Circumcision of the Heart

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I am writing today from beautiful South Florida

While I was away on a brief vacation this summer, a friend covering a family Bible study in my place called. Apparently the family was reading through Genesis on their own. After learning what circumcision is, the family’s young daughter asked my friend a question the family could not answer. “God wanted boys to be circumcised, but what did He want girls to do?” A very sincere and relevant question from a young girl wondering if she fit into God’s plan.

Of course the man represented his entire family. However as Paul was trying to rid the Galatians of legalism, I believe he was hinting towards the circumcision of the heart when he said,

there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 NKJV

Paul wasn’t presenting a gender neutral agenda. Circumcision was the theme of Galatians, and over the course of the entire book he makes the point that circumcision of the heart is what matters, and that applies to girls as well as boys.

This was actually the original idea.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, And take away the foreskins of your hearts, You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 4:4 NKJV

Notice circumcision was of the heart and for all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Just as Abraham originally put confidence in his flesh instead of God’s promises, (See my previous post on why circumcision.) All of God’s people are to put away their confidence in themselves and trust God’s promises. Pride must be rooted from the heart, and this can be as painful as a literal circumcision!

What is ironic to me is, God gave circumcision as a way to remove the pride in the flesh, and the Galatians turned around were proud of their circumcision! So the pride never went away. Today it would be the same as an Adventist being proud that they don’t wear jewelry. In 1 Peter 3:3-4 Peter explained that our dress should be modest, leading us away from pride. But if we become proud of our modest dress the pride is still there!

Baptism not only crucifies the foreskin, it crucifies the entire flesh. See Romans 6:3-6. Baptism crucifies all pride and confidence in the flesh. Jesus said,

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23 NKJV

“Anyone” applies to women as well as men. It is pride and self that must be circumcised from the heart. The problem with general Christianity today is not that people have forgotten there is a Sabbath. Many have forgotten or were never even told there is a cross! Self must be put crucified and put away. I say some were never even told, because many pastors like to skim over or just ignore what may appear to be unpleasant. They are not alone. Even Moses found it hard and unpleasant.

While many pastors today try to skirt around crucifying the flesh, Moses seemed to try to skirt around circumcision. In Exodus 4 his wife has to carry out the rite as he neglected it for his own son. Then in Joshua 5 all the men born in the wilderness had to be circumcised upon entering the promised land. Apparently Moses neglected following up on that in the wilderness. But God could not skirt around it. Joshua had to have all the men circumcised upon entering the promised land. What this tells me is that regardless if pastors today skirt the issue of crucifying self and circumcising the heart, everyone will still have to have their hearts circumcised and self crucified before entering into heaven.

So the young daughter in the family Bible study group fits into God’s plan just like any boy. We all must circumcise our hearts and crucify our flesh before entering into heaven.

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

70 X 7 Turns out to be a Great Deal After all!

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 70 X 7 times, Peter may have raised his eyebrows, questioning if that was a little much. But after Peter cut off a man’s ear, and denied he even knew Jesus, while weeping in bitterness for his own sins, I imagine 70 X 7 didn’t seem too much after all.

Much hope can be drawn from Peter’s ministry. He made big mistakes, like cutting off a man’s ear and even denying he knew Jesus. If Peter was anything like us, I imagine those mistakes deeply haunted Peter while Jesus was in the tomb. Imagine his surprise and joy, when the angels said,

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

After a series of disgraceful blunders Jesus still loved and wanted Peter to stay with Him. Not only did Jesus live, but hope for Peter lived as well! No matter our mistakes, hope lives for us as long as Jesus lives! When Jesus and Peter first met, Peter said,

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5:8 NKJV

Jesus refused to leave Peter to perish in his sins. Its ironic that while Peter tried to convince Jesus he was a sinful man, Jesus knew way more than Peter did as to just how sinful Peter really was. When they both met there were two things Peter had no comprehension of. He was much more sinful than he could even imagine, but he was also more loved than he could ever dream possible!

Jesus did not leave Peter to perish in his sins when he first met him. As time went on Peter made even bigger and more disastrous mistakes than before, but Jesus still refused to leave him to perish in his sins. I imagine resurrection morning Peter was pretty glad the limit for forgiveness had been raised from his suggested 7 times to an astronomical number of times. Peter thought 70 X 7 was a great deal for his brother, but it turned out to be a great deal for him too!

The amazing grace Jesus had for Peter was not in vain. This relentless loved drastically changed Peter’s life. When Peter surrendered to this love he was just like Jesus in many ways. Many think that walking on water was a sign of divinity, but even in the midst of Peter’s blemished ministry, he too walked on water while surrendered to God’s love. Many think Jesus raised the dead as a sign of His divinity, but Jesus said in John 14:10 that it was actually His Father doing all the work. In Acts 9 the same God that worked in Jesus was working in Peter when Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. And now wonder, didn’t Jesus say,

“he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” John 14:12 NKJV

And didn’t Paul say,

that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19 NKJV

Peter was practicing what he preached when he wrote:

you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:4 NKJV

When Peter walked on water, raised the dead, and even surrendered his own life to crucifixion he was partaking of the divine nature. Peter’s ministry became very amazing when he became immersed in God’s forgiveness and love. Peter’s ministry is an example of what your ministry will be as God immerses you in His forgiving love.

When Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 70 x 7, Peter may have thought that was a little much. I imagine when Peter was bitterly weeping over his terrible mistakes, he was glad the forgiveness bar had been raised from his suggested 7 times, to 70 X 7. Don’t hesitate to forgive your brother and sister 70 X 7. If you are like Peter and me, it will turn out to be a great deal for you too.

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

Jesus Heals All Wounds

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Saul honestly thought he was doing God service when he was persecuting the Christians. Jesus may have been thinking of Saul, when He said,

For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. John 16:2 NLT

Down through the ages, Christians, even Seventh-day Adventists, have caused needless pain to those purchased by Christ’s blood, thinking they were doing God service. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to give us words to say, when needed, but sometimes no words are needed, but we still think we have to talk! Often that is when people are wounded. When I find myself the idiot in these situations, I draw strength from this short story.

When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Luke 22:49-51 NLT

Apparently Matthew, Mark and Luke were not snitches, but John tells us it was Peter who slashed the servant’s ear. Peter got carried away, thinking he was doing God service, but all he did was hurt someone Christ died for. Here is the good news. Jesus healed the servant’s ear. Jesus undid the damage Peter caused.

Throughout history, people, thinking they were doing God service, have hurt others with their words or even with guns and swords! For some, Jesus will undo the damage at the resurrection. In the meantime, when we cringe, like Saul and Peter did, thinking of the needless pain we’ve caused, we can draw comfort from the fact that Jesus can heal and undo the needless damage we have inflicted, just like when He healed the servant’s ear.

He will not shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Isaiah 42:2-4 NLT

Thanks to Jesus healing those we have needlessly wounded, we don’t have to lose heart.

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

What Does it Mean to Be Absent From the Body and Present with the Lord?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A song goes:

One day Jesus will call my name As days go by, ‘hope I don’t stay the same. I wanna get so close to Him that it’s no big change, On that day that Jesus calls my name! -Phil McHugh, One Day Jesus Will Call my Name

This takes us head on to the point of a Scriptural passage that many Adventists shy away from.

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 NKJV

Does this verse put us into defense mode? Do we feel pressured to explain what it is not saying? We should never study God’s word in defense mode. Acts 17:11commends people for searching the Scriptures with open minds, not defensive minds. So instead of getting defensive let’s look at what Paul is saying. I find the expression Paul uses being absent from the body and present with Christ similar to the same type expression he makes in Colossians.

For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, Colossians 2:5 NKJV

Paul is simply using a figure of speech as when he says absent from the body is to be present with Christ.

As I read all of 2 Corinthians, I seem to pick up on a theme, and it is not the state of the dead. The theme to me seems to be living in the Spirit as opposed to living in the flesh or the body. In 2 Corinthians 5 that theme is very apparent. For example,

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 NKJV

To me, Paul’s reference to being absent from the body and to be present with Christ is ongoing as we live on this earth. I see it here in Ephesians too.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:4-6 NKJV

To be present with Christ, and to sit together with Him in heavenly places would be the same, and is a currently ongoing process. In all of Paul’s writings he talks about living in the Spirit as opposed to living in the flesh. I see 2 Corinthians 5 as a continuation of his theme. Paul is describing the life in the flesh or body which separates us from Christ, as opposed to living by faith and being present with Christ right here on earth. He goes on in verse 17 and describes a new creation right here on earth.

This leads me back to the point of  Phil’s song, I want to be so close to Jesus now that it is no big change when He comes.  2 Corinthians 5 is teaching us to crucify the flesh, and live with Christ here on earth. Paul strongly hits this point again in Titus.

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

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 and again in Titus 2:11-14 grace changes us right here on earth in the present age. And it is because of this that we look forward to Jesus’ glorious appearing.

I am in my 50’s now, and to be honest, when I was young I thought I would be a lot more like Jesus by now. I know it’s possible for me to be more like Jesus, because I see people half my age or less, who haven’t known Jesus a fraction of the time I have, and yet they are way so much more like Jesus than I am! But instead of comparing myself to others and getting discouraged I stay focused on Jesus.

forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV

I know Jesus loves me, and I keep my eyes focused on Him as His grace draws me closer to Him day by day. The Scriptures describe how Jesus’ coming will drastically change the world with earthquakes and islands and mountains falling into the sea. But the plan is that it won’t change me much. I left the flesh when I was baptized and crucified to self.The plan is, that long before the second coming it will be seen that every day I am not living in the body or flesh, but in the Spirit as I practice the presence of Jesus. See Romans 6:3-6 and Luke 9:23. My heart is not with my body. My heart is already with Christ. When Jesus comes I will continue in eternity the life Jesus began for me here on earth. Today I want to crucify the flesh and be absent from the body and live with Christ here today as well as in heaven after Jesus comes.

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

Persecution of the Peacemakers

That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other. Luke 23:12 NKJV

Jesus was the common foe uniting political enemies. So it will be in the last days.

Political enemies will be united as commandment-keeping Christians become the common foe of all nations.

you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. Matthew 24:9 NKJV

Some people challenge the Adventist interpretation of Revelation 13, because they can’t imagine the Unites States persecuting Christians, yet even Jesus says God’s people will be hated by all nations, and that includes the United States.

Jesus knew that in a sinful world commandment keeping would not be accepted. This may be why He said,

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. Matthew 10:34 NKJV

Many think this statement is out of character for Jesus. After all He is the Prince of Peace, and didn’t the angels sing, “peace on earth” at His birth? May I suggest that it is the actual peacefulness of Christians that will stir up the ire of the world in the last days?

The beatitudes are building blocks to a complete conversion. As the conversion process comes to completion Jesus says,

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 NKJV

But look what happens next to the peacemakers!

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV

Like Ahab persecuted Elijah for being faithful to God, accusing him of being the trouble maker (See 1 Kings 18:17), so the leaders accused Jesus of stirring up dissension. (See Luke 23:5) This will be repeated right before Jesus comes. Many Christians will deny Christ and the commandments, thinking it better to be at peace with the world. When Hitler rose up in Europe, many of his neighbors wanted peace at any cost, but it turned out that the only thing uglier than war was cowardice! This is why John said,

But the cowardly….shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:8 NKJV

Peter said,

For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:17 NKJV

In the last days we are to be peacemakers, but that does not mean being cowards in keeping God’s law. Let it be said of us, what was said of Daniel,

“We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5 NKJV

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

Did the Repentant Thief get off Easy?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Many Christians squirm and struggle with the story of the repentant thief being saved without “putting in his time” or “earning” it. This story alone makes salvation look too easy. My response is, where in Scripture does it say salvation is supposed to be hard? How hard did Adam and Eve work to be placed in paradise to begin with? How hard did the angels work to be created in heaven?

Sure Jesus said,

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” Matthew 7:14

But does narrow and strait have to be hard?

Against popular belief, the Bible actually says,

The way of the transgressors is hard. Proverbs 13:15

Why? Because God’s love has made it hard for sinners to destroy themselves.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. Lamentations 3:22

At the beginning of my ministry I was working with a pastor who was very popular for his sound Adventist theology. He taught the importance of the law and obedience. He preached that Jesus saves us from sin not in sin. One night providence had us both at the bedside of a dying saint. An elderly woman who spent her entire life giving Bible studies, and baking pies to feed the needy. She was true to Bible doctrine. That night I watched while the pastor held this dear lady’s hand, and asked, “Do you love Jesus?” She would open her eyes long enough to smile and then quickly appear to fall asleep again. the pastor told her over and over, “Just rest in Jesus. He died for you and loves you.” What amazed me that night is what the pastor of righteous living did not say. He did not mention her avid Sabbath keeping, or Bible studies given, or how she fed the needy. I watched this lady die as the pastor encouraged her to cling to one thing, and one thing only-the cross!

Friends that  is how we are all saved, from the repentant thief to Methuselah with his 969 years of service, we are all saved by grace alone!

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

Nicodemus was equivalent to a General Conference official today. In John 3 Jesus never flattered Nicodemus with his position, titles or accomplishments. In John 3:14-17 He pointed him straight to the cross, as his only hope. The same hope given to the thief on the cross. So General Conference presidents are saved the same way the repentant thief on the cross was saved. This explains why Ellen White, wife of early GC president James White, asked him over and over on his death bed, “Do you love Jesus? Is Jesus precious to you?” She never mentioned his positions, titles or accomplishments. She knew those were worth garbage. She presented to her dying husband what Jesus presented to Nicodemus- the cross and the cross alone!

Sure it is important to point out that the repentant thief showed his repentance, not by saying he was sorry. He actually never said he was sorry. He did something drastically more important. He changed his attitude! He addressed Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord of his life. He made a confession that was backed up by the way he behaved in front of an unbelieving multitude.  That is exactly how we all are saved.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

This is exactly what the repentant thief did on the cross. And we all have the promise,

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13

It is worth pointing out that the thief was not playing games. He was not thinking to live as he pleased and then just repent at the last second. That of course is not genuine repentance. Because his repentance was sincere, he was saved the exact same way every repentant sinner is saved.

The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away: Wash all my sins away, Wash all my sins away; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away. -There is a Fountain, William Cowper 1772.

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

The Gift of Prophecy in the Last Days

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Referring to the latter days, Jesus in Matthew 24:24 warns of false prophets. Of course you can’t impersonate someone who is not real, so obviously Jesus recognized that the gift of prophecy would still be given out in the latter days. Joel 2:28-31 also tells us there will be those with the gift of prophecy in the last days. Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us the gift of prophecy is given to the church as long as we are growing up in Christ. So if we believe the Bible, we need to believe that there will be prophets after the Bible was written, because that’s what the Bible says.

A prophet doesn’t have to write in the Bible to be a prophet. John the Baptist, Miriam, Anna and several other prophets never wrote anything in the Bible.

Also, being a “lesser light” doesn’t mean one is not a prophet. In Daniel’s day, he was the lesser light, being compared to Moses who was the greater light of his day. Daniel had to pass the same test in his day, that every prophet has to pass in their day.

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Isaiah 8:20 NKJV

Following this same principle, In Acts 17:11 folks were searching their Bibles to see if what Paul said was so. Even though Paul wrote several books in the Bible, he was still the lesser light in his day pointing to the greater light, which in his day was the Old Testament. (Daniel was a lesser light in his day, but was found to be in perfect harmony with Moses and became a part of the greater light in Paul’s day.) In Acts 17:11. Paul was testifying about Jesus (Revelation 12:17 and Revelation 19:10 tell us prophecy is testifying about Jesus) and pointing people to the greater light, which was the Old Testament. So today someone with the gift of prophecy will testify of Jesus while pointing people to the greater light which is God’s Word.

While many today scoff at the idea of modern-day prophets, Paul warns,

Do not despise prophecies. 1 Thessalonians 5:20 NKJV

Instead he tells us to

Test all things; hold fast what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV

When a parent tells their youngest child, “Go tell your older brothers and sisters to come inside for dinner,” the older siblings can’t say, “We don’t have to obey you! Your’e our youngest sibling. You are nobody!” Even though they are the youngest, they have been sent by the parent. If the kids refuse to obey, they are not disobeying the youngest child. They are disobeying the parents. It is the same with prophets. If we reject a modern-day prophet just because they are just “one of us,” we are actually rejecting God and continuing the spirit of the Jews of whom Stephen asked, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute! See Acts 7:52.

As Paul said, we need to test the prophets to see if they are in harmony with the greater light which is the law and established testimonies of Jesus, i.e. the Scriptures. See Isaiah 8:20. Prophets also need to be tested to see if their lifestyle is in harmony with Jesus. See Matthew 7:15-23. Predictions must pass with 100% accuracy. See Jeremiah 28:9. If we find a prophet who passes the test we can claim the promise,

Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper. 2 Chronicles 20:20 NKJV

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