Want to Get Away?

I am writing tonight from the slightly overcast but still beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In the United States, we have an airline, called Southwest, who ask on their commercials, “Want to get away?” In each commercial someone will find themselves in an embarrassing situation, where they would gladly fly to the other side of the world and hide under a rock. The airline then suggests, getting on their plane to get away from it all.

In Mark 5 we read about a man who was in a very embarrassing situation before his conversion. When I tell you everything that happened with this man, you will agree with me, that after his conversion, he would gladly hop on an airplane to get away. However, Jesus sends him on a mission trip-back home!

For sake of time, I am going to highlight the story but you can read it for yourself here.

Sadly, demon activity has not changed much over the years. This man is hanging out in tombs, obsessed with death, much like those controlled by demons today. Jesus is life, and when we don’t have Jesus, all that’s left is death. He refused to be “tamed”, “taught” or “controlled.” The exact words may vary based on your favorite translation, but the idea is the same. He was not going to be bound by Biblical standards, like so many today, who do not want to hear what is right and wrong.

He cut himself. Today many cut themselves trying to find healing, not realizing, Jesus was already cut and wounded to bring them healing. The demoniac was tormented by the presence of Jesus. Today, an unconverted person does not want to be where Jesus can be found. They want nothing to do with Bible study, prayer meeting or family worship.

None of these demonic demonstrations phase Jesus. He heals the man and he becomes converted.  In verse 15 it tells us after his conversion, the man is clothed and in his right mind. Luke 8 tells us this man was naked at the beginning of the story. Mark tells us at the end that after the conversion he is clothed. Another sign of demonic activity is wanting to dress improperly or not at all. When we become converted we dress appropriately.

Now that the man is converted we see that he wants to be with Jesus. He tells Him in verse 18 that he wants to be with Jesus. Now I am imagining that if I had been seen by my  community, running around naked in a cemetery, that I would now like to jump on a Southwest airlines jet, or any jet for that matter and get away!  I think a nice mission trip to the other side of the planet is now in order, so I can preach the gospel about as far away as I can get from the people who saw me running around a cemetery naked, cutting myself.  But in verse 19 Jesus sends him on a mission trip-back home! Jesus tells the man to go back home and tell what wonderful things Jesus has done for him. Friend, if Jesus has done wonderful things for you, if He really has changed your life, you don’t need to get away. While foreign mission trips are fun, fruitful and rewarding, chances are Jesus may have a mission field for you right in your very home. Jesus doesn’t send everyone to the other side of the planet, as much as we may sometimes like that idea, especially after an embarrassing moment when we want to get away. Jesus may have a mission trip planned for you right in your very home.  The people saw the change in this man. So much so that in verse 15 it says it scared them or made them afraid! It must have been a real shock when the reality of what Jesus had done in this man’s life was seen.

If you run to the other side of the world people won’t see the change. If Jesus has changed your life, you don’t need to be afraid. You can proudly go back home, clothed with the righteousness of Christ and in your right mind, and tell them what wonderful things Jesus has done for you.

To go to the Sabbath School Network click here. To download the SS lessons to your cell phone click here.

I Love Simple!

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The key thought in this week’s SS lesson reads, “Whatever the important proper training, we must first be grounded in our relationship with Jesus before we can be “properly equipped” to effectively witness for our faith.”

I love simple. Everything I own fits in the back of a small U-Hal truck with plenty of space left over. Still, about twice a year, I go through my apartment just looking for things to throw away to keep life simple and clutter free.  When I was a kid I loved Taco Bell. Back then they had 7 items on the menu board, and that was all I needed. I would choose the bean burrito. Today I walk into a Taco Bell and their menu board is all cluttered, and confusing with so many new fangled items to offer. I still choose the bean burrito. I love simple. I recently switched my homepage to Google. It is simple and not too busy like the other search engines. I love simple. Having a complicated life is not a status symbol to me and does not allure me.

Understanding how simple I am, you will understand how delighted I was when I discovered a concept I read in John 15:5. In the NIV I read, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit…” . Actually what delighted me is what I did not discover.  Jesus was not telling me that I needed a complicated, long planned out program and agenda in order to bear much fruit. It was really quite simple actually. I just need to live with Jesus and I will automatically bear fruit. Wow. What a concept. It reminded me of when I came home from College in the Spring of 1985. One Friday evening a friend from church called, and told me a couple of other friends were meeting at one of their homes to study the Sabbath School lesson, and asked me to join them. One of them brought their sister, who was not a baptized Adventist.  There was no agenda or schedule set in stone for our small study group. It was not even an “official” small study group. We just hung out together and studied the lesson, socialized, and even started hanging out on Saturday nights with a pizza, and or movie or bowling. A few months later my friend’s sister was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church. It wasn’t complicated. All we needed was to be living in Christ, in His word, and we bore fruit.

We don’t need a lot of complicated man made programs when: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”  {Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 363}  How simple! Simple does not mean there is no plan or method. It simply means the plan and method is simple.

“There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.” {Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 363} Here I would like to add another word to Simple. Practical. Jesus’ method was simple and practical. When I go to Taco Bell, I don’t need a mumbo jumbo burrito with a million toppings on it. It just isn’t practical. A simple bean burrito is practical for me. Jesus spent most His time, simply meeting the needs of the people. Most of His ministry was spent in simple one on one impromptu encounters like the woman at the well or the woman taken adultery. Whenever He did preach a sermon it was not a deep theological dissertation. It was simple and practical, and may I also add brief.

I love the simplicity of Jesus in John 15:5, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.” One morning when I awoke, I picked up my Bible to read and spend time with Jesus. As soon as I started reading, I began to think to myself, “How can you just sit here and read when you need to see that church member in the hospital, and follow up on these leads for Bible studies, and plan that seminar that is coming up.” I could barely relax and read my Bible, thinking of all the things I needed to do, but I knew it was important to spend time with Jesus so I made myself do it. I wanted to abide in Him. Later when I got to the hospital, I prayed with the lady I had come to see, and as I left, the lady in the next bed, asked me to pray with her too. I prayed with her, and shared a verse and some comforting words God gave me to share with her. I gave her my number if she needed anything else and invited her to my church when she got out. Impromptu, simple, and yet fruitful. I love simple!

Personal Evangelism and Witnessing

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Friday’s section of this week’s SS lesson states: “One truth received into the heart will make room for still another truth.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 449. In what sequence should the truths we hold be presented in order to be most effective in our outreach? Why should Christ’s substitutionary death always be at the forefront of all that we teach?

I would like to answer the last question first. I would like to do so by sharing a passage from the book “Gospel Worker’s which has made the greatest impact on the way I do my ministry.

The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption–the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.–Gospel Workers, p. 315.

We are not saved by doctrines. We are saved by God’s grace. God reveals His love in each and every doctrine, in hopes that we will love Him too. Satan tries to skew Bible doctrine in hopes of skewing our concept of God’s love and thus make us not want to accept Him. This idea is what motivated me a few years ago to design the “In Light of The Cross” Bible study guides, which illustrate the love of God, and the cross in each doctrine, which is particularly relevant to Seventh-day Adventists. They are available free online in both English and Spanish. My passion is to promote the cross of Christ in everything I do.

Now to answer the first question,  about in what sequences certain truths should be presented. Speaking from personal experience over the years, when giving a series of personal or group Bible studies, I always begin with the Gospel Presentation. I want people to  make a decision to accept Jesus into their lives and have the hope of eternal life. The second presentation I give is on the Bible. At the end of this study I ask people to go by the Bible and the Bible only. This way, if someone later says they don’t have to follow a Bible teaching, because their pastor or friend said it was not important anymore, I remind them they made a decision to go by the Bible and not by what their friends say. The third study I do is on Love and Obedience, or trusting and obeying. In this study I ask people to make a decision to follow the Bible because we love Jesus. This way, if people later say they don’t have to follow a certain Bible teaching because “it’s not a salvation issue,” I remind them that the reason we obey the Bible is because we love Jesus, and not just to get to heaven. After those three studies, my sequence of Bible truth is based on each particular person and what is relevant to them.

In each study I want to encourage my Bible student in their personal relationship with Jesus. I am not looking for a quick baptism to make my numbers look good. Frankly it is not about me. I want to encourage my Bible student in a personal relationship with Jesus. The purpose of my personal and group Bible studies is to be relational. A foreign missionary now pastoring in Tennessee once told me, “small groups don’t work in America, because we are more concerned about being right then we are about being relational.” I knew exactly what he was talking about. With exceptions, a lot of American evangelism has been little more than telling people “I’m right you’re wrong!” That is not how Jesus won the hearts of people.

Jesus saw in every soul one to whom must be given the call to His kingdom. He reached the hearts of the people by going among them as one who desired their good. He sought them in the public streets, in private houses, on the boats, in the synagogue, by the shores of the lake, and at the marriage feast. He met them at their daily vocations, and manifested an interest in their secular affairs. He carried His instruction into the household, bringing families in their own homes under the influence of His divine presence. His strong personal sympathy helped to win hearts. He often repaired to the mountains for solitary prayer, but this was a preparation for His labor among men in active life. From these seasons He came forth to relieve the sick, to instruct the ignorant, and to break the chains from the captives of Satan.  It was by personal contact and association that Jesus trained His disciples.- Desire of Ages, p. 151

I am not downplaying being right. Jesus was always right, but He was also always relational. His agenda was to meet the needs of the people and not use them as pawns and numbers in meeting the goals and expectations of the church. Jesus did not call me to be a car salesman, pressuring people to “buy” Jesus before the end of the year so I will have a great report for the year. We must be patient with our personal and group Bible studies. We want to be right, but we also want to be like Jesus, and take time to be relational.

The Power of The Cross Revival-Seminar

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am very excited about my recent invitation to speak on the power of the Cross in Torrington CT.! I have never been to New England before and am really looking forward to meeting my brothers and sisters there. If you are in the area, I hope to see you there!

Also in the month of May I will be speaking May 5 at the Plant City SDA Church at 11am and for the first service (9am) at the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church. May 19th.

To schedule a seminar or workshop in your area please contact me at LayPastor@TampaAdventist.net