Lonely JesusWe like Jesus. For some that’s too mild of a statement. We love Jesus. We especially love the Jesus who steps in on time, the One who comes to our rescue. We love that Jesus so much we even write songs about Him. Jesus on the main line tell Him what you want…

Nothing compares to the hope one can derive from knowing that Jesus cares. Through the deepest night of despair there is always the confidence that comes from believing that Jesus is with us and will see us through. We want that Jesus.

We also want the Jesus who will fight our battles for us. The text “vengeance is mine” has kept the sanity of many a believer. As we navigate through life we need a shield before us and behind us and no one can do that better than Jesus. We want that Jesus.

We especially want the Jesus that brings forgiveness to our guilty consciences. Lifting the burden of guilt that crushes our souls is a miracle in itself. Regardless of our past we have the promise of forgiveness to those who ask for it. We want that Jesus.

But there is a Jesus we don’t want. We never talk about this Jesus. He’s like that embarrassing relative we want no one to know of. It’s the Jesus that walks the narrow road and who goes against the grain of our lives and against the currents of society. We’re not the first to disown this Jesus but we may be of the generation who ignore Him at the greatest peril.

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38

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Resting in Christ

Curtis HallI wish I had understood the Sabbath much earlier in my Christian walk. I’ve been a Sabbath keeper for decades. I was born into a Sabbath-keeping family with many Sabbath-keeping relatives. I’ve calculated that I’ve willingly “kept” the Sabbath over two thousand times. Yet, for most of those past years I can honestly say that I missed the mark in my Sabbath observance.

I know all too well the verbal importance we place on the Sabbath. Many of us, including myself, have at times used the facts of the Sabbath as an evidence of theological superiority. It’s biblically indisputable that the Sabbath is still binding upon man. Those that claim that it was done away at the cross find themselves without a foundation with simple questions such as, “Were all of the other commandments done away with also?”This week as we talk about Resting in Christ, we have the opportunity to reexamine what the Sabbath is all about. It’s more than a day off work, and it’s more than a day in church. The Sabbath means much more.

Proving the validity of the Sabbath is easy. Understanding why we keep it seems a much harder task.

We say that we keep it as a sign between us and God and indeed, that is what the bible records.

“Hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” Ezekiel 20:20

There are two questions that must be answered as we contemplate this and similar verses. First, what does it mean to hallow (keep holy) the Sabbath and how does this prove that God is our God?

Answering the second question will make it easier to answer the first. Let’s begin at the beginning. The book of Genesis records the creation of our world. It is impossible to completely conceive what that means. Our world, with its teeming life in the seas, on land and in the skies is nothing short of miraculous. No theories of galactic accidents can begin to explain the order of our planet as it hangs in space. There must be a God somewhere.

“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” Genesis 2:2-3

The Sabbath is a memorial of this creative power of God. It is a weekly reminder that God is all powerful. That’s our first clue on why we keep the Sabbath. We keep it as a sign of our allegiance to God and, just as importantly, our dependence upon God. Here’s one of the conclusions of accepting this understanding of the Sabbath – I acknowledge God’s sovereign power.

You might be thinking what’s so revolutionary about that. Using my history as an example I know that I failed to draw this conclusion from the keeping of the Sabbath. Somehow, my past observance of the Sabbath tended to lead to setting my affections on the gifts given to man and not the Giver of the gifts. Let me explain.

In the culture that I grew up in (which still exists) much of the Sabbath revolved around what happens inside the local church. A good sermon capped off with some good music was the unspoken hope of attending church. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s how we do church. The more popular the speaker, the more people attend. The more popular the singer, the more people rejoice. While it may be hard to admit it, for many of us, our Sabbath-keeping is centered on attending church. And that is where I have missed the mark.

If the Sabbath is a sign of God’s creative power it would make sense that I spend part of my Sabbath where that witness is most evident – outside in nature. There is nothing that illustrates the power of God in such profound ways as what we find in nature. And for a large part of our church family, time spent in nature is not a regular part of our Sabbath observance. And for some, it’s never a part.

One of the arguments we often hear against the Sabbath is that it doesn’t matter what day you keep as long as you worship God. We dismiss that argument as illogical because God specifically said that he “sanctified” (i.e. “made holy’) the seventh day – something He said about no other day. However, we use a similar argument in regard to spending time in God’s creation.

We, as a church, have abundant prophetic insight and instruction on the benefits of nature and how it builds our faith and its ennobling power. Yet we will say to ourselves that it doesn’t really matter as long as we worship God.

Here’s why it does matter. We need all the evidences of God’s power and love for us that we can gather. The more we can grasp that, the less we will worry about today and tomorrow. The more we can grasp that, the less we will be plagued with stress and the diseases that come in its wake. Resting in Christ means living a life of trust in divine power. Knowing God better must be the motivation of our lives.

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3

This leads to the answer of the first question on how to observe the Sabbath. We must make Sabbath more than what happens at our local churches. It’s proper and good to come together to fellowship. It’s a blessing to hear the word of God, share in group bible study and to hear testimonies of God’s goodness. It’s a positive force to band together as church members and to do good in our communities. But Sabbath must be more than time spent in church. It must be more than a day off of work. It must be a conscious decision to learn more about the God we serve and we short circuit this process when we fail to take advantage of God’s greatest lesson book – nature.

There are many of our world-wide church family who live in settings where this is not a challenge. Others are not so fortunate and live in urban settings where the Sabbath nature experience is not as easy as opening the front door. I’m glad God does not leave us alone to figure out how to do what He asks us to do.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”Proverbs 3:5

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • What does “resting in Christ” mean to you?
  • Is it true that the greater my trust in God, the less I will worry about anything? Explain your answer.
  • What does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy?
  • What does it mean to “do good” on the Sabbath?
  • Reflection Question One: Why do you keep the Sabbath (besides it being a commandment)?
  • Reflection Question Two: How do you keep the Sabbath?
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: People who properly observe the Sabbath are nicer, kinder, humbler and more loving than people who don’t. Explain your answer.

We close this week’s lesson with an invitation given by Christ. Our Sabbath observance should help make this a reality in our lives.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

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My Flat Tire

Flat tireLet me tell you about the flat tire I recently had. Flats happen and usually at the less than perfect time and place. Mine would prove to be no exception. It was just another unexpected twist in an already unusual day.

I left out driving to Columbus Ohio early Friday morning around 7 am. I was scheduled to speak at a church the next day so I had all day Friday to get there.

With my camera on the seat next to me, I was hoping to stop along the way and take a few pics of anything that caught my eye. It’s a pretty drive going up I-75 from Atlanta to Ohio.

Sure enough, as I got into the mountains of Tennessee the scenery was spectacular. It had rained earlier so the mist rising added to beauty. I saw an exit sign for a mountain overlook so I took it hoping to experience some special views. At the exit was the entrance for another park and I stopped there and took a few pics.

Great Blue Heron

As I left there to head to the mountain overlook view, I noticed a small pond with a Heron perched on some logs. I quickly pulled over and spent a half hour or so taking bird pictures. This was turning out to be a great day of traveling.

I soon got back on the road to make my way to Ohio. I crossed over into Kentucky knowing that I only had 5 hours to go.

As I’m driving my phone rings and a friend of mine I do some training with was on the other end. She said “Curtis, where are you? I don’t see you anywhere and the airport is packed.”

What?! Airport?! I’m driving to Ohio!

As we talked I realized to my horror, and I mean horror, that I was supposed to be in Florida the next day to provide training for the Southeastern  Conference!

Somehow I booked two events on the same day. My initial Florida invitation had changed and I overlooked changing my calendar which resulted in accepting the Ohio invite for the same day.

Panicked, bewildered, confused adequately explain my state of mind. I pulled over not knowing what to do. I bowed my head and prayed “Lord please, I don’t know what to do. Please help me to fix this.”

I thought I should call the pastor whose church I was to speak at and share my dilemma. I reached him and after explaining my predicament he was gracious and told me I could reschedule if I needed to. The same graciousness was given to me by the ministry leader who invited me.

That was a huge weight lifted but that didn’t fix everything. My original flight was scheduled to depart in less than an hour so there was no way I could make that. I called Delta to see what my options were.

After about twenty minutes I finally spoke to a Delta agent and arranged to book a later departing flight at 9 pm that evening. Whew! So far, so good. I now just needed to turn around, drive 4 hours back to Atlanta and then get to the airport and all would be well.

Remember that flat tire I mentioned at the beginning? Well, as I pulled back onto the highway I failed to see a huge lip from the shoulder onto the concrete road. I hit that lip with a bam! Instantly my tire warning light came on and I knew I was in trouble.

I pulled back over, got out and heard the last few gasps of air leave my busted tire. I couldn’t even say anything. All I could do was look at the flat tire and wonder to myself what in the world was happening to me that day.

Thankfully I was able to change the tire without any problems and I made my way towards home on the temporary doughnut spare.

That was enough drama for me but that’s not the end of the story. As I’m driving back over the mountains of Tennessee rain began to fall. It quickly turned into a torrential downpour. It was so bad I couldn’t see 5 cards ahead of me.

As I’m praying “Lord help me to get home” I thought about the lessons of that storm. It was raining so hard but I knew a few things for sure. One, I was not going to stop nor would I go back to where I was before the storm began. I was going to keep going forward.

I believed that sooner or later I would get past the storm. I kept my eyes looking for the break in the clouds ahead. Up above was only darkness. All around me were sheets of rain. I had to keep going.

Finally, in the distance I saw it. The sun. It was breaking through the distant clouds ahead of me. I knew once I made it that far things would be better. I needed to keep heading towards the light.

Even as I was driving through the storm I couldn’t help but think about how that typified life. Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a storm when we least expect to. We can choose to give up, retreat or go forward. I’ve spent too much time stopping and sometimes retreating. I need to remember this storm and simply continue to go forward.

I finally made it home and on to Florida. I had a great day of training and did all I could to help others to be successful in their ministries. I won’t be surprised if the day that my Ohio event is rescheduled to turns out to be the perfect day. That’s just how God works.

BTW, I’m writing this from Costco as they replace my blown tire. Using my road hazard warranty, it’s only going to cost me $17.00 to replace it. Ain’t God good?

photo by Curtis Hall

photo by Curtis Hall

“Get Up and Walk!” Faith and Healing

Curtis HallThis week, instead of my normal article based on a theme of the lesson, I thought I would give you a look into the teacher side of preparation. As some of you know I have a ministry that provides training to Sabbath school leaders and adult class teachers throughout our denomination.

This coming Sabbath I have been invited to assist a church in Columbus, Ohio. Along with the staff training, I will lead the Sabbath school lesson discussion in place of the sermon during the 11:00 service. That might sound unorthodox, but there is no better time to lead a bible-based group discussion than during the time when the church as a whole is gathered.

This week’s lesson on “Get Up and Walk!” Faith and Healing is a great topic for a stimulating discussion. I find that stories of Christ’s interaction with are powerful case studies in righteousness. The stories of Jesus and the leper, the centurion and the paralytic are full of examples of His care and concern for humanity. One of our goals as teachers is to help show the relevant application for today. How do these stories apply to us?

As the author of the lesson pointed out, Christ’s actually touching the leper shows His personal interest in the individual. I’m certain we’ll explore that. I’ll also talk about how the disease of leprosy correlates with the disease of sin.

The topic of faith and healing is one with which everyone can identify. Many of us have struggled with the issue of faith during difficult times. I know that many in the audience on Sabbath will know first-hand of crying out to God during times of extreme duress. The stories we will cover can provide reassurance and help to develop our faith.

But beyond that I want to take the discussion to another level. What do we do when it appears God is not answering our prayers for help? What do we do when the answer is No, or worse yet, there appears to be no answer?

One explanation we’ll touch on is pretty straight-forward. It’s the matter of cherished sin. David, who had a lot of experience with sin and confession, gives one of the clearest explanations for unanswered prayer.

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” Psalm 66:18

This will present an opportunity to talk about having a heart free of offences towards God and man.  There are many supporting texts to help drive this point home. But with this point we must be careful to not lose the purpose of our confession – reconciliation with God. God wants us to live in harmony with Him. Our repentance and confession are but steps in the path towards being in harmony with God.

The more difficult part of this line of discussion is what to do when there appears to be no answer from God. Has God forsaken us? Is God too busy with others that He has no time for us? Is there something in our lives that has caused Him to turn away? Those are the types of questions that are harder to answer. But there is an answer.

To prepare for this line of discussion I turn to my favorite source for background information, www.whiteestate.org. In my preparation, I always include a search of the E.G. White writings on the subject at hand, and if you are a teacher you should too. One of the online books available on this site is Christ Object Lessons. For background on answered prayer I strongly recommend you read the chapter entitled “Asking to Give,” an eye-opening chapter examining the story of the importunate neighbor. It’s from this story that we get one of the most famous promises in the bible:

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Luke 11:9

During my research for further insight into this question I came upon the following quotation from Ellen White. It’s a little lengthy but it’s packed with so much truth that I did not want to omit anything. I’m certain that I will explore this line of thought during our Sabbath school discussion.

“When we do not receive the very things we asked for, at the time we ask, we are still to believe that the Lord hears and that He will answer our prayers. We are so erring and shortsighted that we sometimes ask for things that would not be a blessing to us, and our heavenly Father in love answers our prayers by giving us that which will be for our highest good—that which we ourselves would desire if with vision divinely enlightened we could see all things as they really are. When our prayers seem not to be answered, we are to cling to the promise; for the time of answering will surely come, and we shall receive the blessing we need most. But to claim that prayer will always be answered in the very way and for the particular thing that we desire, is presumption. God is too wise to err, and too good to withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly. Then do not fear to trust Him, even though you do not see the immediate answer to your prayers. Rely upon His sure promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” Steps to Christ, page 92

I’ll leave you now with another promise assuring us of God’s faithfulness to His people. I hope you have a wonderful Sabbath and a stimulating, inspiring and encouraging lesson discussion during your Sabbath school.

“The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing.” Psalm 34:10

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • What does “faith in God” mean to you?
  • Is strong faith a gift for some or is it something that anyone can develop? Explain your answer.
  • If one gets all the things they pray for, is that not evidence that God hears their prayers? Why yes or no?
  • Is it true that if a person is in dire straits financially, there is something wrong in their relationship with God? Explain your answer?
  • Does Jesus still heal people as He did during the bible days? Why yes or no?
  • Is it true that if we were more faithful to God there would be more miraculous healing in our midst? Explain your answer.
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: If I faithfully serve God He will grant me anything that I desire. Explain your answer.

We close this week’s lesson a snippet of Jesus’ interaction with the man let down through the roof. It gives great insight to the priority of life.

For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”  And he arose and departed to his house. Matthew 9:5-7

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

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The Sermon on the Mount

Curtis HallTwenty-five years ago in 1991, the first For Dummies book was published. It was titled DOS for Dummies and it was the first in a long line of instructional books that presented complex subjects in simple, non-threatening ways. From that first computer software book the brand has expanded to cover a huge variety of topics covering almost all aspects of life. There is and has always been a need to have the seemingly complex explained in a way that is easy to understand. And Jesus did it first in The Sermon on the Mount.

“And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”Matthew 7:28-29The Sermon on the Mount has been hailed as the most profound talk ever given on the Kingdom of God. It is a masterpiece of simplicity, walking hearers through what it means to be righteous before God and how to live in the present world. It provides an eye-opening, “aha!” moment. It could have been termed “Righteousness for Dummies.”

photo by Curtis Hall

photo by Curtis Hall

The Ministry Begins

Curtis HallIf one didn’t know better they might think that Jesus could have benefited from a savvy P.R. marketing manager. We know that first impressions are lasting, and it is imperative for any public figure to get their debut right.

To common logic it would seem Jesus would make a grand announcement that He had arrived. I can see Him now giving a press conference outlining his agenda and the wonderful gifts He would give to the people.The society in which Jesus began his ministry was very religious. At the top of the hierarchy of life were the religious rulers who held sway over every aspect of daily living. The temple sacrifices were an acknowledgement that the nation had one purpose in life – the coming of the Messiah.

It would seem to help His cause if He affirmed the people in a way that was non-threatening. Change is difficult for anyone so it would make sense to not disturb the comfort zone of the masses. Just give out some vague generalities and promises that He would make the nation great again and His chances of acceptance would be greater. But man’s ways are not heaven’s ways.

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

photo by Curtis Hall

photo by Curtis Hall

Son of David

Curtis HallIn this week’s lesson on the Son of David I originally planned to focus on the character of Joseph, since he is often marginalized in our discussions of the incarnation of Christ. Mary rightly draws our attention, as it was she who actually carried to birth the long-awaited Messiah. But it was the lineage of Joseph that the prophecies of old had foretold. 1

“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” Isaiah 11:1

Matthew records that Joseph was a just man. That one sentence contains a wealth of insight into his character. In a time that could best be described as a crisis, Joseph showed the kind of man he was.

The Bible doesn’t comment on how Joseph was made aware of Mary’s pregnancy. I can’t begin to imagine how such a conversation unfolded. My guess is that he knew Mary to be a woman of integrity and this factored into his response.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. Matthew 1:19

I’m convinced Joseph believed what Mary told him, but for some reason felt it best to give her a letter of divorcement. He would use the most discreet method available to end their union. He did not have to take that route. There were more drastic and public actions he could have taken.