Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. Proverbs 27:6 NLT
Long ago, I was writing a blog post about humor. I compared the humor of my friends in different areas. Just a few minutes after publishing my post, I got a call from a friend here where I live. He told me I better rethink what I wrote about my friends in another area. He told me even though he knew no offense was intended, it could offend them. I edited my post as suggested. I thought, how wonderful that I have a friend who was so concerned about me, that he called so quickly to warn me, even though he was busy with his own day, and had no vested interest other than looking out for me. Instead of taking offense and taking his call as being critical, I took it as a compliment. He thought enough of me and my ministry to make that call right away.
Unfortunately, many people in Jeremiah’s day did not appreciate his rebukes, even though they were given out of love. It takes a lot of love to tell someone what they need to hear, instead of patronizing them with what they want to hear. I realize the success of my ministry depends upon Jeremiahs of today, who will rebuke me when needed, in a Christlike way.
Christ Himself did not suppress one word of truth, but He spoke it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact, and thoughtful, kind attention in His [association] with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 353
Years ago, the church I was attending at the time was going through a little crisis. I was having dinner one evening with a couple of friends who supported me wholeheartedly on my view of the crisis. In the course of the evening I made a comment out of frustration that was out of place. They both quickly let me know what I had just said was not appropriate and was not a healthy attitude. They showed me how much they loved and supported me but did not hesitate at all to let me know when I stepped out of line. I thought, “Wow! Now I know they are really looking out for me and my ministry!” I felt loved and secure, knowing these friends were not going to let me step out of line and make a fool of myself and disgrace my ministry.
When people rebuke me I take it as a compliment. It means my ministry is worth something in their eyes, and they are looking out for me. How do you accept rebuke?
The Lord directs our steps,so why try to understand everything along the way? Proverbs 20:24 NLT
While many people ask why God does not show them His will for their lives I have come to a simple conclusion. He does not need to.
He hath showed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:8
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
Every fall as recent high school graduates start choosing their college classes, I hear the question, “What does God want me to do with my life?” Regardless if someone is planning on college or going straight into the workforce I sometimes hear people saying, “I wish God would tell me what He wants me to do.”
Even as we get older we often wish we had a direct phone line to God to get specific directions on which road to take in life. So why doesn’t God give us specific directions? It is not very complicated but actually very simple. God can work out His plan for our lives without ever telling us what it is. Maybe it’s best that God not spell out for us the future as we often would like. When Jesus met Peter He simply bade him “come and follow me.” Suppose Jesus had spelled it all out for him from the start. Suppose at the very beginning He had told Peter, “Come follow me and you will suffer public humiliation by denying me, and then end up being crucified upside down on a cross.” Peter would have run away! After Jesus’ resurrection Jesus gave Peter a hint as to what would happen, yet only gave Peter the little information Peter needed for that time. Peter simply followed Jesus day by day and once Peter’s life was over it was a wonderful testimony extolling the great power and love of God.
As I look back on my life, I can see how God has worked out His plan for my life without telling me what was going on. In my early twenties I was delivering business forms. I started dating a young lady who went to a small church near where I lived. To get closer to her I left the larger SDA church I had grown up in and joined her little SDA church. Things did not work out for us romantically and she moved away. For some reason I was too proud to admit that I had changed churches just for her so I stayed in that little church. Not long after that, a couple of new Literature Evangelists became a part of our church. They persuaded me to become an L.E. Then came a pastor to that small church who wanted a Bible Worker. The church hired me as the Bible Worker. When the pastor moved to Texas he invited me to go to Texas with him where I did Bible work there. After having been a Bible Worker for several years in Texas, a friend from church who worked at UPS invited me to go to work there to help supplement my income. Good thing I did because right after I went to UPS the churches I was doing Bible work for could no longer afford to pay my salary. So UPS became my regular job for a few years.
In 2004 my sister in Tennessee had heard about an available Bible Worker position in Tampa. I thought I had been rooted in Texas. I sent my resume to the church in Tampa and even though I thought I would never leave Texas. One thing after another worked out for me to come to Tampa. I love my job. I love my church family here, and of course I love the area! More importantly others feel God is using me here as His humble Christian servant.
While many people my age glory in their past, I tell people the current few years of my life have been the best years of my life. Looking back now, I can trace how God lead me here, beginning with a small church in Oklahoma that I was attending even though the reason for me going there was no longer there. God used that small church to help me start my ministry and get to the beautiful place I am today.
I find it interesting that I have never really had to find a job. They all have found me. Even the delivery job I had was presented to me, I did not find it. The L.E. position, Bible worker jobs, and even UPS were all offered to me. God has worked out every aspect of my life and for the most part without telling me at all what was going on or what His plan was.
So if you don’t know God’s plan for your life, I say “Don’t worry about it.” God knows and He can make it all work out without telling us at all what is going on. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry about tomorrow. He can turn our lives into something beautiful if we will only, “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.” Micah 6:8
for the Lord is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. Proverbs 3:26 NLT
Years ago, I was buying a used car, and was about to drive it off the lot, when I realized I had not even looked in the trunk yet, to make sure it had a spare tire and jack. I mentioned it to the salesman, who promised me it was there, so took his word for it and did not check the trunk.
Not even a week later, I was driving down the highway when a tire blew out. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road, patting myself on the back for asking the salesman, and making sure I had a spare and jack, to change the tire.
I opened the trunk and found the salesman to be half right. There was a tire, but no jack. I was a little less than happy and was wondering what I would do, stranded with no way to change my flat tire. I did not have to wonder for long. In just a matter of moments, a friend passed by, and spotted me on the side of the road. He pulled over, and of course had a jack for me to change my tire. in just minutes I was on my way again, and stopped by the car dealership where I picked up a free tire jack.
The foolish information the salesman gave me, almost had me trapped by the side of the road, but God was my security, when He had my friend come along and save me. Even when people try to trap you, God has your back every time.
This last Thanksgiving my Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church family lost a dear patriarch and friend, when Woodrow Hill passed away at 95. I had been friends with Woodrow and his wife Jean, ever since I moved to Tampa ten years ago, but I still learned some intriguing things about him, after his death, that I never knew before. Do you find like me, that you always seem to learn something you never knew about someone after they died? Oh, I knew Woodrow was a man of God. Always a cheerful smile on his face, even when I would go see him at the hospital, or when he would be delivering bread to the church’s community service center. Woodrow and his wife Jean would always tell me they were praying for me and my ministry. That means so much to me. It also means a lot to me when people comment on my blog posts and tell me they are praying for me or even leave a prayer as a comment. It helps to know I am not alone in this spiritual warfare. However, it wasn’t until he died, and I came over to his home, to visit with the family, that I learned some amazing things.
Woody’s stepdaughter said he became her daddy when she was 12. He was the best dad a girl could ever have, and she does not have one unpleasant memory after her mom married. The daughter (she never felt like a stepdaughter) went on to talk about Woodrow’s prayer life. As she sat in her daddy’s chair, she told me “he would be up all night praying and, by listening to the way he prayed you would think Jesus must be sitting in that chair right there that you are in.” The mother and daughter then both told me that the night before he died he was up all night praying for all of his church family, blood family, and neighbors until 6 in the morning! They told me he mentioned my name in his prayer, and it sent chills down my spine to know that this godly Patriarch had prayed for me in his last prayer. At first I thought to myself, “Wow! He really appreciated my ministry!” Later as I recalled the incident, I thought, “All they said was that he prayed for me. They didn’t say how. He may have been praying for me to repent and be saved!”
I look back, and I wonder, why did he pray all night the night before he died? Why was he mentioning every soul he ever met? Did he have a premonition that he was about to die, and wanted to say one last, long prayer, not for himself, but for everyone else before he died? This reminds me of only one other person-Jesus! As He hung on the cross, He told John to care for His mother. He prayed for His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him. Woodrow and Jesus were alike, as while they both faced death, their thoughts and prayers were only for those around them. Woody, like Jesus, did not waste his last breath on himself, but used those last few precious breaths to bless others one last time.
I believe Woodrow was a true disciple of Jesus, and was able to live the selfless life that Jesus lived because He prayed the selfless prayers that Jesus prayed. I don’t think we can expect to live the way Jesus lived in the multitude, until we pray the way Jesus prayed when He was all alone. In Matthew 14:1-32 we read about Jesus walking on the water, while Peter at first walked on the water and then stumbled and fell. Earlier, in that chapter we saw Jesus spending all night in prayer. I wonder, if Peter had prayed the way Jesus had prayed the night before, could he have walked the way Jesus walked on the water? Would His prayer life kept his eyes focused on Jesus instead of the waves, and those watching him? While walking on the water, Jesus was using no special powers that were not also available to Peter. Later, in Acts 9:36-41 Peter does something remarkable that people thought only Jesus could do. Peter raises a community services leader back to life! Dorcas, the Christian Church’s first community services leader had died. Peter went over and raised her back to life! Remember me mentioning, how Woodrow delivered bread to the community services center? One day he will be raised back to life as well. This story tells me how precious community services leaders and workers are to God! I don’t read anywhere in my New Testament about a conference president, pastor or Bible Worker being raised back to life, but God raised a community services leader back to life! They must be very special to Him. Now look with me at what Peter did before he raised her to life. (Of course it was the Father, not Peter doing the work, just as Jesus said He did nothing of Himself, but it was the Father doing the works. See John 5:19-21)
But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up! Acts 9:40 NLT
When Peter fell in the waves, no record of Peter praying first is mentioned. Of course when he cried out for Jesus to save him, that was a prayer which Jesus immediately answered! But here we see Peter praying the way Jesus prayed before He worked the miracles that Jesus worked. Peter could do the works that Jesus did, once He prayed the prayers that Jesus prayed.
The night before Jesus died He was up all night praying, and asked His disciples to pray with him, but when His disciples fell asleep He quickly excused their humanity, saying the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. While men in their prime of life fell asleep trying to pray, 2,000 years later, Woodrow, a 95 year -old man prayed through the night. Woodrow was a true disciple of Jesus, doing something Jesus asked His disciple to do 2,000 years ago, which they did not. Oh how precious Woodrow’s prayer must have been to Jesus!
It’s no mystery how Woodrow was able to leave such a legacy behind for his family. Woodrow was able to live the way Jesus lived, because he prayed the way Jesus prayed.
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson on prayer and Discipleship here.
Since 1981, when I began preaching in high school, I have preached in many churches from Chiclayo, Peru, to Torrington, Connecticut. I have spoken to large and small congregations with various needs. I have illustrated to some conservative churches the need to be a little more liberal, and to liberal churches, how to be a little more conservative, as we all seek a Christ-like balance.
One Sabbath several years ago, I was preaching in one of the most conservative churches I have been in. No, “conservative” is not the word for it. Right-out legalistic is more like it! You’ll see why I say so in a moment.
I was preaching about how we are saved by grace – fairly fundamental Adventist Bible belief, so I thought. After the sermon I barely made it off the platform before I was greeted by a woman who had appointed herself to be the theology police for the church. She had a copy of The Great Controversy in her hand. Condescendingly she asked me if I had ever read The Great Controversy. I told her I had. She retorted, “How dare you then tell these people we are saved by grace when The Great Controversy clearly says we are saved by works! Your sermon today almost deceived even me. And if it almost deceived me I know you deceived everybody else!” (Did this woman maybe have a pride issue?)
Now let me stop before I go any further. If you have never read The Great Controversy, let me assure you that it does not say we are saved by our works. I have read the book several times cover to cover, and the theme I find over and over is that we are saved by grace and not by works, and that we should worship God according to our conscience and not according to man-made traditions and regulations. One of the star characters in the book is Martin Luther, who is applauded by the author for presenting salvation by grace and not works!
So, where was this lady coming from? Sure she was way off, but she had to get her idea from somewhere. She told me where it was. She told me to read the chapter, Facing Life’s Record, and I read:
True. Deeds are mentioned here, but if I remember correctly from diagramming sentences in my third grade English class, which I thoroughly hated doing by the way, “books” is the subject of the sentence, and the books determine the decisions, not the deeds.
However the Apostle John mentions deeds or “works” as well:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. Revelation 20:12
So do we have a conflict here? Not at all. In any investigative judgment you need evidence to determine your verdict. Our works provide evidence of salvation, but grace is the source of our salvation.
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Abraham’s belief or faith was counted as righteousness. God said it is enough that Abraham believes in my saving grace.
But when Abraham’s name comes up in the judgment what evidence will there be that he believed? Especially since he lied about his relationship with Sarah in order to save him from Egypt’s ruler. He trusted a lie to save him instead of trusting God to save him. No evidence of faith there.
However if we go to Genesis 22:1-24, we will see the evidence of Abraham’s faith, when he obeyed God and offered up his son on the altar. Now we have evidence that Abraham believed in God’s grace! Abraham will not be saved by his works, but his obedience of God’s soul-shattering command later in life – his “works” – demonstrates his faith in God. And God could count his faith as righteousness.
Just like smoke is evidence of fire, works are evidence of God’s grace at work in the life. Where there is smoke there is fire, and where there is grace there are good works. Let’s do a little detective work ourselves here, and investigate three passages.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Sure enough the passage tells us that we are saved by grace and not by works, but still we find God creating good works in us at the scene of grace. Let’s move on. We need more evidence.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:11-14
Just as you see smoke where there has been a fire, so we again see good works where there is grace. Just like smoke is evidence there has been a fire, likewise living soberly, righteously, godly lives zealous of good works, is evidence that grace has been here.
If we trust God we will obey Him. Our works of obedience are presented as evidence in the judgment that we trust God’s amazing grace.
Satan may still point at Abraham’s lie in Egypt, but,
When your name comes up in the judgment, will there be evidence that God’s grace was allowed to penetrate your heart?
Now there is also such a thing as false evidence. Legalistic works done for the glory of self would be false evidence that the Judge can see right through.
Yet a faith that works by love (See Galatians 5:6) is the exact evidence that will convince the Judge that we have received His amazing grace. I hope the lady who confronted me that day, with the Great Controversy, understands that doing works in order to be saved is just conjuring up false evidence. The faith that saves us is the faith that is motivated by love and grace and not a hope of reward and self-glory.
It’s just like the little girl standing by the side of the pool. She can’t swim, but her father promised to catch her if she jumps in. If she jumps we know she believes in her daddy. If she refuses to jump it is clearly evident she does not believe in her daddy.
Abraham showed a lack of faith in God’s love when he trusted a lie instead of God to protect him in Egypt. Yet when Abraham placed his son on the altar the whole universe saw the evidence that God’s grace was now in Abraham’s heart.
The Bible is clear. We are saved by grace and not by works. The Bible is also clear that where there is grace, there are good works.
A smoking gun is evidence that it has been put into action. Good works are evidence of grace put into action. Where you find smoke you find fire. Where you find grace you find good works.
Good works, done out of love, are evidence that we have been saved by amazing grace.
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson on the sanctuary here.
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
It was my first Christmas season in Florida. Shortly after Thanksgiving, a father showed up to our Bible study, very discouraged. It was his daughter’s 11th birthday, and due to finances at home he did not have a single dime to buy her a gift. Several days later, I was surprised when his daughter called me at the church, asking to put an ad in the church bulletin. She was organizing a group at her school to collect Christmas gifts for kids who had no gifts. In talking to her, it was clear that she was excited about this, and she definitely was not thinking about any gift for herself. That really touched my heart. This child understood more than the meaning of Christmas. She understood the meaning of life! She was so busy thinking of others that she had no time to feel sorry for herself. I appreciate the Christmas season as it helps me to see the good that is in people all year long. I’m sorry not everyone sees it that way.
Imagine this scenario. It’s a beautiful sunny Florida day. You call me and say, “William, let’s go to the beach and enjoy a beautiful sunset.” I respond, “No way! Don’t you know that some pagans worship the sun, therefore we should have nothing to do with it!” Not very balanced thinking huh? Likewise just because there may be some pagan things pertaining to Christmas it should not keep us from worshiping the Son on that day! I have heard that Christmas is a Catholic holiday. Does that make it wrong? Just because you are not a Catholic does not mean everything they do or have done is bad. Catholics operate good hospitals all over the world where people of all faiths and beliefs receive compassionate care. If we are not Catholic does that mean that we should not have good hospitals just because they do? There are many good Catholics who pray every day. Should we refrain from prayer because Catholics pray? Of course not. So why should we refrain from celebrating a holiday that makes the whole world think of Jesus? Remember, like Christmas, Martin Luther’s origins were Catholic too, so as good protestants should we reject him too? No. We need to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Please remember that in Romans 13 Paul tells us to go along with things as long as they don’t go against the Word of God. While Sunday observance opposes the Sabbath observance, celebrating Christmas does not oppose anything Biblical.
Please remember, that while Paul clearly taught that the feast days were no longer binding, but were a shadow of things to come (See Colossians 2:14-17) that he still went up to Pentecost, as it was an opportunity for him to share Jesus with everyone. (See Acts 20:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:8) with the same missionary Spirit that Paul had, should we not also take advantage of celebrations that enable us to share Jesus, including Christmas and Easter?
The Spirit of Prophecy that rested upon Paul stays consistent as it rested upon Ellen White, who tells us Christmas serves a good purpose.
As the twenty-fifth of December is observed to commemorate the birth of Christ, as the children have been instructed by precept and example that this was indeed a day of gladness and rejoicing, you will find it a difficult matter to pass over this period without giving it some attention. It can be made to serve a very good purpose. –Ellen White, Adventist Home, Page 478
I believe that if Christmas was a day that we should ignore, that God’s prophet would have instructed us so very clearly. She does not instruct us to ignore this day. God gave her no such message.
Nor does the Spirit of Prophecy tell us that a Christmas tree within itself is pagan.
God would be well pleased if on Christmas, each church would have a Christmas tree on which shall be hung offerings, great and small, for these houses of worship. Letters of inquiry have come to us asking, Shall we have a Christmas tree? will it not be like the world? We answer, You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible. There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen, and placing it in our churches; but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action, and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree. –Ellen White, Review and Herald, December 11, 1879 par. 15
Yes, we all know Jesus was not born on December 25. We do not need to celebrate it as Christ’s actual birthday. We celebrate the fact that Jesus became a man and died for our sins. Maybe Christmas was inspired by pagan motives. Joseph’s brothers had “pagan” motives when they sold him to the Ishmaelites. No matter. God used it for good and made Joseph a savior of his times. So today, we have an excellent opportunity to allow God to use a day set up by sinful mankind to turn peoples’ minds and hearts to the Savior. The original motives good or bad do not matter at this point. God can use it for good. This does not contradict Bible doctrine.
My mind goes back to another Christmas I celebrated with my church in Fort Worth Texas. Christmas fell on a Sabbath that year. My church decided to spend Sabbath feeding lunch to the homeless downtown. We had several kids of all ages with us. They were delighted to serve. Now, most of these families waited till sundown to celebrate Christmas and open their gifts, so even though it was late in the afternoon, these children had not opened their gifts yet. After we served and cleaned up I figured, and the parents figured too, that the kids would now be in a hurry to rush home in time for sundown to open their gifts. That is not what happened. These kids begged us to let them stay and serve the evening meal as well, even though another group was coming in to do that. The kids were so excited that they got to stay and serve total strangers instead of rushing home to open their gifts.
Friends the Christmas Spirit these kids manifested, and the Christmas Spirit of my Bible study student’s daughter was not a pagan spirit. It was a spirit of self sacrificing love, which is what true Christianity is all about!
When Joseph found out Mary was with child, he thought it was rather obvious she had an affair. Wouldn’t it seem obvious to you too? Joseph was wise to hold his peace and not say anything publically against Mary. Good thing he didn’t say anything, because Joseph found out that what had happened was actually done by the Holy Spirit. I am saddened when people judge the motives of people celebrating the Christmas Spirit, by calling them pagan, when in fact they are actually moved by the Holy Spirit celebrating the meaning of life which is Christ Himself.
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area. (Yeah right!)
After seeing pictures on the news last night of Bayshore Blvd all flooded, I went down early this morning with my camera to see what I could see. The street was not flooded anymore but you can still see a little flooding. I take pictures of Tampa Bay all the time in the sunshine, when it looks so beautiful. Today’s picture does not look so beautiful does it? But you know what? All the trash you see, that has washed up on the bay, was around the whole time when I took the other beautiful pictures of the bay. The storm did not make the trash, it only revealed the trash that was already there. I thought about my life. Some times on sunny days, when all is going well, I may think I am a beautiful person. However when the storms of life come I may find some garbage in my heart. The storms of life don’t make the garbage in my heart. The storms only reveal what has been there all along. I think David knew that when he pleaded with God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalms 139:23-24 NKJV The storms of life may show us all the garbage in our heart, but God’s love can clean it all up for us and make us beautiful inside and out!
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 NIV