Her Last Hope

As she opened the door and looked on their faces, she knew it was not good news. She did not hear much after the words, “Your son, Samson, is dead.”

Their words from that point were merely noise. She retreated into her mind reflecting on the life her son should have had. She and her husband had done their best when he was child. However, from his youth, he lived a life of rebellion.

Samson was special, not in the sense that all mothers believe that their child is special, he really was special. Samson was a promised child. She was not capable of having children, but God’s messenger promised that she would have a son. She was told by this messenger that he was destined to be a deliverer of his people. She remembered the special instructions she was given– never cut his hair, and he was not to drink wine, or eat anything unclean. She conscientiously followed them.

Elusive Hope

“How did he die?” she asked. While she feared the answer, she needed closure. Maybe something held promise that would give her hope that Samson died in the faith, she thought.

Her guests explained that Samson had been betrayed by his wife. His eyes were put out, then he was forced to grind meal in prison. His enemies made sport of him. During a special feast when he was placed on display he pulled the columns down collapsing the building. He along with three thousand people died in the destruction.

Not finding the comfort she was looking for, Samson’s mother pressed, “Does anyone know what his last words were?” Desperately looking for something to anchor her hope that in the last moment he returned to God.

“Rumors were,” they explained, “he was heard praying, ‘Lord give me enough strength one more time so I can bring the building down to get revenge on my enemies for making me blind.’”

Her heart sank and her grief was amplified. She broke and sobbed inconsolably. Hope of ever seeing her son again died within her. His last words were for revenge, not forgiveness. She found nothing that gave her hope that he turned to God even in the closing moments of his life.

Samson’s mother must have suffered, knowing the circumstances surrounding his death.

Hope In The Rubble

Samson’s story, as recorded in Judges 11-16 has been replayed millions of times throughout history. Recognizing that they have squandered previous opportunities to become more like Christ, many people sense their unworthiness to ask for mercy or forgiveness. Families and loved ones are left to search in hope to anchor their belief that the person died in Christ.

However, the story of Samson does not end in chapter 16 of the book of Judges; it ends in Hebrews 11. The three words, “. . . and of Samson . . .” in verse 32 provides a plot twist that transforms the Samson story in the ultimate case study in grace and salvation.

The writer of Hebrews places Samson in the company of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and David. He, along with them, was eulogized with “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith . . .” (verse 39). His name appeared and was counted among those who were looking for city whose builder was God. Samson is not mentioned anywhere in scripture after Judges until Hebrews 11.

Even then, he received only a passing reference. He does not get an extended commentary like others. It appears the Holy Spirit wanted to squeeze his name in the hallmark of faith to give people hope of salvation even when there is no reason to hope. Samson’s presence in Hebrews 11 is God’s way of keeping hope alive for those who have lost hope for loved ones or themselves.

Even though no explanation is given as to why Samson was included in Hebrews’ Hall of Faith, based on the reading of Judges 16, it is the mystery of God’s grace. We are reminded that our salvation is not grounded in our actions but in God’s grace. As with His love, His grace cannot be comprehended by human reason or deduction. Our faith rests in the fact that God is ultimately Judge. Abraham’s rhetorical question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 KJV), is at the center of our faith in God.

What God Knows, And We Don’t

God alone can adequately discern the deep issues of the human heart. Only God can understand the pain, hurt and insecurities that lies beneath our behavior. In Samson’s case, his mother and others may have seen him as special and unique, but he felt different, misunderstood and alone. When his community came to deliver him over to their enemies, can you detect the profound pain in his words, “Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves” (Judges 15:12, NIV emphasis added)? God alone understands the pretext, context, and subtexts of our actions. The Psalmist says that God will consider the place and circumstances of our birth in the judgment. (See Psalm 87.)

Samson reminds us we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is what grabs hold of God’s grace and refuses to let it go. (See Ephesians 2:8,9; Matthew 24:13). Human reason says, “I believe what I see, feel, taste, touch, and hear.” Faith says, “I see what I believe.” Reason asks, “Does is makes sense?” Faith asks, “What has God said?” It does not make sense that God would die for sinners, but scriptures asserts, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 KJV).

God’s Last Whisper

It is widely believed that the last sense to go when a person is dying is the sense of hearing. If this is true, could it be that God arranged it so that even in the closing moments of a person’s life, God could still plead with them to accept His offer of grace? In those last moments where God’s Spirit is speaking to our spirit, no one but God is privileged to the conversation or the response.

It appears the Holy Spirit wanted to squeeze his name in the hallmark of faith to give people hope of salvation even when there is no reason to hope.

Salvation occurs at the moment faith clutches the offer of grace. Justification takes only a moment to complete. It’s hard to imagine that even with a lifetime of rebellion, it only takes a millisecond to be justified by faith. To die justified is to die saved. (John 3:16, 5:24, Romans 5:1). We should never underestimate the power and persistence of God’s love to pursue His children with His offer of grace.

Can you imagine you being a part of God’s family in eternity? God can! So keep hope alive!
G. RUSSELL SEAY JR., Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Religion at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.

A Choice of Three Heavens?

Has heaven been divided into three levels of ascending glory? If we are to believe Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it has been. Smith wrote, “depending upon the level of righteousness achieved, each life’s journey will earn one of three heavens” (Doctrines and Covenant, Section 76).
Joseph Smith’s vision of eternity is all the more astounding because it was his belief that everyone, who has ever lived, is bound for heaven. Whether their life was righteous or wicked, no matter. Eternity would find them in heaven. The only question for each one was which of the three heavens would be their eternal home. There are some more pertinent questions for us, however. Does the Bible support the concept of three distinct heavens, and will every person ever born receive the blessing of spending eternity in one of Smith’s three heavens?

The Third Heaven
In truth, there are three heavens. Paul established that reality for us in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up to the third heaven.” Since the Apostle speaks of a third heaven, there must of necessity be a first and second. But, what are these three heavens, and how should they be viewed?

Whenever your Bible speaks of heaven it is referring to one of three locations:
1 The first heaven is the immediate atmosphere over our heads, which contains the oxygen we breathe and where the birds soar. In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…” The Greek word translated “air” is also translated as “heaven.” James writing in James 5:18 testifies, “And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain…” Prayer led to the rain being poured out from heaven that is the sky. So, this first heaven is the canopy of sky over our heads.

2 The second heaven is considered to be the celestial heaven. We commonly refer to this heaven as outer space, or the stellar heaven because the sun, moon, and stars are found there. Jesus, in His prophetic overview of the end times declared in Matthew 24:29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Your Bible informs our understanding that the stellar heaven is in fact the second heaven.

3 Lastly, we find in Scripture, heaven and the home of God. Although, we know that the omnipresent God cannot be contained in one geographical location, we understand from His Word that His presence does abide in a unique way in the third heaven. Here’s how John described it in Revelation 4:2, “… and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” 1 Peter 3:21, 22 offers this insight, “… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God…” So, the third heaven is where the throne of God is found.
We learn from the Bible of the existence of three heavens, but not three levels of everlasting life. And, not three levels of eternal residency for the righteous and the wicked. Indeed, the reality of God’s heaven is that the redeemed will not spend eternity there at all.
John the Revelator was shown that our forever time with God shall be on the earth made new, but not because we earned it. It is a free gift of grace from God. “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” (Revelation 21:2). None but the righteous shall see God and live forever. As for the wicked, because John also says “. . . there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles…” (Revelation 21:27), we understand there will be no wicked there.

Three heavens to be sure, but only one serves as God’s official residence. The redeemed shall spend eternity on this earth made new, without sin or sinners to disturb our joy.


Trapped. Stuck. Imprisoned. I don’t know too many people who are comfortable in those circumstances. No one likes the feeling of his or her freedom being limited. That is just what sin does to us though. It corners us in a cell of selfishness that seems impossible to escape. That is why what Jesus did for us on the cross is so amazing! Because of His life, death, resurrection, and glorification we have been liberated. Even so, I’m convinced that the enemy still wishes to keep us captive. Let us eavesdrop on what Jesus does when He meets a slave in freedom.

1) Read Matthew 8:28, Mark 5:1, 2
Here we see that the two authors have two different accounts of the same incident. Don’t be distracted by the differences, but rather focus in on the similarities. Does it strike you as odd that someone who is demon-possessed runs toward Jesus rather than away from Him? Isn’t the grace of God amazing in that when you think you’re far, He’s so close? Tell us about a time when you ran into God in an unexpected place. We would love to hear about it here at Message on Social Media using #MessageMag.

2) Read Matthew 8:29, Mark 5:7, 8
Do you see the ownership that the demons proclaim over the ones they possess? I can’t sugar-coat the reality that evil is contagious. It spreads without permission. I once heard a preacher address how one could possibly get thousands of demons in them. His answer was simple. “One at a time.” Maybe demon possession is more extreme than your current predicament. We all can admit that doing wrong has a tendency to get out of control quickly. Is there a song, scripture, poem, or anything that you refer to when it seems life is getting out of control? Tell us about it using #MessageMag on Social Media.

3) Read Mark 5:3, 4
I want you to take your time reading and meditating on this particular portion of the story. Take some time to ask God for His Spirit’s guidance in seeing yourself in this man. Pray. If you want someone to pray with you e-mail me at pastor.rashad.burden@gmail.com.

4) Read Mark 5:3, 4
This man is not just demon-possessed, but it seems that people have tried to either help him or themselves by putting chains on him. We see that he hurts other people and himself, and someone thought the solution was chains. Clearly, though, external boundaries proved insufficient. Don’t we have a tendency to do the same thing? We sometimes think that if we put enough rules, laws, and constraints into place that we can change people and maybe ourselves. Have you ever tried to use rules to change who you are to no avail? Share your experience with us using #MessageMag.

5) Read Psalm 51
David knew something that we need to know. Our actions are more about the internal than the external. Read his words and think about how people tried to handle the man who was demon possessed.

6) Read Mark 5:3, 4
I want to bring your attention to the fact that though the man was chained, he exercised supernatural strength to break the chains, yet he was still demon-possessed. He was able to get an appearance of freedom, but at the end of the day, the devil was still guiding his life. I wonder if Satan allows us to get victories from time to time as long as we let him keep his hand on the controls? It’s a humbling thought that you can have chains broken but still be stuck.

7) Read Matthew 8:32, Mark 5:18-20
Jesus didn’t speak to the chains; He spoke to the evil within. We all are susceptible to being a slave in our freedom, if we don’t allow Jesus to have a conversation with the worst parts of us. I’m convinced that if we do, our response will be much like that of the demoniac in that we are begging Jesus to go wherever He goes.

Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Mount Olive and Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Southern Alabama.

Channels of Light

The only safeguard against Satan’s power is found in the presence of Jesus.

In the early morning the Savior and His companions came to shore, and the light of the rising sun touched sea and land as with the benediction of peace. But no sooner had they stepped upon the beach than their eyes were greeted by a sight more terrible than the fury of the tempest. From some hiding place among the tombs, two madmen rushed upon them as if to tear them in pieces. Hanging about these men were parts of chains which they had broken in escaping from confinement. Their flesh was torn and bleeding where they had cut themselves with sharp stones. Their eyes glared out from their long and matted hair, the very likeness of humanity seemed to have been blotted out by the demons that possessed them, and they looked more like wild beasts than like men.

The disciples and their companions fled in terror; but presently they noticed that Jesus was not with them, and they turned to look for Him. He was standing where they had left Him. He who had stilled the tempest, who had before met Satan and conquered him, did not flee before these demons. When the men, gnashing their teeth, and foaming at the mouth, approached Him, Jesus raised that hand which had beckoned the waves to rest, and the men could come no nearer. They stood raging but helpless before Him.
With authority He bade the unclean spirits come out of them. His words penetrated the darkened minds of the unfortunate men. They realized dimly that One was near who could save them from the tormenting demons. They fell at the Savior’s feet to worship Him; but when their lips were opened to entreat His mercy, the demons spoke through them, crying vehemently, “What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God most high? I beseech Thee, torment me not.”

demoniac healed
His words penetrated the darkened minds of the unfortunate men.

Jesus asked, “What is thy name?” And the answer was, “My name is Legion: for we are many.” Using the afflicted men as mediums of communication, they besought Jesus not to send them out of the country. Upon a mountainside not far distant a great herd of swine was feeding. Into these the demons asked to be allowed to enter, and Jesus suffered them. Immediately a panic seized the herd. They rushed madly down the cliff, and, unable to check themselves upon the shore, plunged into the lake, and perished.
Meanwhile a marvelous change had come over the demoniacs. Light had shone into their minds. Their eyes beamed with intelligence. The countenances, so long deformed into the image of Satan, became suddenly mild, the bloodstained hands were quiet, and with glad voices the men praised God for their deliverance.

The two restored demoniacs were the first missionaries whom Christ sent to preach the gospel in the region of Decapolis. For a few moments only these men had been privileged to hear the teachings of Christ. Not one sermon from His lips had ever fallen upon their ears. They could not instruct the people as the disciples who had been daily with Christ were able to do. But they bore in their own persons the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. They could tell what they knew; what they themselves had seen, and heard, and felt of the power of Christ.

This is what everyone can do whose heart has been touched by the grace of God. John, the beloved disciple, wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; . . . that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” 1 John 1:1-3. As witnesses for Christ, we are to tell what we know, what we ourselves have seen and heard and felt. If we have been following Jesus step by step, we shall have something right to the point to tell concerning the way in which He has led us. We can tell how we have tested His promise, and found the promise true. We can bear witness to what we have known of the grace of Christ. This is the witness for which our Lord calls, and for want of which the world is perishing.

The encounter with the demoniacs of Gergesa had a lesson for the disciples. It showed the depths of degradation to which Satan is seeking to drag the whole human race, and the mission of Christ to set men free from his power. Those wretched beings, dwelling in the place of graves, possessed by demons, in bondage to uncontrolled passions and loathsome lusts, represent what humanity would become if given up to satanic jurisdiction.
Satan’s influence is constantly exerted upon men to distract the senses, control the mind for evil, and incite to violence and crime. He weakens the body, darkens the intellect, and debases the soul. Whenever men reject the Savior’s invitation, they are yielding themselves to Satan. Multitudes in every department in life, in the home, in business, and even in the church, are doing this today. It is because of this that violence and crime have overspread the earth, and moral darkness, like the pall of death, enshrouds the habitations of men. Through his specious temptations Satan leads men to worse and worse evils, till utter depravity and ruin are the result.

The only safeguard against his power is found in the presence of Jesus. Before men and angels Satan has been revealed as man’s enemy and destroyer; Christ, as man’s friend and deliverer. His Spirit will develop in man all that will ennoble the character and dignify the nature. It will build man up for the glory of God in body and soul and spirit. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” 2 Timothy 1:7. He has called us “to the obtaining of the glory”—character—“of our Lord Jesus Christ; “has called us to be “conformed to the image of His Son” 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 8:29.

ELLEN G. WHITE (1827-1915), one of the most published authors in the world, named one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by the Smithsonian Institution in 2014, was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Honor Due Parents

The first four love letters (commandments) that God gives us in Exodus 20:3-11 deal with our love for Him. The final six love letters deal with our love for our fellow man. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus reiterates this love construct by saying, “The first great commandment is thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, with all they soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is likened unto it. Thou shalt love Thy neighbor as thyself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”
Beginning with Love Letter #5, we now see the shift from our vertical relationship with God to our horizontal relationship with others. The admonition in this letter is to love our parents, “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee.” In addition to this transition, this specific love letter is the first commandment with a promise.
The promise is clear: “If you honor your parents, you will enjoy long life on the earth.” Yet, when this is read, there is a tendency to believe that if one honors his or her parents, then he or she will live a long life. Being respectful to one’s parents doesn’t automatically qualify anyone for longevity in life, however. The correct understanding of this promise was applied to the children of Israel. If they obeyed their parents, they would live a long time in the land that God was giving them. Remember, the people of Israel had been brought out of Egypt and brought out of slavery, but they had not yet entered the Promised Land. The Promised Land was the land God was giving to them. The Message Bible puts it simply, “Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.”

If you give respect, you’ll get respect.

Honors For Elders
Nevertheless, from a topical perspective, the love letter says, “Honor your parents. Honor your grandparents. Honor your great grandparents. Honor your forefathers. Honor your seniors. Honor those who have gone before you.”
To honor is “to respect greatly; regard highly; treat with deference and courtesy.” The Hebrew root word used here for honor is kabead, which means, “to make heavy.” In other words, don’t take your parents lightly. Give them the respect and reverence they deserve. This is critical.
Unfortunately, for some, this love letter challenges those who have found it difficult to honor parents who, because of inadequate support, poor parenting, and bad examples, don’t warrant their child’s respect. Yet, in spite of what parents have done, this is not a command honoring “perfect” parents. God specifically says, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” God doesn’t say, “Honor your father and mother if they deserve it, if they’ve been good to you, or if they’ve never made mistakes. God says, “Honor your father and mother.” So while it may be arduous to honor one’s parents given their less than positive behaviors, one should still honor the position of fatherhood and motherhood.

The Bible is also clear that what “one sows, one shall reap.” So if you have children, the way you honor your father or mother, will likely be the way your children honor you. The honor you give is the honor you will receive. If you give love, you’ll get love. If you give respect, you’ll get respect. If you give honor, you’ll get honor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. “Give and it shall be given unto you.” “Honor thy father and thy mother.” That’s Love Letter #5.

CARLTON P. BYRD, D.MIN., is Senior Pastor of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama and the speaker and director for Breath of Life Television Ministries.

*All scriptural texts are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.
1 Matthew 22:36-40
2 Exodus 20:12
3 Exodus 20:12, Message Bible
4 www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/honor
5 www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/kjv/honor

Midnight Call Before the Wall

How Would Jesus Answer This Desperate Mother?

It was late at night when the phone rang. It had to be either a prank call or something bad had taken place. Well, it was the latter.
I could hardly understand the voice on the other line. Between the strong accent and sobs I could tell someone was in a bad situation and needed more than a prayer.
The caller was one of our church members in a city that I will not mention. She was 32, Hispanic, a mother with three children whose husband was three hours late returning from his job— he worked the third shift. She was in panic mode. Her husband had been taken by the Federal I.C.E. agents, and must have been deported, she said, because he is never late.
“Pastor, how am I going to support these kids? I have no education and my English is terrible.”

Fodder for Fake News
This mother represents a group of people in the United States who live in the shadow of fear. Their plight has been highlighted by policies and rhetoric coming out of Washington, and racism re-emerging around this country.
Undocumented citizens do not all come from Mexico or Central America. They come from Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa. They cross every ethnic line. The myth that they are bad people stems from nothing more than undocumented rumors or fake news. But, who are these people? They are our neighbors, our children’s friends, and yes, the nurses, doctors, leaders in our churches, and people who sit next to us in churches, subways, and on planes. They are people who hurt, shed tears, love, and who only want to live better lives. They are no more rapists, or exhibitors of criminal behavior, than any other race or ethnic group.

What Documents Would Jesus Require?
It should be made clear that the Bible does not classify anyone as an undocumented race or ethnic group. God never classified human beings as documented or undocumented, regardless of our origins and where we were born. Those labels serve the purpose of dehumanizing a group of people, which, as history has shown, creates a fragile human rights predicament.
Think about it, if you can label someone, or reduce them to merely a number, you regard them as less than human. It is easier to inflict pain and inhumane treatment on someone labeled as less than human. History always repeats itself. Hitler did it with the Jews; slave-owners did it with the slaves.
Where do you stand? With those who degrade humanity, or with those who tear down the wall of racism and intolerance? That is the question.
While Christians must respect the laws of the land and seek to do the right thing, Christians also always recognize that we answer to a higher law, the Law of God.
Whether, as a Christian, you are labeled conservative or liberal, you must always be a follower of Christ. He reached out to the least of them regardless of whether it was politically correct or not. So, when it comes to difficult issues and regardless of public policy, ask: “What would Jesus do? What side would He take? Would He put a political position in front of meeting the human needs of our world?”

Walls Come Down
I can still hear that fearful call ringing in my ear. I am more convinced than ever of what Jesus would do—He would not build a wall, but He would tear down any and every wall and declare: “Bring me your tired, your poor and restless yearning to be free, and take my yoke upon you.”
Rather than political ideology, I choose to be controlled by the Divine principle—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31).

CALVIN L. WATKINS, SR., is the president of the Southwest Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Dallas, Texas.

2017 May June Issue

500 Years of Protest

What will be the basis, or authority, of our protests? Is there any standard of what’s right and wrong, just and unjust?

Luther’s protest is still ours. How to overcome fear, tradition and misinformation

14  500 Years of Protest
by Malcom Luther / Luther’s protest is still ours. How to overcome fear, tradition and misinformation.

17  Profile of a Protestor
by Christopher C. Thompson / Do you have what it takes to give voice to the voiceless?

16  Sanctuary!
by David Person / How government immigration intervention chills church-going, and how some churches plan to address it.

18  Whole Lotta Ly in’ Going On
by Alva James Johnson / Fake news and alternative facts create a void for the ultimate truth. How to develop your nose for the authentic, unvarnished truth of God.

20  Her Last Hope
by George Russell Seay / Salvation occurs at the moment faith clutches the offer of grace.

by Phillip McGuire Wesley / Media That Takes You Higher

by Calvin L. Watkins, Sr. / Midnight Call Before The Wall

6  EYE ON THE TIMES Current news & views

by Donna Green Goodman / Egg-ceptional Substitutes
by Beverly Dickerson / Depressions Deeper Roots

by Willie and Elaine Oliver / Fine-Tuning Sexual Frequency

by Carlton Byrd / Honor Due Parents

by Ellen G. White / Channels of Light

by Rashad Burden / A Slave In Freedom

by Troy Brand / Love And Happiness

by Debra McKinney Cuardo / Moral Wit from the Internet


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