As we look back at this quarter's Sabbath school lessons, we have seen a spectrum of individual and family life experiences that many of us are familiar with and can relate to either directly or indirectly through friends, relatives or co-workers. In each case, we can see how God, through His word, is there for us to guide us through the situation or circumstances and to give us hope and peace of mind.
Topics have included: conflict, forgiveness, marriage, depression, loneliness, grieving, illness, parenting, family unity, life and death, addiction, and the list goes on.
It struck me that each and every week, there has been one constant that was always there as we covered these issues and discussed them together. That constant is God's infinite, eternal, totally unselfish (agape) love for each of us individually and for the entire human race as a whole.
Scripture tells us that "God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able". Often with suffering and pain/loss in our lives there is indeed a temptation to blame God—how could He let this happen to me or a loved one? And so, we try to deal with it ourselves to get through it somehow-- "just be strong"!
I've been there myself and I suspect many of you have been there too. Just put God on a shelf and deal with it ourselves. The problem is we need to look at the last part of that same verse, 1 Corinthians 10: 13, which says "but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." He is there for us always and when our grief or despair is greatest is when He is the closest to us, just waiting for us to realize that we need Him and that we truly want His will to be done in our lives.
This does not happen naturally, for our sinful human nature does not seek after God, it is at enmity with God. It is a result of God seeking after us, His initiative, His love, and His infinite sacrifice. This brings us to the title of this week's lesson, "Turning Hearts in the End Time."
Scripture clearly tells us that "God is love":
"And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him." 1 John 4:16.
What a God! — He has done everything for us because of that eternal, infinite love including the gift and sacrifice of His only Son because He wanted all of us, the entire human race, to be with Him forever. He wants us to dwell in Him so that He may dwell in Him. Corporately, Christ as the second Adam has taken the whole human race into Himself to undo the damage done by Satan through the first Adam. And as Jesus promises us in John 15, "if you abide(remain) in Me, I will abide(remain) in you". Our hearts and minds are naturally turned away from God because of our selfish and sinful human natures. But as we behold His love, for each of us and all of us, our hearts will indeed, by faith, be turned towards Him. That faith, the faith of Jesus, the same faith He had in His Father when He came to this planet to save us, is also a gift.
God not only wants our hearts turned towards Him, He wants to give us new hearts as we become new creatures in Christ (see Romans 6).
In Ezekiel 36:26, God promises us that:
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh."
What does this mean for you and me in these final days of Earth's history? Let's look at this quote from EGW (YI Sept. 26, 1901):
"When Jesus speaks of the new heart, He means the mind, the life, the whole being. To have a change of heart is to withdraw from the affections from the world, and fasten them upon Christ. To have a new heart is to have a new mind, new purposes, new motives. What is the sign of a new heart? – a changed life. There is a daily, hourly dying to selfishness and pride."
As God's love and His sacrifice are at the core of the "most precious message" given to us in 1888, it is not surprising that Waggoner and Jones many times spoke of His desire to give us a new heart. Here are a few examples you might enjoy:
Our flesh is sinful flesh; there is in it the tendency to wrong and only wrong, — the tendency to pass over the bounds, — transgress. Now the Lord Jesus, dwelling within by His Spirit, delivers us from this power of sin that is in us, and holds us back from doing wrong. He condemns sin in our flesh, and so frees us from the power of sin. Thus, in the sense that we do not transgress, do not go over the bounds, we do not sin. ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.9
Now, on the other word: iniquity is evil-doing, bad intent. This Jesus Christ abolishes in us, takes away from us, delivers us from, and gives us a new mind, a new heart, a new spirit, a new disposition, that neither wants to do evil nor even thinks of doing evil. We commit no iniquity. ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.10
Thus, we are made free from all the life of sin that has bound us; we are made free from sinning, by the power of Christ holding us back from transgression; we are made free from iniquity, by being given another Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, which loves the good, and will neither do evil nor think evil. Thus, it is that "whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: ... whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.11
And still it is true that the best we do, when aiming to do right, when aiming at perfection, which is the only standard, — in all that we can do, we come short, we miss the mark, without the perfect merit of Jesus Christ to be our substitute and surety. ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.12 ATJ
On the other hand, the new covenant is wholly of grace, and of the work of God by grace. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.8
It is a covenant in which the work is solely the work of God, and righteousness is the righteousness of God. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.9
It is a covenant in which everyone who shares it is born of the Spirit, and who thus receives a new mind and a new heart, in which mind the law of God is put, and upon which heart that law is written by the Spirit of the living God. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.10
It is a covenant in which, by the creative power of the promise of God, each one who submits to that promise is created a child of God. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10 ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.11
It is a covenant in which, solely because of the mercy of God, and by his promise, there is obtained forgiveness of sins, full and free: the sins and iniquities to be remembered no more forever. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.12 ATJ
Sin is the transgression of the divine law. 1 John 3:4. The only effective means therefore for suppressing sin is that which enables the individual to keep that law. And as this law is infinitely higher and broader than man's law, only the Infinite One can provide the means required. And this He has done in the provisions of His gospel, which is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth." Romans 1:16. It is the privilege of Christian preachers to preach the power of God for the salvation of every sinner. It is their duty as well, and they are not true to their calling if they fail to do it. And what is "the power of God unto salvation"? The first chapter of Genesis furnishes an answer to the question. God said, "Let there be light," and "there was light." He said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters," and "it was so." He said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind," and "it was so." His word created that which did not exist before; and in "every one that believeth" His word, there is created by its power that which did not exist before, even a new heart, which is clean and without sin. Psalm 51:10. By faith, the sinner becomes a "new creature" in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17. AMS April 8, 1897, p. 210.1 ATJ
Luther, toiling on his knees up the so-called holy stairs in Rome, was trying to punish sin out of his flesh; but when he heard the voice speaking, "The just shall live by faith," he began to learn of a power able to set him free. All that system of penance and punishing of the flesh that has come into Christendom with monkery is based on the idea that there is good in man, and if only he is punished sufficiently the evil will be suppressed and the good remain. True, Jesus said, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off," but it was only a striking way of emphasizing His teaching that "from within, out of the heart of men" proceeds the evil. The trouble is not with hand, or foot, or tongue, but with the heart, and only the Lord Jesus Who can give a new heart can deal with the trouble. The new heart and the new life come with the free forgiveness of sin, and if any weary, heavy-laden one will but confess his helplessness, and choose the life of obedience, the gift is his by the power of God. Professing Christians who still want to be saved in sin and not from sin need this message of life and righteousness by the gift of God, and the myriad souls in darkness who know nothing of a burden-bearing, loving Saviour need it. BEST October 25, 1897, par. 4 EJW
Here is a test by which we may settle every question as to the lawfulness or unlawfulness of an act: Will it glorify God? If it will it is not only lawful but necessary. The man who is honest with himself before God in this question can settle which things are unlawful for him, and how far he may go in things that are necessary, as in eating and drinking. PTUK June 4, 1891, p. 185.4
"But what a hardship," says one, "to be obliged to rein ourselves up to such a test." Well, that depends on whether or not we are really the slaves of Christ; whether or not we have willingly, gladly capitulated, accepting His terms, and yielding to His service. If we have, then it is not a task to inquire what will be to His glory, and to do it. We have yielded to Him because in His infinite love and mercy He has enabled us to see that there is more to be desired in His service than in our own; and we have made His will our own. He has made us new creatures, giving us a new heart, and new purposes, so that when we do His will we are simply doing our own, for His will is ours, and our will is His. PTUK June 4, 1891, p. 185.5
"But suppose our will is His, and we have only one longing, supreme desire, namely, to do His will and glorify Him, how can we always do it?" That is answered in the very fact that we are His, wholly His. We are not our own, but have resigned ourselves into His hands as simple instruments of His will. We have no power in ourselves, but He has all power, and can make us what He wishes. And here comes in the encouragement of the thought that we serve a mighty Master, one against whom all the powers of earth and hell combined can do nothing. So, when the fierce temptation arises, when the infirmity of the flesh would cause us to fall, we, having the mind of our Master, to hate sin, flee to Him for strength, and His strength does what our weakness cannot. PTUK June 4, 1891, p. 185.6 EJW
And so, in closing, because of His infinite agape love and complete, eternal sacrifice, we today have the opportunity to respond, by faith, and allow Him to give us the new heart that we all need and that He desperately wants to give us. May that be our desire so that we can be with Him forever.
Denise grew up in a very wealthy home. Her parents were both prominent and highly regarded businesspersons who hosted many affairs in their palatial home. Many were the evenings in which Denise dined sumptuously with her parent's guests, almost all of whom were individuals of social prominence. Guest lists often included celebrities who were involved in international business enterprises abroad and desired her parent's influence to secure a particular outcome. Denise's home was listed in several magazines not only due to its size and decor but also because of its spectacular and opulent gardens. To maintain and even upgrade their lavish lifestyle, Denise's parents spared no expense. Unfortunately, Denise had come to think of her way of life as typical. It was unthinkable to her that others did not live as she did.
As Denise grew older, she became dissatisfied with life, for it seemed to lack meaning. Oh, she continued to participate in the social round of lavish parties her parents and others threw as part of her social obligations, but something seemed to be missing. Sometime during this turbulent time in her life, Denise decided to take a solo trip to a small country in South America to get away from the superficiality of her life. Out of curiosity, she decided to visit a little village miles away from the central city, to see how the native people lived. Denise hoped the experience would help her change something about her life. On her journey to the village, Denise marveled at the simple beauty of the land. The hills shimmered in the daylight as the countryside reflected the sun. No, it wasn't a glare, but a soft light seemed to bathe every tree and plant upon which she looked. Denise felt herself relaxing and thought that it was wonderful to be alive, a thought she hadn't had in a long time. Shortly after that, the bus -- if you could call it that -- pulled into town, and Denise got off. How simple and beautiful everything was.
Friendly and hospitable people were milling about everywhere, and most of them pleasantly smiled as they met Denise's glance. It was thrilling to finally arrive at the small village. In just a few minutes, it seemed that all of the shops closed right before her eyes. Bewildered, Denise wondered what was going on, and where everyone was heading. At last, she found herself alone in the street, lost, perplexed, and unsure of what to do next. Just then, an older lady passing by her living room window, saw Denise and bade her come to the door. Uncertain, Denise just stood in the street. Seeing her trepidation, a young boy came out of the house and said to her in broken English, "Will you join us for siesta?" Taking her hand, he led her into his home and to his grandmother. Once inside, Denise joined the simple family as they washed their hands and sat down to eat. Curious about their new guest who did not speak Spanish well, they communicated their welcome with hand gestures. Soon, Denise realized that if her hosts spoke slowly, she could understand them. She hoped in turn that they might be able to understand her broken Spanish, and so she attempted to speak. As the siesta time came to a close early that evening, the oldest daughter stood up, and bundled some food for Denise to take with her. Grateful, Denise tried to offer her hostess money but was kindly rebuffed. Coming close to her, the young boy who took her hand and led her into his home whispered, "to give us money is insulting; we do this because you are our guest."
Humbled, Denise never forgot her experience of genuine hospitality in that small South American village. And upon her return home, she spoke more often of that family's hospitality than she did of her parent's lavish and sumptuous entertaining affairs. You see, Denise had come to realize that there is a difference between entertaining and being hospitable. Her parents entertained to impress and amuse their guests. Fully believing the adage that "one hand washes the other," they anticipated that at the appropriate time, they would receive something of value in return for their efforts.
In contrast, the South American family expected nothing from Denise; they shared what they had. Despite the meager fare, Denise felt that her presence was desired and appreciated. This was such a far cry from her parents' practice of entertaining guests in order to make a good impression.
As prior lessons have stated, there is a difference between hospitality and entertaining. In the Middle East, hospitality is taken very seriously, for, without it, many travelers would perish in that dry, hot land. The taking into your home of strangers who are merely traveling through your area has been replaced with inviting people you like or want to impress into your home. At its core, hospitality is about the intimacy of sharing with others, while entertaining is about (you) impressing and amusing others.
The Bible defines hospitality as a "tangible expression of self-giving love… [which] springs from the hearts of those who have been touched by God's love and want to express that love in words and actions (to others)." In simple terms, hospitality is giving—it's sharing with others what God has so graciously provided for you. So, what has God given you? Perhaps you'll think of various possessions, degrees or career accomplishments. Perhaps you'll even look back at a time God healed you or a loved one of some terrible disease, or miraculously spared you from dying in that horrible accident. You may even look back at answered prayers, such as the test you passed, the job you got or the child He gave you. And these are all things to be grateful for, but, what about the intangible things He's given such as His Son? In John 3:16 we read, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God gave to you His Son; He gave you pardon and spared you from eternal death.
Furthermore, God gave you the promise of eternal life. What else has God given you? He gave His Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct you on your journey to the eternal kingdom. And in all this it can be seen that God has given Himself. Have you by faith working through agape-love received these things and made them yours? You cannot share what you do not have. You cannot give what is not yours.
The story of Mary Magdalene and Simon is perhaps one of the most striking examples of hospitality versus entertainment in scripture. Simon had invited Jesus to his home purportedly to thank Jesus for healing him from the dreaded leprosy, yet he did not display the common courtesies afforded a guest, let alone a guest of honour. According to Ellen White, Simon was more interested in the approbation of his esteemed colleagues, the Pharisees. Mary on the other hand was someone who gave her all to Jesus in a tangible expression of love. This was expressed through the pouring out of the lavish, incredibly expensive Spikenard – fit for a king, onto His head and feet, the washing and wiping of His feet with her hair, and her profuse tears.
While Simon, his guests and even the disciples, condemned Mary for her very real demonstration of hospitality, Jesus praised her. By Jesus' response, those who were condemning were rebuked, while Simon was rebuked for condemning as well as entertaining instead of being hospitable. In Luke 7:44-47 we read—
Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet. You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on My feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
The text establishes the contrast. Those who get a hold of God's agape-love are hospitable; while those who neither understand nor receive, choose to entertain. God wants to make us loving, hospitable people, who invite others into His presence; let's allow Him to have His way, so that others may be loved into His kingdom.
Memory Text:Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2
We are told in inspiration that we are not to lower our standards at all to meet man in his fallen condition. We are also counseled by the Apostle Paul that we are to, in some extent, to accommodate ourselves to the culture of the people we are trying to reach, if it is in areas that are not a compromise or dishonoring to God in terms of our call to holiness and to be a distinct people, separate from the world.
I recently heard an individual in an administrative capacity state that if anyone discusses any area of problem or concern in the church, they are being "critical" of the church and thus disloyal to it.
The truth is that we need to understand the "fruits" of the Gospel, as we are sanctified by faith in Christ, and experience the truth of "Christ in us, the hope of glory." The goodness of God leads to repentance. The act of Christ redeeming the race, showing His love by dying for each of us, in the true believer brings about a response of faith and appreciation, and true faith works by love and purifies the soul. If we place ourselves utterly under the control of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are led into truth, into His will, and into his wisdom for dealing with each situation, and how to reach a heart, that they might find Christ and become a part of His family and kingdom.
Thus, every act, thought, belief, if under the spirit of Christ, will be according to His will, and as importantly, His Word, for we are to live by "every word of God." I heard once that the argument of women's ordination should be decided through a study of culture, and the growing justice and fairness in the experience of women in modern society. I am not addressing the specific issue, but the mentality that culture should dictate how we resolve issues. Whatever the issue, it must be decided by the Word of God, for we are to speak to culture, preach the everlasting truths of God's Word, His morality, His ethics, His eternal truths, and not "bend with the wind from whichever way it blows." For culture to rule over Scriptures would result in the diminishing of Scripture, and in my time in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I have seen a growing need to get back to strict adherence to the Word of God. We are to LIVE by every word of God, not merely acknowledge that it is intellectually correct, and that means self-discipline, a deep immersion into the Word of God, and a deep surrender to the Holy Spirit.
Philippians 2:15 "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world." We are to lighten the world with the glory of God, not be dimmed by the world. Culture is to be warned that some of its practices and ideas are bringing spiritual death. The desire to be "like" the world so as to be comfortable in it misses the essential truth that we will be called "extremists and fanatics" because we choose not to follow the world's practices, but to "Come apart, and be ye separate", and "Love not the world or the things of the world."
Joe Crews once wrote a booklet called "Creeping Compromise." As I read it, I felt that he was largely correct, that the calling we have is to holiness, practical godliness, and it begins and ends in the heart, in the total surrender to serve God in love. Donald Short's book "Cleansing of the Sanctuary" is very clear that a true Christian experience of grace, through faith in Christ, and the resultant heart change that God gives us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, results in the fruits of righteousness. We allow Christ to live out His life in us.
Paul's counsel is related to the dignity, respect, humility, and sensitivity we apply to every situation, in every culture, to seek to understand and reach the heart. It takes creativity at times. I was once in a home in Mongolia, and the woman wanted to feed me something that would have been inappropriate and unhealthy to eat. I told her that "my Physician" told me I was not to eat that, and she accepted that without being insulted. Of course, I was speaking of the Great Physician. I once was offered to drink a glass of lemonade in a village in Central India, which was made from water in the local river. I was the first Adventist ever to visit that village, and the entire village was standing around me. Would you drink it? I did, and then took a half a canister of powdered charcoal to save my life, and I did not get sick. You may have chosen differently, but my point is that we engage culture, and make decisions all the time, seeking to be faithful to God, and yet respectful to those we are serving. I once experienced Mongolian New Year, in which we travelled house to house during the day, sampling their food and exchanging small gifts. In some cases, we were the first Christians and Americans to enter some of their homes. I was later criticized for "eating between meals." If you ever do get the opportunity to do missionary work, and you will, for the US is a mission field, you will find that principles and practices interconnect with social and cultural situations in which you try to be faithful to God, but to be tactful, gentle, and to not offend as well.
Culture reflects both the results of our fallen condition, and the continual work of the Holy Spirit. There are beliefs and practices which are not out of harmony with God's principles, and those we can support without compromise. In addition, Satan mixes truth with error, so that we have to be very wise and discerning. We also have to put the salvation of a soul above other issues on occasion. I once knew a woman who came to church, after being absent for 8 years. She brought a chocolate cake with her to share, and to celebrate her return. Someone took her aside and told her we "don't eat sugary deserts in this church, as we believe in the health message." The woman has never come back to church, in over ten years. This is obedience run amok, to the point of extremism, and insensitivity to the real issues. I fully believe in the health message, and I have my Doctoral degree in naturopathy, but I would have eaten a piece of that cake, and hugged the woman and told her how happy I was she had come back. There are boundaries. I would not have eaten meat, if she had brought that. She would have found out that there are issues with white refined sugar, etc. later on. If you disagree, please read a paper on the internet entitled "146 reasons not to eat sugar", which presents all the medical research on the subject. Educate, rather than admonish, is good counsel. We must do away with the "cookie cutter" approach, in which everyone has to look, eat, dress, talk, worship exactly the same. It is not reality, and from a Biblical perspective, it is wrong. Certain ministries, for example, feel they have a "reputation" to maintain, but if the reputation becomes that of wounding a heart, I would suggest the priorities need to change a bit. Love the sinner, and hate the sin, is a difficult attainment, which takes a great deal of prayer.
In these examples, we may differ in how we would respond, but I hope and pray that we would all agree that the human being's salvation is more important than anything else, and thus our constant need is to seek to apply Biblical principles in the effort towards restoration and healing of the human soul.
I and my wife have been to 6 continents, and what I have learned is very simple. We all are more alike than different, we all have a sinful nature, we all have a Savior, and His work transcends culture, to the Heavenly culture, for we are to live like citizens of Heaven.
How we affect change is vital to our understanding of Christian conduct. Control, abuse, manipulation, misuse of power in the attempt to "make" people conform is not Christlike, but is the precursor to the eventual receiving of the Mark of the Beast. We need to learn patience, acceptance, understanding, and great wisdom. The reality is, as well, that people, cultures, etc. change. For example, many of you have heard or participated in discussions of whether or not women should wear pants, because the Bible says men and women are to dress different from each other. I then ask the question. Men are now wearing earrings, and in some cultures, including our own, men are beginning to wear dresses. How do you then respond? When I saw the Tomb of David in Jerusalem, I put on the small cap that they requested we wear, to show respect for their beliefs, as I did not feel that "identified" with their beliefs, or compromised my own. If we are ever going to fully evangelize the world for Christ, we must develop the mindset that can enter into their experience, understand them, without dishonoring Christ. Love overlooks a multitude of sins.
I am seeing the SDA church changing, and in terms of methods, approaches, etc. that is very positive. The eternal values and principles do not change. For example, we are to allow a flexibility in worship styles, up to a point, but to know where the boundaries are, and what does not honor God through an appeal to the flesh or to emotionalism. Dress, recreation, entertainment changes, yet we are to "guard carefully the avenues to our soul." The danger is the loss of values, as a new generation of SDAs takes over for previous ones. We have done very well in our growing expression and understanding of grace, love, and the forgiveness of sins. I believe we have subtly lost the sense that God is Holy. Sin still hurts us, love of the world still hurts us, self and materialism still hurts us, and definitely a failure to grasp true Christianity and the true fruit of the Spirit hurts us. The answer is to have the mind of Christ, and He will give balance, perspective, discernment, wisdom, and deep compassionate love.
I ask you a challenging question. If the entire church went one direction, and right was in the other direction, which path would you take? Two paths in the woods diverged, and I…………………………. May God bless you to understand the need for constant dependence on, and guidance from Christ. The Greatest of These IS Love.