Not long after starting to write for Sabbath School Net just over four years ago, I was asked to help moderate comments on the blog posts. This has been an eye-opening experience for me. With comments from all parts of the world, I have encountered ideas from Scripture that I never would have thought of myself or heard by just going to my local Adventist church. Many of your names are familiar to me now, and when I see your comment in the queue, it is like seeing a familiar friend.
It it evident that for some who live in remote areas or are unable to attend Sabbath School, Sabbath School Net has become their actual Sabbath School class, and we try our best to make it just that. And just like a real Sabbath School class benefits from following rules of courteous interactions, which we sometimes call etiquette, so does Sabbath School Net. We even have comment guidelines to help you in this matter.
You may notice that we request full names when people fail to give them. In a real Sabbath School class, we use our real names, and with the thousands of people visiting our blog, the chance of others having the same first name is high. That’s why we ask for your last names as well.1 And we don’t accept names such as “child of God” or other “handles” that are not real names. Consider what you would think if someone visited your Sabbath School class in your church, but gave only some made-up name, rather than their real name. It would make you wonder about their motives, wouldn’t it? From experience we also know that people tend to be much more responsible in their commenting when they use their real names. This is why we ask you to supply your real first and last name.2
We do thank you all for commenting and joining our class discussions! And we especially want to thank the great majority of you for following the directions in the comment section by providing your real full name. We, as moderators and writers for Sabbath School Net, share our real full names with you, and we appreciate the same respect in return.
Courtesy also demands that we respect the opinions of others in a conversation, whether in face-to-face conversations or online. I will never forget the Sabbath School in which a teacher asked a question, and a man gave his answer. The teacher then asked the rest of the class what they thought. Then the man who originally answered then declared sternly, “I just told you the answer!” The teacher agreed but said he wanted to get everyone else’s ideas too.
Nobody likes a “know-it-all” in their class. Sabbath school time is more helpful when everyone listens and tries to understand each other, instead of one person trying to “school” everybody else. Nobody appreciates people who think they have all the truth and are the “next prophet.” And we will never learn and grow if we think our interpretation is the only one there is.3 Yes there are absolute truths in the Bible, but none of us are absolutely right about our understanding of biblical truth. Let’s be humble and share our understanding about Bible topics, without insisting that our understanding is the only right understanding.4
Continuing to argue for one’s own point of view is one way to dominate a discussion, but there are others as well. I remember an elderly lady in my class once who had lost her husband a couple years prior. She would go on and on talking about her late husband, getting us way off track with the lesson. I patiently listened, realizing she was still grieving. But then I realized something else. This lady was not the only person in my class who had lost a loved one in recent years. I did the math. If I gave each member the same amount of time in each class to talk about their lost loves, we would still be sitting in class while everyone else would already be finished with potluck! After allowing several opportunities for her to vent, I knew I had to keep the class on track with the topic that people had come to discuss. I could not allow one person to dominate the conversation. Doing so was not only rude to the others, but it did not result in balance.
A Sabbath School discussion provides an opportunity to share various views of the same truths. After having personal Bible studies with people, I am always happy when they come to church and meet other members who can mentor them as well, with different ideas than just mine. If my Bible study students only hear me talk, they will be more inclined to become like me instead of like Jesus. What a tragic mistake that would be! The church is the body of Christ, and to become like Christ we need to hear from His body and not just one person. So when commenting, please respect the comments of others. With this in mind please be clear but also as brief as possible. I also try to make my blog posts brief. Keep in mind that comments should not be longer than the actual post on which you are commenting. Just like we don’t appreciate one person dominating the entire class time, we also don’t appreciate it when one person dominates the comment section of a Sabbath School post by repeatedly arguing for the same view.
Again, thank you for being a part of our online Sabbath School family. Thank you for your comments, and for remembering our guide lines and being thoughtful and considerate when commenting, so that we can all enjoy and benefit from studying God’s Word together.
- Note that we ask for real first and last names at the top of our comment form. If you won’t show us the courtesy of complying with our specific request, please don’t expect to have your comments published. ↩
- If you have a legitimate reason to use a pseudonym, please let us know. We then expect you to use the same pseudonym each time you post here, and we would also expect that you use the same pseudonym when you post in other Adventist discussion groups, so that readers can identify you as a real person. ↩
- This kind of attitude sometimes shows up in comments that proclaim that opinions don’t matter, only the Bible matters, and the proceeding with a personal biblical interpretation. It is evident that such people think that they have the only correct interpretation of the Bible. ↩
- The attitude of “only my understanding is correct” shows up when the same person continues to present his/her views on the same topic, and that also results in that person dominating the topic. ↩
While Jesus’ popularity was growing, John the Baptist’s friends felt a little slighted for the prophet. John the Baptist however, said about Jesus, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30 NLT) John knew that God had appointed him to be the messenger to announce the coming of the “bridegroom,” who was Christ Himself, and he was content to play the role he had been given.
After conducting a funeral for an elderly lady, I was eating at the table with her grown children. Each one was talking about projects they had going on in their homes. I was surprised how easily their lives seemed to be moving on. I thought to myself, “If they can move on so easily after losing their mother, how quickly will people forget me after I die?” The thought was making me a little depressed. While they were talking among themselves, I quickly checked my Facebook under the table. And I saw that a friend had written, “Living my life so that people will remember me after I die is too small a cause to live for.” With the timing, I took that as a message straight from heaven. Had I been focusing more on God’s love like John the Baptist did, instead of myself, I probably would not have had that moment of insecurity and depression.
Health professionals agree that a lack of feeling loved is what leads to insecurities and even narcissistic attitudes. Because John the Baptist was focused on God rather than self, he was overwhelmed by God’s love, and I believe that is the exact opposite of the focus of a narcissist who is insecure because of self-focus.
Below are signs, from the Mayo Clinic, that you or someone you know may be narcissistic. 1 The Mayo clinic says this is a rare mental disease. Some may wonder what their definition of “rare” is, since narcissistic behavior seems to be becoming an epidemic. After each sign, I have provided a Bible passage which offers a cure or example for each sign of narcissism.
I don’t believe people intend to be narcissistic, and may not be aware of their narcissism. If this looks like you, please prayerfully consider the Bible verses and perhaps contact a Christian counselor for help.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, how you handle it needs to be determined by the nature of the relationship. In some cases, you may be able to deal with the relationship by leaning fully on Christ and getting your love and strength from Him. In other cases it may be so damaging that it becomes necessary to seek spiritual and maybe even professional counseling to find your best way out. Don’t be surprised if the narcissist makes him or herself look like the victim.
As well as providing the signs listed below to diagnose narcissism, the Mayo clinic also suggests a cause for the disease. They theorize that people who were not properly nurtured and cared for in the early stages of their life are more likely to become narcissists. If only these people realized how much God loves and cares for them!
Lucifer was loved and cared for in heaven, yet he played mind games with himself, until he brainwashed himself into thinking that nobody cared about him but himself. His only self-concocted shred of evidence was that God the Son outranked him. He felt ill-used because he did not have the position of Christ and thought, “What about me?!”
Meanwhile, Jesus, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.” Philippians 2:6 NLT Instead of crying out “What about me!” Jesus has always cried out, “What about others!” Here are the signs of narcissism provided by the Mayo Clinic, along with the examples or cures found in the Bible.
- Believing that you’re better than others
Biblical Response: Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?
Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Philippians 2:1-8 NLT
- Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
Biblical Response: So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.
But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 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 10:42-45 NLT
- Exaggerating your achievements or talents
Biblical Response: Then the people of Ephraim asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us this way? Why didn’t you send for us when you first went out to fight the Midianites?” And they argued heatedly with Gideon.
But Gideon replied, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t even the leftover grapes of Ephraim’s harvest better than the entire crop of my little clan of Abiezer? God gave you victory over Oreb and Zeeb, the commanders of the Midianite army. What have I accomplished compared to that?”
When the men of Ephraim heard Gideon’s answer, their anger subsided. Judges 8:1-3 NLT
- Expecting regular praise and admiration.
Biblical Example: Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!”
Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. Acts 12:21-23 NLT
- Believing that you deserve special treatment
Biblical Response: When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11 NLT
- Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
Biblical Response: Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Romans 12:15-16 NLT
- Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
Biblical Response: Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers. Proverbs 11:14 NLT
- Taking advantage of others
Biblical Counsel: Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. James 5:1-4 NLT
- Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
Biblical Example: Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 NLT
- Being jealous of others
Biblical Response by Paul: Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”
Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.” Acts 26:28-29 NLT
(When Paul had Jesus, He did not want anything King Agrippa had. He wanted Agrippa to have what He had!)
- Believing that others are jealous of you
Biblical Example: And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who [is] this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him.
And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.”
And David said, “What have I now done? [Is there] not a cause?” 1 Samuel 17:26-29
- Having trouble keeping healthy relationships
Biblical Counsel: A man [that hath] friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend [that] sticketh closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24
- Aspiring to the position of someone above you
“How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning!
You have been thrown down to the earth,
you who destroyed the nations of the world.
For you said to yourself,
‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars.
I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north.
I will climb to the highest heavens
and be like the Most High.’
Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead,
down to its lowest depths. Isaiah 14:12-15 NLT
- Feeling easily hurt and rejected
Christ’s Example: He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:3-6
- Having a fragile self-esteem
Biblical Example: And the women answered [one another] as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands .And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed [but] thousands: and [what] can he have more but the kingdom?
And Saul eyed David from that day and forward. 1 Samuel 18:7-9
- Wanting to appear tough-minded or unemotional
Biblical Promise: And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: Ezekiel 11:19
If you see yourself here, or someone you have to deal with on a regular basis, you may need to seek professional counseling. (Here is some helpful advice on dealing with a narcissistic boss.)
We may be tempted to be narcissistic in some very ordinary circumstances. For instance, a while back, a friend of mine was flying from Tampa to Chicago every week on a work assignment. At the end of a certain week he was tired and ready for a quiet and relaxing plane ride home. It wasn’t going to happen. That day a large group got on the plane who were having a big noisy celebration of some kind. Instead of getting angry or upset, my friend who was already tired, just sighed and smiled, as he told himself, “Apparently today is not about me.”
In many cases, the cure may just be that simple. Remember that “It’s not all about me.”
For the disciples it was a little more complex than that. They had rivalries and arguments over which one would be the greatest in the coming Kingdom. It wasn’t until they saw Jesus on the cross willing to die the second death and go into total oblivion that they then lost their narcissistic tendencies and became selfless and meek like John the Baptist who said,
He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. John 3:30 NLT
The disciples overcame self and narcissism when they did what John the Baptist suggested years earlier.
“Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 NLT
I am going to read all of Matthew this week, and I would like to challenge all of our readers to do the same. Let us know that you are accepting the challenge by writing a comment below. And when you have finished reading, maybe you might also write a comment telling what the experience has meant to you.
Raised in the 1960’s and 70’s in a rather typical Seventh-day Adventist home, my five siblings and I were left to picture God as old, cold, and hard. We learned about John 3:16 and that was great, but what always came through to me at the end was that I was bad, I needed to get good, and I better get to work on that right away because Jesus was coming soon. If we did what we were supposed to do, we had a shot at getting into heaven. Or else.
This was not an attractive proposition. Based on what I understood (or didn’t understand) about the nature of God’s love for us, it is no wonder that I became an atheist by the time I was 45. But that is getting ahead of the story.
By the time I was in my teens, I wasn’t much interested in God or religion; I wanted to be happy and feel good. I turned to drugs, rock and roll, and a number of destructive habits. I knew in the back of my mind that this was sin, but I didn’t much care. By the time I was in my 20’s, my life had become an endless circle of trying and failing to find happiness, or at least some level of contentment. One late night/early morning, after accidentally watching an episode of It is Written, I decided to go back to church – a Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I really did give it my best shot. On the outside I looked pretty awesome – theology student, urban missionary worker, etc. I was a fantastic rule keeper. I was pretty sure I had conquered all sin except for one – appetite. Once I started eating, it was very hard to stop. Something compelled me to continue eating. I tried fasting a few times, but it made no difference. I was out of control when it came to food, and I knew I would never able to conquer that one.
Now I know that it was because I had no idea who God was or how much He loved me. I was trying to earn his approval so He would save me. I had also never learned to submit every thing to God. (Deep down, I doubt I wanted to, anyway.) After 3 ½ years of failure, I gave up. I didn’t see the point of continuing if the formula didn’t work. So I left the church.
Almost immediately, I returned to my openly sinful life, and it was worse than before. Three years later, even though I was “functioning” (I was able to hold down a job), I was drunk every day. I was taking whatever drugs I could find and afford. I remember waking up in the morning still drunk. I would head off to work thinking “I’m done with this drinking.” By lunch time I was saying to myself, “At least I am not going to get wasted today.” But as soon as I was off work, I was sitting on the bar stool, starting my night of “fun.” I was defeated and accepted that I was not going to survive much longer. So I might as well go down in flames.
Then God stepped in and, by His grace, He got me into a rehab center in 1993. I was able to stop all the substance abuse, except for nicotine and caffeine. (I was pretty sure that those didn’t counted.) God did not require me to be converted or even acknowledge Him. All I had to do, it turns out, was to admit that, if there is such a thing as a God, then I am not it.
When I got clean and sober, I did believe in some sort of nebulous god-like force in nature, but I didn’t really believe in a personal God. Although I didn’t see it then, I now recognize how gracious our God is in looking after us even when we do not acknowledge Him.
Sober But Still Sick
But I was still sick with sin. I had several relationships of varying lengths, and none of them lasted, mostly because of my inability to stay. I always had a good reason to leave, or so I convinced myself.
I avidly consumed movies, TV, music, and video games. Most of my favorites were dark in every way. I ate whatever I wanted – too much of the wrong things. I am sure it looked like I was trying to kill myself. I was addicted to lust – illicit sexual relations, prostitution, and pornography (online and otherwise). Despite my relentless search for happiness, I was miserable.
In 2007, I had surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. As I was getting ready to be wheeled into the operating room, I believed that it would be OK with me if I didn’t survive the surgery. At some point before that, I had become agnostic so I thought there was probably no such thing as an afterlife – that when we die, that’s it. I figured my life had been OK so what was the big deal? 1
It wasn’t too long after that experience that I gradually became an atheist: I was completely persuaded there was no God. There was just one thing that I could not get past as an atheist – Daniel 2. I tried to ignore that detail.
God Steps In
So that’s where things stood on the afternoon of August 22, 2014. I hadn’t been to church for years, though I sometimes considered attending for the possibility of meeting a woman. I hadn’t read the Bible for years, except when I wanted prove something. (Often that “proving” was to put a Christian on the spot regarding the Sabbath.) I was just as sin-sick as ever. That day was a Friday and I was due to start my final year at Washington State University in pursuit of an accounting degree. I had all my books and was ready to go. There was nothing in my life at that time that was causing me any significant amount of stress.
Since all my classes were online, I had become accustomed to taking a nap in the afternoon. Sometimes I slept, sometimes not. That day I did not sleep, but that was nothing unusual. For some reason, without really thinking about it, I sat down at my computer and went to BlueLetterBible.org. I went to John 14 and started reading. If someone would have asked me what I was doing and why, I would have told them, “I have no idea.” But there I was.
I kept reading. I remember at one point realizing that if I kept reading, my life was likely to change dramatically. I kept reading. I went through Jesus’ long talk with the disciples and his prayer with our Father. I read about His heart-rending struggle with accepting the cup of suffering in Gethsemane. I kept reading – through the humiliating trials with all the mocking, scourging, and spitting inflicted on Jesus.
I read through the story of Jesus hanging on the cross. I read through the resurrection, His ascension and Pentecost. By the time I got to somewhere in Acts 3, I gave up. I fell on my face on the floor. With gut-wrenching sobs, I told God how sorry I was for being so wrong about who He is. I asked Him to forgive my sins and told Him that if there was anything left of me He could use, I was His – all His.
I don’t know how long I was on the floor, but when I stood up, I knew I was a different man. (1 Sam. 10:6) I was convinced, and still am, that God Himself, through the power of His Word and the Holy Spirit, introduced Himself to me. I didn’t hear any voices, but I knew He was offering me everything if I was willing to let Him take everything. Without hesitation, I said, “Yes.” In that moment, it was as if I had no other option. Twenty years before that, I thought I had other options besides submitting. Praise God, this time I knew there were none.
This transaction had nothing to do with a desire to go to heaven and live forever. It was the knowing that I could choose to walk with Jesus moment by moment. I had met the most amazing Person imaginable. I realized I had finally found that love and lover for whom I had been searching my entire life and I couldn’t stand the thought of being apart from Him for even one moment.
I had been a smoker most of my adult life – sometimes moderate, sometimes heavy. I was so thrilled with my new life that within fifteen minutes or so after getting up off the floor, I had to tell someone. I called my uncle who is a serious, converted Seventh-day Adventist believer who knows Jesus. We started talking. Since I had long been in the habit of smoking while talking on the phone, I smoked a cigarette while talking with him, without thinking about it. And then I smoked another one. I hung up from talking with my uncle and went out to my car for a third cigarette. As I walked, I was thinking that I needed a cigarette. Then a gentle, almost smiling, voice-like thought said to me, “Do you really need that?” I stopped in my tracks and realized I didn’t. I was practically giggling as I walked to the dumpster with my stash of cigarettes.
I never smoked again and never experienced one craving. It was the same with caffeine. The only ill effect I experienced from not using either of those substances was a minor headache the next morning from caffeine withdrawal.
Within an hour or so I realized I no longer had any interest in watching TV, playing video games, or eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I had been a huge baseball fan all my life, and my team was doing very well at the time. I just no longer cared. I was amazed! (As was my non-religious, sports fan brother.) All of those soul-killing sexual habits were as if they had never existed. (Yes, even the online porn.)2 I knew that God had healed me of my need for all these things.
Having healed me, God put a yearning in me to know Him better and to learn how to be useful to Him and to others. I had a whole new outlook on the people I saw – whether family, friends, or the person working the cash register. I wanted all of them to meet my Brother.
Over the course of the next several days, I put my main computer (I kept my laptop) and everything in my entertainment center on Craigslist. I gave away half of my clothes. I couldn’t wait to divest myself of anything attached to my former life.
Remember, that day was Friday. There was a Seventh-day Adventist Church within walking distance of my apartment. The next morning, I was sitting in a pew for the early service. I desperately wanted to fellowship with others who were crazy about Jesus.
I was living in Portland, OR, and within three weeks, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, I packed up everything I owned into my 2003 Buick Century and headed to the Florida Keys 3,500 miles away. There I volunteered for a Seventh-day Adventist radio ministry (streaming worldwide at WHJN.org) run by a long-time friend and former boss, Juanita Kretschmar.
Six months later, I moved back to Oregon and moved in with my parents. During that time, I took a two-week training course to do literature evangelism. When I got home, I started knocking on doors. Any of you who have experienced this will understand what joy it is to let Jesus reach people through this ministry.
Several months later, I took a call from Adventist Volunteer Services to go up to Nome, Alaska, U.S., to work at another Seventh-day Adventist radio ministry, KQQN. I am still here in Nome.
The Rest of the Story
This part is hard to write about because I still can’t believe it myself, let alone expect anybody else to believe it. Something supernatural happened on that Friday afternoon. It is true that I was given the extraordinary healing of all those habits. I was also given a gift that is at least as valuable as the healing. That gift is the freedom to choose moment by moment whether or not to engage in sin. Since that day, I have not once chosen to sin. I am talking about choosing to do something I know is wrong but doing it anyway – rebellion. August 28, six days after I as converted, I started a journal. This is the first thing I wrote: “There is a clear enmity between my new self and the old. Sinful things that I once sought after and longed for, I now abhor. This is beyond miraculous.” Not too long after that, I realized that I could honestly say that I would rather die than choose to sin.
Perhaps many of you have this experience. If so, praise our mighty God. If this is so, why aren’t we at church, prayer meeting, and on this Sabbath School Net blog – rejoicing, exhorting one another, and uplifting the character of our Father? Sharing what the Holy Spirit is doing to us and through us? Teaching new disciples how to make more new disciples? Asking the Holy Spirit, “What’s next?” I don’t know about the rest of the world church, but here in the North American Division, I have never encountered this, nor have I heard anyone talking about it – this choice to not knowingly sin. Why? The Bible says God is able to keep us from sinning. (Jude 24) Do we believe the Word of God?
That doesn’t mean I am without sin. I am constantly coming up short when it comes to following our perfect Pattern. I continually have to claim the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins. The source of these sins is the self monster that lives within me. My daily life is shot through with pride, self-sufficiency, intolerance, self-justification, and the incessant demand for approval, applause, admiration, and credit. That is merely scratching the surface. Self causes me to behave in ways I do not want and causes me to fail to do things that I do want. Romans 7 is so familiar to me; I am that man. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:25
Unlike the choice of deciding not to knowingly sin, victory over self can only be won by daily submitting everything to God. This is a choice I make every day, asking for the saving grace of God and claiming the promise that He is cleansing me from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) The victory is called sanctification and that “is not the work of a moment, an hour, a day, but of a lifetime.” 3 While that work of God is daily progressing, I can joyfully claim the righteousness “which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Phil. 3:9) Assurance of all this is ours because God’s word “shall not return to Me void.” (Isa. 55:11)
One last thing: Parents, never stop praying for your children! I am thoroughly convinced that if it had not been for the fervent prayers of my earthly father, there is a good chance the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have had the spiritual authority to reach me. Your praying gives God more opportunity to save your children. Never stop.
The point of my story is that God is a miracle worker. Even though I thought I had long ago grieved away the Holy Spirit, He found a way in. It is because of this that I can’t stop praising Him. All glory to Him!
- The surgery and treatment went very well. No sign of disease since. ↩
- A brief note regarding online porn. I talked earlier about my addiction to food. Online porn addiction was like that, only on steroids. It was the one thing I knew I could not live without. Even though I knew deep down that it was killing my soul, I could not wait to get my next “fix”. There are resources for dealing with this issue – use Google. I’m sure some of these work for some people. But I know that the only source of ultimate healing is the One who says, “Wilt thou be made whole?” John 5:6 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him…” 1 Kings 18:21. ↩
- Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 360 ↩
If, as so much of the Christian world argues, the seventh-day Sabbath was abolished, replaced, superseded, fulfilled (whatever), then why did Jesus spend so much time dealing with how to keep the Sabbath?
Knowing that one of the reasons Israel had gone into Babylonian captivity was because the nation had defiled the Sabbath, the Pharisees had wanted to prevent that from happening again. Hence, they created a whole litany of rules and regulations about what was and was not acceptable on the Sabbath, with the idea of protecting its sanctity. What were some of those rules?
If a hen lays an egg on the Sabbath, is it OK to eat it? The majority opinion of the Pharisees was that if the hen was an egg-laying hen, then it was not OK to eat an egg laid on Sabbath because the hen was working. However, if a hen was not an egg-laying hen—if it was just a hen being fattened up to be eaten—then it was OK to eat the egg because this wasn’t the hen’s primary labor. (There was also a suggestion that you could eat an egg laid on Sabbath by a laying hen, as long as you later killed the hen for breaking the Sabbath.) Is it OK to look at yourself in a mirror on Sabbath? The answer? No, because if you see a gray hair you might be tempted to pluck it, and this would be reaping and, as such, a violation of the Sabbath. If your house catches fire on Sabbath, is it OK to go salvage your clothes? The answer: you should carry out only one set of clothing. However, if you put on one set of clothing, then you may carry out another set. (By the way, if your home catches fire, it’s not OK to ask a Gentile to put out the fire, but if the Gentile is putting out the fire anyway, that’s OK.) Is it OK to spit on Sabbath? The answer: you may spit on a rock, but you may not spit on the ground because that would be making mud or mortar.
|We might laugh but, in our own way, how might we avoid doing the same thing, not just in regard to the Sabbath but in regard to every aspect of our faith; that is, losing sight of what is truly important and focusing, instead, on the trivial?|
In Matthew 11:20-27, Jesus begins with a powerful rebuke to some of the cities in Galilee who rejected His ministry. What makes the rebuke, and His warning of condemnation, so frightening is that these cities had been given great opportunities to know the truth. He, the Truth (John 14:6), had walked in the flesh among them. And if that weren’t enough, He had performed many “mighty works” (Matt. 11:20) there, as well; and yet, they refused to repent.
Indeed, He said that if the “mighty works” (Matt. 11:23) He had done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom, then “‘it would have remained until this day.’” In other words, they were worse than the Sodomites.
Right after that, in verses 25-27 (Matthew 11:25-27), Jesus starts praying to the Father, thanking Him and then talking about the close relationship between the Two. And He also acknowledges all that had been given Him by the Father, in a sense showing even more clearly why His rejection by those cities was so tragic.
Read Matthew 11:28-30. What is Jesus saying here, and why would it come right here, just after what He had just said?
After denouncing unbelief and reaffirming His closeness with the Father, Jesus offers everyone who is weary, rest in Him. In other words, He is telling the people not to make the mistake these others made by rejecting Him. He has the authority and power to do what He says, and He says that by coming to Him you will find rest for your souls. Given the context, that rest would include peace, the assurance of salvation, and the hope that those who reject Him don’t and can’t have.
What else does Jesus mean when He says He will give us rest? Does it mean laziness? Does it mean anything goes? Of course not. Jesus has a very high standard for us; we saw this in His Sermon on the Mount. But a relationship with Jesus is not intended to wear us out. By learning of Him, by emulating Him and His character, we can find a rest from many of the toils and troubles of life. And, as we will see, one expression of that rest is found in keeping the Sabbath.
|How do you experience the promise that Jesus offers us here? What does being “gentle and low” have to do with bearing a light burden?|
Memory Text:“‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).
Christ was a living representative of the law. No violation of its holy precepts was found in His life. Looking upon a nation of witnesses who were seeking occasion to condemn Him, He could say unchallenged, ‘Which of you convicteth Me of sin?’”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 287.
Jesus’ life fully reflected the meaning of God’s law, the Ten Commandments. He was the law of God lived out in humanity, in human flesh. Thus, by studying His life, we learn what keeping the commandments is like and how to keep the commandments in a way that is not a dry and spiritless legalism.
And, of course, among those commandments is the fourth, the seventh-day Sabbath.
This week, as we continue our study of Matthew, we will look at a few of the Sabbath controversies and see in the life of Jesus a manifestation of what it means to keep the Sabbath. For if the law is, indeed, a reflection of the character of God, and if Jesus embodied that law, then, by learning how He kept the fourth commandment and what He taught about it, we can learn more about the character of God and, even more important, how we can reflect that character in our own lives.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 7.
Who among us doesn’t know the reality of the great controversy? We know about this war because we feel it inside us on a daily basis. We live in a broken world, a world cursed with anxiety and pain. A world where a serpent isn’t limited to one tree in the middle of a garden but where the entire garden has been overrun with serpents.
A world full of the whispers of temptation that come in all sorts of ways and that so easily ensnare those who are not diligent in faith and in prayer. No wonder Jesus said: “Watch and pray” lest we fall into the many snares that await us. And, of all the snares, perhaps the most dangerous one for the Christian is believing the lie that says, “When you succumb to temptation, you’ve gone too far. There is no God of grace who will welcome you back into His arms.” Who hasn’t at one time or another heard that voice whispering in his or her ears? In one sense, that sentiment is right: when you fall into temptation, even once, you have gone too far to ever get yourself back. That’s exactly why Jesus came, won the victory for us where we all have failed, and then offers His triumph to us. This is what the whole gospel is about, Jesus doing for us in the great controversy what we could never do for ourselves. At the same time, too, though, we have to choose, daily, hourly, moment by moment, to place ourselves on His side, and we do that by obeying His Word and by claiming the promises of victory that He had assured us we can have, the whole time leaning only upon His merits for us as the surety of our salvation.
All through history, humans have engaged in warfare. Something in human nature causes the people of one group to want to plunder, pillage, and slaughter those of another. In a book about her father, British philosopher Bertrand Russell, Katherine Tait wrote about her father’s concern at the outbreak of World War I regarding the joy in the streets of England at the prospect of war with Germany. “He had grown up with an optimistic Victorian belief in automatic progress, with the confidence that the whole world would, in its own good time, follow the wise course of the English from ancient brutality to civilized self-government.
Then, suddenly, he found his own beloved compatriots dancing in the streets at the prospect of slaughtering great numbers of fellow human beings who happened to speak German.”—My Father Bertrand Russell (England: Thoemmes Press, 1997), p. 45. Multiply this same idea over history among almost all people, and we see the reality of fallen human nature in one of its most consequential and tragic forms.
Now, in most of these human wars, no one knew the outcome beforehand. People went to battle not knowing if they would be on the winning or losing side.
In the “Warfare Worldview” of our cosmos, we have one great advantage: we know which side has already won. Christ has won the decisive victory for us. After the Cross, no question remained about who is the Victor and who can share in the fruits of that victory. Satan’s cause is, indeed, a lost cause.
Just as Satan lost the war in heaven, he lost the war on earth, as well. But with hatred and vengeance he’s still seeking all whom he may devour (see 1 Pet. 5:8). However complete Christ’s victory, the battle still rages, and our only protection is to place ourselves, mind and body, on the winning side. And we do that by the choices we make every day. Are we making choices that put us on the winning side, where the victory is assured for us, or on the losing side, where defeat is certain? On the answer to this question our eternal destiny hangs.
You can view an in-depth discussion of “The Seen and Unseen War” 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.
As we have already seen, the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:12, however deep, do reveal the fact that the kingdom of God isn’t going to be established without a struggle, or without a fight. That fight, we understand, is the great controversy, and it has been and still is raging. It will until the final destruction of sin, Satan, and the lost. And, at times, it can and does get very nasty along the way.
We can see the reality of the great controversy, and just how nasty it can become, in the context in which Jesus Himself said what He did in Matthew 11:12.
Read Matthew 11:1-12. How do we see the reality of the great controversy here being played out on a number of levels? That is, how does the great controversy help us to make sense of what is happening here?
For starters, who do we think inspired the leaders to put John in jail? We can see here Satan’s attempt to not only stop John but to discourage faith in Jesus. After all, if John, Jesus’ forerunner, met such a fate, what could one hope for Jesus Himself?
Then, too, there’s no question that Satan could have made the followers of Jesus and John ask themselves the question: If this Jesus of Nazareth can do so many wonderful things, and has so much power, then why is He letting such a faithful and good man as John, His cousin, rot in jail?
Also, who do we think was putting the doubts in John’s head? Why am I here? Why doesn’t He free me? Hence, no wonder he asked, “‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’” (Matt. 11:3, NKJV). Remember, this is the same John who baptized Jesus, who saw the “‘Spirit of God
descending like a dove and alighting upon Him’” (Matt. 3:16, NKJV) and who heard the voice from heaven declare: “‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:17, NKJV). Now, though, with all that had happened, he becomes filled with doubts? Of course, as bad as John’s situation was, it was (at least for the short term) going to get worse, which could only continue to feed more doubt (Mark 6:25-28).
|If anything is causing you to doubt now, what can you focus on, dwell on, and pray about that will push the doubt away and help you to realize all the wonderful reasons you have to trust in the goodness of God?|
- None greater than John the Baptist. What is the “unseen reality” that has a great impact on our lives? Why is there a screen hiding our view from the controversy between Christ and Satan? Or is there such a screen? Do we need to understand all the details of the Plan of Salvation before we can understand any of them?
- Matthew 11:11-12. Our lesson guide states that these two verses are the most challenging of all Bible texts. Do you agree? Follow a scientist studying the most basic forms of life. Can these forms be fully understood even by a trained scientist? How can John the Baptist be greater than all humans born of a woman? The sun is very close to earth, so why is there so much mystery about the sun’s strength and power?
- The frontiers of greatness. (borrowed from the lesson guide) So, does Matthew 11:12 mean that the meek and mild kingdom of heaven is suffering violence and that violent people are attacking it? Or is the kingdom of heaven forcefully advancing in a positive sense, and the forceful men seizing it are actually followers of Christ? Is this the ideal picture of Christ’s followers engaged in the great controversy between Christ and Satan?
- The “warfare worldview.” Are you personally involved in the world war between good and evil? How does your daily life, including your personal battle with sin, sharpen the difference between God’s way and Satan’s? How are supernatural forces besides the kingdom of heaven involved in this expansive conflict? What about your own life? Is the world war of Christ and Satan alive in what you think and do?
- When the battle gets nasty. Has there ever been a time when God’s gospel prevailed? What marked the start, according to Matthew 11:12, for the battle that will end all battles? Have you ever wondered why good people like John the Baptist are pursued and punished as if they were evil ones? Have the issues at stake in thie great worldwide war ever changed? If so, in what way(s)?
- A lost cause. Satan led the most vicious battle of all time. He knew, or should have known, that his fate was determined from the start. What kept him from admitting this obvious truth? In what way have God’s true people always been the winners in the great controversy, even though cursed, punished, mocked and murdered? As powerful as the forces of evil around us may be, can we count on being on the winning side no matter what? How?
Whatever the ultimate meaning of Matthew 11:12, as we saw yesterday, it does help to reveal the reality of the great controversy. It depicts a struggle, a battle and—as we know from other Bible texts—this battle is, at the core, the one between Christ and Satan.
Who do the following texts tell us about in view of the reality of the great controversy?
These are just a few of many more texts, both in the Old and New Testament, that refer to what one contemporary (non-Adventist) theologian has called the “Warfare Worldview,” the idea that there is a battle going on between supernatural powers in the cosmos, a warfare in which we are all in one way or another involved. This notion, of course, is not new to Seventh-day Adventists. It has been part of our theology from the earliest days of our church; indeed, our pioneers held to it even before our church itself was officially formed.
|In what ways do you see the reality of this struggle expressed in your own life? How is it being played out in the choices you have to make and in the temptations you face? How can your understanding the reality of this conflict help you to make the right choices and to resist temptation?|
Key Thought: The great controversy has cosmic consequences, but is also a battle for each human mind and heart. Our destiny rests on whose side we are on.
1. Have a volunteer read Matthew 11:11,12.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. How does Jesus introduce the great controversy here? If Christians are to be peace-loving, why is there so much war, anger, bitterness, and fighting?
c. Personal Application : Have you ever gotten angry over religion or religious teachings? What was the cause and how did you resolve it? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your relatives states: “What did Jesus mean when He said that John the Baptist was greater than any man ever born, but then says that the least in the kingdom is greater than John?” How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Matthew 12:25-30.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. How does Satan “bind” us so that he can spoil our goods?
c. Personal Application : How do you see this war played out in your own life? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your friends states, “What does it mean when Jesus says, ‘He who is not with me is against me’? Christians aren’t united right now – they are sniping at one another. Aren’t we supposed to unite together in Christ?” How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Matthew 11:2-6.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Why are personal experiences a powerful witness in keeping our faith? How important are the Scriptures in growing our faith?
c. Personal Application: How has God enabled us to fight against the powers of evil and live a life of victory? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your neighbors states, “Why would John, who proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, now doubt (because he is in prison?) whether Jesus is the Messiah or not?” How would you respond to your neighbor?
4. Have a volunteer read Revelation 12:12.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. What are the signs we see now that shows the devil exerting his power, and that his time is short? Share your thoughts.
c. Personal Application : In what ways has the devil attacked you personally lately? 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.” MH p. 149.
Bible students through the ages have struggled with Matthew 11:12 because the words that describe the kingdom and the people here can be used in either a positive or negative sense. The Greek verb basmati can mean either “forcefully advancing” or “suffering violence.” And the Greek word biastes can mean “forceful or eager men” or “violent men.”
So, does this verse mean that the meek and mild kingdom of heaven is suffering violence, that violent people are attacking it? Or is the kingdom of heaven forcefully advancing in a positive sense, and the forceful men seizing it are actually followers of Christ?
Is it possible for followers of Christ to be this aggressive, even forceful, in their pursuit of the kingdom?
Read the following texts. What are they saying that could shed some light on the last question asked above?
Some have argued that the most likely interpretation of Matthew 11:12 is to apply the most common uses of biazomai (typically positive) and biastes (typically negative), giving us this interpretation: the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing with “holy power and magnificent energy that has been pushing back the frontiers of darkness”; and while this is happening, “violent or rapacious men have been trying to plunder it.”—D.A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary With the New International Version: Matthew, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 266, 267.
This interpretation appears to ring true to the wider gospel of Matthew. In fact, this interpretation also captures the bigger picture, that of the struggle between light and darkness, between Christ and Satan, a theme that permeates the Bible but is made explicit in the New Testament. There is indeed a war, seen and unseen, in which we are all involved, in which we all take a side, in which we all experience every day, regardless of how much we do or do not understand what’s going on. This is what living amid the great controversy is all about.
Scripture is the Word of God, and in it the plan of salvation is made clear. Yet, some texts can be difficult to understand. This, though, should not be surprising. After all, in every aspect of natural life we find things hard to understand. How much more so will it be with parts of the Word of God, which reveals to us spiritual and supernatural truths and realities?
Ellen G. White expressed this concept so clearly: “The very humblest forms of life present a problem that the wisest of philosophers is powerless to explain. Everywhere are wonders beyond our ken. Should we then be surprised to find that in the spiritual world also there are mysteries that we cannot fathom? The difficulty lies solely in the weakness and narrowness of the human mind. God has given us in the Scriptures sufficient evidence of their divine character, and we are not to doubt His word because we cannot understand all the mysteries of His providence.”—Steps to Christ, pp. 106, 107.
For instance, one of the most challenging texts in all Scripture is Matthew 11:11-12: “‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it’” (NIV).
Read through the verses. What do you understand about them? What don’t you understand?
Some translations of Matthew 11:12 read: “From the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it” (ISV). “And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it” (NLT).
What is Jesus saying to us here?
|What things, even in secular life, remain mysteries to us? Do we stop believing, for instance, in the existence of the sun simply because of the many mysteries about it that we don’t understand? How much more so, then, with questions of faith and the Word of God?|