sells bottled water and fruit juices too. Is someone reading their lesson on a park bench in Birkenhead park in Liverpool? Is someone having their devotional on their back patio in Cape Town? It is summer time there now you know? Is someone passing the time on their Sabbath School app while waiting on a plane at the Perth airport?

I just thought it might be nice to share where in the world we enjoy studying our Bibles and or Sabbath School lessons. Many I suppose have a special place inside your comfy home or flat God blesses them with, while others may have a special restaurant, park bench or special meeting place. Even Jesus had a special place of prayer and worship, which was the Garden of Gethsemane. Do you have a special place for your Bible study and prayer time? Years ago in Samaria, a woman met Jesus at a well. They had a one on one conversation, but Jesus also mentioned to her about worshiping in the Spirit. John worshiped in the Spirit while on Patmos. So you have two people, one in Samaria and one on Patmos both worshiping in the same place-the Spirit! So you see why I say our Bible study time is very personal and universal all at the same time. Pretty cool, huh?

I would be interested in meeting you, and finding out not only what country you are from, but where you enjoy studying the Bible. Are you like many of my nostalgic friends who still enjoy holding an actual book or quarterly in your hands, or do you use an electronic device? Please comment below and let me know where in the world you like to study God’s Word. Then the next time I am enjoying my alone time in the Spirit with God’s Word, I will know who I am studying alone with, and I can say a prayer for God to bless your study as well as mine.

What Time is Sunset?

During the 1992 U.S. presidential debate, George Bush Sr. glanced at his watch, and lost the election. Many speculate, that by looking at his watch, Bush was disconnecting from his audience while a young Clinton was charming them. When we watch the clock on Sabbath are we disconnecting from God?

I love reading so much, that when I was in high school, I thought it would be so cool to be locked in the central library overnight, so I could browse through all the books all alone with no one to disturb me. Fast forward to today when I have my own Kindle and and can do just that! I have a library at my fingertips that I can browse all night – and I have! One thing, though, that bothers me about my Kindle is that at the bottom of the screen is a scale that tells me how close I am to the end of the book, while I am reading. I hate that! I want to be lost in time when I read. I don’t want to be thinking about how much time is left. I just want to be in the moment. It’s like life. I don’t want to know how much time I have to live. I just want to live and be in the moment!God gave us the Sabbath to enjoy. When we glance at our clocks, asking again and again, “What time is sunset?” are we sending the signal that there is somewhere else we would rather be than with God – just like Bush unintentionally sent the message to his audience that there was somewhere else he would rather be? Is the Sabbath something we want to just get over with, or do we likebeing in the moment on Sabbath, without looking forward to when it will end?

In the Garden of Eden, do you think Adam and Eve were looking at the sun, waiting for it to set, while they worshiped and fellowshipped with the Lord every Sabbath? Do you think they found Sabbath-keeping a chore, or do you think they delighted themselves in being in the moment and enjoyed their special time with God?

Some say that now that we have rest in Jesus, we no longer need a weekly Sabbath rest. Did Adam and Eve have rest in Jesus or not? Yet they enjoyed a weekly Sabbath rest – a special time with their Creator God. If they needed a weekly Sabbath to fellowship with God before sin, then we also need the same blessings after the atonement. Actually we enjoy the blessings of the weekly Sabbath the most when we are at perfect at-one-ment with God. Since the purpose of the Sabbath is to enjoy our relationship with God for eternity, the Sabbath will be kept for eternity. (See Isaiah 66:23)

By giving us the Sabbath, God gave us rest and not burdens. Mark 2:27 says the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. In Isaiah 58:13 God wants us to call the Sabbath a delight.

Since the Sabbath was meant to be a delight and a blessing, God gave us guidelines about Sabbath keeping. However, we defeat the purpose of the Sabbath, when we become so focused on the guidelines  and so “stressed” about keeping the Sabbath appropriately that, instead of enjoying the holy hours and being in the moment, we just watch the clock until sunset, when we will be relieved of the stress and pressure of Sabbath keeping. Yet the purpose of the Sabbath is to eliminatestress and pressure, not create it!

Imagine the Hebrews when God delivered them from Egyptian slavery and reintroduced them to the Sabbath. They had been working non-stop so Pharaohcould rest. But God worked non-stop to deliver the Hebrews so they could rest. The Sabbath rest reminded them that God’s work had saved them, and not their own efforts. Pharaoh gave them work and burdens, but God took those burdens so they could rest.

We read in Exodus 16 that God gave the Hebrews twice as much manna on Friday so they would not need to gather on the Sabbath. He did not want them burdened with meal preparations. He did not want them to be stressed or burdened at all. In Exodus 35:3 He told them not to kindle a fire. Today, starting a fire may not be any work at all, but it was back then.

When a man is in love with his wife, on special nights, he will come home from work, where has provided for her needs, and tell her to relax on the sofa while he prepares dinner for her. He does not want her to lift a finger. After dinner he leads her back into the living room, where he will massage her feet until she falls asleep. Then he goes back in the kitchen and cleans up while she rests. On such a special night, when he is expressing his love for her, he does not want her to worry about anything or do any work. If the kids have left their toys in the bathtub, he will remove them for her before she takes her bath. This is a special day for him to express his love for her, and he does not want her to do the least amount of work! He wants to be her everything!

As long as the husband loves his wife he will always need special nights like this to express his love for her. Oh, but you say, “If he loves her he will love her every day and every day will be special.” True, but all you hopeless romantics know that even in marriage you need date nights which are special nights like no other night. Likewise, as long as God loves His people He will always need His special Sabbaths to express His love for them.

Now suppose after preparing dinner and lighting the candles, the husband leads his wife into the dinning room and sits her at the table. He then serves the casserole on her plate. He stares lovingly into her eyes, but she is not gazing back. She is watching Britain Has Talent on her tablet. Doesn’t look like she is too into him, does it? She is not sharing the moment, is she? To call the date night a delight, she needs to delight in her date.  In order for us to call the Sabbath a delight we must delight ourselves in the Lord of the Sabbath.

You may be reading this, thinking, our date nights are nothing like that! My wife does not even like for her feet to be massaged! Her feet are too ticklish! Your date nights may have different activities, but the principle of love and devotion are the same. So with Sabbath keeping. Date nights should be creative, and so should Sabbath keeping. Do you get tired of the same ole Sabbath rituals of just going through the motions of playing traditional church, with no creative or spontaneous passion and emotion? You are not alone. God gets tired of it too!

Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. Isaiah 1:13 NLT 

When Israel was just going through the motions of traditional Sabbath worship, without putting any creative passion and emotion into it, God called it meaningless, sinful, and He wanted no more of it.

Now there is nothing wrong with traditions unless we use tradition as an excuse to not be creative and thoughtful. Married couples have traditions, but they should be thoughtful traditions. In other words, tradition should never be an excuse to be mundane and boring! In Isaiah 1:13 God is telling His people, He does not want any more date nights if they are just going to be meaningless traditions void of love, creativity and passion.

After all, if the Sabbath is a memorial to our Creator who created us in His own image, shouldn’t we be creative too?

Please comment below with some creative ideas you have for Sabbath. God put a lot of thought into His date with us each week. Let’s be creative and make the Sabbath a day where we are not looking at our watches waiting for it to be over. Instead of asking “What time is sunset?” let’s live each Sabbath moment to the fullest.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

The Job Challange

Al Lopez Park

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Whenever a new year rolls around, we see new devotional books come out. Some have been written by friends of mine and I am very proud of them. Occasionally the author will share a gem from the Bible, that quite frankly, I never would have found on my own. Still, my favorite devotional book is still the Bible itself. To me, nothing can replace the actual Bible, and as we study the Bible on our own, God Himself reveals those precious gems. Of course, my friends who write devotional books are not trying to replace the Bible. They encourage the readers to read the Bible.

Same with the Sabbath School quarterly authors. Our Sabbath School lesson quarterlies are well prepared and written. Like devotional books though, the purpose of the Sabbath School quarterlies is to get us to study the Bible. Last year, when our Sabbath School lesson was on the book of Matthew, Maurice Ashton challenged us  all to read the book of Matthew. That challenge was well received by many of you. Since the current lesson is on the book of Job, I would like to encourage everyone to read the book of Job for themselves this quarter. Those 42 chapters cover everything from the conflict between good and evil, and the gospel, and good news of a Redeemer. We find practical doctrinal teachings about death and the hope of a resurrection, as well as practical examples of how to help those who are suffering, and yes, how not to help those who are suffering.

Now if you are not an avid reader, 42 chapters may seem like a lot. If you just break it down to only 3 chapters a day, you can cover the entire book in just 2 weeks. Since the book is also divided by different people doing the talking, you break it up into sections that way as well. That way you get the complete thought that may over lap a chapter. If you don’t like reading, you may enjoy listening to someone else read. Remember, in Revelation 1 there is a blessing to those who read the book and listen to the book being read, (See Revelation 1:3). I believe that blessing goes for every book of the Bible, including Job. Maybe you can read or listen as your family reads for family worship, or you can study it with your small group. The other night in bed, I went to Job on my Youversion Bible app, and selected my favorite version and listened to several chapters before falling asleep.

This quarter I am reading the entire book of Job again, and I encourage and challenge you to do the same.

If you have already read it recently, may I suggest reading it again in a different version? I always find new gems when I try different versions. Again if you don’t like reading, I challenge you to listen to it. You will find that BibleGateway.org offers audio options for many Bible. You will also find Audio Bibles in the Android and IPhone/IPad app stores. Some can be used off-line, others require a connection.

Either way, I invite you to share on the Sabbath School Network discussions, the things God has shown you. God promises you a blessing if you do!

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

When we Die to Self it is Satan who Gets Destroyed

20150807_200432

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Today’s Sabbath School lesson  talks about two men who were invited to follow Jesus but had to die to self first. This is true of anyone who wants to follow Jesus.

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? Luke 9:23-25 NLT 

Something interesting happened with Peter, when Jesus talked about His own death.

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Matthew 16:21-23 NLT

Why was Satan influencing Peter to build up Jesus’ ego and try to stop Jesus from dying? Because Satan knew his power would be destroyed when Jesus died.

But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.1 John 3:8 NLT

Why does Satan influence people to build up your ego so you won’t die to self? Because Satan knows his power over you will be destroyed when you die to self.

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

100_1054

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Did Jesus need to be baptized? Was He just setting a good example for us to follow, or was He actually repenting?

Suppose you are eating at your favorite restaurant, and the waiter spills the drinks all over you. I guarantee that the manager is going to come out and apologize all over the place. Why? The manager did not spill the drinks on you. No, but he belongs to a corporation that did. He is apologizing on behalf of the restaurant he represents. So with this mindset, we can say that Jesus was repenting when He was baptized. Not for His sins. He had no sin. But by making Himself one with humanity He was baptized and repented on behalf of humanity.

When Jesus came up out of the water the Father was heard saying,

This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Matthew 3:17 NKJV

Keep in mind, when the Father was saying He was well pleased with His Son, His Son was representing the entire human race. So by accepting His Son, He was accepting the entire human race!

He made us accepted in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:6 NKJV

But the good news does not end there. What Jesus did for us He also wants to do through us.

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Romans 6:4-6 NKJV

By baptism we die to self just like Jesus died to self. As Jesus was raised from the grave we are raised to a new life, and now Paul says that God,

raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6 NKJV

There’s a story of a pastor who was waiting for a train at the station, and a man came up to him offering him some Christian literature. The pastor smelled alcohol on his breath, and asked him if he was drinking. The man lowered his head and said Yes. The pastor asked him how he could be witnessing while drinking. The man said, “Jesus lived a perfect life and died for me, so I don’t have to.” The pastor asked, “So Jesus overcame sin so you don’t have to? And died for you so you don’t have to die?” The man said, “Yes!” The pastor replied, “Then Jesus also went back up to heaven so you don’t have to!”

The gospel truth is Jesus died for us so we can die with Him. Jesus lived a victorious life so we can live a victorious life by abiding in Him. And Jesus ascended into heaven so we too can be with Him where He is.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Is the Sabbath the Goal or a Means to the Goal?

DTTFL

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

More than a couple of times in my life, I have heard someone say, “My friend just accepted Jesus as their Savior. Now all we have to do is teach them about the Sabbath!” Whether they mean to or not, they are making it sound like the Sabbath is the goal. God’s love is the goal. The Sabbath is not the goal. It is the means to the goal. The Sabbath is designed to help us see God’s love so that we are led to Jesus Who is the goal.

With this thought in mind, I would like to share a study from the “In Light Of The Cross Bible Study Guides,” which I prepared so that people can see our sacred truths in the light of God’s love as opposed to the legalistic view we are often accused of.

The Sabbath In Light of The Cross New England Churches 074

Brief overview: The seventh day of the week, Saturday, is God’s holy Sabbath on which we are to rest from all secular work and activity. God sanctified the Sabbath day and made it holy. See Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus, 20:8-11, Exodus 31:13, John 14:15,Revelation 14:12

Why it is important to understand the truth about the Sabbath:

The Sabbath is the only commandment that begins with “remember” while it is also the one commandment man has forgotten. While many agnostics believe that God created us and then left us on our own, the Sabbath tells us that our Creator wants to have a relationship with us. The Sabbath also tells us who our God is. You can keep the other nine commandments and worship any god you choose. You can have no other gods before you besides television and not bow to any other god than television and so forth. The Sabbath commandment is the only commandment that tells us who the Lord is. He is the Creator. This is why Satan wants us to forget this commandment. He wants us to forget God. He wants to be our god instead!

The Sabbath is a sign that we belong to the true God, the one who created us and died for us.

Why it is important to understand the Sabbath in light of the cross:

Satan does not want us to forget the Sabbath in order for us to forget the law. Satan knows we are not saved by the works of the law but by grace. The Sabbath is a sign of God’s grace. We do no work on that day, demonstrating that it is not our works that sustain or save us but rather God’s work, both at creation and the cross, that sustain and save us. We rest on the Sabbath, showing that we are resting our faith in the only One who can save us, Jesus Christ. I can imagine God walking with Adam and Eve through the garden, as He showed them all He had made for them, and the wonders of not their works but His works. Adam and Eve realized that day with God, “it is] He [that] hath made us, and not we ourselves.” (Psalms 100:3) Before and after the cross, the Sabbath is a sign that it is God’s work that creates and sustains us.

The Sabbath commandment reminds us that God is our Creator and we refrain from work and worldly activities on the Sabbath day as we rest our faith in God’s power to save and provide for us, instead of our own works and ability to do business and make money.

The same principle is seen in the story of Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4 we read about Abel worshiping the way God had commanded in bringing a lamb as a sacrifice. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice because the lamb God instructed him to bring pointed to Jesus – the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for our sins. Abel, beyond just worshiping as God had instructed, was saying he trusted in Jesus to save him, rather than his own works. He was looking to the cross. Cain’s sacrifice was refused because he did not worship the way God had instructed, and he brought his own fruit, the work of his own hands. God cannot accept our works and could not accept Cain’s works either. Only the Christ can save us.

Today, many people like Cain, try to be saved by worshiping their own way. Jesus says about them, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Our own works and man-made ways of worship will never save us.

There’s a story of a little boy years ago who had built his own wooden sailboat. After tying it to a string he set the boat out to sail in a nearby creek, and then would use the string to reel it back in. One day the string broke and the little boat fell victim to the rapids and sailed away. Several days later the boy was window shopping downtown when he saw his boat in a toy store window. He went inside told the owner, “That’s my boat in the window.” The owner of the store, not sure if he should believe the young lad, told the boy he would have to purchase the boat if he wants it back.

The boy did chores around the home and neighborhood to earn the few dollars the boat cost. He returned to the store and purchased his own boat. Walking home, holding his boat close to his chest he was overheard saying, “Little boat, you are twice mine. First I made you, and then I bought you.” That is what Jesus is telling us through the Sabbath today. As we rest from our works on the Sabbath and put our faith in Him, He tells us, “You are twice mine. First, at creation I made you, and then at the cross I bought you.”

No wonder why Ellen White wrote,

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.–Gospel Workers, p. 315. 

Click here for further studies on love and obedience, the law and the Sabbath.

Click here to study this week’s Sabbath School lesson.

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.