Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23 NLT
In Jesus’ time and place, when people picked up their cross, it was to die, just like Jesus picked up His cross to die. Jesus said this must be done every day. (Luke 9:23) Years later He told the Church of Smyrna
But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10 NLT
I have to wonder if people fully grasp what Jesus meant by, “take up your cross daily” and “remain faithful even when facing death.” I fear I live in an age with a very shallow concept of faithfulness. Athletes change teams as easily as changing underwear. People promise at the altar to love until death, but disappear when the next flirt comes along. Today’s employers don’t even want faithful long-term employees, because they don’t want to pay anyone enough to be faithful to their company.
I fear we live in an age where everything is supposed to be convenient. Suffering long simply means waiting a couple seconds for a webpage to download. When was the last time you heard baptismal vows read before a baptism? How many know what baptismal vows are? It’s easy to be faithful when there is no standard to be faithful to. God said, “Let us create man in our own image,” but for the last six thousand years, we have been saying, “No! Let’s create God in our own image.” It’s easier to be faithful when we are the ones who make the rules.
Recently, while reading The Great Controversy, I understood the importance of everyone worshiping according to their own convictions. But how many times do we call it conviction when it is actually personal taste? There is a difference between following your personal convictions, and just following your personal desires.
Occasionally, I get a call from someone telling me they were sorry they missed church, but they had a really hard week. What I don’t tell them is that millions who also had a really hard week attended church that weekend.
Families will tell me it’s hard to get out to midweek service, with school and homework and all. Really? Did school and homework just begin around 2014? Millions of folks have been attending midweek services for ages now, and I am quite sure they had kids in school too. Homework is nothing new.
Yet in an age of shallow faithfulness and outright selfishness, John sees that God has produced a special people like no other people before.
They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. Revelation 14:4 NLT
The Lamb went to the cross and gave up His life. Am I right in assuming this is included in “Following the Lamb wherever He goes?”
Now, while I’m whining about people not understanding what it means to be faithful, there are people dying for their faith around the world in the face of terrorism. While I look around and question if others are living up to their conscience and convictions, God is tapping my shoulder and telling me, “Why are you so worried about everyone else? William, you are not exactly the best Christian I have on earth right now. Not even close. I have seven thousand who have never bowed the knee to Baal, and to be honest, William, you are not one of them! Why don’t you pray for yourself while praying for everyone else?”
There are people in every church from Adventist to Catholic, and every church in between who know what it means to take up their cross and be faithful, even in the face of death. And here I am sitting in my cozy house on my nice comfy chair with my laptop just typing about it. What a wimp I am! And to think I’m the one wondering if everyone else knows what it means to be faithful! I think I still have a few things to learn about sacrifice and faithfulness. How about you?
Back in 1991 my wife and I leased an old red brick building in downtown Nampa, Idaho, as our art studio. For $200/month we got 5,000 square feet of space on the second floor of a 100-year-old building, including a large room we used as our photo studio. After a year we ended up hiring an assistant and a couple young artists.
At some point in late 1992 we got the idea of opening a free hot lunch for whoever needed a good meal. The local Salvation Army ran a hot lunch program and they assured us they would be grateful to have one day off a week. As a teenager I had worked summers for an industrial catering company in northern British Columbia, so I felt comfortable cooking for a large crowd. We converted the room next to the photo studio into a kitchen, made a “Free Hot Lunch” sign for the sidewalk outside our building and waited to see what would happen. Naturally we had no idea what we were getting into.
Every Wednesday for the next 14 years, we fed whoever wanted a hot, nutritious and tasty meal. Our average weekly group was usually 40 to 60 people. It became a company tradition, and our staff would pitch in as they were able, as well as enjoying the free meals themselves. Most of all, my wife and I were blessed by the experience. We learned practical lessons about helping the poor that could not have been learned any other way.
Here is what we discovered. First, there are always genuinely needy people who are desperate for help. But then there are also freeloaders. The freeloaders would come upstairs and see what we had. If they didn’t like it, we’d notice them eating a meal in the restaurant across the street. Some were on government assistance, we assumed, because they didn’t work, but they seemed able-bodied and intelligent. A few actually had jobs and saw the free lunch sign and would simply stop by to eat in order to save money, never offering to help or pitch in. Our food was usually pretty delicious. A gourmet bakery in Boise, for example, supplied us with a weekly giant bag of their best rustic breads for years. We’d often have an ethnic theme – Chinese, Italian, Indian, etc. – and we would plate the food restaurant-style for our guests. In fact that was our mandate – to treat these people with the same respect as paying customers in a restaurant.
Over time we noticed that the ratio of truly needy people to these less-than-worthy folk was about 4 to 1, or about 25% freeloaders. But we also realized that this was the price of helping the truly suffering. There was no practical way to stand at the door and say “You can come in, but you can’t.” We had to let that concern go.
Our hot lunch program had the effect of putting dozens of people intimately into our lives. We got to know each by name. We learned their circumstances and their struggles. And we had our ideas about the poor turned upside down. We discovered what real disadvantaged struggling is. There are so many examples that come to mind, but I will mention Mike.
Mike looked to be around 45 years old when he first showed up for a hot meal. We came to know him as being kind and gregarious, cheerfully offering to help clean up after the meals or run an errand. One day in November I noticed his chronic cough and asked him how he was doing. He said that the rain was really getting him down. I asked why and was surprised by his reply. He said he was living in a hole he had dug in the ground which he shared with his dog, but that it was getting hard to keep dry with all the rain. I had to see this for myself, so I walked with him back to “his place” and, sure enough, in a field less than a half mile away by a railroad track was an old tree on an empty lot and a hole about three feet across. It was about 10 feet deep and lined all around with thick cardboard. It was hard to believe that he had lived in there since the past summer. I asked him if I could send one of our staff down to take a video of his home and he gave us permission. Somewhere I have that old video tape. We were able to get him into an inexpensive rental house and hired him as a part-time handyman. He worked for us for a few years until his emphysema got too bad to work and he passed away a couple years later. Mike was a hard worker and would do anything for anyone.
We also discovered that many people fall through the cracks. The ones that were suffering the most were those with mild mental and social disorders. People simply will not hire these people, but many choose not to take advantage of government social programs, or they are confused about what the government can do to help them. They basically struggle mightily from day to day.
We also learned that helping others doesn’t always end up like the happy news stories you see on television. We helped one homeless young man get back into school, even paying for him to attend an Adventist boarding academy. But eventually the earlier issues of abuse in his life, among other factors, lead him to quit school and return to the streets and drugs. But we still believe the seeds of hope were sown, so we never consider these efforts to be wasted.
But other efforts succeeded beyond our expectations. We sponsored one young penniless Rwandan refugee stuck in Cameroon (a long story) all the way through to getting his PhD at our Adventist University in the Philippines. Today he is the Chancellor of a large Adventist University in Rwanda.
Ultimately we learned that we couldn’t base our efforts only on what we thought would be the results. Ellen White writes about “disinterested benevolence” – the idea of helping with no thought as to reward or positive outcome. We do it because Jesus commands us to love unconditionally. That doesn’t mean throwing money and resources to the wind. But it does recognize that we leave the results to God and, most importantly, we acknowledge that to help others not only requires some sacrifice, but also that there will always be those that come along for the ride who are not worthy. The idea that one can help others in a meaningful way, without any risk that some of your efforts will be lost, is not realistic in this world. If you seek for a risk-free guarantee that the help you give will always result in success, then you will be disappointed. If you insist upon it, you will end up doing nothing.
Over time, my wife and I have realized that millions of people, either consciously or unconsciously, decide not to help because they are focused on the risks and the freeloaders. And that goes for government programs for the poor as well. In their way of thinking, the fact that some abuse the system is enough reason to end the help for all. The price of helping those 3 out of 4 people is too high if it means also helping that 4th person who does not need it. And God, being a gentleman, doesn’t force us to help anyone.
But oh the blessing these people miss out on! The Bible is not being idealistic or just lyrical when it states that it is “more blessed to give than to receive.” It is a principle of our existence. Over the years we had countless times when a grey discouraging day would reverse itself after feeding people less blessed than ourselves – at least in the material sense. We made many dear friends whom we would and could not have known without offering to help. Some we expect to meet again in heaven.
Often we’d only meet people once. Like the time a freak rain storm lasted three weeks and the local field laborers went without work or money. We saw those young men – most were probably undocumented workers – so desperately hungry, chowing down with grateful hearts, and the young woman with three little toddlers, who had arrived by the bus terminal a block away but whose expected help on arrival fell through, eating a hot yummy meal. We also saw the many “rail riders,”or modern hobos that would come up from the nearby railroad for our Wednesday hot lunch (word somehow spread up and down the railroad system) – as so many more people to bless us. They did more for us than we did for them!
There’s another lesson I recall: Family and friends were worried that having all these homeless people walking around our studio, filled with expensive high-end computer equipment and peripherals, artwork, and valuables, not to mention our children who had the free run of our studio, was too great a risk. We were warned we would be sorry for letting these people in unsupervised. But in 14 years we never had one single thing stolen, and our children grew up knowing that helping others is a way of life. When we moved to Canada and finally put a sign on our door that our Wednesday Hot Lunch program had ended, some disappointed person kicked our front glass door and cracked it. But that is all I can remember that was taken from us materially.
So how does this relate to the Syrian refugee crisis? It seems to me that I am hearing some of the same arguments that we faced when we started our hot lunch program. What about the bad people who could sneak in with the worthy poor? What about the danger that they will hurt us more than help us?
These questions can be answered by the Christian perspective. The Scriptures tell us that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Ro 5:6) The blood of Calvary paid the price for every person that will ever live, so great is that gift. But not everyone will be saved. The gift will be wasted on some. But God still gave it. He considered the risk worth it.
All meaningful charity carries risk. Love often demands we take the risk. If we want to be free of risk we can stay home, watch TV, criticize the efforts of others, and do nothing. Or we can encourage our government to use our tax dollars to help the helpless, knowing full well that there will be a price to pay for our benevolence. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be extremely careful in our vetting and screening of refugees. But it certainly means that we don’t use the risks as a license to do nothing, which rejects the mandate we have as Christ’s followers.
Jesus said “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” And then He added “Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt 10:16)
So is it really more blessed to give than receive? One’s faith can decide that question. Kim and I believe the answer is yes, not only in spiritual and emotional terms, but even in material terms. Helping the Syrian refugees will ultimately bless America. God has promised it will be so. In 1955 a baby was born in San Francisco to Joanne Schieble and Abdul Fattah Jandali, a Syrian immigrant. The child was born out of wedlock and was put up for adoption, certainly less than a perfect storybook start. But we all know that child as the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, who, it could be safely argued, has been a materialistic blessing to the United States.
But beyond all these considerations is one underlying principle that must color our decisions: God is love. As individuals, and as a nation, we take risks to help others because that is the nature of love.
Tapping into the widespread admiration of basketball icon Michael Jordan, a highly successful TV ad named “Be Like Mike” was launched on August 8, 1991. Michael’s effervescent smile, his passion for the game and his superior athletic skills made him a household name all around the world. Everyone wanted to be like Mike, including me at times.
Everyone likes a winner. Even if we root for the underdog, our hope is that they will overcome the obstacles to become a winner. We are attracted to those who are bigger than life and in general, we imitate those we elevate. Even all these years removed from Michael Jordan playing professional basketball, sports enthusiast are still measuring the achievements of today’s star athletes to the Michael that soared into our dreams. Everyone wanted to be like Mike. You may be asking what the connection of that commercial many years ago is to our subject this week, Josiah’s Reforms. As I read again the history of Josiah and the incredible story of his reign from the age of eight until his death, I thought to myself, I want to be like Josiah. As a point of clarification, no, I would never want the responsibility of an entire nation on my shoulders at an age when most children are concerned with anything other than being in charge. I can’t begin to fathom the impact of that moment on the young king. As adults, we are challenged with leadership even with many years of experience. Compounding the seriousness of Josiah’s role as king was the fact that his was not just another nation. That in itself would be daunting. But Josiah was to rule over a nation that was birthed to be a representative of the one true God. Theirs was no ordinary nation and it would take nothing short of extraordinary actions on the part of Josiah to save the nation from the impending destruction. Josiah would have to defy the expectations that he would imitate the rulership of his father and grandfather. History is replete with stories of children who imitate their parents. Bad behavior modeled at home by parents is often repeated in the homes of the children once they become adults. It takes something special in an individual to break the negative molds of life.
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty and one years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left. 2 Kings 22:1-2
Josiah modeled three characteristics that all leaders should have. Actually, anyone and everyone is better for possessing these three things. I like to call them the Three C’s of Leadership. The first C is Courage. For Josiah to lead the nation in a godly path would take more than just a desire. He would need courage to go against ingrained systems of power and to stand against forces of evil within the nation. I don’t know how he could be so courageous at such a young age, but he was. I want to be like Josiah when it comes to courage. It’s comforting to know that what courage I lack, God can supply as needed. We are told to not worry about tomorrow and to trust God today.
Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24
The second C is Conviction. To know what is right is one thing. To act on that knowledge, despite the contrary pressures one may face, is an entirely different thing. How easily Josiah could have spent his reign amassing wealth and power. Thankfully for the nation Josiah had strong convictions and they guided his reign as king. The path before him was to lead his people in faithfulness to God. I admire Josiah for his strong convictions. A person without convictions is a person who does not know their God-designed destiny.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58
The third and last C is Caring. The reign of Josiah was not an exercise in narcissism. It was not all about him, but instead, he cared about what would happen to the people. After the Book of the Law was discovered and read to the king, we hear in Josiah’s words his care for Judah.
Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us. 2 Kings 22:13
A crisis was before the nation and not of his making. Yet Josiah, this child king, was the right man at the right time. His godly leadership spared the nation for a time the wrath of God and his legacy is forever etched in God’s word. His care for the nation he ruled over compelled him to do everything within his power to bring them into allegiance with God. We should all strive to do the same in our spheres of life.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9
Who could have ever imagined that a boy king could have such an impact on a kingdom? He defied the odds and committed his life to doing the right thing, not just for himself, but for the entire nation. Courage, Conviction and Care. I want to be like Josiah. Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
- What does a reform mean to you?
- Are reforms primarily about going back to how things were formally done? Explain your answer.
- Is it true that the older the traditions a church holds/practices, the safer they are to follow? Why yes or no.
- What does a “reformed” church look like?
- What does a “reformed” person look like?
- Is it true that a change of behavior without a change of heart is still better than no change at all? Why yes or no?
- Was the Old Testament God stricter than the New Testament God? Explain your answer.
- Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: God is more concerned with my heart than with my actions. Explain your answer.
We close this week’s lesson with some direction to the New Testament Timothy. Even the young can impact the world for God. “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!
You can view an in-depth discussion of “Josiah’s Reforms” in the Hope Sabbath School class led by Pastor Derek Morris. (Adobe Flash Player version.) A Youtube version of this week’s lesson at Hope Sabbath School is below. You can download the video, the MP3 audio, and the lesson outline from the HopeTV Sabbath School Site. You might also want to bookmark the HopeSS YouTube Channel. Click Here to Watch.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer. 29:13, NIV). What has been your own experience with this promise? What does
with all your heart mean?
The Lord knows the beginning from the end. Even while people in Jerusalem were still fighting the Babylonians, still hoping that the words of the false prophets were true, the Lord was using Jeremiah to speak to the future, to speak to those who were already in Babylon and to those who would eventually be there. And what words he spoke!
Read Jeremiah 29:1-14. How is the love and mercy of God revealed in these texts?
Here was a true message of grace, unlike the false message of
grace that the people had heard from the prophets who told them that their exile would be over in short order, even just two years. That was not God’s plan, and it was not going to happen. Instead, based on the clear teachings of Moses, they had to accept that this was their fate, at least for now; but just as Moses had said, if they repented, they would be restored to the land.
We have been given the prophetic gift in the wonderful ministry of Ellen G. White. How can we be sure that we don’t show the same attitude toward her today that many (but not all) had toward Jeremiah?
You can view an in-depth discussion of “The Destruction of Jerusalem” in the Hope Sabbath School class led by Pastor Derek Morris. (Adobe Flash Player version.) A Youtube version of this week’s lesson at Hope Sabbath School is below.
The siege of Jerusalem began in earnest in January, 588 b.c., and lasted until the late summer of 586 b.c. Jerusalem had been able to hold out for more than two years before Jeremiah’s prophetic words were fulfilled, and the Babylonian troops broke through the wall and destroyed the city. Starvation was so bad inside the walls that the defenders lost all strength and couldn’t resist any longer.
King Zedekiah fled with his family, but in vain. He was captured and taken to Nebuchadnezzar, who had his sons executed before his eyes. We can read much of this sad story in Jeremiah 39:1-10.
Read Jeremiah 40:1-6. What is the significance of the words of Nebuzaradan to Jeremiah?
How fascinating that this pagan commander understood the situation so much better than did Jeremiah’s own people! Obviously the Babylonians knew something about Jeremiah and his work, and they were treating him differently than they did the others, such as Zedekiah (see Jer. 39:11-12). Just why this pagan leader attributed the demise of Jerusalem to the Lord as a punishment for the sins of the people rather than to the superiority of his own gods over Judah’s, the text doesn’t say. Whatever the reason, it’s a startling testimony to how, even amid such unnecessary calamity, the Lord had revealed something about Himself to the pagans.
What choice would Jeremiah make-go with the captives to Babylon, or stay behind with those remaining? Neither prospect would be particularly appealing, considering the circumstances for them all. Certainly, though, the spiritual needs of both groups would have been great, and Jeremiah could minister wherever he went. Jeremiah decided to stay among the group that remained behind in the land, with the poor people who no doubt were going to need all the encouragement and help that they could get (see Jer. 40:6-7).
How can you learn to minister to others, regardless of the situation you are in? Why is it important, even for yourself, that you minister in whatever way you can?
Zedekiah, whose name means
righteousness of Yahweh, was the last king on the throne of Judah before its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 b.c. At first he seemed to have been willing to obey the words of Jeremiah and submit to the Babylonians. However, this attitude did not last.
Read Jeremiah 37:1-10. What was Jeremiah’s warning to King Zedekiah?
Under pressure from his subjects, most likely the nobility, Zedekiah ignored the warnings of Jeremiah and made a military alliance with the Egyptians instead, in hopes of staving off the Babylonian threat. (See Ezek. 17:15-18.) As he had been duly warned, salvation didn’t come from the Egyptians after all.
Read Jeremiah 38:1-6. What happened to Jeremiah (again) because of his proclaiming the word of God to the people?
As Jesus said,
‘A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house’ (Mark 6:4). Poor Jeremiah again faced the wrath of his own countrymen. Like the rest of the nation, though, Jeremiah couldn’t say that he hadn’t been warned. In this case though, the warning was about the trials that he would face if he stayed faithful, which he did!
How difficult it must have been for Jeremiah, too, because he was accused of weakening the morale of the nation. After all, when the people were facing an enemy from without, whom they wanted to fight against, and Jeremiah had been going around for years and years saying it’s a lost cause, that they couldn’t win, and that even the Lord was against them-it’s understandable that you would want to shut him up. So hardened in sin, they didn’t hear the voice of the Lord talking to them; indeed, they thought it was the voice of an enemy instead.
However difficult the pit was, think about how much harder it was for Jeremiah to hear the charge against him that he was seeking the hurt, not the welfare, of his own people. What’s it like to be accused of hurting the very ones you are trying to help?
Though Jeremiah might have felt very much alone at times, he wasn’t. God had raised up Ezekiel, a contemporary, among the captives in Babylon, in order to comfort and to warn the exiles as well as to confirm what the Lord had been speaking through Jeremiah all these long and hard years.
Through his ministry, Ezekiel was to warn the captives against the folly of believing the false predictions of an early return from Babylon. He was also to foretell, by various symbols and messages, the devastating siege that would eventually befall Jerusalem because of the people’s refusal to repent and turn away from their sin and apostasy.
Read Ezekiel 8:1-18. What was the prophet shown? What does this tell us about how powerful the prevailing culture can be, and how it can impact even the most sacred things? What warnings should be here for us?
No matter how often, and clearly, the writings of Moses and the prophets warned against idolatry and worshiping other gods, these verses show that this is exactly what was being done, even within the sacred precincts of the temple.
Weeping for Tammuz was a lamentation ritual for a Mesopotamian god. No wonder 2 Chronicles said:
Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 36:14).
Look carefully at Ezekiel 8:12. The translation about the chambers of their own
imagery is a little ambiguous. It could mean the chambers where they stored their own idols, or it could mean the chambers of their own imagination, their own hearts. Either way, the elders, the leaders, had fallen so far that they said the Lord didn’t see what they were doing, that the Lord had abandoned them. It is another way of saying,
The Lord doesn’t care about these things; they aren’t important. Right there, in the sacred precincts of God’s temple, these people engaged in the grossest idolatry, doing everything that they had specifically been forbidden by God’s words to do. Even worse, in their own minds they justified their deeds. Here we see again what Paul meant when he talked about those who worshiped the creation instead of the Creator (see Rom. 1:22-25).
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (Jeremiah 29:7, NIV).
Within a few short years the king of Babylon was to be used as the instrument of God’s wrath upon impenitent Judah. Again and again Jerusalem was to be invested [surrounded] and entered by the besieging armies of Nebuchadnezzar. Company after company-at first a few only, but later on thousands and tens of thousands-were to be taken captive to the land of Shinar, there to dwell in enforced exile. Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah-all these Jewish kings were in turn to become vassals of the Babylonian ruler, and all in turn were to rebel. Severer and yet more severe chastisements were to be inflicted upon the rebellious nation, until at last the entire land was to become a desolation, Jerusalem was to be laid waste and burned with fire, the temple that Solomon had built was to be destroyed, and the kingdom of Judah was to fall, never again to occupy its former position among the nations of earth.”-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 422, 423.
As we have seen, and will see, none of this came upon them without plenty of warnings and pleadings by the prophets, especially Jeremiah. Their refusal to obey brought only ruin. May we learn from their mistakes!
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 5.
Treating the wounds was nearly as painful as the burns themselves. Every day nurses removed the bandages and soaked the burns in salt water. Then they gently scraped the burns to remove the dead skin. This would help prevent infection. The nurses taught Mrs. Banda how to wash the wounds and apply the medicine. She stayed in the hospital with her husband and son to prepare their meals and help care for them.
After two long months Pastor Banda insisted that he could stay no longer in the hospital. His muscles were weak, and he could barely walk, but he was concerned about his church members.
After Pastor Banda returned home, Joshua and his mother remained in the hospital for four more months. Every day his mother talked gently to him as she cleaned and dressed his wounds. Her presence strengthened the boy and gave him hope.
It was difficult for the family to be separated for so many months. They couldn’t visit one another, but they could pray.
After six months Joshua was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital for another three months of physical therapy. He couldn’t walk, but he learned to shuffle along behind a walker. His mother began a new routine of daily therapy. She soaked his legs in warm water, then stretched the muscles in his legs. It was painful, but she urged Joshua to sing instead of cry.
At last Joshua was able to go home, but his mother continued treating him and encouraged him to walk. When he saw his friends playing outside, he wanted to play too. After a year of recovery and therapy Joshua was able to walk without help.
Pastor Banda’s recovery took a long time too. His damaged leg muscles would not stretch enough to allow him to ride a bicycle. And this made it very difficult for him to get from one church to another in the countryside. But his churches continued to grow in size and in faith.
Pastor Banda knows that throughout their ordeal God was beside each member of the family, encouraging, blessing, and healing.
God was blessing us even during our most difficult hour, he says.
When I returned to work from the hospital, the church prospered even more, and more people came into the church than had been coming before the fire.
Mrs. Banda was also grateful for God’s blessings during the terrible ordeal.
I thank God for saving my husband and son, she says.
This experience taught me the importance of spending more time with my family. I had failed to notice some special qualities in little Joshua that I saw when he was in the hospital. For example, he has a wonderful talent for singing that I did not fully realize until I heard him singing while he was confined to his bed in the hospital. During our long hospital stay we had time to become good friends with each other and with God.
After studying at Solusi University in Zimbabwe, Wesley Banda is now an ordained minister working in Malawi. While at Solusi, Oliva Banda also took some classes, as time permitted.
As we have seen, people want to believe good news, not bad. They wanted to believe, for instance, in Hananiah’s message, not Jeremiah’s. Today the same thing happens as well. Many still insist, for instance, that our world will only improve over time.
Yet, even an atheist like Terry Eagleton sees just how farcical that idea is:
If ever there was a pious myth and piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world. This brittle triumphalism is a hangover from the heroic epoch of liberalism, when the middle classes’ star was in the ascendant. Today, it sits cheek by jowl with the cynicism, skepticism, or nihilism into which much of that honorable lineage has degenerated.–Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, (Yale University Press), Kindle Edition, p. 70. Though some aspects of life have improved, our world, in and of itself, offers us little hope, little consolation, especially in the long run. If we are to have any real hope, it has to be in something divine, not earthly, in something supernatural, not natural. And of course, that’s what the gospel is all about: God’s divine and supernatural intervention in our world and our lives. Without that, what do we have other than just more Hananiahs and their lies?
- Think about our earth’s future as a whole, even if from a purely human standpoint. Does it look hopeful and full of promise, or does it look fearful, dangerous, and full of uncertainty? What reasons can you give for your answers?
- Jeremiah’s message, as we saw in the context of Hananiah’s lies, was to look at the past, to look at history, and to learn from it. Ellen G. White wrote something similar:
We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.–Life Sketches, p. 196. What does she mean by that? What has happened in our past, and God’s teaching in it, that can help us be prepared for what will undoubtedly come in the future?
- Hananiah gave a false message of grace. What are some of those false messages of grace today that we must guard ourselves against? Grace, of course, is our only hope, but in what ways can it be presented as a lie?
Hear now, Hananiah; The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie (Jer. 28:15).
The answer about who was right, whether Jeremiah or Hananiah, came soon enough. Jeremiah 28:16-17 tells the fate of the false prophet, which was just what the true prophet had said it would be.
Though Hananiah died, he still had done damage to the nation. His works, in a sense, followed him. He made the people
to trust in a lie. The Hebrew verb is hiphil, a causative form of the verb
to trust. He caused them to trust in a lie, not in the sense of physically forcing them, but through deception. Even though the Lord had not sent him, he spoke in the name of the Lord, which carried a lot of weight in Judah. Added to that, Hananiah’s message of
redemption was certainly something that the people wanted to hear, considering the great threat that Babylon posed to the nation. It was, though, a false
gospel, a false message of salvation that the Lord had not given them. So, at a time when the people needed to hear the words of Jeremiah and the message of redemption that he brought, they listened to the words of Hananiah instead, and this made their woes only worse.
Things are no different today: we are in the great controversy, a battle for the hearts and minds of the world’s billions. Satan is working diligently to get as many as possible to
trust in a lie, and that lie can come in many guises and forms, just as long as it is always a lie. After all, because Jesus said
I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), Satan’s lies can be about anything and everything, just as long as they don’t contain the truth as it is in Jesus.
What are some of the lies that are so prevalent in your culture today? Why is clinging to Jesus, and His Word, our only protection against them?
Key Thought : Jeremiah lived out his message in a personal way, as he abstained from a lot of social interaction.
1. Have a volunteer read Jeremiah 16:1-8.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. Why did God tell Jeremiah not to marry, have a family, go to any celebrations, or any funerals of mourning?
c. Personal Application : How difficult would it be for you to isolate yourself from others in order to serve God faithfully? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your relatives states: “This seems so cold and unlike God’s grace and love. What does this tell us about the tension between God’s grace and mercy and His justice?” How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Jeremiah 27:12-17.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. Why would this message seem to be treason to anyone who heard it?
c. Personal Application : What does the future of the US look like to you? Does it look hopeful or fearful and dangerous? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your friends states, “What are some signs to help us determine if a person who claims to be giving prophecy is speaking the truth or not?” How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Jeremiah 28:1-9.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is. b. How could a message of grace be presented as a lie today?
c. Personal Application: What kind of gospel message are we giving today? Is it toned down to the point of having no effect? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your neighbors states, “Is it wrong to give a message of love, comfort, grace, and forgiveness in these times in preparation for the Lord to come?” How would you respond to your neighbor?
4. Have a volunteer read Jeremiah 28:11-14.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Why is it so difficult to accept discipline instead of continually fighting against it?
c. Personal Application: What are some of the lies prevalent in our culture? How do we hold to the truth and for the truth? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” Ministry of Healing, p. 148).
The battle between the prophets wasn’t just one of words, but of deeds as well. In obedience to the command of God, Jeremiah put the wooden yoke around his neck; this was an overt symbol of the message that he had carried to the people.
What was the prophetic symbolism of Hananiah’s act? Jer. 28:1-11.
Imagine, for example, that after Jesus cursed the fig tree (Mark 11:13, Mark 11:19-21), someone who had heard what Jesus said and knew what had happened had replanted a new fig tree in the same spot, all in an attempt to refute the prophecy of Jesus there. This is what Hananiah did with Jeremiah and the prophecy that the yoke around his neck symbolized. It was an act of open defiance of what Jeremiah said.
Note, too, Jeremiah’s reaction. The texts record nothing of what he said right after the yoke was broken. He just turned around and walked away. If the story ended there, it would have seemed that the prophet had retreated in defeat.
Read Jeremiah 28:12-14. What happened next? What was Jeremiah’s new message?
Jeremiah’s response wasn’t a message of revenge: you did this to me, so I will do that to you. Instead, it was another clear message from the Lord, but even stronger than what came before. Hananiah might have been able to break a wooden yoke, but who can break an iron one? In a sense, what the Lord said to them was that by their obstinacy and refusal to obey, they only were making matters worse. If you thought a wooden yoke was bad, try an iron one.
Who hasn’t learned the hard way about making things more difficult for ourselves by obstinacy? When dealing with the Lord, why is it always better to submit and surrender right away than to keep on fighting and making things harder on yourself?
(Adobe Flash Player version.) A Youtube version of this week’s lesson at Hope Sabbath School is below. You can download the video, the MP3 audio, and the lesson outline from the HopeTV Sabbath School Site. You might also want to bookmark the HopeSS YouTube Channel. Click Here to Watch.