Proverbs in Light of The Cross; Compassion For All

I am writing today from the slightly overcast Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the slightly overcast Tampa Bay area.

Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy. Proverbs 14:10 NLT 

Most everyone knows in elevator etiquette, you allow those exiting to get off the elevator before you get on. Still, one day after visiting my Bible student in the hospital, I was riding the elevator down to the parking level. When the elevator came to a stop, I started to exit when I got stampeded by a family of five. After they were finished walking all over me I quietly exited. I did not recite to them the rules of riding the elevator. Its not that I could not stand up for myself. I can and have. Its just that I finally learned a lesson a while back.

In my adult years, I have learned that some of my schoolmates while growing up were going through some awful situations at home. When I learned of this I wished I had known way back then, so I would have been able to me more kind and compassionate with them. Then I realized I did not need to know what they were going through in order to be kind and compassionate. I could have just been nice no matter what. That would have covered that without even having to know.

So when the people ran over me on the elevator, I just told myself, they may have just heard some terrible news about their sick loved one in the hospital, and are in a hurry to see them or the doctor. Maybe, maybe not. But I didn’t have to know. I could just be nice and wait till they were all in and finished running over me before I exited the elevator, which I did this time.

You can study more about Proverbs here.

Proverbs in Light of the Cross; The Perils of Being a Creative Thinker

 

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.Proverbs 2:2 NLT

In grade school, my teacher was talking about the possibility of solar powered cars. A sincere question came to my mind. I raised my hand and asked, “How would these cars run in the dark?” My teacher was angered by my question. I can’t recall if she actually called it a stupid question, but she sure made me feel stupid! She told me that, obviously, there was a battery that stored power for night time, and then said I should stop thinking of stupid questions.

I was hurt. I thought I had asked a good question. (I just now took a moment to Google it, and it appears I am not the only person who has ever asked that question.) Tuning your ears to wisdom and concentrating on understanding can take you outside of the box. I have learned a lot of people don’t like to think outside the box.

I have had several people over the years tell me that they love my sermons and writings because I make them think of things they have never thought of before and see things in a different light. People call that creative thinking. It’s a good thing, but it comes with risks. When some people say, “I never thought of it that way before” they mean that is brilliant. When others say, “I never thought of it that way before” they mean that is stupid!

My grade school teacher is not the only one who has ever treated me that way. I have paid people what I thought were sincere compliments, only to have them snap back and call me a smart aleck or worse. I felt stunned, wondering how in the world did they turn that into an insult? I have raised ideas in church meetings only to have people laugh at me.

I first served as a head elder of a church when I was 22, and some people thought I was too immature to be a head elder. I probably was. Probably still am. Some of my ideas they thought were silly. For example, I started prayer meetings at 7:23. Why such an odd time? Because that way people would not have a hard time remembering if it was 7:00 or 7:30. 7:23 sticks out in the brain. Plus who says you have to start at 7:00, 7:15 or 7:30? Since then I have noticed how many sporting events and things start at 7:07 and other “odd” times.

My point is that a lot of ideas some people find laughable, others find brilliant. So I am happy when people tell me I make them think outside the box. I think the box should be thrown away.

I am not comparing myself to Jesus, but He lived outside the box Himself. Off-beat ideas like praying for God to bless your enemies, going the extra mile, and a little child being the greatest, really had people thinking in ways they never had before. But with a little wisdom and understanding, people realized He was not so crazy after all.

I’m writing this just to let those who think outside the box know they are not so crazy. God created us in His creative image. We see His creative thinking both in creation and in the plan of redemption. Therefore when we “let this mind be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) we will have minds that think creatively like Jesus.

So, no matter how stupid a teacher may have made you feel, keep up the creative thinking. Keep asking creative questions. I have learned that when some people are asked a good question they can’t answer, pride won’t let them say they don’t know. Instead they try to minimize the question, and make it look like a silly question that should not be asked, when in reality it is was a great question that warrants an answer, maybe even a creative answer.

Keep up the creative out-of-the box thinking. People loved Jesus for it. People have told me they love me for it, and they will love you too!

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

Proverbs In Light of the Cross; Understanding

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.” Proverbs 3:13 NLT

I remember several years ago I got to thinking about the fact that I had not really learned anything exciting or new in the Scriptures lately. Since I love studying and finding new things, I asked God why that was. The thought came to me. Have I been doing all that God already showed me? If not, why would He bother showing me more, when I am not even doing what I already know to do?

The story goes of a pastor who preached the same sermon three weeks in a row. After the third time, an elder told him, “you do realize this is the third time you’ve preached the exact same sermon?” “Yes,” the pastor replied. “And you still have not done what I told you.”

Understanding means obeying. There is no reason for God to give us more wisdom, if we’re not using the wisdom we already have.

“Disobedience has closed the door to a vast amount of knowledge that might have been gained from the Scriptures. Understanding means obedience to God’s commandments. The Scriptures are not to be adapted to meet the prejudice and jealousy of men. They can be understood only by those who are humbly seeking for a knowledge of the truth that they may obey it.”  Ellen White, Christ Object Lessons, page 111

He’s Not My Brother, You’re Not My Father

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

You are looking at my favorite Florida sunset picture out of all the ones I have taken. While I love the beauty of Florida I have discovered as I travel around, that Florida is not the only beautiful place in the world. The sunsets on the sea are not the only way God expresses His beauty. He also expresses His beauty on snow capped mountains, lush valleys and meadows as well as majestic forests. God has too much glory and beauty for little Florida to contain, so He must spread it all over the world. It is the same with people. God is just too big and glorious for Him to portray Himself in one type of people. So He expresses His beauty in different types of people all over the world.

The spring of 2003 found me driving from Texas to Tennessee. I stopped for the night in Louisiana. The next morning I stopped at a doughnut shop in Mississippi. As I walked in, all eyes were glued to me, and were staring me down. I checked my zipper. Everything seemed to be okay. I walked up to the counter and smiled at the lady at the cash register, but she only glared back at me. I wiped my face. I must not have rinsed well after shaving. I cheerfully ordered my two chocolate cream filled doughnuts. My cheerful order was not met with a cheerful smile. The lady very curtly gave me my doughnuts, made change and glared at me as I smiled back and said “Thank you!”

As I turned around, I saw all the customers were still glaring at me. I smiled back at them and they only glared back at me. That is when I finally noticed something I hadn’t before. I was the only white person in the store. Everyone else was black. My first reaction to that realization was, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Your attitude towards me is so 1964! It’s 2003 people!” I came within an eyelash of making a grand speech, about how we are all friends back in Texas, but thought better of it. My church in Texas was a multi-cultural church with several different nationalities. (Notice I did not say races and I will tell you later why.) Not only at church, but also where I worked, I had black friends, white friends, Hispanic friends, and everything in between.

Later when I shared my experience with a friend, they reminded me that I was passing through an area where there was still anger over racist crimes. They reminded me about Emmett Till, the young black boy who was killed by some white men for no good reason and the jury let them go! That has created a lot of anger in the black people.

Well I want to share something with you. What happened to Emmett Till has created a lot of anger in me too! You see, I don’t think of Emmett as just black. I think of him as human. I like to think of myself as human as well. People call what happened to him a race crime, that pits blacks against whites. But here is the thing. I am the same race as Emmett Till! While he was black and I am white I am still the same race as him- the human race! What happened to Emmett was a crime against humanity-the same humanity I am a part of. I have just as much right to share the hurt and anger of this terrible crime, because as a human I can identify with him. You see, the Bible only acknowledges one race, the human race. We all have one Father. When Cain killed Abel, it was an attack on the human race and when those men killed poor Emmett, it was an attack on the human race as well- the entire human race, and it broke the heart of the same Father whose heart was broken when Cain killed Abel.

Even though I enjoy beautiful sunsets on the beach here in Florida, I am still concerned about how pollution affects beautiful places all over the world. You see I don’t just belong to Florida. I belong to the world. Emmett Till did not just belong to black people. He belonged to humanity.

When we become narrow-minded, thinking we only belong to people in our own area, color, or even church then we are denying how great and wonderful our God is. Even in the church we debate theology thinking our way of thinking has a corner on the market, forgetting that God is too great to pour all His theology into one simple narrow minded brain. I have said it before and will repeat it now, often our camp of thought is wrong, not by what it teaches, but by what it does not teach. Some people stress justification while others stress sanctification. Fact is you need both. So to get the big picture on theology we must put all our ideas together. I may love my beach sunset pictures, but we need beautiful mountains and valleys in there as well. While I see God’s glory in the sea, many see God’s glory in the desert. My sunset picture is not a complete comprehensive picture of God’s glory and beauty, and my theology is not complete either. When we put all our pictures together we get the big picture.

Luke 15:11-31 shares the story of the prodigal son, and in that story the older brother disowns his younger brother when he calls him “This son of yours”. He would not call him brother. Problem is we all have one Father. That makes us all family. God is the father of struggling sinners. If in my pride I claim the struggling sinner is not my brother, then I have also said God is not my Father! In the end of the story the older brother finds himself outside of his Father’s house, because he refused to accept his brother.

Quaid, an elderly man from Vietnam, whose family disowned him when He became a Seventh-day Adventist, was a member of a church I preach at here in Florida. Sadly, he has passed on. At his funeral, a mother of a struggling teen shared this story with me. Her daughter, we will call Shelby was dealing with some grief in her life and was acting out. She dressed differently and liked to dye her hair bright colors. One day at church people were talking about her and she was very hurt. She started telling everyone she was never coming back, because people were treating her like she was so different. Quaid, in his classic grey suit and tie sat down on a bench outside the church, with 15 year old Shelby, in her strange clothes and hair, and he told her how his family had thought he was strange for being Seventh-day Adventist, but it did not stop him from coming to church. He talked to her about how people thought he was strange because of some of his customs from his native country, but that did not stop him from loving them. This elderly man from Vietnam, sat on a bench with a rebellious 15 year old girl, and talked to her about all the things they had in common! He shared with her how, while being different, they both shared the same problems-rejection. He told her he was not giving up coming to church just because people thought he was different, and told her not to let them keep her from church either! Years later, Shelby attends church occasionally, but according to her mother, she would not be attending at all if it wasn’t for an elderly Vietnamese, traditional Adventist elder who saw himself in a 15 year old American rebellious teenage girl. Shelby attends that church occasionally and has friends from that church that she meets for socials outside of church, but Quaid will always have a special place in her heart.

Friends we share one Father. We are family. While I live in Florida I have an interest in the whole world because the lines between states and countries are only imaginary. I am not just a part of Florida. I am a part of this world. I am not just a Seventh-day Adventist. I am a Christian and therefore I have an interest in my Methodist and Baptist brothers as well. I don’t just belong to white people. I belong to people of every color and nationality because I am a part of the human race. I am a part of God’s great big family. I am not going to let narrow minded thinking force me outside my Father’s house.

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

The Fruit of the Spirit, Lesson 5

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This week’s SS lesson is about patience. Funny how we get impatient with other people, while wishing at times, that others were more patient with us. However I do know some very patient people. To explain what I am talking about I will have to make a very dark confession. A confession that you probably never thought you would have to hear a lay preacher make. But here goes…..I am 44 years old and am just now learning how to tie a tie! I have been wearing clip-ons for years! Embarrassing I know. I started wearing clip-ons when I was a kid and never really learned to tie a tie because I thought, why bother, just wear clip-ons. Also I never saw the importance of a tie, kind of like Adventist pioneer James White who never wore a tie because to him it was useless adornment. But it became very complicated. People would give me real ties for gifts and then I am sure would wonder why I never wore them.

In my late 30s I tried to turn this around as my friend Doug in Texas would try to teach me how to tie a tie. Problem is I would get frustrated and go back to wearing clip-ons and forget everything I learned and poor Doug would have to start all over teaching me again. He was so patient. So is my dad who recently helped me tie my tie in time to get to my grandmother’s funeral. Then there is my good friend Adam who has been secretly teaching me here in Tampa. Secretly because a lay preacher my age should already know how to tie a tie. Once I shocked a poor mother when she was telling her ten year old son in church that he needed to start wearing real ties instead of clip-ons because he was becoming a young man now. I unclipped my tie in front of them and said, “clip-ons like this?” She was shocked to see that I was not wearing a real tie. That’s when I decided I better get serious about learning to tie a real tie.

Adam has been helping me and I have been watching Youtube videos that have helped too. Now every Sabbath morning I get in front of the mirror to tie my tie and how well I do is about as unpredictable as my golf game. One week I get it on the third or fourth try and other weeks I have to give up and grab a clip-on so I can make it to church on time.

Point is that My dad, Doug and Adam have been very patient in teaching me. They don’t complain that they have already showed me a hundred times. They don’t call me stupid and remind me that a 7 year old could do this. They have shown me the best definition of patience and that is turning frustrating moments into opportunities to teach. Isn’t that what Jesus did over and over with the disciples? When they would not remember a lesson He would teach them over and over again. After all we do learn by repetition.

I have had to learn my own lessons on patience. A few weeks ago I was driving up to a light and got in the left turn lane. The light was green but the truck in front of me was just sitting there so I decided to go around him. As I swerved around him I found my self in the path of an oncoming ambulance with sirens blaring! Oh! That’s what the guy in the truck was waiting on!  A few weeks later I am at the bank in a lane with two of those vacuums so I pull up to the second one and another car pulls in behind me to the first one. He got his transaction completed before I did and started honking at me to move! I was still waiting on my money but I pulled out so he could go and he gave me this dirty look as he sped by. I backed back in to get my money. I thought, why couldn’t he understand that I was not through yet? He thought I was finished when I wasn’t and was just sitting there. Then I remembered the truck at the light and how I did not understand why he was just sitting there. So now I have learned to be as patient with others as I would have them to be with me.

One more illustration: Some things in the Bible seem very clear to me, for example, the Sabbath. I wonder why other people can’t see it. There it is right in the middle of the Ten Commandments. Well, when I first moved to Tampa I exited *Maple Avenue from I-275 and drove straight to my new apartment. For years I told everyone I lived off of Maple Avenue. However Tampa is one of those cities where the same street will change names several times as you drive across town. Well after three years I am sitting at the light by my house, looking at the street sign like I have done hundreds of times before, but this time I noticed something. The street sign says “Elm” not Maple. The street changed names and for three years I had not realized that and was telling everyone I lived somewhere else. Now it does not seem so silly to me how other people can see something in the Bible and not notice it just like for three years I had not noticed that I did not live on the street I thought I did. For three years I had been stopping at that light with the sign right in front of me and I never noticed it did not say what I thought it did. So now I understand how someone can read something in the Bible and still not “see” it. 

My prayer this year is that I will be as patient with people as I would like them to be with me! 

* I used fictitious street names to protect my privacy.

You can find more studies and devotionals at In Light Of The Cross.