God Will Definitely Give you More Than you can Handle

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NLT 

When Jesus places his yoke upon us He is not giving us a burden, He is giving us a support system. 

I have heard it said that God will never give us more trials or burdens than we can handle. I disagree. God will definitely give us more than we can handle, but He will never give us more than He can handle. This is where the yoke of Christ comes in. His yoke is meant to carry our burdens. He gives us rest as we work in His strength instead of our own weakness. Paul writes about a time when he was given a trail from God in which he did not have the ability to endure. 

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.  And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 NLT 

Here we see Paul was crushed and overwhelmed beyond his ability to endure. Paul stopped relying on his abilities to endure and instead relied upon God. God saved Paul. Paul’s confidence is not in himself but in God. Paul also mentions the prayers of others helped get him through. Paul was given more than he could handle but thanks to God and his church family he endured. God does not expect us to overcome in our own strength. God invites us to unite our weakness to His strength. We do this when we take His yoke upon us. 

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT 

Have you ever endured a trial so great you don’t even have a clue how you survived? That’s because you survived by grace. I remember when my fiancée left me, I lost my  old job and my new job was very hard for me to catch on to. I remember everything was going wrong every time I turned around. I remember crying out to God, “Give me one break, just one break!” It seemed the most simplest things would not go right. Everything became hard and complicated and impossible. I also remember crying out to God, “I’m not asking you to make it easy. Just make it possible!” During this time my car kept breaking down, and after the umpteenth  time it broke down in the middle of an intersection, I could not handle it anymore and I started yelling and cursing at the top of my lungs things no child of God should ever say! I won’t tell you exactly what I yelled but I will say when I hear someone else curse and swear when they are pushed beyond their limit I am totally unfit and unqualified to judge them. All I’m qualified to do is throw my arms around them and hug them.

I couldn’t catch a break. I was pushed way beyond what I could handle. There was no way out on my own. But you know what? I’m not sitting in the middle of the intersection with a broken down car now. I now have a car that’s paid for and very dependable. I have a job that I love. No I haven’t found the love of my life yet, unless you want to consider the love of my life being my job, the place I call home and all my wonderful family and friends in my community and around the world. Years ago I was sitting in the middle of an intersection with a broken down car, no money, no love life, no way to survive. And with the attitude I now had I did not deserve to survive.  I gave hope up and began to curse. But yet, with no hope and no strength I did survive. I survived because of one word. Grace. 

God gave me more than I could bear. And while I had given up and thrown in the towel and was cursing life, Jesus came and threw His yoke around me and pulled me out of my pit of despair. I can’t even credit my faith because I had no faith! It was all one word. Grace. 

God gave me more than I could handle. But that’s okay. I survived. Obviously He handled it all for me. The yoke Jesus gives us is not a burden. It is a support system. It’s grace. 

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

When Self Confidence is Shattered

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When I read in Wednesday’s section of this week’s lesson that David’s self confidence was shattered, it reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a man who was studying eastern religions.  He asked me about my faith so I told Him I believed in Jesus. “But this faith in Jesus leads you to believe in yourself, right?” He asked. “No.” I said. “It actually makes me not believe in myself at all. Only in Jesus.” The young man didn’t even try to hide his scowl, and as to this date has not wanted to hear any more about my faith. Apparently believing in oneself is very important to this young man, but how can I believe in myself, when I know all too well what Paul confessed?

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. Romans 7:18 NKJV

Hard for me to believe in something where nothing good dwells.

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:23-24 NKJV

Romans 7 knows me all too well. But there is hope! Not in me, but in Jesus.

I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25 NKJV

My mind wants to serve God but my flesh wants to serve sin. So what is the solution? Paul shares the solution in chapter 8. Many agree that Romans 7 describes the unconverted man while Romans 8 describes the converted man.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 NKJV

Jesus took my flesh with nothing good in it and crucified it. Now I can walk in the spirit and the law of love can be fulfilled in me.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 NKJV

In the physical world one must be born before they can die. In the Spiritual world one must die before they can be born.

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Galatians 5:17 NKJV

When the Spirit wars against the flesh is it the good things or the bad things we cannot do? Which is stronger? The Holy Spirit or the flesh? The previous verse makes it obvious.

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 NLT

So if I walk in the Spirit I have victory over the flesh. Why do I need victory over my flesh? Why can’t I believe in my own flesh like my friend wanted me to? Let’s examine the works of the flesh and see how many of them are good things to believe in.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV

Eeeww! I didn’t find anything good in there, did you? No wonder Jesus had to crucify my flesh on the cross, and I must die to selfishness daily. See 1 Corinthians 15:31 and Luke 9:23. You may ask how does one die daily? I don’t think we can on our own. We must be crucified with Christ. See Galatians 2:20. As we behold Jesus emptying Himself on the cross, the Holy Spirit empties us of self too.

For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. Galatians 6:13-15 NKJV

It’s impossible to look at the cross and glory in my flesh.

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.” -Isaac Watts

“What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself. When men see their own nothingness, they are prepared to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. –Ellen White, Faith I Live by, Page, 111

Now that my glory is laid in the dust, look at what is possible.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26 NKJV

When the Holy Spirit fills me, this fruit shows up in my life. This is not my works! We saw earlier how disgusting all my works are. No, this fruit is not the results of my works. It is the result of the Holy Spirit living in me and producing His own fruit.

When we live by faith on the Son of God, the fruits of the Spirit will be seen in our lives; not one will be missing. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 676

See why I told my friend the answer is not for me to believe in myself?

For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, Philippians 3:3 NKJV

“The circumcision” are those like Abraham, who stopped trusting his flesh to produce the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can produce. God had Abraham put away the part of the flesh he was trusting in so He could trust God’s promises instead. I pray God will give me another opportunity to talk to my friend again, so I can explain all that is possible when we stop believing in ourselves and believe in Jesus. Then again, the Holy Spirit can have anybody explain that to him. What the Holy Spirit does in me He can do in anyone. After all, it’s not me working. It is the fruit of the Spirit.

The Love of Self Causes Unrest

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Jesus was always at peace. According to Mark 4:38, even in a violent storm at sea He was sleeping peacefully in the back of a boat. How do you have that kind of peace and rest even amidst a raging storm? The amazing thing is Jesus offers us this same peace that allows us to find rest even when the storms of life rage on. 

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT 

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT 

Jesus offers us a peaceful rest that has nothing to do with the stock market, interest rates, red blood cell counts, or even if our best friend is speaking to us or not. Jesus gives us peace by placing us in a right relationship with God. When we are at peace with God nothing else matters. 

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Romans 5:1 NLT 

Jesus was at perfect peace and had a perfect relationship with His Father because their was no hint of selfishness in His life. 

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 NLT 

I have heard it said, the love of self is what causes unrest. It is selfishness that causes the anxiety that destroys our peace. The roots of restlessness are the roots of selfishness. The roots of rest and peace are the roots of selflessness. When Jesus gives us His peace He gives us His selfless attitude. We are no longer worried about being number one. We are no longer in turmoil, restlessly fretting that someone else may get that bigger slice of the pie that we wanted for ourselves. Our pride that made us worry about what others think about is gone. The peace and rest Jesus gives us helps us to forget about self and relax as we enjoy our relationship with God. When we are in a right relationship with God we can claim this promise,

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3 NLT 

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

Grasshoppers, Giants and Reality

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Reality is 90% perception, or so they say. I don’t know who comes up with these statistics, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

When I was in sales, I led my district one year, but also went through a three-week drought with no sales at all. So what was my reality? Was I a good salesman who had a bad drought, or was I a bad salesman who just happened to get lucky?

Since the dynamics of a family are so different between first born, middle and youngest child, and, taking into account the gender difference, two siblings can grow up in the same family, but since their perceptions are different, it is like growing up in different families. Each child perceives and experiences the family differently to the extent that as far as perception goes, it’s not even the same family. You and I can watch the same football game, but if I am watching behind the goal, and you are sitting on the sideline near the center we are going to have a totally different experience and perception of the same game.

Satan well knows how perception affects our picture of reality. So he likes to play little mind games. A while back during a Bible study I mentioned that sometimes I am tempted to think that I care more about people than they care about me. My Bible student quickly responded, “Me too!” Then he paused, scratched his chin, and added, “I bet Satan tries to make everyone feel that way.” I agreed with my Bible student.

Let’s look at how Satan played mind games with the Israelites. Look at how they perceived themselves after spying out the Promised Land which had already been … well, promised to them!

All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” Numbers 13:32-33 NLT.

Wait a minute? First of all, historians say the Canaanites may have been a few inches taller than the Israelites, but not so much taller as to be called giants. The grasshopper comparison was a drastic exaggeration. Furthermore, how did they know the Canaanites thought they were like grasshoppers? How would they know what they were thinking at all? They didn’t! They cast their perception on other people, and thought their perception was reality, when it was all in their minds. Satan was playing mind games with them.

Later, in Joshua 2:24 another group of Israeli spies visit Rahab in Jericho and there they found out what the reality was.

“The Lord has given us the whole land,” they said, “for all the people in the land are terrified of us.” Joshua 2:24 NLT

So the grasshopper comparison was just a little mind game of Satan’s that the first spies bought into. It was not reality. Sure, God wants us to be humble, but that does not mean he wants us to think we are grasshoppers while everyone else is a giant. Those who walk humbly with God are a terror to those who stand in their own pride and arrogance. If you walk humbly with God you do not need to be intimidated by anyone, regardless of their title or letters behind their name.

Humble men, armed with the word of truth alone, withstood the attacks of men of learning, who, with surprise and anger, found their eloquent sophistry powerless against the simple, straightforward reasoning of men who were versed in the Scriptures rather than in the subtleties of the schools. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 455.

So it is today as in every age. The same can be said for you today, which was said of John the Baptist.

He could stand erect and fearless in the presence of earthly monarchs, because he had bowed low before the King of kings. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 103.

Wisdom and humility go beautifully together, while the common combination of arrogance and ignorance seems to be lacking in comeliness. While we do not want to be arrogant and ignorant, it is possible to be humble and confident. Our confidence should be in God and not in ourselves.

Are you facing a giant today? First humble yourself before God. Put your confidence in His love and power. Walk forward in humble faith and obedience, and your giants will turn into grasshoppers. The humble of the land can also be the confident of the land, and not cowards.

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

Sometimes Rest is all you Need

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As health conscious Adventists we put a lot of emphases on what we eat, while rest also plays a very vital role in our physical and spiritual well-being. In 1 Kings 19 Elijah is stressed out, feeling like he is all alone in his spiritual battles. Finally he runs away and then prays an unreasonable prayer when he asks God to just let him die. (Interestingly Elijah, the one man who asks to die never gets to die!) God does not chastise Elijah for his foolish prayer. God realizes the reason Elijah is so unreasonable is because he is simply tired. Elijah just needed rest.

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. 1 Kings 19:5 NLT 

Elijah just needed a good night’s rest. When I became a literature evangelist years ago, we had a meeting with an elderly retired literature evangelist. He shared his wisdom with us, and told us that the cure for a discouraging hard day may simply be a good night’s rest. He claimed a good night’s rest can solve a lot of problems. A while later I had a terrible day at work. It seemed everything was going wrong and no one was helping me. I came home ready to quit. Early in the evening I was preparing my resignation in my head. Then a thought came to me. Just go to bed. But its too early for bed I thought. Again the thought came, just go to bed. Don’t plan anything. Don’t make any decisions. Just go to bed! I decided to listen to myself and though it was mid evening well before bedtime I went ahead and went to bed and got some sleep. The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed and could not even remember why I was so upset the day before. I am a big believer in getting the appropriate amount of rest for both our physical and spiritual well-being. After all John realized how closely our spiritual and physical health are both intertwined. 

Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit. 3 John 1:2 NLT 

Most of us live in a society that almost makes being “too busy” a status symbol. We

feel pressured to do more and more. Is all that more and more really necessary? Great grandmother did all her laundry on a scrub board and still sat on the front porch and drank lemonade. Today we have washing machines and dryers and all sorts of electronics making work so much easier. So how many of us sit on the front porch and drink lemonade now? Almost none of us. We are busy creating more work. We need to take time to rest like Mary did at the feet of Jesus.

Does God require us to be workaholics?

This is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NLT 

Let’s heed the words Jesus told Martha (not sure if I should call her a workaholic or not based on this one passage.) When Martha complained about Mary resting at the feet of Jesus instead of doing more work.

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42 NLT 

While Jesus never condoned idleness He never condoned being a workaholic either. He tells all His disciples

“Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” Mark 6:31 NLT 

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

Can Parents, Mentors and God be Friends With Their Children?

The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant. Psalm 25:14 NLT

We’ve all heard it said, Parents and teachers cannot be friends with their children. They have to be disciplinarians instead. I saw a meme on Facebook where a mother was telling her child, “I am not your friend. I will discipline you when you need it. I will always be watching you and needing to know where you are every second.” To me, that sounds exactly like a friend! When talking about parents and teachers being friends with their kids maybe we just need a broader view of friendship. There is more to being friends than going shopping or golfing together and then out to eat.  Actually I have many friends who I have never done any of those things with. To me, the discipline and accountability all fall under friendship. 

A friend of mine in Texas summed it up wisely I believe. She said, “While I can’t be friends with my child who is rebellious I can be friends with my child who is obedient.” Of course I still believe she was being a real friend by disciplining her child who was rebellious. Even so I appreciate the point that she made that a parent and teacher can be friends with an obedient child. As the Psalm above tells us that the Lord is a friend to those who fear (respect) Him I understand that the goal of the covenant He teaches us is friendship.

The goal of the atonement is friendship. The goal of the covenant is friendship. While I have never had children of my own I have had countless students over the years in the Adventist schools where I have helped out. Disciplining children to learn has opened my eyes to my own teachers so long ago. The teacher who I despised for making me stay after school to get my work done I now see was truly my friend. At dismissal time she could have told herself that she had done all she was paid to do and gone on about her day, but instead she gave up her own time to make me succeed. It did not matter to her that it made me upset with her. She cared so much about my future successes that she was willing to make me hate her if that is what it took for me to succeed. Now that is what I call a real friend! 

Now as a teacher and mentor, often I have to be the “enemy” when I am really being a friend. As a matter of fact, as I was just now writing this, it occurred to me that if a child is set on self destruction then I really am their enemy by foiling their self destruction. Even so, in my mind I am still being a friend. I am at peace with the fact that there are several young people out there who consider me an enemy because I held them accountable to be their best. At the same time while gift cards and treats are nice during teacher appreciation week, nothing is more meaningful to me than when years later former students call me up or even send a text, asking me a Bible question or sharing a prayer request. Sometimes they will share a warm memory assuring me my time and efforts were worthwhile. Even though I have never “hung out” with them, even so with all the time spent in the classroom together I still consider them my friends. The fact that they contact me years later when they have a need tells me they consider me a friend. Again there is a lot more to friendship than golfing and sharing nachos together. 

When I study the covenant I see that Jesus is interested in my friendship. If I am respectful and obedient I am more than His servant. I am His friend.

You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. John 15:14-15 NLT 

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

Negative Feelings Play a Positive Role in our Salvation

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:4 NLT 

To me, a lot is said in the brief passage above. It tells me no one was ever saved by the Old Covenant. Those who lived and died before Jesus came were never saved by the law or by the Old Covenant. Before and after the cross everyone is saved by grace and by the New Covenant. The same law of ten commandments exist in both the Old and New Testament while it never saved anyone in the Old or New Testament. Obedience has always been the goal in both the Old and New Covenant but it was never the means to attaining salvation. It is grace that gives us obedience. See Ephesians 2:8-10

The purpose of the animal sacrifices were to help those in Old Testament times to look forward to the cross of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Many animal rights activists and animal lovers have wondered why God would design a daily sacrificial system where countless animals would be killed everyday. What we need to understand is it was not God’s plan for countless animals to be killed every day. In Exodus 12:1-6 God tells the people to take a lamb into their home on the 10th day of the month but not to kill it until the 14th day. Why did God want the lamb in their home for four days before sacrificing it? I believe it gave them time to fall in love with their little pet so that it would break their hearts to have to sacrifice it. It was not God’s plan for countless animals to be sacrificed. It was God’s plan that the sacrifice would break their hearts and they would turn from sin. Just as Samuel told Saul,

Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22 NLT 

I can’t really blame those in the Old Testament who became callous in regard to the daily animal sacrifices. A while back I was praying to God and casually thanked Him for sending Jesus to die for me. As soon as I said “Thank you for dying for me” I realized I had just said that as casually as I would thank someone who bought my lunch! I had to remind myself of the awesome sacrifice Jesus made for me on the cross, and that He deserved more of a thank you than someone who just treated me to lunch. As someone participating in the New Covenant I need to allow myself to fully grasp the awfulness of my sin. This is hard when we are conditioned these days to “stay positive” and avoid being negative. We love popular preachers who motivate us and make us feel good about ourselves. But do negative feelings and emotions still have a part in our New Covenant lives? James says they do.

Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. James 4:9 NLT 

Negative feelings and emotions play a positive role in our lives. They bring us to true repentance and true salvation which brings us to true joy. They teach us to avoid sin which destroys true joy. 

So I don’t become callous to the blood of Jesus the way many in Old Testament times became callous to the blood of animals, I need to keep fresh in my mind the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. No wonder so many inspired hymn writers wrote, “Jesus keep me near the cross,” and “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died. My richest gain I count as loss and pour contempt on all my pride.” And “my trophies at last I lay down, I will cling to the old rugged cross.” No wonder an inspired author wrote, 

It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 83. 

This is my prayer…

Dear Jesus I am sorry for the times I thanked you for dying for me the same casual way I thank someone for buying my lunch. Also I want to express how deeply I appreciate your awesome sacrifice not just by my words or even tears alone. I need the power of your blood to not only forgive my sins but to also empower me to live a life of obedience and thanksgiving. I want everything I do to shout “I love you Jesus!” In the name of Jesus I pray, amen. 

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

The Sabbath is a Gift for the World, not a Burden Just for the Jews

They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you…. Exodus 16:29 NLT 

Regardless of our personal stand on wedding rings or wedding watches for that matter, we all understand that in many cultures the wedding ring is a gift symbolizing a relationship. Men will pick out a ring that they hope

their fiancés will appreciate and they usually pay a pretty penny for it. Now both parties realize the ring is not the relationship itself but they cherish their rings because of what they represent. Now imagine if a wife told her husband she threw her ring away because after all she has him and no longer needs what the ring represents? Wouldn’t the husband be hurt that his gift was not appreciated?

Or take for example your nation’s flag. On April 25, 1976 The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team were playing a home game against the visiting Chicago Cubs. While the Dodgers were up to bat, two men ran onto the outfield with a United States flag, and opened up a lighter. Rick Monday, the Cubs’ outfielder saw they were trying to burn the flag right there in front of the crowd. He ran and grabbed the flag away from the men before they could catch it on fire. He took the flag to the Dodger’s dugout while the entire crowd cheered for the opposing team’s outfielder who just saved the United States flag. The Dodger’s even put a message on the board saluting the Cubs’ outfielder, “Rick Monday you made a great play!” The crowd cherished and protected the flag because of what it represented. The flag is not our country it is a piece of cloth, but we honor our flags because they represent our country. 

Even though married couples have each other they do not throw their wedding rings away. I even heard a pastor who was against wearing wedding rings counsel a couple who were no longer wearing their rings to keep them away. He counseled them to keep their rings in a special box. So please lets not get sidetracked and miss my point here. The real marriage does not do away with the ring symbolizing the marriage. The real country does not do away with it’s flag symbolizing the country. Likewise God has given us the Sabbath as a gift. He gives us a weekly rest to remind us of His promise to save us by resting our faith in Him alone. He gives us the gift of not working that day to remind us that our works do not save us. God alone saves us. 

Now I have heard people say that  Jesus replaced the weekly Sabbath when He gave us spiritual rest. I have heard people say that in Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus gives us a spiritual rest, thus doing away with the Sabbath. However throwing away the weekly Sabbath because we have a spiritual rest now would be the same thing as throwing away wedding ring (or watch) because we now have the wedding, or going ahead and burning our nation’s flag because we now have a nation. People keep their rings and the marriage. People honor their nation’s flag and their country. Fact is in the Old Testament we had a spiritual rest and the weekly Sabbath just like in the New Testament. We have had the Sabbath ever since creation as an eternal sign of the rest we have always had in God in both the Old and New Testament. The Sabbath never saved anyone in the Old Testament or New Testament. We have always been saved by grace, and not by works, and the Sabbath is the everlasting sign and promise that we were created by God’s works and not our own, and that we were redeemed by God’s work on the cross and not our own in both the Old and New Testament. 

Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed. Exodus 31:13-17 NLT

The Sabbath is a sign of God’s promise that He alone makes us holy. Our works don’t sanctify or make us holy. No work is to be done on the Sabbath to symbolize that God’s people understand they are not saved by their works. They are saved in the Old Testament as well as New Testament by resting their faith in God’s works and merits. The rest Jesus offered in Matthew 11:28-30 is the rest the people had in the Old Testament. 

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day. Exodus 5:12-15 NLT 

The weekly Sabbath was given as a sign in the Old Testament that their own works did not save them from slavery. God’s works saved them from slavery. In Egypt the Jews did all the work so Pharaoh could rest. God gave them the Sabbath as a gift to remind them He would do all the work so they could rest. In Eden the Sabbath was a sign for Adam and Eve to know that “It was God who made us and not we ourselves.” At Sinai the Sabbath was a sign that God worked out their salvation from Egyptian bondage and they did not save themselves. 

Was the Sabbath rest an Old Testament sign for the Jews alone?

I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. Isaiah 56:6 NLT

The Sabbath is a sign that we are God’s people regardless if we are Jews or foreigners. The Sabbath was not given to the Jews as a sign they were Jews. It was given to the Jews as a sign they were God’s people. That same sign is given to the foreigners that they are God’s people. Old or New Testament, Jew or Gentile, the Sabbath is God’s eternal gift reminding us every week that we are saved by resting our faith in His promises of grace. Like a wedding ring, like a flag, the Sabbath is God’s gift symbolizing every week the rest we have in Him. We don’t throw wedding rings or wedding watches away because we have marriage. We don’t burn flags because we have our country. Likewise we don’t throw the weekly Sabbath away because we have Jesus. The Sabbath is His gift reminding us of His amazing grace. 

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

You may study more about the Sabbath here.

Does Romans 9 Teach Predestination for Some or Salvation for all?

Many take Romans 9 to say that God has chosen some people to be saved and others to be lost without any will or choice of their own. They call this predestination. So let’s take a deeper look at this chapter and see for ourselves. We will also let the Bible explain itself. 

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. Romans 9:1-3 NLT 

Wow! This is amazing. Paul would rather be eternally lost rather than see his community perish. This reminds me of Moses’ prayer in Exodus 32:32. It reminds me of Jesus being willing to die the second death in order to save the world. I have to ask myself if I love those I give Bible studies to this much? I can only imagine that such love must really change lives. By is Paul so concerned about his fellow Jews? 

They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.  Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people! Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too. This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children.  For God had promised, “I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” Romans 9:4-12 NLT 

Paul is concerned because not all of his fellow Jews have accepted Christ. Yet they think they are God’s special people just because they are Jews and Abraham is their father.  In John 8:31-59 Jesus told the Pharisees the real children are Abraham are the ones who believe in Him as the Messiah. There was nothing special about being a Jew or a descendant of Abraham apart from the promised Messiah.  Paul shares a similar message with the Galatians in Galatians 4:21-31. in this passage Paul tells us that Hagar represents bondage to legalism and works while the child of promise, Isaac, represents those who believe in God’s promise and accept salvation by believing in the promised Messiah. The entire book of Romans assures us that while the promised Messiah came from Abraham’s Jewish blood line that salvation is offered to the entire world. 

After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Romans 3:29-30 NLT

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Romans 5:18 NLT

It is important that we keep in mind that the entire book of Romans is clear that salvation is offered to everyone regardless if they are Jew or Gentile. Romans 9 is not grappling with who is chosen to be saved, but rather who was chosen to be ancestors of the promised Messiah who would bring salvation to the entire world. 

In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” Romans 9:13 NLT

This does not mean that God rejected Esau for salvation. It only means that God rejected Esau from having the birthright and being the ancestor of the promised Messiah. Jacob was preferred to be the ancestor of the promised Messiah. In the KJV it says, Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” It is important for us to see how the KJV uses the word hate and even more important how Jesus uses the word hate. 

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26 KJV 

Of course Jesus did not mean we must hate our families the way we think of hate today. Love and hate show our preferences. To love means to put one first and to hate means to put one last. The NLT helps clarify this idea. 

If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26 NLT 

So the NLT also helps clarify how the KJV is using the word hate when God says He loves Jacob but hated Esau. Eternal salvation is not the issue. God simple preferred Jacob to have the blessing of being the promised Messiah’s ancestor over Esau. 

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen. Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?” No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?”  When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. Romans 9:14-24 NLT 

Some take these words to mean that God chooses some people to be lost without any will of their own, but this clearly is not idea of this passage. First none of us deserve salvation in the first place. God is not defending His right to not save people. We all have sinned and deserve death. In this passage God is only defending His right to be merciful. You may not believe what I am saying but stay with me! In a moment the Bible is going to explain this passage itself. Meanwhile let’s understand what God is talking about when he says the potter makes one jar for decoration and another for holding garbage. Again this is not talking about eternal salvation. It simply means once again some were chosen to be a part of the promised Messiah’s bloodline while others were not. Also that God uses some of us to glorify God by being honored and He uses some of us to glorify God through our suffering. For example Elijah honored God by being taken into heaven in a chariot of fire. John the Baptist honored God by being beheaded in a lonely prison cell. Did God love Elijah more than John the Baptist? No way! Is Elijah the only one of the two who are eternally saved? Not at all! Both are saved, but one the Potter used as a jar for decoration while the other was used a garbage jar. Both have their part in the big picture of salvation. Both are dearly loved by God. Romans 9:14-24 is making the point that God honors some and dishonors others in order to save the entire world. 

Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before.” And, “Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God. And concerning Israel, Isaiah the prophet cried out, “Though the people of Israel are as numerous as the sand of the seashore, only a remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth quickly and with finality.” And Isaiah said the same thing in another place: “If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of our children, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah.” Romans 9:25-29 NLT 

Instead of saying that God only wants Jews to be saved this passage is telling us God plans to save Gentiles as well as Jews. Romans 9 is not about God having the right to deny anyone salvation. It is about His right to save the entire world. Now so there will not be any confusion on this point Paul is about to sum it up. The Bible is about to explain itself as I promised. 

What does all this mean? Romans 9:30 NLT 

Okay here is our cue to pay close attention. To avoid all confusion about the meaning of Romans 9 Paul is getting ready to tell us exactly what it all means. 

What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, “I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Romans 9:30-33 NLT 

Does Paul tell us that everything we just read in Romans 9 is about predestination? No! It is about how we are all saved Jews and Gentiles alike not by our national heritage, works or legalism. We are all saved, Jews and Gentiles alike by believing in the promised Messiah who came through Abraham’s ancestry. As God told Abraham, “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” See Genesis 12:3. The Jews were not preferred above the Gentiles for salvation. The Jews were only preferred to be the ones who would give birth to the Messiah Who was  promised to every nation. 

I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Haggai 2:7 NLT 

Let’s not make the same mistake many Jews made in the days of Jesus and the days of Paul. Let’s not trust our national or even our religious affiliations to save us. Let’s not trust our works or legalism to save us. Let’s put all our hope in our only hope- the Promised Messiah.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:11-13 NLT 

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

What was Really Wrong With Sinai?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— Galatians 4:24 NKJV

What did Paul mean by Mount Sinai? Many believe he was referring to the Ten Commandments. Was he? Paul speaks favorably of the Ten Commandments in Ephesians 6, and I doubt he would do so if he really thought they led to bondage. Paul also mentions Hagar. Instead of referring to the Ten Commandments, is Paul referring to a Hagar-like attitude at Sinai?

Hagar represents the man-made covenant or man-made promises. Hagar was not really at fault, and God promised to bless her, but Abraham used Hagar to try to help him get the promised child by the works of his own flesh, instead of trusting God’s promise.

Likewise at Sinai the people promised three times,

“All the Lord has spoken we will do.” Exodus 19:824:324:7.

Their promises are like the “Hagar” mentality. The people were trusting their own promises and works of the flesh, instead of trusting God to work in and through them. When Paul referred to Sinai in Galatians 4:24 instead of the the law of Ten Commandments, he mentions Hagar. In Hebrews Paul explains that the problem at Sinai was the people were making their own promises, instead of trusting God’s.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Hebrews 8:7-10 NKJV

Paul promotes the Law and says it is to be written on our hearts. The Law was not the problem at Sinai. The problem, Paul says, is how the people tried to establish the Law. They were depending upon themselves instead of God’s promises. Remember Joshua telling Israel that they could not serve the Lord in Joshua 24:19, but they went on and promised they could anyway?

So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord for yourselves, to serve Him.” Joshua 24:22 NKJV

Joshua sees the people are making the same mistake made at Sinai. In Galatians, Paul sees the Galatians making that same mistake. They thought they could earn God’s favor. They thought they could rely on their own promises to keep the Law. By trusting the strength of their own promises they were making the “Hagar” mistake, just like Abraham. The commandments are good, and while we can’t keep them in the strength of our own promises, what is impossible with us is possible with God. Remember what we read last quarter?

by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:4 NKJV

Abraham trusted the works of his own flesh with Hagar, instead of trusting God’s promise. The problem at Sinai was that the same Hagar mentality was present. Paul wants the Law written on the Galatians’ hearts as well as our hearts, by trusting God instead of the works of the flesh.

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