The Most Precious Gift of all

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The night my mother was dying, I made an emergency flight to get out to see her. Problem was, my connection flight, in Love Field in Dallas, arrived several hours late, due to a tornado in Amarillo, where it was coming in from. I arrived home in Tulsa at 1:30 in the morning. I had an old friend from grade school scheduled to pick me up and take me to the hospital, when the plane was still scheduled to arrive on time. Even though it was a weeknight, with regular activities scheduled the next day, she insisted on still picking me up in the middle of the night, and driving me across town to the hospital, where I saw mom just hours before she passed away. Who would have ever dreamed, forty years earlier, when we were back in grade school, that one night, while living 1200 miles away, my friend would be there to help me in the middle of my worst night ever?

That night my friend gave me the most precious gift in the universe, which was time. She gave her time in the middle of the night, which gave me one more time with my mother.

One night, when I first got to Tampa, I was doing Bible work, when my car broke down. A friend who lived nearby, who had to work in the wee morning hours drove over and cheerfully helped me get my car fixed. Another case of a friend sacrificing his time for me.

When we think about stewardship, we mostly think of money. However, time is the most precious gift you can share. Time is the substance of life. When you give someone your time you are literally giving them your life.

As if that was not important enough, time is also money. A family may not be able to give $500.00 a month to the church, but they can give their time to clean the church, and save the church from spending $500.00 on a janitor, which in turn is the same as giving $500.00.

When I lived in the Dallas area, there was a sports coach who was a little rough around the edges, and wasn’t the most popular celebrity in the community. After he resigned, a lady wrote in to the newspaper to express her appreciation for the coach. She had attended a social gala with several area celebrities. She brought her 9 year old son, who had a rare disease, I’m sorry I don’t remember exactly what it was. She wrote that several of the celebrities patted him on the head, and then went on to their hobnobbing with the other celebrities, but the coach sat down with him and talked to him for over 30 minutes! The coach’s time with her son meant the world to the mother!

While we study stewardship this quarter, lets remember time is the most precious gift we have to share.

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

No Condemnation

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1 NKJV

He told her he loved her. Said she was beautiful. Promised her she would be special. Next thing she knew she was being dragged out of bed by the friends of him who had dragged her into bed, and he who had praised and flattered her just stood and watched her being dragged away.

Now she was kneeling half naked, humiliated before Jesus. Eyes closed, not wanting to see the stones that would soon be crushing her head, she waited in terror. It seemed like eternity. When would it be over?

“Woman…”Barely peeking through one eye she sees Jesus doing something in the sand. Not sure what. She hears footsteps as men walk away. What is going on? Then she hears a word she had not heard in years directed at her.

Jesus didn’t call her a “slut,” or “whore.” He called her “woman.” He was addressing her with the same title of respect that He gave to his own mother, who spoke with angels and gave birth to the Son of God.

“….where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” John 8:10 NKJV

She opens her eyes and looks around. They are all gone! She makes no accusations against the men. We know little about the background of this woman. She may or may not have been a victim of sex trafficking. But we do know that, terrified as she was, she was ready to face the consequences without blaming anyone else for the choices she had made, and the role she had played, which now brought her half-naked and humiliated into the presence of Jesus. Yet incredibly, as guilty as she was, it was her accusers who slunk away. As she lay helpless at His feet, there was no one to condemn her! When we fall helplessly at the feet of Jesus, there is no condemnation for us either.

He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10 NKJV)

She said, “No one, Lord.” (John 8:11 NKJV)

What was next? A sermon? A lecture? Nowhere is it recorded, but I can imagine Jesus placing His coat over her near-naked body.

The Holy One Who would be hanging naked on a cross in front of the entire universe one day, takes off His robe and covers this woman, protecting her human dignity more than just covering her sexuality.

He doesn’t preach to her. He ministers to her.

Did you know you don’t have to be a preacher to be a minister? Ministering to sinners doesn’t always have to include a sermon. An-ill timed sermon can do more harm than good. Jesus could preach with the best of them, but He knew when to preach and when not to preach. He also knew when to minister.

He called her “woman.” He placed His coat over her near-naked body and gave her the sense of dignity she had been promised by the man who betrayed her trust. Then He did not preach to her with words, He ministered to her with words.

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

His words were brief and clear, yet somehow we get them mixed up. Have we ever told someone “Go and sin no more, and then I will stop condemning you!” That’s notwhat Jesus said.

Jesus said clearly, “Neither do I condemn you.” Present tense.

“Go and sin no more.” Future tense.

The world told her they would stop condemning her once she stopped sinning. Jesus promised not to condemn her, so she could stop sinning.

They called her a whore and a slut.
Jesus called her a woman.

A man promised her she would be special, and then humiliated and betrayed her.
Jesus gave her dignity back and made her special.

There was no condemnation for this woman at the feet of Jesus, and there is no condemnation for you, when you kneel at the feet of Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1 NKJV

Jesus does not condemn us, so we too may walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh.

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

Overcoming Sexual Sin When You are Single

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I have talked to more than one single Christian, who told me, “When I promised God I would wait until I was married, I figured I would be married by now.” Other singles, even in the church, seem to think no sex before marriage just means no sex while you are a teenager. Age isn’t the issue.

Today there are more and more divorced Christians, and people who have other ambitions, who are putting off marriage until later in life. Being single, I find myself in single circles, where single Christians, both men and women voice their sexual frustration. They are not trying to be provocative or seductive. They are just being real. They want to be Christians, but they are still sexual. We are not made sexual at marriage. We are made sexual at birth.

Being made sexual at birth, how do Christians control sexual appetite until they are married? How do Christian divorced people control their sexual urges? How do Christian widows and widowers satisfy their sexual needs? I don’t imagine after 60 years of healthy sex, that the desire dies when your spouse dies. Does God meet the sexual needs of all these single people?

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 NLT

If it says God will supply all our needs, we have to understand that includes sexual needs of single people. If we can trust God to provide for our financial needs, we can trust Him to provide for our sexual needs as well. We can go to Him and tell Him about all our needs. Then we can trust Him to provide in a way that is best for us. We are familiar with a phrase in Desire of Ages,

Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 330.

Was sex the context here? No. Am I taking things out of context if I say God has a thousand ways to provide for our sexual needs, when we serve and honor God? Maybe, but please hear me out. First, we need to understand that marriage does not guarantee sex. Sadly there are celibate marriages for various reasons we won’t get into here. Having said that, sex does not guarantee intimacy. I once read in a sexual purity book long ago, that some people will have sex to avoid intimacy! Instead of talking and being intimate with their hearts and emotions, they will just be physical to avoid being intimate. Now that’s not good either, because sex should involve intimacy. But here is my point: Many of us think we crave sex when we actually crave intimacy. All sex should be intimate, but not all intimacy has to be sex.

I think we crave healthy relationships more than we crave sex. I think Mary Magdalene found something in Jesus that satisfied her desire for sex, even though it wasn’t sex, and Jesus was the perfect Gentleman with her. I think she found something in Him greater than sex. She found true love and intimacy. She needed true love and intimacy more than she needed sex. So do we.

God does not require us to give up anything that it is for our best interest to retain. In all that He does, He has the well-being of His children in view. Would that all who have not chosen Christ might realize that He has something vastly better to offer them than they are seeking for themselves. –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 46.

I have to believe this passage includes sexual activity. If God has not given you a Christian sex life right now, it is only because He has something vastly better for you right now. He knows all your needs, not just the needs of your bank account. He knows your sexual needs too. He cares for you in all your ways.

The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right. Psalms 84:11 NLT

If sex was good for single people God would give it to them, but sex is not good for single people, which is the only reason He does not give it to them. But love and intimacy is good for single people, and He gives that to them, through church, family, and a personal relationship with Him.

Though I don’t have all the answers, I believe God can supply the sexual needs of His single people, with pure love and intimacy, and a thousand other ways we know nothing about. The solution is to trust God with your sexual needs just like any other need.

Please let me paraphrase a popular passage.

Keep your [sexual] wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the [sexual] wants of His children. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” James 5:11. His heart of love is touched by our [sexual] sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything [including sex] that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our [sexual] peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No [Sexual] calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. “He healeth the [sexually] broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son. -Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 100.

God loves single people just as much as He loves married people, and He makes single people just as happy as married people.  God can appropriately meet the sexual needs of single people as easily as He can meet the sexual needs of married people. Believe in His love, and He will meet all your daily needs.

You can study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here.

God has Always Been Graceful

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

What is more dangerous than thinking there is no law in the New Testament, is thinking there is no grace in the Old Testament.

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. Galatians 2:16 NKJV

Many find grace in the New Testament, but there is also plenty of grace in the Old Testament as well. While Paul says no flesh will be justified by works, that includes those in the Old Testament as well. Those living during Old Testament and New Testament times are all saved by,

the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8 NKJV

This puts the cross before Adam and Eve! Before sin and the written law came on the scene we already had the cross!

Grace is not new to the New Testament. It is in the Old Testament as well. It was at Sinai.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; Exodus 19:5 NKJV

In this passage God is pledging His grace to us.

The word, “obey” is the Hebrew word “shema,” which means to listen. Doesn’t “listen to my voice” make perfect sense?

The word, “keep” is the Hebrew word, “Shamar,” which means to “keep watch,” “cherish” and “regard.”

We are already familiar with the word covenant, which is always one-way promise when God is involved. In Genesis 12:1-3 God made a covenant promise to Abraham without asking Abe to promise anything, only believe.

So in Exodus 19:5, God is promising us that if we listen to His voice, and cherish His promises, He will make us a special treasure. Salvation has always been based on the grace of God’s promises. In Exodus 20, God begins the commandments with,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:2-3 NKJV

God is saying, “you did not save yourselves from bondage by your works. I saved you by my grace. Because of this I promise you won’t need any other gods beside me.”

Even Jesus overcame temptation by trusting His Father’s promises.

The Saviour overcame to show man how he may overcome. All the temptations of Satan, Christ met with the word of God. By trusting in God’s promises, He received power to obey God’s commandments, and the tempter could gain no advantage. -Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, Page 181.

The works of the flesh were never a part of the everlasting gospel in the Old or New Testaments. When Paul said, “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” he was not implying anything new. He was establishing a fact as ancient as God Himself. God has always been graceful.

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

Preston’s Baptism

A while back, Eddie, a good friend from the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist church called and asked me to study with his brother Preston. They had both just lost another brother, and Preston had questions about what happens when you die.  As I studied with Preston, I discovered he wanted to come back to Jesus and the Adventist church he grew up in. Preston also shared he was struggling with cancer, so we had an anointing service with Preston’s family as well as new church family. In the anointing service as well as his baptism, Preston found peace in giving all of himself to Jesus, including his all his sins and all his cancer, because Jesus had given all of Himself for him. Preston’s cancer and sins now all belong to Jesus, and all of Jesus’ promises belong to Preston!

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalms 103:1-5 NKJV

Studying With Preston

As we studied together Preston shared with me how we wants to minister to others by visiting people in nursing homes and other places where people need encouragement. Usually I ask people how they want to serve in the church, but before I had a chance to ask he was sharing with me!

Preston

Yesterday, Sabbath June 22, 2017 Preston was baptized, and very happy to belong to the family of God! Please pray for Preston that God will continue healing his cancer. Preston loves God with all his heart and wants to give Him the best he has to give!

Luther’s Understanding of Grace

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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.