God’s Kind of Repentance

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The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

What does repent mean? The American Sign Language sign for change is making the “c” sign and twisting your hands signaling a change. The sign for repentance is the same motion, but with the “R” sign. So when a deaf person (or hearing for that matter) sees the word “repentance,” they see “change.”

While God never sinned He demonstrated repentance when He changed what He had previously done. 

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. Genesis 6:6-7 KJV

Jesus recognized Zachaeus’ salvation when he saw him change, and make things right with those he had cheated. 

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; Luke 19:8-9 NKJV

 Judah gave my favorite demonstration of repentance. In Genesis 44:18-34 He basically tells Joseph, I have broken my father’s heart before, and I will die as a slave in a foreign land before I ever break his heart again. 

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that I think says it best.

“Repentance is not when you cry. It is when you change.”

We can’t change ourselves.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. Jeremiah 13:23

God can change us!

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

A while back I was convicted that I was drinking too many sodas. I prayed about it. I started drinking a lot more water, and then one day decided to “splurge” and have a Pepsi. That was a waste of $1.06, because after two sips it tasted so sickening sweet, I dumped the rest out and refilled the cup with water. God changed and converted my taste buds when I was totally powerless.

The repentant thief on the cross never actually said he was sorry (at least there is no record of it). He repented by changing his attitude and behavior towards Jesus.

He called Him Lord and professed his faith in Jesus and the resurrection, while everyone else was still mocking Him.

Jesus saw repentance in the thief when He saw a change in attitude and action. I hope He sees a change in us today.

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

Video: Abraham, the Gospel and the New Covenant

The book of Hebrews makes it clear that the problem with the first covenant was not the law, it was the legalism of the people, “them.” Through the new covenant, God writes the law in our hearts.

“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

Choosing Life and the Three Angels Message

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” Revelation 14:6.

Who is this first angel and who are the three angels?

Revelation 1:20 says that the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches. So an angel would be like a leader or messenger to a church. Jesus begins His message to each church with, “Write unto the angel of the church of…” so He must be referring to an angel as being a terrestrial leader. When John saw the seven stars in Jesus’ hand, those stars were the angels, or ministers and leaders of the church.

Jesus calls us all to have a ministry in the church and a message to share with the world, and it’s comforting to know, that while we are messengers for Jesus, He holds all of us in His hand. Wherever in the world you are reading this – whether in a country with few Christian churches, and even persecution, or whether you are trying to share Jesus with your family members who all seem opposed to your message – rest assured, Jesus has you right in His hand and you are very special to Him! He will take care of you and make your ministry prosperous. You may find your ministry in a difficult place, but it is right in Jesus’ hands.

I believe the three angels in Revelation 14 make up the message that the Seventh-day Adventist church has to give to the world. These angels are sent out after the rise of the United States in Revelation 13, so this would fit the time prophecy. Thus I believe that the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are the three angels in Revelation 14, and, even more specifically, the three angels are you and I.

The Seventh-day Adventist church has a very important message to give to the world, so let’s see what it is.

The first angel tells us to choose life by believing the everlasting gospel.

Now don’t all churches have the gospel? Yes, many people will be in the Kingdom because a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or Lutheran etc. missionary shared the love of God with them. However, as the book of Revelation changes scenes from the Dark Ages to the earth being “lightened with His glory” the gospel will be shining brighter than ever before.

The everlasting gospel which the Seventh-day Adventist church shares overcomes the legalism of Babylon. This last message is filled with grace and the glory of God and not the works of man. It shows the love of God more clearly than the gospel presented by most other churches.

Many churches preach that Jesus died for us, and then they turn around and tell us people don’t really die. If that is the case, then Jesus did not really die, and if He did not really die, then He did not die for us.

Many churches preach that sinners will be eternally tormented in hell while John 3:16, which is the crux of the gospel, says that sinners will perish. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment in hell. It’s impossible to fall in love with a God who has a “love-me-or-I’ll-torment-you-for-eternity-in-hell” mentality. While sin and those who cling to it at any cost must perish, God will not be delighting in their eternal torture. The punishment, which is death, is eternal; the punishing is not.

Many churches focus on the physical torture Jesus endured. The physical torture was terrible, but Jesus suffered way more than a six-hour pain endurance marathon. Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus “tasted death” for all men. It obviously was not the death of the righteous that He tasted; we all taste that first death for ourselves. Obadiah 16 tells us the wicked will be as though they never were. Jesus faced more than nail-scarred hands and feet on the cross. He tasted the death of the wicked, which means He experienced total separation from God. This could be why He was crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” instead of singing hymns of praise while He died, like John Huss did. You see, Jesus died a totally different death than John Huss. John Huss died the death of the righteous while he burned at the stake for his faith. Jesus was dying the death of the wicked.

Many teach that Jesus saves us in our sins while Matthew 1:21 tells us clearly that Jesus will save us from our sins. We can’t call Jesus a Savior unless He actually saves us, and according to Ephesians 2:1-10 we are saved by grace. What His grace saves us from is our sinful life.

So we see, Seventh-day Adventists not only teach a different day of worship, we also teach the fullness of the gospel. Our job description, in being messengers for Jesus, is to let the whole world know the love of Jesus.

You don’t have to be a TV evangelist to have a ministry and share this message. This gospel is so amazing that many will not even believe it when they hear or read about it. However, they will believe it when they see these principles of self-sacrificing love manifested in your life.

I remember a story about a man who was married for 50 years. At breakfast he always insisted on having the heel of the bread loaf for toast. He acted as though it was his favorite part of the bread. Fifty years later after his wife died, he stopped eating the heel. His nephew asked him why he didn’t like it any more. The old man explained that he never did like it. He just knew his wife did not like it either, so for fifty years he pretended he loved it so she would not have to eat it. That made a great impact on the nephew, and it helped him understand the gospel better than any evangelist preacher ever could.

The first angel teaches about choosing life in the judgment.

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. Revelation 14:7

This angel is telling us of the judgment which began in 1844. Interestingly the angel says the hour of His judgment has come. What does this mean? It means God is the one being judged!

The judgment is not to see if God will accept us, Ephesians 1:6 tells us we are already accepted in the Beloved. The judgment is to see if we will accept God. Seventh-day Adventists preach a time of probation, but many do not realize that it is actually God who is on probation. God is being judged by the universe: Is God the mean control freak and tyrant that Satan makes Him out to be, or is He a God of love? Is God a good God or some psychopath saying, “Love me or I’ll kill you?”

Satan first attacked the character of God in heaven. Revelation 12 says there was war in heaven, but not with machine guns and tanks; it was a battle of the minds. Satan wanted God’s power but not his character.

I can see Satan playing mind games with the angels. I can see him going up to one of the other angels and saying, “You did a great job on that project God gave you. Did God give you any special recognition for it? He didn’t? Why that’s too bad. You know if I was God I would have thrown a banquet in your honor.”

And so Satan started these mind games trying to make the angels believe that he should be God and that God was not a God of love who was interested in their welfare.

Satan got a third of the angels to buy his lie. There may have been some angels who stayed in heaven but were not convinced who was right or wrong, until the cross. Then the whole universe saw the true character of Satan, who was willing to kill anyone who got in his way of being number one, contrasted with the true character of God who was willing to die on a cross and say goodbye to life forever to save others.

This is why Satan does not want us to understand the everlasting gospel. The everlasting gospel tells the truth about the character of God and the character of Satan. In the hour of His judgment those who clearly understand the everlasting gospel, free of legalism, will demonstrate that God is indeed a God of love. When we accept God we accept more than eternal life, we accept God Himself, along with all of His righteousness and goodness and power to live a victorious life.

The second half of this verse – “and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” – reminds us of the language used in the fourth commandment about the Sabbath. Many times we quote the fourth commandment from Exodus 20: 8-11 but let’s take a look at it in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

“Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day [is] the sabbath of the LORD thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that [is] within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and [that] the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.”

In Egypt the king made all the Hebrew slaves work so he could rest. God delivered the Hebrews from their works and gave them the Sabbath, explaining that it was God who created and made everything and did all the work so they could rest. God is reminding Israel that He saved them from the slavery of the Egyptians, and that it was not their works that saved them. Likewise God Himself will save us from the slavery of sin, by His grace and not by our works. The Sabbath is clearly a sign that it is God who sanctifies us and not our own works. We see this also in Exodus 31:13. We rest from our works on the Sabbath, remembering that our salvation comes from resting our faith in His amazing grace and not in trusting our works to save us.

The Sabbath also reminds us of our Creator whom Satan wants us to forget. If the Sabbath had never been forgotten, atheism would never exist. For example we use the sun to mark a year, the moon marks a month and the earth’s rotation marks a day, but what do we have to mark a week? The only thing we have to mark a week is the creation week which ends with the seventh-day Sabbath. So how do atheists explain the seven-day week?

During the reign of terror the French tried to do away with the seven-day week and replace it with a ten-day week. This did not work.

The Sabbath reminds us that we have a Creator who did all the work in creating us. It reminds us that we did not make ourselves by our own works. Even more, the Sabbath reminds us that we were redeemed by the works and sacrifice of our Creator and not by our own works. By resting on the Sabbath we show that the gospel is practical and not just a theory. He literally rested, and we literally rest our faith in Jesus, believing that He literally saves us.

And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. Revelation 14:8

Many say that Babylon means confusion. Well it may, but it is not so much confusion about certain doctrines as much as it is about the gospel itself. When legalism mixes our works with God’s grace, it gets confusing. In Galatians 2:20 Paul gives us the pure gospel when he says, “Not I but Christ.” So many of us want to make it a combination of me plus Christ. Problem is, any time I make “me” a part of the gospel I have a corrupt gospel because “me” is corrupt. Does this mean doing away with good works? Not at all! It just means realizing that it is God who is working in us and not us. Philippians 2:13

Seventh-day Adventists teach that Babylon is a religious system which it is, but it is more than that. It is an attitude – an attitude that can be found in any system. Babylon is the attitude that I can save myself by my own works. It began with the tower of Babel.

Babel meaning “gate” and El meaning “God.” At the tower of Babel man decided they could work and build their own way to heaven. They did not think they could trust God to save them from another flood so they decided to build a tower and by their works save themselves. Thus Babylon symbolizes salvation by our own works, or legalism. Cain had the attitude of Babylon when he brought the works of his field and offered his own system of worship. But God could only accept Abel’s sacrifice – a lamb which pointed to the Lamb of God who could only save. Since then man has been presenting his own system of worship and even day of worship thinking he can save himself by inventing his own religion instead of accepting the gospel.

Years later Daniel 1 tells us that God gave Jerusalem into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands, but in Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar says “is this not Babylon which I have made?” And God says, “No! I made it and gave it to you.” But here is the attitude of Babylon again – that it is my works that save me.

During the Dark Ages people were taught that their works would save them. They could buy and work their way to heaven. They were also given a work day to worship instead of the Sabbath day of rest. So they were like Cain, worshiping their works instead of our Creator and Redeemer. When the everlasting gospel is proclaimed in all its glory, Babylon will fall! Man will see that we are not saved by our own religious works and inventions but rather are saved by the grace of God alone!

The third angel’s message encourages us to choose life by exercising our faith in Jesus.

Ellen White comments:

Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel’s message, in verity.”– The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890. {1SM 372.2}

If you are like me, your first glance at the third angel’s message does not make you think of justification by faith. As a matter of fact many people get wrapped up in works over this passage. Let’s take another look and see why it’s not about works but rather justification by faith.

Revelation 14:9-12 And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive [his] mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

The third angel’s message is justification by faith in verity because those who refuse the mark of the beast will not be allowed to buy or sell or do any business to provide for themselves or their families. They will be resting on the Sabbath and not working. Therefore they trust God to provide for them, and not their own works. This is justification by faith. Those who accept the mark so that they can buy and sell are not resting in Jesus or trusting Him to provide for them. Rather they are saying, “I do not trust Jesus to provide for me, so I am accepting the mark so that I can work and provide for myself.” This is salvation by works.

It is very important to notice that the ones who accept the mark and are trying to be saved by their works are rejecting the cross of Christ. The “cup of His indignation” is the cup that Jesus asked to be passed from Him, in Gethsemane. However, He drank that cup for us, at Calvary. Those who reject the seal of God, and the Sabbath are really rejecting the cross. They say, “I will accept the mark of the beast and provide my own salvation.” When they do this they reject the Salvation provided at Calvary, and instead of letting Jesus drink that cup for them, they must drink it themselves!

After all, if you do not trust Jesus enough to provide your daily bread, but rather accept the mark so that you can do business and put bread on the table yourself, how can you trust Him to provide for your eternal salvation? On the other hand, by rejecting the mark (works) and keeping the Sabbath and seal of God we are accepting the cross and justification by faith. Jesus drinks the cup mentioned in the third angel’s message so we don’t have to! We can all exclaim with Abraham at Moriah, “Jehovahjireh” My Lord Will provide!”

The third angel’s message is the climax of the battle between faith and works. For centuries man has been taught by tradition to save himself by worshiping a man made religion and even a man made Sabbath which is Sunday. Those who put their faith in Jesus triumph over the legalism of man made religions as they rest their faith in the One who gave all to save them. They cherish His Sabbath which is a sign that we are not saved by works but rather by His amazing grace!

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

“Don’t Tell her it is Okay. Tell her she is Forgiven”

One Sabbath afternoon I received a phone call from the mother of a child I had corrected earlier at church. The girl had smarted off to me when I told her to stay out of a room that was off-limits. The mother told me, “My daughter wants to tell you she is sorry, but before she gets on the phone, I wanted to ask you, when she says she is sorry, don’t tell her it is okay. Just tell her she is forgiven.”

“Wow!” I thought. This mother gets it! Forgiveness is not saying it is okay. So many are slow to forgive, because what happened to them was so wrong they can’t just sweep it under the rug. The deed deserves to be punished. What they don’t understand is that forgiveness is not sweeping it under the rug and saying it is okay. Then what is it saying?

When I share the gospel presentation, I always share this passage from the Desire of Ages. It is so clear and simple, and to me, sums up the whole plan of salvation.

“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. “With His stripes we are healed.” -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 25

Now I would like to take this passage to the next level – beyond the plan of my personal salvation. I understand that Jesus took the punishment for my sins so that I can now be treated the way He deserves to be treated. Now I need to understand, that the sins my enemy committed have not been swept under the rug. Jesus was also treated the way my enemy deserves to be treated, so that I may now treat my enemy the way Jesus deserves to be treated.

Jesus did not only suffer for my sins, He suffered also for sins committed against me. Why do I need to take it out on my enemy when it has already been taken out on Jesus?

They made fun of me and humiliated me!
Jesus was mocked and humiliated on the cross in their place.

They killed my son! They deserve to die!
Jesus died because they killed your son.

They sexually abused me! They deserve to be sexually abused!
Jesus hung naked on a cross in front of the whole universe, including His own angels!

Earlier this year I was reading through the Old Testament, and when I came to Isaiah 53 something jumped out at me, when I read:

“With his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

Suddenly I realized something I had never seen before. I realized that retaliation against my enemy will never bring me healing. I am healed by the stripes of Jesus, and not the stripes of my enemy. Jesus suffering for my sins can only bring partial healing and partial reconciliation. I am made whole, and totally reconciled, not just to Jesus but to my brothers, when I realize Jesus suffered for their sins too.

In the story in Matthew 18:21-35 a man is forgiven who did not ask to be forgiven. He only asked for more time to pay the debt. However the master forgave the debt anyway. This is important for us to note, because the master represents God who forgave us without us even asking. In the Lord’s prayer we find we are to forgive as we have been forgiven, meaning that we are to forgive in the same manner. God expects us to forgive without being asked to forgive, just as the man was forgiven while only asking for more time to pay the debt.

After the man was forgiven, he goes out and sees a brother who owes him a much smaller debt. Even after being forgiven he refuses to forgive. In the parable the unforgiving man ends up in prison until his full debt is paid.

Wait a minute! Wasn’t his debt forgiven? Separated as far as the east is from the west and into the depths of the sea? How did it come back? I believe it’s this way: When I refuse to forgive my brother, what I am saying is, “I don’t think Jesus’ death on the cross was enough to pay for what was done to me.” Well guess what? If Jesus’ death is not enough to pay for my enemy’s sin, then it is not enough to pay for my sin either! By not allowing Jesus to pay for my enemy’s sin on the cross, I have just disqualified the cross as a payment for sin and therefore I must still pay for my sins – and the only way I can do that is to die an eternal death.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is not saying “It’s okay.” It is saying, “I realize Jesus suffered for your sins on the cross.” It is realizing I am healed by the stripes Jesus received and not by the stripes my enemy receives. We have to be pretty sick ourselves to think that in order for us to be healed, someone else has to be hurt. Jesus does not have to hurt my enemy in order to heal me.

“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves.” Christ was also treated as my enemy deserves, that I may now treat my enemy the way Christ deserves to be treated.

With His stripes we are all healed.

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

Love, not Numbers Makes God’s People Great

The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; Deuteronomy 7:7 NKJV 

I suppose its natural that we are comforted with numbers. Years ago, while holding a revival in Connecticut, I took a night off and went to Fenway Park in Boston, where the Red Sox play. I took the advice of the clerk behind the hotel counter and took the subway to the game, instead of paying to park my car. This was my first trip to Boston and my first subway ride. I boarded the subway realizing I had no idea where to get off. However, I realized it was a no-brainer. I got off when all the people wearing Red Sox t-shirts got off. I followed the crowd right to Fenway Park. I found comfort in the crowd. 

As Seventh-day Adventists, we comfort ourselves by knowing that our church has around 22 million members world wide. When we baptize people in a small, isolated church, we assure them that there are millions of us around the world. We don’t want them to feel alone. After all people have made fun of us and have called us a sect. But is it always safe to follow the crowd? Should it make us feel more comfortable to be in a throng? What if Noah’s family did not get on the ark because people were making fun of how few of them there were? Are numbers necessarily a sign of success? When two football teams play in the World Cup, do we make fun of them because there are only two of them? No! They take pride that they are in an elite group. 

Of course we don’t want to be the only ones going to heaven. We want the whole word to be saved, and thank God, John saw a saved multitude that could not even be numbered! Still we need to be careful comforting ourselves with crowds and numbers. First of all, while we boast of 22 million members, those numbers are misleading. I have had to add people to my church by profession of faith who were already members. Why? Because the current conference that had their membership refused to transfer them because they did not want to lose any numbers. So in that 22 million, who knows how many people are actually being counted twice? How many are actually still practicing Adventist Christians? Just as importantly, how many are actually converted? 

It is a solemn statement that I make to the church, that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history, and would be as verily without God and without hope in the world as the common sinner. –Ellen White, Christian Service, Page 41.

While God wants the whole world to be saved, and it is our duty and privilege to take the gospel into all the world, we should never put our faith in numbers. The story of Gideon in Judges 7:4-6, and the story of David counting his army in 2 Samuel 24:1-25, teach us not to put confidence in numbers. Right now many churches are counting to see how many members they lost during the pandemic. Not people who succumbed to the virus but who just have not returned to church. At the risk of sounding cynical, I have to ask myself, did the church really lose this many people or did we just never really have them in the first place? 

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; … 1 John 2:19 NKJV

Yes, I want to win these people back. Yes, I understand John is not saying this is the case every time someone leaves the church, and yes, I understand that some people leave the church without leaving Jesus, which is better than staying in the church without Jesus. Still, John’s statement stands for us to take to heart. 

While it is important for the church to examine itself to see why it is losing members or not growing, it is also important to remember that we should never water down our message to get more people in the door or get them to stay. When many people left Jesus at the end of the 6th chapter of John, Jesus did not consult a marketing firm to see where He had gone wrong. When the rich young ruler refused to make a complete surrender and walked away, Jesus did not go chasing him and make an offer for him to come back if he could just make a partial surrender. 

Ministers who labor in towns and cities to present the truth should not feel content, nor that their work is ended, until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the effect of its sanctifying power, and are truly converted to God. God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors, than to have sixty make a nominal profession, and yet not be thoroughly converted. These ministers should devote less time to preaching sermons, and reserve a portion of their strength to visit and pray with those who are interested, giving them godly instruction, to the end that they may “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” -Ellen White, Evangelism, Page 320.

On the other hand, there’s no virtue in sticking to tradition and keeping out new people. I was in a church years ago  that was preaching truth, and I cried as the older folk literally chased the youth out of that church. The youth believed and accepted the message, and in conversing with them, I found some of them knew their Bibles better than I did. (That’s not saying much I know.) So what was the issue? This particular church had Sabbath school after the worship service. The youth simply wanted it the other way around like most all churches do. The older folk were outraged by the youth who were “trying to take over the church” which “belonged” to the older people. I even had a little old lady tell me, “Don’t let those kids take over our church!” I was so stunned I forgot to ask her since when was it her church more than the youth’s church? The old folks won when they chased every young persona under the age of 30 out of the church. Today those old folks are dead and the youth never came back. Some victory, huh? 

I want to encourage us to be as accommodating to new members as we possibly can be without sacrificing Bible principles. I also want to encourage us to make true conversions the goal instead of making a goal out of numbers.  According to Deuteronomy 7:7 what makes a nation or a church great is not the number of people, but the fact that God has set His love upon them. True love leads to true conversions.

Let us daily represent Christ’s great love by loving our enemies as Christ loves them. If we would thus represent the grace of Christ, strong feelings of hatred would be broken down and into many hearts genuine love would be brought. Many more conversions than are now seen would follow. –Ellen White, Medical Missionary, Page 254.

Celebrating the Friendships That Didn’t Last a Lifetime

They all cried as they embraced and kissed him [Paul] good-bye. They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship. Acts 2:37-38 NLT

Growing up back in the 20th century, long before Facebook and social media, a pastor or Sabbath School teacher we all loved would move away. It seemed there would always be one member of the congregation or Sabbath School class who would keep in fairly regular contact with the pastor after he moved. Through this member we would hear about the pastor’s current mission trips and his daughter’s graduation and marriage. Looking back now, it never occurred to me to get the former pastor’s contact information. It was enough to hear the stories through that one member who kept in contact, and I suppose subconsciously in the back of my mind, I assumed if I ever needed to talk to the former pastor again personally, all I had to do was get his number from that one member who had it. Looking back, before social media, we still had a healthy and balanced way to stay in touch. 

Often times I read memes about lifelong friendships and how wonderful they are-and yes they are! I treasure my friends that I discuss current events with, while remembering going through Watergate together. A couple weeks ago I shared a story about a lifelong friend who had to remind me of an accident I had decades ago. That was very special albeit embarrassing. yes, lifelong friendships are very special, but let’s not let that distract from the specialness of the friendships that didn’t last a lifetime. 

While I was in first grade my family moved into a home just a couple blocks from the church school, so I moved with them. Next door lived “Hans” who was about my exact age. In no time we were playing together all the time. He was into puppetry, and we even did a puppet skit on a local TV cable station. We played super heroes and on certain summer nights would sleep outside in the treehouse, with the plans of waking up at 4am to go fight crime. Looking back I thank God I never could wake him up. No telling what trouble we would have ran into. Later in middle school we started drifting apart, and in our teens while we still lived next door we seldom saw each other at all. He had his public school friends and his music. Even as a little boy he loved playing the “Entertainer” on the piano with his front door wide open. To this day I can’t hear that song without thinking of “Hans.” I digress. Anyway Hans and I drifted apart, and for the last few years we were neighbors we were basically total strangers. However, there were times in high school where I was struggling with Algebra and Geometry.  “Hans” was great at math, and would let me come over so he could explain it to me. I would thank him, and he would express his pleasure at being able to help me, then I would go back home. That was the extent of our friendship at that point. 

At the turn of the 21st century, I learned from his sister that “Hans’ was living in New York City. (Thankfully his sister did indeed turn out to be a lifelong friend.) About this time I got my first computer with Internet capabilities, and had some questions. “Hans” was into computers so I called him up, and once again he enthusiastically helped me out. Once again, I thanked him, he said I was welcome, we hung up and have never spoken since. Ever since 7th or 8th grade “Hans” has had his own friends, hobbies, career and a life that I simply haven’t fit into since around 6th grade. I love staying in touch with people. I love lifelong friends. At the same time I realize it is not practical or even healthy and balanced to expect everyone from my past to still be an active friend today. That would be about as silly as a playwriter putting the entire cast into every single scene. The entire cast does not belong in every single scene, not even the star. It would be about as crazy as a field goal kicker expecting his coach to put him in on every play. That’s not how it works or how you win games. 

Fact is, there is a time for actors, once they have served their purpose, to make their final exit from the play. Solomon’s wisdom teaches us there is a purpose for every season, but seasons change and so do our needs, and so do the needs of our friends. But while we celebrate lifelong friendships, lets remember the wisdom of Solomon and also celebrate those wonderful friendships that did not last a lifetime. They still served their purpose. Every friendship howbeit ever so brief, serves a purpose and brings a lesson. While my friend “Hans” had moved on with his life, and really did not need me in it, he was still there when I needed him for Algebra. Through him I have learned how to move on in my life and leave some people alone, while leaving the door wide open for that moment when I may actually be able to serve them again. That’s why I also came up with the analogy of the field goal kicker. While the field goal kicker is not needed on every play, he is needed to be on the sidelines throughout the entire game for that one moment he is needed to kick the winning field goal as time expires. Just because the coach seldom puts the kicker in on a play does not mean he does not value the kicker-he does! Just because a friend called another friend for lunch today without calling you does not mean your friend does not value you. We don’t have to be in on every “play” to be valued and appreciated. 

Let’s learn from the stranger who helped us fix that flat tire and then disappeared into the night never to be seen again. He came and taught us kindness, served his purpose and exited the scene. He doesn’t even need to exchange Christmas cards. He taught us a lesson, served his purpose and that was enough. 

Let’s learn from the Sabbath School teacher who harped on that one idea all the time till it drove you crazy. You haven’t seen or heard from her since the turn of the century. But sitting in Sabbath School class last week a question came up and you remembered what she said so many years ago. You used it to help someone last Sabbath understand the point a little more clearly. 

My ex-fiancé dumped me over 20 years ago, but I still remember how she showed me to add sour cream to mashed potatoes and gravy. I still love making them that way to this day. And as I look back, I learned some important lessons from that relationship that are more important than mashed potatoes and gravy. I learned some hard lessons that have helped me in my relationships today. I am glad she was a part of my life! 

While the blessings of lifelong friendships are amazing beyond words, lets not forget to celebrate the friendships that didn’t last a lifetime. After all, those friendships were not in vain even though they did not last. They served their purpose and they taught us valuable lessons that last a lifetime. 

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