Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 11 (False Worship)

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 NLT

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared.  Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” Matthew 2:7-8 NLT 

When the wise men go to worship Jesus, they were probably surprised to find they were the only ones.  Why were God’s people so lethargic? Then the wise men meet Herod, who tells them he wants to worship too. That must have really encouraged them! Of course, we know Herod’s claim to worship was not sincere. It was very hypocritical. The fact that the wise men were not a part of some big mega church or mega movement did not keep them from worshiping Jesus, even if they were the only ones. The fact that Herod, who claimed to be a worshiper turned out to be phony, did not keep them from seeking Jesus either.

Please don’t let the lethargy that may be in your church, family or community, keep you from seeking Jesus, even if like the wise men, you feel all alone. Please don’t let hypocrites or false worshipers rob you of your joy in finding the Savior!

Wise men still seek Him, even if no one else does!

Worship: From Exile to Restoration

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While studying this week’s SS lesson, two things became apparent to me.  God’s church has never been perfect. The sins of the church leaders described in Ezekiel 8 makes this clear. Many people today act shocked, to see things happening in the church, that ought not to be. They talk about how religious piety is wanting. They talk about the olden days when the church was pure. Friends, the church has never been pure and religious piety has always been wanting. People say, the standards are not upheld like they used to be. For example, I heard someone talking a while back about how when they were growing up, you never saw an Adventist drinking Coke or Pepsi at a church gathering, like you may today. True. We did not drink it at social gatherings but many of us drank it at home. So are the standards slipping, or are we just becoming more real? I am not condoning drinking Coke or Pepsi at Adventist gatherings or at home. What I am suggesting, is that we take a realistic look at things. Are our standards slipping, or are we just becoming less hypocritical, and not hiding what we really do, and who we really are?

I only use Coke and Pepsi as a handy illustration. We, as a church and as individuals, have issues much more pressing than soft drinks. This leads me to my second observation revealed in our SS lesson. Intercession. When we see things in the church that ought not to be, often our first instinct is to have the people responsible removed. Years ago, a children’s SS teacher told me how a pastor changed her life. She was a smoker and a SS teacher. Convicted she should not be smoking, and teaching the children, she confessed to her pastor that she should no longer be teaching the children. The pastor told her she had it all wrong. She should keep teaching the children’s SS class. It was the smoking she should quit! By God’s grace she quit smoking and continued teaching. When my shirt gets torn, it is easier to throw it away and buy a new one than it is to sew and fix it. When we see people with problems in the church, we think it is easier for them to just leave and get someone else, instead of helping mend the people with problems. Jesus is not into quick fixes. Jesus is not into throwing people away because they are broken. This is why He has stood by a church so imperfect for not just centuries, but millenniums. Jesus wants to mend and heal His broken church and broken people. What the church needs is prayer warriors like Daniel, who in Daniel 9 interceded for the church of his day, and even saw himself as part of the problem, and saw God, not himself, as part of the solution.  Instead of praying for people who we perceive to be tainting the church to leave, we should first intercede for them and pray for their salvation.  After all, if we truly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives and purify the church, why don’t we give the Holy Spirit time to do His work?

I understand church discipline is Biblical and has its place, but intercession has its place too, and it comes before church discipline. In the past we may have used church discipline as a quick fix. Throw away that old torn shirt and buy a new one. A Christ like Church will take the time to mend people, instead of throwing them away. This may make the church less than perfect for a while. That’s okay. It takes to time to fix things correctly. So I challenge you, instead of being critical of your church, intercede for your church. And I challenge you to go a step further. Ask Jesus to send the outcasts, that no other church wants  to your church!

Worship: “Trust Not in Deceptive Words”: The Prophets and Worship

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s SS lesson, asks the question, “What do you think is more important: correct theology or correct actions? Can you have your theology right and yet treat others in a poor manner? What hope can you cling to if, perhaps, you see yourself revealed in the above texts? 

In Luke 10 Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. In this story a priest and a Levite, walk by and leave a wounded man to die. They knew the law. I am sure their peers would say they had sound theology. But did they? In Exodus 23:4-5 it says we are to help even an animal in distress. How much more a man! Surely the priest and Levite knew this. After the Priest and Levite leave the man to die, for whatever reason, a Samaritan comes along. Samaritans had their own place of worship, which according to the Jews, was the incorrect place to be. The Samaritan probably did not know the law or the Scriptures like the priest and Levite did. However, he was more like Jesus than either of the other men because, according to Luke 10:33 he had compassion. In this story, that one word, “compassion”, seems to separate right actions from wrong actions and bad theology from good theology. I have heard it said, that many will miss heaven by about 18 inches. The difference between the brain and the heart. I have also heard it said, and I believe, that heaven will be filled with people who had muddled theology, but none with bitter hearts.

As we continue reading the story, we find the Samaritan to be even more like Jesus. First he had compassion. Second he binds up the wounds of the hurt man even as Jesus binds our wounds. Finally he tells the innkeeper that he will pay for this man’s complete recovery. On the cross Jesus paid for our complete recovery from sin, and today gives us the free gift of sanctification as well as justification.

So, to answer the original question, I would say you can’t really have one without the other. If your theology is good, it will have good actions. Good actions are good theology. I think Ellen White says it best, in the book Desire of Ages, in the chapter “The Good Samaritan.”

  In the story of the good Samaritan, Christ illustrates the nature of true religion. He shows that it consists not in systems, creeds, or rites, but in the performance of loving deeds, in bringing the greatest good to others, in genuine goodness.  {DA 497.1}  

Worship: Conformity, Compromise and Crisis in Worship

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s SS lesson asks, “What are some things your own society does not condemn that are clearly condemned by the Bible? More important, how much has society impacted you and the church in regard to these issues? That is, what things clearly condemned in Scripture might the church take too lightly, directly as a result of the influence of society?”

Things that used to shock the world several years ago are now freely accepted by the church. This makes me wonder, is the church following the Word of God, or just trying to stay a few paces behind the world in paganism? In 1939 the world (not the church, the world) was shocked when Rhett Butler told Scarlett, “Frankly my dear I don’t give a d—n” on the silver screen. Today it takes a lot more than that to shock not just the world but the church. Satan is smart enough to make a small gradual effect on the church. Before you know it, things that the world once saw as sinful, the church within time freely condones. It seems as though sin is relative. Well that’s not a bad movie compared to this movie which is even worse. This swimsuit is not that immodest once you consider what they wear on South Beach. Smoking marijuana is not as bad as Crack.  So, are we trying to follow Jesus, or just make sure we are not following the world too closely? Is our goal to be like Jesus, or is it to just not be too much like the world? Could it be that our goal is actually somewhere in between Jesus and the world? Is the Bible our guide, or is society and the Bible our guide?

Being a single Christian man in my forties I am surprised at how many older Christians believe sex outside of marriage is okay. People will not come right out and say it, but I believe many in the church today think the “no sex before marriage” rule only applies to teens. They bend the teachings of the Bible to agree with what is socially acceptable instead of the other way around. Even homosexuality is gaining acceptance in some churches. We are satisfied with the explanation that they must be born that way, totally forgetting the words of Jesus that we must be BORN AGAIN! Fact is, we all are born sinful so we must all be born again, including the homosexual. Of course the sex and entertainment world is not the only area we have let society dictate. I once heard a pastor in Texas say, “a homosexual church is not in any more open rebellion against God’s Word than is a church that keeps Sunday instead of the Bible Sabbath.”

Ancient Israel did not want to be governed by God’s standards, but rather wanted to have a king and be like the other nations. Today some churches want to gauge their success as though it is a worldly business. Instead of comparing themselves to the Word of God, they like to look at growth graphs and charts to gauge success just like worldly businesses do. When we gauge our success the same way the world does, we then try to use the same means to achieve success. I would like to point out at this time Dueteronomy 13:17-18. “He will increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your ancestors—because you obey the LORD your God by keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.” Success comes from the Word of God and not being socially accepted by society. In modern society we have the same challenge as ancient Israel. Are we going to follow God’s Word, or just stay a few paces behind the world?

There is another and more important question that should engage the attention of the churches of today. The apostle Paul declares that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” [2 Timothy 3:12.] Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber?—The only reason is, that the church has conformed to the world’s standard, and therefore awakens no opposition. The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian faith in the days of Christ and his apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the Word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. Let there be a revival of the faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled.  {Great Controversy, p. 48}

Worship in the Psalms

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Friday’s section of this week’s SS lesson asks, “What are some of your own favorite Psalms? What do you like about them, and what do they reveal to you about the Lord?” So here are three of my favorites and what they mean to me.

To me, studying the life of David is like studying human nature. Here is a man whose aims were high, but still succumbed to his humanity. Isn’t that all of us? We learn some very valuable lessons in the life of David. Many people want to point out that David made some terrible mistakes, and God forgave him which is true. However let’s not use that as a license to sin, or as an object lesson that God condones sin.  Fact is, while David did receive forgiveness for his grievous sins, the lessons for us are, it still would have been much better for David and his family (nation too) if David had never committed those sins in the first place. Another very important lesson is, we do not see David going back and making the same mistakes over and over again! Here is the balance of grace in David’s life. He received forgiveness for sins and the power to overcome those sins in the future.

I believe one of the reasons we do not see David going back again and again making the same mistakes, is because he trusted God’s grace to change him instead of promising to change himself. As I read David’s Psalm of repentance in chapter 51, I see David declaring his dependence on God’s grace to overcome instead of promising to overcome on his own. I see him asking God to give him a clean heart and to purify him instead of trying to make himself better. I also love how David declares that God will never despise a heart that is broken because of how its sin has hurt God. I would like to add, that while David makes it so clear that God can give victory over sin, that if we fall again we do not need to lose hope. I believe God will never despise a broken heart, no matter how many times that heart has been broken by sin before!

Read Psalms 51 in your favorite language and version here.

Psalm 51

1Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

4Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

5Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

6Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

9Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

11Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

12Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

13Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

14Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

15O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

16For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

18Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

19Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

I love the first few verses of Psalms 103 as they give hope and encouragement in every situation. I often share this verse with people in the hospital and find it is one of their favorites too!

Read Psalms 103 in your favorite language and version here.

Psalms 103:1-5

1Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

2Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

3Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

4Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

5Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalms 23 is packed with comforting theology. For those who are looking for good sound pastoral leadership in the world today, you will be pleased to know that the Lord Himself wants to be your pastor! A shepherd is a pastor, and the Spanish version literal reads that God is our pastor. Throughout the years of my ministry I have experienced God preparing a banquet feast for me time and again in the presence of my enemies, who actually are not my personal enemies at all, but rather God’s enemies! I love the fact that God’s goodness and mercy are with me all the days of my life! Not just on the days I feel good or think everything is going my way, but all the days of my life!

Read Psalms 23 in your favorite language and version here.

Psalm 23

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Worship: Rejoicing Before The Lord: The Sanctuary and Worship

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While studying this week’s SS lesson, I ran across some interesting articles from the Spirit of Prophecy.

Keep Silence Before Him

  The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. Habakkuk 2:20

From the sacredness which was attached to the earthly sanctuary, Christians may learn how they should regard the place where the Lord meets with His people. There has been a great change, not for the better, but for the worse, in the habits and customs of the people in reference to religious worship. The precious, the sacred, things which connect us with God are fast losing their hold upon our minds and hearts, and are being brought down to the level of common things. The reverence which the people had anciently for the sanctuary where they met with God in sacred service has largely passed away. Nevertheless, God Himself gave the order of His service, exalting it high above everything of a temporal nature.  {FLB 189.2} 

     The house is the sanctuary for the family, and the closet or the grove the most retired place for individual worship; but the church is the sanctuary for the congregation.  {FLB 189.3} 

     In the name of Jesus we may come before Him with confidence, but we must not approach Him with the boldness of presumption, as though He were on a level with ourselves. There are those who address the great and all-powerful and holy God, who dwelleth in light unapproachable, as they would address an equal, or even an inferior. There are those who conduct themselves in His house as they would not presume to do in the audience-chamber of an earthly ruler. These should remember that they are in His sight whom seraphim adore.  {FLB 189.4} 

     Those who assemble to worship Him should put away every evil thing. Unless they worship Him in spirit and truth and in the beauty of holiness, their coming together will be of no avail.  {FLB 189.5} 

     It is your privilege, dear young friends, to glorify God upon the earth. In order to do this, you must direct your minds away from things that are superficial, frivolous, and unimportant, to those that are of eternal worth. {FLB.189.6} 

  Reverence for the House of God

  Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:30 

God is high and holy; and to the humble, believing soul, His house on earth, the place where His people meet for worship, is as the gate of heaven. The song of praise, the words spoken by Christ’s ministers, are God’s appointed agencies to prepare a people for the church above, for that loftier worship.  {ML 286.2} 

     When the worshipers enter the place of meeting, they should do so with decorum, passing quietly to their seats. . . . Common talking, whispering, and laughing should not be permitted in the house of worship, either before or after the service. Ardent, active piety should characterize the worshipers.  {ML 286.3} 

     If some have to wait a few minutes before the meeting begins, let them maintain a true spirit of devotion by silent meditation, keeping the heart uplifted to God in prayer that the service may be of special benefit to their own hearts and lead to the conviction and conversion of other souls. They should remember that heavenly messengers are in the house. We all lose much sweet communion with God by our restlessness, by not encouraging moments of reflection and prayer. . . .  {ML 286.4} 

     Elevate the standard of Christianity in the minds of your children; help them to weave Jesus into their experience; teach them to have the highest reverence for the house of God and to understand that when they enter the Lord’s house it should be with hearts that are softened and subdued by such thoughts as these: “God is here; this is His house. I must have pure thoughts and holiest motives. . . . This is the place where God meets with and blesses His people.” . . .  {ML 286.5} 

     Parents should not only teach, but command, their children to enter the sanctuary with sobriety and reverence.  {ML 286.6} 

     Practice reverence until it becomes a part of yourself. {ML 286.7}

Worship: The Sabbath

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As we study this week’s SS lesson, we realize we all have our own ideas about Sabbath and worship. That is good! God has too many wonderful ideas to pack into any one human brain. Sometimes our ideas come from tradition instead of the Bible. We need to be careful to follow the Bible. Sometimes people will throw away human tradition which is good, but then they also throw away Bible teachings with it. We must be careful to save the Bible standard of worship while not making human tradition law. In pursuit of this goal, here are some blog posts that I hope you find helpful in following the Bible and your own convictions, placed in your heart not by man, but by the Holy Spirit.

Sabbath Observance myth Busters #1 Sabbath Afternoon Naps.

Sabbath Observance Myth Busters #2 Saved By Grace

Preparation Day: The Other Forgotten Day.

First Day of the Week Bible Texts.

The Sabbath in Light of the Cross.

El Sabado