Try a Little Love and Tenderness

Monday’s section of this week’s lesson, reveals the relentless love of God. For me, here is the key verse.

But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there. Hosea 2:14 NLT 

I am so thankful for parents who understand this. I wish all parents understood this is the way to win their children’s loyalty to God and to themselves

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Several years ago I was preaching for Father’s Day, and I had a few people, young and old, tell us what they liked about their fathers. One young man, about 12 years old, gave a powerful, heartfelt tribute to his dad, even saying “nobody reminds me of Jesus more than my father.”

That same Sabbath morning, the son was offered some cookies in his Sabbath School class which he gladly took. His father saw him eating the cookie and starting publicly berating him and telling him how sinful it is to eat in church! (News to me!) The son could not hide his hurt and humiliation. The son definitely was not trying to be a hard-hearted rebel by taking a cookie just like everyone else. I know the father meant well too, but you don’t have to be a parent to know that publicly embarrassing and humiliating your child is not a good thing to do. Remember, Jesus worked His first miracle, turning water into wine for no other reason than to save the host from public embarrassment. It would not have killed them to just drink water, but Jesus is a Savior from public humiliation and embarrassment. It is not one of His tools.

Not long after this, the father called me up and wanted me to lecture his son because he was becoming defiant. I came to their home as requested, but the talk did not actually go the way the father expected. The father was accusing the son of being disrespectful. With father and son both present, I asked the son about the beautiful tribute he gave to his father. Both agreed that was very nice and respectful. I then asked the son how he felt when later, his father publicly berated him for eating a cookie just like everyone else. He said it was very hurtful and you could see the hurt in his eyes as he said that. I shared Hosea 2:14 with them both and asked the father if he thought he could be a little more tender when correcting his son. I was not asking him to change his standards, just his approach. But I did share with the father that I was unaware of any Bible teaching against eating a cookie in church. Being a father is a very sacred calling, and I did not want to distract from that or appear to try to trump him. However I did encourage him to follow 2 Timothy 3:16 and be sure to correct his son according to Scripture.

Tears were in the son’s eyes by now as I explained to the father how much his son loved him, and how hurt he was, when publicly humiliated for doing something he thought was totally innocent, with no rebellious intentions. I assured the father that his son would not have written such a loving tribute if he did not deeply love and respect him. His son nodded in agreement with tears still in his eyes.

I thought the father was going to turn on me now for not ganging up with him on his side, but, instead, he actually thanked me! I know the father had a good heart and really cared about his children. Why else would his son write that no one reminded him more of Jesus than His father?

Parents, please be tender with your children. You may not think they love, appreciate and respect you, but at school and church I hear them say things you may never hear. I always tell kids, “Your parents love you more than you think they do,” and I say the same to parents. “Your children love you more than you think they do.” As a third party observer, I know this for a fact.

If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from God,

But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there. Hosea 2:14 NLT 

Was God Just Using Job as a Guinea Pig?

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Occasionally I hear people ask why God used Job for a guinea pig. Why did God allow Job to be tortured just for the sake of making a point to Satan? Was Job just a pawn in God and Satan’s chess game?

At first glance it may appear so, but let’s look a little closer. First of all it is said of God,

In all their suffering he also suffered, Isaiah 63:9 NLT

While watching a documentary on the holocaust, I heard a woman talking about seeing a small child killed by a concentration camp officer. She said, when that happened, she stopped believing in God. She didn’t understood that God was suffering with that poor child.

No, that in and of itself does not answer all the questions as to why God allowed Job to suffer and the holocaust to happen. But if He is suffering just as much as everyone else, it does tell me God is not using humanity or Job as a guinea pig or as pawns in some chess match with Satan. I don’t have to have all the answers to trust God. If God allowed sin and suffering, knowing it would cost Him His own dear Son on the cross, then I know there must be a good reason.

Job’s friends came up with a quick answer to the problem of suffering. Surely Job brought this upon himself! For some reason we feel better about God allowing pain and suffering if we figure that people somehow deserve suffering. When we do this we misunderstand the character of God. Fact is God does not want to see anyone suffer, even if they deserve it.

Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

So while we are prone to draw peace from knowing people deserve to suffer or brought it upon themselves, the fact that they may deserve it is no consolation to God. He hurts just the same.

Even though Job’s friends might not have had the right attitude, Job did learn and grow through his suffering. While he maintained his innocence for the most part of the story, at the end, Job said,

I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance. Job 42:6 NLT

While Job’s friends may have been more than a little rough on him, Job did have some precious lessons to learn, and yes, some precious revelations of God’s grace that could only be found through suffering. Even though God bragged on Job in the first chapter, He did not imply that Job had “arrived.” Job still had some things to learn about himself, and his need for God’s righteousness. Theologians have been trying to answer the question for ages, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” In fact, they’ve come up with a fancy name for it – theodicy. 1 The question why bad things happen to good people is actually hypothetical, because, there are no good people for bad things to happen to!

No one does good, not a single one. Romans 3:12 NLT

Job grew throughout the story, and in his suffering became more intimate with his Redeemer.

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Job 19:25-27 NLT

God did not allow Job to suffer like a guinea pig so God could prove a point to Satan. Job had to suffer to learn obedience just like Jesus did.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:8 NLT

The suffering and obedience led both Jesus and Job into intimacy with the Father. Again, I do not know why. Maybe you do and can comment below. But for now it is enough for me to know that if Jesus had to suffer too, there must be a good reason. My theory is simply that anything that was proven to Satan was not the main event. Job’s character growth and intimacy with God was the main event. The things Job endured were not just to put on some show for the devil to see. They were to bring Job closer to God, and to realize joys and victories, and yes and intimacy with God, that could not have been realized any other way.

  1. Theodicy covers a little more ground than just the question of why good people suffer. It deals with the questions of God’s goodness in the presence of evil. 

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

How a Tree Made Life Sweet Again

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And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they [were] bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, [which] when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,  And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I [am] the LORD that healeth thee.  Exodus 15:23-26

Why did God have Moses put a tree in the bitter water? How did a tree make the water sweet? In 1 peter 2:24, Peter refers to the cross as a tree.

who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 1 Peter 2:24 NKJV

In a world of hate and bitterness, Jesus died on that tree to save us from a bitter world. Sin has caused suffering and bitterness but Jesus was lifted up on the cross to make our lives sweet again. I and many others believe this is why Moses used a tree to make bitter water sweet again.

If life has made you bitter, Jesus is offering living water that can make your life sweet again.

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 14:13-14 NKJV

I would like to invite you to find the sweet life through fellowship with Jesus and other believers, by finding a Christ-centered Bible based church in your area. You can find one here.

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

Why Did God Allow That to Happen?

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Friends, as I take a look at this Sabbath  lesson’s “The Week at a Glance: What are the causes of the difficult times that we experience through our lives?” I am discouraged myself. I just got off the phone with a friend, who lost his son a year ago, and has had a wife in and out of the hospital since Thanksgiving. He has his own health issues, and now he just informed me this evening, his wife is back in the hospital with a broken hip. Speculation is she broke her hip in the hospital that just sent her home last week. I don’t have all the answers, if any at all, because at this point I am crying out to God, “How much is one family supposed to take?” 

I have to be honest, the last several years have been good to me. But I remember going through the fire and asking God how much more I was supposed to take. Friends told me my trials were so I could develop patience. I told them if everything would just go my way I wouldn’t need patience! Friends told me God was working on my character. So I woke up the next morning and suggested to God we just take a break from working on my character for a while. Just let me enjoy life for a while. It seemed everything was a crisis, a trial or some moral dilemma. I just wanted to enjoy the carefree days of my youth again. But while I may have more questions than answers tonight I have learned a few things about what causes the difficult times in our lives, or why they come our way.

Sure we have all seen the Facebook meme, that says “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is because we are stupid and make stupid choices.” As funny as that may sound there is a lot of truth to that. Sometimes we create our own problems. Years ago I was going through a breakup with my fiancée, and had lost my job. Nothing was going right. I moved to a new apartment and changed banks. I threw the old checks away in the apartment dumpster. You guessed it. As if I did not have enough going on, now I had to take off from my new job to go to the police station on several occasions and prove to them I did not write those checks. That had nothing to do with God working on my character. It had nothing to do with my former girlfriend or my job. There was a reason for it all though. The reason for it all was because I made a stupid choice and threw the checks away without shredding them. Still I survived everything. Even Agur, who shared his wisdom in Proverbs said, 

I am too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. Proverbs 30:2 NLT 

Sure enough sometimes our own stupidity is the only reason for our problems. Good news is God looks out for stupid people like Agur and me. By the way I realized my own foolishness. I did not need anyone to tell me, and I do not need to tell anyone else they are stupid. Only a narcissist will try to make someone else feel stupid. And actually I don’t feel stupid. I know I am not alone. I just thought while we are looking for reasons for difficult times, we can’t ignore this explanation. 

Another reason for difficult times is it does indeed increase our faith. When you were in school you may have noticed the math books often had the answers in the back of the book. But your teacher did not want you to just write the answer down. She wanted you to work the problem out and show why “X” is the answer. You worked the problem out, not to find the answer as much as you did to find out why it was the answer. The Bible tells us Jesus is the answer. But we need to work out our problems in life for the same reason we needed to work out our math problems in school. So we know why Jesus is the answer. In Mark 4:35-40 Jesus tells His disciples to cross the lake in a boat. A huge storm comes. Jesus knew that storm was coming when He told His disciples to cross the lake. After calming the storm Jesus asked His disciples why they didn’t have any faith. But weren’t they showing faith when they asked Him to calm the storm? Sure, but that is not what Jesus was talking about. When Jesus said, “Where is your faith?” He was asking them why they needed Him to calm the storm, instead of just riding out the storm with Him. After all, sailboats can’t get anywhere without some wind. Sometimes its the storms that get us to where we need to be. Why should Jesus calm a storm He just sent them into? The storm was there for a reason. We show more faith and growth when we ride the storm out with Jesus, instead of asking Him to calm every little wind that blows our way. I am reminded of a saying, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” Maybe instead of asking God to calm every storm we should ask Him for dancing lessons. 

But my friend’s phone call tonight is still on my mind. After all they have been through I don’t think God needs to work on their faith and character anymore, but then again I am not God and I really have no clue. I do remember a similar experience with my own mother. She had tons of health issues, and had been battling cancer when she fell and broke her hip. Again I thought, come on God! How much more can my poor mother take! My mother ended up making it through not one but two hip surgeries. I was sure the broken hip was going to do her in. But it didn’t! I honestly believe the rehab made her more strong and determined! My aunt who was a nurse agreed with me. Instead of killing her it made her stronger. She lived several years after the broken hip. When she was diagnosed with cancer she was given 2 to 3 years to live, and that was if she took the treatments. She refused the treatments and lived 12 more years. I truly think the broken hip gave her a reason to fight and get some of those 12 years. 

After all, I remember when I got sick many years ago and had to go to the emergency room. I did not have good insurance like I do now and was left with quite a bill. I called a friend who was remodeling their home and asked if I could work on the side for them to earn the extra money to pay the medical bill. In the end I made way more money than what I owed on the medical bill. My trip to the emergency room created an opportunity to get a side job where I not only paid the bill, but turned my whole financial situation around for the better. 

Sometimes we go through difficult times to grow our faith and develop our character. Sometimes it is so we can be more sympathetic to others. 

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT 

Its very important we assure others who are suffering that they are not suffering alone. Of course that does not mean we have to “one up” their suffering. Actually when people are suffering they don’t need us to share our problems, they just need us to listen to theirs. But we need to know we are not alone in suffering. In the movie Black Hawk Down, an  entire military troop is injured. The general tells the private to take a Humvee load of injured soldiers to the hospital. The private protests, “But sir I am injured.” To which the general responds, “Everyone is injured!” We may have to be injured caregivers at times, but even then we are not alone. 

Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. 1 Peter 5:9 NLT  (last part)

Satan wants us to feel alone and isolated in our sufferings, but our sufferings should actually bring us all closer together. 

Job’s friends did a miserable job of trying to comfort Job with all their philosophy. I doubt I have done any better at answering Sabbath’s question at a glance, concerning what causes difficult times. Like I said earlier, after getting off the phone tonight with my friend I have more questions than answers about why God has allowed them to suffer so. But while I don’t have the answers, God has given us some promises. 

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18 NLT 

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 NLT 

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT 

Please pray for my friend who called me  tonight, and for his wife. Please pray for everyone who has had more than their fair share of difficulties lately. By the way, I said earlier, “to be honest the last several years have been good to me.” Well to be more honest, God has always been good to me, All. The. Days. Of. My. Life. 

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6 NLT 

If not before, when we get to God’s house, we will understand better why we went through such difficult times, and we will have many triumphs to celebrate. We will also see that even in the difficult times, God’s goodness and mercy were with us, all the days of our life. 

Don’t Keep Bringing Dead Cats to God’s Door

Friday’s section of this week’s lesson asks the question, “Once Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared that now Joseph would get revenge. What does this teach about the guilt that they still harbored? What does Joseph’s reaction teach us about forgiveness for the guilty?”

Maybe the brothers had a hard time believing Joseph had forgiven them because they had a hard time forgiving themselves. For spiritual growth and health I think its important to not only forgive others, but also to forgive ourselves.

Photograph by William Earnhardt

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV

Ever been haunted by your past? Sometimes I will have a flashback of some off-the-cuff smart remark I made to an elder when I was kid, and I will still cringe and want to go hide under a rock 40 years later! I believe Paul’s history of persecuting Christians may have haunted him too. Except for the fact that Paul never persecuted the Christians. That was Saul. Paul was a new creature,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV

Saul the persecutor was converted, and became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 233

God wants to give us all a fresh, new start.

The story goes of a man who was driving down an old highway out in the country when he accidentally ran over a cat. He pulled over and inspected the cat, which sure enough was dead. He looked and saw a house in the distance at the top of a hill. He took the dead cat to the door and knocked. An old lady answered the door, and he said, “I am sorry Ma’m is this your cat?”

“Well it was she responded.” The man told her how sorry he was that he had just hit and killed her cat. She forgave him and they both took the cat to the backyard and buried it. A few weeks later the man found himself driving past the house again.

The terrible memories came back again, and he drove up to the house, went in the backyard, dug up the dead cat and took it to the front door again. When the lady answered, he started telling her all over how sorry he was! She reminded him she already forgave him and she helped the man bury the cat again. A few more weeks went by and the man found himself driving by the house again and once again was overcome with grief, and went and dug the cat back up and took it to the house. By this time the woman was fed up and ordered him to stop bringing the dead cat to her door!

God does not want us bringing dead cats to His door either. Don’t go digging up what His grace has buried. He wants us to leave our dead cats behind us and press for the goal. God wants to make you a new creature, just like He made Saul a new creature and turned him into Paul.

Nicolas’ Baptism Pictures and Story

Jose, (left), as well as being the head deacon of the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church, also has a passion for sharing Jesus with others. Jose has a weekly Bible study group in his home. After befriending Nicolas, (center) he invited him to his Bible study group. Nicolas enjoyed learning more about Jesus and the Bible, and told Jose he wanted to be baptized and give his life to Jesus. Jose has led several family members to Jesus, and he was just as happy to see his friend get baptized. As the head deacon, Jose prepared the baptistry for his friend. I think its pretty cool that Jose prepared his friend spiritually for baptism as well as making the physical preparations.
At his baptism Nicolas testified that he was saying goodbye to the old Nicolas and was starting a new life for Jesus.

 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.  For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. Romans 6:3-7 NLT

In my New Believer’s Sabbath School class, Nicolas enthusiastically participated and especially enjoyed reading Scripture, and affirming his faith in Jesus, and his assurance of salvation from sin and death. Please pray for Nicolas as he continues his walk with Jesus. Please also pray for him as he continues to share the hope in he has in Jesus, that Jose shared with him.

Thank you for contributing to the Bible Worker Fund, that not only allows me to share Jesus with others, but also allows me to train, equip and encourage others to share Jesus, just like Jose.

Let God be the One to pay you Back

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Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me. Genesis 31:7 NKJV

I love how Jacob realized that, even though Laban had cheated him, Laban was not able to hurt him. In Genesis 33, when Jacob tries to repay what he has cheated Esau, Esau tells Jacob that he has plenty and does not need to be repaid. God took care of Jacob when Laban cheated Jacob, and God took care of Esau when Jacob cheated Esau.

But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Genesis 33:9 NKJV

This is an important lesson on what our attitude should be towards those who have wronged us. 

Don’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.” Wait for the Lord to handle the matter. Proverbs 20:22 NLT

A while back, after a friend had wrongfully taken money from me, I was reading,

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Romans 12:19 KJV

While I had read this many times before, this particular time I saw it in a new light. Yes, it is true that people will hang on their own gallows, Yet rather than just seeing those who have wronged us getting paid back for their wrong, I saw God was telling me, He would repay me what my friend had wrongfully taken.

In Philemon 1:17-18 NLT Paul is pleading for everyone to give Onesimus a second chance in the ministry. Paul tells them,

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!

Likewise I heard God telling me in Romans 12, “if your friend has robbed you, don’t worry. I will pay you back what they owe you. Don’t take it out on him. Leave him alone, and let Me make it right.”

That is exactly what happened. Right after I read Romans 12, another friend called who had bought some new furniture and wanted to give me their old furniture even thought it was still in excellent condition. God has continued to bless me in many other ways. God has more than paid me back for what my friend had stolen from me.

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