God Will Definitely Give you More Than you can Handle

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

You may listen to the podcast version here.

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 trial 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.

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.

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 Great Exchange

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. Revelation 3:18 NLT

I thought of this passage in Jesus’ message to the church of Laodicea while studying Sunday’s Sabbath school lesson on Isaiah 55.

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink— even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Isaiah 55:1-2 NLT 

In the latter God is telling us to buy even though we have no money. In the former Jesus is telling us to buy white garments. What is up with that? I thought salvation and the robe of righteousness were free? Could Jesus be talking about buying things without money again like as in Isaiah 55? If so what does Jesus mean by buying without money? Can you buy without money? Yes you can. Years ago a friend of mine had no money to pay her overdue doctor’s bill, but she had an idea. She had a nice Television she was not using anymore. She went to the doctor’s office and offered her television as payment for her bill. The doctor accepted and put the television in the waiting room. My friend paid her bill without money. 

So can we likewise buy our white garments and salvation without money? Can we buy it on the bartering system as my friend bought her medical services? I think so. Jesus wants us to trade in our sins for His forgiveness. In Zachariah 3 Joshua trades in his filthy rags for a robe of righteousness. We can even trade in our broken dreams so God can fulfill His dreams in us. 

If there ever were dreams That were lofty and noble They were my dreams at the start

And hope for life’s best were the hopes That I harbor down deep in my heart

But my dreams turned to ashes And my castles all crumbled, my fortune turned to loss

So I wrapped it all in the rags of life And laid it at the cross.

Something beautiful, something good

All my confusion He understood

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife

But he made something beautiful of my life

Something Beautiful, by Bill Gaither

We can never buy salvation in the sense of working or earning it. Yet if you consider the bartering system as a form of buying we can trade in our old life for a new life. We can trade or filthy clothes for Jesus’ robe of righteousness. We can trade our broken dreams and broken hearts in for the paradise of God’s reality. 

Physical Unity can be an Illusion

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Isaiah 29:13 NLT

As I write this many Adventist Church buildings around the world are open for full services. Some have restricted services while some churches are still closed or have recently closed after the COVID spike over the holidays. While churches offer services on Zoom and Facebook live,  etc., I still hear some people say it’s not real church. To some, real church means sitting together physically in the same pew at the church building. At the risk of sounding cynical, here are some things I think we need to consider.

To think that you are worshipping with someone just because you are in the same church building can be an illusion. Their hearts and minds can still be miles away. They may even be worshipping self while you worship God. Judas was plotting the betrayal of Jesus while sitting with the other disciples. Physical proximity does not guarantee unity. When Paul said in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together, they were meeting in homes and not church buildings.

Today when we read that passage many have the idea that Paul was saying to go to a formal Sabbath church service like we have had the last hundred years or so. Here is what we need to keep in mind. When Paul wrote those words he did not even know about the ritual worship services we conduct today. Adventists do not get our worship service rituals from the Bible. We get them from the Methodists. Our “method” of worship is from the “Method”-ists. The method of worship Adventists have been doing for years now is neither Biblical or unbiblical. It is acceptable, but so are many other methods as well. While many do not think Zoom church is real church, I have no doubt that Paul would have included Zoom as assembling ourselves together. It is real biblical church.

Jesus did not promise blessings for worshipping in a building, but for worshipping in the Spirit.

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem….But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:21-24 NLT

Jesus did not promise to be with us for meeting in a building but for meeting in His name.

For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20 NKJV

Just as one person from Sydney and one person from London can be together on a Zoom Bible study likewise they can be gathered together in the name of Jesus while one is still in Sydney and the other is in London.

While it may be more ideal to worship in person Zoom and similar venues are still real worship venues. Just like in 3 John 1:13-14 John says he does not want to just write letters but meet face to face. Still the letters were legitimate forms of communication. The idea that true worship and unity must involve physical proximity is an illusion. Real worship is not done in a building. It is done in the Spirit.

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

Why we Will be Studying the Cross for all Eternity

I am writing today from my beautiful hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

As we have discovered several times in our Sabbath School lessons on Education, our education does not stop when we get to heaven. We will continue to study the cross and plan of salvation which are themes Peter says even angels desire to look into. One may ask why this theme will take all eternity to study and why it will even need be studied in heaven? Perhaps Colossians gives us a clue.

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 NLT

Even after Lucifer was cast out, those who remained may have still had their doubts. Did God really love them, or did Lucifer have some points about God just being a tyrant? On earth Eve thought that God did not care for her and eating the forbidden fruit would make her really happy.

Have you ever been loyal to a boss, not because you thought he was fair, but because you did not see any way out? So out of fear you remained loyal to him, still wishing you weren’t in that situation? If so, what did it take for you to reconcile the situation so you could have peace at work and not just conformity?

Photograph by William Earnhardt

When the Son of God died on the cross He was not just atoning for Eve taking a piece of fruit she was told not to. Eve’s disobedience was a symptom of her doubts. The cross of Christ did not just take care of the symptoms of sin. The cross took care of sin itself! Christ’s death on the cross removed all doubt about God’s love. All questions in heaven and earth are answered at the cross! There can be conformity while rebellion is still in the heart. The cross goes way beyond bringing us into conformity and outward obedience. The cross replaces our thoughts of rebellion with peaceful thoughts towards God.

That which alone can effectually restrain from sin in this world of darkness, will prevent sin in heaven. The significance of the death of Christ will be seen by saints and angels. Fallen men could not have a home in the paradise of God without the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Shall we not then exalt the cross of Christ? The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan. Angelic perfection failed in heaven. Human perfection failed in Eden, the paradise of bliss. All who wish for security in earth or heaven must look to the Lamb of God.-Ellen White, Signs of the Times, December 30, 1889

Some have the idea that once we get to heaven, God will flip a little switch in the back of our heads that makes us stop sinning. After all, we will be in heaven and so we automatically won’t sin right? Wait. Where did sin begin? Heaven!

The reason why humans and angels will not sin, is the same reason why God reconciled both heaven and earth to Himself. The cross of Jesus. The cross cures the root cause of sin which is doubting God’s love. The reason there will be no sin in heaven is not due to a mechanical correction made by the flip of a switch. There will be no sin in heaven because the cross will cure humans and angels alike from ever doubting God’s love and thinking we need anything God has not given us. There will be no reason to rebel.

Rules without relationship cause rebellion. The love of Christ on the cross removes our fear of God, so we are not afraid to have an intimate relationship with Him. With our relationship cured, we will have no reason to rebel. We won’t be conformists. We will be free-thinking moral agents who are at peace with God because God is love.

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

Staying Humble After God Exalts You

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. James 4:10 NLT

Ever notice that Jesus did not rush over to the Pharisees right after His resurrection and tell them, “I told you so!” Jesus did not have a vindictive spirit.

By the time Joseph’s brothers bowed down to him he no longer had a vindictive spirit either. Who knows? Maybe God had the butler forget about Joseph for a couple of years because it took that long for him to realize that the meaning of his dream was not really about everyone bowing down to him. The dream was really about him saving lives. See Genesis 45:7.

When I lived in Texas I had a friend who was a nurse but was studying to become a nurse practitioner. She told me when she was in third grade an old nun was her teacher. The nun told her she would never be smart enough to become a nurse. Now here she was not only a nurse but studying to be a nurse practitioner. Sometimes when I would call her to go out to eat, she would tell me she had to study. One Sunday I called her to go eat with me, but she told me she was busy studying. I told her the nun was long gone by now and would never know she was a nurse practitioner now, so we should just go eat. She laughed and assured  me we would eat another time. Of course the real reason my friend was studying hard to become a nurse practitioner was not to vindicate herself to her old teacher. She was studying so she could help people. The hundreds and maybe thousands of people who have been blessed by my friend’s medical ministry know nothing about what the teacher told her.  Nor do they care. All they care about is that she can help them. And that’s all that really matters – helping people. By the time Joseph’s brothers bowed down to him he had nothing to prove. He was not sitting on a throne to be vindicated. He was sitting on a throne to save lives. When Jesus was resurrected He had no desire to vindicate Himself to any of the leaders. It was enough that Mary was there at the tomb and He had risen as her Savior. He is not in heaven vindicating Himself now. He is in heaven saving lives. That’s why He lives. See Hebrews 7:25.

I read through the Bible every year, and when I come to the story of David I had often wondered why it took David so long to actually become king after being anointed. Why didn’t he take the throne the day Samuel chose him? Why did God allow Saul to persecute him so much? Then one day I realized that Saul actually started out humble but became arrogant once he was on the throne, thus leading to his destruction. Is it possible God allowed David to wait and endure trials and tribulations on his way to the throne in order to keep him humble even after he was exalted as king?

James says God will exalt or “lift up” those who are humble. But even after being lifted up and exalted we are to remain humble. Arrogance has no place in the Christian life at any time. Jesus told Philip when you have seen Me you have Seen the Father. See John 14:9. When Jesus said He was meek and lowly (Matthew 11:29) He was showing them the Father who was on the throne in heaven. When Jesus was working in the carpenter shop He was showing them the Father who reigns over the entire universe. When Jesus was washing the disciples’ feet He was showing them what God the Father is like.

Jesus was never arrogant and never will be. He was never proud and vindictive and never will be. Even after being exalted Jesus remains meek and lowly. While sitting on the throne watching his brothers bow down to him, Joseph knew he was sitting on the throne to save lives. When every knee bows to Jesus it wont be for self vindication. There is no selfishness in Jesus and thus no need for self vindication. Jesus will be sitting on the throne to save lives.

When God lifts you up, it won’t be for your self-vindication. Keep in mind that you are only where you are to serve others and save lives.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 NLT

Paul’s Authority and Relationship With The Church.

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. Galatians 1:1 NLT

I remember sitting in church, no more than four years old, watching the preacher preach, and knowing (not hoping, not wanting, not thinking, but knowing!) that is what I would be doing one day. I am no Paul, and I did not have a Damascus road experience, but I realized, I was called by God and not man. Even though God has called me to ministry, He has still created opportunities for me to work within the church, even though I have my own self supportive ministry. The conference does not pay my salary, but I work along with them, and have no desire to run away from them, and they express their apprecaition for my team work. I say this, because there are those who feel that since they were called by God Himself, they do not need to work with the church.

Did Paul feel that being called directly by God allowed him to work independently of the church? No!

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. Galatians 2:9-10 NLT

We are all called to spread the gospel. Some of us do it as employees of the church, and some of us do it as lay members, or in self supportive independent ministries, but either way we are to work together as a team. This not only means that lay members cooperate with conferences. Conferences must also cooperate with lay members.

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”  “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. Mark 9:38-40 NLT

I remember back in the early ’90s, the church was battling independent ministries, and indepenadent ministries were battling the church. It has been a long time since I have heard of such battles and I am glad. Paul and the church cooperated together to spread the gospel. Jesus says don’t stop independent ministries from spreading the gospel. It is not the job of the church to destroy independent ministries, and it is not the job of independent ministries to destroy the church. It is the job of both to preach the gospel, and even though God may call some to work within church employment, and others to a self supportive or independent ministry, we may all work together as Paul did with the church in his day.

God may call and financially support us independently of the church organization, but He does not call us to minister independently of the church organization. The church needs us and we need the church. Paul was not called by human authority but he team worked with those in human authority. I encourage us all, lay members and conference officials to follow the Biblical example Paul has shown us.

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

Idols in the Church

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In Numbers 21 the Children of Israel wanted the luxuries of Egypt instead of the presence of God. So God allowed snakes to enter the camp, providing the opportunity to learn how much they depended on Him. The people soon realized they had made a mistake and begged for the snakes to be removed. That is when God instructed Moses to make the brass snake and lift it on a pole, so when people looked at it they could live. The snake was a reminder that God was the source of their healing. The snake was not the goal, but a means to the goal. The goal was the Messiah, later known by name as Jesus.

And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. John 3:14-15 NLT

The purpose of the bronze snake on a pole was to lead people to worship Jehovah, the same Person who later walked this earth as Jesus Christ. However, over time, people began to worship the bronze snake itself! During a revival, Hezekiah destroyed the bronze snake so that people would worship God instead of making idols out of the things that pointed to God.

He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan. 2 Kings 18:4 NLT

So we see here that even good things can become idols when they become the focus of our worship instead of God. Worshiping the creation instead of the Creator is a very easy yet dangerous thing to do! The snake on the pole is not the only God-ordained symbol that God’s people made an idol out of instead of worshiping God Himself. The Sabbath is an eternal symbol and memorial pointing us to our Creator.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Exodus 20:11 NLT

Yet when Jesus walked the earth He had to remind people that the Sabbath was an eternal, never to be removed symbol to lead us to God, and not something to be worshiped in and of itself. The Sabbath was not to be an idol.

Christ reiterated the truth that the sacrifices were in themselves of no value. They were a means, and not an end. Their object was to direct men to the Saviour, and thus to bring them into harmony with God. It is the service of love that God values. When this is lacking, the mere round of ceremony is an offense to Him. So with the Sabbath. It was designed to bring men into communion with God; but when the mind was absorbed with wearisome rites, the object of the Sabbath was thwarted. Its mere outward observance was a mockery. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages Page 286

So an idol is anything that absorbs our affections more than Jesus, even if it is something in the church. We may not have statues of Mary in our churches, but is it possible there are still some idols lying around in our church? Let’s not be too smug. If God’s true people had idols in Hezekiah’s day, and again in Christ’s day, chances are good we need to take a good look around, and see if there are any symbols,  traditions or dates – as good and noble as they may be – that are absorbing more of our focus and worship than Jesus.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

How do You Accept Rebukes?

I am writing today from beautiful Florida.

I am writing today from beautiful Florida.

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. Proverbs 27:6 NLT

Long ago, I was writing a blog post about humor. I compared the humor of my friends in different areas. Just a few minutes after publishing my post, I got a call from a friend here where I live. He told me I better rethink what I wrote about my friends in another area. He told me even though he knew no offense was intended, it could offend them. I edited my post as suggested. I thought, how wonderful that I have a friend who was so concerned about me, that he called so quickly to warn me, even though he was busy with his own day, and had no vested interest other than looking out for me. Instead of taking offense and taking his call as being critical, I took it as a compliment. He thought enough of me and my ministry to make that call right away.

Unfortunately, many people in Jeremiah’s day did not appreciate his rebukes, even though they were given out of love. It takes a lot of love to tell someone what they need to hear, instead of patronizing them with what they want to hear. I realize the success of my ministry depends upon Jeremiahs of today, who will rebuke me when needed, in a Christlike way.

Christ Himself did not suppress one word of truth, but He spoke it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact, and thoughtful, kind attention in His [association] with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes.  –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 353 

Years ago, the church I was attending at the time was going through a little crisis. I was having dinner one evening with a couple of friends who supported me wholeheartedly on my view of the crisis. In the course of the evening I made a comment out of frustration that was out of place. They both quickly let me know what I had just said was not appropriate and was not a healthy attitude. They showed me how much they loved and supported me but did not hesitate at all to let me know when I stepped out of line. I thought, “Wow! Now I know they are really looking out for me and my ministry!” I felt loved and secure, knowing these friends were not going to let me step out of line and make a fool of myself and disgrace my ministry.

When people rebuke me I take it as a compliment. It means my ministry is worth something in their eyes, and they are looking out for me. How do you accept rebuke?