The Law and the Gospel are Both God’s Character

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One summer when I was ten years old, I spent a week with my grandmother in Western Arkansas. At the end of the week my mother came to pick me up. While we were still visiting, I forget what I said to my mother, but it must have not have been too nice, because I will never forget what my grandmother said to me. She said, “You don’t talk to your mother that way.” And I thought she was going to follow it up with something like, she is bigger than you or the boss of you or something like that be she didn’t. She finished by saying, “You don’t talk that way to someone who would die for you.” Wow.

That has always stayed with me, and even when performing wedding ceremonies, I will share that story, and encourage the new family to always remember, even in disagreements,  you are still disagreeing with someone who would die for you. So at least please make it a friendly disagreement.

The reason we put no other gods before us, is not because God is bigger than us or the boss of us, but because He loves us enough to die for us. In the same spirit we honor our parents and are faithful to our spouses. The spirit of the law is, others first. That is also the spirit of Jesus on the cross.

 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” Luke 23:32-35 NLT

While Jesus had every right to call ten thousand angels to His rescue, or could have just turned his persecutor’s to dust and escaped, one simple thing held Him back. Saving Himself and letting others perish, which would have been putting Himself first, simply was not in His character. His character is “others first.” The law is others first too. When Jesus refused to save Himself on the cross, He was fulfilling the law on the cross, not abolishing it! The law, which says, “others first” was established on the cross. The law is the gospel! The law puts others first. There are commandments about putting God first, putting your parents first, and putting your spouse and then community first, but there simply is no commandment telling us to put ourselves first. Putting yourself first is contrary to the law, and it is contrary to God’s character.

To abolish the law would be to abolish consideration for others! Jesus was not considering Himself, He was only considering others on the cross. Thus He established the law and the gospel on the cross. Many of our parents have that law written on their hearts and would not even have to think twice about dying for us if such a situation arose. Many of our service men and women have that law written on their hearts and have sealed it with their own blood in dying for our freedom. The police officer, who you just cursed, for writing you that speeding ticket, will take a bullet for you without even flinching.

But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. Hebrews 8:10 NLT

Will you let God write His law on your heart? When He writes His law on your heart, He is also writing the gospel on your heart, for He is placing His very character inside your heart!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

The True Spirit of Commandment Keeping


I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16 NLT

Is this a profound question? Not really. It is a very shallow and selfish question. The person asking this question is only interested in their own prosperity. A profound question would be, “How can I express my love for you Jesus?” Or “How can I be a better member of my community?” But the man asking the question is not interested in any of that as we will soon see. He just wants to know, how do I make sure I get to live forever.

 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 NLT

Jesus’ answer surprises some people that, even here in the New Testament Jesus is referring to commandment keeping. In the New Testament. Where we have grace, Jesus is still talking about obedience. The New Testament never removed obedience to the commandments. Jesus told the man, if you want eternal life, keep the commandments. Later, Paul said,

In this way, God qualified him [Jesus] as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. Hebrews 5:9 NLT

But actually, by telling the man to keep the commandments, Jesus meant more than just doing good deeds to get eternal life. By telling the man to keep the commandments, Jesus was wanting a relationship with Him. When the man asked which commands to keep, Jesus quoted a few, which all dealt directly with relationships.

You must not murder. [No murder sounds pretty important to a relationship to me!] You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 19:18-19 NLT

Yes, those are all pretty important to relationships. But as we read further, we see the man is clearly not interested in a relationship. He is only interested in himself and his own eternal prosperity.

 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21 NLT

Jesus told him to sell all he had, but He did not necessarily mean to give it all to the poor. Maybe Jesus just meant for him to downsize. You know, sell your Porsche and buy a Hyundai, and give what is left over for the poor. But one thing that is clear, is Jesus wanted the man to follow Him. He wanted a relationship with this person. But remember, the man was not interested in a relationship with Jesus. In His original question he clearly was only asking, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life.” People do good deeds for me all the time, who desire no relationship with me whatsoever. Why just today, a stranger helped start my car with some jumper cables and then ran off. They were happy to do a good deed but did not desire a relationship with me. The man in our story is not interested in following Jesus, but he is interested in doing good deeds if it means he can live forever. Sound familiar? Do we sometimes get so worked up performing good deeds that we forget to actually spend time with Jesus, and enjoy His company?

Fact is, you can’t truly keep the commandments without a relationship with Jesus. Keeping the commandments to get to heaven is not really keeping the commandments! Keeping the commandments in order to achieve an award is very self serving, and a self-serving spirit is totally contrary to the spirit of the law. Earlier the man claimed to be a commandment keeper.

 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied.Matthew 19:20 NLT

But in reality he was no commandment keeper at all. The first four commandments tell us how to serve Jesus in our relationship with Him, and the last six commandments tell us how to serve others in our relationship with them. You can’t keep the commandments without serving God and others, and the man was quite direct in his questioning that his only purpose was to serve himself. Some may be able to keep the letter of the law and pretend to be serving others, but to keep the spirit of the law one must be all about relationships, serving God and others.

 he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:22-26 NLT

The man went away sad, because he found no joy in serving God and others. The man may have been happy to give a large one sum offering to help build a temple, but a continuous relationship of serving God and others day in and day out was just too much to ask of this man. Keeping the commandments every now and then, or on a whim whenever it just happens to work out to be self-beneficial is really not keeping the commandments at all.

Even the disciples were amazed that a rich man could not buy his way to heaven. This scared them, because if a rich man could not buy his way to heaven, then how could a poor man possibly afford it? Peter reminds Jesus of the price they had paid.

 “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”Matthew 19:27 NLT

Now put yourself in Jesus’ shoes and tell me what would be your reaction to Peter’s question? I mean, what if your spouse told you on your golden anniversary, “I’ve sacrificed my own independence so I could live with your for 50 years now. What do I get for it?” Wanting a prize at the end of the 50 years kind of makes the 50 year relationship look meaningless doesn’t it? I mean did you get married for a prize and reward, or did you get married to spend the rest of your life with someone you love? By asking the question, Peter puts himself in the same situation as the rich man. Both are asking about a reward, not realizing a relationship with Jesus is its own reward! Peter got to walk with Jesus for 3 1/2 years. What more could he want? If the Queen of England came to Florida to visit me for a couple days, at the end of two days I sure would not be asking her, “What do I get for spending time with you?” If she graced me with her presence that would be reward enough-how much more so with God!

Sure you can read on in Matthew 19:28-30 NLT, where Jesus tells Peter He will be well taken care of temporally as well as spiritually, But Jesus does add in verse 30,

 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

Those who “seemed” least important are those who were keeping the commandments, not with a self-serving agenda of becoming great, but rather keeping them simply because they love Jesus and consider their relationship with Him to be their greatest treasure.

  He regards more the love and faithfulness with which we work than the amount we do. –Ellen White, Christ Object Lesson, Page 402

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Thank you Miss Peggy Fisher!

I am writing from beautiful Tampa Bay today, while my heart is back at Tulsa Adventist Academy.

I am writing from beautiful Tampa Bay today, while my heart is back at Tulsa Adventist Academy.

Okay for throw back Thursday we are going to throw it way, way,  back! Its 1975 at Tulsa Adventist Academy . Oklahoma City is not known for the Thunder but it has a nice zoo. John Erling is waking Tulsans up every morning on KRMG, telling them to ski the Tulsa mountains. We are having our classes in the Sabbath School rooms in the church across the parking lot, while new classrooms are being built along with a new gym.

On this particular morning, I am sitting with my third and fourth grade class, listening to a lecture given by our teachers, Mrs. Sharon Krueger, and Miss Peggy Fisher. I don’t really remember what we did wrong this time. I vaguely remember it may have had something to do with, where  did we all hide the score sheets, or chalk and erasers or Jimmy Hoffa. Actually there is only one thing that I remember vividly from the lecture, as if it was yesterday. While Miss Fisher was trying to set us all straight, she told us,

“If you only learn one thing from us this year, we want you to always remember that we love you.”

Funny. I remember that! Actually that is the only thing I do remember from that talk that day or even the whole day itself. In the fourth grade I was already clamoring for acceptance. I really knew nothing about football at that point, but all the other guys in my class were all talking football so I wanted to join in and sound cool. “I can’t wait for this Sunday” I said. “Why?” The other boys asked. “Because the Dallas Cowboys are playing the Oklahoma Sooners!” I answered, not thinking ahead on how quickly that lie would be found out. I just made it up to have something to add to the conversation. Of course the other boys made me feel like a fool when they quickly told me they are not even in the same league or level. A lie I thought would get me “in” just made me look stupid and ignorant.

Welcome Back Kotter, was a popular sitcom at the time, and at the end of each show, Kotter, played by Gabe Kaplan, would tell a joke to his wife. I decided I was a comedian, and announced to Miss Fisher that I would have a joke to tell each day at lunch. Problem is I didn’t know any jokes, and making them up as I went along did not amuse the kids or the teachers.

So you can imagine, what good news it was that I was loved. I didn’t have to make up lies anymore to be accepted. I didn’t have to make up witty jokes to be liked. I was loved. I was accepted just the way I was.

Miss Fisher taught me more than just that I was loved, but that is the one thing I remember. By being loved I did not have to spend all my time thinking of silly jokes and lies to tell, and I could now focus confidently on my school subjects. I hated diagramming and structuring sentences back then. How was I to know back in 1975 how important that would be, and that I would be writing sermons and blog posts and lessons and devotionals for a living? How was I suppose to know that I would be substitute teaching at another TAA, Tampa Adventist Academy 40 years later, and would meet a kid like me, who really did not want to spend their time structuring sentences, but I would assure them how important it is. How did I know back in the fourth grade that one day I would be teaching my regular weekly Bible class at Tampa Adventist Academy, and would meet students who’s greatest need was knowing that they are loved and accepted so they can behave and learn?

In Miss Fisher’s 40+ years of teaching and working in the education field, I am not the only young person she has mentored.  In addition to Tulsa Adventist Academy, places like Parkview in Oklahoma City, and Gentry, Arkansas, and Philadelphia, PA and Valley Grande Academy in Wesleco Texas benefited greatly from her teaching and mentoring. She has also served as educational superintended in New England and the Rocky Mountain SDA conferences, among other places. Later she returned to where her passion lies, in the classroom, at Gold Coast SDA school in Oregon.

Its teachers appreciation week, and I want to thank all of my teachers for mentoring and teaching me. I realize now, as a teacher-Bible Instructor, that teachers get paid regardless if the kids learn or not. The passion teachers pour into their jobs and into their kids is not for a paycheck. They could care less and still get a check. Teachers go the extra mile and often times make themselves unpopular in doing so because they care. They care so much, that their popularity and approval rating does not matter to them as much as making sure students succeed. If you have to occasionally make a student or even parent dislike you in order to make them successful then so be it!

In the fourth grade I had Miss Fisher pushing me and encouraging me to do my best, all the time assuring me, no matter how bad my test scores were, or corny my jokes were, or how little I knew about football, I was always loved and accepted. Today she is on my Facebook cheering me on, liking all my corny comments, and sending me notes on how proud she is of me.

Well today Miss Peggy Fisher, we want you to know, from Philadelphia, PA to the Gold Coast of Oregon just how proud we are of you! For over 40 years you have taught and prepared us for practical living by teaching us Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, as well as preparing us to thrive emotionally, by stressing while you were teaching, that you really did care. Today I know even more just how much you care. You don’t get paid to care about me anymore, but You still do in every conversation or email that we share.

Auto correct can fix misspelled words but it can’t make a kid feel special. Google can give you facts and information, but it can’t make you feel accepted, and give you a sense of belonging in the world. Thank God for teachers who do more than just teach. They care!


Miss Fisher, I know you are retiring from the classroom, but your passion for learning and mentoring continues. Its not your job. Its you. Enjoy your retirement and THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES!

Miss Peggy Fisher

Miss Peggy Fisher

Donald Sterling and the Human Race

I am writing today from my beautifully multi-cultural church in the Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from my beautifully multi-cultural church in the Tampa Bay area.

Donald Sterling’s phone call has brought back some memories.

The spring of 2003 found me driving from my Fort Worth home to see my sister in Tennessee. I stopped for the night in Monroe, Louisiana. The next morning I stopped at a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in Vicksburg, 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 just like I did back home. I love Krispy Kreme’s  cream filled doughnuts. Its actually cream, like all doughnut shops used when I was a kid, instead of that yellow junk they call cream now.  Only a few of you will even know what I am talking about. But I digress. My cheerful order was not met with a cheerful smile. The lady very matter of factly gave me my donuts, 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 had not noticed 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! This is so 1964! It’s 2003 people!” I came within an eyelash of making a grand speech but thought better of it. My church back in Fort Worth 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 at UPS where I worked, I have black friends, white friends, Hispanic friends, and everything in between. And I don’t know if Donald Sterling would approve or not, but I took a black friend to several Dallas Maverick basketball games. Wait, or did he take me? I don’t remember. All I remember is we would go and have a great time, eating at the Spaghetti Warehouse in the West End and then making our way a few blocks down to Reunion arena to see the game.  One time we were watching warm-ups and I noticed a new guy I did not recognize. He had his warm-up suit on so I could not see his number. I had no other way to identify him, so I asked my black friend, “Hey who is the white guy?” My friend replied, “That is Scott Brooks. He just joined the team.” Then my friend laughed and said, “Wow I have never heard anyone say “who is the white guy before?”

So there I stood being stared down by the black customers and workers at Krispy Kreme, in Vicksburg Mississippi. As I said earlier, I came within an eyelash of stopping and announcing to them that “It is not 1964 anymore. It is 2003, and back in Fort Worth Texas we are all friends now,  and we can all be friends here too if you want.” However I would have been very willing to be friends with them back in 1964 too! Well, wait a minute. I was not born until 1965. But you get my point.

A friend explained to me later how deep the pain of racism goes with the black people in the south. After all, Mississippi is where you had terrible things happen to Emmitt Till and others. This is what divides the blacks from the whites. Well I have something that is just going to blow your mind then. While Emmit Till was black and I am white, I am the same race as Emmitt Till! That’s right! I am the same race as Emmit Till. That is why I can relate and identify with him and his pain. This is why his story crushes my heart and makes me angry! I am the same race as Emmitt Till. Emmitt was a member of the human race and so am I. The Bible only recognizes one race, the human race. We may have different colors and different cultures but we are all one race. What happened to Emmitt Till was not a crime against black people, it was a crime against humanity.  I share Emmitt’s humanity and I share his pain.

I have watched documentaries on the History Channel about white supremacist groups that have split up because the members could not get along with each other. So in the end, they did not hate just black people. They hated everybody. Their issue was racial alright. Their issue was with the entire human race.  Hate is just as unconditional as love. You can learn to love everyone or you can learn to hate everyone. I choose love. Its a lot more fun.

Two thousand years ago God took on flesh. See John 1:14. He did not just take on Jewish flesh. He took on human flesh. Jesus represented the entire human race when He went to the cross to crucify human flesh.

 He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Romans 8:3 NLT

Christ represented the entire human race. ‘Red and yellow black and white all are precious in His sight.”

 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile….. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

Yep so there you have it. When I heard Donald Sterling say, “Don’t bring that black guy to my games” What I heard was “Don’t bring that human being to my games.” If you don’t want humans going to your games then what do you want? If I separate myself by race from black people then I am separating myself from the human race, and even more fatal, I am separating myself from Jesus!

If I have it my way, we can all ( red, yellow black and white) go to Krispy Kreme together, and basketball games together.  Oh, and lets all go to heaven together too! I think our only Father would love that!

And hey Darwin, I know you are busy after moving your practice from Dallas to Orlando, but give me a call. I would love to take you to a Mavericks game in Orlando and hang out again. I know we are far now from the West End in Dallas, but Chuys will work just fine.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.